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Years ago I wrote an article for a state denominational paper beginning with the statement, “I was going to title this article, 'I Call Myself A Fundamentalist.’ But I didn't want to spend the next six months explaining to my friends that I don't own an assault rifle or any plastic explosives.” Even then few pastors in my denomination would call themselves Fundamentalists, although I didn't know one who would reject the basic tenets of the faith. I tried to be careful not to call myself a fundamentalist in places where I was not able to explain what I meant. But I didn't want to give up the term. My reasoning was two fold. First, I did not want to give up the word Fundamentalist to people who whose hearts did not reflect the fruit of the Spirit or the fundamental attitudes of Jesus and the New Testament. And I wanted to resist giving up our language to the barbarians.
My Oxford English Reference Dictionary released in 1996 only has the word as an addendum to “FUNDAMENTALISM,” which they define as, “Strict maintenance of the basic teachings of a religion.” I read a book written earlier that simi-seriously defined a Fundamentalist as a conservative Christian who is angry. Who could read 1 Corinthians 13 and call themselves fundamentalists by that definition? I recently heard someone raise a question about Ephesians 4:31. It reads
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.”
He asked, “Does this mean to put these other things away from you with malice toward them?”
Incidentally, that is not a possible interpretation this verse. In the original language the reading is, put these other things away “together with all malice.” Malice is not the attitude of putting the other things out of our lives, but one, and possibly the worst, of the things of which we are to rid ourselves. However you read this verse, its words, the entirety of Ephesians 4, and everything the New Testament says about our attitudes, completely exclude an angry and divisive expression of the Christian faith.
I first started calling myself a fundamentalist while I was still in seminary. In a Biblical Backgrounds class the teacher presented several lists of hermeneutic principles. Hermeneutics are the underlying principles that determine how you interpret Scripture. One of them was labeled a Fundamentalist Hermeneutic. And as far as I could tell everyone in the class including the teacher agreed with those principles. But the teacher said, “You can hold these without being a Fundamentalist.” I asked, “How?”, and he said “Just because you decide you're not.” I need to say that professor was a great teacher. Even though I'm not giving his name, I don't want to say anything bad about him. But, that didn't make a whole ton of sense to me.
But, I have given you this entire rambling dissertation, because I'm giving up the title, fundamentalist. As much as I hate it, I have to admit that our language has been hijacked. The word no longer means what it should mean to people. It is a little more complicated than that. I recently reread Bodie Thoene’s Zion Chronicles. These are historical novels about the foundation of Israel in the years immediately after millions of Jews were shipped, often in the name of Christianity, to death camps. The refugees of that Holocaust we're trying desperately to reestablish the Jewish state in the face of local and world opposition. I think it may have been in the Gates of Zion, the first book in the series, that a Hebrew archaeologist was explaining to an American friend how he had come to be convinced through the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah. He said “I believe in Him, but I will never call myself a Christian.” I have never understood what this character said as well as I do now.
Steve Brown, the radio preacher on the Key Life broadcast used to say that Jesus was a Pharisee. He was alluding to Acts 23:8 and other passages that indicate that the Pharisees unlike the Sadducees believed in the Spirit, and angels, and the resurrection. Jesus believed in all of these. But Jesus never called himself a Pharisee.
I have recently been exposed to people in several circles in more than one state, who are not only angry, but arrogant, brash, rude, domineering, hateful, and hurtful, all in the name of Scripture. And while I am unhappy about it, I cannot continue to call myself by the term fundamentalist.
However lest everything I write sound so gloomy, I need to add that I do have a solution to my dilemma. From now on I'm going to call myself a Christian. I may even use the term Christ-follower.