Truths declared to-day by the mind of man are denied to-morrow by the same mind of man. On that basis, what can a man believe? But if we cling to the whole Bible, we have a stabilizing standard which has held the heart and hand of the believer from the time of its first revelation.
In our post today, we cast the calendar aside to take a brief look at some very basic terms and a bit of history.
We will start by noting that Dr. J. Gresham Machen did not like the term “fundamentalist.” He considered himself a “confessional Presbyterian” (though I’m not sure that exact term was ever in use in his time). But as to what has been called fundamentalism, our post today provides an early description and assessment of the Fundamentalist Movement. There was still a fair unanimity within the Movement in the early 1920s, though division over millennial issues was soon evident. It took another decade for that division to become more formalized and more divisive of fellowship among conservatives.
Implicit in this article, as you will see later, were the attempts by modernists to foster division among the fundamentalists. Those attempts had been recognized as early as 1921 and, it might be argued, finally bore fruit in the mid-1930’s. Yet again in the 1940’s, in the Southern Presbyterian Church, there are indications that behind the effort to speak to the issue of dispensationalism there was a similar effort by modernists seeking to divide conservatives.
The Rise and Growth of the Fundamentalist Movement
by the Rev. Raymond J. Rutt
[The Presbyterian 95.1 (1 January 1925): 7-8.]
[This article is a brief of the one read by Rev. Raymond J. Rutt, pastor of the Oliver Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, before the Presbyterian Ministers’ Association of Minneapolis, on December 8, 1924.
I regret very much that it has become necessary to classify groups in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I abhor being called theologically by any other name than Christian, because no other name can fully represent a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But when there appears a group of people within the church who deny the final authority of the whole Bible in faith and practice, and put the human mind in the place of final authority, then I am compelled to submit to a classification of believers, who have always, and do now, believe in the final authority of the whole Bible in all matters of faith, by whatever name they may call themselves.
The name “fundamentalist” has been given to, and quite generally accepted by, those believers in the Christian church who rely upon the whole Bible for their authority. And in contrast, the name “modernist” has also been given, and as generally accepted by those who do not accept the whole Bible as authoritative, but put their own minds above the statements of Holy Writ. I know there are some who feel that fundamentalists and modernists are two extremes, and they prefer to take a middle-of-the-road policy between them. To me, this seems impossible. It is very evident that among modernists, the mind of man has rejected great portions of the Bible. If the mind of man is made supreme over any portion of the Bible, what will keep them from destroying the whole testimony of the Word? The difference between these two elements in the Christian church is not a matter of method or interpretation, but rather a matter of premesis [i.e., premise(s)] of authority. Fundamentalists all agree on the authority of the whole Bible. The question is often asked, “Are the modernists our brethren in the Lord?” I think that depends on how much of the Bible they reject. It is dishonoring God to reject any portion of his Holy Word. And when that rejection continues to the extent of denying doctrines that are essential to salvation, then I cannot consider that person a brother in Christ. Many modernists have gone beyond this limit, and I do not consider them brethren.
There are two kinds of fundamentalists, and yet they both accept the final, absolute and supreme authority of the whole Bible, and agree in the essentials of salvation. Premillennial fundamentalists believe that the coming of the Lord before the millennium, which they feel is imminent, is fundamental to a right understanding of the prophecies, but not fundamental to salvation. The post-millennialist fundamentalists feel the same about their position. Thus we find that both kinds of fundamentalists agree as to essentials of salvation.
I think it is commonly agreed that the fundamentalists are the descendants of historic Christianity, for they are generally satisfied with the statements of faith as handed down to them by the Fathers. Not because their statements were infallible, but because they, who have given to us our great church of Christ, have done so from the standpoint that the whole Bible is the absolute, supreme and final authority in all matters of faith. This must not be interpreted to mean that we do not welcome research, study, and new truth that may be shed on the sacred page by the work of the Holy Spirit. We do believe that the Bible should be critically scrutinized and studied from every possible angle and applied to modern life in all its complexities. We welcome constructive criticism. Every believer has a creed, and unless he holds to the final authority of the whole Bible, he will have difficulty in holding it. Truths declared to-day by the mind of man are denied to-morrow by the same mind of man. On that basis, what can a man believe? But if we cling to the whole Bible, we have a stabilizing standard which has held the heart and hand of the believer from the time of its first revelation.
There has been a desire on the part of fundamentalists to be associated together in fellowship and to promote efforts to defend the authority of the whole Bible against the destructive penknife of the modernist. The premillennial fundamentalists, gathered from all the states but two, and Canada, in Philadelphia, for a Bible Conference, in May, 1919, and organized the World’s Christian Fundamentalist Association. At that time they elected Rev. W.B. Riley, D.D., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, as their executive secretary. The association has met each year since then, and each time re-elected Dr. Riley, who has given one-half of his time to the promotion of Bible conferences all over the continent. Many state organizations have been organized under the World Christian Fundamentalist Association. Again, many local fundamental associations have been organized in cities and counties, some as premillennial fundamentalists and others as associations of all fundamentalists. Of the latter kind, one of the oldest and best known is the Rocky Mountain Bible Conference, of Denver, Colorado. Recently, such an organization has been effected in Minneapolis, and is known as “The Twin City Bible Conference.”
As fundamentalists, we regret very much the sharp differences that exist between fundamentalists and modernists. We are sorry our modernistic friends have deemed it necessary to revolt against the historic standards of the Christian church. I feel that a great deal of ill feeling has been caused by the wrong representation of the one by the other on both sides. As a fundamentalist, I have not appreciated being called a “funny-mentalist,” and I dare say many modernists have resented being called “funny-monkeyists.” Such classifications are but the way of bluff and do not reflect the spirit of the Master.
In conclusion, let me say we fundamentalists are not trying to make a new church, or even a division in the church. We are trying to preserve the church because we believe her Standards have been given to us by God-fearing Fathers, who accepted the whole Bible as their sole authority. We would not curb men’s minds or try to have all believers see alike, but we do believe in the absolute, supreme and final authority of the whole Bible. And if believers will take that stand, there will be little, if any, trouble as brethren together in the Lord.
Words to Live By:
Rev. Rutt closed his message with these eloquent words :
“Christianity is no quiescent thing, but an eternal, omnipotent energy that has been at work in the world, not only in the past, but which is at work in this and every time, yet its specific content was given it once for all by Christ and his apostles, and that this content found authoritative expression in the New Testament. Each generation must, in some degree, express this content in its own language, and its own terms of thought, but the content itself, according to the fundamentalist, like Christ himself, as generation succeeds generation, abides the same to-day, yesterday, and forever.”