Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The Challenge of Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism has long been linked with a number of Protestant groups,
some of which are small, little-known sects, while others are large evangelical churches.
Fundamentalism challenges us on two fronts, that of mass communication with the individualistic
and especially American appeal, and that of Bible fellowship with its more intimate and
humanly supportive attraction.
The definition of fundamentalism according to Merriam Websters
Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition) is a movement in 20th century Protestantism
emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of Protestant theologians,
apologists and preachers wrote a series of tracts entitled The Fundamentals, a
Testimony to the Truth (1910-1915). These twelve small volumes include personal testimonies,
tracts of evangelism, studies of the Bible, and polemic tracts opposing the enemies of
Fundamentalism, such as
Mormonism (Latter Day Saints), Eddyism (Christian Science) and
especially Romanism (Roman Catholic Church). Today, fundamentalist evangelists
still preach the basic positions as they are written in The Fundamentals.
Fundamentalism, or ultraconservative Evangelicalism, challenges the Roman
Catholic Church and other mainline churches. Fundamentalism, a reactionary movement of
Evangelicalism, opposes ecumenism, modernism and liberalism in their churches. It also
opposes the use of the historical-critical method, or the scientific study of the meaning
of ancient biblical texts.
The Five Fundamentals
Fundamentalists agree on five basic fundamentals: The inspiration and inerrancy
of the Scriptures; the divinity of Christ and his virginal conception; the vicarious expiation
of Christs passion; the literal physical and bodily resurrection of Christ from death;
the literal physical and bodily return of Christ in the second coming.
Some have even expanded this list to include the divine miracle-working
power of Christ, a literal heaven, a literal hell, the existence of the person of Satan,
the total depravity of humanity, the necessity of a new birth (be born again)
for salvation, the assurance of salvation for the Christian believer, and the reality of
the local church, but no universal (catholic) Church.
Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Scriptures
The first basic fundamental on the inerrant inspiration of the Scriptures
is very important and the most significant. It serves as the basis for the other four fundamentals.
Nearly one-third of the articles in The Fundamentals defend the inspiration and
inerrancy of the Scriptures.
Fundamentalists describe the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible as plenary-verbal
inspiration, as original autographs. They hold that all of Scripture, the very words
themselves, are equally inspired. They see the Bible as being God-breathed and thus possessing
the quality of being free from error in all of its statements and affirmations. Hence,
the Bible is without error, not only in theology, but also in science, geography, cosmos
and history. They see that the Bible is unchanging; regardless of cultural and historical
contexts, it does not require interpretation. They view God as the author of the Bible.
Therefore, the biblical words are divine words, not human words.
By contrast, the Second Vatican Council viewed sacred Scripture as accommodating
human language. It compared the scriptural word to the humanity and divinity of Jesus:
Hence, in sacred Scripture, without prejudice to Gods truth and
holiness, the marvelous condescension of eternal wisdom is plain to be seen that
we may come to know the ineffable loving-kindness of God and see for ourselves how far
he has gone in adapting his language with thoughtful concern for our nature (St.
John Chrysostom, In Gen. 3, 8; hom. 17, 1). Indeed the words of God expressed in the
words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father,
when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men (Dogmatic Constitution
on Divine Revelation, Chapter III, #13).
The Pontifical Biblical Commission challenged Fundamentalism:
As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness
of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God has been
expressed in human language and that this Word has been expressed, under divine inspiration,
by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources (The Interpretation of the
Bible in the Church (1993); I. Methods and Approaches for Interpretation, F. Fundamentalist
Divinity of Christ
Fundamentalists view the deity of Christ (including his virgin birth) as
the most essential fundamental of all. They emphasize the deity of Christ and do not view
Christ as human. They have always seen that faith in the deity of Christ is assailed and
opposed by a denial of the inspiration of the Bible as they define inspiration.
In his article The Deity of Christ, Professor Benjamin B. Warfield
of Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, wrote, The supreme proof to every
Christian of the deity of his Lord is in his own inner experience of the transforming power
of his Lord upon the heart and life (The Fundamentals, Vol. 2, pp. 239-246).
A related issue is that of Christs virgin birth, which the Fundamentalists
view as having definite implications regarding the deity of Christ. Dr. James Orr, a theologian
from Scotland, wrote in his article in The Fundamentals: The virgin birth
was not an option, it was an absolute necessity. Doctrinally, it must be repeated that
belief in the virgin birth of Christ is of the highest value in the right apprehension
of Christs unique and sinless personality (Vol. 2, The Virgin Birth of
Christ, pp. 247-260).
The Gospel of John challenges Fundamentalism: In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh
[of the Virgin Mary] and made his dwelling among us (1:1-14). The Letter to the Philippians
is also a challenge to Fundamentalism: ...though he was in the form of God, [he]
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking
the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled
himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (2:6-8).
Fundamentalists view Christs death as substitutionary. They see that
Christ died a substitutionary death to provide atonement for human sin. In their view Christ
did not die for his sin, but he did die for human sin. The Evangelical-Fundamentalist movement
must be seen in light of the belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.
The Second Vatican Council viewed the Eucharist as sacrifice and sacrament
in the Church:
At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted
the eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the
sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust
to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament
of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed,
the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us (The Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy, Chapter II, #47).
Resurrection of Christ
Fundamentalists claim that liberal theologians hold to the spiritual, not
the literal resurrection of Jesus, maintaining that he did not bodily come out of the grave.
Fundamentalists on the other hand, loudly proclaim the literal resurrection
of Christ. They view the Bible as clearly pointing to the fact that Christ rose physically
from the dead. According to them, the Scriptures verify firmly that Christ appeared in
a physical bodily form to his disciples.
The story of Emmaus (Luke 24:13- 35) challenges Fundamentalism. On the way
to the village of Emmaus, two travelers walked not recognizing the risen Lord:
Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from
Jerusalem called Emmaus
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing
When the travelers drew near to the village to which they were going, Jesus
gave the impression that he was going on farther:
But they urged him, Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the
day is almost over. So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while
he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to
them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from
their sight (24:29-31).
The story of Jesus appearance to the apostles in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-53)
also challenges Fundamentalism: While they were still speaking about this, he stood in
their midst and said to them, Peace be with you. But they were startled and
terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost (24:36-37).
The story of Jesus appearance to Mary of Magdala (John 20:11-18) is
also a challenge to Fundamentalism:
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did
not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are
you looking for? She thought it was the gardener and said to him, Sir, if
you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him. Jesus said
to her, Mary! She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni, which
means Teacher (20:14-16).
Second Coming of Christ
Fundamentalists believe not only in a literal physical and bodily resurrection
of Christ but also in a literal physical and bodily return of Christ to earth. Their faith
asserts that the second coming of Christ definitely will be the culmination and climax
of all of history. Today this particular belief is still the most debated and divergent
of all the fundamentals. Fundamentalists choose to be pre-millennial, a-millennial, postmillennial,
and can take numerous other positions. However, all of them agree that Christ will come
again one day to judge the world and vindicate the righteous. Jesus eschatological
discourse (Mark 13:5-37) challenges Fundamentalism: they will see ‘the Son of Man
coming in the clouds [Daniel 7:13] with great power and glory (13:26). As Jesus
was sitting on the Mount of Olives, Jesus spoke to Peter, James, John, and Andrew: Be
watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come...whether in the evening, or
at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning...What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch! (13:33-37).
The Catholic Creed
The fundamentals have always been part of the life of the Church. We do
not call them
fundamentals, but creeds. Like the fundamentalists list of
fundamentals, a creed is a simple summary of the basic Christian beliefs, but it is a very
special kind of summary. While Fundamentalists establish a list of truths, we hold to the
concrete, historical mysteries.
The creed is in the form of a story, or a history, and it concludes a whole
series of events. We have an excellent example of such a traditional creed in Pauls
First Letter to the Corinthians (15:3-5). In this letter he asserts the following truths:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas,
then to the Twelve.
This creed includes four events: Christ died, he was buried, he was raised,
and he appeared. The historical, fundamental beliefs in our creed are not abstractions
to be analyzed, but events to be pondered.
Next: Travel in Biblical Times (By Elizabeth McNamer)
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