Many Baptist fundamentalists I know are real fundamentalists and others are sinking in ignorance, either from the start or from running to it, bereft of soundness to save them from their race and clamor to post-modern Christianity and the gleeful enlightenment of a sophomore in college who has finally thrown off dad's old politics. I mention them because they have, in the most pronounced way, utilized this (the fundamentalist label) as their identity in comparison to other groups during the last 60-70 years. But they aren’t the only kind of fundamentalist. There are others and one of those groups is The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. However, before I engage my presentation with their virtues, I wish to deal with what a fundamentalist is and share a few observations about a trend in Baptist fundamentalism and Evangelical fundamentalism (if there be such a thing).
Fundamentalism is the history of the church. That is, those who hold to and defend essential doctrines and its properties as well as insure sound guardianship of secondary issues and what Lutherans call adiaphora, commonly referred to matters of liberty, these are the church’s fundamentalists throughout history. They have gone by various names at various times and were not always related to one another. It is this group of believers during all ages who have been a constant faithful to the whole counsel and mission of God and bore the brunt of an ever-changing weaker element in the body of Christ who regularly cry for the leaven of Egypt as an acceptable diet for God's people.
Fundamentalism is not simply attendance to major doctrines or essential doctrines as some wish to assert but the perspicacious treatment of all theological/spiritual/ecclesiastical matters. And for Lutherans and particularly The LCMS, The Book of Concord stands as a witness to its detailed and exhaustive treatment of such matters, from the primary to adiaphora or that of the liberty of the conscience.
The Modern Baptist Fundamentalism Drift
During its heyday, Baptist fundamentalism had two main veins. One was the very evangelistically oriented side which did not give great attendance to matters such as hermeneutics or systematic theology. For that matter, anything heavily scholastic regarding a treatment of the Scriptures was neglected. Out of that grew some toxic local churches, Pastors, Evangelists and associations and schools but not necessarily always, to be fair and we must always be fair in our accounts.
The other avenue was those who recognized the importance of Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic training, systematic theology, history, science, anthropology and so on and that they were essential contributors to a thorough theology and practice. They were far less visible of the two kinds of Baptist fundamentalists. And though their scholarship was not often appreciated by those outside of their sect, it was, nonetheless, serious and weighty at times.
Now mind you, not every local church or Baptist fundamentalist institution (such as schools) were either/or, some were part of each vein but in general, in most, a persuasion in one direction or the other could be found as I see it. But among their differences they both shared the understanding of their distinctiveness, both in belief and practice, which resulted in an integral separation from those unlike them, though others be brothers in the Lord. Much like denominations and various sects practice today. It is called ecclesiastical integrity, denominational distinction. And one need not be a formal denomination to maintain these associative and practical distinctions by way of separation.
Unfortunately, these twins did not evolve to be of benefit to one another. The fact is, the former, being theologically disoriented, though certainly sincere in their efforts, were susceptible to the influence of carnal methods for gathering Christians together in order to grow a church, so to speak. Their more theologically minded brothers were treated with suspicion but oddly, a necessary evil.
Men did need training and these were the places to go but it seemed best for the evangelistically minded side to throw off as much of their academic dust as they could when finished with school and get with the business of winning souls and building a church. But what they both rightly sought was to retain, to their credit, the fundamentals to which they held and were taught, even if along with the less theologically centered segment there came some oddball heterodox ideas. And these fundamentals were not just essential doctrines but secondary matters even to that of liberty, not just in utterance but in practice as well.
Within this time, of course, the Evangelicals who were less constrained, by in large willingly gave way to all kinds of novel approaches to Biblical interpretation and certainly, practice. In fact, it came to a point, and is this way now in many places, that practice would determines theology and not theology determining practice. Worse, among their population are fools who pretend theology still drives their practice by way of proof-texting magic. But of course, when testing their formulas in a clean hermeneutic lab the frailty and error of their constructs are revealed. So within this laxness of theological rigorousness, Evangelicals grew their well-known branch of church-building philosophy/theology. However, unlike the Baptist fundamentalist it was not based on direct evangelism but soft evangelism or “seeker-sensitive” methods. And it worked, that is if by worked we mean it attracted a great number of people to their churches.
And over time this church-growth paradigm found its way into the minds of susceptible Baptist fundamentalists who appear to have consumed to their delight this seeker-pleasing construct and have turned the church of God into a house of childish and juvenile pleasure where liturgy is not a foretaste of things to come but an indulgence into cultural relevance. To what should not be your surprise, these susceptible Baptist fundamentalists were those who were not burdened by theological comprehensiveness like their twin but by what appears to bring in the bodies, i.e. so-called evangelism/church growth.
By contrast their more doctrinally minded Baptist fundamentalist brothers, who are tempered by allegiance to theology which produces practice instead of practice altering theology (or at least contradicting it), are at a crossroads with the other. And though I do not share all detailed views of the more theologically minded Baptist fundamentalists to which I refer, I do share much, very much in the way of their pursuit of purity and integrity verses the pragmatism of their developmentally challenged counterpart and I believe in their cause.
I cannot tell you how bizarre it is to see one Baptist fundamentalist group after another discover a little license in the absence of a robust theology and start introducing Shaggy and Scooby as their new worship leaders. Additionally peculiar is their fortuitous and magical discovery that music forms for worship are not really an issue with which to be concerned and consider such debate a bit Pharisaical in their now enlightened minds.
Sure, Baptist fundamentalists needed to identify and address their excesses and still do but they are doing so, in mass, minus a strong theological development and are turning into the very thing that will hurt them most; that thing is their attempt to use culture to make our Lord relevant when our Lord did not come at all for such a thing. He came to make us relevant to God. This is a serious matter but a measurable segment of Baptist fundamentalism has not only drifted but drifted quite leftward in practice though with their lips they claim a rightward spot on the map.
The LCMS and the Book of Concord
It is funny reading claims by both Neo-Baptist fundamentalists and Evangelicals such as The Gospel Coalition that secondary issues and certainly matters of liberty, again adiaphora, are not matters of either separation or serious debate which can legitimately lead to a lessening of fellowship. And though funny, it is dismaying just as much to hear or read them say to those who would posture otherwise that such people are close-minded, legalistic, theological Neanderthals and quite uncharitable in disposition seeing everything must be nuanced and the confession to which one must hold needlessly detailed.
Well friends, again let me introduce you to some fundamentalists who disagree with such haltering in their certainty on theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical matters and are everything these others wish they could be; thorough in their theology, faithful, scholarly and academically honest in their hermeneutics, rigorous in their approach to God’s Word, vigorous in their liturgy and exhaustive in their confession, they are called The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod or LCMS.
The Book of Concord. What is the book of Concord, you ask? Well, if you are the easily offended and misled type as described above, it will probably offend you and cause your reactionary fabianistic disaffection to produce in you a person desperate to find an escape. But for those of you who understand the importance of both an exhaustive confession and adherence to it, The Book of Concord will be to your good pleasure, even if you do not agree with all of its tenets.
The book in its 2nd edition is 826 pages. Confessional Lutherans are understood to pledge themselves to its doctrine and practice before entering ordination and ministry. Local assemblies are disciplined when there are demonstrative departures from this volume. It is their witness to God, their confession of the truth and deals in more than a cursory manner with essentials, secondary matters and adiaphora. In fact, on the matter of liberty it contains something the evolving sect of Baptist fundamentalist who seem to be enchanted by relativism would do well to hear what The Book of Concord has to say (and this is but a sampling):
"Namely, when under the title and pretext of external adiaphora such things are proposed as are in principle contrary to God's Word (although painted another color), these are not to be regarded as adiaphora, in which one is free to act as he will, but must be avoided as things prohibited by God. In like manner, too, such ceremonies should not be reckoned among the genuine free adiaphora, or matters of indifference, as make a show or feign the appearance, as though our religion and that of the Papists were not far apart, thus to avoid persecution, or as though the latter were not at least highly offensive to us; or when such ceremonies are designed for the purpose, and required and received in this sense, as though by and through them both contrary religions were reconciled and became one body; or when a reentering into the Papacy and a departure from the pure doctrine of the Gospel and true religion should occur or gradually follow therefrom [when there is danger lest we seem to have reentered the Papacy, and to have departed, or to be on the point of departing gradually, from the pure doctrine of the Gospel]"
The LCMS, though imperfect and certainly at various local assemblies you will find variations and within those variations some contemporary elements, and I do not argue they are not subject to such influences, still has a rather significant and serious approach to even the least of any Biblical dogma. But to many modern Evangelicals and certainly now a segment of Baptist fundamentalists, their confession of how to go about dealing with even the seemingly least of matters, is pursued with license which simply claims there is no forbidding, therefore engage! How thoughtless, how selfish and how lacking in theological or spiritual perspicacity.
Lutheranism did not survive on relevancy, instead it was birthed in conviction and grown by faithfulness, not only to what some describe as essential matters but all theological, ecclesiastical and spiritual matters. Their theology and liturgy give evidence to critical, circumspect and disciplined development. Their insistence upon a confession that exceeds one man’s own narcissistic and novel theological current but embodies enough material for over 800 pages by men whose theology has been tested, over and over again, is what has yielded for so long incredibly gifted communicators of orthodoxy and local bodies administering grace, from the gospel that saves to the least of our concerns, though they be matters of liberty they are yet real and demand a Godly response to which The LCMS has authentically responded with answers from God’s Word.
The LCMS has been and is faithful to this. Baptist fundamentalists and those claiming to be Bible fundamentalist or even Evangelical fundamentalists, you should take note. The high order of theology and practice found in the LCMS did not come from appealing to the lowest common denominator or a lessened confession but from a detailed and specific confession on all matters. Your dilution of what you are is not going to lead to something greater, something more worthy or something more significant but to a lessening, a weakening and eventual great loss.