First of all, let me apologize to any friends whose toes I am stepping on by writing this article. I write this out of love and concern for what is happening in these kinds of churches. Please take it for what it is: a concerned warning expressed out of love.
If you are unfamiliar with what a fundamental church is then this article might be confusing. Let me give you some background.
The fundamental movement split from what we call the evangelical movement back in the early 1900s.
From what I understand, Billy Graham was part of (a catalyst for?) this whole disagreement. His revival meetings assumed that all religious groups were true Christians and involved them all in the leadership. That means that a Mormon, Catholic or Jehovah’s witness was just as likely to be in leadership as a baptist or a nazarene.
The result was that certain Christians who did not believe that we should fellowship with people who obviously did not follow Christ –cults or those who deny salvation by faith alone– seperated from the evangelicals stanfing firm by the idea that those pseudo-Christian groups should be the object of our outreach and not part of the organizing leaders.
They need to be witnessed to; they shouldn’t be the ones doing the witnessing.
Thus was born the division between the evangelicals and the fundamentalists.
The fundamentalist believed in separation, that Christians should not have church fellowship with those who believe false doctrine, and the evangelicals believed in inclusiveness, that all are part of the body of Christ no matter what they believed –if they claimed to be Christian.
The title alone does not a Christian make.
I actually agree with the fundamentalist on this point about separation.
I think they started out with good intentions but what has become of the movement is something I cannot support.
The movement has shifted quite a bit in the last century.
Lest you think that I am speaking out of turn, I have some personal experience with fundamentalism. I have attended multiple fundamental churches religiously –two of which my husband and I were in leadership, and I have been involved in three other fundamental (or fundamentally leaning) churches to a lesser capacity.
The church where we were leaders left lasting trauma.
I am speaking from a place of honesty but also a place of hurt. That being said, I am not angry. I am concerned that others be made aware of the real issues that exist within many of the fundamental churches.
Understandably, I can only speak to the conditions in the handful of churches I have attended.
It is important to note that there are many kinds of fundamental churches, and baptists are not the only fundamentalist.
Five problems with fundamental churches.
Ironically, the biggest problem with the fundamental churches is exactly what they tout to be one of their best qualities: that they are independent churches “like the first century church.”
Fundamental churches refuse to take part in a denomination or any oversight that would allow authority over the pastor.
It is actually incorrect that these are independent “like the first century church.” The first century church was actually under the authority of the council of Jerusalem and the church leaders.
It wasn’t completely independent and without anyone to answer to.
Paul called out Peter for falling into the sin of Judaizing. Paul also corrected churches that he had visited when they had fallen into sins.
Paul himself sook that approval of the leaders at Jerusalem to be sure that what he was teaching aligned with what they were teaching.
Paul chose to make himself accountable.
Lack of accountability is the first step toward abuse of power which is what I saw over and over in the fundamental churches.
There is no recourse for members of a church who find themselves with out-of-control leadership because the pastor is the king of his realm, and you are not even supposed to speak out against him.
2) Leader worship
I regularly heard people say that the pastor was “God’s man” and that you dare not contradict what he was saying.
In these churches, the pastor and not scripture is the final authority in the church members lives.
Contradicting the pastor is a sin –even if what he is teaching or doing is in direct conflict to scripture.
This is putting man above God.
If you leave their church because they are teaching false doctrine you will be accused of rebelling against God’s authority –the pastor– in your life.
I have even heard pastors say that if the husband wants to leave the church that the wife must disobey him and stay, that if she wants to be obedient to God that she must obey the pastor and not her husband.
All men are sinners and equally depraved in the eyes of God. We already have a mediator and do not need another person to speak to us on behalf of God.
To raise one man above the rest and give him god-like status is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even have time to address all those reason in this post.
3) Resistance to government authority
Along with their resistance to fellowshipping with those who don’t agree with them religiously (in the name of separation), they resist government involvement to the point that they don’t get the authorities involved even if their members or leaders are committing an actual crime.
Since they believe in church discipline (rightly so; I do too) they either try to address all issues with church discipline or they ignore issues they shouldn’t because they don’t want to have to go outside the church for correction.
You only have to take a cursory look at the news about fundamental churches and their abuse of power to see that this is true (Case in point: the Duggar’s sexual abuse scandal).
Child molestation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, theft, slander, these are just a few of the actual crimes that I know have happened in local-to-me fundamental churches.
Beyond that, these crimes and more have happened in the homes of church members. The leadership knows and does nothing about it.
4. Redefined morality
Godliness is redefined to something scripture never made it to be.
In the fundamental church, it is not nearly as important that you actually be godly as that you look godly.
They ignore very important concepts like Christian stewardship and Christian liberty and instead insert man-made rules and become modern-day pharisees.
Your godliness becomes connected to your ability to conform to their list of rules (which are not even biblically-based rules) like no movies, dresses-only, and no rock music.
Actual spiritual fruit like patience, kindness, and long-suffering are not on the list.
I was once told by one of the pastor’s wifes that I didn’t “look godly” because I was not wearing nylons. Someone had arbitrarily decided that godly women wear nylons.
I am told that the church in questions does not hold to that rule anymore –but that isn’t the point.
The point –the big problem here– is that they think they can redefine what is holy and disregard scripture.
The Lord cares far more about the kind of person you are than what you wear.
Redefining godliness to the exterior performance turns my stomach. That is not what the bible teaches.
Because they have redefined morality, being a “good christian” means everyone is pretending and trying to look better than they are.
Everyone’s wearing masks. People are not being real. They are not being honest about their struggles.
When I was so sick that I could barely walk and someone was threatening to take my children away, I remember sitting in church, looking around, and realizing that there was not a single person there that I could share my problems with and ask for help without being judged as ungodly.
That was my last week at that church.
Previously, I had asked for prayer because I was going without sleep for 3 or 4 days at a time due to my then-undiagnosed autoimmune disorder.
I was told I was lying.
That I couldn’t possibly be having the problems I was describing –because I was too young. My request was not added to the church prayer list.
When I suffered from postpartum depression, I was told that it was because I was not reading my bible and praying enough, so I was enrolled in a discipleship program.
They wrote down that I had just gotten saved so that they could add it to their tally for the number of converts for the year.
I was in fact saved as a child. I have no doubts in my mind about that.
Obviously I wouldn’t have been depressed if I had actually been saved, right? That’s what they thought.
It didn’t align with their version of what a godly person looked like. Therefore, I couldn’t be godly –or even saved for that matter.
These experiences taught me that I could not be real with these people.
Whenever I tried to be honest about where I was, I was reminded one way or another that this level of honesty was not welcome.
I am not going to be fake. I can’t be even if I tried. It goes against everything that I am.
I just barely scratched the surface in the problems I saw in the Fundamental churches I attended. It is safe to say that it is unlikely that I will ever attend a fundamental church again.
I have heard the argument “Well, my fundamental church isn’t like that” or “So-and-so church isn’t like that anymore” but it doesn’t matter.
The fact is that they are organized for abuse of power and manipulation.
I didn’t even begin to talk about the narcissistic men who are drawn to these kinds of churches so that they can control and manipulate people.
I did not address the pope-style authority myth that is held by some (or many?) fundamental pastors. They actually believe that they have been passed down apostolic authority through baptist preachers all the way back to Paul –like the Pope thinks he gets his authority from Peter.
I did not address the abuse of women and children that goes ignored in these churches.
I did not address the fear based control or the power struggle.
I want nothing to do with it, and I think that people need to be aware of the real and actual dangers in this style of church that leave itself unchecked and strays so far from the way that scripture teaches that churches and Christians should be.
Consider yourself warned.
If you want to know more about the abuses that are happening in fundamental churches, I recommend these audio documentaries by Jeri Massi
P.S. This is not the place for arguments or debate. If you disagree with this article, politely click the back button. Thank you.