In a great essay on the current path of fundamentalists, the editor of Straightway magazine, Dr. H.T. Spence, makes this greatly enlightening statement : "Though Fundamentalism has endeavored to be strong historically in ecclesiastical separation, one of its great weaknesses from its beginning has been its lack of personal separation." This can be found in the June-July 2005 issue of the magazine in an article entitled "Ask for the Old Paths."
This statement helped me make sense of the changes in many of the "camps" of fundamentalism. One who loves old fundamentalism can't help but notice the changes in which the children of the old movement are lowering standards of holiness or obviously copying the world in matters such as entertainment, music, dress standards and general devotion to worldly amusement.
The justification for the changes in young fundamentalism is that it lends credibility to a movement that lacks it, and reaches people who are hurting, and needing the church. Because they're making changes, they emphasize that "change" is not always compromise. Change is only wrong when you commit some specific sin while incorporating change. Therefore since our fundamentalist forefathers were imperfect human beings, change from their methods could still prove to be an improvement.
So we who side with the old fundamentalists argued back. We proudly pointed out that previous generations compromised less, yet had more credibility, reached more people, and certainly effected more lasting changes in individuals and families than the pitiful numbers and commitment displayed in most of today's fundamentalist churches.
However, Dr. Spence's article referred to above reminded me of forgotten facts. I remembered many instances of old fundamentalist leaders and their families in which personal separation was sadly lacking. If you've been in the movement for a generation, you too could probably tell of cases of worldly music, undue devotion to movies and television, mixed swimming, cursing, appetites out of control, tempers out of control, covetousness, lack of submission of wives and children, and of course the occasional and well-publicized cases of adultery and stealing church funds.
On the other hand, I knew many old fundamentalists who I'm convinced would never have gone as far as the "bad eggs" described above. They were sincerely convinced their own allowances were harmless. For example it does seem mighty picky to fuss about the television-viewing to which nearly all of them gave many evenings. In their day it just wasn't so blatantly filthy.
But to continue the example, I wonder what they'd think of what their fundamentalist descendants are watching on t.v. today, emboldened by the fact that even "Grandpa Fundy Preacher" watched t.v., so it can't be wrong. There is no way they could honestly approve of today's t.v. and other entertainment habits of their spiritual grandchildren, if they meant what they preached at all.
The young fundamentalists are right. We do need to change fundamentalism. We have a vantage point our beloved predecessors did not have. We see the long-term effects of a lack of personal separation in seemingly small matters on individuals and families. They could not look into the future and see these results or else surely they would have been more careful. Today's generation learned from their fathers that one's own amount of worldliness is harmless. "It is only when someone goes farther than I would that they foolishly enter into sin."
Let us change, but change to be more like God, less like the world and less like worldly "Christians" in personal and family living. Surely God expects us to be more holy who know more about the results of compromise than those who have gone before. We may lose credibility with the world, but give pleasure to the God who can save the world. Galatians 1:10b "...for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
By Bobby Schoolfield