Next Wave International Next Wave International™ is a faith-based communications group which is
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Fundamental Not Fundamentalist

Mal Fletcher
Posted 19 July 2005
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The number of people killed in the horrific London bombings has now risen to fifty-six. Since 9/11, one word has come to summarize, in the minds of many, everything that we should fear from the world of terrorism. That word is ‘fundamentalism’.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the word simply referred to a belief in the fundamentals of a religious faith. Back then, a fundamentalist was someone who accepted the literal interpretation of a religious text and was willing to align their lives with its moral and spiritual principles.

Today, though, the word resonates with an overtone of menace. It has come to convey the idea of meanness, small-mindedness and worse still, cruelty and injustice.

A fundamentalist is now someone who blows up innocent people in trains and buses, or flies planes into tall buildings in a misguided quest to force change upon the world.

Is it possible, we might ask, for a person of faith to be fundamental without being fundamentalist, in the current use of that word? Yes, it is.

In fact, as a Christian myself, I believe it is vital to a life of faith that one is fundamental. But you don’t have to put dogma above people – and therein lies the difference.

In a recent editorial in the Sunday Times, Andrew Sullivan wrote of what he called ‘the fading voice of a kinder, gentler evangelist.’

In it, he said: ‘I doubt whether there has ever been a voice as immediately recognisable as American as that of the evangelist Billy Graham... In the heyday of Graham’s mass Crusades for Christ… he drew hundreds of thousands… eager to hear his call for something more meaningful.’

These next words from Sullivan became somewhat more poignant in the light of the London terror attacks which occurred shortly thereafter: ‘Above all, Graham’s faith has not been ideological… Where Graham talks always of the need for personal salvation, his successors have ranted about the evils of a decadent society…’

Billy Graham has been a fine example of inclusiveness, of bringing people together under the umbrella of faith, rather than using faith to drive people apart.

That’s not to say that he hasn’t spoken clearly of light and darkness, of eternal life with God and eternal seperation from the Father.

But Dr. Graham has never done the latter without a deep respect for his hearers, or a profound understanding that to follow Christ is first to preach and offer God’s gift of love to all.

Fundamentalists of any stripe are dangerous; whether we’re talking about fanatics who act in the name of Islam or so-called Christian activists who blow up abortion clinics.

As I think Dr.Graham’s life has always illustrated, true faith is more than belief; it is belief applied to meeting needs.

Jesus taught that the two greatest of all God’s moral mandates are that we love God with all that we have and are and that we love our neighbour as ourselves. As a friend of mine, Steve Chalke, likes to say, ‘intimacy with God always leads to involvement with the community.’

Anyone who has made even a cursory reading of the life of Christ, will know that Jesus had more problems dealing with the hyper-religious Pharisees and Sadducees than he did with the common people, or even with die-hard social outcasts.

The Pharisees saw themselves as the divinely appointed protectors of the Mosaic Law. Ostensibly to do their people a favour, to stop Israelis accidentally breaking the law of Moses – which was hard to do, given the fact that the law was so clear and detailed – the Pharisees invented a heavy code of extra laws.

This is where they ran up against a wall of contention in the teaching and example of the carpenter-come-preacher from Nazareth.

Jesus refused to worship a creed or dogma. He whole-heartedly embraced the law of Moses – without the Pharisaic appendices – yet he always claimed that the law was given for the benefit of people, rather than for their harm.

Jesus’ thinking on the law is summed up in his classic line, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ Divine law was given for humanity’s enrichment, not for its enslavement.

The apostle Paul taught that the law was necessary until Christ appeared, partly because it held back the worst impulses of humanity – or, at least of Israel – until the true Saviour could do his full and final work.

Adherence to religious law, said Paul – a former leading Pharisee himself – could never save anyone’s soul. Only faith in God’s sacrifical gift of his Son could accomplish that.

This later became the foundation stone for the Christian Reformation, which reshaped history.

True people of faith, at least as Jesus taught it, are those who allow an inner change of heart, born out of a relationship with God, to empower them to serve humanity. True faith is never destructive; it releases, it does not seek to enslave.

One can be fundamental in faith, without taking on the heavy scowl of fundamentalism.

What’s your view?

Is it possible to hold to the fundamentals of faith without becoming fundamentalist?



Keywords: fundamentalist | fundamentalism | London bombings | terrorism | terrorism | Billy Graham | faith | reformation | social comment | Mal Fletcher

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Thanks for the great article on celebrities, Mal. The world says, 'You need to look after No. 1.' Jesus says, 'Put God first and then He'll look after you.' I know which I'd rather do!
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