The Fundamental Platform

Large crowd of people watching concert or sport eventWe talked denominations last Wednesday night.

Pastor Randy has a wonderful grasp of the historical development of Fundamentalism (which in its original incarnation, isn’t as scary as it seems today). Wikipedia provides this handy summary:

Christian fundamentalism, also known as fundamentalist Christianity, or simply fundamentalism, refers to a movement begun in the late 19th and early 20th century British and American Protestant denominations among evangelicals who reacted energetically against theological and cultural modernism. Fundamentalists argued that 19th century modernist theologians had misinterpreted or rejected certain doctrines, especially biblical inerrancy, which evangelicals viewed as the fundamentals of Christian faith. A few scholars regard Catholics who reject modern theology in favor of more traditional doctrines as fundamentalists. Scholars debate how much the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are synonymous.

Fundamentalism is a movement manifested in various denominations with various theologies, rather than a single denomination or systematic theology. It became active in the 1910s after the release of the Fundamentals, a ten-volume set of essays, apologetic and polemic written by conservative Protestant theologians to defend what they saw as Protestant orthodoxy. The movement became more organized in the 1920s within U.S. Protestant churches, especially Baptist and Presbyterian. Many such churches adopted a “fighting style” and combined Princeton theology with Dispensationalism. Since 1930, many fundamentalist churches in North America and around the world have been represented by the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (renamed IFCA International in 1996), which holds to biblical inerrancy, the Virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the literal resurrection of Christ, and the Second Coming of Christ, among other doctrines.

Really, all a fundamentalist was in its original meaning, was a person who adhered to the core fundamentals of their faith. The fundamentalist movement was born out of a desire to establish or re-establish just what was and is fundamental about being a Christian. We have all kinds of denominations and theologies and doctrines. What is the bare minimum core set of beliefs that are necessary for a person to authentically be a Christian?

The paragraph above lists all but one of them. I’ll put the complete list in bullet point form to make the information easier to read.

  • Biblical inerrancy
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Substitutionary atonement
  • The literal resurrection of Christ
  • The Second Coming of Christ

Believe it or not, in the late 19th century in America and Canada (and probably Europe), These core beliefs weren’t automatically adopted and shared between Christians. I had thought the Deity of Christ had been settled by the third or fourth century, but apparently a great deal came into question in about the mid-19th century, and a series of conferences were held to settle the issue (though in the realm of human beliefs, nothing is ever finally settled).

This is all going to seem pretty dry compared to what I usually write, but I know so little about how denominations formed and what makes them different from one another, that I need to put it down in some semi-stable place as a reference. I didn’t take notes during our conversation, so I’ll have to work from memory and the charts Pastor gave me, one of which I’m including here (click to enlarge).

f-m-theological-spectrum

As Pastor was talking, I recalled my blog post What Good is There in the Hebrew Roots Movement, where I attempted to illustrate what Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots have certain things in common. I think we need to expand that idea a bit to include what we all agree upon as disciples of the Jewish Messiah. I know, for instance, that there are a few Messianic Jewish individuals and groups who claim Yeshua as Messiah but deny his Deity. They may be “Messianic,” but if we’re operating from the diagram inserted above, they can’t be included in the list of people/groups who share a fundamental set of core beliefs about Jesus.

I think such a discussion is important if, for no other reason, than to manage the “dizzyingly” confusing collection of different denominations, movements, and groups in our world. Pastor was able to place himself on the different charts he gave me, but I was just baffled where I would fit in. Where does Messianic Judaism find itself in these spectrums or is it such a diverse movement that different Messianic groups would land on different points along the scale?

I found out that Pastor has started reading Rudolph’s and Willitts’s book Introduction to Messianic Judaism. He seems to have thrown himself into the content, but where he finds himself cheering in some chapters, he disagrees strongly with others. I can’t wait to get a more detailed report from him.

I mention this because I think his mixed reaction indeed describes the larger experience within the overall Messianic Jewish movement. The movement is still in a formation stage and is trying to define itself. Contrary to what many people may believe, Messianic Judaism isn’t a single, unified entity. In many ways, it is going through the evolutionary process that mainstream Christianity has experienced and continues to go through. That’s why discovering a fundamental set of core beliefs that can be shared by all disciples of Messiah/Christ is really important. Whatever differences exist that may separate us, at least we’ll know what we all have in common.

How will that work in terms of bilateral ecclesiology as defined in Mark Kinzer’s book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism? I don’t know. As I recall from reading the book several years ago, Rabbi Dr. Kinzer draws a pretty hard and firm line in the sand between Messianic Jewish practice and identity and any non-Jewish worship and following of the Jewish Messiah. Separate but equal silos.

But as I’ve said, Messianic Judaism itself exists on a spectrum and the portion of the movement that expresses bilateral ecclesiology in its purest form (if it exists in actual practice) represents one line along the graph.

Well over two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a blog post called Gears, Wires, and Batteries where I proposed to take all of the assumptions I’d made during my time in the Hebrew Roots movement and strip them down to nothing, then rebuild my theology from scratch.

I didn’t get it all down quite to zero, but the result is a movement away from Hebrew Roots and more toward Christianity with a “Messianic” twist. Pastor described the life of a gentleman whose name I can’t remember, a person who was instrumental in defining and then fulfilling the evangelical needs of a post-World War II Europe. This amazing person, at one point, experienced a severe crisis of faith and had to stop all external activities in order to re-discover exactly what he believed.

interfaithI suppose I’ve been “leaking” similar thoughts on my blog lately. I’m trying to discover and re-discover where I fit in. My position continues to waver a bit, especially since I’ve been attending church and Sunday school for the better part of a year.

Pastor said he wasn’t trying to convince me to become a Baptist and that although he agrees with much or all of the doctrines of the Standard Baptist Church, he’s not married to the name. I don’t know if I’ll ever become a Baptist. I suspect not, since I feel more like the wildcard in the deck. On the other hand, when God sent Pastor to live in Israel for fifteen years and then brought him back and made him a Pastor, I think God added a bit of a wildcard to Pastor’s deck, too. Although he’s more “standard” than I am as a Christian, we each have our “peculiarities”.

There’s a reason our conversations are just between the two of us. Most believers can’t tolerate the dynamic tension involved in being suspended between categories, labels, and pigeon-holes.

I don’t know where this is all going to lead for me personally, but I suspect it’s another step along the path that God has set before me. As far as all of the groups, movements, organizations, and individuals who, on some level, acknowledge that Jesus or Yeshua is the Christ or Messiah, there must be some ground-level, foundational set of beliefs that we all have in common. I know that especially in Messianic Judaism, it’s important to draw identity distinctions in order to avoid the pitfalls of assimilation into Christian culture and identity, but below that layer should exist a platform where we can all stand together and say, “this is what we believe, no matter how different we are otherwise.”

Where do all Christians, all Messianic Jewish people and affiliated Gentiles, and all Hebrew Roots Gentiles and affiliated Jews stand and make that statement? Have we ever tried to do that?

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4 thoughts on “The Fundamental Platform”

  1. I propose that the bottom line can only be that disciples of Rav Yeshua believe whatever the Tenakh and the Rav-Yeshua messianic writings present, as they were intended to be understood by their original audiences. Of course, that qualification is precisely the basis for all manner of argumentation, particularly after more than 18 centuries of practice. Even a couple of the points in your list of fundamentals admit to arguments over failure to properly interpret certain linguistic terms in Greek, Hebrew, or the cultural re-expression of Hebrew terms into a Greek matrix.

  2. I propose that the bottom line can only be that disciples of Rav Yeshua believe whatever the Tenakh and the Rav-Yeshua messianic writings present, as they were intended to be understood by their original audiences.

    As you say, that’s the trick, isn’t it. Understanding how the original texts were to be understood. If we can’t do that, can we even put together such a “fundamental” list?

  3. If I understand PL properly, I agree. The Tenakh, and particularly the Torah, applies to all followers of Messiah Y’shua. That does not make me ethnically or practically Jewish, but it does allow me the liberty to ‘walk as He walked.’

    From that context, Rav Shaul makes perfect sense, since he was teaching Tenakh and Messiah. Nothing he said can contradict the very Scriptures the Bereans searched. I view Shaul’s writings as inspired commentary on the Tenakh as he encouraged newly grafted in Gentiles to leave their pagan practices and avoid getting wrapped up in oral tradition.

    Neither Y’shua nor Shaul intended to start a ‘new religion.’ Therefore, following Y’shua should take us back to the ancient paths.

    So, as a previously ordained pastor who spent ten years in the pulpit, I would agree with your six bullet points above, but have cast off church traditions and returned to the ancient paths originally given by Abba YHVH. True fundamentalism… ;o)

    Shalom!

    BTW, you may enjoy and get a lot out of ‘The Return of the Kosher Pig’ parts 1 & 2.

  4. Just to be clear Pete, the six bullet points didn’t come from my imagination. They were established a century ago by a conference of many Christian Pastors in response to what they saw at the time, as a significant drift the understanding of the core beliefs that all disciples in Messiah must acknowledge to be believers (as opposed to heretics).

    If we had to do that today and include not only traditional Christianity in all it’s flavors (see the chart above) but Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism in all their variations, what would the core list of rock bottom, absolutely necessary beliefs look like?

    Remember, whether Gentiles are commanded to wear tzitzit and tefillin during prayer is debatable. The question at hand is what beliefs and practices are not debatable but completely necessary for all disciples of Messiah in order to authentically be disciples?

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