The Importance of Fundamentalism - Part One |

T. A. McMahon

I’m a fundamentalist…and I hope that all who consider themselves to be biblical Christians would declare that as well. The term, however, is used in a derogatory way by many people today. I don’t know why, other than the fact that many simply don’t like Christianity, especially biblical Christianity. But regardless of what its detractors think, fundamentalism is a very valuable concept.

Let me give you an illustration from the sports world. During the college and pro football seasons, the teams’ schedules usually include a bye week. That’s a week that has no game scheduled, so it’s dedicated to practice, and the practices rarely involve tricky new plays. Instead, the focus is nearly always on returning to the fundamentals of the sport.

Throughout the season, players often drift away from fundamental techniques and develop some bad habits that decrease their effectiveness. But sports aside, if one’s fundamentals are wrong in anything, the results aren’t going to be good.

In biblical Christianity, sound doctrine is critical, and how sound it is depends upon whether or not it is fundamentally sound. There are numerous important doctrines found throughout Scripture, but I want to focus on just one, which I firmly believe is the most important fundamental teaching, and that is the gospel.

No one is saved unless he has heard and believed the gospel, whether by hearing it or reading it—and then believing it. The gospel isn’t complex. In fact, even a child can hear and believe it and be saved. Yet too often a message of “salvation” is given that doesn’t contain a fundamentally sound gospel.

I was speaking at a conference in Kansas City a few years ago, and on Sunday a friend of mine took me to a popular church there. The guest speaker was a well-known evangelist. The pastor who introduced him was excited that the speaker was going to give one of his “classic evangelistic messages.” Following the message, an altar call was given and about 250, at least one-third of the people in that service, went forward. I was stunned.

Why? The gospel was nowhere to be found in the message! It was purely an emotional appeal. I wrote to the pastor afterward, asking him about the missing gospel. I really wanted to also ask him if it concerned him that so many in his fellowship went forward. That would seem to indicate that they weren’t saved, but I decided to hold off on that question until I got a reply from him—which never came. If they weren’t saved beforehand, they certainly weren’t saved by the gospel-less message to which they were responding! It was a grievous situation.

On the other hand, in many churches, even when a gospel message is given that includes enough information for a person to put his or her faith in Jesus for salvation, rarely is it explained. Why do I think that’s so important? Well, those who have yet to accept the gospel are being asked to make a decision that has eternal consequences. How many important decisions do any of us make without explanations being given as to what we should do and the consequences that are involved? Hopefully, very few.

Proverbs:4:7 says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” There are a number of reasons why understanding is very important, especially in evangelism. An explanation of the gospel itself is not only critical, but the hearer must also be helped to understand the fundamental foundation necessary for one’s life and growth in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, what happens afterward—after a person has, by God’s grace, received the gift of eternal life? What are believers to do with that free gift?

In the book of Matthew, we are reminded that which a believer has freely received, he or she is to “freely give” (Matthew:10:8). Jesus came to save sinners. It’s my understanding that once we’re saved and have received the gift of eternal life, we are to “freely give” out the information of what that gift is and how it can be obtained. That’s known in Scripture as the “great commission.” In Mark:16:20, we see that “they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”

 The “great commission” is for every believer in Christ. What better way could you spend your life than being used of the Lord to encourage someone to spend eternity with Jesus Christ? Our lives may be wonderfully fruitful in a secular sense. Some of us might be doctors, heart surgeons, cancer specialists, nurses, educators, military personnel, caregivers, etc. We may be great parents or good children to our parents. Such endeavors are meaningful, but they are of little or no value beyond this earth, rewards notwithstanding. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m just comparing the good things that we do temporally with those things that have eternal value—which are far better. What could be greater than being used of the Lord in such a way that would result in eternal salvation for someone? Our temporal life lasts on the average about 75 years. Compare that with living forever with Jesus!

But what might be an obstacle to any of us freely giving what we have freely received? In fact, nearly all revolve around self. Self-love, self-esteem, self-preoccupation, self-worth, and especially self-consciousness, are among the chief obstructions to witnessing.

Regarding self-consciousness, no one likes to be thought of as stupid or ignorant. Few if any of us enjoy finding ourselves in a position in which we’re at a loss to give to anyone who asks a sensible answer to an important question. That certainly applies to believers regarding their understanding of the gospel, or perhaps, for some, a lack or a weakness in that area. A lack of confident understanding of the gospel too often creates a potential embarrassment that prevents some from sharing it with others.

Who would attempt to explain anything that’s important if he wasn’t sure of the subject, and I mean really convinced of it? Sadly, most people who call themselves Christians do not share the gospel because 1) they’ve never really heard or accepted the biblical gospel, or 2) they’ve heard enough truth to be saved but have never grown in their confident understanding of it. Many Bible-believing Christians either cannot or have great difficulty explaining the gospel, so they simply don’t share it.

I hope these articles will help to increase our understanding of the gospel so that we can be more confident and even bolder, as the Lord provides opportunities to share His message of hope with others. Romans:1:16 exhorts, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Sometimes, because of some of the reasons I’ve noted, we don’t realize that drawing back from sharing the gospel is, in a sense, being “ashamed” of it. We need to keep that in the back of our minds as we go about understanding it better.

So, exactly what is the gospel? The word itself means “good news.” What’s good about it? Well, it solves a problem. In fact, it solves humanity’s greatest problem, which is that mankind, early on, was separated from their Creator because of disobedience.

At the beginning of the human race, God gave Adam a command that he was not to eat of a certain fruit in the Garden of Eden—a command that Eve, and then Adam, disobeyed. God had warned them that the penalty for that sin was death, meaning that they would be separated from God spiritually and then physically, through death. The condemnation was eternal. The hopeless fact was that once they sinned, there would be nothing they could do about it except to pay the infinite penalty, which is impossible for finite human beings. 

Scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death and that all have sinned. Therefore, God’s perfect justice demands that all who sin are under the penalty for sin, which is separation from Him forever. Yet God, because He is merciful, had a solution to reconcile mankind to Himself.

We see it first in Genesis:3:15 right after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God. Speaking to Satan, who had successfully tempted Eve to taste the forbidden fruit, the Lord said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This is a prophecy concerning Christ (the seed of the woman), who would pay the penalty for all mankind Himself, thereby destroying the works of Satan and giving humanity the opportunity to be reconciled to God. Verse 15 is referred to as the “First Gospel.”

Throughout the Old Testament we find prophecies and types that point to God’s solution to mankind’s condemnation through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

Consider the sacrifices of Abel and Cain, the two sons of Adam and Eve. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God. Cain’s was not. Why? Abel’s was a blood offering of a sacrificial lamb necessary for the atonement of sin, a “type” (or a foreshadowing) that pointed to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world. Hebrews:9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. Cain did his own thing, offering his veggies rather than what God had instructed.

The Old Testament is filled with representations and concepts that point to the coming Savior of the World. They symbolized the Messiah-to-come, and thus those living in that time period before His arrival could look ahead to Him—by faith—and thus be saved.

Space limitation restricts me from giving more than a couple of examples, yet they are staggering in their significance. Consider Abraham in his obedience to God through the impending sacrifice of Isaac, his only son, the son of God’s promise (Genesis:22:2-16). As the father of three sons, I can’t imagine myself in that situation without trembling uncontrollably with grief. Yet Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Romans:4:3). What did he believe? He knew that if he slayed Isaac in obedience to God, even then, God would raise Isaac from the dead. He had even told his servants that he would return from the Mount with his son Isaac.

If anyone cannot see the relationship of this with God the Father sacrificing His only begotten Son, I don’t know what I can add, except maybe for this. In Isaiah 53 are found verses that prophesy what the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would experience when He paid the penalty for our sins, past, present, and future. We see Christ our Savior, “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah:53:3). “He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted….wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and…afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah:53:4-12).

This is the Creator of the universe, the Creator of all living souls, who interceded for us! Words can scarcely put that in a way we can truly fathom. Neither now—nor perhaps for all eternity. All I can think of in response is, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”

To sum up: we see that the gospel is indicated throughout the Old Testament, and it was to this that the Jewish believers of that era looked ahead by faith—and were saved. But it wasn’t only the Israelites. Job lived at the time of the patriarchs and was not a Jew but rather a Gentile. His belief in the coming Savior is made clear in Job:19:25: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

Why study the Old Testament, which some see as merely a history book? Because it lays the foundation for “the first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews:5:12)! Without it, the Bible makes no sense. Christ and the Cross become meaningless. Still, many who profess to be Christians have abandoned the inerrant Word of God, like those enamored with pseudoscience, such as the theistic evolutionists, who deny its very clear fundamental teachings such as the global flood and the literal six days of creation. Of late are highly influential Christians who seek to accommodate the culture by making the Old Testament into a seeker-friendly offering, avoiding, or even eliminating, the truth of God’s Word, which doesn’t appeal to the world. 

In part 2 of this series, we’ll turn to the New Testament, where we find the prophecies and Old Testament types of our Savior perfectly
fulfilled in confirmation of the fundamentals of biblical Christianity.