I was never a part of what you might consider extreme Fundamentalism. Our church had people of every race–even interracial couples, and we all got along quite harmoniously. Women could wear pants (if their husbands approved), and although versions other than the KJV were heavily preached against, some people brought different ones to church and weren’t personally called out on it, that I know of. As far as the legalism, judgmentalism, and easy believism that can go on in these type of churches, ours wasn’t too bad. So to be honest, I can’t say that my wife and I emerged from the heart of extremist Fundamentalism.
On top of that, I personally had never totally subscribed to all of the tenets of Fundamentalism. Of course, you didn’t really need to. You always knew that no matter how Fundamental you were, there was always someone more Fundamental. But there was always somebody less Fundamental, too, so you were Good Enough. You knew that as you went along through life, there was always the next traveling Evangelist, or a Revival conference where you could pray about picking up another standard or adding another quarter-of-an-hour to your devotional time. But I was happy where I was.
With that being said, I also had some serious personal problems that certainly weren’t improved by our church. I loved being able to "write people off" just because they didn’t believe exactly like I did. I was very absorbed with myself and my family, and the less people I had to develop personal relationships with, the better. Fundamentalism had given me a convenient reason to cloister myself and family from anyone who didn’t attend an IFB-style church. Somehow, after a lifetime of Church and 3 years of Bible college, I had totally missed Jesus’ teachings on who my neighbor was and how I was to treat them.
So between the subset of IFB rules I had settled upon and the fortress-like mentality I had towards other people, we were locked into IFB’ism pretty well. As I think back and try to remember where the cracks in that almost impenetrable wall first appeared, I can trace it to these things:
- After our third child was born, it was very hard to get ready in time for Sunday School, so we ended up missing it pretty consistently. Our pastor confronted my wife and told her that God may take that child from us if we continued to allow him to stand in the way of doing the Lord’s work.
- The "performance based" nature of the church was beginning to become so bizarre. Our pastor preached during a sermon that if you weren’t shouting "Amen!" at least sometimes during his sermons, there was something wrong with your relationship with God.
- Our pastor would preach some very strange things, such as one time he said that nothing kills a desire to win souls like Calvinism but went on in the same sermon to extol the preaching of people like Jonathan Edwards and Spurgeon.
- They would have the preacher-boy college kids come up and give sermons in which they would make outrageous claims about how we should or shouldn’t be doing things like throwing out all of our DVDs or watching TV, and people would hoot and holler and get all excited–and then go home and watch TV until next service.
- I noticed fellow church members were really mean to visitors. I have more than one anecdote about a visitor coming to a church service or function with a child, and the child making a little noise, and the visitor getting glared at or even yelled at. This happened to one of the visitors we brought, and we were never able to get her back, and she didn’t want to hear another word about our religion.
- For a little while my wife and I were planning on moving out of state. When the church learned of it, some of the members told us about how we were making a huge mistake, out of God’s will, and our pastor preached a topical message about something we had told him in private.
These things "set the stage". It wasn’t quite enough to break down the wall. Two other big things happened, though. Our pastor was preaching a message on teetotaling, and it didn’t seem quite right. I decided to take the outline home and really study the arguments. I had a bit of training in formal logic, and when finally under the microscope, I saw just how fallacious the whole argument was. He said some blatantly false things, such as how when Jesus made wine, it wasn’t "wine" like we know it because it was a different word in Greek. I looked it up in e-Sword with Strong’s numbers, and sure enough, it was exactly the same Greek word that is used when laying out rules for Deacons to not be "drunk" with oinos. I also found straw men and circular reasoning throughout the sermon outline. The second big thing was that my belief in King James Onlyism was called into serious question as I started interacting with a group of Christians that used the NIV.
I realized I had to go "back to the drawing board." Doctrines that I had held dear my whole life had come under intense enemy fire. What else had I been wrong about? I decided I need to take an irenic approach. I couldn’ t just discount something because I "knew" it was wrong. So I examined Catholicism, Mormonism, and lots of other "isms." It took a long time, a lot of prayer, and a lot of books, and even more websites. Luckily I found many great resources such as archives of old Baptist writings on Google Books, good deals from Amazon on books dealing with the issues that I had to work my way through, and expository preaching that I continue to download as podcasts to this day from various churches that are kind enough to put their services on line.
I feel like I have pretty well nailed down the basics of what I believe now, but I remain open-minded. I know I will never know everything and probably hold lots of views that will need to be adjusted. The biggest philosophical change I went through is how I now try to determine authorial intent when reading anything, including the Bible. Who knew you weren’t just supposed to try to find your preconceived notions in whatever material you were studying! I thank God that the biggest spiritual change I went through is that I love to invest more in other people. I don’t try to keep people at arm’s length anymore. As a family we now reach out to people more, not just to "get conversions", but out of love. It is still a struggle, but God is still working on me.