Many traditions have a lot of baggage attached to their teaching of Jesus, and this is extremely counterproductive in drawing people to Jesus and his good news. One of these traditions is fundamentalism.
I embraced fundamentalism at a very early age. At seven years old I felt a need to be ‘saved’, went to the altar, and prayed through. I accepted Jesus as my ‘Lord and Savior’, and, along with that, I accepted all the baggage of fundamentalism that came with the decision.
However, before I was out of high school, I began to question certain things; I didn’t rebel but began to consider things that did not make sense to me. My first big issue was legalism. In our fundamentalism of that time, we could not watch movies, wear shorts, swim with the other gender, dance, drink, listen to ‘worldly’ music, and a host of other things. Women could not wear pants or cut their hair short.
There were two driving principles behind these restrictions. The first was to ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil,’ as it was stated in the King James. This meant that anything remotely questionable was to be prohibited. For example, it was a bad idea to walk the sidewalk in front of a movie theater because someone might see you and assume you had been inside.
The second principle was, in the King James, ‘It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.’ The idea was that even if something is not a ‘sin’, if someone else thinks it is a sin, don’t do it. We should not offend others with our behavior.
At first, I questioned specific issues rather than the concept of legalism. Among the first was movies. At 17, I worked through the arguments and biblical principles that were applied against Christians watching movies and, after considerable struggle, concluded that the prohibition against movies was not biblically valid. Christians were free to attend movies.
This was not rebellion; it was theology. In fact, I had no great need for movies, but one day after work I stopped by a theater on my way home and saw a delightful film called My Side of the Mountain. Funny thing about tradition: Even though I was 100% convinced that there was nothing wrong with watching the film, my conscience yelled, “Guilty!” I felt as though I were sitting in a den of iniquity.
Sometimes you have to tell your conscience what to do.
Over time, I abandoned legalistic rules completely. I also dealt with other baggage that came as part of my fundamentalism and asked:
- Is the KJV the exclusive word of God? Answer: No
- Is the dispensational worldview biblical? Answer: No
- Are our beliefs about Satan true? Is he even real? Answers: No; No
- Is our understanding of hell biblical? Answer: No
- Are Genesis chapters 1-11 meant to be understood historically? Answer: No
I worked through many such questions as part of my journey from fundamentalism. Even while earning a degree in Biblical-Historical Studies at an evangelical college, I continued to examine my Christian beliefs. Parts of my journey were very scary, but gradually I discovered that much of the baggage I had accepted along with the message of Jesus was not legitimate.
However, Jesus, as described by his followers, is still compelling to me. I discovered that all my beliefs stem from that. Jesus is the most important thing in my life. He includes me in his invitation, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ And I accepted his invitation.
Does Jesus appeal to you? Do you have difficulty with the baggage? Tell me about it.