Fundamentals: What Are the Essentials?
Jude Lesson #10
June 19, 2012
Jude 1:3 NASB "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."
We have taken time to begin to look at the question: what is really the essence in terms of what we believe in Christianity of all the doctrines, all the things that we believe that the Bible teaches? What are those elements that are truly at the core and truly essential for Christian belief? What are the fundamentals, we might ask, of the faith? We began to look at the importance of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God as at the very core of our understanding of the fundamentals, the foundational beliefs of Christianity without which we have no Christianity, we have no unique Christian teaching or belief system.
Verse 3 gives us a window into the process of inspiration of Scripture: how God works in and through the writers of Scripture to produce the actual writing, the original, what is called the autograph, the original writing of the Scripture. Here we have Jude, an apostle who intends to write about one topic and then is so moved by God the Holy Spirit that he writes on a different topic. He uses the word spoude, meaning eagerness earnestness or diligence. He is basically saying he was very diligent. He was thinking hard, working hard, writing concentrating on one topic that needed to be discussed related to our common salvation or soteriology, but he said: "I had a necessity." He uses the present tense of verb echo which means to have or to hold something, plus a another noun, ananke, which means compulsion, a necessity. This is merely a way of expressing the fact that he had a necessity, a compulsion. Something within him is pressing upon his mind to write on a different topic.
He says, "I have a compulsion to write to you, exhorting you …" This word parakaleo for exhortation is the same word that is used to describe the role of the Holy Spirit as the parakletos, the noun form, and he is writing exhorting. parakaleo tells us that this is the style or type of literature Jude uses. It is not just a letter, it is an exhortation. An exhortation is a challenge to application to the audience. So it is not just simply a letter. He is not just giving a logical doctrinal discourse like Paul did with Romans, he is not writing a historical narrative like Luke did with the Gospel or with the book of Acts, he is not addressing specific questions as Paul did in 1 Corinthians; but he is writing an exhortation, a specific challenge, a pointed challenge, to his audience. It was that they needed to contend earnestly for the faith.
The verb translated "contend" is the Greek word epagonizomai, a present active infinitive expressing his purpose in writing. It is usually a word found in expressing the struggle, the competition, the effort that goes forth in an athletic competition. One commentator on Jude writes of this particular verb that "it was also used generally of any conflict, contest, debate, or law suit. Involved is the thought of the expenditure of all one's energy to prevail." This is not something that is done in a haphazard manner, it is not a sort of secondary desire or objective that comes up; it is a recognition that we are giving all of our energy to this—to contending for the faith, to make sure that the faith is preserved accurately and without dilution. Often the verb is used metaphorically to note a spiritual conflict, so immediately it brings in to focus that this is part of the angelic conflict, part of spiritual warfare. We are constantly under attack both from our sin nature internally, the cosmic system or the world system externally, Satan externally, to compromise the truth of God's Word. So he says that "this is used metaphorically to denote a spiritual conflict in which believers are engaged."
According to Alford, "the preposition epi in the compound gives the purpose for which the fight is to be waged. The defensive nature of the conflict is made clear by the following dative the faith." So the purpose for this is the sense of sense of fighting, the struggle, and it is for the faith. The word translated "faith" is the Greek noun pistis and it not only means the act of believing but it also refers or describes the content of what is believed. There is a body of belief here, and the fact is that this is once for all delivered to the saints. It is viewed as a completed body of revelation, a body of beliefs, a completed set of doctrines or teachings that are distinct and unique and essential to Christianity. What exactly does it mean to be essential?
When we use this phrase "the essentials of Christianity," are we saying the same thing, are we referring to the same body of beliefs? Are we talking about the same fundamental, foundational, unchanging, core doctrines of Christianity that distinguish Christianity from all other world religions? The idea that Jude communicates here is that we are to contend, strive or fight diligently and earnestly for the faith, i.e. for this set body of beliefs, "which was once for all handed down to the saints."
In terms of contending there are two areas in which we all need to contend for the faith. The first is internally and the second is externally. The foundational battle for every one of us is internally. We need to contend for the faith in our own soul. We need to recognize that there is a battle for truth that takes place in our own soul. The sin nature wants to reject the truth of God and assert its own autonomy. Then there is, as a believer, our new nature in Christ that wishes to focus on the truth and wishes to grow and mature. So there is this internal struggle, it is the war of the flesh versus the new life we have in Christ and walking by the Spirit. So the first battle is to contend for truth in our own soul and to understand what the faith consists of and why it is essential, and not make that term too broad. We don't want to make it too narrow either. There are some people who want to make it so narrow that everything that they believe is essential. But we have to look at just what the core fundamental beliefs are that distinguish Christianity from anything else.
Externally there always should be a willingness to content for truth within the local church, to maintain the purity of the teaching of the local church, and this is why local churches have doctrinal statements. But just a word of warning on doctrinal statements. There are often people who will say they looked at so and so's doctrinal statement and it seems very good. There has been a trend in the last thirty or forty years to minimize doctrinal statements and to not get very technical on the doctrinal statement. But the details are really important. But even if there is just a sort of generic doctrinal statement in many Bible churches, especially in Texas, is that they have simply adopted the Dallas Theological Seminary doctrinal statement as their doctrinal statement. So it is good.
But the problem in most churches isn't really with the doctrinal statement per se, it is with their philosophy of ministry. Many times a man has gone to a particular church to be a pastor and some sort of disruption occurs within the first few months or years that he is there because his philosophy of ministry is different from the traditional philosophy of ministry of the church. This is really where the battle is being fought today. Many pastors and churches will affirm a historically conservative, biblically-based doctrinal statement but then they compromise it in their philosophy of ministry. In other words, why they think the local church exists and how they think the local church should conduct itself in matters of worship, of Sunday school, in matters the kind of songs that are chosen, the length of the message, the focal point of the pulpit ministry; all of these things are part of a philosophy of ministry. That is not usually contained in writing anywhere in most churches and it is usually not contained within a doctrinal statement. And so you can go to one Bible church that has a doctrinal statement that is identical to another Bible church, and yet they are almost 180 degrees opposite one another in terms of what goes on on a day-to-day basis within the structure of the church—Bible classes, Sunday school, worship and all of the other things. This is simply because they have radically different philosophies of ministry. That should also be part of our understanding of the essentials of Christianity.
So there are battles that take place to contend for the faith within the local church as well as outside the local church in light of how evangelicals or fundamentalists focus on the essential truths, because this does affect organizations that go beyond the local church. It affects missionary organizations, Bible colleges, seminaries; there are many organizations that exist outside of a local church. There is a lot of debate over the legitimacy of para-church organizations but that goes to a philosophy of ministry, not to essential doctrine.
Jude's warning that we need to contend for the faith is one that is consistent with the other writers of Scripture: recognition that apostasy is as close as the next day, that someone could come along tomorrow or the next day who begins to influence a local church in an erroneous direction. The apostle Paul gave this warning to the leaders of the churches in Ephesus in Acts 20:28-31. On his return to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey he did not wish to take the time to go to Ephesus so he stopped off at a small seaport just south of Ephesus called Miletus and called the leaders of the church at Ephesus to him. Acts 20:28 NASB "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." So it is the responsibility of the pastors to oversee. This relates to their job description. The word to "shepherd," poimaino has to do fundamentally with feeding the sheep. So part of the way in which the overseer leads is through feeding the sheep. These are defined as those who have been purchased or redeemed by the blood of Christ, the death of Christ on the cross.
Acts 20:29 NASB "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock." We see the contrast between the sheep and the wolves. The wolves come in to destroy, to eat, to take advantage of, and to feed off of the sheep." This is an external enemy that comes in attacking, persecuting Christianity. So there is always this external battle through false doctrine, seeking to distract and destroy the truth and the purity of the local church.  "and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." There will be those pastors who become influenced by various trends in the culture around them, and as they are so influenced bleed off and, as in the Enlightenment period they think more like Enlightenment rationalists, and they bring that framework back to the Bible, and the Bible gets reinterpreted. This led to the development of Unitarian theology in the 18th century. In the 19th century there were pastors who went off to Europe for additional training and there they were influenced by what became known as 19th century Protestant liberalism which rejected the divine origin of Scripture. I also brought in other methodologies that did not assume the divine origin of Scripture such as historical criticism which tried to go in and break down Scripture in terms of different authors and tried to basically reinterpret Scripture in light of this 19th century rationalistic methodology, rather than accepting at face value the claims that these books were written by Moses or Matthew or Paul. These pastors then came back from Europe, got into their pulpits, and taught these things questioning the Mosaic authorship of Scripture, the Pauline authorship, and questioning whether any of the New Testament was even written within the first century. As they did that it eroded the faith of those in the church and eventually led to church splits in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in what became known as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.
Acts 20:31 NASB "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears." So part of the role of the pastor is to warn the congregation passionately about false teaching and the impact of false teachers within the congregation.
Whenever we talk about the foundational belief of Christians we have to deal with this issue of authority, the issue of how we know truth, how we know what is true, what is essential and what is non-essential. The foundation for any belief system, any philosophical system, always has to do with authority. For Christians in historic traditional Christian theology this is the area known as bibliology or the study and the authority of the Bible. In bibliology we seek to answer various questions such as, how was the Bible revealed? Trying to understand the process of inspiration. There are different views on inspiration. There are those who believe that inspiration is a dictation of God, and this might be true in some areas of Scripture, such as God giving the Mosaic Law to Moses. Elements of the Torah were clearly dictated. Others suggest that the Bible was revealed merely in terms of ideas. Other questions that come up are: are there errors in our modern English versions? What about the Greek and the Hebrew manuscripts that we have? So, are there errors in the Bible? Are there errors in the original writings, or not? If you start with a text that has errors, then how do we know how many errors have crept in over time? But if you start with an original that has no errors then you can theoretically get back to an accurate copy of the original.
All of this has to do with the process of inspiration and whether we have an inerrant text, i.e. a text that was without error, and what the extent of that inerrancy was. This was a major battle within what became known as "fundamentalism." We live in a time when this word "fundamentalism" has been taken by the media and distorted. It has been used to be equated with religious quacks and people who believe in some sort of crazy, outdated ideas that completely reject any kind of modern science. So the fundamentalists of Islam who are the radical Islamist terrorists are suddenly equated in the news media to Christian fundamentalists. The only difference is that Christian fundamentalists historically have not been violent. But the Bible is against violence for that sake so that the violence of the Crusades was antithetical to the revelation of Scripture, whereas the violence of Islam is consistent with teachings of the Koran. Fundamentalism has received a negative slant in recent years but we will use it within its original historical context.
We have seen that the rise of fundamentalism comes out of British and American theology in the 19th century. There are several strands that led to the development of fundamentalism in the early 20th century. First there was the thread that came out of Princeton Theological Seminary which was originally founded to be a training ground for pastors. It was originally called The Log College. In the 19th century Princeton became the bastion of biblically sound conservative theology. Of course it was extremely Calvinistic. There was not any dispensationalism at that time but by the late 19th century it did become somewhat hostile to dispensationalism, especially through the writings of B. B. Warfield and some of his attacks against Louis Sperry Chafer. The initial theologian who taught theology at Princeton was Archibald Augustus and he taught Charles Hodge. Hodge was so impressed by his mentor that he named his son after him—Archibald Augustus Hodge. His grandson was Casper Hodge. So there were three generations of Hodges who dominated the theology department at Princeton. It is in those years in the 19th century that the historic view of the Bible as the objective revealed Word of God, written by over 40 authors over a period of 1500 years or more by those who claimed to have written it, that this was attacked by the rise of 19th century Protestant liberalism. These men worked hard at clearly articulating the doctrine of biblical infallibility and inerrancy—not that this was not always the view of the church, but these men took its systematization to a much greater level in light of the assaults that were coming at that time.
A second development came up in the 19th century known as dispensationalism. Dispensationalism also had its roots in historic Calvinism, and that is because coming out of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s there was this emphasis on literal, grammatical, historical interpretation. As that worked itself out in other areas of theology beyond just soteriology (salvation) many who held to Reformed theology, many Presbyterians, began to believe in a future literal Millennium of a thousand years where Jesus Christ would personally rule and reign from the throne in Jerusalem. By the end of the 1500s there was a shift developing toward pre-millenniumism. It reached its high water mark in the 1800s and, according to J.C. Ryle, well over half of the Anglican pastors in England in the 19th century were pre-millennialists. That also gave them a sympathy towards Israel, towards the Jews, and towards a future restoration of the Jewish people in Israel.
As we move historically from the Protestant Reformation up to the beginning of the 19th century there is a recovery of the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of Scripture which led to an understanding of a future interpretation of prophecy the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 and other passages would be fulfilled in the future. So there was the recovery of futurism. Along with that was also a recovery of the view of a future plan that God had for Israel. So there was an incipient understanding in these years of a distinction of God's plan for Israel and the church. All of this came together in the early 19th century in the thinking of John Nelson Darby. None of the foundational ideas that Darby had were unique to him but he lived in a time when there had been much further development of these three ideas—literal interpretation of Scripture, a futurist interpretation of prophecy, and a distinction between Israel and the church—and as he put these together he came to a clear understanding of God's plan as revealed in Scripture, which he called dispensationalism. That is, the identification in history of different eras in history where God administers His plan and purposes for the human race in different ways, always on the basis of some new revelation.
J.N. Darby influenced a tremendous number of people in England and the United States. Men such as James Hall Brooks, a Presbyterian pastor, influenced C. I. Scofield. Others such as Dwight Moody who preached revivals in the Union Army, which led to the salvation of Ulysses S. Grant, and then one of Scofield's protégés, Louis Sperry Chafer who was the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary.
Scofield was instrumental in the founding of a number of Bible colleges and Institutes in late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was also instrumental in founding a lot of schools through the influence of his study Bible which came out in 1909. Dwight Moody founded Moody Bible Institute, also a school in Massachusetts.
So the second root in modern fundamentalism was the rise and development of dispensationalism and especially pre-millennialism, emphasizing a literal future interpretation of prophecy.
A third strand that was important was an answer by conservative biblical scholars to the rising Protestant liberalism that was published over a five-year period called The Fundamentals. Twelve volumes came out in that five-year period. This is where the term "fundamentalism" originally derived.
Christian History Magazine had one of their publication focus on the rise of fundamentalism from 1870 to 1950. They give a timeline in defining the issues from 1900 to 1920. In 1909 they cite the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible whose notes teach dispensationalism and Keswick holiness (that would not be true in the case of Keswick holiness). The view of C.I. Scofield and Louis Sperry Chafer was not Keswick, but that continues to be stated by a number people, even though there have been a number of studies which reject that. The next major step they identify is from 1910 to 1915. The Fundamentals were published, which promoted a conservative teaching of theology. In 1910 the Northern Presbyterian Church affirmed five essential doctrines: the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, Christ's substitutionary atonement, his bodily resurrection and miracles. Notice that because they are amillennial they leave out the literal second coming, the physical bodily return of Christ to the earth. In 1919 the World Christian Fundamentals Association formed, which became the largest and longest lasting international fundamentalist association until the 1940s. In 1920 Curtis Lee Laws who was the editor of the Baptist Watchman Examiner coined the term "fundamentalist" to refer to those who believed in the five fundamentals of the faith. Then in 1920 conservatives in the Northern Baptist Convention organized the Fundamentalist Fellowship to combat spreading liberalism.
It is interesting that all the denominations in the US split between north and south leading up to the Civil War, mostly because the northern Yankee Christians did not want any of their money going to support southern missionaries who believed in slavery. These denominations all split between the 1840s and just before the Civil War. All the northern denominations drifted into liberalism decades before their southern counterparts who all remained more conservative.
There were a number of public confrontations in the 1920s. In 1923 Gresham Machen published his book Christianity and Liberalism, which is one of the most scholarly and definitive assaults against liberalism you could ever read. In 1923 the Baptist Bible Union formed to gather fundamentalists of various denominations. What happened between the early 20s and the late 30s is that about every four or five years another group of conservative biblicists would leave the northern Presbyterian church. One of these groups became known as The Greater Association of Regular Baptists. Baptist Bible Seminary in Pennsylvania is a Greater Association of Regular Baptists school. Another group that came out was the Conservative Baptist Association which was founded by three men, including pastor Bob Thieme's father-in-law. In 1924 Evangelical Theological College, the original name for Dallas Seminary, was founded. In 1925 was the Scopes Trial where fundamentalism actually won but they were painted to be so ridiculous that it really did look bad in Americans' eyes. Then in 1929 the liberals came to control the board of Princeton Theological Seminary and the conservatives left to form the Westminster Theological Seminary, which initially had pre-millennialist and amillennialists on the faculty. It wasn't until there were several controversies in the 30s that brought about a division between pre-mills and amills. They split in the mid-30s and excluded pre-millennialists and dispensationalists from being part of the school.
Then they go back and trace the rise of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in the late 19th century. One thing to know would be 1917 and Walter Rauschenbusch's book A Theology of the Social Gospel. There is a returning to the social gospel idea among liberal evangelicals today which is just a throwback. We are going through another fundamentalist-modernist controversy. The problem is that most conservatives don't know that and are completely unaware that this is taking place. The key issue is, as always, the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
A fourth strand was the assault of Darwinism which culminates in the Scopes trial in 1925. But the fundamentalists reject Darwinism and emphasize a literal Genesis and a literal creation.
The fifth strand that affects the rise of fundamentalism is the rise of higher criticism, which is an assault of biblical authorship and the biblical text.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is an extremely lengthy document defining what is meant by the inerrancy of Scripture. But they recognized that it is one thing to affirm the literal historicity of the text and the literal inerrancy of the text but it is another thing to affirm a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation. They recognized that if they don't define interpretation then for practical purposes many will give away inerrancy. So they also came out a few years later with a statement on interpretation, but they couldn't really reach to a consensus among evangelicals and so this laid the groundwork for the erosion that has occurred in the view of the text and the Bible among evangelicals, seminaries and theologians since the late 1970s.
The issue is that we have to contend for the truth. If the truth is up for grabs then there is no truth. So there has to be a set truth and this can only be true if there is a set body of revelation that is inerrant, that is dependable and that we can trust. So at the very core of whatever it is we say we believe when we contend for the faith, we have to contend for the inerrancy and the infallibility of Scripture. The Word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. Why? Because all Scripture is breathed out by God, and it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. All of Scripture is breathed out by God; God is the ultimate source.