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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Local Church and Fundamentalism

Berlin Hisel, First Baptist Church, Harrison, OH

Available in Tract Form. Contact the Editor.

It is amazing to see all the adjectives before the name 'Baptist' today. In a desire to be Scriptural or maintain identity, Baptists have 'dressed up' their name. Calvinistic Baptists abound. Evangelical Baptists abound. Fundamental Baptists abound. These are not names given to the denominational Baptists. These are adjectives that most non-affiliated Baptists have taken unto themselves. It is an attempt to say, “Look at me. See how sound I am.” We have Missionary Baptists. We have Independent Baptists. We have Bible Baptists. We have New Testament Baptists. Really, there is no end of adjectives that describe Baptists churches.

Are all these good? Are they necessary? Can any harm come from these terms? Will not just 'Baptists' do? Do we have to label ourselves? In many cases the Baptists, who take to themselves all these extra names, are sound in the faith. In a holy desire to be what old time Baptists were, descriptive terms are applied. Anyone today can tell you that most Baptists' are not what the 'old time Baptists' were.

This writer believes that taking to oneself these titles carries with it a great many dangers. We do not propose to examine all the titles. This article will be concerned with just one of them. It will deal with Fundamentalism. If you claim to be a fundamental Baptist, please give an honest reading to what shall follow.


According to Baker's Dictionary of Theology, “the term denotes a movement in Theology in recent decades designed to conserve the principles which be at the foundation of the Christian system, and to resist what were considered dangerous theological tendencies in the movement calling itself Modernism. Its tenets are not those of any Protestant denomination, but comprise the verities essential to the Christian gospel as inherited from all branches of the Reformation.”

This is a good definition. What Baptists must note is that this is the definition of Fundamentalism that is accepted in our world today. We, as Baptists, believe that the doctrines of the Word of God are to be preserved from the attacks of Modernism. Yet under this definition Billy Graham would comfortably sit. Baptists must go a little further and ask, “What do fundamentalists consider as fundamental doctrines?”


Again we quote from Baker's Dictionary of Theology: “Organizationally, Fundamentalism took shape as a consequence of the World Conference in Christian Fundamentals which convened at Philadelphia in May 1919. Taking the name the World's Christian Fundamental Association (W. B. Riley was president of the Association from 1930 to 1952, at which time it merged with the Slavic Gospel Association), the organization required of its members adherence to nine points of doctrine, namely:

(1) the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture,

(2) the Trinity,

(3) the deity and virgin birth of Christ.

(4) the creation and fall of man,

(5) substitutionary atonement,

(6) the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ,

(7) the regeneration of believers,

(8) the personal and imminent return of Christ, and

(9) the resurrection and final assignment of all men to eternal blessedness or eternal woe.

As a Baptist I agree with all nine of the above articles and defend them as best I know how. But then so would John R. Rice or any good Campbellite, Presbyterian or Methodist What Baptists who would call themselves Fundamentalists must recognize is that the above nine articles are the articles of faith for Fundamentalism today. If you say, “I am a Fundamentalist,” any good Presbyterian would say, “I am, too. Let's get together.” Baptists must go a little further and ask, “What does the Bible say as to the fundamental doctrines?”


“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the or­acles of God and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” (Heb. 5:12). In order to see what the Bible fundamentals are we need to observe some definitions. Of the word translated 'principles' in this verse Thayer's Greek Lexicon says, “Any first thing, from which the others belonging to some series or composite whole, take their rise; an element, first principle.” Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary of the Greek N. T. gives the following concerning the word: “…the thought of 'elementary principles,' the A B C of a science, as in Heb. 5:12…” The idea of the first principles in Hebrews 5:12, is then the fundamental oracles of God. While those fundamentals are not listed in this verse, they are listed in this context. The early verses of Hebrews 6 list them.


“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resur­rection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:1-2). Of the Greek word translated 'principles' in verse one, Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words says the following: “The first principles of Christ, lit., the account (or word) of the beginning of Christ,' denotes the teaching relating to the elementary facts concerning Christ.” If we are truly interested in the elementary facts or the fundamentals of the faith, here they are; listed for us by the Holy Spirit of God. Anything that falls short of these surely falls far short of being Bible fundamentalism.


Verses one and two of Hebrews six list the six first fundamentals or principals. They are:

(1) repentance from dead works,

(2) faith toward God,

(3) the doctrine of baptisms,

(4) laying on of hands,

(5) resurrection of the dead, and

(6) eternal judgment.

There are many other doctrines that we are to believe and go on toward maturity but these are the six basic fundamentals. These six fundamentals are divided in our text into three pairs of two each. The first two fundamentals are those at the beginning of the Christian experience: (1) repentance from dead works and (2) faith toward God. The second pair of fundamentals are those during the Christian experience: (1) the doctrine of baptisms and (2) laying on of hands. The third pair of fundamentals are those at the end of the Christian experience in time: (1) resurrection of the dead and (2) eternal judgment. We propose to examine these three Bible pairs of fundamentalism and compare them with what those who are called fundamentalists today believe. It should prove interesting.


A fact of the very first order and believed by most who profess Christianity is that repentance and faith are necessary in becoming a Christian. The Bible states: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). It is also stated in Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3-5). The 'from dead works' refers to any or all works done in the flesh in order to be saved or serve God (see Heb. 9:14). So then repentance is fundamental to life.

Faith toward God is also necessary to life. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). John 3:16 says also that believing (or faith toward God) is necessary to life.

On the fundamentals at the beginning of the Christian life, the Fundamentalists of today are in agreement with the Bible. Baptists believe them also so we are in agreement here with them. But what about the fundamental way of living the Christian life? We move on to pair number two.


After one has become a Christian, there are two fundamentals by which he must live his Christian life. Thus we have our second pair of fundamentals consisting in the doctrine of baptisms and the laying on of hands. Whatever can these fundamentals mean? Whatever do they say or point to? Let us look at them one at a time.

Much is made in the commentaries about baptisms being in the plural. Some well-meaning men say this refers to baptizing three times so this is what they practice. Some of the Brethren (Dunkers) practice this along with others. Some say it means the inward baptism of the Spirit and the outward baptism (which makes two: plural) of water. Still others say it speaks of the baptisms of John and Jesus. Many say it is referring to the proselyte baptisms or the divers washings (Heb. 9:10) of the Jews. Many well-meaning Baptists tell us it refers to the five baptisms:

(1) water baptism,

(2) Holy Spirit baptism at Pentecost and the house of Cornelius,

(3) baptism of suffering,

(4) baptism for the dead, and

(5) baptism in fire.

It is true that these five are mentioned in the Bible, but they have nothing to do with our text. That all the above explanations are wrong is very evident. There is no possible way for any of them to be the correct one for our text. Each one of them is a doctrine in itself. The word doctrine in our text is singular. So all of these solutions do not form one doctrine, but a plurality of doctrines. It is 'baptisms' that is plural.


Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:5, 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism.' There is no Holy Spirit baptism today. It -is past. There is no baptism in fire today. It is future; at the end of the millennium. The one baptism of today is water baptism. What is a baptism? Every time a Baptist preacher immerses a saved person in water by the authority of a Baptist church, to picture the gospel, you have a baptism. Every time a Baptist preacher does that twice or more you have baptisms: plural. This is what our text is teaching.


What does baptism do? It is an essential to church membership. The candidate, upon his or her profession of faith, and by the authority of the church, is immersed thus uniting with the said church in baptism. This means that it is a fundamental doctrine, that a believer should live his or her Christian experience as a member of one of the Lord's churches. That means that he is to support his local church in attendance, with prayers and with his offerings. Today's Fundamentalists do not believe this. John R. Rice and most of today's Fundamentalists want you to support them, not a local church. Billy Graham says that you may live outside the church, the Christian life.


What is meant by the laying on of hands? Whatever it means, it is one of God's fundamentals. John Gill says it refers to the laying on of hands on an animal, symbolizing the transferring of sins to the animal. One can't help but wonder if he felt the animals ought to be baptized as the subject of both baptism and laying on of hands is the same.

Laying on of hands is done by the direction of the church to set apart men to a distinct office. Hands are laid on those chosen to be deacons (Acts 6:1-6). Hands were laid on Paul and Barnabas who were going to the mission field (Acts 13:1-3). Timothy had hands laid on him (I Tim. 4:14) to set him apart for the ministry. Timothy is told by Paul to lay hands suddenly on no man (I Tim. 5:22). Let them first be proved.

The meaning of laying on of hands is evident from the above references. Churches authorize deacons to deek and preachers to preach. The whole of the Christian experience is to be lived within the framework of the Lord's churches.

Today's Fundamentalists reject this Bible fundamental. It would rule out all this free-lance evangelism and radio begging and bragging. It would put glory back in the Lord's church where it belongs (Eph. 3:21). Today's (by their own definition) fundamentalists are not Bible fundamentalists.


When the Christian experience is lived out in time, we come to the third pair of Bible fundamentals. They are the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. After this life is over, all the dead (in two separate resurrections) will be raised. The purpose is that they might be judged. The first resurrection, that of the saved, will be for the purpose of judgment for reward at the judgment seat of Christ. “…for we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). The second resurrection, one thousand years after the first, will be of the lost to be judged for the degree of punishment before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15)

In this pair of fundamentals, the Fundamentalists of today, in general, are in agreement with us. This means that in two out of three we generally agree. Is this close enough that we may call ourselves Fundamentalists? Can we, in reality, surrender the second pair, and maintain our reason for existence? Can we lay aside church authority or church truth? If we do, we lay aside the pillar and ground (the fundamental truth) upon which all truth rests.


One might say that this is making a mountain out of a mole hill. After all, you might argue, we are really the fundamentalists who believe all three pairs so let the others quit calling themselves after that name. What a simple solution but don't hold your breath until it happens.

Let me illustrate the danger. A well-meaning Baptist pastor, who is truly fundamental by Bible standards, tells his congregation week after week that he is a Fundamentalist. After some time, in the providence of God, he is removed by death or a call elsewhere. The church is now seeking a pastor. They will seek a Baptist who is a Fundamentalist. There are many who belong to the International Fellowship of Fundamentalists who seemingly qualify. They say they are Baptists. They say they believe in the local church. All the while they are Fundamentalists according to today's definition. They don't believe the middle pair or at least not very strongly. The church calls them. Their true color begins to show. The church either begins to accept alien immersion or splits. This writer can show you plenty of both.


My dear Baptist friend, be satisfied with being just a plain old Baptist. The people called 'Baptists' have never chosen their own name. They have always been named by their enemies. Our enemies cannot stand what we stand for. When some who go by the name Baptist, join the ranks of our enemies, they will keep the Baptist name and re-name us. We have not always been called Baptists. If the Lord tarries, I do not think we always shall be called Baptists. It is a grand old name. Let's keep it until providence gives us another that will best describe our doctrinal beliefs