Always Reforming: Where our Ecclesiastical Fathers….Became Deformed!

IFCA – AZ Regional – April 7, 2017

Always Reforming: Where our Ecclesiastical Fathers….Became Deformed!

Dr. Joel Tetreau

Senior Pastor – Southeast Valley Bible Church – Gilbert, AZ

Western Regional Coordinator – Institute of Biblical Leadership – Fairview, NC


(The opinions of Joel Tetreau are his own. They may or may not reflect the views of anyone else at SEVBC, IBL or the IFCA. If you find any of this objectionable please don’t blame Joel’s parents, any of his friends, the schools where he studied… or his wife. You can reach Joel on his email at

Introduction – So over the years I have stated publicly I believe in a historic fundamentalism not a hysteric fundamentalism. To many on the outside (and to many of us on the inside) there is a real struggle to understand where one ends and the other begins! So while I seldom use the word with people who cannot appreciate the context of it, I still appreciate the idea behind what we mean by “fundamentalism.” In one of the more recent editions of Voice, I noted and appreciated very much the thoughts behind Gary Gilley and his article entitled, “Thinking About Legalism” (March/April 2017, 18-19).  I like Gary’s use of the distinction between “Cultural” and “Biblical” fundamentalism. While we reflect on 500 years of reformation let me note that I am also indebted to the ideas of “Reformation Theology.” I’m not sure how one can say he is historically a fundamentalist without also having a great appreciation for the ideas of “Grace alone,” Scripture alone,” “Faith alone,” Christ alone” for “God’s glory alone.” I am extremely thankful for the strength and ministry accomplished by the likes of Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox (to name but a few).  Let me also say I am very much a dispensationalist in the classic sense. I continue to see two peoples of God divided between “Church” and “Israel.” God is not confused. Promises He makes to one will be fulfilled to that same one. Promises made to the other will be fulfilled to the other. I understand that there is a different essence between the “Mosaic Law” and the “Law of Christ” as it is mitigated in the “New Covenant” for the Church. My “dispensationalism” bleeds a bit in that I see an aspect of the Kingdom of God that is “already” as well as aspects that are, “not yet.” Having said that I see both some continuity and some discontinuity between the testaments. They meet together in the New Covenant where the eschatological promises to Israel are joined with the soteriological promises for the Church in one new and better covenant (as clearly spelled out by the author of Hebrews). The result of all of that is that New Testament saints are the spiritual descendants of Abraham!

We all have Warts! While having an appreciation for our fundamentalist, reformed and dispensational heritage, we cannot afford to have our individual or collective heads in the sand. A first reality is that many of our reformed fathers were not without serious error (Luther and the Jews [oh my word!], Calvin and Michael Servetus [“it only takes a match … & an Anabaptist to get a fire going!,” “ah…roasting Congregationalists and marshmallows…etc…]). Sure Servetus was Anti-Trinitarian. Not sure it’s consistent with the Scriptures to burn those who struggle with the Trinity. A second reality is that many of our fundamentalist fathers were not without serious error (A more recent error – the 1611 is more accurate than the Hebrew and Greek text…really!? …what do we do with the seven or eight English translations of the Bible” pre-King James?,” “Which edition of the King James is the one I’m supposed to go with?”) a second and third and fourth degree separation? (“Fundamentalism and why we fight with each other when we ran out of liberals to fight” – a case study – a generation ago – The case of the “Fundamentalism unhinged”… “The New-evangelical witch hunt” – IFBAM vs. CBA vs. Hyles/ Sword of the Lord Gang, vs. FBF (“Fundamentalists Bashing Falwell”) & Greenville Fundamentalism, vs. BBF/Southwide Fellowship vs. the GARBC vs. IFBNA vs. IFCA vs IFCA (Lordship vs. “others”) vs. OBF vs. MBA vs. itself…., “Fighting Fundamentalism” – The issues? You name it! – Pants on women,” how wide is your tie?,”” drums baby drums,” “Buses are found in Nehemiah!” What a nasty, embarrassing mess – you wonder why “movement fundamentalism” is mostly dead – because you people killed it! (A bunch of ecclesiastical cannibalistic T-Rex’s). A Minnesota+ Case Study -“Clearwater vs. Cedarholm vs. Monk Parker vs. John R. Rice vs. Dr. Bob Jones Jr. vs. Chief Jordan, etc…” – Joel’s commentary – God’s going to make them all hold hands for about 50 years in heaven!, J. Frank Norris and his propensity to shoot first and ask questions later? (A fundamentalist and his gun!..a man has to ask himself, “do I feel lucky!?”). A third reality is that many of our dispensational fathers were not without serious error (two ways of salvation….really!?, a view of Scripture that hermeneutically (and hermetically) divides and chops God’s Word into 7 individual “mailboxes.” The mail next to you might be juicy…BUT IT’S NOT … IN ANY WAY…FOR YOU!, A gap large enough to make Carl Sagan dizzy between the first few verses of Genesis….really!?, Not to mention the prophetic ability to explain by way of “almost inspired,” pretribulational charts with the meaning of the statue in Daniel  - that is  the meaning of the hat, the head, the chest, the arms, the hands, the fingers, the fingernails, the dirt under the fingernails….193 reasons Jack thinks Jesus is coming this May…stop it…please!).

Appreciation for Movements and Associations – I am relatively new to the IFCA. Years ago I had the thrill of ministry in Minnesota. The Church I pastored, “Mildred Bible Chapel” (Backus, MN) was not part of the IFCA but was part of an association (Northern Gospel Mission & Northern Gospel Fellowship) that was a part of the IFCA. So as a result I enjoyed reading the Voice magazine in those years. What is interesting about my now being an individual member of the IFCA is that my father and grandfather were for years a part of a church in the thumb of Michigan that was a member of the IFCA. I joined the IFCA after setting out of an organized association for almost a decade. I was so turned off by ecclesiastical politics I had made up my mind “enough was enough.” I thought I might try to start my own group, which I sort of did in an unofficial way. What I found out is that there are great benefits with working together with other like-minded leaders and ministries in an official capacity. I also found out that kind of thing takes far more work than I have time. As I looked around to different groups I settle on the IFCA because I felt it more than any other group we sought to balance out the dynamic captured by the chart pictured. As you notice the IFCA historically has attempted to balance its commitments to Holiness, Doctrine, Unity and Liberty. If you emphasize any one of these over the others a real imbalance is almost sure to follow. What we are looking at when we consider the extremes and failures of those reformed, those fundamentalists, those dispensationalists not to mention other examples of less-than perfect slices of evangelicalism is typically a failure in these four extremes; namely – 1) Life Style Legalism; 2) Doctrinal Legalism; 3) Theological Naiveté and 4) Life Style Licentiousness.  For sake of our time today let’s look a bit closer at some classic blunders in the beliefs and practice of both our reformation and fundamentalist fathers. Before we do this look let’s ask the question, “why?” If all movements are doomed to be imperfect and if all movements fail, why take the time to look at the shortcomings of reformational and fundamentalist leaders. Bruce Shelley makes a good analysis of that question in his work, Plain Language, “Many Christians suffer from historical amnesia. As a consequence of their ignorance concerning Church history they find themselves vulnerable to the appeals of the cults.” (p. 9).

Unbalanced Expressions of Faith Common to Ecclesiastical Association

I. Reformation – The more common focus of the reformation is the break from Rome lead by Luther (starting in Germany and then spreading to other countries) as well as the leadership of Calvin, Zwingli and Knox in France, Switzerland and Scotland all in and around the 16th century.

A.    As a Baptist by way of ecclesiastical preference (even though I pastor a Bible Church ☺), I have a deep appreciation for the “Anabaptist that were Biblical and careful.” The almost total disdain from the main reformers to the “Radical Reformation” is an embarrassing mark. We see just a brutal generalization by Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli and Bullinger towards even the Godliest of Anabaptists. There were various Anabaptist groups that were often “underground.” There is some evidence that suggest these groups may go back as far as the 4th and 5th  century AD. These include leaders like Conrad Grebel (1498-1526), Felix Manz (1498-1527), Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), Menno Simons (1496-1561) to name a few. There were maybe as many as 40,000 Anabaptist in the 15th and 16th century centered in Switzerland, Germany and Holland (Menno Simons founder of Mennonites being the most notable). Some historians believe there were 50,000 Anabaptists (primarily Mennonites) in England alone by 1573. By the time we get into the 1600’s Baptist begin to show up first in England and then not long after in America (Roger Williams and John Clarke in Rhode Island between 1640-1650). Many Baptist would largely come out of the same kind of “Puritan turned congregationalist/separatist” that marked the Pilgrims who came to the New World. It is true that a percentage of the Anabaptists were mystical vs. Biblical. The majority of the Anabaptist believed largely what we believe today as conservative independent Baptist and Bible Church leaders. Many were strong on the authority of Scripture, local church separation from the state, clear regenerate membership, two offices (pastor and deacon), soul-liberty, and priesthood of the believer.

B.    With most of the main reformers we would say they should have listened a bit more to their radical brethren (some of whom were brethren!). Zwingli’s group (centered in Zurich) broke from the Catholic church, agreed the Bible was the sole authority, condemned idols but refused to abolish the mass. About twenty men who had studied under Zwingli left him and by 1524 they had taken the break with Rome to even further steps than Zwingli was willing. Eventually these men (notably Felix Manz) would form their own church(es) after rejecting infant baptism. Because Zwingli encouraged a kind of union between church and state he sided with the drowning of certain leaders of this new movement. An example was the drowning of Felix Mantz in the Lake Zurich. His mother and brother stood and watched and exhorted him to be faithful. So Calvin will have you burned and Zwingli will have you drowned!

II.    Fundamentalism – Just as you can say about the Reformers (they were used of God in a mighty way) we can say of the Fundamentalists. Just as we see with the reformed leaders in the first and subsequent generations we can see with Fundamentalism. In both groups there was a combination of clarity and confusion on exactly who the real enemy of the gospel was. Thankfully fundamentalists (to my knowledge) never burned or drowned their ecclesiastical enemies. Of course Norris shot a man in his office. He was certainly militant!  About ten years ago I came up with a taxonomy of fundamentalism.

The Views:

1. Type A+ Fundamentalism – These are the groups that seem to be outside the bucket of legitimate fundamentalism. KJV only. Traditionalism. Legalistic. Authoritarian. Sectarian to the extreme

2. Type A Fundamentalism – These guys believe you can fit the evangelical world into either “fundamentalist” or “newevangelical.” The Type A guys are big on being militant, even where Scripture is clearly not militant. To these men, separation is a key component to fundamentalism. So even though the Scriptures do not give us a clear set of standards for music, worship style, and clothing (other than “modest”), this doesn’t stop the Type A for coming up with a whole “plethora” of standards loosely based on quote in quote, “principles.” If you question their principle-driven standards, most of the leaders will remind you about their authority and that your part is to just follow. You might add a whole host of other descripts here – Very few of these ministries believe in a plurality of elders or leadership for that matter. Most of the Type A’s are anti “God-centered” theologically and tend to be pretty pragmatic as long as we can fill the buildings, the offering plates and the baptismal pool (which because of the propensity of Type A’s who believe in “decisional regeneration” have a bit more baptisms than real conversions!). You are either a “fundamentalist” or “new-evangelical.” This is a bit better than the Type A+ ministries. In their world you are either a “fundamentalist” or you are a “liberal!” The conservative, militant evangelicals (like conservative Southern Baptists) in the view of these guys are not fundamentalists at all. Type A’s like the box of fundamentalism. They are most comfortable with that “which is” or “has been” “conservative” (at least as they define “conservative.”). Typically “Type A” fundamentalists like their women in the church kitchen or the nursery ministry.

3. Type B/C Fundamentalism – Pretty much the same group now. Very little difference. Kevin Bauder is right that there are some differences that remain but they are almost gone. The “B guys” come from Type A fundamentalism and have rejected their tendency to make issues over issues that should not be issues. Type C guys have rejected new-evangelicalism and are looking for that which is consistent with Biblical Christianity. These two groups are bumping into each other all over the country! This is indeed creating Bob Bixby’s vision of some kind of an “emergent middle” (not to be confused with the “emergent church”). The B/C Coalition does not believe in an “all or nothing” approach to unity and separation. Typically unity and separation is being practiced on a “one on one” basis which is really what it should have been the whole time! The B/C Coalition believes in militancy and is practicing separation from liberalism, Romanism and even various parts of evangelicalism, and thankfully from the poisoned parts of fundamentalism. This has to be something of a weird ecclesiastical “Twilight Zone” episode for honest Type A’s who are having to take a second look at the B/C Coalition. The discerning ones are figuring out they have about 30 minutes to make an important decision.

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