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fundamentalist distinctives 1

The Wikipedia entry for Independent Baptist has a pretty good (meaning “familiar”) list of distinctives from fundamentalist churches:

  • Music from hymnals sung by choirs
  • Separation/separatism
  • Mission work, revival meetings, and local evangelism
  • Clergy a separate class from laity
  • Married clergy
  • Male-only leadership above a certain level
  • Membership voting (regardless of gender)
  • Exclusive use of the King James Bible
  • An apprentice approach to the professional clergy formalized via a Bible college

I guess I would add to that list the following:

  • Autonomy of the local church
  • Closed leadership meetings (pastor and deacons)
  • Authoritarian leadership style; some notion of “headship” or “covering”
  • Dress and hair codes; far-reaching behavior codes
  • Mostly literal reading of the Bible
  • A preaching style rooted in persuasion rather than making convincing arguments
  • Cessationism
  • No formal confession or creed

These are the fundamentalist Baptist distinctives, more or less; I’ve heard similar lists from people from Nazarene, Church of Christ, or Brethren backgrounds, here gaining an element (like requiring rebaptism or forbidding musical instruments) there losing an element (KJV-only, autonomy of the local church) but mostly keeping the parameters of the subculture intact.

Fundamentalist Baptists tend to be somewhat Landmarkist and ahistorical, seeing themselves as a return to a true Christianity owing nothing to historical Christianity prior to about 1917, although I did hear stories on occasion that rooted the churches I attended somewhere in the English Reformation, with the insistence on personally reading and understanding the Bible if not on interpreting it for one’s self.

We tended to take a tack on Scripture that blended the notions of inerrancy and inspiration with a KJV-only point of view that ended up at a point where we said “the Bible is the Word of God” and meant that “the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God,” thereby dismissing a lot of questions regarding transmission, textual variants, translation, and interpretation, ended up in a situation where any coherent phrase could be read out of context according to its plain meaning.

We went so far as to have something of a defective Trinity in which the Holy Spirit did nothing but interpret Scripture; we had in a sense a Trinity of “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible.” And we were free to interpret Scripture for ourselves so long as we came to the same conclusions as our preacher.

There are supposedly three or four distinct streams of fundamentalist Baptists; there’s one in the South with centers in Columbia, South Carolina and Pensacola, Florida, and one in the upper Midwest, centered in Chicago and parts of Indiana. Where the others are I can’t imagine. I haven’t been able to find any reliable sources for this claim; the loose associations implied by locally autonomous churches, Bible colleges, and division by shunning make demographic trends hard to spot.

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