Volume 46 | Number 3 | May–June 2018

Inglés Español

The Rise and Fall of Historic Fundamentalism

By Dr. H. T. Spence

In all the great movements in God’s providence (though some have been of greater influence and magnitude), none has arisen at a more crucial hour in Church history than the Fundamentalist movement. We must remember that Fundamentalism was not a denomination but a trans-denominational movement in its influence. We must also keep in mind that the beginning of any historical movement is very fluid; only its future will determine where it will flow and how it will end—in greatness of truth or in tragedy of spiritual demise. Fundamentalism began not as an organization but rather as an organism. History has consistently revealed that when any genuine movement birthed by God moves away from the fundamentals of its birth, that movement deteriorates in and of itself. Leaving its founding principles, it will go the way of all flesh and become a byword in the earth. However, if a biblical movement keeps its founding fundamental heart, God will honor and empower it for preservation.

Though many details could be given concerning both Fundamentalism’s rise and fall, our burden is to take a straightforward journey through the principles of its rise and fall, and where we find ourselves today in its demise.

The Beginning of Christianity

To understand the need of the birth and rise of the Fundamentalist movement, we must go back to the beginning of Christianity and then consider where we are in this nebulous sea of so-called Christianity today. According to Acts 2, Hebrews 1, and other passages of Scripture, the first coming of Christ began what the Bible calls “the Last Days.” At that time, Israel politically and Judaism religiously were deep in apostasy; only a remnant of Jews were looking and longing for the coming of the Messiah. Amidst the death of Judaism’s spiritual influence, the “new wine” of the gospel had been brought to the world through the embodiment of the Gospel Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. The old wineskins would no longer do. If the gospel had been poured into the wineskin of Judaism, it would have been destroyed. The apostle Paul clearly expressed this in his writing to the Galatian churches.

God ordained three precious stabilizing forces to promote this gospel: the Church, the Holy Spirit, and the New Testament. The first two were found on the Day of Pentecost when God appointed the Church’s birth. For the coming centuries, the Church was to be the social and spiritual assistance to strengthen and sustain the believers’ growth and maturity in this gospel. The apostle Paul declares in Ephesians 4:11–16 the Church’s full purpose beyond simple evangelism. The Church was to bring believers into a depth of maturity; these believers were to grow up into the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church was not to be for the world or for sinners; it was established for those whom Christ had saved out of the world, plucking them as brands from the burning of sin and the powers and pollutions of this world system. This Ecclesia, the Church, was to be for the “called-out ones” from the world. The believers of the Church were to be separated from that which Christ had saved them— saving them not only from their sins but also from this present evil world. They were to be the Church, the Kirk, or “belonging to the Lord.” This Church (according to the apostle Paul in First Timothy 3) was to be the “pillar and ground of truth” through the coming centuries.

Secondly, God gave also the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to these believers to enable and empower them for what they would face daily from this world in their witness of the true Christ. The Spirit was sent first to announce to God’s people (according to Acts 2:33) that Christ Jesus the Son of God was accepted by the Father as the Supreme sacrifice, and was given the position as the God-Man, representing man at the right hand of the Father. The Father gave the Holy Ghost to His Son as a gift to be poured out among His own for the witness that His Son had been accepted of His Father as the sacrifice for all.

Along with the Church and the Holy Spirit, there was a third important gift that God gave to His people—the Kainos Diatheke, the New Covenant in writing. The New Covenant was not a contradiction to the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was a renewing of that Old Covenant now resolved in the Messiah Who had come. Though the Old Testament writing was given over a period of about one thousand years, God gave His Son’s Church the New Testament writing over a comparatively brief fifty years. These verbally and plenary inspired writings became the chart and compass, the tangible written guardian of the declaration of the gospel that the Church was to proclaim—nothing more nor nothing less. These sacred writings were given to keep the ship of the Church on its course. Yes, the three precious gifts—the Church, the Holy Spirit, and the inspired writings—were for God’s people for the coming centuries. The Word was given “once and for all” to the saints of that early, pure Church. The Word was the proclamation and security of faith, and the Holy Spirit brought that Word giving illumination to it whereby the true Church was to preserve and declare that Word.

The Falling Away

But within the early years of the visible Church, the powers of a falling away, an apostasy, a defection from the truth, were becoming evident. After Christ the Head of the Church had initiated the sowing of the wheat, that enemy the Devil was now sowing the darnel (the tares) in, around, and on top of the wheat. The Devil wasted no time sowing deception in the early Church. The New Testament was written for the proclamation of the doctrinal details of what Christ had done during His life, His ministry, and especially His efficacious death, burial, and resurrection which procured our redemption and atonement. The New Testament was written in careful polemic and apologetic defense of this great personification of the Gospel, the Son of God Who had come to earth. He was the singular way to God, He was the only embodiment of truth, and He was the eternal life sent from God the Father and given to men who believed.

Yet there was the clear evidence that a defection from this New Testament truth was becoming a growing reality even within the first and second generations of this visible expression of the Church. When the apostle Paul came to the latter years of his life, he declared some had already departed from the faith and made shipwreck their lives from the embodiment of the written Word, the Faith. A new gospel was emerging, presenting a new Jesus and a new Spirit. Spurious writings were already rising and creating confusion among the churches scattered across the Roman Empire. Men were forsaking the Truth and rising against the gospel of grace and truth. If you destroy the written embodiment of The Faith, you destroy the hope of faith for salvation and the true Christian life. For our personal faith is singularly based and founded upon The Faith. And if that written faith is altered in any way, our personal faith is false, and it is not in the Truth. For this reason, Jude pled with his audience and the believers of future generations to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once [once and for all] delivered unto the saints.” The writers of the New Testament declared that rising within the visible Church would come a falling away, a defection, an apostasy from that embodiment of Faith delivered. They knew it was coming. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they warned again and again and again of that defection that was yet ahead within the Church. They additionally warned there was coming within the last days, an End Time of the Church that would bring about The Apostasy, where the Head, the Christ would be cast out of His own Church, and His Written Word denied. Ultimately, this defection within the true religion of history would permit and assist the rise of the Son of Perdition as the “mystery of iniquity” who finally would be embodied in the Man of Sin, the Antichrist.

The Changes in the Early Church

It was Christ’s intent that the Household of God be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. But by the end of the first century, radical changes were already taking place within the unfolding history of the Church. Ceremonialism and sacerdotalism began taking the place of the Truth of that “more sure Word of prophecy,” the Faith, the written Word of God. The apostle John gave us the last five writings of this New Testament. His three epistles declare what a true Christian is, who is truly “born of God,” as well as warns of those who would try to deceive the saints. John gave the final perspective of the life and teachings of the Living Word and warned that the “believing” in that Word was dying out, and that there would only be a remnant that would remain believing in The Faith. John gives us the final unveiling of this embodiment of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, Who would spew out of His mouth the End-Time Church of luxury, wealth, pride, self-sufficiency, and dialectic theology. As the final empire of Daniel 2 will try to mix the iron of authority with the weakness of humanity’s clay, the Church today is endeavoring to mix the flesh with the Spirit, the hot and cold, the powers of heaven with the powers of the world. The lampstand of the End-Time Church will be removed as it casts out its Head—its Christ within the Church. The call now is to the individual within the apostate church who will overcome the apostasy and lukewarmness, who will buy the gold from Christ, His appointed white raiment for clothing, and the anointing of the eye salve so that he may see His Word in the darkness of the last Church age, the Church age of the Apostasy.

As the visible Church continued in its historical unfolding, the evidence of decline continued even amidst the severe persecution of the world. In the fourth century, the Church entered the throes of outward liberation under Constantine and began yielding to the persistent encroachments of the world and its governments. The ecumenical councils revealed the struggles of the Wheat and Tares growing together in the Church. Then the miry clay of the Dark Ages wreaked havoc on the visible Church (the professing Body of Christ). Yet amidst the swirling current of the murky waters of darkness that furthered the visible Church away from its Head, we must acknowledge that there has always been a remnant preserving this faith, this The Faith once delivered unto the saints. Even in the rise of the Roman Catholic Church (that led in the Council of Trent’s sealing of “Romanism”), there was still a remnant preserving the gospel written both on parchment and upon their hearts. This remnant was sometimes in the most unlikely of contexts, sometimes even hidden; nevertheless, the sure word of prophecy continued to shine through the darkness.

The Influences of the Renaissance

Both the Italian and European Renaissance were providential movements of God that brought man to a greater individuality of thought and reason. However, God did use them to also provoke men to questioning Romanism and its defection from the truth. By the sixteenth century, Romanism had become the oldest, continuing apostasy within Christianity. God’s desire was to bring about the Reformation in Europe through this Renaissance. This Reformation established a greater allegiance to the true Word of God in contradistinction to Romanism’s allegiance to the long-established tradition of the visible Church. But as the Reformation unfolded out of the expressive liberty that the Renaissance had provided, Europe began embracing the rising Enlightenment thinking that was strongly reacting to the Reformation and its Light of the Word of God. Men of the Enlightenment boldly arose giving their allegiance not to the Faith or even church tradition but to the light within man—the power of reason. Greatly affected by this subjective enlightenment, Protestantism by the early 1600s was already experiencing a falling away.

The Revivalist Period

Then in the 1700s, God sent the Revivalist period to the visible Church. This great move of God became one of the greatest spiritual movements to the Church on both sides of the Atlantic. As the Reformation had brought the visible Church to doctrinal truth and the preeminence of the Written Word of God declaring the Living Word of Christ, the Revivalist period brought to the forefront the needed heart living of that Word of The Faith. “Modern missions” poured out of that precious Revivalist movement with hearts aflame and the written Word of God now becoming more and more the personal possession of God’s saints. That Word, which was given to the saints, was now being preserved by the saints in history. Providence had given each his own personal copy of The Faith.

The Influences of the 1800s

It seemed at this time we were coming into the End Time of the Last Days as described by the Head of the Church in the first fourteen verses of Matthew 24. For following the greatest spiritual movement of God in Church history (both in the Revivalist movement and the Great Awakenings in America), the powers of the Enlightenment were mutating rapidly. The 1800s spewed out the anger of the head of the Tares, the Devil himself. The attack came from all the fronts of secular humanism. The Hegelian dialecticism had risen to question anything absolute. This was followed by the evil philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard and his full denial of all absolutes and truth in the philosophy of Existentialism. The Encyclopedists had birthed open Atheism in France and other parts of Europe. Horace Mann, and later John Dewey, set forth a new perspective of education with the absence of God; Charles Robert Darwin reestablished an old theory called Evolution and attached it to the emerging social sciences. Psychology and Psychiatry were birthed in that same century to take the place of God and His Word within the lives of human beings. The mind took the place of the soul in the writings of William James, the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States; this approach was adopted then in the writings of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung. Founded in their denial of God and the belief of evolution, their writings have helped revolutionize end-time secularist thinking. Additionally, the 1800s also witnessed the birth of the cults such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and Christian Science which swept through America.

But rising in Europe was another breed of evil within the visible Church called Liberalism. Liberalism denied The Faith and faith in The Faith. Its condemnation of all that was in the Scriptures birthed another evil called Modernism. Modernism declares that reason precedes faith and is, therefore, greater than the revelation of God’s Word. Modernism declared the Bible needed to be interpreted through the eyes of the present philosophy of the times; therefore, its interpretation of Scripture is always mutating every few years.

The Birth of Fundamentalism

It was in the vortex of this secularistic whirlwind of intellectualism, where there was a growing, aggressive onslaught against the Word of God and true Christianity, that a movement began to arise among a remnant of men within various denominations. This group of remnant believers became known as Fundamentalists, men who saw their denominations leaving The Faith they once believed. They saw that the very truths and basic fundamentals that gave birth to their churches were being discarded and attacked by their own denominational leaders. They saw that such questionings and bold denials of the fundamentals of the Christian Faith were now destroying their churches. This remnant of men rose independently in their pulpits and began to attack the heresy and mutating apostasy that was taking place in their denominations out of the hope of calling their churches back to that faith which was once delivered to the saints. They were puritans “within” their denominations calling for a return to God’s infallible, inerrant Word. The providence of God revealed to each that they were not alone; there were others standing in their pulpits calling for a return. The “movement” had begun with noble, godly men who from their pulpits lifted their voices in strength. Nevertheless, one of the powers they could not easily confront was the power of Liberalism and Modernism becoming more entrenched in their seminaries. Seminary education was where the battle was lost within these denominations.

A day came when they knew they could no longer stay in the mother church, which they had loved more dearly than their lives. The day came when their puritan attempts could not overcome the powers pervading their own denominations. Out of necessity, the decision arose to make an exodus from their denominations. Though they had already made a first exodus in their lives from Egypt, from sin and the world, it was now imperative they make an exodus from the apostate system of their denominational Babylon. The Puritan now became the Pilgrim. The Fundamentalist movement in its earlier days was clearly becoming a separatist movement. They had earnestly contended for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints and now was to be preserved by the saints. The sound of God’s Word and Spirit led them with the cry, “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you. And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

New Enemies Confronting Fundamentalism

The following twentieth century brought new foes. Four theological winds began to blow upon the Fundamentalist movement. Neo-Orthodoxy came out of Liberalism (under the guise of Neo-Protestantism) pretending to be a retaliation to Liberalism and its interpretation of the Scriptures. Neo-Orthodoxy advocated another principle to be used to interpret the Bible—the new and growing philosophy of Existentialism under the voices of men such as Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Rudolf Bultmann. Its subtle usage of the language of Scripture was very deceptive in that it used the words of Scripture but existentially interpreted them, thus drawing several Fundamentalists into its powerful, convincing intellectual vortex.

Coming out of Neo-Orthodoxy was Neo-Morality. Neo-Morality called the Christian world to believe there were no absolutes or principles that should govern life apart from “love.” As Neo-Orthodoxy brought the deception of a new interpretation to Scripture, the Neo-Moralists or Situationists brought a pragmatic perspective that denied all governing principles except the false concept of the love of God. Joseph Fletcher’s Situational Ethics: the New Morality (1966) began taking over theological seminaries.

However, the greatest enemy of the twentieth century was birthed within the Fundamentalist movement by those who only trumpeted the call “Ye must be born again” (making evangelism the greater emphasis), while failing to “earnestly contend for the faith.” This historic twofold-balanced principle of Fundamentalism was now being rejected. This departure was accompanied by a growing discontent within the movement. There arose hatred for the doctrine of biblical separation—including ecclesiastical separation from those in the apostate denominations, as well as from Liberalism, Modernism, and now Neo-Orthodoxy. These disgruntled men began to believe that one must love the world to win the world; one must dialogue apostate theological systems (becoming one with them) to win them. As a result, Neo-Evangelicalism was born. New Evangelicalism was a “new” way to evangelize; it advocated that the means and methods of evangelism do not matter so long as the end or goal was to save the lost. Whatever compromise of message, whatever means, whatever conformity to the world that was needed, it was permissible in the sight of God.

It is interesting to note that the very same year Neo-Evangelicalism was born (1948), the fourth deceptive wind of Neo-Pentecostalism was born. Neo-Pentecostalism finally mutated into the Charismatic movement under men like Oral Roberts and Demos Shakarian. Neo-Evangelicalism and Neo-Pentecostalism will become friends under the careful guidance of Billy Graham. Nineteen forty-eight also witnessed the birth of Israel as a nation and the birth of the World Council of Churches. Accompanying these powerful foes was the rise in the secular world of the birth of Rock and Roll music that has now swept the globe over.

Yet, in 1948, a beginning departure was made by a group of professing Fundamentalists from Fundamentalism. These Neo-Evangelicals began to swell in number by adopting casual dress standards for church services, by broadening their attendance to include the world’s affairs, by introducing what would be called “contemporary” music into their services, all giving rise to mega churches and ultimately the emerging church movement. Along with these changes in the church, even more radical changes came to seminaries and Bible colleges. One change led to another until basically no difference could be distinguished between their campuses and secular schools. Secular favor through accreditation and intercollegiate sports all came under the disguise of “witnessing for Jesus.” Instead of winning the lost, they were becoming the lost in their ever-compromising ventures to be more like the world in order to be accepted by the world.

In every biblical movement there is always the inevitable tendency for a variety of factions to eventually emerge. One faction is the mixed multitude that attaches itself to a movement. Then there are also individuals who personally leave the movement’s legacy. Additionally, there are those having made shipwreck their Faith who begin to redesign the movement in accordance to their heart’s change. When this trinity of factions surface and begin to erode the heart of the Fundamentalist movement, the term Fundamentalist changes in definition. Now, the fundamentals no longer make the Fundamentalist. Now, the organism has become an organization; now the Fundamentalist has merely become Fundamentalism. As a result, the organization becomes more important than the fundamentals themselves. When such a transition is made, purity of practice is rarely considered. The movement itself becomes a system of greater importance than its original heart. As a result, everything is affected—the personal life, music, education, as well as lifestyle in standards of dress and living. The reality of such a transition in Fundamentalism destroys the heart of holiness (which is separation) and results in both the heart and the movement being redefined.

Present-Day Fundamentalism

It must be said that over the years the true remnant’s soul has witnessed the falling away taking place in Christian Fundamentalism. Today’s Fundamentalism has no resemblance to that of historic Fundamentalism. Some time ago Fundamentalism entered a Neo-Fundamentalism merely as a temporary bridge towards Neo-Evangelicalism, a final step into global ecumenicity. The Christianity of Fundamentalism today has basically become a blurred pluralism.

Fundamental educational institutions of the past that once taught us how to militantly wield the Sword for Christ against the apostasy (such as Bob Jones University) have become “changing agents” for the New Fundamentalism in every aspect of the Christian life. Their move to “change” has been bold; they equally have boldly defied any remnant voice that gets in the way. These leaders of change are taking Scriptures and reversing interpretation to declare that the “disorderly brother” is the one standing in the way of contemporary changes. They imply one should not be part of the church if he is against what the change agents are advocating. To defend this falling away, pastors are rising to powerfully quell the voices that question these sweeping, overt changes. All these changes are bringing greater ecumenicity within the ranks of Neo-Evangelical schools such as Furman University, Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary, and the list continues.

Powerful innovations and influences of contemporary music have now taken over most of the Fundamental churches and schools. The grey-area changes that began under Frank Garlock and Ron Hamilton have now led Fundamentalism into the Southern Gospel music of Bill Gaither, the Celtic and New Age music of Steve Pettit, and the eclectic mixture of the ancient and modern under the motivational influence of Keith and Kristyn Getty. Even the rock music of the charismatic church Hillsong in Australia has washed ashore at the American Fundamental schools and churches (such as West Coast Bible College in CA) in a toned-down version of such radical contemporary sounds. When you hear the recordings of these Fundamental schools (with their pretty, easy-listening sound and their increasing surrealistic aura and modern suave harmonies), it is clear that the landmarks of Fundamentalist music have radically crossed over into thoroughgoing Neo-Evangelicalism. To cross over from good music to bad music, one must pass through a grey area. That grey area progressively worsens until it is the next logical step to embrace the bad. This grey area consists of a weakened message, a contemporary-shaped melody, a constant usage of suave dissonances, men singing pretty like women, and women singing soft, sensual, dreamy surrealism with sedated orchestrations and subtle, syncopated accompaniments. Unless we deal with the music in the “grey” area, there is no hope to keep a ministry or school from falling away. They will assimilate the contemporary sound. Sadly, their students do not know the difference; they have not been taught the difference. It is not that they have not been trained; it is that they are being “mis-trained” to perpetuate the falling away for the next generation. The dangers of Neo-Evangelicalism in all its facets are no longer addressed in the Christian schools, because these schools themselves have become presuppositionally and practically Neo-Evangelical.

Perhaps a final word is needed concerning the oppressive powers that Fundamentalism unsuspectingly had to face from the 1800s. In His providence God permitted a proliferation of newly discovered manuscripts to rise to the forefront during all the deceptions that came in that century. The Tischendorf findings both at Mt. Sinai and in the Vatican, along with Westcott and Hort’s manipulation of these manuscripts, were part of the deceptive plan of the Devil for the End Time of the Last Days. God permitted these findings to be an end-time sifting and shaking of both the apostate church and God’s true remnant. Amidst all these new manuscripts, the psychology of these times reveals that man has fallen in love with “the new thing.” This love includes a desire for ever-mutating modern English versions. Although Fundamentalism has been the last group in Christendom to be identified with the King James Bible, the greatest change foreseen among professing Fundamentalists now is its division over “What is the text?” Although there has always been some latitude in “what is the interpretation of the text?” we must not be divided concerning “what is the text?” It is evident that one of the final rejections leading historic Fundamentalism into contemporary Fundamentalism is its rejection of this precious sword and this war-horse used by providence in the battle against Romanism and apostate Protestantism. This sword and war-horse has been the beloved King James Bible. Whereas God gave the first-century Christians the gifts of the Church, the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures to guide and protect the journey of the gospel through history, we in the twenty-first century are witnessing the apostate redefining of this sacred trilogy. Now the “Church” has been redefined as a social organization that accommodates a pluralistic society and ceases to threaten and confront the world’s end-time philosophy. Secondly, through the Charismatic and Pentecostal global movements, the “Holy Spirit” has been redefined as only an existential, self-manipulated “feeling” for the “moment” in worship. And finally, the Bible’s purpose has been redefined as simply the subjective thought of whomever is translating or publishing the book for commercial gain. The modern church has exclusively made the Bible a book of comfort while denying it as the only infallible revelation from God that declares the absoluteness of truth for all men.


I am grieved to say that we are at an hour when a puritan movement will no longer be effective within Fundamentalism; God’s men are now forced to become pilgrims casting themselves on the immense sea of God’s providence, believing He is able to keep them from the powers of this final age, as we look for our blessed Saviour to come. This is the hour to rise above generic preaching, neo-evangelical music, and the scholastic intoxication with the multi-version debate, and to realize that God through His providence has already proven His appointed Word in the English-speaking world. We must preach it both in season (when it is accepted) and out of season (when it is hated and despised).

But in all our defense of The Faith once delivered and sustained by the saints, we plead for the remnant to rise and cry for a biblical revival to fall from heaven upon their local churches, pastors, music directors, and teachers. If not, the tendency will be towards neutrality and passive sympathy to the age and its spirit. Amidst the catastrophe of modern evangelism, the greater need is the “full” biblical evangelism ever calling God’s people to deep spiritual living. May we not be afraid to prayerfully pursue such a revival in the light of what it will cost us. I fear that unless such a revival is sent from heaven to the Remnant on the eve of Christ’s coming, we will witness a falling away among our own as the Remnant.