December 12, 2017

Chuck Phelps on Personal Separation

FBFI Board Vice Chairman, Dr. Chuck Phelps has written an excellent article titled, ‘It’s Not About Cultural Fundamentalism It’s About Personal Separation,” that deserves wide circulation. Although the article has already appeared on other sites, the article needs to be read by all readers of Proclaim and Defend, and is featured below, with the author’s permission:

It has become vogue to declare one’s loyalty to “historic fundamentalism” while distancing oneself from “cultural fundamentalism.” “Historic Fundamentalism” is defined by those who affirm this paradigm as belief in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. “Cultural Fundamentalism,” according to those who disenfranchise from it, is fixated on music, dress, ministry associations, and methods. While such an argument may be appealing, it is simply not valid. Failure to biblically explain one’s position on matters pertaining to Christian liberty by attacking a newly created straw man called “cultural fundamentalism,” will cause increasing polarization among those who profess to know the Lord and love His Word. Peace among the brethren will not come as a result of pummeling the straw man called “cultural fundamentalism.” Why not? Because it’s not about “cultural fundamentalism,” it’s about personal separation!

Does Charles Spurgeon represent “Cultural Fundamentalism?”

In 1887, C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “At the present time it is a matter of notoriety that preachers of no mean repute defend the play-house, and do so because they have been seen there. Is it any wonder that church members forget their vows of consecration and run with the unholy in the ways of frivolity, when they hear that persons are tolerated in the pastorate who do the same? … The fact is that many would like to unite church and stage, cards and prayers, dancing and sacraments. If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence, and entreat them to keep out of it. When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight. Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly.” (The Sword and the Trowel, 1887)

Think about it…

  1. The term “fundamentalism” was coined by Curtis Lee Laws in The Watchman Examiner in 1920. Charles Spurgeon predates “fundamentalism” and thus cannot legitimately be called a fundamentalist. Yet, those who attack the straw man of “cultural fundamentalism” must see that the straw man of their making sounds a lot like Spurgeon.
  2. The cross-denominational Niagara Conference is considered to be the seed-bed out of which fundamentalism grew. The Niagara Creed was written in 1878. Statement #12 of Niagara’s Creed says, “We believe that we are called with a holy calling to walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, and so to live in the Spirit that we should not fulfill the lusts of the flesh; but the flesh being still in us to the end of our earthly pilgrimage needs to be kept constantly in subjection to Christ, or it will surely manifest its presence to the dishonor of His name: Rom. 8:12-13; 13:14; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:1-10; I Pet. 1:14-16; I John 3:5-9.” Niagara’s Creed, which both predates and lays the foundation for the fundamentalist movement sounds a lot like the straw man now called “cultural fundamentalism.”

With the statements of Spurgeon and Niagara in mind, it is without doubt revisionist history to seek to divorce “cultural separation” from historic fundamentalism. Personal separation predates fundamentalism and flows through every pore of genuine Christianity. Attacking personal separation by calling it a new name fails to deal with the fact that our faith requires personal separation. Those who attack personal separation without interacting with Scripture may garner a following but they do not promote true biblical faith that interacts with culture and the holiness of God.

It’s not about “cultural fundamentalism.” It’s about consecration as evidenced by and through personal separation! Article #48 of The Fundamentals is simply entitled “Consecration.” (Note: The Fundamentals are the articles that birthed “fundamentalism.”) It is evident to all who will read this article and others in The Fundamentals that historic fundamentalism understood and interacted with biblical instruction concerning personal separation. Those who seek to divorce personal separation from historic fundamentalism are revisionists who demonstrate an appalling ignorance of and perhaps even cavalier arrogance toward true biblical Christianity before the birth of fundamentalism, during the formation of historic fundamentalism and flowing from historic fundamentalism.

For the genuine Christian, “personal Separation” predates “fundamentalism.” It is rooted and grounded in our call to holiness (I Pet. 1:15-16; I John 2:15-17). Even the word “church” (ekklesia, “called out”) is embedded with the necessity to separate. Sadly, there are those who want to make a movement called fundamentalism defend separation and forget that separation is defended by and declared in Scripture.

Beware of those who belittle personal separation by attacking “cultural fundamentalism.” To belittle separatism is to belittle Scripture and to ignore what it means to live a life of consecration. It’s not about “cultural fundamentalism,” it never has been. It’s about living a consecrated life of personal separation to please a holy God.


Dr. Charles Phelps is the pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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