Maranatha is Fundamentalist

By Dr. Fred Moritz [1. Dr. Fred Moritz was formerly the Executive Director of the Baptist World Mission and is currently Professor of Systematic Theology, Maranatha Baptist Seminary.]

Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary was born in a theological tradition of fundamentalist, Baptist, separatist, dispensationalist theology. My assigned task is to speak about Maranatha as a fundamentalist school. Others will write articles dealing with other distinctive positions.

As far as we know, the term “fundamentalist” was coined by Curtis Lee Laws. The Fundamental Fellowship within the Northern Baptist Convention met for the first time in 1920 at the Delaware Avenue Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York. After that meeting Laws, editor of the Watchman Examiner, wrote stating: “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called ‘Fundamentalists.’ ” [2. Larry D. Pettegrew, “Will The Real Fundamentalist Please Stand Up?” Central Testimony (Fall 1982): 1, 2.]

Blaine Myron Cedarholm (1915–1997) founded and served as the first president of Maranatha. Dr. Cedarholm ministered out of the fundamentalist theological conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and that those who believe it must “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3). Cedarholm was the son of an early fundamentalist preacher. His father, Anton Cedarholm, had ministered as a singer for Evangelist Dr. R. A. Torrey. He later served the Burton Avenue Baptist Church in Waterloo, Iowa, as pastor. Through his radio and pastoral ministry the church experienced God’s blessings. [3. accessed July 30, 2010.]

B. Myron Cedarholm was educated at the University of Minnesota, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Princeton Seminary. After a successful five-year pastorate at the Lehigh Avenue Baptist Church in Philadelphia, he was called to serve as an evangelist with and then become the General Director of the Conservative Baptist Association of America. From 1947 through 1965 the association, during Dr. Cedarholm’s tireless and dynamic ministry, grew from one hundred churches to 1800 in the fellowship.

Maranatha’s founder began his ministry in the framework of the Northern Baptist Convention, and he left over the theological liberalism that pervaded the convention and auxiliary organizations. He then devoted eighteen years to the CBA of A and then severed his connections to that movement because of the compromises of ecumenical evangelism and the New Evangelicalism. Throughout his ministry he maintained a testimony of absolute fidelity to the Word of God and the biblical fundamentals that provide the framework for fundamentalism. He believed the fundamentals, and in the words of Curtis Lee Laws, he did “battle royal” for them throughout his ministry.

I was a nine-year-old boy when Dr. and Mrs. Cedarholm first came to our church for a Sunday evening service. I still have the volume on Baptist history that he gave me just before I enrolled at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in 1959. He later offered advice about the choice of a seminary when I was a junior in college. That advice has positively affected the course of my entire ministry. He often served as a trusted counselor when I was a pastor. We served together in the ministry of Baptist World Mission. His influence, advice, and convictions were positive and godly. He evidenced a passion to glorify God and to advance His work around the world through the preaching of the gospel and the planting of local churches. I thank the Lord for Dr. Cedarholm’s godly influence as a fundamentalist, Baptist, dispensationalist, and separatist leader.

Fundamentalism as a movement has not been static. Many changes have occurred in doctrinal and practical emphasis over the years. Some of these changes have occurred because new attacks on Scripture arose and new forms of compromise developed. Some of these developments have been positive, and others have been negative. The purpose of this article is to describe the historical framework in which fundamentalism developed and to understand the nature of the movement. Maranatha unashamedly self-identifies as an institution of higher learning within the framework of historic fundamentalism.

It is impossible to fully understand what fundamentalism is and how it came about until we understand the historical setting in which it developed. In order to accomplish this task, it will be necessary to at least sketch the development of theological liberalism because that movement provided the backdrop of attacks on Scripture against which fundamentalism arose and developed.

The Rise of Liberalism

Theological liberalism appeared as a movement in the middle of the 19th century. A survey of the history makes it clear that this denial of Scripture began to develop about two centuries earlier.

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677)

Spinoza was a Portuguese Jew who was born in Amsterdam. He grew up with a Jewish education, but was expelled from the Jewish community in Amsterdam in 1656. [4. Steven Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2005), 2. Accessed at, May 14, 2008.]

His philosophy is important because his “extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being, and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passion leading to virtue and happiness. They also lay the foundations for a strongly democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion.” [5. Ibid., 1.]

Spinoza’s philosophy contained the seeds of the rational theological liberalism that later developed. He almost equated nature with God. “Spinoza could be read as trying either to divinize nature or to naturalize God.” [6. Ibid., 6.] His critics called his positional view of God “atheistic materialism.”  [7. Ibid., 9.] He also placed great emphasis on human reason. He reacted against the power exercised in governments by religious authorities and saw the clergy as ambitious and self-serving, desiring to control their followers. He also reacted against the support that civil governments gave to religious authorities.

Spinoza also adopted an apostate view of the Bible. He denied that the Bible is a revelation from God, but instead argued that it is a source of natural truth, saying it only teaches a simple, moral message: love your neighbor. He accused Bible believers of idolatry and worshiping words on a page. He denied that God had any special place in His plan for Israel. He viewed Scripture as strictly a product of history, not as a supernatural revelation from God. He denied that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and that the prophets predicted the future. He held that a later scribe (perhaps Ezra) compiled the entire Old Testament from existing records. Further, Spinoza denied that miracles ever occurred. [8. Ibid., 19–23.]

Spinoza lived 200 years before the formal appearance of theological liberalism, but this brief survey establishes that his teachings advocated ideas which later developed into the full system of liberalism. It is also easy to see the seeds of the movement later known as secular humanism in Spinoza’s thinking. Spinoza’s ethic (“love your neighbor”) also appears in John Hick’s approach to pluralism.

Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791)

Semler was a German church historian and biblical critic.

He was the first to reject with sufficient proof the equal value of the Old and the New Testaments, the uniform authority of all parts of the Bible, the divine authority of the traditional canon of Scripture, the inspiration and supposed correctness of the text of the Old and New Testaments, and, generally, the identification of revelation with Scripture. . . . He led the way in the task of discovering the origin of the Gospels, the Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apocalypse. He revived previous doubts as to the direct Pauline origin of the Epistle to the Hebrews, called in question Peter’s authorship of the first epistle, and referred the second epistle to the end of the 2nd century. He wished to remove the Apocalypse altogether from the canon. In textual criticism Semler pursued further the principle of classifying MSS in families, adopted by R. Simon and J. A. Bengel. [9. “Johann Salomo Semler” Accessed May 9, 2008.]

Jonathan Edwards’ Early Alarm

Edwards (1703–1758) is best known as one of the leaders of the Great Awakening in America. This revival occurred in 1734–35 and again in 1740–43. George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent were also greatly used as preachers during these movements of the Spirit of God.

Edwards is also remembered as one of America’s greatest theologians. It is most interesting to note that Jonathan Edwards saw the beginnings of liberalism at this time and viewed their development with alarm. Near the end of his life, he wrote against a philosophical skepticism that he saw coming to prominence. “The crucial issue was the widely popular idea that reason should be the judge of revelation.”  [10. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 476.] This was the application of the Enlightenment to matters of religion and theology.

Edwards grounded his preaching, theology, and writing in Scripture. His view of Scripture and God’s works in creation was that “each was ‘a system’ and ‘the voice of God to intelligent creatures.’ Each pointed to the mysteries of God’s ‘unsearchable wisdom.’ Yet each was also intended to be a guide to rational creatures.” Edwards understood that God gave Scripture for the purpose of revealing Himself and truth to mankind. He further “tried to view Scripture from God’s perspective, as intricately designed . . . to reveal the great end of creation, God’s redemptive love.” [11. Ibid., 478–79]

The religious developments that alarmed Edwards were markedly different than his view of Scripture as God’s Word and revelation to the human race. The critics against whom Edwards wrote advocated “that Scripture was to be interpreted like other books” and was “most essentially a product of human history.” [12. Ibid., 480.] Critics were, as early as Edward’s time, arguing that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, and they were attacking the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection. [13. Ibid.]

Edwards recognized that if the Bible was a product of history and not a result of God’s revelation, then there would be no absolute authority for human conduct. “Christian revelation would be dissolved into cultural relativism.” [14. Ibid., 487.]

It is important for us to understand this because the themes of theological liberalism were present fifty to one hundred years before they coalesced and became widely known.

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834)

Schleiermacher, a German theologian, preacher, and classical philologist, is generally recognized as the founder of modern Protestant theology. His major work, Der christliche Glaube (1821–22; 2nd ed. 1831; The Christian Faith), is a systematic interpretation of Christian dogmatics. [15. “Friedrich Schleiermacher,” Accessed May 31, 2008.]

One of the first things we must understand about Schleiermacher is his view of religion. He believed that the essence of religion consists “primarily in feeling; belief and action are secondary.” [16. “Friedrich Schleiermacher,” SCHLEIER.HTM. Accessed May 31 2008.] Religion was “basically a feeling of dependence upon God.” [17. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation, The Struggle for A Pure Church, 2nd ed. (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2008), 83.] Even the neo-orthodox theologians said that “Schleiermacher led the great defection whereby liberal theology focused on human potentiality and religiosity at the expense of God’s own reality, majesty, and grace.” [18. “Friedrich Schleiermacher.”]

Some of his most destructive work to biblical faith was done in his writings on hermeneutics—the science of biblical interpretation. “Friedrich Schleiermacher is usually regarded as the first scholar to insist that biblical hermeneutics must be part of a general theory of understanding.” [19. Moises Silva, “Has the Church Misread the Bible?” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 20, n.7.]

He questioned and denied the inspiration and supernatural character of the Bible.

Given the great variety of ideas of inspiration, it is best, first of all, to test what sort of consequences the strictest idea leads to, i.e. the idea that the power of the spirit extends from the inception of the thought to the act of writing itself. Due to the variants, this no longer helps us. . . . If one then asks why the Scriptures did not arise in a totally miraculous way without the involvement of humans, we must answer that the divine spirit can have chosen the method it did only if it wanted everything traced back to the declared author. Therefore, this interpretation must be correct. The same point holds with respect to the grammatical side. But then every element must be treated as purely human, and the action of the Spirit was only to produce the inner impulse.”  [20. Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, “General Theory and Art of Interpretation” in The Hermeneutics Reader, ed. Kurt Mueller-Vollmer (New York: Continuum, 2000), 78.] [Emphasis mine]

He denied that Scripture universally applies to all people. “But for this reason we must not suppose that their writings were addressed to all of Christendom. . . . Whether the view that everything in the Scriptures was inspired means that everything must relate to the whole church? No.” [21. Ibid., 80.]

I must pause here to say that this liberalism that denied the supernatural character of Scripture and approached it from an experience orientation survives to this day, and sometimes in the most surprising of contexts. A few years ago I taught a course entitled “History of Fundamentalism” to a group of Kenyan pastors near Nairobi. When the preceding quotations from Schleiermacher were read to those pastors, they “pounced” on those statements and related that this is exactly the rationale that charismatics in Kenya use to justify allowing women in the ministry. The charismatics allege that Paul did not write 1 Timothy 2 for the entire church, but only to address a specific situation in Ephesus.

Wayne Grudem documents this same point in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. [22. Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004).] In Chapters 3–12 he deals extensively with 118 different arguments the feminists/egalitarians use to advocate their position. There are two major issues that lie at the heart of this debate. Grudem deals with the first issue in Chapter 9, entitled, “Evangelical Feminist Claims About How to Interpret and Apply the Bible.” I was amazed to read some of the interpretive approaches to Scripture that the egalitarians use. They contend that Moses, Paul, and other biblical writers used language that reflected patriarchal and Greek cultures. They fail to acknowledge that God inspired that language. Some, including Walter Kaiser, try to prove that 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 “are not Paul’s words, but are a quotation from the Corinthians that Paul rejects.”  [23. Ibid., 238.] Hermeneutics has been a great debate in the theological world for several years. The humanistic idea that we must interpret Scripture no differently than any other work of literature is at least as old as Schleiermacher. Some Evangelicals are affirming that position today. The hermeneutical approach of the egalitarians often reflects that philosophy, and it should cause alarm to Bible believers.

Karl Heinrich Graf (1815–1869) and Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918)

Graf and Wellhausen’s theory, also known as “higher criticism,” was the final development that gave shape to the idea we know as theological liberalism. Judaism and Christianity had historically accepted the fact that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and recognized that someone had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Deuteronomy 34, which is the story of Moses’ death. He would not have been present to write that! But none of these discussions and questions raised any doubt about Moses being the author of the five books. The Graf-Wellhausen theory “grew out of a movement to find rationalistic, natural explanations for the biblical text. Once one assumes that supernatural revelation cannot occur, any other explanation must take precedent.” [24. Don Closson, “Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?” orgs/probe/docs/moses.html, 3. Accessed May 31, 2008.]

The Graf-Wellhausen theory developed over several years. Jean Astruc, a French physician, argued that two different names for God are used in Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. In 1753 he wrote a work entitled Conjectures in which he proposed the idea that two authors, using the two different names for God, wrote the separate chapters. [25. Colin Smith, “Critical Assessment of the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis,” 2002, 1. Accessed May 31, 2008.] Others took this theory and added the idea that there was a “priestly” writer and also a separate writer for Deuteronomy. Thus the theory became known as the JEDP theory. Not only did these ideas deny that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but they also placed the dates for the Pentateuch much later than is normally accepted. Graf brought these developments together in his book The Historical Books of the Old Testament, which was published in 1866. [26. Ibid., 2.]  Wellhausen is the man who popularized these views and wrote Prolegomena to the History of Israel in 1878. Others later developed the theory that Isaiah did not write the entire book that bears his name, but that two, or possibly three, or even four different authors wrote that book. Others asserted that Daniel was not written during Israel’s captivity, but after.

It is significant to note that Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species was published in 1859 at the very time this theory was being fully developed and becoming popular. Sometimes one will read about “historical consciousness,” which “can thus be defined as individual and collective understandings of the past, the cognitive and cultural factors which shape those understandings, as well as the relations of historical understandings to those of the present and the future.”  [27. “Definition of Historical Consciousness,” Accessed September 1, 2010.] This theory holds that all we understand about history (and biblical history in this instance) is limited by the cultural factors in which people live and function. This theory would naturally deny the reality of revelation from God, and it would deny the possibility of supernatural occurrences.

The resultant theological liberalism rests on several philosophical presuppositions.

  1. As noted above, it was an attempt to find rational, natural explanations for the biblical text. [28. This is another of mankind’s deliberate attempts to deny God’s revelation and reject His authority over their lives. It is a reflection of the Bible indictment of man’s sin as recorded in Romans 1:18–21, 23, 25, 28, 32.]
  2. This denies the idea that God created the world by a direct act.
  3. It denies the idea that the Bible is a revelation from God. It is a repudiation of biblical inspiration and authority.
  4. It also attacks the validity of the supernatural and of miracles.
  5. It reduces Scripture to an account of how man’s religious thinking developed in an evolutionary manner. It was built on the assumption “that religions move from a primitive to a more advanced form over time.” [29. Rick Simonsen, “History of Fundamentalism” (Thika, Kenya: Independent Baptist Graduate Bible Institute, 1996), 2.]
  6. Its result is to destroy the Bible as a standard for human conduct. According to this theory, The Ten Commandments and all other biblical teaching simply reflect man’s moral standards at any given time in history. The same would be the case for Old Testament and New Testament pronouncements against homosexuality or Paul’s statements about women in local church leadership roles.
  7. It was an attack on both the Old and New Testaments. The Graf-Wellhausen theory centered on Old Testament studies and popularized the movement. The earlier works of Semler, Baur, and Strauss mounted a similar attack on the New Testament. The work of Schleirmacher attacked Scripture on the basis of hermeneutics, or how we interpret the Bible.

This is a brief sketch of theological liberalism as it developed from Spinoza to the mid-nineteenth century. It was against the onslaught of these denials of Scripture that fundamentalism developed and against this philosophy that so many Bible believers stood.

Before leaving this part of our discussion, we should note that liberalism gave rise to a new movement after World War I known as Neo-Orthodoxy. That movement was characterized by the teachings of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, C. H. Dodd, and others. Barth’s theology “came to be known as ‘dialectical theology,’ or ‘the theology of crisis’; it blossomed into a school of theology known as neo-orthodoxy, which influenced theology for decades and included thinkers like Emil Brunner and Reinhold Niebuhr. Many Catholic theologians (like Hans Küng) and evangelical theologians (like Donald Bloesch) have acknowledged Barth’s key influence on them.” [30. Accessed September 1, 2010.]

We do not devote attention to Neo-Orthodoxy in this article because this movement evolved after fundamentalism began to develop. Fundamentalists withstood and exposed the errors of Neo-Orthodoxy, but it developed after fundamentalism began to take form.

The Birth of Fundamentalism

Throughout history God has raised up believers who trust His Word and stand for it against the tide of unbelief. He did that work as liberal theology made its inroads in churches and schools. That phenomenon took place on both sides of the Atlantic. Fundamentalism, as a defined movement, arose in the 1870s as a reaction against theological liberalism. The designations “fundamental” and “fundamentalist” are of uniquely American origin, but the same spirit of loyalty to God’s Word and willingness to defend the faith was apparent in Europe as well.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

The most famous instance of one defending the faith in Europe was the “Downgrade Controversy” in England. Charles Haddon Spurgeon led the defense of the faith and fought the battle almost by himself. Spurgeon saw the inroads of liberalism in the Baptist Union of Great Britain. In 1887 he published two articles in The Sword and Trowel, a paper that he published from the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. In the articles he alleged that men in the Baptist Union were going to “downgrade” or leave the “higher ground” of “faith in the inspired Word of God and the fundamental doctrines therein presented. They were accepting lower, more humanistic views of Scripture.” [31. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for A Pure Church, 2nd ed. (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2008), 88.] Dallimore characterized Spurgeon’s attitude toward the inroads of the higher criticism and evolution as “militant opposition.” [32. Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 203.]

Up to this time the Baptist Union had no formal doctrinal statement, so Spurgeon publically called for the Baptist Union to adopt a statement of faith that clearly stated evangelical doctrine. He further urged the Baptist Union to stipulate that a church or individual must subscribe to that statement to continue membership. [33. Ibid., 205.]

The Baptist Union avoided the issue in their meeting that fall at Sheffield, England. Thus, on October 28, 1887, Spurgeon resigned his membership in the Baptist Union. In his resignation letter he wrote: “It is our solemn conviction that where there can be no real spiritual communion there should be no pretence of fellowship. Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.” [34. Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966), 150.]

On April 23, 1888, the Union met again. More than 2000 attendees voted on a resolution that was designed to appease the liberals and the Bible believers, but the resolution amounted to a repudiation of Spurgeon. [35. Pickering, 88–90; Dallimore, 210–212; Murray, 155, 156.] The record is that more than 2000 voted for the resolution and only seven voted to support Spurgeon.  Many of those who voted to repudiate Spurgeon were graduates of his college or pastors whom he had helped in some way. The historical account records that there was great cheering when the vote was recorded. It is often very difficult to stand for truth, and many times we must stand alone, or practically alone.

Fundamentalism as a Movement

Some “historians believe the birth of fundamentalism could be set at 1876. It was in 1876 that an interdenominational Bible conference met at Swampscott, Massachusetts, to discuss the rising tide of modernism. This was only the beginning of a series of Bible conferences that ran throughout the late 1800s.”  [36. Larry Harriman, “How We Came to Be Where We Are Today,” Accessed June 2, 2008.] This original Bible conference changed locations several times and settled in New York. It became known as the Niagara Bible Conference. In 1878 those attending this conference published a confession that listed fourteen biblical teachings as “fundamental” to biblical Christianity:

  1. The verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures in the original manuscripts
  2. The Trinity
  3. The creation of man, his fall into sin, and his total depravity
  4. The universal transmission of spiritual death from Adam
  5. The necessity of the new birth
  6. Redemption by the blood of Christ
  7. Salvation by faith alone in Christ
  8. The assurance of salvation
  9. The centrality of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures
  10. The constitution of the true church by genuine believers
  11. The personality of the Holy Spirit
  12. The believer’s call to a holy life
  13. The immediate passing of the souls of believers to be with Christ at death
  14. The premillennial Second Coming of Christ [37. David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, SC: Unusual Publications, 1986), 375–79.]

From this beginning, further revisions emerged. The most well-known listing is the famous “five fundamentals,” which are commonly cited today. At the beginning the “five fundamentals” included:

  1. The inerrancy of Scripture
  2. The virgin birth of Christ
  3. The substitutionary atonement of Christ
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ
  5. The authenticity of miracles [38. Larry D. Pettegrew, “Will the Real Fundamentalist Please Stand Up?” Central Testimony (Fall 1982): 1, 2.]

“Later fundamentalists usually combined number five with one of the first four and included some statement on the second coming of Christ.” [39. Ibid.] Fundamentalism as a movement developed in several ways. The Bible conference movement flourished in the United States. In addition to the Niagara Bible Conference were D. L. Moody’s Northfield, Massachusetts, conference; R. A. Torrey’s conference at Montrose, Pennsylvania; the Gull Lake and Maranatha conferences in Michigan; the Winona Lake Bible Conference and Cedar Lake Conference in Indiana; and Mount Hermon in California. These conferences and others were founded as places to teach and preach the Word of God and to emphasize the fundamentals of Scripture.

Fundamentalists also published literature to promote the cause of biblical Christianity. Moody Bible Institute began a printing ministry in 1894. That ministry published Moody Monthly magazine for many years and still prints books and Christian literature as Moody Press.

The Scofield Reference Bible was first published in 1909. This study Bible presented and popularized dispensationalism. Speaking in 1990 at a World Congress of Fundamentalists meeting in London, Stewart Custer observed that by popular usage the Scofield Bible became the de facto Bible of fundamentalism. This study Bible is still printed and used, and for at least fifty years it was the most commonly used Bible by American Bible believers.

The Fundamentals was a twelve-volume series issued by the Testimony Publishing Company between 1910 and 1915. This was a compilation of articles on major biblical themes. It covered doctrinal issues like the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the reality of miracles, the testimony of Christ to the Old Testament, sin, eternal judgment, and justification.

A number of publishing houses began during this era. These companies printed many books and commentaries for those who believed the Word of God. These included Zondervan, Eerdmans, Baker, Dunham, and several others. Fundamentalists reacted against the liberalism in denominational schools. The result was the founding of many Bible institutes and colleges across the nation. Most of these were independent of any denominational control. Some (such as Gordon and Northwestern) were founded under the auspices of a local church, with the pastor serving as president. The following list is a sample and cites only some of the most prominent of the schools.

  1. A. B. Simpson was the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which was a fellowship of churches. He also founded a Bible institute in 1872, known today as Nyack College, the first of the fundamentalist schools. [40. Beale, 89.] This school was never strongly identified with fundamentalism, though its doctrine was evangelical. [41. From a personal conversation with historian Robert Delnay, June 5, 2008.]
  2. D. L. Moody founded Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1886.
  3. In 1889 A. J. Gordon founded a Bible institute in Boston that now bears his name — Gordon College.
  4. Northwestern Schools were founded by William Bell Riley in Minneapolis in 1902.
  5. The Bible Institute of Los Angeles was founded in 1908, and in 1912 R. A. Torrey became its first dean.
  6. Dallas Theological Seminary was founded in 1924 under the leadership of Lewis Sperry Chafer.
  7. Bob Jones, Sr. founded Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University) in 1927 as part of the same fundamentalist protest against liberalism.

Some schools were also founded within denominational frameworks as protests against the liberalism in the denominations.

The Northern Baptist Convention was founded in 1907. Prior to that time the Baptist churches in the north were independent, being affiliated with local and state associations, and loosely bound together on a national level by mutual interests in schools, mission boards, and publishing houses. The “architect” of the Northern Convention was Shailer Matthews, a liberal theologian and dean of the school of religion at the University of Chicago. The Bible-believing churches across the northern U.S. were deceived into joining the convention, which was under the control of liberals from the day it was born.

Most of the schools that became part of the Northern Baptist Convention were either liberal or heavily influenced by liberals. Bible believers were concerned about trends in the convention and tried to get control of it from the liberals. As part of that attempt they began some new schools that were committed to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Northern Baptist Theological Seminary was founded in 1913 in Chicago. Some noteworthy fundamentalist graduates of Northern were R. V. Clearwaters, George Carlson, Robert Delnay, and Richard Weeks. Well-known New Evangelical graduates were Carl Henry (who later taught there) and Warren Wiersbe. Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary was founded in Philadelphia in 1925. As previously noted, B. Myron Cedarholm graduated from Eastern. Both of these schools have since left fundamentalism. In 1927 the Baptist Bible Union gained control of Des Moines University in Iowa. The school struggled and folded in 1929.

Within Presbyterianism, Westminster Seminary was formed in 1929 as a theologically orthodox school within the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Westminster’s founding took place after the battle over liberalism and biblical Christianity at Princeton Seminary. [42. George W. Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1973), 88.]

Identifying Fundamentalism

This study leads us to the task of identifying what fundamentalism was in its genesis. What was it that the Bible believers from the 1870s stood for and believed? What drove them and motivated them to take the stand they took, pay the price they paid, and found the institutions they brought into being? What distinctive coalesced into the movement that Curtis Lee Laws dubbed as “fundamentalism?” What was the fundamentalism to which R. A. Torrey, Anton Cedarholm, and later B. Myron Cedarholm subscribed?

A Theological Component

We cannot consider the history that led to fundamentalism without understanding that theology was at the heart of the nascent and then the fully developed fundamentalism. The foundational doctrine of the movement was certainly Bibliology. Modernism had attacked the Bible, and the fundamentalists boldly affirmed the supernatural character of God’s Word.

Beyond that, fundamentalists subscribed to a fairly comprehensive, commonly held body of doctrine. This fact is substantiated by the fourteen points in the Niagara statement and the broad spectrum of doctrinal themes that were articulated in The Fundamentals. Men and institutions who believed that the Bible was the Word of God reacted when that faith was attacked by scholars and leaders who had become apostate. They formulated statements of doctrine to which they could mutually subscribe. They wrote to enunciate and defend biblical doctrines. They built churches, schools, and mission agencies to perpetuate that doctrinal framework. They believed the Bible and what it taught. That conviction was “in their souls,” and they stood for it. The fourteen points of Niagara and the “five fundamentals” of the Presbyterians were popular representations of those beliefs. The Fundamentals (now available in four volumes) fleshed out those beliefs in some detail.

William Ward Ayer understood this genius of fundamentalism. Speaking to the National Association of Evangelicals in 1956, he put the issue in historical perspective:

Fundamentalism represents a resurgence of ancient practices, which began not with Martin Luther but at Pentecost. Fundamentalism is apostolic, and the doctrine of justification goes back to Paul. That branch from which the fundamentalist movement sprang lived obscurely through the ages and had never been completely silenced even in the Dark Ages . . . What fundamentalism did was to awaken the slumbering apostolicism from lethargy. The theme of the Reformation, like the cry of the fundamentalists today, was “back to the Bible and the Apostles,” with no mediator between men and God except Christ. Fundamentalists are in the direct line of succession to those preaching this same message. [43. William Ward Ayer, speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, April 1956, quoted in Louis Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement, 1930–1956 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981 reprint), 2, 3.]

Ayer is right! Certain doctrinal and theological distinctives have marked fundamentalists because they come from the Word of God.

A Militant Component

Those who embraced this position were adamant in their statement of their own position, and they were also bold to expose and refute the higher criticism that bred the denial of the Scriptures. In the 1880s Spurgeon was outspoken in his opposition to the invading apostasy. A reading of Hengstenberg, David Baron, and others reveals that they “took on” the assertions of the higher critics and other opponents of biblical revelation. The Fundamentals contained several articles exposing the new theology. All these indications took place before Curtis Lee Laws coined the term “Fundamentalist.” Just before the Laws article appeared, W. B. Riley preached at the first meeting of the Fundamentalist Fellowship in Buffalo. His message dealt with unbelief in the Northern Baptist schools. He affirmed his friendship and affection for the leaders of several of those schools and then proceeded to name them and expose their unbelief.

Before moving on, let us pause here to reflect that those two characteristics of fundamentalism are far older than Spinoza in 1650, Schleiermacher in the early 19th century, Graf, Wellhausen, or any of the men who stood against them. They are not mere historical reactions against unbelief that was current at the time. Nor are those two characteristics built on tradition because we look back to Curtis Lee Laws’ famous statement. It is against that historical backdrop and in that theological tradition that fundamentalism was born.

But before the end of the first century Jude wrote and said: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). There is a body of truth that God has “once for all delivered” to His people. That is the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It must be declared as Paul preached it to the Ephesians. It must be contended for as Jude exhorted. The truth is God’s truth. We believe it because He revealed it. We are bold to contend for it at any cost because He exhorts us to do that very thing. We are convinced that there is a body of revealed truth which must be accepted and which forms the basis for our faith. We are further persuaded that “the faith once delivered to the saints” must be earnestly contended for. That conviction and persuasion comes from the Word of God itself.

Fundamentalism and Separatism

This militant component of fundamentalism eventually manifested itself in another way—that is, fundamentalism necessarily became characterized by separatism. Some have criticized early fundamentalists because later fundamentalists exhibited a separatist spirit that was not evident in the early stages of its development. Rolland McCune has observed: “One may rightfully distinguish between non-conformist fundamentalism (pre-1930) [44. Rolland D. McCune “The Self-Identity of Fundamentalism,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (Spring 1996): 28. McCune is citing David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, 5.] and separatist fundamentalism (post-1930).”  McCune cites Beale noting that “the separatist position did not solidify as a distinct, militant movement until the 1930s.”  [45. Beale, 5.] The early fundamentalists sought to effect corrective measures in their respective denominations. When those attempts failed they separated from the apostate denominations and formed new denominational structures and new service agencies. [46. It is beyond the purview of this particular paper, but we must at least note that this is the separatism against which Harold John Ockenga reacted. In his book The Epistles to the Thessalonians, Proclaiming the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962), 3:136–37 he argued “That there is a form of unbelief which may be permitted to exist within the churches;” and based on 2 Timothy 2:16–26 he further argued that “we are responsible to seek to turn apostates from their error instead of separate from them.” [Emphasis mine] It must be observed that Ockenga rightly emphasized the biblical command to seek the restoration of those who embrace false doctrine (v. 24–26). At the same time we must note that Ockenga completely overlooked the commands to separation in the earlier verses of that passage (v. 16–19, 21–23). Garth M. Rosell, The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 174–78 says that Ockenga viewed separatism as “wrongheaded and dangerous.”]

When there was no recourse in Presbyterianism, the new Westminster Seminary and a new Presbyterian ecclesiastical structure came into existence. When the battle over liberalism was lost in the Northern Baptist Convention, fundamentalists formed new associations of churches, such as the Baptist Bible Union, then the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and later, the Conservative Baptist Association of America. New mission agencies, schools, and other service ministries also began. In interdenominational circles, new fellowships of churches like the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) and new schools, mission agencies, publishing houses, and evangelistic outreach ministries were formed. Fundamentalists had no choice but to practice biblical separation when they could not reverse the trends toward liberalism. Pettegrew observed:

What does all this tell us about the modern fundamentalist movement? Without question, ecclesiastical separation has rightly become a more important aspect of the fundamentalist movement in recent years. Some would even say that it has become the distinctive. [47. Pettegrew, 2.]

McCune assesses this issue saying of separatism: “It is at once both the most maligned and/or misunderstood distinctive of fundamentalism and probably the most defining one. Fundamentalism and separation walk in lockstep.” [48. McCune, 27-28.]

Fundamentalism and Interdenominationalism [49. This section taken from Fred Moritz, Contending for the Faith (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2000), Chapter 1.]

We have already seen that fundamentalism places primary emphasis on the supernatural character of the Bible as God’s revelation to the human race. It is safe to say that fundamentalists are what they are because they believe Scripture to be a revelation from God, written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That conviction is the fundamentalist’s foundation — it is our very reason for being.

We who are Baptists are quick to assert that the very same tenet, the authority of Scripture, is also the reason we are Baptists. The same Word that teaches us our doctrine also mandates our practice. Chester E. Tulga, longtime Research Secretary of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, stated: “The basic tenet of the historic Baptist faith is that the Bible is the Word of God and the sole authority of faith and practice.”  [50. Chester E. Tulga, “What Baptists Believe About Soul Liberty,” in The Baptist Challenge (Little Rock, AR: Central Baptist Church, October 1997), 21.] Tulga was the long-time Research Secretary of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship.]British Pastor and historian Jack Hoad states: “It is the Biblical doctrine of the church, with an unqualified submission to scripture as the Word of God, which becomes the test of what is a baptist church. . . . The baptist is a scripture-ruled believer.” [51. Jack Hoad, The Baptist (London: Grace Publications Trust, 1986), 7, 225.] In the New Testament, we find that local churches were independent of any outside controlling authority. They enjoyed a voluntary, fraternal relationship with one another (Acts 15:1–35). We find that only saved people became members of New Testament churches (Acts 2:47). The New Testament teaches only two officers in the local church—pastors and deacons (1 Tim 3:1–13) and only two symbolic ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s supper (Rom 6:3–5; 1 Cor 11:23–34). Scripture declares that each believer is a priest before God and has direct access into the presence of God through the blood of Christ (1 Pet 2:9; Heb 10:19–22). Jesus taught that the Christian lives in two frames of reference — “Caesar’s” and “God’s” (Matt 22:20, 21). Therefore, we believe the church and the state should be separate. We hold that these issues of church practice (commonly called the Baptist Distinctives) come from and are mandated by Scripture.

Having said that, we must understand that fundamentalism was an interdenominational movement. Christians who believed the Bible and opposed modernism set aside their denominational distinctives to come together and lift a united voice for those truths that made up the “irreducible minimum” of Christianity. They fought against liberalism in their own denominations and also united outside the denominational frameworks to fight against it. Richard Harris, himself a Baptist, explains the thinking of most fundamentalists on this issue:

There have always been honest differences of interpretation on church organization, as well as on other issues, among good men who love Christ. There was a time when men could amicably differ on issues which did not affect fundamental Christian doctrine and still respect and firmly defend one another. Great Christian leaders of the past were able to respect those differences and yet recognize that the men with whom they differed were still Fundamentalists and brothers in Christ. They were Christian statesmen. [52. Richard A. Harris, “A Plea for Christian Statesmanship,” The Challenge (Bethlehem, PA: American Council of Christian Churches, December, 1997), 1.]

Speaking of the formation of the American Council of Christian Churches in 1941, Harris goes on:

It made no difference that some of them were Baptist, some were Evangelical Methodists, some were Bible Presbyterians, and some of other persuasions. Their fellowship was characterized by their common belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant Word of God. All of them believed in the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement for sin, His bodily resurrection and ascension into Heaven and His coming again in power and glory. Each believed the Bible taught that the Church should be separate from apostasy and Christians should be obedient to Christ. [53. Ibid., 2.]

The early fundamentalists represented many denominational traditions, and fundamentalism was an interdenominational movement. There should still be a place for fundamentalists of various persuasions to come together and stand together for “the faith once delivered to the saints” and against “certain men crept in unawares.” The American Council of Christian Churches still performs a legitimate service. It is still proper for the International Testimony to An Infallible Bible to call fundamentalists from around the world to stand united in a World Congress of Fundamentalists. We need to help and encourage each other.

Latitude within Fundamentalism

Having identified the major characteristics of historic fundamentalism, it is important to also note that fundamentalists viewed certain issues as not essential to their united stand for the great fundamentals, and to the struggle that ensued for them.

Denominational Distinctives

For better or worse, fundamentalism was an interdenominational movement. As higher criticism and the resultant theological liberalism invaded every denominational body, fundamentalists united to fight a common enemy, and in that battle they did not make their denominational positions on church polity and government an issue. Thus Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and representatives from other denominations could meet for the World’s Conference of Christian Fundamentals in 1919. This does not mean that their denominational distinctives were unimportant to them. It means simply that they did not emphasize them in the battle with unbelief.

Bible Versions

Fundamentalists simply did not make the use of a particular Bible version an issue. [54. Rolland D. McCune, “Doctrinal Non-Issues in Historic Fundamentalism” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (Fall 1996): 171–177, discusses this issue in detail.]  Although he was in England and not identified with the nascent movement, it is noteworthy that Spurgeon read the English Revised Version after its appearance in 1881. Several of his sermons survive in print in which he preached from that version of the Bible.

A reading of The Fundamentals reveals that several of the authors made reference to the 1881 English Revised Verson or the 1901 American Standard Version of the Bible. Anyone who has read collections of R.A. Torrey’s sermons recalls that he made frequent use of and references to one of the two new versions. I stood in his home in Montrose, Pennsylvania, and held one of his Bibles. It happened to be a copy with the King James Version and 1881 ERV in parallel columns. Though the King James Version was the Bible of common usage, Bible colleges routinely recommended use of the American Standard Version and the New American Standard for reference and study. In this author’s Life of Christ class in college, for example, the professor assigned reading in a harmony of the Gospels that used only the ASV.

Fundamentalists universally affirmed the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible in the original manuscripts. The “Articles Put Forth by the Baptist Bible Union” in 1923 serves as an example of a fundamentalist statement of that time. It says:

We believe that the Holy Bible was (a) written by men supernaturally inspired; (b) that it has truth without any admixture of error for its matter; and (c) therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the age, the only complete and final revelation of the will of God to man; the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds and opinions should be tried. (Explanatory)

By “THE HOLY BIBLE” we mean that collection of sixty-six books, from Genesis to Revelation, which, as originally written, does not contain and convey the word of God, but IS the very Word of God.

By “INSPIRATION” we mean that the books of the Bible were written by holy men of old, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, in such a definite way that their writings were supernaturally inspired and free from error, as no other writings have ever been or ever will be inspired.[55. Accessed September 7, 2010.]

At the same time, fundamentalists stood united against unreliable Bible versions. The Revised Standard Version Old Testament was published in 1952. The reaction by fundamentalists (and many evangelicals) against the interpretation and faulty translation of Isaiah 7:14 was immediate. When Good News for Modern Man came out in 1966 and 1968, fundamentalists again united to raise their voices against its denials of the virgin birth and the blood of Christ.

Calvinism and Arminianism

“Fundamentalism has never had a united voice on Calvinism-Arminianism issues although by and large it has been moderately Calvinistic, probably three or four-point Calvinism.” [56. McCune, “Doctrinal Non-Issues,” 177.]

A cursory survey of The Fundamentals is again instructive. L. W. Munhall was a Methodist. R. A. Torrey was Congregationalist in his orientation. These men were on opposite ends of the sovereignty/freewill spectrum and discussion. And yet they were united for the fundamentals of the faith. In later years Carl McIntire and Alan MacRae were Princeton graduates and Presbyterian. They were strongly Calvinistic in their orientation. And yet good men could put their differences aside to stand for “the faith once delivered to the saints.”

Modern-day fundamentalists can learn from this. No finite human being can finally settle the tension between an infinite God’s sovereignty and man’s finite will. Scripture leaves the issue in tension. Honest men on both sides of the discussion admit their inability to resolve the issue, and it seems that most of what results from discussions of the matter is a fight! Fundamentalists on both sides of the debate need to learn again the wisdom of granting each other latitude. Stridence on either side seems to produce intolerance and contention.


The fundamentalist movement began to develop in the 1870s as a defense of biblical doctrine and theology against the theological liberalism that developed from 1650 and took shape in the nineteenth century. The term came into usage in 1920.

Fundamentalism as a movement is the historical expression at a particular point in history of the Bible truth that God has revealed Himself to the human race in His Word. This movement also takes at face value that the divinely revealed truth is to be earnestly contended for as Jude 3 mandates. At its best fundamentalism is a “back to the Bible” movement to proclaim and contend for the truth.

Fundamentalism is therefore a theological and militant movement. It was interdenominational by definition. Fundamentalists also allowed each other latitude in the use of Bible versions and in their understanding of Calvinism and Arminianism.

Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Maranatha Baptist Seminary embrace fundamentalism in this historical setting. We believe, teach, defend, and boldly stand for “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) with “a conscience void of offence toward men and toward God” (Acts 24:16).