Friday, August 2, 2013
The Export of North American Fundamentalism and Some of its Effects on the Philippine Church
[Disclaimer: These comments are purely my own; they are based upon my observations and in no way are meant to represent any one else (namely, the people of the Philippines, the Filipino pastors, students of BES, etc.).]
The brothers in the Philippines which I am acquainted with hold many views that are alien to me. That in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not at all arrogant enough to think that all I believe is absolutely correct or that the North American church as a whole is the pure church and sole conduit for truth (it is quite the contrary in fact) . However, I did not have to be in country very long before I encountered many issues with the Christians who are here. It is to be expected by some I suppose, that different cultures and different people groups will have variations on beliefs (more on culture in another blog) but if scripture is our sole rule of faith such variations on essentials cannot exist.
The majority of "good" (Scriptural-driven) churches suffer from many schismatic and crippling issues. The brothers that I am currently working with are from or were formerly members of the Association of Fundamental Baptist Churches in the Philippines (AFBCP). The AFBCP can trace its origins to the work of Eric Lund,the American Baptist Missionary Union and later others. Like the Fundamentalism of the US, the AFBCP was a reaction to liberalism (formed in 1948). This association is directly influenced and informed by the Fundamentalism found in the US at this same time period.What is the ramification of this? Let me give you a few examples.
1) Dogmatic eschatology. The AFBCP "Doctrinal Statement" takes a dogmatic stand on the "millennium" issue. Their Doctrinal Statement says "We believe in the pre-tribulation, pre-millennial rapture of the church, the body and bride of Christ. We believe in the period of great tribulation of seven years following the rapture. The Great Tribulation (Daniel's seventieth week) will end with the coming of Christ in power and glory to the earth in order to set up His kingdom and rule for a thousand years."
Holding to a "pre-trib/pre-mil" position is not in and of itself problematic but when this position is placed in a Doctrinal Statement it becomes a point of separation and schism. Eschatology cannot be a point of division because (1) it is not an essential doctrine and (2) it is not abundantly clear in the scriptures. To elevate an unclear teaching and a non-essential doctrine to the place where it is included in a Statement of Faith is dangerous. I must also note that the "pre-trib/pre-mil" position here in the Philippines is not Historical Pre-mil but is synonymous with Dispensationalism.
2) Legalistic separationism. AFBCP Doctrinal Statement: "In order to guard the purity of the truths mentioned above, we recognize that the Scriptures command personal separation unto God from world attitudes, motives, goals, friendships, speech, amusements, styles and dress, etc. It also commands ecclesiastical separation from false religious teachers and from persistently disobedient brethren. Ecclesiastical separation includes a rejection of liberalism, Neo-orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, and the charismatic movement."
Ecclesiastical separation and calls to personal purity are valued principles for a Church and a Christian to hold but because of the dogmatic views on non-essentials, these principles are perverted into Pharisaical legalism. One example that struck me was that members of these churches are "forbidden" to go to the cinema. I asked a series of questions in order understand the "why" behind the rule. Christians are allowed to watch TV, rent DVDs, and use the internet even on Sundays but are forbidden to go to the cinema. I was told the issue is not with movies but with the place. "It is dark there…maybe non-believers will not understand if we go to the movies…" Vague answers without a real reason is all I received. Interestingly, the consumption of red wine is permitted but ONLY red wine (not white).
This extreme "separationism" and legalism is taught in the Bible colleges and affect not only areas of Christian life but belief. Anyone holding to any view on any topic other than what is taught by the Fundamentalist Association is to be marked, avoided and isolated. The idea of "liberty of conscience in non-essentials" does not exist. The associations become the "Pope" for the members. The Bible colleges are dogmatic that if a man wishes to be in the good graces of the association (and know please that associations are much tighter and stronger here than in the US) then he must be without dissent in any area.
3) Hyper-congregationalism. The Bible lists only two offices: elders and deacons. The scripture is clear that the church is led and ruled by the elders. But just like the many Baptist churches in the US, the churches I have encountered here are pastor/deacon board led with congregational voting. In many cases the church officers (treasurer, clerk, etc.) have complete control of the finances and the pastor is nothing more than a hireling doomed to do their bidding or face being replaced.
4) Spiritualized pastoral support. Time and time again I have heard stories from pastors of churches that pay them little and in some cases even no salary and yet will not allow them to work another job. The pastor who works a job is viewed as greedy and not living by faith- even when the congregation does little or nothing to support him financially. Many pastors are grossly under-supported by their church but will not find work on their own due to social pressures. The wife works to provide for the family. As you can imagine, this places a great deal of strain on the family and the ministry. Add to that a reported unemployment rate of 8% (reality is probably more like 25%) and most jobs in the service sector will only hire kids, and this further adds to the issue.
5) Meeting place idolatry. Filipinos are obvious heirs of the church in the USA. They have a grand view of where the worshipers of God should meet on Sundays. Many churches will spend the majority of their offerings on rent while the pastor lives on starvation wages. "House churches" are not viewed as legitimate. On the other hand most houses here are very small (compared to in the West) and not conducive to church meetings.
6) Extra-Biblical methodologies. The Fundamentalists Baptist seminaries teach pastors the "invitation system" and they teach that after sharing the Gospel they should ask they person if they "would like to accept Jesus." The influences on evangelism are obviously American Finny-ism and Arminian [NOTE: many from the fundamentalist association are confessed, dogmatic Arminians and staunchly anti-Calvinistic/Doctrines of Grace].
Danger of Influences
Seeing the damage done to Christian Church in the Philippines by fundamentalism has caused me to be extremely cautious. I am currently working with pastors who are being awakened to Reformed theology and who are moving away from fundamental traditionalism. What I see is the need to teach them the principles of hermeneutics and systematic theology. They do not need a new set of rules to replace the old but rather the skills to interpret scripture and to use reason so that when they are confronted with a belief, either their own or alien, they can determine its merit and validity from scripture.
This is a very exciting time. I am working with pastors who (mostly) are young and who have seen the damage done by legalistic, dogmatic fundamentalism. Their desire is to be Biblical even if it means no longer being traditional (understand that this is going to cost them). Furthermore, these are men who are being awakened to the Doctrines of Grace. It is most probable that these men will break away from traditional fundamentalist dogmatism to reform and plant churches which will hold to the "5 Solas." Potentially this work could be a turning point in the history of the church in Mindanao if not the Philippines. Please pray that: (1) God would grant wisdom to lead (2) God would grant mercy to the pastors to continue to accept truth even when it challenges tradition (3) God would put an end to the opposition (4) Resources to train and support missionaries, pastors and church planters (5) Revival in the Philippines and SE Asia.