Guarding the Foundation

Recognizing and Guarding the Foundation upon Which We Build Our Christian Education Ministries in the Home, School, and Local Church

Presented by
Rev. Theodore E. Clater, Pd.D.,
Keystone Christian Education Association,
Harrisburg, PA, USA

Presented at the
1999 World Congress of Fundamentalists
Convened at
Bob Jones University, July 5-8, 1999

We come here from many cultures. We come with diversity in our specializations in Christian education: church ministries, camp ministries, child care and school ministries, colleges and seminaries – yes, even parenting. All are Christian educators. All need the same foundation.

Months ago the leaders of this Congress asked me to write my challenge for the next generation of fundamentalists. I wrote:

“The triad of ecumenical evangelism, ecumenical Christian education, and ecumenical political action continues to invade fundamentalism, bringing subtle, but distinct, change. The triad emphasizes ‘what we have in common’ and ‘what works.’ Jesus is ‘in.’ Christology is ‘out.’ For the biblical separatist, the centrality of philosophy based upon doctrine drives his approach to goals, programs, methods, materials, and administrative oversight of churches, schools, homes, and all other institutions.”

I love to study history from the “cause and effect” perspective. When a new idea is initiated, consequences will be observable. Ideas have consequences. Similarly, historians can observe effects/events and trace things back to the idea that was the cause.

Events in fundamentalism’s history in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s did not occur with professors and theologians in theoretical situations. History establishes that the events and issues involved individuals like you and me facing decisions about their local Sunday Schools, youth groups, Bible Institutes, camps, vacation Bible schools, schools, and their colleges and seminaries. History books make it clear that the differences between fundamentalism and liberalism or evangelicalism were numerous. Small differences grew until a separation was necessary.

Besides history books, some of us have grandparents, parents, or other mentors who have transmitted history to us based upon their personal experience. My parents, for example, gave valuable lessons to me and to my children. Notice how “ideas had consequences” worked in their ministry:

  • My father resigned from a leadership position in the county Youth for Christ organization in about 1950 when he observed the organization’s change of direction.
  • When their alma mater gradually shifted its position and philosophy, they removed the school from their “recommended” list.
  • In about 1960 my mother stopped using children’s material published by Child Evangelism Fellowship, International, because she came to distrust their content.

In history, countless people in Christian education faced decisions. What do we believe? What pleases a holy God? How do we teach our children and new converts so that they will be true to the Word of God?

A few moments ago I used the phrase “philosophy based upon doctrine.” “Doctrine” denotes what one believes is taught in the Bible. I give two reminders. First, the theological liberal has undeniable differences with the fundamentalist as to what the Bible teaches. Second, the evangelical has differences with the fundamentalist as to how much the Bible teaches.

I want to illustrate this point about doctrine; but first, I must tell you about my seven illustrations. They reflect that I’ve…”been there, done that.” In 1970 as a married couple, Shirley and I attended an evangelical graduate school. All around us were theology, Christian education, practical theology, church history, and missions. A Christian world and life view was integrated into everything. Academics were rigorous. The campus constantly buzzed with news of missions trips and Christian service opportunities.

Now, let me illustrate my point about doctrine.

  • Our theology professor smoked his pipe while lecturing and leading discussions.
  • Our philosophy class could start with a dirty joke or with prayer.
  • My Greek exegesis professor could not only teach the fine points of the text but also lead the male students on their panty raid of the girls’ dorm.

These activities would not be found in a place like Bob Jones University. BJU’s leadership sees the teaching of the Bible to preclude these things. While we do not find verses that specifically cite my professors’ activities, we find biblical principles that cover them. By my experience the evangelicals hold to the basics of Christianity but are unpredictable in other matters. They allow great latitude for professed Christian liberty.

In the phrase, “philosophy based upon doctrine,” “philosophy” relates to the underlying principles that determine conduct and activities. The theological liberal structures his philosophy upon whatever religious ideas he wishes. We might say, “His bible [sic] might not exist.” The evangelical exercises much more flexibility in developing his philosophy than does the fundamentalist. We might say, “His Bible is shorter.” Illustrations:

  • The College President articulated school policy. He said it was not the purpose of the institution to hold to an unchanging standard. The institutional mission was to be flexible, to stay in the mainstream of its constituency.
  • A new Dean was appointed. This Dean brought fresh ideas. He supported the study of Bible and Theology, but he also believed the students must be better trained to carry the message of Jesus to the world. He reshuffled the curriculum, reducing the Bible and Theology requirements and increasing the Communications requirements. His rationale was straightforward – and far-reaching:
    • “Relationships were more important than Theology.”
    • “Communications was more important than content.”

The issues of philosophy that are posed in these illustrations are enormous. In history, fundamentalists objected to such philosophies.

The third important element in this discussion is “methods.” Methods are typically considered amoral by the liberals and the evangelicals. For them, “Desired good ends typically justify any means.” Historically, fundamentalists have asserted that many methods are not amoral, that doctrine and philosophy determine appropriate methods. Here is a crucial point for us in Christian education.

There are then three different levels of conflict with the liberals and the evangelicals: doctrine, philosophy, and methods. Meanwhile, fundamentalists will continue to be misunderstood, and misinformation will abound. Again, let me illustrate:

  • In grad school one of our professors led a discussion on whether Bob Jones and Jack Hyles could be born again, for, after all, they were such legalists that they couldn’t be Christians!
  • Another professor chided our class for its resistance to being called fundamentalists. According to him, the United Methodist Churches and the mainline Presbyterians were fundamentalists! And all of the evangelical groups represented in the grad school were fundamentalists!

Very few of us will be lost to liberalism. However, many of us could easily be lost to evangelicalism. We face constant exposure to evangelical thought from their books and other published materials, from their national and international radio and TV broadcasts, and from their seminars, their music, their entertainment. Their materials are very convincing. Their ideas are built to attract. We fundamentalist Christian educators should not be gullible to follow everything that is presented to us – even by those who profess to be a fundamentalist.

“Ideas have consequences.” “Cause and effect” still works.

Will the fundamentalist families develop discernment to differentiate between fundamentalist churches, colleges, and Christian schools versus those that only carry the label “Christian”?

Will our fundamentalist colleges, Christian schools, and their associations keep the old-time standards even if their enrollment drops; or will they claim that separation applies differently to them?

Will distinctively fundamentalist camps be operating? By whom?

Who will be the publishers of fundamentalist materials for Sunday School, other church ministries, and Christian schools; and who for a wider clientele?

Will the local pulpits and church ministries stay with the old-fashioned way or develop a new foundation?

In “Recognizing and Guarding the Foundation” of Christian education, there is no greater idea than that methods are determined by our philosophy, and philosophy is determined by our doctrine.