Fundamentalist or Liberal – What Causes Churches to Polarise?

Fundamentalist or Liberal – What Causes Churches to Polarise?

© Sue Colvil #340071 Fotiolia

The church is not perfect.  I don’t know whether you’ve noticed that? 😉

Sydney, where I come from, is blessed with many good and strong Bible teaching churches that are a pleasure to be at.  I’ve noticed in Melbourne that good Bible teaching churches are much harder to find (though they are here!).  There seems to be more of a polarisation when there is not strong Bible teaching: either churches become soft (a bit liberal and wishy-washy) or they become very ‘fundy’ (majoring on the minors and rejecting most other Christians).  Some of the more ‘fundy’ folk may withdraw in the end from the church and form very small house groups, sometimes consisting of little more than their own family.  They are disappointed with the church, which is not meeting their expectations.  I believe that they are missing out.  The blessings of fellowship in the wider church family are great.

Forgiven, but Still Sinful
I wonder whether my more ‘fundy’ friends who withdraw from the church might not have a wrong view of church?  I won’t go into detail here, but I believe that a ‘pure’ church on earth is a mistaken concept.  The church will always have a mix of converted and unconverted folk.  Not until Jesus returns will the wheat and the tares be separated.  Besides that, the saints are forgiven sinners: forgiven, but still sinful.  We all have many areas of our understanding of God’s word that are wrong, and wrong behaviour too.

But there are great blessings in the fellowship of the church.  Being a bit of a doctrinal purist and a cranky fellow, I get shirty often when my fellow Christians come out with all sorts of things from the Bible that I think are not true.  But doctrinal-purity is just one element of church.  There are so many other things I can learn from my fellow Christians even when I disagree with them.  For one thing, obedience is what counts in the end, not dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.

Godly Examples
I love the Christians at my church.  I guess I just find most people so interesting and often fascinating!  I would never meet such a wide range of people if it weren’t for church.  I love to see the godly example of different folk. Some go out of their way to help the sick and the weak.  Some always have an encouraging word to say, which reminds me I should do the same.  Some are very careful about what they say and how they speak, again, reminding me of how I should behave.  Some have great artistic gifts.  Some are cheerful.  Some are serious.  Some are creative, some are funny.  There is so much to learn, especially from those who are older than us.

Such riches in fellowship! Some quote Bible verses (always impressive).  Some quote hymns.  Some quote great Christians of the past.  There is such a rich variety in a body of people, the body of Christ.  What poverty would be mine if I cut myself off from such people over minor matters of purity of doctrine!  And really, who would I meet who thinks the same as me on all aspects of the Bible and doctrine?  Doctrine is critically important.  Please don’t hear me denigrating right doctrine!  But we should not separate ourselves from fellowship with the saints over minor doctrinal matters.  We should seek to learn from others, and to influence them for the good too.  The church will not improve if we separate ourselves from it.

There are great blessings to be had in the fellowship of the saints.


  1. Lyn

    Are you suggesting Martin that we overlook such issues as liberalism? I ask that because it seems to be a biggy these days. I think that being “fundamental” has grown to be a very negative term in Christian circles sadly when all it means essentially is that a person is adhering to the fundamentals (tenets) of the faith. Often an accusation of being a fundamentalist comes from those of a liberal persuasion. I think what you are suggesting would work if churches were like they were 30 or so years ago but currently so much of traditional doctrine is being undermined by new trends that many Christians have had enough and have left in order to survive. Many Christian leaders from all groups (Charismatic, Reformed, evangelical etc.) are opting for contemplative spirituality to one degree or another and Christians are often unsure who to trust. Even though all churches are going to have believers and non-believers in them we should not just accept that as the status quo. I think if the 1st century church had done so we’d be in an even worse situation now and just maybe the book of Acts would not exist! If I ever feel I’m being a bit “severe” and “fundy” I read the Apostle Paul and realise ahhhh, we’re meant to be that way. Therefore I’m proposing it have a different name….biblical, yes that’s, it biblical!

  2. Martin Pakula

    Hi Lyn. I’m surprised by your comments. I wonder how carefully you read what I said?! I’m entirely in agreement with what you say here. But that’s not the point of what I am saying. I could easily at another time have explained “fundamentalism” positively and said why I am one, etc. But I am using the word differently here, and what I am highlighting is the tendency for some Christians to major on the minors. Sometimes Christians will leave a church over its view of Genesis 1, or its view of the end times, or its view of whether baptism is by sprinkling or full immersion, etc. My point would be that these things are NOT clear in the Bible (although you should have a view on them of course, and may hold it strongly). Other things ARE clear in the Bible, including many issues that are not gospel issues (I would include women and ministry as one of those issues). I am wanting to caution my more fundy friends not to paint themselves into a corner where no church is good enough and they reject the church of God entirely. There is, I think, something quite perverse about that, and they are rejecting in the end… the church of God!

  3. SDG

    This is such an important subject, and our attitudes here are very important. As with so much in the Christian life, it is not ‘all about me’. If you think Melbourne is hard to find a Bible teaching church in, spare a thought for other parts of the world, or even first century churches. Who would want to join the Corinthian church! But Paul, in spite of dealing with its well known issues, still began with a basic supposition: ‘to the CHURCH OF GOD at Corinth’. When a certain type of person tries to manipulate practice or doctrine in a local church, they are playing with fire. We have both met people who play ‘petty politics’ in churches I’m sure, and it mars the testimony of a church and certainly saddens me …. but for all that, it is STILL the CHURCH OF GOD. I love R B Kuipers treatment of the subject in his “The Glorious Body of Christ”. He reiterates your primary point in his introduction: “Let it be emphatically said, the church is where the truth is. Sound doctrine always has been , is today, and ever will be the foremost mark of the true church”.

    Often, unbelievers say ‘I can be a Christian without going to church’. They then go on to point out the many obvious and public blemishes that certain individuals and churches have. We would be very foolish to deny them. But in spite of all the weaknesses in the church, God chooses to work out his purposes, and apply his truth into the lives of sinful people. It is to Gods glory that He is changing us into the likeness of His Son, through truth applied in the company of other saints, who sometimes expose our impatience by irritating us one minute, and then encourage us and strengthen us the next. It is quite peculiar …. but then we are a peculiar people. God is very wise in his dealings with us, and we should be thankful, and not despise what he so generously gives us for the sake of a few secondary issues that we blow up out of proportion.

    • Martin Pakula

      Thank you so much for these comments, SDG. Spot on. You understand my point exactly. I very much agree with you, and couldn’t have said it better myself!

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