The New Reformed Fundamentalists of the Philippines
By Barry G. Carpenter, Th.D.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18
But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15
When I think of what is going on in the Philippines right now, I am reminded of an old joke that was voted the funniest religious joke ever.
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist? He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."
I said, "Me, too!" Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over. ~ Emo Philipps
The joke is funny. The reality of the current situation is not. What initially attracted me to train pastors and plant churches in the Philippines, was seeing how God was working to bring many people to have an interest in the Doctrines of Grace. The interest in Reformed Theology continues to grow as well as the need for sound explanation. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this reformation.
What I have witnessed in the last 6 years, is a growing trend toward hyper-sectarianism, cults of personality and arrogance rooted in utter ignorance. The first shots were fired by those groups, such as the Fundamentalists and others, who reacted to the “new teaching” of the Reformed Faith by declaring it a heresy. They, in true Fundamentalist fashion, assumed that their traditions and views were “biblical.” Anything that would contradict their views must, of necessity be wrong. Not merely wrong but a damnable heresy. It seems that those who are being awakened to Reformed concepts are also responding in kind. Rather than taking the high road to reason and imploring from Scripture, they are resorting to similar attacks. After devouring the groups that reacted against them, their appetite was not satisfied. Not content to turn on those whom they viewed as theologically inferior, they now turn and devour those who are nearest to their views.
Fundamentalism, by practice, has no room for difference. You are either a Fundamental or you are a heretic. What began as identification of the fundamentals of the faith as the grounds for Christianity quickly expanded to create a new Mishna, so that everything- including hair, dress, and diet- became the mark of a Christian. The New Reformed Fundamentalists are the same. They may have different doctrines but they maintain the same attitudes. Rather than reform and grow, many have stagnated and deformed.
What are the reasons for this phenomenon?
1) Lack of reasoning.
I want to assume the best of all people involved, but I find that is often very hard to do. It seems so many are dogmatically convinced of their position, even after it is proven to them that they are wrong or that there is no Biblical merit for what they believe. Please allow me to illustrate this by an experience I had. Regrettably, I could write volumes of such experiences like this one.
A few years back, we invited a group to attend our annual conference. We hosted them in a hotel and we extended the best hospitality we could provide. From the moment they arrived, they only wanted to argue. Before we were properly introduced and without so much as a thank you, they began to grill us on various views, obviously in an attempt to find a place where we differed. Our elders were able to encourage them to fellowship and enjoy themselves and we would find a time to discuss our differences.
I invited them to my home for dinner. No sooner had they walked in the door, and without even taking the time to greet my wife or pay any respect to our hospitality, the leader launched into his harangue as to why we must accept his position and the confession that articulated his belief. I explained that we held to another confession, and before I could even give the origin of our confession, he told me that it was wrong. I asked if he had ever read the confession we hold and he replied, “No.” I said, “How can you say my confession is wrong when you have never read it?” One of the men with him said, “Because we have the best!” I asked him how he knew it was the best and he was never able to answer me.
I decided to deal with the original issue he raised, regarding a strict observance of the Sabbath. I offered him the differing views in church history and explained that since the Reformation the church has never held a unanimous position and that even those holding his Confession of Faith have varied applications. I further explain that his position was a later view and was limited to one specific group. He insisted he was right. I took him through scripture and showed that there are texts that would refute his position. His only response was “But it has to be this way!”
I can only imagine someone told him that his confession and this application of the confession was correct. What he failed to recognize is that the Bible was not his authority, and in fact, even his beloved confession was not his authority. His final authority rested in the person who told him these things. To this day, I do not know if he was unable to reason or unwilling to think for himself. I am saddened either way.
In the majority of cases like this that I have seen, the source of the hyper-divisionism can be traced off-shore. Either a foreigner gave a conference, sent books or taught them one little thing and they swallowed it whole. They never considered that historically, good men have differed. Often, they don’t even take the time to see if the teaching is consistent with Scripture, and they seem to have no concept of the need for consistency. They now have a new revelation and they believe they are superior. With their new esoteric learning, they wage a campaign to bring others into submission or slaughter them if they refuse. And just like the Fundamentalists, the goal is not Biblical truth but to establish themselves as the only “real” Reformed Christian.
2) A lack of exegesis and an absence of Systematic Theology.
If a person has a strong grounding in Systematic Theology, and the exegetical methods of developing doctrine from Scripture, they are able to use the Bible to test if a thing is true or not. If they grasp that God is the author of revelation and not confusion, that God cannot contradict Himself and that Scripture is reliable, they will not need to rely on gurus. They will be able to discern for themselves what is Scriptural, coherent and cohesive.
If one lacks systematic theology is it because they have no understanding of exegesis. Exegesis is the bridge between a Biblical theology of disconnected categories and holding all biblical truth in each category as being consistent with any other truth. The view that many have of exegesis is that it is limited in meaning to teaching through books of the Bible, parsing every Greek verb (often wrongly) and saying something about history (most often taken from a commentary). There seems to be no idea of the historical-grammatical approach to developing the text. Rather, much like the various Arminian groups from which they came, many are just repeating what they have heard and trying to string together random poof texts.
3) An inability to distinguish essential and nonessential.
Fundamentalism started as a means to counter Liberalism. However, due to the anti-intellectual and anti-scholarship nature, it failed. After some public humiliation, the Fundamentalists entrenched themselves and became legalists. They believed that one’s beliefs are what saved them and if any person did not believe and behave as they did then that person was not a Christian. In Fundamentalism, one is not converted by Christ through regeneration but one is saved by following the rules. And there is a rule for everything. Unable to reason, and unwilling to hold to a systematic view of all the Scriptures, they resort to bombastic performances to impress the dim-witted and to personal bullying or shaming any who disagrees. The new “Reformed Fundamentalists” are the new Pharisees. Just as the Roman Catholics and so many of the cults before them, they are the self-proclaimed “true church.” And like the Fundy’s they have a rule for everything. Everything is essential. Whether Scripture supports those rules or not, is irrelevant.
The starting place for healing the division is a full understanding of Sola Fide and Sola Gracia. First, Sola Gracia says that we are saved by grace. We are not saved by our doctrinal beliefs nor by the confession that we hold. It is grace alone that saves us. Granted, after we are saved, we should be growing in our understanding of the Lord, but if we believe the Bible and the doctrine of sin then we know we will never be perfect. This means we will never have perfect doctrine. This should produce humility.
Further, if we believe that Sola Fide – not works and this includes the work of doctrinal belief- we know that salvation is by faith alone. If we see that grace is the root and faith is the fruit of salvation (Doctrine of Regeneration) we are able to recognize that there may be people who are in Christ but who are very confused and even sometimes wrong. Despite this, they are in Christ, they are our brothers, and should be treated accordingly.
Also, it is possible to hold some correct doctrine but not be held by Christ. The test of conversion is not theological purity, but being born again. The test is not a confession of faith but the fruit of the Spirit. This is not to say that a person should not grow in their faith or that heresy should be tolerated. But we must acknowledge that salvation is by faith, that it takes time to grow in our understanding and that we all have some error.
Something should be said at this point as to the difference between error, heterodoxy, and heresy. It is most unfortunate that the term heresy is thrown around so liberally. A heresy, by definition, is stronger than an error or even heterodoxy. Hersey is a teaching that is so heinous that the person cannot be saved. It is not merely an error, a departure from orthodox views or a misunderstanding. Heresy is a teaching that denies the fundamentals of faith. If a person holds to such heretical teachings and refuses to accept correction they will not be saved. Again, heresy is not the same as ignorance, misunderstand or error.
The scripture is clear that heretics are not just anyone. They are specifically false teachers. A false teacher is a person who claims to be sent for God but denies the very doctrines of God. The woman at the well was not a heretic. She was wrong and she was lost. On the other hand, the Judaizers that Paul often speaks of were heretics. Why? Because they not only believed but taught a doctrine that denied salvation. They taught works-based salvation that was in direct contradiction to the teachings of the apostles.
A person who is wrong, who does not agree with us, and who has errors is not a heretic. Please note the Church at Corinth. They got almost everything wrong and yet Paul referred to them as brothers. He did not damn them but corrected them. Further, Paul does not separate from them but urges them to correction and to unity.
4) An ignorance of Church history
Find this to be especially true when the discussion turns to Creeds and Confessions. Some will argue that a particular Confession is the best because it was the first, the original or foundational. Often these claims are made in ignorance. But more to the point, a confession of faith was written in a specific context. Confessions are written to distinguish a group from perceived errors in the Church. The Synod of Dort is meeting to respond to the Remonstrates. This very fact will color what they say in their confession. The same could be said of the English Protestant confessions. They are being written in a specific context. The King establishes a state Church and those who disagree with the Church must make a confession as to the areas that they disagree, in order to distinguish themselves. Also, those confessions must show a certain degree of continuity with the state church or other groups, lest they risk the same fate of John the Baptist.
As an aside, to those who tell me that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is the “best” confession, I often ask them why they reject the “First London Confession.” After they get over their obvious shock that there was a Reformed Baptist Confession prior to 1689, they will respond “this one is better.” My follow up question is always, “Please tell me how the 2nd London is different from the 1st London and how it is improved?” I have yet to receive a coherent answer from a Filipino. The whole argument of the “1689-Only” hangs on ignorance. At issue is not that one holds a particular confession but they must know why they hold that confession. And if they are going to assert a superiority then they must be able to defend that assertion.
5) The Elevation of Creeds and Confessions over Scripture.
The logic seems to be that the confession is derived from or represents Scripture so their confession, is practically equal to Scripture. No one, at least no Baptist, would say that their confession is inspired. They will not say it but they have no problem acting as if it is. One would think that the beloved Confessions of the “deformed” churches were brought down from heaven by angels and written on gold plates- too pure to be touched by human hands. The “My Confession Only” group views others as at best inferior and at worst heretical. If not in word at least in practice, they view the Confession as the rule for faith and life as well as the center of fellowship and not the Bible
6) The Denial of Christian Liberty and Adiaphora.
This goes back to a failure of exegesis and the subsequent failure to distinguish categories. There are essential doctrines that are clear in Scripture. There are implicit principles which can be deduced from Scripture. And there are other issues that are not clearly defined. Theologians make the distinction between “form and substance”
Perhaps an example will illustrate my point. We can see that the early church met on Sunday and we have clear commands that we are to meet together for worship. However, the Bible is completely silent on what time they started, how long they stayed, etc. In fact, the Bible says nothing at all prescriptive about how the service itself was conducted. We know they followed the Apostles teaching, prayer, singing, the Lord’s Supper and some churches shared a “fellowship” meal. But that is about all we know.
What can we conclude from this? God, in His infinite wisdom, realized that different churches in different settings would of necessity, meet in different ways, times and places. We have the substantial command that we must meet for worship as a church but the form that the meeting takes is flexible. Failure to differentiate between form and substance results in Fundamentalist, Pharisaical legalism. Unfortunately, if you can get a Baptist to do anything for more than three years, they will be convinced it is Biblical. In other words, our practice becomes our tradition and we assume it is Biblical and historical.
7) A lack of humility.
Among many would-be-leaders of the Philippines Reformation, I see gross pride. Many have fragile, inflated egos. They cannot have a rational, civil discussion. Some have a complete lack of maturity to even consider the possibility of being corrected. The Arminian Fundamentalists are not Biblical, despite their claims to the contrary. They are completely unable to reason from Scripture. When pressed they double down, get louder and resort to personal attacks. The Reformed Fundamentalists are the same way. They may have a little understanding of TULIP or Sovereignty, but they seem to know almost nothing about being a disciple of Christ. I truly hope that this is just a lack of maturity on their part. As we grow in our knowledge of the Doctrines of Grace, we must ensure that we also are growing in the grace of those doctrines.
8) A desire for control.
Fundamentalists are not interested in the truth. The vast majority of them refuse to even interact with those they disagree with. In fact, if a person were to even question them, they would avoid any interaction with them. They focus on creating a little audience for themselves. They want their own group and to be seen as an expert and a “man of God.” They often seek the praise of man for their boldness but when it comes to questions and confrontations over truth, they are revealed to be ignorant and cowardly. They hide behind their brash, loud antics but will not engage when questioned.
Sadly, this is also the case with many in the Reformed groups. Because of the lack of humility, because of pride coupled with ignorance, many are clamoring to make a name for themselves. They long to build an organization that will reach to the heavens, or at least have a network that spans the 7000 plus islands of the Philippines. They are not so much concerned with God’s Kingdom and His glory as they are their own.
If they are questioned, even in private, they make excuses, resort to personal attacks and like the Fundamentalists, they came from, resort to “separation.” Rather than risk humiliation that they might be wrong, even on a minor point, they “separate.” The reason they give is that the person questioning them has “bad theology.” The reality might be that they are too proud to consider that they could be wrong. The sad part is, just like the Fundamentalists who refuse to be Bereans and reason together, they isolate themselves and do no grow. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Those bent on hyper-separation will maintain their cult but they will not grow spiritually or in their understanding. In the end, they will be put to shame as those in their cult interact with others and realize that their teachings are inadequate and inaccurate.
The Philippines Reformed Fundamentalism
The term itself is a contradiction and an absurdity, which is precisely the point I want to make. It is impossible to go on acting like a Pharisees after one has experienced grace. Granted, sanctification and growth take time but there should be an ever-increasing measure of both. If a person is heaping up doctrinal truths but not growing in their walk, then the root is suspect. What appears to be happening is that some grasped a piece of doctrinal truth but that theology had no impact on their heart. Rather than walking in the light and growing in grace they seem to still be Pharisees with a new set of rules and a new club to weld. The “new reformed” function just as the old fundamentalist and insist that everyone be indoctrinated in their beliefs and practice rather than be educated in Scripture. While Fundamentalism concerned itself with haircuts, clothing and Bible translations, the New Deformed Fundamentalist has a different set of rules.
“My confession, my practices, my ecclesiology, etc. If you are not like me then you are not ‘really’ reformed and ultimately you are a heretic."
The Reformed Fundamentalists are just like the groups they left. They resort to bullying, back-biting and slander to protect their egos. If we have been born-again, such should not be named among us. The Bible is very clear on the language and manner with which we treat each other.
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger… James 1:19
Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, 1 Timothy 5:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly. Proverbs 15:1-2
A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind. Proverbs 18:2
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Perhaps some would reply that the Bible says we should counter heresy. I will ignore that this is begging the question (that is assuming the truth in a proposition without first proving that other confessions and perspectives are heretical). I would agree that we should admonish, reprove and even rebuke but the same Bible that communicates blessed doctrines also prescribes our behavior- even how we behave toward those whom we perceive to be our enemies. Which in case you are unsure of the Scripture, it says we should love them.
The Reformation: Rescued or Ruined?
I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but one can discern the weather by looking at the clouds in the sky. There are only a few possibilities for the future in the Philippines. Those who are hell-bent on biting and devouring one another (and they may also be hell-bound) will continue to divide and sub-divide until each one becomes the leader of his own “pure/true” cult. And each division of the division will attempt to heap-up more followers to itself. It could be that a vast portion of those coming to the Reformed Faith will be trapped in these theological cul de sacs. In the end, the reformation will be splintered and impeded.
Another possibility is that there will be those who are coming to embrace the Reformed faith who also hold to the Biblical doctrines of love, unity, grace, and mercy. They will be discerning enough to not be caught up in these petty squabbles over non-essentials that bring no glory to God. They will be humble enough to be teachable. They will search the Scripture and not blindly follower self-appointed experts. They will see that a true disciple is humble and they will not be fooled by fake boldness and false bravado. So far, this has not been the case for many. Only God knows the outcome. It is my prayer that God will so work in our hearts to give us the humility to learn from each other, to respect and love each other, to listen to each other, and to be Bereans so we can focus on the fundamentals of the faith, the spread the glorious Gospel and the Doctrines of Grace throughout South East Asia.
(C) Copyright Barry G. Carpenter January 22, 2020 [Article can be freely shared but only in its entirety and unedited]