How We get Drawn into Fundamentalism
A story of conversion
In the early 1920s, a small girl clutched her nickel as she held her little brother’s hand and they both went up the steps to a small country church. Inside the church, after the singing, the pastor began the sermon, warming up as he preached. The climax came when he pounded the pulpit and cried, “God doesn’t want your money. God wants your life!!”
Taking him literally, and relieved, the girl kept her nickel as the collection plate was later passed, and she bought ice cream with it.
But she never forgot the earnest pastor. The message of what he said was God’s claim on her life lay inside her, like a seed.
Fast forward 25 years or so. She is now grown, a young mother, living in a new town. She knows no one, is not a reader, is not working outside the house, and has only a child to talk to during the day. Her mental stimulation is Arthur Godfrey on the radio. And then one day, she puts her baby in the stroller and goes for a walk down a street that she hadn’t been down before… and there she sees a little church. Casually she reads the announcement board in front of the church. The pastor is the very same man she had heard speak when she was a child. She starts attending.
She gets “saved,” and starts praying for her husband. The pastor advises her not to pressure him or talk about her faith to him, but to let him come on his own. Come he does, when the local priest starts to pressure him to put their daughter in parochial school, and he reacts negatively, remembering his own parochial school experience and how he was terrified by the nuns with their tales of purgatory.
The child is sent to Sunday school at her mother’s church, and afterwards her father asks what she learned. There really was no contest between the lively and colorful lessons of the evangelical Sunday school compared to (in those days) sitting through a Latin service at the local Roman Catholic church.
The young father starts attending his wife’s church. He, too, had the “power of suggestion” implanted in him as a child – with Catholicism’s dark tales of purgatory and of sin and God’s judgment. He accepts the evangelical message of salvation, which he learns is by faith alone, offering eternal salvation and no purgatory. He is so relieved to learn that purgatory is not in the Bible and that there is not a chance of a dark stop-over on the flight to heaven. To the end of his life, he goes misty-eyed with thankfulness for his salvation.
Have you guessed? I was the child, and the young mother and father were my parents.
Church background information
Both these little churches were fundamentalist churches. The denomination of the second was formed when some pastors “walked out” of one of the mainline church denominations decades before, when the pastors perceived a modernization that was unacceptable to them. In the mainline denominations, they saw a watering-down of the evangelistic message and a loss of commitment to the notion of a literal interpretation of the Bible. They also objected to the teaching of the social gospel, where human needs were put above the objective of getting people “saved.” “Back to the fundamentals of faith” was the cry. The splintered off fundamentalist churches were the result.
This process continues today with those committed to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible (containing no mistakes and God-breathed) taking over large denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, and squeezing out the “liberals.”
That was the start of the seismic shifts in my family…all from a little seed back in the 1920s that grew into a fundamentalist tree. In the next tab, we’ll examine the attractions of fundamentalism, as exemplified by this young couple.