The term “fundamentalist” is a pejorative term today, used to label someone the speaker believes is an irrational religious extremist of some kind.
But a hundred years ago, the term was taken as a badge of honor by theologically conservative Protestants to distinguish themselves from liberal Protestantism. While liberal Protestants in mainline denominations were denying basic Christian teachings like the authority of the Bible and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, conservative Protestants called for going back to the “fundamentals” of the faith – hence the term.
There are obviously a lot of issues on which Catholics and fundamentalists disagree, but there are a few important issues for which fundamentalists take a lot of heat in our culture that Catholics actually agree with them on – or at least are supposed to. Unfortunately, in my experience many Catholics – afraid to have themselves labeled a “fundamentalist” – can throw the baby out with the bath water and end up denying beliefs espoused by fundamentalists that are also taught by the Catholic Church.
Here are 5 things that are already present in the Catholic faith, but that Catholics could learn from their fundamentalist brothers and sisters to take more seriously:
1) The authority of the literal sense of Scripture
“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
What a crazy fundamentalist thing to believe!
Like fundamentalists, the Catholic Church teaches that “God is the author of Sacred Scripture… whole and entire, with all their parts,” and that therefore “the inspired books teach the truth.” (CCC 105, 107)
But don’t fundamentalists take the Bible too literally?
While Catholics may disagree with fundamentalists on the genre and historical context of various passages of Scripture, and thus on how they are properly interpreted, Catholics agree with fundamentalists that the Bible must be taken literally.
Yes, Catholics recognize that Scripture can have spiritual meanings (allegorical, moral, and anagogical) beyond the literal meaning, but, as the Catechism makes clear, “all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.” (CCC 116)
2) The reality of sin and hell
Sin, judgement, repentance, God’s wrath, demons, eternal damnation in hell – these are all just too negative, right?
Fundamentalists take a lot of heat for preaching about the reality of sin and its serious consequence for souls, and Catholics might find themselves wanting to reassure others that they don’t believe such scary nonsense.
But Catholics would be wrong to do that. Fundamentalists are right. Without Christ, we’re all “dead in sin” and “by nature children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2.1-3) The first message of Christ’s own ministry was “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.15), and on Pentecost St. Peter preached to the crowds, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2.40)
If you’re Catholic and these messages sound strange, too negative, or too harsh, that’s an indictment of recent Catholic preaching and catechetics.
Catholics don’t need to start carrying signs in public places with warnings about sin, judgement, repentance, God’s wrath, demons, eternal damnation in hell. But Catholics certainly need to believe in and preach about sin, judgement, repentance, God’s wrath, demons, eternal damnation in hell.
3) The absolute unicity of Jesus for salvation
Jesus is the only way to God. No exceptions.
Narrow-minded? Fanatical? Fundamentalist? Actually, it’s the express teaching of Jesus himself and the Catholic Church.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jesus, John 14.6)
“Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3.18)
“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2.5)
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4.12)
In case there was any question of the Catholic Church’s stance on this issue, that last verse from Acts is actually quoted at the very top of the first page of the Prologue of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
4) The future Second Coming of Christ
Catholics don’t believe it’s possible to predict the “day or the hour” (Mark 13.32) of Christ’s Second Coming, and we certainly don’t believe that true Christians will disappear before a period of tribulation, Left Behind-style.
But in rejecting these things, let us not forget what we recite in the Nicene Creed every Sunday: “He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
There will be a real Second Coming of Christ. The Catechism teaches that “since the Ascension, Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent” and “could be accomplished at any moment.” (CCC 673) Following Scripture, the Catechism also says that “before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers,” and that “God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.” (CCC, 675, 677)
Sound radical? That’s Catholicism for ya.
5) A willingness to be fools for Christ
Sometimes fundamentalists are scorned for beliefs that Catholics agree with, other times for beliefs that Catholics would agree with the critics on. But either way, one thing is clear: many fundamentalists are not ashamed to stand for what they sincerely believe God has revealed, even if it means looking foolish to others.
Oh, were Catholics to have such faith!
We Catholics believe that our faith has been revealed to us by God and faithfully preserved in the Church by the Holy Spirit. But do we really take it seriously? Or are we worried that non-Christians will think we’re stupid? And if we’re more worried about looking stupid to the world rather than being faithful to God, how smart are we really?
Let us listen to St. Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth:
Where is the one who is wise? […] Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? […] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. […] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. (1 Corinthians 1.20-27)
So with confidence in God’s word, let us Catholics go out to all the world and preach the Gospel! (Mark 16.15)