‘Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.’ 1 Tim.1:19

There is so much discussion occurring in magazines, blogs and the pulpits of our land regarding the subject of fundamentalism. Many Pastors are trying so hard to hold on to their concept of ‘fundamentalism’ and ensure their people stay true to its definition, that they no longer comprehend what it is that they are standing for.

What is fundamentalism?

The dictionary defines ‘fundamental’ as that which is ‘essential, primary, important, that which serves as groundwork, basal, pertaining to a foundation and a set of primary principles and rules.’

The word ‘fundamentalist’ came into existence in the 1920’s in America to name a movement among Protestants based upon Scriptural inerrancy. The founders of ‘fundamentalism’ reacted against liberal theology and asserted that the inerrancy of the Bible was essential for true Christianity and was being violated by the modernists.

The term ‘fundamentalism’ was coined by Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 to designate Christians who were ready ‘to do battle royal for the fundamentals.’ The term was quickly adopted by all sides.

Today fundamentalism has many different nuances and in many cases is in total opposition to its origin. A quick survey of the Independent Baptist Movement in Australia yields the sad reality that fundamentalism is now determined by the position held on three issues; music, versions and dress standards.

Please do not misunderstand my point; I am personally committed to upholding conservative music, I use a Bible version which is based upon the formal equivalency translation method and I strongly believe that modesty is essential for every believer. My great concern however, is that for the most part, fundamentalism has exchanged the study, exposition and proclamation of theology and the fundamentals of Scripture for the ‘issues’ of the day. It is my contention that when God’s preachers return to real exposition of the weightier truths of the Bible, the ‘issues’ will no longer be ‘issues.’ For example, I cannot count how many times I have heard messages on the subjects of music, dating, dancing and dress standards, but I can count on one hand how many times ‘God’s holiness’ has been truly exposed from the pulpit, with a strong application to ‘be holy as he is holy’ (1 Pet.1:16).

It is no wonder people are leaving our churches fed up with hearing about the ‘issues’ and not being taught the fundamentals. Yesterday Jason wrote about the ‘atonement’ and it is my contention that the average Christian in our ‘fundamental circles’ could not give a satisfactory definition for that term. Words like ‘justification, redemption and propitiation’ have been replaced by ‘syncopation, beat and rhythm.’ Most Independent Baptists I know can give me thesis on the ‘errors of contemporary Christian music’ but cannot engage on the topic of election. Pastors can give dissertations on why they believe the KJV is the only Bible version for today, but cannot, or will not provide me with sound exposition on the doctrine of God’s grace.

What have we done? We are trying to keep the issues of the day from affecting our people but in so doing, we have exchanged the ‘depths of fundamental theology’ for the ‘shallows of liberalistic issues.’ We must return to the foundation of our faith, the weighty truths and the primary doctrines that form the basics of our Christianity. We need a revival of biblical, theological fundamentalism!

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About Daniel Kriss

Daniel is pastor at Mount Cathedral Community Baptist Church in Taggerty, Victoria. Daniel has studied theology and has been involved in itinerant preaching since 1999. In 2006, Daniel founded SWAT Camp which helps develop young leaders for Christian ministry. Daniel and his wife Jessica live in Melbourne. You can contact Daniel at daniel@jasonharris.com.au.


  1. PJ 2 November, 2011 at 6:53 am - Reply

    Brother Daniel, I appreciate the general thrust of your argument, but you do make some rather large assertions. How wide was that “quick survey”?

    I struggle with this concept “Independent Baptist Movement.” If local churches are ‘independent’ what business is it of ours to criticise them? Are they not free to emphasise what they wish to emphasise? Would we dare question there motives as people of God trying to do God’s will?

    And in any case why does this term ‘fundamentalism’ matter anyway?


    • Daniel Kriss 2 November, 2011 at 6:46 pm

      Hi PJ,
      Thank you so much for your comment and honesty…how important it is for ‘iron to sharpen iron’
      Your question relating to the ‘quick survey’ is a good one as it is very dangerous for one to make such a statement without proof.
      I feel that I am in a position to make such a ‘large statement’ as I have had the privilege of preaching in almost every Independent Baptist Church in Victoria and some in S.A. through my itinerant evangelism ministry over the past 10 years.
      I have also been running an independent Baptist campsite in Victoria in which I answer to 9 churches around Vic and NSW. This along with many opportunities to sit under preaching at the camp has given me insight into the topics that are most referred to in these churches.
      Thank you also for the reminder regarding being critical of those whose right it is to be independent. The comments that I have made are not intended to criticise but rather, to remind us all of what is important and what is not. I counsel teenagers everyday of my life regarding these ‘issues’ and I have written down my comments with these ones in mind. The paper was not submitted with the intention of questioning motives. My experience is that most of the preachers and church members who ‘focus on the issues’ appear to have the right motives.
      Lastly, the term ‘fundamentalism’ does not matter until someone claims be a ‘fundamentalist’ and yet is entirely focused on the topics that are not fundamental. Most of the IB churches today claim to be fundamental in doctrine and practice and I just wanted to remind us of what it means to be a ‘fundamentalist.’ Thanks again for your comments and ,many the Lord bless you! Dan.

  2. Al Garlando 2 November, 2011 at 10:03 am - Reply


    I happily give an “amen” to your post.
    But as one who stepped away from the “issues” a little while back and nowadays hovers on the boundary with an occasional wistful glance inwards I think the matter of “separation” (particularly the so called secondary & tertiary degree type) is one of the key issues at play amongst the Australian Independent Churches.

    In what I’ve witnessed and experienced in Sydney, music is still fairly conservative, but – it’s not all strictly hymns and Majesty Music – especially amongst our Gen x-ers and those following them.
    Yes, dress is modest, mostly, but that’s also the case in wider evangelical circles (in Sydney anyway). Just the other night I was having a “meeting” with a brother at Macca’s & a huge group of teenagers walked in – we looked at each other & said immediately “Youth Group!” – it was a group from a nearby Anglican Church & to a person, all the kids were dressed distinctively more modest than how you would find their peers down at the shops. They were playful & noisy too, but the tone & content of their speech was also, distinctly, “conservative”.
    Even on the matter of Bible Versions, again, from my observations in Sydney, The NKJV probably gets more use than it’s esteemed predecessor.

    So I think, while there may be some who still labor over those 3 points, perhaps a little too often – the one issue that still needs some rigorous expository driven debate is separation. I think it will come back to your main point also that Australia needs Biblically driven Theological Fundamentalism (in it’s original intended meaning, not the warped idea of extremism) – can we, as brothers and sisters, strengthen one another, without impinging on ecclesiastical congregational autonomy, to unite on & fight for our theology without being distracted by whether that song leader without a tie on just tapped his foot on the off beat while singing a chorus based on NIV lyrics.

    • Daniel Kriss 2 November, 2011 at 6:56 pm

      Hi Al Garlando,
      Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate your feedback.
      Separation is an important doctrine that has most certainly been left out of the ‘modern, eccumenical churches’ statement of faith. The biggest difficulty that most of us have is, where do I draw the line? And, what are the IMPORTANT points to draw the line with? I believe that the need of the hour is for God’s people, from the Pastor to the cleaner, to dust off the Bible and return to being students of Theology. Not simply engaged in an intellectual debate or investigation, but a genuine, heartfelt, passionate pursuit of knowing God in a greater and more intimate way! Today I took our church Bible study through a summary of the Holiness of God. I am convinced that if we, like Isaiah, caught a glimpse of God’s holiness, the separation issue would dissolve itself. We would be ‘sold out’ to Christ and Him alone! Thanks for your comments and the Lord bless you!

  3. Steve 2 November, 2011 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Interesting post. I think most people would agree, at least in principle, to your argument about Fundamentalism and what it should be all about, i.e Biblical exposition vs. Externalism.

    Yet my own experience is that no one calls themselves Fundamentalist anymore, especially it a witnessing situation, simply because it would turn most people off immediately.

    Most of the time we would say, we are Christians or Baptists or whatever the case is.

    Secondly, I think even those who preach mainly on external issues like dress, music etc, would say that they are preaching the Bible and principles directly derived from biblical theology.

    In my opinion, this issue could be corrected simply by addressing the style of preaching that goes on in many (most?)independent churches. Expository, exgetical, systematic teaching must replace textual or thematic preaching as the mainstay of the pulpit ministry.

    • Daniel Kriss 2 November, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comments and I wholeheartedly agree with your points.
      Our land is replete with ‘watered-down,’ topically based sermonettes. Our churches must return to good ol’ fashioned Bible exposition.
      I do not have any problem with preaching that deals with the ‘issues’ of the day, but I am tired of the same old ‘hobby-horses’ been ridden in the pulpits of our land. Nobody (it seems) wants to delve into the depths of Theology and get to know our God more intimately. It is high time we return to REAL Bible teaching and preaching which exalts Christ, Honours the Lord and changes nations! Thanks for your comments and the Lord bless you! Dan.

  4. Jeremy 2 November, 2011 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Welcome to the team Daniel.

    Thanks for your post. You well articulated many of the issues that constrain some churches today. Wrestling with ‘fundamentalism’ is an area that I trod about 15 years ago.

    I reached the conclusion that the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Movement was not worth saving or restoring. Sound theology, doctrine and practice is much broader than fundamentalism. God’s Kingdom will advance regardless. Once I grasped that, issues such as the KJV, skirt length etc, drum beats, suddenly became non-issues. I was also liberated to live and witness the gospel of Jesus Christ all the more.

    • Daniel Kriss 2 November, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      Hi Jeremy,
      Thanks for your comments and for your welcome!
      Your comment regarding ‘God’s kingdom advancing’ is always a good reminder. How joyous to know that in spite of the arguments, disagreements and doctrinal differences down here, my Saviour is still coming and it may be today!
      Looking forward to reading your blogs in the days ahead. God bless. Dan.

  5. Jason Harris 2 November, 2011 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Good post Daniel!

    Whether the circle of thinking/influence that you describe here is best labelled Fundamentalism is a matter for debate I suppose, but however it is labelled, it certainly exists. And it is just as certainly an aberration from biblical Christianity.

    I’m thankful for the many men in Australia who are extracting themselves from externalistic thinking and driving deep into the theology of God’s word and his gospel. We don’t all have to agree on every detail of what God’s word means, but we do have to carefully and reverently exegete and exposit it for God’s people day in, day out.

    • Daniel Kriss 2 November, 2011 at 7:15 pm

      Hey Bro Jason,
      Thanks for the comments.
      You are right…..is this thinking really ‘fundamentalism’ and I think the answer is ‘no.’ By very definition a fundamentalist cannot say and do these things.
      Agreeing on every detail is not ever going to be the case and I am glad because I know that I have not ‘reached perfection.’ What my brother or sister in the Lord says today may grate my ‘theological position,’ but in time to come, I may come to understand, appreciate or even adhere myself to that stance. My knowledge of God and His Word is progressive and the Holy Spirit has so much to teach me.
      Thanks bro. Dan.

  6. Greg 2 November, 2011 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    Love the article! Yes, certainly that is one of the many ways that the term “fundamentalism” has coursed issues within Christianity. What I love most about this article, though, is its insistence that we continually focus on what is REALLY important.

    • Daniel Kriss 2 November, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      Hi Greg,
      Keeping the main thing the main thing is the key!
      Thanks for your comments.

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