Not your father’s fundies — but he’ll take them

I had occasion to pass through the halls of a fundamentalist Church recently. I’m not using “fundamentalist” loosely. If I told you the denominational affiliation, and if you have your chops when it comes to various schismatics, you’d say “Oh, yeah. They’re fundamentalists, alright.” If you knew nothing more than that many of their ministers come from Bob Jones University, you’d know, too.

Still, it’s a church I have respected. They do good work. They get dirt under their nails. They take on tough cases as well as well-scrubbed yuppies who know their Emily Post Miss Manners (who is an etiquette expert today?!). They have a counseling ministry, Protestantism’s ersatz substitute for the Mystery of Confession in historic Christianity. They generally don’t yell.

Thinking my destination might be the main sanctuary auditorium, I went in and sat down to wait. The folks who were setting up didn’t look right for the occasion I was expecting. Turns out, it was their Praise Band assembling for a rehearsal, complete with a big honkin’ drum set in a plexiglass enclosure (presumably to keep it from overwhelming all else).

After finding the right place and finishing my business, I exited within sound of the auditorium again. I really didn’t have to be close. The band was very loud (and not half bad as those things go).

40 years ago, such a thing would have been unthinkable. Larry Norman was cutting edge. You got him for a concert somewhere other than church. You felt transgressive when you did. Your parents fretted.

Today, your parents are cheering tolerating docilely the new Larry Normans as a “way to keep my grandchildren in Church.”

I’m not surprised.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word …”? Sorry, but this is Sinking Sandsville. No firm foundations here. Evangelicals and fundamentalists are late adopters of fads, but they adopt them just the same. Because they think that Christianity is a bunch of propositions to get into your head, they think the medium is irrelevant. And because they seem to think that worship is a matter of quickened pulse, adrenaline rush, and loss of emotional control generally, they may even cheer a raucous, rhythmic medium.

They’re wrong.

Though not surprised, I am disappointed. And I shake my head at the — what? amnesia? entropy? — that allows so much change in a single lifetime (my own, in this case) to pass without effective objection and without deep reflection on what such things say about the fundamental (if I may use that word) defect of “Bible only” Christianity: the infallible Bible speaks only through fallible interpreters.

Fallible interpreters can change their minds day-by-day.

And transform a fundamentalist church into something almost unrecognizable in a generation or two.