I’m reading a book called Pearl of China by Anchee Min. It’s a fictionalized biography of Pearl Buck, an author I really like. I was surprised by some of the things the book reveals about Buck, so I looked her up on the internet (I used Wikipedia, which I don’t let my students use). She was not only the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries in China, but she was one when she grew up. One reason her life interests me is that my grandparents were also Presbyterian missionaries in China, although they lived in a different part of the country.
The research led me into the roots of the battles over fundamentalism in the Presbyterian church. This topic fascinates me for several reasons. I think I’m just inclined to jump into theological discussions. But I also remember some of my father’s comments about this controversy and have read some comments by my grandfather on the same topic. My grandfather and my father, a Presbyterian missionary in Guatemala, were on a different side than Pearl Buck who was on the liberal side.
There’s something about the Sadducees that reminds me of the supporters of the modernist side of the controversy. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death. So they came up with a clever little story to trap Jesus. His answer silenced them and astounded the crowd.
His answer should be the guideline for resolving all controversy in the church.
He told them that they didn’t know the scriptures and they didn’t know the power of God.
One of the big issues in the fundamentalist controversy was whether the scripture was inerrant. The liberals believed the Bible was full of errors and some didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. There were other doctrines in the Presbyterian confession that they also disagreed with, but I think these two are what make them sound like the Sadducees.
If a person doesn’t accept the inerrancy of scripture, he has nothing on which to base his faith. It just won’t hold together. If you deny any part of it, then there’s no reason to accept the rest. That’s what happened to these liberals. I’ve attended several main line denominational churches where the only thing that was taught was the importance of doing good works. The rest of the truths of Christianity were ignored or even denied.
When the modernists denied the virgin birth, they denied the power of God. I don’t know if they thought God couldn’t do it, but they certainly believed He didn’t do it.
This post is a little different from my usual meditations on scripture, but it touches on what’s most important to me as a Christian. So I’m going to close by listing the five fundamentals, which were declared by the General Assembly in 1910 to be "essential and necessary" to the Christian faith. They are the source of the term fundamentalist. In this sense I am wholeheartedly a fundamentalist.
The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is inerrant because of it.
Jesus was born of a virgin.
Jesus’ death satisfied divine justice and reconciled us to God.
Jesus physically rose from the dead.
Jesus’ miracles are historical events.