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Secondary Ideas vs. Fundamental Principles

Alexander Vinet, in his book, “Outlines of Theology” (over 100 years ago) makes this statement: “The time may not be far distant when in a certain sense the whole world will be Christian. But even then, it will not be the Fundamental principles, but the secondary ideas, the applications of Christianity, that the world will have adopted.

The truths which are at the base of the faith of the Church will be nonetheless contrary and odious to the natural man; and while the natural man, of whom even the Christian so long finds some remnant within himself, shall form the majority in this world, so long it is evident the Church must fight and struggle for its very life and suffer therefore as its Head suffered. It is our strength as well as our duty to hope God wills that we believe all things possible, yea, even in this our world grown old, the possibility of the glory and force of earlier days.”

I’m inserting Vinet’s statement into a completely different context when I apply it to the dilution of meaning that happens to labels such as “Fundamentalism” and, sadly, even “Christianity.” But his distinction between Fundamental principles and secondary ideas is valuable here.

The subtle usurpation of Fundamental principles by applications and secondary ideas is the constant threat to the pure Church. In our day any discussion on Fundamentalism invariably turns to issues of legalism, music, the application of separation principles, and Bible versions, etc. These are all applications and secondary ideas. Their merit or non-merit is not the issue at this point. The point I hope to make here is that in the flurry of debate over applications and secondary ideas, the Fundamental principles are being lost to the extent that just criticisms of some applications are turning into arsenals of destruction toward the Fundamental principles of our faith. Thus, young young men often “throw out the baby with the bath water,” because in the fight over the water they forgot that there ever was a baby. And that is the fault of everyone. A baby, after all, is a very serious responsibilty.

I say to my fellow critics: If you are to critique secondary ideas and applications, you must be intimately acquainted with the Fundamental principles that were at the root of those ideas and applications. (Even the odious KJV-onlyism is often rooted in an earnest commitment to the great doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture). The goal, then, of our criticism is not to quibble over secondary applications. It is to inspire in all of us a fervent love for the Fundamental principles we cherish.

Today there is a whole generation of young people confused about the real issues of ecclesiastical and historical conseequence because their teachers have inappropriately fostered a dedication to application that excludes any commitment to the fundamental principles. (One can be KJV-only without knowing the Bible). Consequently, both the application and the fundamental principles are discarded by a disillusioned and thinking youth.

My contention has always been that the way to save the next generation is to stir up in their hearts a holy affection for the fundamental principles that grace our heritage. If we do this, it will not fail to inspire secondary ideas and applications that are relevant and unworldly in the context wherein they live.


3 Responses

  1. I would add that this is why many Fundamentalists will piously abstain from ever darkening the door of a movie theatre, but watch as much if not more R-rated material as their unsaved neighbor. “Secondary ideas” have completely obliterated “Fundamental principles.”

  2. Recommendations

    just thought i’d point you toward Bails’ great post on traditionalism and expository preaching and the ongoing Fundamentalism analysis at…

  3. I am commenting here on the article “Unity and Unanimity are Not the Same Thing.” It seems the topic is similar, but I can’t make the comment thing work in that section.

    Since my first comments on the article when it appeared, I have been doing a good deal of thinking about what I said and what the article said. I have posted a lengthy response to the article on my own blog at this address: http://ebaptist.blogspot.com/ (ebaptist.ca

    I just wanted to post a brief notice here and to add this paragraph from my response that I think needs to be stated here:

    When I first ran across Bob’s article, I posted a reaction to it that included these words: “MacArthur will go anywhere and support any kind of group.” One person contacted me on this point and challenged the statement. After thinking this all over, I realized that the statement itself is overly broad. I am sure there are many places and groups with whom Dr. MacArthur will not associate. My expression of my sentiments in that post was therefore wrong and a ‘hasty generalization’. My apologies! I should know better, but I am prone to propaganda too! (That is not to say that I agree with MacArthur’s associations, just that I was wrong to state my disagreement in such an overly general way.) Further to this, in my first response I stated that MacArthur spoke in a Baptist Union church here in our city in the past. I have since been unable to verify this, so my memory is probably faulty. I apologize for making an accusation that I cannot back up.

    I have a good deal more to say about my critical and positive reactions to the article. I invite you to read my post if you are interested, and to send comments or other reactions either by e-mail or by way of comments on my blog. (In theory, I have comments turned on, I am not seeing them in my browser window. If they are not visible, please let me know at dcsj AT telus.net)

    Bob, you may or may not have time to interact much on this, but I do welcome your comments and look forward to further discussion as time allows.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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