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Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — Dissent (3)


Maybe you know the story of Scotland’s most famous hero of the Faith, John Knox. I didn’t. All I know about Scotland came from Lucy Ricardo’s visit in 1956 and our West Highland Terrier.

The guy was a stinker! He was a Catholic priest, a lawyer, a teacher, and George Wishart‘s body guard who led Knox to convert to Protestantism. He spoke out against all things Catholic — Mass, Purgatory, Mary. You name it, he ranted against it. He got into such trouble that he was exiled to the galley of a French ship, hopped to Frankfurt, and eventually fled to Geneva with Calvin himself.

Mind you — Knox made Calvin look like a diplomat. Knox’s pamphlet against female sovereigns — The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women — was too extreme for Calvin’s taste and was, in the end, even according to sympathetic historians, a “tactical error.” He was too bifurcated in his thinking, aligning all things Catholic with all things feminine and all things Protestant with all things masculine. He got too caught up in his own argumentation.

Knox ended up being one of the few countryman who wasn’t charmed by Mary Queen of Scots’ feminine wiles. When he spoke out against her betrothal to Don Carlos, she called him to Holyrood to essentially ask him: “Who do you think you are?” His response, in sum, was: “Nobody but a guy who must warn about dangers ahead.” Some contend that modern democracy was born right then and there when an ordinary stinker stood up to the seductive Sovereign! When she started to cry, he responded: “Madam, in God’s presence I speak: I never delighted in the weeping of any of God’s creatures; yea I can scarcely well abide the tears of my own boys whom my own hand corrects, much less can I rejoice in your Majesty’s weeping.”

He was a plain-spoken dissident. A bigger rabblerouser than Calvin, and the grandfather to all of Machen’s Warrior Children. And while fundamentalism might claim this Scottish stinker as its own, in reality it replicates more Samuel Rutherford and his intolerance than Knox and his fire. Being a stinker without tolerating opposing stinkers ends up being nothing more than narcissism.

So these Presbyterians don’t fear disagreement. When we were taking the “New Members Class,” for instance, the pastoral staff member explained:

You don’t have to agree with Calvinism here. Not at all. But you should know what our perspective is and what you’ll hear from the pulpit and in the Sunday School classes.

And Grant and I did another double-take. What? We can disagree? In fundamentalism when dissent is even suggested, the passive-aggressive  and dysfunctional answer is “Why would you want to be here if you don’t agree with us?” Or “Sure you can disagree, but just don’t mention it.” Some covert fundies even insist that all members agree with bylaws and doctrinal statements before joining and label dissidents as “sinning through questioning.” But outside fundamentalism, it’s a big tent with dispensationalists and postmills and amills all worshipping together. There are Democrats and Republicans. Pedobaptists and credobaptists. Homeschoolers and public schoolers and private schoolers. American-born and foreign-born. Upper- and working-class. We’re all there.

So with John Knox as the founder of our polity, dissent isn’t just patriotic. It’s positively Presbyterian!

Let kings fear, let them tremble, because there is judgment coming if they do not do what is right.

John Knox

9 thoughts on “Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — Dissent (3)

  1. Again, YES, YES, YES.

    When I heard “if you aren’t with the Vision that has given *me* for this church then you don’t even need to be here” said from the pulpit, EEK! And this wasn’t even a fundie church (well they were fine with pants on women and drinking beer). The thing that I have been trying to figure out for a while is how to define this thinking outside of fundimentalism? Is it just legalism?

  2. I was always told to never question the “man of God”, implying that, by doing so, you were questioning God himself.

  3. Several thoughts.

    1. “I’m in love wtih the dragon’s dinner.”

    2. The difference is like feeding your best milk cow alfalfa or a diet of bitterweeds.

  4. I live with a “man of God” and–for crying out loud!!!–*somebody* better question him! Challenge him! Pray for him! Challenge him some more! Hold him accountable! There is but *one* Son of Man who knows exactly what he is doing. The rest of humanity who has walked/is walking/will walk this earth are susceptible to all the temptations everyone else is. Including the ones the Son of Man was subjected to: to wield power in an ungodly manner. But we can be confident in no one else’s ability to turn away from those temptations.

    I’ll stop shouting now. Camille, I’ve been blessed by the testimony of your journey in Grace.

  5. I’ve actually been told by my pastor that I can disagree with him in my head, but not out loud to him. It’s a violation of Hebrew 13:7 & 17. If he feels like God wants him to preach something, then anything I might object to—on Scriptural grounds or not—is a moot point. He “preaches without apology.”

    It’s tough. This is from a man I respect in so many ways. But what to do about that…

  6. Catching the back issues of this series. Love it!. Anyway after grad school I moved back to IL with my wife. We ended up close to my home town, but not too close to drive to my home church every Sunday. This was fortunate because my pastor, since HS grad, has been on a tirade against all things Calvinistic. If I had to choose I would choose Calvinism, but typically I don’t label myself as such (there is more too it than just not labeling, I don’t think I exactly fall into the Calvin camp). Anyway one Sunday, before we moved, the pastor was preaching and he was talking about a particular person who is “hyper calvanistic.” I thought, “great give me the juicy details.” As the sermon kept going I realized he wasn’t talking about hyper-calvinism. Instead he was talking about anyone who calls themselves a calvinist. And actually the more I listened the more I realized that I fit in his definition as well. That had me just a little concerned. We ended up at a wonderful church in Champaign. During our new comers class they talked about Plymouth Brethren and the background, and where they were different from strict Plymouth Brethren. It was interesting, but it was a conversation I had with the pastor that was most enlightening. We got talking about Dispensationalism. He said that the church does not take a definitive stance on eschatology and as such doesn’t dogmatically preach on the subject, and that there were a wide range of beliefs in the congregation. That doesn’t mean that they never cover the subject, but generally do so in a way that doesn’t state opinion as fact. It blew my mind in the same way. He was saying that it was ok to disagree with him or the church and that people in the congregation do all the time and still stick around. Wow! 🙂

    Just thought I would share my personal experience.

  7. Camille,
    I have enjoyed these posts–I did not come out of the same kind of fundie past but my journey to Grace and to an understanding of the Solas has been similar. Knox is one of my heroes-not to say that he did not have his own problems and inconsistencies. Calvin, I understand, disagreed with Knox about how much one can disagree with the magistrates but the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (which also killed Peter Ramus) changed the thinking of Calvin’s followers to be closer to that of Knox. Note the 6 or more documents that responded to the magistrate taking unfair advantage including: 1579 Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos by “Junnius Brutus.” I agree with David Hall in his book, Calvin in the Public Square, that it is the grace of God and the assurance of God’s sovereignty that gave them the courage to dissent–outside and inside the church. Thanks for the reminder!

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