Barriers of Exit: Fundamentalism & Restorationism
The following article is part of my “Barriers of Exit” series. These barriers are cognitive hurdles that make it extremely hard to question or leave the Message. For a questioning individual, they may have not considered or clearly identified these issues. Seeing them is useful in understanding why the Message makes it painful to leave.
Always Looking Back
Although not unique to the Message, Fundamentalism & Restorationism are part of the fabric of being a believer in William Branham’s message. The affect these have on your thinking, and your ability to leave the message, is significant. Let’s take a look why.
First, it’s important to understand the meaning of these terms. In making the concepts simple (and perhaps oversimplified), both of these are essentially a state of always ‘looking back’ to the way things were, how things used to be done and striving to re-establish those former ways.
Fundamentalism is the premise that there is a core truth – the “right way” of doing things – and this is ‘fundamental’ to the way we should be living. Those who are “Fundamentalist” are defenders of the status quo of years gone by. They look back to the way things were, and adamantly decry the plodding modern changes that move away from those core ideologies, traditions and lifestyles that were once embraced by our forefathers and generations past.
Fundamentalism grew in prevalence especially in times where culture began a rapid shift towards modern values. Advances which impacted lifestyles, the way we worked, technology, medicine, education, gender roles and even the attitude of culture (clothing, entertainment, etc) – these are all threats to traditionalists. Fundamentalism is a reaction to changes, and cries out against the things which are esteemed as “progress”.
Christianity is inherently fundamentalist because the Bible is a holy text which is looked back upon. It establishes a moral guide for a godly life, and as society changes, the nature of adhering to scripture becomes an area of concern. To what extent a sect of Christianity is ‘fundamentalist’ will vary.
The Message, of course, is voraciously fundamentalist. The modern world is an abomination. If Message believers were to strictly follow the teaching and opinion of William Branahm, they shouldn’t subscribe to Netflix. They shouldn’t have television screens to play movies on. The women shouldn’t be driving – regardless of arguments for convenience. And the list could go on. Clearly, even in the message, you will find a spectrum of adherence to the fundamental values William Branham promoted, and the justifications will differ from church to church.
In holding fundamentalist values, a restorationist is someone who seeks to restore the church to a pure, original form of Christianity. Many historical denominational movements were born from an attitude of restorationism. There would come a breaking apart of churches because one group felt they needed to re-establish the path “back” in a purer, truer way.
In the Message, the appeal to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers is a core teaching. There’s a constant cry to go back to the “old time religion”, and to return to the faith of the Pentecostal fathers.
Why This is a Barrier for Leaving
If you are a questioning message believer, or someone who has recently left, you can’t just unplug yourself from this fundamentalist mental framework. The Message has espoused itself to the idea that it is the ONLY restored form of faith. It is the “original seed” come to maturity; a recreation of the original church.
I am not even going to debate the merit of fundamentalism; I think we often all carry elements of it. Sometimes it’s nostalgia that makes us look back to our childhood when things seemed “simple”. It’s why you often hear older folks lament the modern world, and how there is loss of community, decency, morality, etc. Personally, I see the value of cell phones. But gosh, do I miss the days when they didn’t exist, and we weren’t attached to them.
However, understanding the impact fundamentalism has on leaving a structured group is crucial. You have a huge barrier of fear to face. The idea of compromising everything you’ve held “fundamental” is terrifying. You’ll appear weak, you’ll risk salvation, you’ll put yourself in extreme discomfort.
In terms of non-message churches, your tendency will be to evaluate them by their degree of fundamentalism. Do they sing old hymns – or only these modern songs? Do they have drums and modern worship teams? Is a woman on or leading the worship team? Are the women wearing pants, makeup or heels? Do they talk too much before and after the service in the foyer? Do they or don’t they do _________???
Any minor detail that hints at a more ‘modern’ version of practice, the sensors go off, the inner critic rises, and your heart looks back to the familiarity of The Message – and your mind questions if it were true. Fundamentalism is a harsh, cold, unrelenting critic.
Even apart from the church, it becomes difficult to imagine a life away from the strictness, the lifestyle, the community of fundamentalist thinkers. Why? Because this has become a fundamental part of who you are. You don’t know how to have community with people who think or live differently.
The challenge is that you will be told that this is proof that the message is “right”.
None of this addresses the contention that William Branham made false claims, misrepresented himself, and ultimately established himself as an authority over your life (which your pastor/message community continue to bind you by). The barrier is one of fear; to risk the possibility of ‘change’, which is the antithesis of fundamentalism.
Separate the concerns against William Branham with the pull towards fundamentalism. They are separate issues to work out. You can have a desire for old-fashion values – AND believe that William Branham’s message is false.