Title:  THE DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION

Subtitle: God’s Method For Staying Clean In A Dirty World

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THE CUTTING EDGE

(Fourth in a series)

This particular doctrine is probably the least understood and least taught doctrine in the Bible by preachers of our day. Fundamentalists who stress it usually fail to apply it to the brethren, insisting that unity is imperative and we must never separate from a brother or sister in Christ. Personal separation from sin and ecclesiastical separation from apostate denominations, according to their view, is the sole responsibility for Christians. But what sayeth the Scriptures?

 

To begin our discussion, let us cite part of a summary footnote on separation from the New Scofield Reference Bible. Found on page 1257, the footnote for 2 Corinthians 6:17 says the following:

 

“Separation, summary: (1) Separation in Scripture is twofold: (a) from whatever is contrary to the mind of God; and (b) unto God Himself. The underlying principle is that in a moral universe it is impossible for God fully to bless and use His children who are in compromise or complicity with evil. (2) Separation from evil implies (a) separation in desire, motive, and act, from the world, in the ethically bad sense of this present world system…..; and (b) separation from false teachers, who are described as being “vessels….to dishonor” (2 Tim.2:20-21; 2 Jn.9-11). (3) Separation is not from contact with evil in the world or the church, but from complicity with and conformity to it…..”

 

Of course these comments are occasioned by the passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians, which begins at verse 14:

 

“Do not be unequally yoked up with unbelievers—do not make mis-mated alliances with them, or come under a different yoke with them [inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light fellowship with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial [the devil]? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement [can there be between] a temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living god: even as God said, I will dwell in and with and among them and will walk in and with and among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. So come out from among (unbelievers), and separate (sever) yourselves from them, says the Lord, and touch not [any] unclean thing; then I will receive you kindly and treat you with favor. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary).

 

The imagery behind an “unequal yoke” is that of trying to put two entirely different animals—such as an ox and a mule—into harness and expecting them to work together. Chaos will be the only result, because the temperaments of the two animals are entirely different. The ox is slow and plodding, whereas the mule tends to move along much faster. The placid ox seldom lets much of an external nature bother it, but the hardheaded mule will often shy away from things it momentarily perceives as a threat. In other words, no knowledgeable farmer would ever be so foolish as to attempt such a thing because it just would not work. Yet, sadly, in the spiritual realm many Christians often do essentially the same thing by marrying someone who is lost! That, my friends, is an unequal spiritual yoke and a lifetime of unhappiness is the likely result. That is why young Christian men and women should “treat each date as a potential mate” and never knowingly date an unsaved person. Why? Because the old adage about “love is blind” is not true—love does not care! When you fall in love with someone, you are just as in love as if it made good sense! Therefore, to save yourself a ton of misery, stay away from gorgeous girls or handsome guys who are lost. Practice separation. This does not mean that we are to totally shun unregenerate people and act as if they were infected with the plague. No, it means that we are to be insulated—not isolated. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, gave us the perfect example. He visited with “sinners” (the old English euphemism for the lost), ate meals with them, and otherwise associated with them as He witnessed to them, but He certainly was not a partaker of their evil deeds and kept Himself insulated and pure. We can and should do the same thing in our everyday lives.

 

Most Fundamental Christians do not have much trouble understanding this aspect of separation, but unfortunately entirely too many fail to practice it. Quite a few fail in the area of business when they entangle themselves in partnerships with unbelievers. Their attitude is that staying away from wrong spiritual alliances is one thing, but a person still has to earn a living. Adopting that mind set is a direct rejection of God’s Sovereignty and intimates to everyone that He is not capable of providing for His own sheep. Call it any name you choose, but it is still an unequal yoke. When we put God first in our lives and practice proper stewardship over that which actually belongs to Him, we will not have to depend upon any unscriptural relationships to make our daily bread. Practice separation and watch God bless you.

 

Ecclesiastical separation is another area that is fairly easy to understand. We must adopt and maintain a barrier between us and those who practice a brand of “Christianity” that is foreign to the Bible. As Shakespeare said, “All that glisters (glitters) is not gold.” And all those who claim to be sheep are not. When their doctrine is bad, stay away from them. The Ecumenical Movement is nothing less than a mass repudiation of God’s doctrine of separation masquerading under a banner of unity and must be rejected as false. And it is this precise violation of doctrine that requires us to view Billy Graham and all others of his ilk with extreme caution. They are known as “New Evangelicals” and are on record as opposing the Bible doctrine of separation. Their position is one of “infiltration” (their own term) and is antithetical to separation, being exact opposites. To put it another way, their philosophy is to look, talk, and act like the world in order to “win people to Christ.” To maximize converts, they insist upon pragmatism—doing whatever it takes to crank out the numbers. If the numbers “walk the aisles,” then the methods used are therefore justified. This, my friends, smacks of Jesuit casuistry—the end justifies the means. God does not condone such!!! Anyone brazen enough to insist that God’s doctrine of separation is “outdated” and “no longer works” (perhaps not exact quotes, but close enough to catch the drift—from comments made by New Evangelical spokesman Harold Ockenga, 1957) is a heretic and after a couple of warnings is to be rejected (Titus 3:10). Let us look at this verse in its entirety:

 

“[As for] a man who is factious—a heretical sectarian and cause of divisions—after admonishing him a first and second time reject (him from your fellowship and have nothing more to do with him) (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary).

 

Billy Graham and other New Evangelicals have been admonished so many times by conservative Fundamentalist pastors, that the numbers doubtless run into the thousands! Yet, they steadfastly refuse to deviate from their original strategy and statement of purpose, blindly attempting to do God’s work man’s way. May He have mercy on them! Perhaps (and hopefully) with this explanation of their doctrinal defection, many more will realize why we have continued to point out their error in spite of incurring the misinformed wrath of those thinking about putting them up for sainthood. It is not a matter of what we think, but of what God has said!

 

If you drive the getaway car for a bank robbery attempt, are you considered just as guilty as those who actually stole the money? Absolutely! The law describes this as being an “accessory” to the crime, or an accomplice. And there are many legal applications of this principle. There are also many applications in the area of separation. If we refer back to the Scofield footnote, we find that it mentions compromise and complicity with evil. What is this telling us? Simply put, it is pointing out that we do not have to be the one engaging in a specific sin to be wrong ourselves—merely being in compromise or complicity is sinful in and of itself. This is heavy stuff and must be taken seriously, folks. God holds us accountable for our actions and when we knowingly play footsie with the wrong crowd, we are just as guilty. This has far reaching implications and should make many preachers very nervous where doctrinal practice is concerned. For instance, if a pastor goes off on a doctrinal tangent such as New Evangelicalism and is not called into question by his deacons, then they are as guilty of not practicing separation as he is! If the doctrine continues to be disregarded and the pastor has been questioned in the proper Scriptural manner by members of his congregation, they then have one of three options: (1) Call for the pastor’s resignation, or (2) Quietly leave the Church themselves, or (3) Do nothing and be in complicity with wrong doctrine. This sin is the moral equivalent of AIDS and thousands of preachers either have it or are “HIV positive.” It is the “new measures for a new theology” of Charles Finney gone to seed—the bitter fruit of an overt, deliberate decision to try to do a better job of evangelism than God! Sinful pride is at the very heart of the matter—a lust for results and the accolades of men—“my Church is larger than your Church and I have a bigger string of fish than you” mentality. And the mindset is insidious, affecting men in strange ways—men who would stoutly deny being a party to it, but who nevertheless adopt attitudes of grandeur where numbers are concerned. For instance, a certain pastor (who shall remain nameless in order to protect the simple) pontificates in his book that there are entirely too many preachers and that most of us should resign so that our flocks could be properly shepherded by proven leaders like him and some of the other mega-Church preachers. And this gem comes right on the heels of his denouncement of preachers who boast of numbers. I kid you not! He devotes quite a bit of ink to espousing and expanding his ego trip and I almost burned the book in anger, but decided to keep it as a constant reminder of what pride will do to the human brain.

 

Next we come to separation from disorderly brethren and jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Seldom has any issue caused as much dissention among preachers as this one. “Oh, we must never under any circumstances withdraw fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ,” is the immediate howl from certain circles when the subject is even mentioned. So for those of you that may hold to this unscriptural notion, get ready to point your noses at the moon—because the Bible plainly teaches the principle. What sayeth the Scriptures?

 

2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11, and 14-15 could not be clearer:

 

Verse 6—“Now we charge you, brethren, in the name and on the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, that you withdraw and keep away from every brother (fellow believer) who is slack in the performance of duty and is disorderly, living as a shirker and not walking in accord with the tradition and instructions that you have received from us”

 

Verse 11—“Indeed, we hear that some among you are disorderly—that they are passing their lives in idleness, neglectful of duty—being busy with other people’s affairs instead of their own and doing no work”

 

Verses 14-15—“But if any one [in the church] refuses to obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and do not associate with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but simply admonish and warn him as [being still] a brother” (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary).

 

These strong comments from the apostle Paul were made necessary because some believers in Thessalonica had been falsely taught that the rapture was definitely going to occur in the near future. Many of these people sold all of their possessions, quit their jobs, and sat around waiting for the Lord to come back. While they waited, some of them refused to work for the food being given them by fellow believers, while others meddled in private affairs. So Paul gave them (and us) these instructions about what we must do to try to correct such behavior. Notice that Paul uses the term “disorderly”—a military expression meaning to “walk obliquely” and not in step with everyone else. These people were out of line, out of step, and refusing to listen to reason, so something had to be done in order to get their attention. The cure was a good dose of separation! Paul said to back away from them and withdraw fellowship. The intended result would be shame on their part and a desire to make things right with everyone in the Church. I do not know about you, but if fellow believers came to me and pointed out that I was out of line, and through my stubbornness it became necessary for them to withdraw fellowship—I would be devastated. My old sinful nature would not like it one bit, and doubtless I would try my best to rationalize my behavior and make excuses, but at some point I would be forced to admit my failure and ask for forgiveness. As the old Scottish poet Robert Burns put it in his poem “Ode to a louse”: (paraphrased) “Oh, for the power to see ourselves as others see us!” If we could, we would not like ourselves nearly as much. Sometimes drastic action is necessary.

 

However, some opponents of this type of separation stoutly insist that this teaching applied only to the specific case in point—disorderly brethren in Thessalonica, nearly 2000 years ago! I find that to be absolutely ridiculous because if we adopt that method of exegesis, much of the Bible has no relevance for us. No, the principle is clear and the reason is doctrinally sound. Sin is sin, wherever it is found and we must separate ourselves from it as soon as possible. God knows that sin is highly contagious and when we make the mistake of tolerating it, sooner or later it rubs off on us. I often use the silly illustration of a coal miner wearing a white shirt! If you work in a coal pile you are going to get dirty and keeping the shirt white is well nigh impossible. Our walk in this world is very similar and we need to use every device God has given us to stay as clean as possible.  Willfully disobedient brethren are not to be tolerated! It is just that simple. If you cannot reason with them, get away from them because tolerance of their sin is complicity. Remember the driver of the getaway car? If we look the other way when our pastor, or any other brother, jumps the track without so much as batting an eye, we are guilty too. Hopefully, if we have the guts to stand up for what is right and go about it in the correct Scriptural manner, we just might help to deliver someone from Satan’s bondage. It is tragic that this very practical step is so neglected and misunderstood, but the continuing irrational cry for “Christian unity” has actually overshadowed God’s Word. My friends, doctrine must never be sacrificed for the sake of unity. And it does not take a great imagination to see that numbers play a significant part in the drumbeat of unity at all costs. Obedience to God is paramount even if it means having a “backdoor revival” and losing the majority of the membership. Experience proves that those who depart over such things are very seldom part of the “Prayer meeting crowd”—the faithful few—the literal backbone of the average Church. Like oil and water, tares and a sound, consistent application of doctrine do not mix.

The “win them at all costs” mentality is not Scriptural, because God’s salvation was assured prior to creation (Eph.1:4). Contrary to the emotional appeals made by many preachers, no soul will ever go to hell because of the failure of one of God’s saints to witness. Salvation is truly of the Lord and He will be satisfied with the end result according to Isaiah 53:11-12:

He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; by His knowledge of Himself [which He possesses and imparts to others] shall My [uncompromisingly righteous One, My Servant, justify and make many righteous—upright and in right standing with God; for He shall bear their iniquities and their guilt [with the consequences, says the Lord]. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great [kings and rulers], and He shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because He poured out His life unto death, and He let Himself be regarded as a criminal and be numbered with the transgressors, yet He bore [and took away] the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors—the rebellious” (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary, emphasis mine).

Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus Christ did not die for the sins of each and every person—only for the elect. Notice in the verses above that He bore their iniquities and their guilt—speaking of the many (not all) whom He justified and made righteous. Also this thought is reiterated in verse 12 where we note that He bore the sin of many  (again not all, as is commonly believed today). If Christ died for the sins of each and every individual—ask yourself how He could be satisfied with the fruit of His travail, when He knows that the vast majority will spend eternity in hell? Resigned would be a more appropriate term, if this were true! This is a misapplication of Scripture and foundational to Finney’s theology that teaches all men everywhere have their sins paid for and all they have to do is accept Christ as their Savior to go to heaven when they die. His “new measures” of evangelism were not designed to fit the old doctrines of election and predestination—so clearly taught in the Word of God—but made to order for a new theology that supposedly could bring “revival upon demand” (to quote his own words). Numbers were obviously his primary motivation and 150 years or so later, his methods have been honed to a razor edge of psychological perfection. As a result men are now going to ridiculous lengths to try to outdo each other and see who can build the biggest Church in town. “Come on in folks, everyone is welcome. Just walk the aisle, make a profession of faith, be baptized, become a member and start tithing—heaven is your next stop!” But 150 years ago, a person had to walk the walk and talk the talk quite a while before they were accepted for membership. Some evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit had to be observable in their lives as proof of genuine regeneration before they were considered to be members of the body of Christ. Separation was practiced and for good reason—they were doing their best to avoid tares among the wheat. Today the rule of thumb is “the more the merrier” and every warm body counts toward the goal of becoming a mega-church.

New Evangelicalism was inevitable once the barriers were lowered and every man woman and child on earth deemed to be fair game for persuasion. Separation, as a doctrine, was doomed because it did not lend itself to numbers. “Jesus Christ died for your sins and they are paid for in full. All you have to do now is to accept Him as your Savior to be eternally saved.” This sounds wonderful and, as I have repeated many times—it is what I was taught and what I believed and preached for many years—but it is total nonsense and I am still amazed that I could not see it! “Finney’s Fabrication” is absolutely impossible according to the Bible, because spiritually dead men (Eph.2:1), who are slaves of Satan (Eph.2:2), who cannot (not will not) understand that which is spiritually discerned (1 Cor.2:14), and left to themselves will not seek after God (Rom.3:11)—have no ability to accept anyone. Dead means dead! If and until God gives them spiritual life, they are incapable of true belief and any acceptance on their part is nothing but a futile attempt to escape the fire on their own terms. Countless numbers of people around the world continue to be persuaded through the means of psychological pressure to “accept” Jesus Christ and are lulled into a false sense of security. But the truly tragic result of all this is found in what it has done to our Churches. Separation is seldom taught or practiced and literal hordes of unregenerate tares have invaded them—their fleshly natures wreaking havoc with any semblance of spirituality and their worldly attitudes and lifestyles soon becoming the norm for the assemblies. They literally cannot understand the spiritual content of the Word of God and insist upon being fed with “feel good about yourself” propaganda to ease the burdens of everyday life. Serious Bible study quickly degenerates into book reviews and environmental issues. Societal concerns become much more important than spiritual issues. Sound familiar? It should, because the average Church today is covered up with it. And as long as the Church experiences “growth,” the average excuse for a preacher is just tickled to death—his retirement plan in no jeopardy.

“Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye separate sayeth the Lord….” (KJV). If you find yourself in a Church situation such as this, you have our heartfelt sympathy—but there is something you can do about it! Are you going to remain in complicity with bad doctrine and practice, or practice separation? The choice is up to you.

(Lord willing, more to follow)

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