In the second part of this article I want to apply the Biblical doctrine of separation to seven areas of our Christian lives. We continue to focus on how we can be in the world without becoming part of the world. John Newton, the English pastor and song writer, wrote the following answer in a letter to a friend:
In our way of little life in the country, serious people often complain of the snares they meet with from worldly people, and yet, they must mix with them to get a livelihood. I advise them, if they can, to do their business with the world as they do it in the rain. If their business calls them abroad, they will not leave it undone for fear of being a little wet; but then, when it is done, they presently seek shelter, and will not stand in the rain for pleasure: so providential and necessary calls of duty, that lead us into the world, will not hurt us, if we find the spirit of the world unpleasant, and are glad to retire from it, and keep out of it as much as our relative duties will permit. That which is our cross, is not so likely to be our snare; but if that spirit, which we should always watch and pray against, infects and assimilates our minds to itself, then we are sure to suffer loss, and act below the dignity of our profession.1
It should be noted also that separation is not argumentative or caustic by nature, though many separatists have been so by personality. The separatist separates. He walks away, unless there is Biblical reason to admonish. His course of action is not dependent on whether others do right but only on his own faithfulness to Biblical living. When God says, “Come out from among them” (2 Cor. 6:17), that is what he does. Dr. Clearwaters used to tell us, “The liberals never built anything, they took over everything they own.” Whether that is 100% true, I don’t know, but his point was that separatists have always been willing to leave when staying was a violation of their conscience. The testimony of many liberal schools and churches that were once fundamental might prove the statement largely true.
Every believer can follow Christ whole-heartedly. God does not ask us things that are impossible. Most admonitions to holy living in the Bible are directed to the individual. We all have a space (“my space,” if you will) for which we will give an account one day. Two millenniums of martyrs is testimony enough to the fact that if you believe strongly in your convictions, no one can make you act against them. Oswald Chambers wrote, “When once the protest is made where your Lord requires you to make it, you will soon find where you stand — exactly where Jesus said you would, outside the synagogue, called purist, narrow, and absurd.”2 Paul earnestly wrote to the Thessalonians, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:23).
The most well-known passage on personal separation is Rom. 12:1-3. It contains a negative and a positive command. We are not to be “conformed” to the world. This word is from the word, suschematiz?, from which we get the word “schematic.” It is the outward drawing or representation of what is inside. We are not to use our very bodies as an advertisement for the world but rather for a living sacrifice to God. But we are also to be “transformed” by the renewing of our mind. This word is the word, metamorpho?, which means to have a metamorphosis occur from the inside out. When we think holy, we will begin to live holy.
The next larger circle of fellowship for the believer is the family. We may not think of separation taking place within the family but it does quite frequently. Children may come to Christ within a lost family; a spouse may get saved but the other does not; or children may rebel against the faith of the family and forefathers. Many faithful believers in such situations are forced to make critical decisions concerning their faith. D.L. Moody wrote, “Anything that comes between me and God — between my world and God — quenches the Spirit. It may be my family. You may say: ‘Is there any danger of my loving my family too much?’ Not if we love God more; but God must have the first place. If I love my family more than God, then I am quenching the Spirit of God within me.”3
If the family is united in their convictions, they will seek a life-style that is not only pleasing to God but agreed upon by all family members. Areas of entertainment, music, television, the internet, will have agreed upon rules and limits. The world is against the Christian family and today’s choices are as critical as ever. It is time for Christian families to again abstain rather than indulge. Concerts, theaters, dances, and many internet social sites are controlled by godless unbelievers and rarely offer anything uplifting or spiritually positive.
The families of our churches are raising the future leaders in our churches. If we are eroding the very moral and spiritual foundation upon which the churches will be built, the future will not be positive. Parents need to take back the leadership in these areas.
Local Church Separation
Individual believers and families made up of individuals, ought to seek a place to worship where their convictions about holy living can be lived out. This involves the documents of the church which reveal doctrinal beliefs and practices, the reverence of the worship service, and the life-styles of the leadership and membership. This will also be affected by the sister churches and associations with which the church participates in meetings, camps, retreats, and other forms of fellowship.
Ernest Pickering wrote, “This is the very point. The issue of separation does not involve the believer’s relationship in an invisible church. It involves believers’ relationship to visible churches. The local visible church is a voluntary society. While membership in the Body of Christ, the so-called universal church, is by the sovereign disposition of the Spirit, membership in a local congregation is by the free choice of a believer as he or she responds to what the Scriptures teach. Freedom of association is at the root of separatist practice and teaching.”4 The believer, therefore, will separate from a local church which he cannot join, or may have to separate from his own church if it is not practicing according to his Biblically based convictions.
Universal Church Separation
I mean by this that when a believer separates from other believers, those who truly belong to Christ, he is separating within the sphere of the whole body of Christ. Paul told the Romans, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). Paul also told the Thessalonians, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thes. 3:6). These verses apply to discipline within the local church and also, by logical inference, to any other brother in Christ who is walking in a way in which fellowship with him would be harmful (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).
Rolland McCune wrote, “Ecclesiastical separation is the refusal to collaborate in or the withdrawal from a working relationship with an organization or a religious leader that deviates from the standards of Scripture.”5 This may involve leaving an organization but it may also simply mean the impossibility of joining or fellowshipping in various circles of Christian ministries. This is why believers choose to be in one denomination rather than another, or why even within denominations, some churches would or would not join a certain fellowship, association, or convention.
Professing Church Separation
We often call this Christendom. There are many religious people who do not know the Lord as Savior. Liberalism has taken the gospel message away from many people who are in apostate denominations, churches, and cults. They call Jesus Lord, but in works they deny Him. We may work around them, live next to them, share a meal and witness to them, even go to church across the street from them, but we cannot bid them “God speed” without being partakers in their “evil deeds” (2 Jn. 10-11).
Commenting on Psalm 129:8, “Neither do they which go by say, ‘the blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD,” Spurgeon wrote, “When persecutors are worrying the saints, we cannot say, ‘the blessing of the Lord be upon you.’ When they slander the godly and oppose the doctrine of the cross, we dare not bless them in the name of the Lord. It would be infamous to compromise the name of the righteous Jehovah by pronouncing his blessing upon unrighteous deeds.”6
The book of Jude as well as the second chapter of 2 Peter were written to warn us of unbelievers creeping into our churches and fellowships. Not only must we separate from such apostasy, but we must also admonish the brethren to do so. Biblical writers used the strongest terms in describing apostates (wolves, accursed, false apostles, deceitful workers, ungodly, mockers). For a believer to continue to say “God speed” to them, is to be a partaker of “all” their deeds and to become himself disorderly. From such a brother, other brethren should separate.
The church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual nation within a physical nation. We take on earthly citizenship and participate in the nation’s activities including commerce, neighborliness, and good citizenship. As individual believers, we exercise citizenship as the apostles did in a Roman nation. We are its best citizens when it comes to being law-abiding, honest, moral, and productive. We may be involved in politics, the military, education, or a number of professions. In this way we affect the culture positively.
Many conservatives have noted that the Bible is void of any social or political mandate for the local church.7 Considering the Roman Empire of the first century, if the Bible was ever going to command the local church to change the culture, it would have been then, but it didn’t. The church gathered must be about doing what it is commanded in Scripture to do: build up the saints to live godly in this world. Then when those saints leave that safe retreat, they are prepared to go out into a hostile world as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
Surely we know that we are not to love the world nor the things in the world (1 Jn. 2:15). If a believer becomes the friend of the world, he becomes the enemy of God (Jas. 4:4). But this doesn’t seem to be the case with many Christians. They have tried every way they can to soften the godlessness of the world, and to find ways to indulge themselves in the world and still be a friend to God. It just can’t be done. In fact, John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6). We are not talking about the globe as the world, or even the people to whom we are debtors with the gospel, but about the kosmos, the culture created by the sinful nature of lost people.
And So . . . .
“It is a matter of most solemn import that, whereas here and elsewhere in Scripture he who would walk with God is called to separate himself from unholy associations and the fellowship of the mixed multitude, even though it be found in what calls itself the Church.”8
Notes: 1. John Newton, The Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) 163. 2. Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1998) 44. 3. D.L. Moody, Spiritual Power (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997) 125. 4. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation (Schaumburg: RBP, 1976) 226. 5. Rolland McCune, Promised Unfulfilled (Greenville: Ambassador Int’l, 2004) 125. 6. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. VII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978) 58. 7. See McCune, part 7, “Social Involvement.” Also, Darryl Hart, A Secular Faith, especially chapter 8, “The Dilemma of Compassionate Conservatism.” 8. H. A. Ironside, Holiness, The False and the True, (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, nd) 72.