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Separation Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

Five Views on Sanctification

Five Views on Sanctification

by Rick Shrader


Stanley Gundry is editor of this volume and the “Counterpoints” series.  This volume was first published in 1987 but continues to be relevant to any age.  The five views on sanctification are the Wesleyan, Reformed, Pentecostal, Keswick, and Augustinian-Dispensational perspectives.  John Walvoord wrote the dispensational perspective and gives the traditional point of view from that perspective.  It is very good.  He also give a fair rebuttal to the other perspectives.  For anyone wanting to know the point of view on one of these perspectives from thier own theologians, this volume serves a great purpose.


Be Ye Holy

Be Ye Holy

by Rick Shrader


Fred Moritz wrote this book for BJU Press in 1994.  Moritz is also a graduate of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College under Monroe Parker, and Central Baptist Theological Seminary under Richard Clearwaters.  His proposition is that all of the believer’s actions stem from the holiness of God.  Specifically, Moritz writes about separation from a personal and ecclesiastical perspective and sees that both are rooted in the holiness of God.  He traces the origins of evangelicalism and new evangelicalism and shows where he disagrees as a fundamentalist.  He also says often that separation is not an end in itself, that separation must not be divorced from evangelism.  Having read many books like this, I think Moritz does a commendable job of arguing for separation with a fair and kind spirit and yet a militant firmness.  There is good historical and etymological study of Hebrew and Greek words for “holy.”


Can We Separate From Brethren?

Can We Separate From Brethren?

by Rick Shrader

Separation is a topic that will not go away.  It will be discussed by believers until God separates us all from the world at the rapture.  Since Baptists have been called Baptists, and along with several other independent groups, we have been dissenters.  In London we visit Bunhill Fields, “the dissenter’s graveyard.”  Here you find the markers of those who dissented from the Church of England and were therefore not allowed to be buried in church yards.  Among those are John Bunyan, John Gill, John Rippon, John Owen, Isaac Watts, and even Susanna Wesley.    Spurgeon could have been buried there if it had still been open for interment in his day.  Isaac Watts called Bunhill Fields “sacred dust.”

There are some who never see a need to separate from anything.  To them, separation is only in your head, i.e., a believer never needs physically to leave a situation, he only needs to separate the good and bad in his mind and then think properly about it.  Others would admit that there is a time when a believer must separate himself from unbelievers, especially when outright immorality, heresy, or apostasy is taking place.  Even the most ardent evangelical who disdains fundamentalists’ actions over separation, probably would not himself be forced into feigning agreement with such things.  However, the discussion among evangelicals continues as to how and how far believers can walk with unbelief.  Is it a bounded set, a centered set, or something in between?  Is it enough to be merely looking toward the center of our faith, or does one have to actually be within the faith?1 And so the discussion continues.

Most fundamentalists (and I would like to think, therefore, most Baptists throughout history) quibble little over separating from apostasy.  It is a “given” in our circles.  But separating from a brother in Christ is another thing.  Some would say that the Bible never asks the believer to separate from another believer.  To many, this is just incompatible with Christian love and is to become judgmental.  The inclusion of descriptions and labels such as “secondary separation” has not helped a lot.  While these can be helpful when all agree on their meanings, seldom do we see such agreement.

My own trek in fundamental groups and schools on both sides of this issue has brought me to a place where I see that separating from a brother is necessary and biblical in proper circumstances.  The clear statements of 2 Thes. 3:6 & 14 make this mandatory to me.  “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” (3:6).  “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (3:14-15).

I don’t think these verses can be limited to the precise problem in Thessalonica (of quitting one’s job to wait for the rapture).  Paul repeatedly says that the reason for separating was the brother’s refusal to obey the Word (epistle, commandments), an action that repeats itself in many ways.  Neither is the action to be limited to the discipline of a local church member (though included) but to any of the false teachers that had spread the error concerning the coming of the Lord.  From such these brothers and sisters are to “withdraw” (vs. 6), and “have no company with” (vs. 14), which literally means “do not mix with.”  Other passages fit this scenario as well (Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 2:16-22; 1 Cor. 5:1-5).


The basis of separation

The basis for separation is the holiness of God.  Ernest Pickering wrote, “Separation, both personal and ecclesiastical, is grounded in the nature of God.  God is the great separatist.  He is absolutely separated from all evil and error.  Do His people err in emulating Him?”2 God says, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15).  Verses could be easily multiplied that speak of God’s apartness from a sinful world due to His holiness including broken fellowship with His own children because of their rebellious spirit.

God’s holiness is His controlling attribute.  Many shy away from separation because they think it is incompatible with God’s love.  Holiness, however, is always the large circle and love a smaller circle within the larger.  We do not have holiness in love, but love in holiness.  A.H. Strong wrote, “That which lays down the norm or standard for love must be the superior of love.  When we forget that ‘righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne’ (Psa. 97:2), we lose one of the chief landmarks of Christian doctrine and involve ourselves in a mist of error.”3 If God Himself can separate from, and punish sinners while still being a God of love, surely we can speak the truth in love.  It is His holiness that demands that He separate Himself from sin, though He remains a God of love, mercy, and grace.

We believers are good at using phrases such as “well, I just believe that . . . (fill in the blank).”  Somehow we think if we believe something hard enough, or sincerely enough, it just has to be true.  What does it matter what we think when it comes to God’s holiness?  As much as we may not like separating from sin in a brother, we must because God does.

The requirement of separation

The simple proposition is that if God must separate Himself from sin so must we.  Though God never disowns His children, He does discipline, chastise, punish, and withdraw blessings from them when they walk disorderly.  The only standard for this can be the Word of God.  It cannot be subjective with us according to the way we feel, but must be based on the unchangeable standard of His Word.  Peter quotes Leviticus when he writes, “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).

A further requirement for separation will be conflict.  This goes with the territory of separation because nothing in this fallen world: men, demons, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, wants to be reprimanded.  Paul required Timothy to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).  The Corinthians had a hard time coming out from among the sins of Corinth because they could not “enlarge” their hearts toward the things of God.  They were “straitened” by their own “bowels” or emotional attachments to the world (2 Cor. 6:11-18).  A believer who says he loves God but won’t “lower himself” to fight for God, doesn’t have a strong love for God.

The pursuit of holiness, which is fellowship with God, must be the highest priority of our lives.  Nothing must stand in the way of that fellowship.  Jesus Himself said that even our own family must not come between us and Him (Lk. 14:26).  If we disobey God’s Word by saying “amen” to those who walk disorderly (even brothers), our own fellowship with God is impaired.  There are those times when separating from a friend, a local church member, or a national figure, is an uncomfortable thing to do.  But that is when we must put our walk with God ahead of our walk with other people.

The areas of separation

The areas of separation (as well as the levels of separation) have been enumerated by many separatists.  First, The believer must separate from known heresy.  The book of 2 John was written for this reason.  “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.  He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.  If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11).  To “bid him God speed” is to say “amen” to what he is doing.  This makes one “partaker” (from koinonia) or fellowshipper in all of his deeds.

Second, we must separate from apostasy, those who claimed to be Christian but left the faith because they were not of the faith.  The harlot ecumenical church of Revelation 17 and 18 is already growing today.  John heard the angel command, “come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).  This ecclesiastical area of separation is one that has fallen on hard times.  Our inter-connected world makes it easy to communicate but harder to separate.

Third, we must separate from alliances that are unholy or unscriptural in obvious ways.  This is clearly taught in the 2 Corinthians 6 passage.  “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel: and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:14-16).  This is not speaking only of marrying an unbeliever nor only about idolatry.  The applications from this passage ought to be easy to see.  This is the reason for not participating in those city-wide campaigns that include unbelievers or liberals.  I believe it is a reason to not participate in concerts where there is no difference between Christian music and the world’s music.  Separatists could not agree with the ECT document or the Manhattan Declaration because in signing those, they would be allying themselves with the other names on the list.

Fourth, we must separate from those who will not separate themselves.  This is the reason for the biblical instruction to separate from a brother.  The believers in Thessalonica were following false doctrine and therefore the other believers were to separate from those brothers.  In effect, all local church members have separated themselves from other believers when they have set doctrinal and practical standards for membership.  There are many who cannot join that church because they are not living in a way the people in the local church feel scripturely they must believe and practice.  Church discipline is a form of this principle also.

Jehoshaphat is an Old Testament example of one who, though listed as a good king of Judah, failed to separate from the backslidden northern kingdom.  Rolland McCune concluded a survey of him by writing, “Imbued with good intentions, Jehoshaphat’s policy of inclusivism became one of prolonged entanglement that undid his positive contributions after his death, a legacy he never intended to leave.”4 That is a tragedy that has happened to too many believers.  C.H. Spurgeon, knew he had to leave the old Baptist Union in England, an organization with a good history that went back a hundred years.  But when the Union began admitting known liberals, Spurgeon chose to separate from his minister friends and his own brother saying, “Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.”5

The levels of separation

A believer must pay attention to the various levels of his involvement.  The first level is his own personal or individual life.  A believer cannot let sin dwell in his life because it will break his own fellowship with his Lord.  Again, Paul admonished the Corinthians in this manner, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy [judge]; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).  This often demands that we not participate in what another individual does.  It should be noted, however, that we may also maintain communication with a sinning brother on an individual level which we couldn’t do on a higher level.  The danger here is that, out of personal friendship, we may acquiesce to his sin by privately saying “amen” in a way we wouldn’t corporately.

A second level of separation is our local church membership.  As has been stated, this creates a certain separation by its very nature.  We should join a church that has stated their doctrine and practice with which we are in agreement.  This is honest both for the church and the individual.  Church discipline, of course, is separation from a sinning brother or sister.  This is done corporately by the whole church always, of course, with the hope of regaining the brother or sister.

A third level of separation is the inter-church level.  Local churches need to fellowship with other local churches in order to maintain certain ministries.  Missions cannot be done by a single church.  It takes a fellowship of churches to do this.  Bible colleges and seminaries, youth camps, city-wide meetings, and such things need the cooperation of a number of like-minded local churches.  Yet the local churches, though they may stretch their comfortable zone in ways that do not violate their convictions, cannot participate in things that are an affront to their very existence.  How many youth pastors have had to spend a year overcoming the damage that was done by one week at youth camp?  It is always right to not go down that path in the first place.

A fourth level of separation has to do with national or world-wide association with known error.  Again, in our day of easy communication and travel, the individual (or the local church) can find himself involved in unscriptural things very quickly and easily.  We are constantly asked to sign petitions and documents online which probably involve all kinds of people and groups.  On the other hand, we have the advantage of easily hearing and reading of situations from which we should separate.  My Google reader allows me to see what national figures believe long before I am even asked to participate with them in some ministry.  I have an obligation as a pastor to warn and shield God’s people from entangling alliances that would violate biblical principles of separation.  It is a difficult task, because it is so easy to use materials, recommend books, invite instructors, and a host of other venues, which represent a compromising ministry.  But this is the day in which we live and we must be as vigilant as possible.


And so . . .

Space does not allow us to speak to every objection to the doctrine of separation.  Some will always wrestle with whether it is loving or judgmental.  When, however, we realize that separation is not our idea but God’s, we have only to be disciples following our loving Master in His example.

We should purge sin from our midst where this is possible, but when it is not, we must separate.  We must walk away from situations where there is no hope of correction.  We ought not to cross the threshold of many “rooms” where it is best for us not to enter, even though the majority of things in the room may be fine.  As someone said, 97% of rat poisoning is good old-fashioned corn meal.  It’s the 3% arsenic that will kill you!  We should never condone sin by saying “amen” to what is ungodly.  We should never set anything above God’s blessing on us and our fellowship with Him.



1. See The Spectrum of Evangelicalism, a 2011 Zondervan Counterpoints book which sets forth four points of view including the fundamentalist point of view.

2. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation (Schaumburg:  RBP, 2008) 196.

3. A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan:    Fleming H. Revell, 1970) 272.

4. Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled (Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004) 141.

5. Quoted by McCune on p. 151, and many others.



Is Holiness A Doctrine?

Is Holiness A Doctrine?

by Rick Shrader

I was born in 1950.  The last half of the twentieth century and now into the first half of the twenty first has been an interesting time to be alive.  In addition to the fast and ever-changing world in which we live, I think the church life of the average American believer has been an interesting phenomenon.  Seeing the change in what was expected of a Sunday School boy in the 1950s to what the average boy in church may experience today is different to say the least.  I can vividly remember the turbulent 60s and the sudden change that came to my high school, my friends, and to the American culture in which I had grown up.  The church wasn’t the same either.  Going through Bible College, Seminary, Graduate School, church staff positions, teaching positions, and then pastoring since 1985 has painted a diverse picture of ministry during those years as well.  Many of my earlier peers and friends in ministry are now 180 degrees from where I am in philosophy of ministry.  Others that were very different then are very similar to me today.  I’m talking about our fundamental Baptist churches and schools.

I was reminded of these things a few days ago while having lunch with the son of an old college friend.  He and I obviously differed on philosophy of ministry, especially in the area of worship style, music, and other “contemporary” trends.  I liked the young man.  What’s not to like?  He was articulate, nice looking, polite, technologically astute, and interested in conversation.  As with most discussions around these topics, the question came down to music and worship style and why we all can’t have common ground in ministry causes.  His most specific point was that he didn’t see these things as fundamental doctrines.  He didn’t see chapter and verse, “black and white” reasons for making an issue over the differences.  Though we talked about a number of topics, my primary reason for disagreement was “the doctrine of holiness.”  His response was that he didn’t see holiness as a doctrine, at least not like the trinity, or the virgin birth, or the second coming of Christ.  These have black and white parameters.  Holiness is a word that needs to be defined.   We eventually ended our lunch on a good note and parted better friends than when we had begun.  But we were certainly no closer together on philosophy than before.

I have thought about my answer  for a while.  It didn’t seem very convincing to him but it was truly my very reason for not liking the contemporary approach to worship.  I had the same feeling last summer when my wife and I, with my sister and brother-in-law, attended Andy Stanley’s church while visiting in Atlanta.  To me there was a definite lack of reverence.  It felt more like attending a sporting event than a church.   Why is it that I (in this case, we) feel that way but, obviously, many others do not, especially younger people?

Is holiness a doctrine?  Is it something I can nail down and practice in my life or is it something nebulous that defines itself according to every person’s point of view?  We have created this wall between interpretation and application of biblical texts.  In this issue I’m reviewing a book on music by Scott Aniol.  He uses the term “encyclopedic” to describe the view that imperatives only come by specific wording of Scripture (“chapter and verse”), but applications made from the existing text (what he calls the “encompassing view”) cannot and should not become moral imperatives on any believer.  He says,

Some argue that if the Bible does not address a particular moral issue, believers have complete liberty to do as they please.  In other words, absence of biblical directive implies moral neutrality.  If God had an opinion on a particular issue, they argue, He would have given His people instructions.  Rather, morally neutral actions matter only with regard to the subjective motive or conscience of the individual.1

In other words, “if you can give me chapter and verse which says contemporary music is wrong for church use, I’ll agree.  Otherwise don’t appeal to mere holiness as a reason.  Holiness is just a word after all.  What one person thinks is holy another person thinks it is not.  Holiness is too subjective of a reason upon which to base moral decisions.”

Now, it is true that we have to be careful with our biblical application because history tells us surely that many wrong practices have been based on wrong application of Scripture.  This is why we take so much time with biblical interpretation.  If we interpret those applicational passages correctly, we build a proper foundation upon which to apply principles.  Keeping the passage in context means to follow grammatical, historical, and theological guidelines.  How else could we follow Paul’s admonition to avoid the works of the flesh which include, “envying, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like” (Gal. 5:21).  What is “such like?”  Can we really know, since that takes proper application of the text?  He did the same thing to the Ephesians when he described the church as “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27).  What is a “such thing?”  That takes an application of the Scripture to supply the proper “such thing” in that blank spot (see also Rom. 1:32; Heb. 11:14).  If I put in there “anything that would be a moral spot or wrinkle in the church,” would that be correct?  How about anger?  How about cursing?  How about pride?  Don’t I have an obligation from this text to apply something that fits the context?  And when I read “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (anastrophæ, conduct)” (1 Pet. 1:15), I have to put something in that spot called “all manner of conversation or conduct.”  I am saying that I think music that is designed by the world, and which we have borrowed for the church’s use, cannot fit the requirement presented by this verse for holy conduct.

This line of reasoning may sound subjective, and I believe it is.  But it is subjective in a necessary way.  My application of holiness will depend on how I have applied myself to the things of God; how I have read and understood His Word; how I have walked by the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit; and whether I desire to please God or men.  To use an extreme example, I remember a Christian college student, away from home living in a secular college dormitory, telling me that his lustful thoughts were all right because God made him with those physical and emotional urges.  His problem was his walk with God, not his physical make-up.  Therefore he could not apply biblical principles to his everyday situation.

A quick perusal through my systematic theology bookshelf quickly confirmed to me that theologians think holiness is a doctrine.  In fact, it is the first attribute of God listed in most of them and usually receives the most space.  Strong says, “Here we have an ultimate reason and ground for being and doing right, namely, that God is right, or, in other words, that holiness is his nature” (Systematic Theology, 302).  Berkhof (who calls this attribute of God “majestic holiness”) says, “The fundamental idea of the ethical holiness of God is also that of separation, but in this case it is a separation from moral evil or sin” (Systematic Theology, 73).  Ryrie insightfully says, “The holiness of God becomes the standard for the believer’s life and conduct (1 Jn. 1:7).  This should put to an end the often useless discussions over what is permitted and what is not in the Christian life.  Proper conduct can be tested by the simple question, Is it holy?  This is the believer’s standard.  While he does not always measure up to it, he must never compromise it” (Basic Theology, 39).

In 2003 R. Kent Hughes wrote a book titled, Set Apart: calling a worldly church to a Godly life. In the preface he wrote, “Among evangelicals, there is a great disconnect between (on the one hand) what Christians believe and assimilate from sermons and Christian sources and how (on the other hand) they actually live.  It is this very disconnect that is the subject of this book.”2 Holiness is a setting apart to God.  We have lost this as a doctrine because we only assimilate teaching that fits our agendas and no longer strive for teaching that stretches our spirituality.  We want to say we are doctrinally sound yet we do not want our doctrine to change our lives.  We want to appear sane to the world yet we don’t want to be set apart from the world.  To be set apart means to be separated.  Even the very sound of those words brings negative thoughts to believers today.  While I am familiar with (and have heard most applied to me) all of the pejorative descriptions that have been given to separation (“holy huddles,” “head in the sand,” “hide in your office”), the fact is they are wrong and the Scripture is right and I must live by the Scripture.

First of all, holiness is a witness to a lost world.  Jesus said that to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake should make us rejoice because men will see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:10-12).  Peter echoed the same sentiment.  When we are reproached for Christ we are happy “for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Pet. 5:14).    The idea of holiness as a means of witness to the world has completely turned around in my life time.  Today, believers are more apt to think that assimilation in the world is a better witness than separation from the world.  Have we forgotten that to be a friend with the world is to be the enemy of God (Jas. 4:4)?

Second, holiness ought to come from an urging within our souls.  God “hated” the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6, 15).  His holy nature could allow no other feeling.  But Paul had to tell the Thessalonians that they were called to holiness and that if anyone despised holiness he “despiseth not man but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit” (1 Thes. 4:8).  How can we say we love God and despise holiness?  I love my wife and keep myself pure for her because of a deep desire within me.  Could it be less with my love for God?

Third, holiness is a means to power with God.  The Corinthian believers had lost their power with God because of their worldly ways.  They were unequally yoked with all kinds of ungodly things.  Paul, therefore, urged them to come out from among those things and be separate.  Then they would know God as “the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).  Scripture is full of stories about God’s people who lost their power because they lost their close walk with God (e.g. Adam, Achan, Sampson, Hezekiah, et al).

Fourth, holiness is a natural reaction to this world.  That is, for the Christian, it is a natural reaction.  John can command us not to love this world (1 Jn. 2:15) because that is what the Christian ought not to love.  Peter can remind us that the time past in our lives was plenty of time to live in the flesh (1 Pet. 4:3) and that now it is time for holy living.  Paul reminded us that we had no fruit in those things for which we are now ashamed (Rom. 6:21).

Fifth, holiness is an anticipation of heaven.  Paul was jealous for the purity of the Corinthian church because he wanted to present them as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2).  The same was true of the Colossians (Col. 1:22) and all of his churches (2 Cor. 11:28).  He reminded the Philippians that their “conversation” ought to be in heaven, not on earth, “from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).  If we have the hope of heaven in us, we purify ourselves as He is pure (1 Jn. 3:2).  When we study the throne room of God in Ezekiel’s prophecy, or the millennial reign of Christ in Isaiah, or the New Jerusalem in John’s Revelation, how can we not respond with a holy life in anxious anticipation for those future rewards?


And So . . .

Yes, I think holiness is a doctrine.  If the first of two great commandments is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind (Lk. 10:27), then surely we will present our bodies a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1).  Isn’t that our reasonable service?


Scott Aniol.  Worship in Song (Winona Lake:  BMH Books, 2009) 4.
R. Kent Hughes, Set Apart (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 2003)  10.


The Christian and Amusements

The Christian and Amusements

by Rick Shrader


Biederworlf was a well-know Presbyterian fundamentalist at the turn of the century.  He once headed the Winona Lake Bible Conference (1922) and taught at Winona Lake School of Theology (1922-33).  A study like this from a generation gone by (1907) is always a cultural reminder of how much the church has changed.  His three subjects are dancing, card-playing, and theater attendance.  Can you imagine the antipathy such preaching would create among Christians today?  But read his reasons before you judge.


Separation: A Christian Perspective (Pa...

Separation: A Christian Perspective (Part 2)

by Rick Shrader

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.

Personal Separation

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.

Family Separation

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.

National Separation

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.

World Separation

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

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.


Separation: A Christian Perspective (Pa...

Separation: A Christian Perspective (Part 1)

by Rick Shrader

The Bible teaches a doctrine of separation.  Biblical separation is not a mere occurrence as politeness or rudeness.  Separation is something that is commanded by God in the Scripture and something that was lived out by prophets, patriarchs, and apostles, as well as the Son of God Himself.  To be “holy” as God is holy, or to be “sanctified,” means to be set apart unto God.  It is only then that He can be a Father to us and we can be sons and daughters to Him (2 Cor. 6:18).

The apostle Paul brings forward Israel’s requirement to be a separated people into the church when he quotes Isaiah 52:11 as an absolute requirement for the believers in Corinth (2 Cor. 6:17-18).  He does the same when he quotes God’s command to Abraham in Gen. 21:10 in order to instruct the Galatian church to “Cast out the bond-woman and her son” (Gal. 4:30), meaning, obviously, to separate themselves from the false doctrine of legalism.

It has always been a struggle for the church to grasp how she can practice separation as Israel did being a theocracy, a national entity, and yet be the church which is not a theocracy nor a nationalized entity.  The church cannot retreat to a mountain top or a commune, but must somehow be in the world while not being of the world.  Paul was still teaching this principle to the Corinthians in the midst of their church discipline when he wrote, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no, not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

Vance Havner said it this way, “The Christian has been saved out of the world.  He is in the world but not of it and he is sent into the world to win others out of the world, which is his business in this world.  He must keep separated from its defilements, yet he must be in the midst of it for the salt must be mixed with whatever it is to purify.”1 However, salt can only purify when it is unlike meat.  Light can only illuminate when it is unlike darkness.  But this “unlikeness” has become distasteful to many Christians and separation has become the nadir of popular Christianity.  More than that, separatists have been made to be the enemy of God’s grace rather than the biblical result of that grace (see Tit. 2:11-12).  Ernest Pickering responded to this when he wrote, “This is one of the laments made by anti-separatists—that the doctrine of separation, premised as it is upon the ideal of a pure church, lends itself to repeated separations.  This is true in a sense, because every generation must fight its own battles and the war is never won.  The culprit, however, is not the prickly fundamentalist who cannot live at peace with his brethren, but rather the never-ending maliciousness of Satan.”2

In this first article, I want to lay out what I believe to be the biblical basis for separation.  This basis is seen intertwined in the very nature of no less than six other important Christian doctrines.  In the second article, I want to apply the doctrine of separation to seven areas of the Christian life.  This will begin with personal separation and work its way outward in concentric circles to family, local church, universal church, professing church, the nation, and the world.  Here, we begin with the over-arching doctrine of God’s holiness and proceed on to the future reward and high calling of all believers, heaven itself.

The separate nature of God’s holiness

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:13-17).

God is unchanged by the sinfulness of this world.  It is only by His grace that He is longsuffering and willing to restore sinners to Himself before He destroys the whole fallen world with fire.  In eternity He will not have compromised His holiness in any way.  The only way for any part of His creation to abide with Him eternally is to become as He is—holy.  J.N. Darby said, “Separation from evil is the necessary first principle of communion with Him.  Separation from evil is His principle of unity. . . Wherever the body declines the putting away of evil, it becomes in its unity a denier of God’s character of holiness, and then separation from the evil is the path of the saint.”3

The degrading nature of man’s sin

“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19).

J. Gresham Machen wrote, “Everything in the Bible is concerned with the fact of sin; the relationship in which man as man stood to God has been broken by transgression, and only when that barrier is removed is there sonship worthy of the name.”4 The whole world has gone “in the way of Cain” (Jude 11).   Do we understand the offense our sin is to God?  Fallen man is a mere shell of his former glory when Adam was the king of Eden.  Now a flaming cherub separates man from the tree of life, and only death can repair the breach.  Fallen man has no moral connection with God even though he remains a creature in His likeness.  He is “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22), and must be in Christ if he is to be accepted at all.  “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

The radical nature of our redemption

Redemption is of Jesus Christ, “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), and not of ourselves!  “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation . . . But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  It took the blood of the holy and righteous Son of God to purchase us from the slave-market of sin.  And when that happened, we were radically changed: positionally in an instant and relationally in a progression.  We are not only a new creature, but a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation that we should show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).

It would be a biblical contradiction for the new creature in Christ to remain like the world.  Charles Ryrie wrote, “Separation from the world, or nonconformity, is being unfashionable, and this is a necessary characteristic of the dedicated life.”5 William Newell, writing of Abraham’s pilgrim faith, said, “But now, also in Abraham, the principle of strangerhood is first seen: Abraham is called out; for the world had left God.  So God’s people are to leave it today.”6

The progressive nature of our sanctification

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (1 Thes. 4:3).  Though we are positionally in Christ, and that secures our eternal salvation, we must not neglect, as many do, the on-going nature of this sanctification process.  Only on purpose could one miss the biblical admonitions to grow in grace and to progress in holiness while in this life.  So Peter says, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

This progressive nature of a growing holiness brings with it an antipathy from the world.  The more we grow into the likeness of Christ, the more the world becomes unsympathetic to our life-style.  This is what the weak Christian does not like and seeks to avoid, yet the only way to avoid it is to avoid holiness.  “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12).  Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33).  The problem of too many today is that they want peace in the world and so they find tribulation in Christ.  Spurgeon said, “You cannot grow in grace to any high degree while you are conformed to the world.  The life of separation may be a path of sorrow, but it is the highway of safety, and though the separated life may cost you many pangs, and make every day a battle, yet it is a happy life after all.”7

The urgent nature of our evangelism

Perhaps the most tragic result of a lack of separation is a lack of power for evangelism.  The love of the world is powerful enough to convince the weak Christian that worldliness is actually better for evangelism.  The offense of the cross becomes an offense to the believer rather than to the world.  This is the very crux of the matter.  Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32).  When will we learn that men must come to Christ by way of the cross?  It is the weary path of the penitent that opens to the bright sunshine of grace.  Jesus said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mk. 2:17).  We have become so busy making the gospel palatable to the world that we are now trying to call the righteous to repentance.  If Jesus could not do it, neither can we.

It is that separation, that apartness from the world, that God uses to draw sinners.  John was on his way to Patmos when he wrote, “They are of the world:  therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.  We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us.  Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:5-6).

The forward nature of our calling

C.I. Scofield wrote, “The church is everywhere said to be heavenly in calling and destiny, and exhorted as pilgrim and stranger to walk in holy separation from the world which hated Christ and will hate the faithful disciple of Christ; her one mission, the preaching of a crucified Christ to a lost world.”8 We are the called of God and that calling calls us all the way home as a father who stands at the door and calls his children home for supper. This calling pulls us outward and upward the further we walk in life.  The outward man may be perishing, but the inward man is renewed day by day.   Holiness becomes us the more we become like Him. “Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9); “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thes. 4:7).

It is in this way that we live in the world and yet become more separated from it.  As we do, we become more and more effective in the cause of Christ.  Oswald Chambers helps us see, then, how separation from the world has a powerful effect in the world, “The things that used to be ends in view have not only ceased to be ends, they have ceased to have any interest for us at all; they have become tasteless.  This is the way God enables us to be fundamentally dead to the things of the world while we live amongst them.”9 Soon we will live and reign with the King of Righteousness and we will wear a crown of righteousness if we are among those who love His appearing.  If we have this hope in us, we will purify ourselves as He, whom we are about to see, is pure.

1. Vance Havner, All The Days (Old Tappan:  Revell, 1976) 181.
2. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation (Schaumburg:  RBP, 1979) 190.
3. By Pickering, p. 116.
4. J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1979) 85.
5. Charles Ryrie, Balancing The Christian Life (Chicago:  Moody, 1994) 83.
6. William Newell, Hebrews (Chicago:  Moody, 1947) 380.
7. Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1948) 107.
8. C.I. Scofield, Addresses on Prophecy (Greenville:  The Gospel Hour, nd) 25.
9. Oswald Chambers, The Moral Foundations of Life (Grand Rapids:  Discovery House, 1998) 168.


From What Should We Separate?

From What Should We Separate?

by Rick Shrader

This article appeared in The Baptist Preacher, Mar/Apr, 1997.

My Missouri grandmother used to say, “There’s not a pot so crooked but what there’s a lid to fit it.”  She had a way of making all things find their proper place.  The wisest man who ever lived warned, “A false balance is not good” (Proverbs 20:23).  In a day of degenerating values and confused standards, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fit the right pot with the right lid.   What is important to one will not be important to another.  What one cannot do another may.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “For the church, wherever she appears in human society, the constantly recurring question must be: What shall we unite with and from what shall we separate? The question of coexistence does not enter here, but the question of union and fellowship does.  The wheat grows in the same field with the tares, but shall the two cross-pollinate?  The sheep graze near the goats, but shall they seek to interbreed?  The unjust and the just enjoy the same rain and sunshine, but shall they forget their deep moral differences and intermarry?”1 This article is a step toward answering Tozer’s question.

Unity, liberty and charity

An appropriate quotation often used today is, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things charity.”  Although we can use it as we see fit, the quote seems to have originated with Richard Baxter in the seventeenth century and was originally written, “In necessary things, unity; in disputed things [some have ‘doubtful’] things, liberty; in all things, charity.”2

Richard Baxter was an English Nonconformist who urged moderation among those who would leave the Church of England.  Eventually, however, he himself could not remain in the Church because of the Uniformity Act of 1662.  He refused a bishopric offered to him by Charles II and was later imprisoned by James II.3 Baxter wanted religious liberty for those who disputed the church’s dogmas but did not find it in his lifetime.  His appeal to liberty for “disputed things” fell on deaf ears in the Church of England.

What things are essential:  Early voices

Baxter’s word “disputed” and today’s word “nonessentials” may or may not carry the same connotations.  The word “nonessential,” however, has a religious history older than Baxter.  It goes back a hundred years in the Reformation era to a dispute called the “adiaphora.”4 This word literally means “things indifferent” or “nonessential.”  In 1548, two years after Luther’s death, Charles V attempted to unite Catholic and Protestant Germany with a law called the Augsburg Interim.   Due to its failure to please Protestants, a compromise measure was reached in Leipzig the same year by consulting Melanchthon, who was the Reformation leader at the time.

Melanchthon agreed that many differences in doctrine were adiaphora or nonessential and need not be disputed by the Lutheran churches.  Among these were confirmation, veneration of saints, the Latin mass, Corpus Christi Day, extreme unction.   He also “adopted a modified and vague doctrine of justification by faith.”5 Conservative Lutherans, who more closely followed Luther, could not abide by what Melanchthon deemed adiaphora.  Their spokesman, Matthias Flacius, opposed him, “objecting to his compromising with the Catholic Church on nonessentials.”6 It is “widely conceded that Flacius saved the Reformation.”7 It was not until 1580 and the Book of Concord, that the Lutheran faith was again a clear voice of the gospel.

Believer’s baptism an essential

I don’t know if Baxter had the adiaphorists in mind when, a hundred years after, he pleaded for the unity of the Church of England.  Both he and Melanchthon failed in unifying divergent churches by appealing to so-called nonessentials.   They both failed to realize there are just some things that cannot be relegated to the status of nonessential.  Flacius could see that even the great Melanchthon could not.  J. Gresham Machen, who, early in this century, sacrificed his position in the Presbyterian Church, USA, over what the Church considered nonessential, wrote, “Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.”8

Interestingly, during Melanchthon’s time in Germany, each state could choose to be Catholic or Lutheran.  Toleration was given to Catholics in Lutheran states and Lutherans in Catholic states.  But as Jacobs says, “Calvinism and Anabaptism were excluded from toleration.”9 The great Anabaptist, Balthasar Hubmaier, had earlier debated Zwingli over infant baptism.   Zwingli argued that though the New Testament doesn’t mention infant baptism, neither does it forbid it.  Therefore, he claimed, it is a nonessential and can be allowed.10 Of course, the candidate and the mode of baptism were essential to Baptist belief.  And even though Zwingli argued for infant baptism on its nonessential basis, it was essential enough for him to drown dissenters to keep them from disrupting the state church.

Baptism battles still being waged

In the 1963 Fundamental Baptist Congress of North America held at the Temple Baptist Church, Detroit, Michigan, Baptists from various fundamental groups showed historic unity against regarding infant baptism as a nonessential.  Noel Smith, preaching on the separation of church and state said, “This is why Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered for so many centuries.  Their believer’s baptism was decisive blow against the church state.”11 In the same congress, Richard Clearwaters spoke of the Reformers, “All of these in turn became persecutors themselves! These Reformers, after so heroically freeing their churches from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, fastened a State Church upon their churches because they all refused to cut the cord of infant baptism.”12

There is effort being made today to again bring Catholics and non-Catholics together in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document urged by Charles Colson and Richard Neuhaus.  The issue is whether coming to Christ by “faith alone” is essential to becoming a believer.  In the shadow of this last year, Promise Keepers celebrated communion with both Evangelicals and Catholics in the Clergy Conference held in the Georgia Dome.13 Though the objections are increasingly fewer, many Baptists (this author included) think the meaning of the Lord’s Table must not be relegated to a nonessential for the sake of ecumenicity.

Local churches determine essentials, nonessentials

I said in the beginning that I thought Baxter’s quotation, even the way it is used today with the words “essential” and “nonessential,” is appropriate.  Somewhere Christians do give and take on things regarding their faith.   It figures that if there are things that are essential, there must also be things that are nonessential.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to bring every thought into captivity to Christ, but that we live in a broken world, and we are not going to be able to change everything.  This is true within the individual, between husband and wife, among local church members and in larger Christian efforts.

The Articles of Faith of my church are designed to be both broad enough to include many Baptist families who differ on some things, and yet narrow enough to say something definite and to distinguish us from other kinds of churches.  Still, what is essential to the operation of a particular local church may not be to the cooperation of many local churches.  To Baptists, independence is the key that allows each church to decide when the nonessential has crossed over the line into essential.

In the last issue of The Baptist Preacher, a message by Art Wilson from 1960 was reprinted concerning a difficulty among the churches of the Baptist Bible Fellowship that year.  In resolving the problem, Wilson wrote that they “were all prayerfully concerned, that in this dreadful hour of world history we would not come up with something which would, upon presentation here, divide our forces, split our larger interests and defeat the very cause for which we believe God raised up the Fellowship.”14 That did not mean that the details of everyone’s doctrine were not important.  But it did mean that Baptist churches of like faith and practice could count smaller differences as nonessential to fellowship and cooperation.

An example from Baptist history

In his History of the Baptists, Thomas Armitage spends considerable space describing the ribald Munster Movement of the sixteenth century, a parallel to real Anabaptists of the time.  Munsterite congregations practiced such things as polygamy, public flagellations and followed a pagan practice (Armitage lists Catholic and Protestant practitioners also) of baptizing converts completely undressed.15

This practice of indecency was confronted by the true Baptists of the day who said the Munsterites had gone beyond the line of nonessentials in fellowship.   Baptists were accused of enough things in that day without adding nakedness to the list.  Baptists since then have striven to distance themselves from the fanatics at Munster.  Armitage then adds a description of what Baptists did to combat this error.   “In Augsburg, in three gardens attached to houses there used to assemble more than eleven hundred men and women, rich, mediocre and poor, all of whom were rebaptized.   The women, when they were rebaptized, put on trousers.  In the houses where a baptistry was these trousers were always kept.”16 The reader may draw his or her own conclusions.

A New Testament example

The Corinthian church could not make the proper distinctions between things essential and nonessential.  They had taken Paul’s teaching on liberty and turned it into license.  “All things are lawful,” they would say, and Paul answered, “But all things are not expedient” and “I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor 6:12).  It was true, that “Meats were for the belly, and the belly for meats” (vs 13).  Eating various kinds of meat was nonessential.  But the Corinthians went further and equated the use of the body for fornication with the use of the body for meat.  “No!”, Paul said, God will destroy the belly and meat because they are nonessential, but He will raise up the body in resurrection because it is essential.

Interestingly, Lenski (a Lutheran) says, “In this instance, the principle that ‘all things are allowed’ cannot be applied.  God himself regulates the sex relation.  He limits it to two distinct spheres, the one that is stamped with His approval, the other with His severe disapproval; both are thus entirely removed from the territory of the adiaphora.”17 The Corinthians had the same problem when they had smugly accepted the man practicing fornication (chapter 5) as if they were being loving and generous.  They could not see the essentials involved.  Then in the second letter, Paul had to teach them to forgive and accept the same man once he truly repented (2 Corinthians 2).

The power of wisdom

We all have a tendency, like the Corinthians or Melanchthon, to relegate essentails to nonessentials with a slogan.  We say, “Oh, that’s just being legalistic and judgmental.”  We also have the ability to turn myths into essentials, much like Zwingli’s infant baptism.  Or we imitate the Munsterites by combining an essential like immersion with something nonbiblical and then call that historic Baptist doctrine.  A.W. Tozer wisely wrote, “Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar.”18 May the Lord help us to know the difference in our generation.

1. A.W. Tozer, The Best Of Tozer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 72.
2. Frank S. Mead, 12,000 Religious Quotations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989) 43.
3. Mayo Hazeltine, Ed., Orations From Homer To McKinley, Vol 4 (New York: Collier, 1902) 1548.
4. History and definition of the adiaphora can be found in Bible dictionaries as well as church history books.  Eerdman’s Handbook of Christianity has a helpful article on p. 374.
5. A. Renwick, Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 24.
6. “Flacius Illyricus, Matthias,” Columbia Encyclopedia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964) 725.
7. A. Renwick, Ibid.
8. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity And Liberalsim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 51.
9. Charles Jacobs, The Story Of The Church (Philadelphia:  Muhlenberg Press, 1947) 231.
10. Thomas Armitage, The History Of The Baptists, Vol. 1 (Watertown: Maranatha Press, 1976) 197.
11. Noel Smith, “The Separation of Church and State,” The Biblical Faith of Baptists (Detroit:   Fundamental Baptist Congress, 1963) 197.
12. Richard Clearwaters, “The Heritage of Baptists,” The Biblical Faith of Baptists, 215.
13. See an excellent article by Dr. Myron Houghton in the January 1997 issue of the Faith Pulpit (Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, IA) entitled “Promise Keepers: A Fundamental Evaluation.”
14. Art Wilson, “The Decision To Remain A Fellowship,” The Baptist Preacher, Vol 6, No.1, p. 11.
15. Armitage, 378.
16. Ibid, 389.
17. R.C.H. Lenski, First Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1963) 259.
18. Tozer, 73.


Biblical Separation

Biblical Separation

by Rick Shrader


Regular Baptist Press has published a second edition of the late Dr. Ernest Pickering’s 1979 classic on separation.  The new edition has updated some of the language as well as the footnoting to today’s style and information usage.  Dr. Myron Houghton, senior professor and department chair of systematic theology at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, has done a fine job of adding a chapter entitled, “Separation Issues since Ecumenical Evangelism in the 1970s.”  Dr. Houghton also was instrumental in updating Dr. Pickering’s book, Charismatic Confusion (see review in the Dec 07 issue).  Regular Baptist Press has done us all a great service in putting these books back into circulation.  First, because this doesn’t seem to be a day when God’s people have a taste for issues of doctrine and especially those doctrines that can be divisive.  These books put some important subjects back on the table.  Second, because the issues of ecclesiastical polity and charismatic phenomena are as important today (and probably more so) as they have ever been.  New issues having to do with music, liturgy, and church polity have only increased the need for clear lines of ecclesiastical separation, not lessened it.  Third, because this book addresses the difficult topic of secondary separation which most of today’s writers, even within fundamental circles, won’t touch (a noted exception is Dr. McCune’s A Promise Unfulfilled—see review in the Feb 07 issue).  Separation issues among brethren have become more difficult yet more important simply because the definition of “brother” has been widened beyond scriptural boundary due to today’s pro-ecumenical and anti-denominational attitude.  Pickering’s original tact was to expose the reader to the historical roots of separation and bring those principles forward into his own generation.  The updating of this edition and Houghton’s additional chapter again accomplish that purpose.


Threshold Seperation

Threshold Seperation

by Rick Shrader

The Biblical doctrine of separation is rooted in the very holiness of God and it is expressed in numerous texts in the Word of God.  Peter expressed it in his first epistle, As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy for I am holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).

It only makes sense that a God who Himself cannot be compromised in His holy character and desires His sons and daughters to fellowship with Him would require that they become more and more like Him.  John wrote, That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.  This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth (1 John 1:3-6).

The Apostle Paul concluded the great chapter on being unequally yoked together with unbelievers by writing, Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:17-18).

In putting the doctrine of separation in its proper perspective, a few preliminary facts should be noted.  First, separation belongs to the believer, not the unbeliever.  Sanctification is not a means to salvation.  A believer must come to Christ and be justified by grace through faith.  It does not help the discussion to disparage separation with scriptural verses that teach salvation by faith and not by works.  Second, the doctrine of sanctification (of which separation is a part) is vital for the believer’s spiritual life.  There is no power nor Holy Spirit assurance in an unsanctified Christian life.  Separation from worldliness is a vital part of sanctification.  Third, though a believer is eternally secure in Christ, his eternally secure position in Christ does not negate nor override the possibility of carnality and the loss of reward at the Bema Seat of Christ.  The doctrine of separation ought to be of intense interest to any believer who understands that he/she will stand before the Lord and give an account of the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

The problem of definition and degrees

The purpose of this article is to offer a practical way to apply separation to a believer’s life.  I don’t want to be understood, however, as if I’ve made the whole doctrine too simplistic.  I believe there are areas of ecclesiastical as well as personal separation (2 Tim. 2:16-21).  Good men may disagree as to when a believer ought to leave a church, a movement, or a circle of friends even though there may be unanimous agreement with the fact that it must happen at some point.  I believe there are times to separate from nonbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14) and also from believers (2 Thes. 3:6, 14-15).  Each man will have to be fully convinced when he has become “unequally yoked” to an unbeliever and also when he must have “no company” with a brother.  But the fact is, these concepts are clearly taught in the New Testament Scriptures.

In my lifetime there has been a lot of discussion over whether there is a “secondary” or “second degree” of separation from “every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thes. 3:6).  I would agree with those who practice separation to this extent but who also object to the unnecessary use of the term “secondary.”  When a brother fails to separate himself from unscriptural practices, even from those of another brother, he himself is walking disorderly.  The separation is from him as well as from any other disorderliness.  “Note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (vs 14).

The concept of a threshold

The problem of when and how to separate has been a life-long school of pass and fail.  I have, at times, been caustic and rude in my zeal to separate from obvious error and in so being have forfeited any opportunity to “gain my brother.”  I have often walked too far with my disorderly brother out of love or respect and have only made the inevitable separation harder, like waiting to pull a bad tooth until the situation has become unbearable.  In seeking both to be genuinely humble and biblically right in these difficult situations, I have found a biblical concept that has become more obvious to me as time has gone by.

I call this concept “threshold” separation.  This is the simple principle of not crossing the threshold of a room if there is too great a chance that something in that room will be harmful.  By shutting the door to the whole room, one may forfeit some things that would have been good, but at the same time eliminate the possibility of harmful things.  A little reflection will reveal that we all do or have practiced this at various times in our lives.  My children were not allowed to play in the street.  A street is actually a great area for children’s play:  it’s flat and smooth for little wheels; it is large and almost endless for balls and other projectiles; it even has curbs for boundaries!  But a street has an obvious danger to children that overrides all those advantages.  It has cars with drivers who are not careful and small children are no match for big cars!  A parent’s choice becomes obvious:  the street will be off limits to children.  The only amazing thing is how we begin to neglect such a sound principle when our children get older.

Some biblical examples

Paul wrote to the Corinthians (not a group of believers given to sanctification), Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend (1 Cor. 8:13).  Paul was absolutely willing to close the door to that room if that room contained the possibility of offending a brother.  To the Romans he wrote, It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak (Rom. 14:21).

At the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, the believers decided to place certain actions off-limits to all the churches because of the danger of offense and hindrance to the gospel.  That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well (Acts 15:29).  Fornication was surely prohibited by other biblical statements, but the others may or may not have been in many New Testament contexts.  The appeal, however, was to avoid these things completely.  The prohibition to idol meat was still being upheld in the Lord’s letters to the seven churches in 95 AD (Rev. 2:14, 20).

In 1 Corinthians 10:27-33 Paul advises believers that if a lost person notifies you that the meat you are eating is idol meat (and the man is proud of it, too!), then quit eating the meat altogether.  Use it rather as an opportunity to bring conviction to the lost man once he sees your biblical conviction.

Paul used the threshold principle in refusing to take John Mark on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41).  Barnabas was of the opinion that more good than bad could come of Mark’s presence, but Paul would not take the chance of one mistake ruining the whole journey.  Therefore he refused to take Mark at all.

Church discipline itself utilizes the concept of threshold separation.  The last step that the Lord gave (Matt. 18:17) is to exclude the brother completely and treat him as you would an unsaved man.  In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the church to do this with the fornicator.  This step, regardless of how severe it may seem, must be taken when other admonitions have failed.  They were not to pick and choose how he may intermingle with the church but rather to close the door completely to fellowship.

The biblical admonition to believers not to marry non-believers is an obvious use of this principle.  Paul’s clear instruction (1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14) eliminates any possibility of a believer agreeing to marry a known unbeliever.  Only a blanket prohibition could possibly work in this matter.

John’s prohibition to believer’s ever bidding a false prophet “God speed” (2 John 10) is a blanket policy due to the obvious result:  you would become a “partaker” (koinonei, a fellowshiper, a sharer) in all of his evil deeds.  One cannot take a chance with such fellowship by trying to discern before each declaration.

Practical results

First, there is the obvious advantage of safety.  When that room contains dangerous things, I know I will not be harmed by them if I never enter the room.  Second, it avoids failing to discern questionable things.  John said “try the spirits” not “try out the spirits.”  For young or immature believers this is necessary at least for certain periods of time.  Third, we cannot serve two masters.  The more we love the one, the more we hate the other.  We are commanded NOT to love the world for this very reason.  If that room will not bring me closer to God, I don’t want to be in there.  Fourth, I brought nothing into this world and I will take nothing out.  Godly contentment will not miss whatever else is in that room!  I am waiting anxiously to leave this “worldly” existence altogether.  Why should leaving some of it now cause me any regret?

Possible applications

Until recently Christians agreed that abstaining from substances that cause us bodily harm is wise.  I have never smoked, drunk alcoholic beverages, or used addictive drugs.  I can’t imagine a scenario where it would have been any advantage to me as a husband, father or pastor to practice these.  Yet smoking and “social” drinking are coming into Christian circles now in a large way.  Christian young people do these things “underground” without knowledge of parents or church, and many adults are now flaunting their ability to “live large” for Jesus.  Sadly, only time will tell what harm this “room” will bring to the cause of Christ and a whole generation of young people.

Some “places” where I may go may be able to be avoided altogether and some may not.  I never go to a “bar” to eat or get a cup of coffee, yet I cannot avoid all stores or restaurants that sell liquor.  But my blanket refusal of “bars” still stands.  My wife and I have never been in a movie theater together nor with our children. This was an easy decision with an easy line to draw.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t watch TV or movies on the TV (though nothing above a G rating was brought home!).  The line was drawn at the theater and my family was both protected and made stronger because of it.  I have advised it for anyone who loves their children and have forced it upon no one.

We have kept the ministry of our church within the purpose of the gospel and the Scriptures.  We do not have social and political entanglements within the church.  I believe these are good and noble for Christians to do (as many other things in life), but they are not described, much less prescribed for the local church in the New Testament.  This is becoming increasingly difficult for many people to understand in this purpose-driven environment.

The ecumenical movement has placed pressure upon fundamental churches to “tear down the walls” that divide us.  Denominational names and other identifications, however, are a good and proper way of guarding our doctrine.  Most churches stay within their own denominational circles because it greatly decreases the chance of exposure to contrary doctrine.  Sometimes, however, a description such as “fundamentalist” or “conservative” may bring closer communion than our own denominational name.

And so . . . .

“Threshold” separation is a biblical concept with obvious practical advantages.  In a day when the boundaries of morals, proprieties, and manners are being eroded, it is wise to have a good stopping place.