Thursday, June 9, 2011

On the Doctrine of Separation

Unfortunately, the doctrine of separation is an issue not spoken of by the right people, and a mantle too often embraced by legalists and those who would tear other Christian brothers and sisters down. It is a biblical issue and should not be ignored. For most people, the doctrine of separation is a strange-sounding issue. People tend to embrace the same type of idea as found in the phrase, “judge not,” and then not separate from anything. Others find in the term “separation” biblical justification (indeed, an injunction!) to demand others conform to their way of life on a host of issues (conveniently arbitrarily applied, of course). This shall be a brief study on the positions of separation in the Bible.

1. Separation from the world.

This does not mean separation from the planet Earth. That simply cannot be done by anyone apart from astronauts. Nor does it mean to physically avoid all other people who reside in the world. What does it mean then?

1 John says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” John typically uses the “world” in reference to sinfulness and darkness. Within this very same passage, John is clearly comparing “light” and “dark” (the former of which comes from Christ) to Christ and the world! In verse 16, it is clear what the Christian is to avoid: sins that come from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It is in the context of sin that we are to avoid the world!

For those of us raised in the Independent Baptist tradition, this answers an oft-nagging issue. How can we apply the doctrine of separation (which admittedly appears in the Bible) without using ourselves as an authority? How can we be consistent? The problem was just such a lack of consistency. For some pastors and teachers, the idea was to avoid the same type of music. For others, it was clothes. In addition to that, others would add certain activities. In contradiction to that, some activities were deemed completely fine; there was no need to separate. Yet, when we questioned why the specific activities were forbidden, we would be quoted “Love not the world” and “come out from among them, and be ye separate.” I hope one can see the arbitrariness and circular reasoning here.

Why do we abstain from X? Because X is done by the world. Yes, but so is Y. But Y is OK. Then why is X not also OK? Because we ought to separate from the world, and X is done by the world…

So what of the verse “come out from among them, and be ye separate”? This was found in 2 Corinthians , and while an entire article could be written on the Old Testament background of this passage alone, that will not be necessary. The passage is clearly speaking of things that are clearly sinful. Hence, it will not do simply to claim something is bad because someone in the world does it; rather, we are called to avoid those things that the world does that are sinful themselves! In another respect, this warning needs to be taken serious by those of a more liberal persuasion as it relates to Christian conduct. We ought not to act in ways contrary to what God has revealed. We are to believe God and not false teachers of false doctrines. The biblical idea of separation from the world, then, is separation from sin. I can think of no higher standard than that!

2. Separation from Christian brothers.

This is also a biblical separation. It is one that no one really wants to discuss, and among those who do, no one really wants to act upon it. In one respect I can hardly blame them. I am not leading a church in the pastorate; it is one thing to “talk tough” here and quite another to act in accordance with what one has said in the real world.

This is the idea of church discipline. Let us briefly discuss what church discipline is not. It is not “getting back” at someone, nor is it for righting a wrong or making recompense. It is primarily for the purpose of restoration. Matthew 18:15-17 is a great passage detailing church discipline being restorative, as well as Galatians 6:1-5.

When should we separate from fellow believers? First, when the process of church discipline has taken place (or should have taken place). I write that last caveat because too many churches are unwilling to go through with the practice fearing backlash of some sort. If everything in the process has been done prayerfully, sincerely, with an attitude of love and the goal of restoration, one can consider this fulfilled even if the church neglects its duty. There are multiple examples of this. The man who was sinning with his stepmother in open, public sin was put within a grouping of hypothetical people with which believers were “not to eat” (i.e., do not fellowship with them until they make this right [cf. 2 Corinthians, where Paul is wishing this brother to be restored {or at least a brother who had been rebuked and was now repentant}]) in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

Next, one should separate from fellow believers when they espouse heretical doctrines. As to what constitutes heresy, that is a different subject, but it is no light matter. It is explicitly stated one should be regarded as a heretic after two admonitions and rejected.[1] In essence, one should only separate from a believer in the case that he has gone through church discipline because of some sin or is teaching heresy (that is, a false Gospel or something false directly relating to the Gospel).

This should also teach us that biblical separation is not something done lightly. It is something done that means no fellowship is to take place whatsoever. It is not merely withdrawing from one’s presence; it is withdrawing from one’s life. For those who would not practice separation, they are ignoring a biblical injunction. For those who would practice it on women who wear pants, I caution you and urge you to read the biblical take on it. Separation should be practiced but only within the parameters set forth in Scripture.

                [1] This echoes the church discipline model, by the way (since the only way anyone would know of the heresy is if it was taught publicly, which allows a confrontation from the original accuser and then before the church itself directly, since the accusers would almost always be plural to start with).

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  1. Hi Randy, I last year for the first time, had to invoke Church discipline, it was not easy to do, as I have never seen it practiced before. I followed the biblical model, and was amazed to see the Holy Spirit work in the man that was disciplined. He was openly cursing another member of the Church, who had recently had a business with the man in discipline, and due to the man in discipline not lieing and ripping off some of their clients they had parted ways. But the backstabing went on for 2 months inwhich I had received many reports of this from people who had never attended church, and only let me know because they wanted to know if everyone in the Church was like the man who was disciplined. Anyways, after following through with the discipline, and explaining to the body what was going on, and that they were to pray for him, and encourage him to stop backbiting, and slandering, and apologize, so that he could be restored in fellowship. He went through a real rough time, and like the bible says, his flesh was tried. Afterward one Sunday 5 months later he walked into service, and I did not make a spectical of him, or an example by immediately kicking him out, though a deacon almost did... He asked to address tge body at the end of service, which I said he could do, after silently praying about the matter, and he apologized to the other man, all the congregation, myself and the two other pastors, and shared that he had gone to all the other people he had spoken to and retracted his previous statements, and asked for forgiveness.,, needless to say I was flabergasted, and awestruck. I was touched to see how the Lord had moved, and shared about all that the Lord had allowed to take place while he was not in fellowship, and he warned others to heed the warnings from other brothers, that we only did it cause we loved him and wanted to to be all that he is in Christ. God is truly amazing!!!

  2. Travis, thanks for commenting. Wow, what a great story! I love hearing these because it never ceases to amaze me. It is totally antithetical to everything my flesh says. My flesh says they won't receive the discipline, so we'd just be driving them away. But in reality who God chastens he loves, and we are in some specific cases needed to bring about that discipline. If we don't do it, it's like we're saying we know better than God does. Thanks so much for sharing this, and God bless!


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