Separation from Brethren

feature-article.gifSeveral years ago I spoke to a group of independent churches in a neighboring state on the subject, “The Church Today: Its Affiliations.” I had two main points, explaining the policy of our own church. (1) We will not associate the name of our church with any church, mission, youth movement, or evangelistic movement that does not believe and obey the Word of God. (2) We will not associate the name of our church with any church, mission, youth movement, or evangelistic movement that maintains connections with men or movements that do not believe and obey the Word of God. The first point received head nodding and amens. The second point made an abrupt change in the climate of the meeting.

After the message, the president of a well-known Bible school and a retinue of his followers cornered me. They protested that my message was unscriptural, that it is never right to separate from other believers; after all, we will all be together in Heaven. The final volley was, “We believe in separation, but we do not believe in second degree separation.”

This viewpoint is popular today. In analyzing this position, I would like to set forth three points.

Consider the Problem of Disobedient Brethren.
2 John 7–11 is a crucial text; refresh your memory by reading verses 9–10:

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.

The teaching here is quite clear. It mandates a clean break with those who do not abide in the biblical doctrine of Christ. However, many of our present-day evangelistic movements, missions, and youth organizations feel that they can successfully bridge this forbidden chasm. Let me give three illustrations.

The Roman Catholic magazine, Our Sunday Visitor shows a picture of a priest standing beside a plane in Bolivia. The caption reads in part,

At one time it took Father William M. Allen, Maryknoll Missioner…forty hours to reach persons greeting him in this Bolivian jungle outpost…now, thanks to an airplane which he rents from the Wycliffe Bible Translators, a Protestant group, he can fly over the jungle and reach his parishioners in only forty minutes.

Bible believers know what to do about a Roman Catholic priest teaching his message of salvation by works. They would not knowingly provide an airplane for him. What should Bible believers do about the “brethren” of Wycliffe Translators who disobey the Lord by providing aid for the enemy?

In my files I have a brochure about a Campus Crusade TV special. The advertisement shows a picture of Paul Stookey, a featured performer on the show. Stookey came to fame as a member of Peter, Paul, and Mary, left-wing singers of protest songs. I have not heard any evidence of his conversion and he appears to be in the same business. Bible believers know what to do about such a person. What should Bible believers do about the “brethren” of Campus Crusade who disobey the Lord by making such alliances?

Christianity Today has the following revelation about churchman Canon Hugh Montifiore:

Jesus might have been a homosexual, suggests the vicar of Cambridge University’s main church. Canon Hugh Montifiore told a Modern Churchmen’s Conference at Oxford that Jesus need not have been hindered from marriage by lack of money or possible mates. “Women were his friends, but it is men he is said to have loved,” the vicar added (8/18/1967).

That is as filthy an implication as a man could possibly cast at Christ. Yet, would you believe that Canon Hugh Montifiore was advisor for the Cambridge Billy Graham Television Crusade in England? Bible believers know what to do about such perverted liberals. What should Bible believers do about “brethren” like Billy Graham who yoke up with such men?

There is a group openly positioned between the fundamental, Bible believer and the non-Bible believer. This group coined the name “new evangelical” to distinguish it from the historic position designated by “fundamental.” New evangelicals are engaged in a disobedient fellowship with the non-Bible believer. This creates a problem for the fundamental Bible believer. What relationship should he have with the new evangelical believer? This man in the middle is disobedient, but he is a believer. This is the problem of disobedient brethren.

Consider the Scripture Treatment of Disobedient Brethren.
Is it ever right to separate from brethren? The answer which seems reasonable to many men is, “No, because we will all be in heaven together.” But what does the Bible say? Matthew 18 maps out a simple procedure for dealing with problems between Christian brethren:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

To treat a brother as “an heathen man and a publican” would be to separate from him as far as any fellowship or cooperation is concerned. In the case of Matthew 18 it is obviously right to separate from a brother.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he dealt with a case of immorality in the church and explained how the guilty man ought to be treated:

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 an one no not to eat (1 Cor 5:11).

Notice in this case that believers are specifically told “not to keep company” with a “man that is called a brother.” It is right to separate from a brother under these conditions. In fact, it is not only right, but also commanded.

2 Thessalonians 3 sets forth what to do about brethren who will not obey the biblical injunction to work and support themselves. Again, this is not a moral matter, but a matter of proper conduct in the church. The Lord declares the step to take:

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.

The command is “withdraw yourselves.” That is separation from a brother who will not obey the Scriptures. One more Scripture will suffice. Listen to Romans 16:17—

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

There is separation again—“avoid them.” In our generation, nothing has been so divisive in the church as the unscriptural policy of joining hands with unbelievers. New evangelical believers who join hands with unbelievers like to accuse separatist, fundamental believers of being divisive. However, by refusing to separate from unbelief, the compromising believers have forced upon obedient believers the responsibility to separate from them.

What about Second Degree Separation?
“But,” the cry will come, “that is second degree separation!” This is always said with a note of horror, indicating that the bare mention of the term should end all arguments. Is this Scriptural terminology? Not one of the passages previously mentioned describes this as “secondary separation.” Rather, those who have to look for some grounds to oppose what the Scriptures teach about separation use this term. I have learned by experience that whenever a man uses the cavil of “secondary separation,” you may write him down as an opponent of Scriptural separation in general.

I did a good bit of my growing up with my grandfather on a farm in western Pennsylvania. Not far away lived a boy who was more like Huckleberry Finn than anyone I ever knew. Whenever work was done I sought out this friend as a companion. However, we wouldn’t be together for ten minutes before Grandad would break us up with some work assignment for me. It dawned on me that this was not by chance. I asked why I couldn’t play with this friend. Grandad’s reply was, “You are not going to swear and you are not going to run around with boys who do.” I wasn’t in favor of his answer that day, but he was right. If you hang with the compromising crowd you will compromise.

Separation from apostasy is Scriptural. Separation from believers who consort with apostasy is Scriptural. It ought not to be termed “secondary separation.” If it must have a name, why not call it “consistent separation”? Those who adopt the dodge of “secondary separation” almost always use another argument. They say, “It is impossible to be consistent.” The unspoken implication is, “So why try?” After almost twenty-five years as a pastor, I will freely admit that it is impossible to be perfectly consistent. I have had speakers I would not have again, supported schools I could not support when I learned their true position, given to missions to which I could no longer give after observing their policies. However, does the difficulty of being consistent deliver us from the responsibility of trying?

Perfection has always been an impossible standard for man. Yet the student on his arithmetic test, the musician in the band, and the athlete on the playing field are all aiming at perfection. It is impossible for any human being to be perfect, but this is no reason why we should not prayerfully seek to be consistent.

We Will All Be Together In Heaven
What about the cry, “We will all be together in Heaven”? Yes, it is true; all believers will be together in Heaven. There will be one great difference there. When we see the Lord as he is, we will all see sin as he sees it. When that time comes, we will have no trouble being together in heaven. But, stop and think. If that same viewpoint is shared on earth we will have no trouble being together. The person who has rent the fellowship of the body of Christ is not the fundamentalist who insists on obeying Scripture, but the new evangelical who insists on fellowshipping out of bounds. Were separation from disobedient believers not valid, God would have left the church without any defense against the eroding cancer of movements like new evangelicalism. Our God, who sees the future, has not left us without orders for this battle.

Consider the “Good” Done By Disobedient Brethren.
This third item must be carefully considered. You might argue that this ought not to be a heading. Yet, this is the argument that wins thousands of Christians to the side of compromise. “Look at the souls being won,” say the compromisers. “Four thousand came forward in the latest campaign.” Let me point out three things here.

First, God has never called us to judge obedience by results. Christianity is not pragmatic. It is authoritarian with God as the authority. God says, “Come out from among them and be ye separate…” He does not tell us to try cooperating and evaluate the results.

Second, if something is measured by results you must evaluate all the results. Satan wants us to believe that the results of an ecumenical effort can be measured with a number—the four thousand people who came forward. That is not true. Think about the other results.

Third, results do not mean that something is the will of God. Speaking in our pulpit several years ago, Dr. Charles Woodbridge pointed out the disobedience of Moses in Numbers 20. In the attempt to get water for the rebellious Israelites, Moses disobeyed the Lord by angrily smiting the rock twice. For that disobedience Moses was not allowed to set foot in the Promised Land—a stern judgment from God. But, did Moses have good results? The water gushed out and quenched the thirst of millions of Israelites. God, in his grace quenched the thirst of his people, but that did not make Moses’ actions right.

Is “good” ever done by compromising efforts? Yes, perhaps so, but do not be deceived. That does not make it right in God’s sight. Why not do it God’s way and have only good results instead of the mixture which results from disobedience?

We are living in the last days of which our Savior spoke. We face apostasy as the Scriptures have warned us. Satan further muddies the waters by tempting brethren to disobey the clear bounds God has set for fellowship. The compromising position is popularized by cooperative, non-church organizations such as Campus Crusade, the Graham Crusades, and Campus Life. It is publicized by new evangelical magazines like Christianity Today, Eternity, and Decision. It is taught by schools like Wheaton College and Fuller Seminary. Is it right to separate from such brethren? Yes, it is not only right, but also commanded in Scripture. Results are not the question. The supposed good done by disobedience is mixed with the bad consequences of compromise that are left behind.

April/May 2009

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