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The Doctrine of Separation
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
"I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
and I will be father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 6:14 - 7:1)
The doctrine of separation does not have a very illustrious past. It has been abused by fundamentalists and ignored by neo-Evangelicals. In this pertinent times in the last days, it is imperative that we recover a proper biblical perspective of separation, and implement it. Between the separatism of persent-day Fundamentalism and the ecumenism of Neo-evangelicalism, the cause of Christ and the Gospel has suffered tremendously. If we are to glorify God in our dealings with others (both believers and unbelievers), we must come to know and embrace the biblical doctrine of separation
So, what is the doctrine of separation? The doctrine of separation is basically the doctrine that tells us how we are to behave when relating to unbelievers and compromising believers, and separate from them if the need arises. For this doctrine, let us first look at the principle text of 2 Cor. 6:14 - 7:1.
The first thing that we are to establish from this text is that the entire doctrine of separation is based on a desire of holiness in the fear of God (7:1). It is because God is holy that the doctrine of separation should be taken seriously and implemented. Closely linked to this is of course the fear of God. Only a person who fears God will obey Him when He commands us to "Be holy, as I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Consequently, non-implementation of this doctrine shows a lack of the fear of God in the lives of the individuals and churches who do not so implement this doctrine.
Now, this passage definitely does apply to holy living. In 6: 14b-15a, we are told that light and darkness should not mix, nor Christ and Belial (or Satan). Throughout the passage, everything which is mentioned is definitely consistent with the notion of holy living, and we ARE to live lives holy and separate from the world for God. However, is that all there is to this passage, as neo-Evangelicals would have us believe?
In 6:14a and 15b, we are told that we believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. An obvious application would be in marriage. However, it goes beyond that to the area of ministry also. The words 'partnership' and 'yoked' suggest cooperation in working towards a common goal. And the terms 'temple of God' and 'idols' in verse 16 shows even further that we believers are NOT to be involved with unbelievers in any form of Christian ministry. This is further seen also in 2 Jn. 10-11 whereby we are not to allow non-Christians into our homes to teach or instruct us. Primary separation from heretics and blasphemers is therefore demanded of all Christians, and is the first part of the doctrine of separation For far too many post-evangelicals, this doctrine has even been neglected, and that's why people have no problem with working with i.e. anti-Trinitarian heretics such as the Saballian 'Bishop' T.D. Jakes.
The epitome of the outworking of primary or first-degree separation is in the example of national Israel during the OT times. Throughout the OT, Israel was to be separate from the other nations in her national identity, her ethnicity, her religion (e.g. Deut. 7:1-5, Ez. 9), and her customs and practices (whole book of Lev.). Of course, such separateness was necessary for the preservation of the purity of the faith until the first advent of Christ and the establishment of the Church, and the preservation of the bloodline of Jesus to be within that of the covenantal family. With regards to the issue of separation, however, there are lessons that could be learned from Israel's example. We as the Church, spiritual Israel, are similarly a people who are set apart by God for Him (1 Peter 2:9-10). Similar to OT Israel, we are to separate from unbelievers in order to preserve our distinct identity from the world. Between us and unbelievers, our beliefs are different, there should be no intermarriage between us and them (unless the person is converted after marriage — 1 Cor. 7:10-16), and our practices and customs are different from the world. Similar to Israel, we are to separate from heretics and blasphemers also, as how the prophets separated from the false prophets (i.e. of Baal).
First-degree separation also involved separation from those who are disobedient towards God in situations such as believers in a serious state of sin, or even in embrace of serious doctrinal error.
At least some neo-evangelicals do practice separation from unrepentant sinners, following the example of the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 5:1-13 to purge the evil within her by exercising church discipline against the unrepentant immoral sinner. However, for the more serious crime of serious doctrinal error, churches tend to be more 'forgiving'. This, however, should not be the case, as doctrinal error is actually more serious than moral error, since doctrinal errors, especially serious ones, damn the soul and whoever believes it (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Thess 2:11-12; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 18-22; 1 Jn. 2:4). Of course, moral corruption could be evidence of an unregenerate heart and thus the sinner is damned, but the act itself is not damning per se. Furthermore, compared with moral corruption, spiritual corruption is less easily identifiable (our conscience warns us against immorality — Rom. 2:15), and therefore we should be sterner against those who are in serious doctrinal error, especially if they are in a position of leadership within the body of Christ.
The doctrine of first-degree separation having thus been established, we shall now look at the more controversial one — the doctrine of second-degree separation
Second degree separation
The doctrine of second-degree separation states that we are to separate from believers who compromise and are in a state of disobedience before God. It is the most controversial aspect of the doctrine of separation since it calls for believers to separate from other believers who compromise with the world
Now, since these errant believers are not immoral, nor do they hold on to serious doctrinal error, such separation seemed strange and even sinful. After all, we as the body of Christ ought to be united, since Jesus did prayed for unity among believers, and that this unity is a testimony to the world that they may believe that Jesus is of God (Jn. 17:21). However, unity is not an absolute good, since unity with the world is an anathema before God. We are told in Rom. 12:18 to live peacefully with all, so far as it depends on us; or in other words, as much as we are able to. Unity is good, but unity is not something that we should work for, but something which we are to work towards. Put simply, unity is found in Christ, and we must be united to Christ, THEN united with each other, not the other way around.
The question is to be asked as to the rationale behind second-degree separation from compromisers of the faith. The rationale behind second-degree separation is the same behind that of first degree separation — holiness. Second degree separation is done because of holiness. As much as we should want unity within the body of Christ, unity is not to be purchased by compromising our obedience to God in holiness. When we collaborate with unbelievers in ministry, our witness for God is compromised, and that's why it is wrong to do so. Similarly, when we collaborate with compromisers in ministry instead of reproving them, we are sharing in their sins. Our witness for God is sullied, as we are then associated with the heretics they work with. Furthermore, by not rebuking them for their sins, we actually hate them rather than love these compromisers (Prov. 27:5-6).
Now, there are a few concerns with regards to this doctrine. The first is the example of the present-day group of Fundamentalists, who have embraced the doctrine of separation with an unnatural zeal, to the extant of distortion into separatism What, then is the difference between separation and separatism? Separatism is the promotion of the doctrine of separation to the extant that we are to cut ourselves off and isolate ourselves off from any taint of evil and/or compromise. In other words, for the separatist, the principle stated in Jn. 17: 11-16 should read "Be not of this world nor in this world " instead of "Be not of this world though in the world". Yes, to a certain extent, we should 'isolate' ourselves from the world (Jude 1:20-23), but such isolation is only with regards to holiness, not that we are to 'let the world go to hell'. What is the difference, then? We are to be holy in the sense that we do not compromise our own walk with God nor our witness before God, but we should be actively reaching out to others for God (Mt. 28:18-20; Jude 1:22-23), and the latter makes the difference between the two. Another thing distinctive of separatism is the fact that the doctrine of unity is neglected. Unity is important, and we are told to be united as much as we can (Jn. 17:21 ; Rom. 12:18). The working principle for all Christians is that we should be as united as much as it is possible to be so; not a unity at all costs, but we should desire unity if possible without compromise. Somehow, separatism neglects this and in fact may even promote schism, instead of asking us to preserve the unity of the church where possible.
The second legitimate concern is with regards to its implementation. If second-degree separation is practiced, then wouldn't this cascade into third-degree, fourth-degree, or higher degree separation, and if such, there would be no end and then wouldn't we have to separate ourselves from almost all Christians? This question, however, betrays a misunderstanding of the doctrine of separation in its implementation, which would be addressed here.
Remember earlier that the doctrine of second-degree separation is due to a need for holiness and the need for an unsullied witness before God and the world. Therefore, conversely, if something does not cause one to sully his/her witness for Christ, then there is no need to separate from the other person. How this works out is that we may need not separate from compromising believers in every situation, only in a situation whereby the compromise is made. For example, if a person compromise in the area of working with heretics in i.e. preaching ministry, then we should separate from the person in all forms of public ministry. However, this does not preclude that we could not meet up privately and we should definitely urge the person to repent of his/her behavior. If a person compromise in the area of collaborating with an organization which allows heretics in, then we should separate from the event itself, as joining it would link our witness with it and the compromise that is associated with it. However, that does not mean that we separate from them in other forms of ministry.
In all these things, it must be noted that our primary motive must be the glory of God in our witness for Him. This is what second degree separation is about, not a separation for separation's sake but for the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note also that all these is related to compromising leaders, since they are the ones who are publicly related to the act of compromise. For ordinary followers, since they are not publicly related to the act of compromise, we should not separate from them as there is no need to. If they are in error, following the stand of their errant leaders, we should all the more desire that they also turn away and reject such compromise as a blemish on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and thus teach and correct their errant ways, as obedience to Christ our Lord (Mt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 2:24-26), as an act of love for our brethren (Prov. 27:5-6), and all for the glory of God as His bride is edified and build up (Eph. 4:12-16)
Therefore, the question of third of higher degree separation is a red herring which misses the entire focus of the doctrine of separation We should not focus on how many degrees of separation is correct, but whether by being part of the event or by working together with a compromiser in this particular ministry, that our witness for Christ would be sullied. If so, we should separate; otherwise, we should not. When we embrace such a principle, the name of Christ would be exalted through our actions, and our testimony would not be dragged through the mud by deluded ministers who have an unbiblical view of unity and work for it at all costs.
We will now look at to how this doctrine is to be applied in various situations, namely that of Church, Ministry and Marriage.
When finding or considering a church home, it is imperative that such a decision glorifies God, not just to make us feel happy. The doctrine of separation will thus have implications for us as we seek to glorify God in all that we do, even in this aspect. The idea of first-degree separation automatically means that we are not to join apostates churches, or to leave them if we are presently a member therein. The idea is very simple: What kind of testimony you are giving to the world and to God by staying in a "synagogue of Satan"? When we interact with people, like it or not we are ambassadors of where we come from, and that includes the church you are in. If a true born-again believer whom we shall call Mr. A remains in, for example, a Roman Catholic church in the interest of reforming that church, guess who benefits? People may be confused when they interact with Mr. A and think that there is some change within the Roman Catholic religion. In the meantime, Mr. A is obviously not fed and is subjected to many dangers, as bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor. 15:33). Furthermore, he is in danger of being taught false doctrines, especially if he is young in the faith, which may shipwreck his faith. All in all, Mr. A has tarnished his witness for our God, and worse still have unwittingly given legitimacy to Romanism in the sight of men.
But how about going there as a missionary, some may ask? I will respond back and enquire of them where in the Scripture is this tactic of infiltration recommended. Obviously nowhere! And if such is not enough, we have the New Evangelical example of the Billy Graham crusades, where new believers are channeled back to liberal Bible-denying churches! In other words, we would thus be sending young lambs who have just been born into a pack of wolves, and people still think that is a good tactic to win the lost souls in there?! What foolishness! Even if infiltration is advocated, only the strong, elite and well-trained forces should be sent in, but yet this New Evangelical tactic is not only unbiblical, it is downright stupidity. As a analogy of how stupid New Evangelicalism is, just imagine which army in the world would send fresh recruits in a commando raid deep in the enemy's territory.
Infiltration of apostate religious organizations masquerading as churches therefore is unbiblical. If anyone however thinks we should still try this "in order that by all means save some", then I will give them the example of righteous Lot, who was grieved in his spirit by the lawlessness the Sodomites practiced (2 Peter 2:7) and yet he would most probably be trying to reach out to them. Of the biblical narratives, this is probably the best narrative which proves the point (Other examples may include instances in Israel's history itself). Lot who is righteous, and who have even "earned" for himself the right to be heard (since his uncle saved the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their people - Gen. 14:1-16), lived in Sodom as a sortof de-facto Evangelist. Yet by the end of his "mission", his two sons-in-law disbelieved and were killed together with the other people of Sodom, his wife doubted and became a pillar of salt, and his two daughters became perverts who concocted a plan to sleep with their father in order to preserve their family line. Is this the type of legacy that New Evangelicals would want? But yet through their goal of 'friendly engagement', this is what will happen. And such a falling away is already happening in the proclaimed Evangelical world. Far from changing the culture, and the apostate churches, liberalism and worldliness has seeped into mainstream Evangelicalism, until we have all kinds of heresies within the camp, in movements such as the semi-Pelagian Purpose Driven paradigm and the anti-propositional Emerging Church Movement. Not to mention the leftist socialist Jim Wallies of Sojourners.
Since I have raised the question, I will briefly answer as to the biblical methods of reaching out to apostate congregations. We are to reach out to all of them pro-actively in Evangelism, in proclaiming to them the Gospel of God from the outside. We are not to have any part in the works of darkness (Eph. 5:11) but rather expose them. Why must we utilize the tactic of infiltration unless we are ashamed of the Gospel, and of the offense of the Cross? In the end, it comes down to a fear of Man such that we would not otherwise interact with those who are clearly not in the Kingdom of God but through hints, suggestions, etc. We are not willing to be seen as confrontational "bigots" but as "nice people" (not like those "intolerant Fundamentalists")
Now, don't get me wrong here. I am not interested in purposefully antagonizing people and then claim that we are persecuted when they oppose us, like some "Fundamentalists " like to do. However, have we become too fearful of Man that we cannot tell them lovingly that they must repent and turn to Christ otherwise they are going to hell? They will certainly hate us for saying so, but will we yet do it?
Next then, what about second degree separation? With regards to choosing a church, this would become trickier, since second degree separation will be with regards mainly to the ministry of the church. Of course, if a church allows known heretics in as members without disciplining them, then that is an obvious violation of the command of separation Incidentally, this would also disqualify a church from being considered a true church, since it does not practise church discipline. As for cases of churches whereby they do practice church discipline correctly and are solid, yet their pastors, elders and deacons and/or other leaders may be involved in compromising activities outside the church, the doctrine of separation does not exactly apply for joining that church as long as they don't practice their compromise in the church setting. However, such an action by the leaders should cast a shadow over their eligibility, and therefore it is up to the individual to decide between him and God.
I would like here to make a brief comment regarding Frank Turk's recent ongoing crusade for the local church despite all her failings, of which an example can be found here. Certain points Frank made are good, but by and large he has totally avoided the topic of the doctrine of separation, and what that has to say that will impact the things he has been asserting. Certainly, we are not to leave the church over really trivial issues, nor should we expect total perfection in any church, and we should not be church-hopping and should serve in the local church. That said, Frank Turk's New Evangelical slant can be seen as he hints that people who normally do not talk with a pastor should not come up one day and comment that what he is teaching is wrong, and the way he uses the passage in the LBCF (London Baptist Confession of Faith) to state that we should automatically stay in a church no matter how bad the error is by default, until they apostatize that is. To complete his bad exegesis, just look at his interpretation of Rev. 1:4b-7, which should make the Arminians really happy (what with the playing around with the word 'all' to mean 'all').
Fact of the matter, such a strained exegesis and elevation of the local church by Frank Turk contradicts the Scriptures as it makes the doctrine of separation to no effect. According
to Frank Turk, we can only separate from a local church if they have either 1) turn apostate with no hope of turning back, 2) we cannot
fit in and be fed despite trying. This is contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture in this regard, and serve only to magnify the authority of "Mother Church" above its biblical position. In the meantime,
believers' witnesses are lost and even destroyed, error thrives, and the Church (capital C) is weakened. In fact, a lot of so-called churches that I personally know of will allow people who believed similarly to Frank
to serve, while all the time undermining their teachings through the pulpit or otherwise, and at the same time providing the sheep with such 'wonderful
fei-lou-ship fellowship'. Soon, the sheep are lured to lukewarmness by their pastors and their friends in a spirit of
'Don't rock the boat'-ism, and in the end Christ's glory is diminished. And please do not think it will never happen to you. As it is written, pride comes before a fall, and let him who stands take heed lest he falls (1 Cor. 10:12).
Does anyone dares to boast that he/she has the resources, zeal and knowledge to stand against the schemes and temptations of the devil, and of the flesh? I myself do not. Our perseverance is only by God's grace which
preserves us as His elect (Jn. 6:39). Do not boast and think that you are so strong and mighty that you can stay in a compromised church without any detrimental effect on you or your family, which is what Frank Turk's
advice would ultimately lead to. Those who continue to doubt that this is the case should really have a good look at the biblical example of Lot. In the end, those who refuse to separate from biblically deficient
churches (of which I have only listed one particular aspect in the doctrine of separation here) will compromise their spiritual walk and fervor for the Lord and produce little lasting works.
After looking into what the Doctrine of Separation has to say about our responsibilities into how we choose a church, and also as to whether to stay or remain in it (among other things we must consider, of course), let us look into what implications the Doctrine of Separation has on Christian Ministry.
First of all, most of what was mentioned regarding the implications on the church would thus be valid with regards to ministry, as in the case of church-based ministry. Therefore, we should not partner with heretics (first degree separation), nor should we participate with people in their compromise of the faith (second degree separation). However, the situation gets complicated because ministry does not have to be church-based. Something as simple as partnering with another believer to witness to others for Christ is already a non church-based 'ministry' in a sense. Ministry broadly speaking is basically what one does which seeks to further the cause of Christ; be it 'official' or 'unofficial'. Also, while church is more or less permanent, ministry, and especially collaboration in ministry, may not be permanent or even long term. Therefore, with such factors included, how do we go about obeying Christ in implementing this command of His?
To answer this, we must first remember the entire rationale behind the command of separation, otherwise we would fall into the legalism of the separatists who separate from everyone who is even a bit different from them. We separate so as to magnify the glory of our Lord and Master, that we do not denigrate His majesty. Thus, all things should be judged according to that foundational principle. If by so doing, I would bring disgrace and disrepute to the name of Christ, I should not do it. Therefore, applying it to ministry, we can minister alongside others in circumstances whereby doing so would not bring shame to Christ. Therefore, this rule out all heretics immediately. However, with regards to Christians, we can partner with them when they are not compromising the faith, even if they compromise the faith elsewhere. Of course, this assumes that the Christian whom you are partnering with is not so tainted with compromise that we compromise our testimony by partnering with them even if no compromise is inherently done in the immediate works of that partnership. An example would be partnering with Rick Warren in an official 'Christian' program in caring for the sick, since his name has become synonymous with the Purpose Driven paradigm he has created and therefore we should not be seen to give even a remotest support to his PEACE plan. Besides these parameters, to further limit how we can interact and minister as members of Christ's Body is to go beyond Scripture and is not helpful at all, and in fact grieves the Holy Spirit. Just because ecumenism with sinners is bad does not mean that undue separation from believers is good either.
This principle when applied could give rise to several seemingly strange scenarios. For example, an obedient Christ would rightfully refuse to join a group in a prayer meeting which have its foundation in heresy, while he may yet partner with them in other areas of ministry, even in other prayer meetings. Charges of double-standardness and condemnations from both sides of the extreme may very well pour in. The New Evangelicals will criticize the person of being judgmental and unloving, not to mention the possible charge of being 'disobedient to church leaders', while the separatists will criticize the person for still serving with compromisers. Of course, the fact that Jesus mixed with sinners evade the separatists, and the fact that he never join them in sinning nor condone their sin (and in fact call them to repentance) evade the New Evangelicals. As an aside, isn't it strange that some separatist Christians have no problem ministering to unbelievers but will not minister to compromising believers? To follow the Scripture in this regard is therefore difficult, but with God's strength, those who purposed to do so will find strength in Him.
This is by far the most non-controversial section of this entire article of mine. It goes without saying that in something as intimate as a marriage relationship and covenant, we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, as our main passage of 2 Cor. 6:14- 7:1 shows. Furthermore, marriage is for the purpose of bringing forth godly offspring (Mal. 2:15), and this cannot be done when one party is an unbeliever.
Practically, such an unequally yoked union will definitely harm the couple. The fact that one is destined for heaven while the other to hell unless he/she repent should be enough to discourage such unions. Also, as we Christians have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we acquire a new love for Christ and the things of God, which the unbelieving partner, being dead in sins (Eph. 2:1) will not desire and in fact even resent this passion on the part of the believer, since the carnal mind is hostile against God (Rom. 8:7). The worst part of course is that divorce is not allowed just because one party is a believer and the other is not, so both parties have just to live amidst such tension 24/7, until one party gives way (And guess which party normally is the one who does so?)
All of these is basic Christianity 101. In fact, the new birth in the heart of the Christ should already render such a union unlikely, because the believer and the non-believer will come to have different likes and dislikes, if the Christian grows in his/her love for Christ that is. Therefore, I shall not belabor this point further but carry on to the next point.
The next point is with regards to the point of unequally yoked as applied to Christians. Yes, to Christians. The most obvious part of such separation is with regards to Christians who are passionate and Christians who seem to be just nominal. Going to church regularly does not make anyone a Christian; anymore than going to McDonalds make anyone a burger. Serving in church is not a good indication also, because people can serve with all kinds of ulterior motives. Discernment is really needed here, but then, what's new?
One area of which must be looked at is with regards to spiritual maturity, especially with regards to areas such as this doctrine whereby friction may occur. Although not something exactly to separate on and may possibly be resolved, such issues may very well cause friction, especially when one party rightly or wrongly think that the other party's action is biblically wrong. Such issues should definitely be worked on, of course, not via the dialectical way of compromise but the biblical method of searching the Scriptures in order to grow into the same knowledge of the truth.
The whole doctrine of separation with all of these practical implications, it must be realized, is one that is an extension of the command of God who commands us "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). As such, such a doctrine is only embraced correctly by those who truly love and fear God more than Man. Men pleasers like most New Evangelicals will never get it, for their focus is more on humans than on God. Those who have seen a vision of the holiness of God and His absolute demand for purity from His followers, and from His Church, will not be so flippant in explaining away such passages as 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 in advocating for ungodly ecumenism, all in the name of so-called 'Christian unity'. Let us therefore turn once more back to God and spend time with Him in our prayer closet, and understand more of God. Only then will we be able to understand Him and not be effeminate men pleasers, but people like the Apostles who stood firm for their faith despite the opposition of Man.
"He who has an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3:22)