In 1974, the evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book on separation entitled Come Out or Stay In. Most Baptist fundamentalists are familiar with Ernest Pickering’s book on the same subject, but few are aware that Rice contributed to the discussion. Fewer still are aware he took a dim view of “secondary separation.” In this excerpt,1 Rice states his position plainly:
There is a Bible doctrine of separation. There is not a Bible doctrine of secondary separation. What do we mean?
Define “secondary separation”
The Bible very clearly teaches that we should not give Christian recognition nor Christian fellowship to those who are “unbelievers,” the unconverted, but we should come out and be separate from them (2 Cor 6:14-18). The Christian should not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, not sit in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1). He should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” (Eph 5:11). The Christian should not receive into his house (or pulpit or college or denominational program or even church membership) one who has forsaken the Bible doctrine of separation.
We are also told that sometimes the actions and attitudes of Christians can be so ungodly and wrong that we ought not associate with them. So in 1 Corinthians 5:12 the church at Corinth was commanded not to have fellowship with the nominal Christian if he 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.” Also, Christians who rail and make divisions and strife cannot well be given warm Christian fellowship, and thus have their sin condemned.
I say, there is the Bible doctrine of “separation.”
But what is called “secondary separation” means not only must the Christian be separated from liberals, modernists, unbelievers, but he is to separate from anybody who does not separate enough from unbelievers. Those who insist on secondary separation say that if a man leaves the denomination because of some modernists in the denomination, then he ought also separate and break all fellowship with others who do not leave the denomination. If a Christian should separate and not take part on a program with a modernist, they say, then one should not appear on the same program with anybody else who has sometimes had some fellowship with the modernists.
Now, if The Sword of the Lord took that viewpoint, it would mean that since there are modernists among Southern Baptists and I cannot support their program, then I ought not publish any sermons by good, Bible-believing men who are still in the Southern Baptist Convention and who, thus, in some sense, may be thought to either support or condone or excuse the denominational program. That we do not believe. Because we may not agree on some matter of affiliation is not a reason necessarily for breaking Christian fellowship.
How we practice scriptural separation
We think that this editor’s position on following Bible rules about separation has been consistent through long years. Years ago when I found that to support the denominational program among Southern Baptists would mean supporting some modernists and some false teaching, I left the Southern Baptist Convention. I was not turned out; as a matter of conviction, I left that which I could not conscientiously support.
I did not break fellowship with born-again Christians, godly, spiritual, good men, among Southern Baptists. I still have had revival campaigns in some Southern Baptist churches. I still used Southern Baptist preachers on Sword of the Lord conference programs. I had Dr. John L. Hill, editorial secretary of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, and Dr. R. G. Lee, then pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, as judges on the Sword of the Lord panel of book club judges. I preached in a revival campaign with famous Southern Baptist singer B. B. McKinney leading the singing, and he and I had some sweet fellowship. He came to my new home and helped dedicate it by having a song and prayer and Scripture in every room.
In The Sword of the Lord I continue to publish sermons by L. R. Scarborough, B. H. Carroll, George W Truett, R. G. Lee, W. A. Criswell, E. J. Daniels, Jesse. M. Hendley, Herschel Ford, and others. I published sermons by Dr. W. B. Riley when he was still in the American Baptist Convention, and I published his departing message when he left the convention. I published sermons by Dr. Bob Shuler when he was pastor of Trinity Methodist Church in Los Angeles, and we published three books of his. These men were noble, godly men who believed the Bible and won souls.
I have felt that they were slow to come to the conclusion that they ought to come out and separate from denominational programs supported by modernists and largely controlled by modernists. I felt free to say so. But I counted these good Christian men as good Christian men and I loved them and said so. I had fellowship with them because we were together on the main things – the great essential fundamentals of the faith.
Through the years we have felt a clear duty to love born-again Christians, people who had a holy devotion to Christ and the Bible and the fundamentals of the Christian faith and who tried to win souls. So we published a sermon on Hell by Colonel Brengle of the Salvation Army and another by Dr. H. C. Morrison. Though we did not agree to their teaching of entire sanctification, we did believe what they preached in those messages.
We publish messages by Dr. James M. Gray, president of Moody Bible Institute, and Bishop Ryle of England because they were noble, good men of God. We did not publish and did not agree with some of their Episcopalian viewpoints.
We publish many sermons by Charles H. Spurgeon, great soul winner and mighty preacher, though we do not agree with part of his Calvinism. We have published sermons by Dr. Carl McIntire, though we do not agree on sprinkling babies.
Again, let us make our position clear. This editor came out of the Southern Baptist Convention, refusing to support the relatively small number of modernists then in the program, when Dr. Carl McIntire was still in the Northern Presbyterian Church, Dr Bob Jones, Sr., was still in the Methodist Church and Dr. W. B. Riley was still in the Northern Baptist Convention. We were pressing hard against the liberalism in Fuller Seminary and trying to save it for the fundamentals of the faith when Dr Woodbridge was active on the faculty and before he came out.
We made our open break with modernistic leaders and programs when it was a lonely, hard business and not convenient or popular. We helped fundamentalists and gave them a platform and helped them wherever we could. With Dr. H. A. Ironside and Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., we worked actively in the organization of the National Association of Evangelicals. I was on the International Commission of that group when the executive secretary made a strong attack on Dr. Carl McIntire and I immediately resigned. I would not be counted against a godly fundamentalist.
I think that well-informed people all know that my position has been consistent and my voice has been clear in standing against modernism and against association and support of modernists and in defense of fundamental doctrine and fundamental brethren. I have tried to practice Biblical separation.
But I do not find what is called “secondary separation” in the Bible. I did not believe that Dr. W. B. Riley, organizer of the World’s Fundamental Association and fighting consistently for the inspiration of the Bible and the fundamentals of the faith, was a crook one day because he was in the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Convention) and that he was a saint the next day after he announced his withdrawal. I think he probably should have come out sooner, but he was a good Christian trying to do right. He loved the Lord and believed the Bible. He was my beloved brother.
On this matter, let me say again as I have said before, I have tried to follow two Scriptures:
I am a companion of them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts (Ps 119:63)
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations (Rom 14:1).
1 John R. Rice, Come Out or Stay In (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) 217 – 221.
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a bi-vocational pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He also works in State government. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?