By Paul Jackson (1903-1969): keynote address delivered at the 1958 GARBC Conference.
The Bible teaches clearly that every believer should be separated from all sin, including unbelief and apostasy. We shall seek to prove this statement with the Word of God, and to show that we must also have proper attitudes and objectives in the practice of Biblical separation.
Unfortunately there are many Baptists and other sincere Christian believers who do not share the convictions presented in this article. However, it is not written in a controversial fashion, but is designed to deal fairly and constructively with a great issue that faces all of us today. You and I who hold this truth live in an atmosphere charged with opposition. Much of this opposition springs out of misinformation or prejudice. We are in such a situation, whether or not we like it, and I trust we are convinced that we occupy a Biblical position. We urge your closest, most thoughtful attention!
Our General Association of Regular Baptist Churches came into being 26 years ago, in 1932, because we loved the great Bible truths throughout the whole Word of God. In protest against those who did not believe the Word of God, and with a desire to have fellowship with those that did, a few of our churches gathered together in an Association true to the Bible. During the intervening years many have joined with us. We stand together because we believe the Book—because we believe it to be the Word of God. Therefore, we are very essentially doctrinally conscious. We seek to examine those that we meet, and those to whom we listen, as to their attitude toward the Word of God. This is proper, because we are commanded to try all things and to hold fast that which is good. We are to search the Scriptures daily and see whether these things be so. Biblical separation is neither the major nor the characteristic doctrine which we preach, but it is part and parcel of our message, and it is foundational to our existence. The very word “separation” is in itself a red flag to some people. I urge any who are prejudiced against this position and doctrine to pause with us and look squarely into the face of Scripture with calmness and the expectancy of God’s guidance in order that we may think together upon a theme that is crucial in our ministry today.
Separation, as I have so often explained it, is to the whole ministry of the Word of God and the service of Jesus Christ, what sanitation and sterilization are to surgery. When you go into surgery you are not at all prejudiced against the practice of the surgeons, and others that enter that room, to scrub and scrub and scrub! You want every germ destroyed. If there is any possible chance of an infection, you may be the victim of it, and you are well satisfied for sanitation at its ultimate and absolute to mark those who minister to you. But as a matter of fact, no matter how long the surgeon scrubs, it will do you no good, until he finally takes hold of the scalpel and the other instruments to perform the surgery. Unless he ministers to you in the other spheres of medical attention, the sanitation is valueless to you. Cleanliness is only the necessary condition and atmosphere in which the real ministry of the surgeon takes place. It is not an end in itself, but it is an essential condition to the rightful end.
If we make Biblical separation an end in itself, or major upon it to the neglect or exclusion of other great Biblical doctrines, we have failed those to whom we minister, as the surgeon would fail who sterilizes but never operates. But, on the other hand, let us never forget that we also fail if we do not preach and practice this doctrine of separation, as the surgeon will fail, no matter how skillfully he operates, if he neglects proper sanitation in the operating room. We must be clean in order to carry out the total ministry of the Word. This is illustrated in the Old Testament priests. They were to wash at the brazen laver before they performed the balance of their ministry. May the Lord help us to realize that these great doctrinal truths which are precious to our hearts are polluted by unclean atmospheres and unclean relationships. The Spirit of God Who would bring spiritual health to our hearts is grieved if we allow uncleanness, defilement, and contamination to mark us and our ministry. So may the Lord help us to distinguish between that which is necessary as an accompanying condition, and that which is our major objective.
Sometimes we lose our direction and our orientation, and think too much about things which are in themselves important, but not primary. Let us try, with the Lord’s help, to bring our thinking into balance in these areas. I speak a great deal on that word “balance.” But I believe with all my heart that in the Word of God there are balancing truths, and that we may run to the extreme, either to the right or to the left. We do not like the phrase “the middle of the road” because we usually think of it as compromise. On the other hand, it’s a mighty silly thing to be driving down one of the gutters—and there are some people who seem to like to do that! May God help us somehow to stay on the road, neither to the right hand nor to the left, but to move under the direction of the Spirit of God.
From Baptist Bulletin, March/April 2018 © Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Paul R. Jackson (1903–1969) was among the first generation of GARBC leaders, serving as national representative from 1960 to 1969. Prior to this, he was president of Baptist Bible Seminary for 14 years, a pastor in California and Michigan for 17 years, and a member of the GARBC Council of Eighteen. His book The Doctrine and Administration of the Church is regarded as a classic on church polity. He also wrote a pamphlet on church associations, Biblically Separate: Choosing Alliances Wisely.