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Reasons for the Conflict
This doctrine of separation is a crucial one, and it is a Biblical one. If it is neglected both in its preaching and in its implementation, I know of no way that we can preserve the purity and the power of our churches. As surely as we fail to implement it, we join hands with those that are contrary to the will of God and to His Word. The unity is destroyed, and the purity is destroyed, and without them the power of the Spirit of God is forfeited. He can move in fullness and power only when there is purity and a surrender to His will.
This doctrine of separation is a battlefield today, and it is that because of several reasons. I point out three primary reasons for the conflict and confusion.
The Problem of Extremism
First, I am convinced that there are many people who are fighting over Biblical separation from the world on one hand and apostasy on the other, because of the extremism on the part of some people that are connected with it. And when I say that, I am talking about both sides of the controversy. I deny and repudiate the charge that extremism marks and characterizes our separatist movement. I candidly admit that some, and probably all of us, have from time to time gone to excess in areas where we ought not, but I am just as positive that those that oppose the great Biblical doctrine of separation have gone to extremes in major ways. There are extremes in two basic areas.
- Sometimes we make assertions which we cannot support. We may believe them to be true, and yet they prove to be erroneous (we do well to document the things which we say). But so do our critics do well to document the things which they say! Recently a little book came to my desk attacking separation and vindicating ecumenical evangelism. It is so packed with erroneous statements that it is appalling. The author would have done well to have supported his assertions with some authority! I warn you to examine these books that come to your attention, whether they are on one side or the other of this controversy. We need to avoid extremes. We need to be right—right when we oppose anything; right when we sponsor anything!
- There is a great danger of extremism in the area of our manner, our approach, our spirit. It is untrue that our men generally are marked by such extremism, but there needs to be caution. I would warn my own heart and yours that when we seek to defend and to declare and to implement this Biblical doctrine of separation, that we must seek the wisdom and the power of the Spirit of God to give us grace and strength as well as sound doctrine.
A bitter spirit can very readily develop. We can become hypercritical in a sense that is utterly unchristian. May God spare us from that, and spare our critics as well. These are things that we need to examine objectively and deliberately, to find the truth and then cleave to it. May the Lord spare us from simply getting into arguments and controversy, and help us by the grace of God to seek the truth in Christ and to stand there.
When we have great convictions the natural tendency is for us to become rough and vehement. It is equally difficult, on the other hand, when we manifest a gracious attitude to be strong. The tendency in the manifestation of grace is to compromise and be weak. Only in the Lord Jesus are these two things properly brought together in balance. You will remember it tells us in John 1 that He was full of grace and truth. It is for both of those things that I plead in our present consideration, and in all of our future ministry. The Word of God is clear, and if we are right in our facts and right in our spirits, then we can expect and anticipate the blessing of God. I do not mean that if we are right in our spirit and in our facts that everyone is going to agree with us, because there are some who for one reason or another refuse to accept the truth, no matter how graciously it is preached. They refused it from the lips of the Lord Jesus and they nailed Him to the cross. I am not suggesting that because we have opposition we are necessarily wrong; Christ had enemies! But I am pleading that we shall not be wrong, and that when we are hated it shall be without a cause. We must not contribute to the animosity by our error on the one hand, or any bitterness upon the other.
The Problem of Ignorance
Second, this doctrine is a battleground also because of ignorance. The fact is that when we are in opposition to any Biblical doctrine, the opposition must be based upon ignorance or rebellion. God is not wrong, and if we differ with Him, we are!
There are three areas of ignorance that promote difficulty and controversy over this doctrine. The first is a basic ignorance of the real nature of liberalism, and unbelief. The rank and file of people even in our churches do not realize the diabolical, anti-Christian nature of higher critical liberalism, of neo-orthodoxy, and all the assorted types of unbelief. When a man denies the Word of God and believes that Jesus is a creature, not the Creator, that He was born as men are born, of natural generation, and with a human father, they do not preach Jesus Christ. They preach another Jesus and another gospel. Liberalism is marked by the preaching of another Jesus and another gospel. It is total idolatry. Liberalism is as distinctly unchristian as Buddhism or Mohammedanism, but vastly more dangerous because of its deception. If people were urged to consider the matter of joining in open meetings with Mohammedans, Buddhists, and Confucianists, most of them would throw up their hands in horror. But many of them seem to have no scruples over joining hands with the liberals and the neo-orthodox. May God help us to see that the poison of unbelief is identical in whatever dress it appears. If we were to make a statue, fashioning it of gold, or ivory, or wood, and label the thing “Jesus”—that would not make that statue Jesus because we called it that! To bow down and worship it would be idolatry. The liberal does not use gold, or ivory, or wood. The liberal takes mental concepts and builds another Jesus, and this is idolatry. When men become aware of that fact, they will not have the difficulties with Biblical separation with which many are characterized today.
In the second place, this ignorance concerns the teaching of the Word of God. We shall deal more fully with this later. But when men know the awfulness of unbelief, and when they also know the clarity of Biblical teaching as to what we must do in repudiating the powers of darkness, then there should be no battle over this matter of Biblical separation!
In the third place, the ignorance extends to the area of the nature of the separatist movement. I do not suppose that there is any area in Christendom that is so frequently maligned and misrepresented as the separatist movement. We have been represented as saying things we never have said, as believing things which we do not believe, and as practicing things which never marked us. These false charges are so consistently made that in many circles they are believed as gospel truth. Our critics have done just that. Whether they are deliberate lies, I do not know. I cannot judge their spirit. But I do know that our movement has been misrepresented grossly and terribly. Ignorance in all these areas naturally promotes a great deal of resistance to the Biblical doctrine of separation.
The Problem of Compromise
Note a third point, and then we move on into the major portion of the message. This doctrine is a basis of controversy because of rebellion or compromise on the part of people who oppose the doctrine. There are some people who refuse to move into this area of truth, even though they know the heinousness of liberalism and unbelief, even though they know the commandments of the Word of God, even though they know the things for which we stand. In that company there are two major divisions. The one is composed of people who have good motives, and the other of people who do not. There are people who are perfectly sincere in this matter, who have convinced themselves that they should do evil that good may come. They would not put it in those words, but they justify any sort of excess and disobedience on the basis of results. Now, you and I are both for results, not only in spiritual things but in everything else. Who likes to play ball and not win? Who likes to pay for the check at dinner and not get something to eat? Who likes to preach and not see souls saved? We like results. We move in that area—why shouldn’t we? But, the Word of God says that they that strive for the mastery are not crowned unless they strive lawfully (2 Timothy 2:5). We are to run according to the rules of the race! What kind of God do we have? Is He one that must violate His own precepts, that must contradict His own Word, that must change His own counsels, in order to produce results? Must we do evil that good may come? God forbid. Paul answered a similar argument in a different context when he said, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” It is the same basic principle. You and I have no right to disobey the counsels of God simply because we see at the end of the road of rebellion some fruitage that we would like to obtain—good fruitage! When we do God’s work in God’s way, we will have fruitage upon it in God’s time. God has not only given us a message, but a method, and we have no more liberty to be wrong in the one than in the other.
There are those who are rebellious, and who enter into compromise with unbelief, not for good motives, but for bad ones, because they like to be on the winning side. Whether it is the love of money, or the love of power, or the love of position, they are willing to compromise and willing to be disobedient to walk with the crowd. You and I do not occupy a popular place. Jesus Christ did not when He was here, and if you and I expect to find it any different, we are bound for disappointment. He said, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” When men rise up and revile, we can rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is our reward in Heaven, providing that the reviling is false, for Christ’s sake!
Brethren, we must be right in our facts, right in our spirit, and then stand forthrightly by the grace of God for the truth as it is in Christ—not compromising, not going to extremes, not characterized by ignorance, nor by rebellion. May God spare us from these things!
To stand in the position that we do requires a complete conviction that this Bible is the Word of God. We can analyze Biblical separation briefly in this threefold analysis. First, we believe that this Book is the absolute and eternal Word of God. It is truth. It does not merely contain truth—it is truth. It sits in judgment upon us. We do not sit in judgment upon it. Second, the very presence of truth presupposes the possibility of error. If there is something that is right, absolutely and unchangeably, then that which opposes it is wrong. In the third place, separation, essentially, is simply the distinguishing, the judging and the separating between truth and error. It is performed upon the authority of the Book. Obviously, if a man does not believe this Book is true—if he does not have a conviction that it is absolute truth, if he shares the position of the neo-orthodox that this is relative—then, of course, he should not be a separationist, for such a person can be sure of nothing. But the Word is true, and you and I have no other place where we can stand!
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.