Tiptoeing through the minefields encircling the relationships within the Body of Christ is enormously daunting. It seems that at any moment the dreaded event of stepping in the wrong place will trigger a mine that Satan has laid to disrupt fellowship between believers. As successive issues detonate, the Body of Christ is often divided, and the loss of its vitality prevents brethren from being effective in representing Christ Jesus.
Some of these mines are important areas of truth and doctrine that must never be viewed as negotiable. Others are incidental matters that ought not to inflict the damage they do. Some believers conclude that the risk of crossing the field is too high. Consequently, they want little to do with attempting to relate to the entire Body of Christ. They stay where it is safe and allow the rest of the Body of Christ to do the same. As a result of this protectionism and exclusivity, their impact is greatly diminished.
Other believers are so desirous of enjoying relationships with the entire Body of Christ they become indiscriminate. These believers seem to care little about the issues and the damage that compromising their doctrinal beliefs brings. By the time they reach the other side of the minefield, there is little genuine Christianity left. As a result of their inclusiveness, they have little to offer in terms of meaningful fellowship in Christ.
Many who are in the midst of this minefield are grasping for answers that will enable them to determine how they can avoid compromise while enjoying the relationships for which God holds them responsible. These individuals are full of questions such as: With whom may I fellowship as brothers in the Lord? With whom may I cooperate as the salt of the earth? With whom may I reach out with the light of the gospel? With whom may I worship within the context of the local church? With whom may I enjoy a true family relationship? With whom may I enjoy the intimacy of marriage? Are there any relationships that include no one except me and the Lord?
Each of these questions sharpens the focus in relationships and brings a believer to a more limited level of responsibility. Whereas a person might be able to enjoy personal fellowship with a brother in the Lord, he might not feel able to join that brother’s local church. Whereas a believer might be able to join with another believer as “salt” by opposing abortion, he might not be able to serve together with him as “light” in evangelizing the lost with him.
Holiness and the biblical doctrine of separation
Although all of His attributes are essential, the holiness of God is revealed as His basic attribute (Isaiah 6:3). This is uniquely important since holiness is used as a name for God (Proverbs 30:3). In addition, God swears by His holiness (Psalm 89:35). Honoring God’s holiness, by recognizing that we are to be separated unto God, is the most basic, practical doctrine for the believer to embrace. Throughout this article, the term “separation” is therefore used in its biblical sense.
Ezekiel 44:23, in speaking of the priest’s role, says: “Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” (See also Leviticus 10:10, Ezekiel 22:26.) The biblical doctrine of separation requires that believers “make a distinction” between the sacred and profane, the pure and impure, the obedient and disobedient, and ultimately between good and evil.
Certainly, holiness must be viewed as indispensable in the life of every believer (Hebrews 12:14). God commands that His followers be holy: “And like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Thus, the doctrine of biblical separation must be seen as the practical application of the truth that God is absolutely holy. However, the appropriate focus of believers is to strive to be like the One who is holy—not merely to be different from those believed to be unholy. Simply separating from the ungodly or disobedient does not in itself make one a biblical separatist. If the character of God and heart of God are not being reflected in one’s attitudes, the biblical doctrine and purpose of separation is being defiled, not fulfilled.
If God separates Himself from evil, can the believer be holy “like the Holy One who called you” without separating himself from evil? In this regard, since God himself is a “separatist,” those whom God places “upon this earth to represent Him would be required to be holy (separated) as well. They would be expected to mirror His character.”2 However, too often in attempting to emulate the character of God by separating from evil, believers have dishonored the name of God by misrepresenting Him in spirit. With harshness and bitterness they have castigated, vilified, and denigrated people with whom they have disagreed—all in the name of the holy God. What is missing is the heart of the holy God, whom they strive to emulate, for He gave His own Son to reconcile those who are at enmity with Him. His heart is to redeem, restore, reconcile, and recover a relationship with those who are estranged from Him.
While emulating God’s holiness by striving to separate from evil, we cannot dismiss our duty to emulate His desire to see those who are disobedient “come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). To affirm oneself by catching another in error does not represent God’s heart since “rejoicing in unrighteousness” discredits one’s claim of genuine love (1 Corinthians 13:6a). At the same time, those who would repudiate the doctrine of separation in favor of integration (as is true of the New-Evangelicals)3 must also be identified as incongruent with the heart of God.
(Tomorrow: Relationships and responsibilities—the pyramid)
1 This two part article is adapted from On the Level: Discovering the Levels of Biblical Relationships Among Believers (IFCA Press, 2005). It appeared in Voice as a single article.
Richard (Dick) Gregory entered glory July 23, 2013. He pastored for 57 years (two churches while in school, then as senior pastor of three). He ministered on the boards of several Christian organizations. As a member of two mission agency boards and executive director of IFCA International, he traveled to 28 countries and lectured in 26 colleges and seven seminaries.