Secondary Separation: Should Christian Brethren Ever Separate?

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The concept and practice of so-called “secondary separation” is a divisive issue within fundamentalism. It is appropriate now, more than ever, to examine the matter in light of Scripture. What follows is an all-too brief survey of several respected fundamentalist leaders of the past 50 years on this very matter. Their views are briefly presented and analyzed, and some conclusions will be drawn at the end. Hopefully, this modest study will edify the body and exhort fundamentalists to be captive to the Scriptures, wherever they may lead.

At the outset, a brief definition of fellowship must be offered so we’re all on the same page going forward. Loosely, “fellowship” is defined as a union for spiritual purposes. More precisely, a partnering of individuals, churches, organizations or any other group for the purpose of promoting Biblical truth, based on a common spiritual foundation. Therefore, when we discuss a separation among brethren, we are really pondering the question, “With whom or what can I legitimately enter into a spiritual partnership with?” (Oats).

What in the world is “secondary separation?”

Ernest Pickering

A secondary separatist would be one who will not cooperate with (1) apostates; or (2) evangelical believers who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them; or, as employed by some (3) fundamentalists who fellowship with those in the previous category. (217)

Rolland McCune:

“Secondary separation” is the refusal to cooperate with erring and disobedient Christians who do not adhere to primary separation and other vital doctrines. (146)

Douglas McLachlan:

Familial separation is the unfortunate necessity of functional severance from members of the family who are true Christians, when doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries. (132)

John R. Rice:

Do you see that since this secondary separation is an artificial, man-made doctrine, in every case it must depend on one’s personal, variable judgment? How much better to follow the simple rules in the Bible. Since there is no clear-cut Bible teaching on the question, secondary separation is a manufactured doctrine that leads to great confusion. And, sad to say, it also leads to passing judgment on Christian brethren, judging people’s motives, and this leads to division and strife among people who really are serving the same Saviour, who believe the same Bible, who preach the same Gospel, and both seek to win souls. That is unfortunate and, I think, unscriptural. (228)

In light of the above, my own working definition of so-called “secondary separation” is this:

A secondary separatist is a Christian who will not cooperate with:

  1. apostates
  2. true Christians who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them
  3. true Christians, when a Scripturally defensible claim of doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries

This is a concise definition, and one all fundamentalists would do well to adopt. Many would disagree, and I believe they are wrong. John R. Rice, as we will see, draws his circle of fellowship around the fundamentals of the faith and allows very wide latitude within this boundary. His views may surprise many, especially fundamentalists of the Sword of the Lord vintage.

John R. Rice

Rice was strongly against secondary separation. His primary focus was revivals and soul-winning, and his theology on separation reflects this. For Rice, the threshold of orthodoxy was the fundamentals of the faith—period. Rice would accept any Christian so long as he espoused (1) faith and salvation in Christ, (2) the Bible, (3) the virgin birth, (4) blood atonement, (5) the deity and (6) bodily resurrection of Christ (182, 224). I have chosen to spend a great deal of time on Rice because I believe he speaks for a great many frustrated fundamentalists on this matter.

The important thing is, is a man for Christ and the Bible? If he is, and he makes no divisive issues and strife, then fellowship with him. So the Scripture teaches. That means I can fellowship with some who fellowship with some they ought not to fellowship with. (182)

[W]e have an obligation to have brotherly love and kindness and charity toward those who are weak in the faith, but just so they are “in the faith. (224)

Rice would likely separate from fundamentalists who were in favor of secondary separation, citing Rom 14:1 as support.

Listen, you are not to run with anybody if it means quarreling and strife and division and hair pulling and hell raising. Say to that one, “God bless you, but go your way, and I will go mine.” If there is going to be strife and no real unity and no real heartfelt joy and results for God, then sometimes we cannot cooperate with Christians who make strife over minor issues. They are weak in the faith and they make an insistent division over it. (184)

Rice decried what he saw as undue obsession with division at the expense of evangelism. Fighting modernism was not Rice’s main priority—evangelism was.

The tendency to go to extremes appears in the matter of defending the faith and standing up for Christ and the Bible. Those of us who would defend the faith and expose false prophets are constantly urged to attack good Christians, to spend our time and energy in fighting good Christians who may not agree with us on some matters or may be wrong on lesser matters but are born-again, Bible-believing, soul-winning Christians. We have followed a simple course down through the years. We are against infidels and false teachers. We are for good Christians. (196)

Rice’s most passionate plea was for Christians to have perspective. The great division, he warned, is between those who are saved and those who are lost. “Let us face it honestly: Are we going to fight for God’s people and against Satan’s people? That is what we ought to be” (197).

Rice’s critique of secondary separation

Rice’s guiding verses on this matter were Ps 119:63 and Rom 14:1 (221). He outright denied that Scripture teaches separation from brethren. “No, there is nothing in the Bible like that” (224). He saw separation as an “all or nothing” proposition. He did not allow for the different “levels” of separation that Ernest Pickering wrote about, which we will examine in the next article. He defined the doctrine as follows:

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. (218)

Rice charged that Christians are commanded to fellowship and love other Christians (Jn 13:34-35), and this very love, not division, should guide Christians in this matter. Fractious, subjective battles among real Christians divide the body and hinder the cause of Christ.

But still the weight of the Scripture here is tremendous. We should love other Christians as Christ loved us. Our love for others ought to be such an obvious fact that people will know Christians are different. So only a very serious matter ought ever hinder the fellowship of good Christians who love each other. (222)

Most fundamentalists who uphold separation from brethren point to 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 as support. Their arguments will be presented shortly, but I ask Christians to examine the passage for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Rice expressly denied that 2 Thess 3:6-15 teaches secondary separation, labeling this “a clearly biased interpretation” (226). He maintained it merely taught that the disorder in question was eating without working (224-225).

Going back to his call for unity for the sake of evangelism, Rice protested that secondary separation resulted in arbitrary decisions. “Where can one draw the line? Unless he takes the plain Bible position of separation from the unsaved and the restrained fellowship with Christians who live in gross sin, one will make subjective decisions according to his own preference” (226-228). Fred Moritz dismisses such objections as a “smokescreen,” and calls for biblical discernment on the matter (84).

Finally, Rice appealed to examples of other Godly fundamentalists to bolster his case, men who did participate in inter-denominational fellowship for the sake of the Gospel, including Moody, Billy Sunday, R.A. Torrey, Bob Jones, Sr., H.A. Ironside, W.B. Riley, Bob Schuler and J. Frank Norris (228-234).

Rice’s work on separation was published in the midst of his very public falling out with Bob Jones, Jr. Any honest Christian will admit that views change with perspective, as hard-won knowledge, wisdom and experience are brought to bear upon tough issues. Perhaps Rice would have taken a harder line on separation earlier in his ministry. Regardless, a position must be evaluated in light of Scripture, not by the character of the man promoting it.

Rice’s plea for unity is appealing, but incorrect. He errs by failing to acknowledge different levels of fellowship and ignores Scriptures which clearly teach separation from brethren. In this respect, Rice epitomized a particular fundamentalist mindset which is antithetical to militant separatism. George Marsden remarked,

Antedating fundamentalist anti-modernism was the evangelical revivalist tradition out of which fundamentalism had grown. The overriding preoccupation of this tradition was the saving of souls. Any responsible means to promote this end was approved. (67)

Rice’s was a “big tent” fundamentalism, and given the nature of his revivalist ministry, perhaps it is understandable Rice was so inclusive about doctrine. He was still mistaken. I will survey several fundamentalist leaders who believe Rice was mistaken in the next article.

Works Cited

Marsden, George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991. Print.

McCune, Rolland. Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism. Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004. Print.

McLachlan, Douglas. Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. Independence: AACS, 1993. Print.

Moritz, Fred. Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation. Greenville: BJU, 1994. Print.

Oats, Larry. American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Watertown: Maranatha Baptist Seminary, 2012. Unpublished class notes.

Pickering, Ernest. Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church. Schaumberg: Regular Baptist Press, 1979. Print.

Rice, John R. Come Out or Stay In? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1974. Print.

[node:bio/tylerr body]

Thanks ....

Thanks for this study, Tyler. I hope it will contribute to more clarity on the subject.

Brief points

Rice’s guiding verses on this matter were Ps 119:63 and Rom 14:1 (221). He outright denied that Scripture teaches separation from brethren. “No, there is nothing in the Bible like that” (224). He saw separation as an “all or nothing” proposition. He did not allow for the different “levels” of separation that Ernest Pickering wrote about, which we will examine in the next article. He defined the doctrine as follows:

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. (218)

Rice charged that Christians are commanded to fellowship and love other Christians (Jn 13:34-35), and this very love, not division, should guide Christians in this matter. Fractious, subjective battles among real Christians divide the body and hinder the cause of Christ.

But still the weight of the Scripture here is tremendous. We should love other Christians as Christ loved us. Our love for others ought to be such an obvious fact that people will know Christians are different. So only a very serious matter ought ever hinder the fellowship of good Christians who love each other. (222)

*****

Couple of brief points here:

1.  If I understand correctly, Rice's 'mushiness' on separation - and I think we can argue that Rice was a little too mushy on this (to put it politely) - eventually caused rifts between him and other Fundamentalists who were more stringent on separation.  This is a significant weakness in Rice's writings, but is understandable given his work as an evangelist.

2.  By failing to give serious diligence to what the actual Fundamentals are - outside of the 5 Point Deliverance - Fundamentalism as a movement has allowed itself to drift into an area where just about any significant issue became a cause for 'separation', whether merited or not.  Rice may have been weak on separation, but I believe that his fears for excessive and unjustified division have been largely borne out.  Look again at this quote:

The tendency to go to extremes appears in the matter of defending the faith and standing up for Christ and the Bible. Those of us who would defend the faith and expose false prophets are constantly urged to attack good Christians, to spend our time and energy in fighting good Christians who may not agree with us on some matters or may be wrong on lesser matters but are born-again, Bible-believing, soul-winning Christians. We have followed a simple course down through the years. We are against infidels and false teachers. We are for good Christians. (196)

3.  Separation does not have to be "re-discovered" - I think we'd all agree that there is a clear case for that - but has to be "re-applied". It has been argued several times on SI that separation can only work in a context where I have an actual relationship with the person separating from.  It's odd to argue for me to "separate" from someone like Piper or Kauflin (if I wanted to) when the extent of the relationship that I have with them is that I've listened to their sermons/lectures, read their books, listened to their music etc.  I know that some, because of influences or associations, will not have anything to do with these men, but I don't believe that there can be any real or meaningful separation from them because they, frankly, don't even know I exist.  If some reader on this site is living in Germany and emails me to say that they're going to 'mark and avoid me', I might try to understand why they feel that way or correct misconceptions, but it's not really going to affect me because I don't know anything about said brother outside of what he says in his email. Matthew 18 seems like it has to be construed as a punitive measure between friends or associates, not a carte blanche reaction to some other believer who just happens to be in our 'camp'.

I think that the true separation that we need to practice is described best in 1 and 2 Corinthians:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

...But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 11-13, ESV)

*****

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

I hope this is helpful, and look forward to the next installment.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Rice and definitions

I haven't read enough of Rice's POV yet but I wonder if he using the word "separation" itself more narrowly. If you understand "separation" to apply only what you do in the last step of the process--where the offender is classified as an unbeliever for all relational purposes--you'd be right to say there is no separation from brothers in the Bible.

Matt. 18:17, maybe 1Cor.5:11 (see 1Cor. 5.2).

But sometimes there is a breaking of fellowship w/one who is clearly not being regarded as an unbeliever:   2 Thess. 3:14-15.

So Rice would be wrong to define "separation" quite that narrowly.

That said, I believe most use the term too loosely in reference to various kinds of non-cooperation that are not punitive or censorious.

(Part of the challenge for developing separation doctrine is harmonizing Matt. 18 with 2Thess. 3)

Here is one question, I have

Here is one question, I have that I don't hear talked about in fundamentalism and that is how Communion plays into the term "fellowship".  Many churches practice a type of Open or a Close communion (a few practice closed).  I have often viewed Communion as the most intimate type of fellowship.  This was something that Christ practiced and modeled, not with all of his disciples, but with his hand chosen set of disciples who would be the foundation of setting up His Church (despite Judas being there).  I read an article written by Jonathan Edwards in which he presented the same situation.  Without going into a ton of different avenues to answer this question, would you have communion with someone who you would practice secondary separation?  I am not talking apostates here, I am talking about someone like a Mark Dever, who is clearly a Christian, but may not align to some degree as yourself.  I have never seen this topic really discussed.

Test case

The communion question is a great test case for what people mean by "separation"--at least in some ways.

Kevin Bauder and others (maybe Dan Davey, Tim Jordan.... maybe Dave Doran, but I'm less sure of him on this point) have used limited fellowship language in regard to the conservative evangelicals. But if there had been open-floor questioning at those events (a couple of conferences a while back), the communion question would have been an interesting one.

So I'd find it interesting to know if "limited fellowship" would include or not include sharing in communion together if some situation occurred where that was possible.

My view: if we're going to stick close to the New Testament on separation (and be minimally creative with our applications), the separation occurs (in the case of professing believers) after a series of local-church-based steps and ends in a local church having "no company with" the disciplined brother/sister. Communion with one so disciplined would be prohibited.

So I suspect those who define separation to include "selective fellowship" would also share in communion. But we're getting pretty far from the biblical idea of separation at that point... which again seems to underscore the view that we ought to use "separation" in a narrow sense and not to describe selective cooperation.

Several years ago, a Pastor

Several years ago, a Pastor wrote me and broke fellowship with me because I broadcast on sermonaudio.com.  He said that I was compromising by participating in a web site that allowed for such a wide body of churches.

 

At another time, a Pastor separated from me because I showed the movie "Facing the Giants" at our church ad did not mute the points in the film where CCM music was played.

 

This is one of the man problems people have with secondary separation today.  Much of what is called secondary separation is just nothing but unecessary division based on personal preferences and opinions instead of principles from the Word of God.

Comments

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:

Much of what is called secondary separation is just nothing but unecessary division based on personal preferences and opinions instead of principles from the Word of God.

I agree. Christians need to honestly examine an issue and determine whether the issue at hand is a clear teaching, implicit teaching, a Biblical principle or merely a personal preference. More on that in the next article.

dgszweds:

Without going into a ton of different avenues to answer this question, would you have communion with someone who you would practice secondary separation?

Communion is a local church event. Separation, in any form beyond personal, is ecclesiastical. If a church practices discipline on a member for some Scripturally valid reason, then he would not be allowed to participate in communion. Separation is rooted in the local church - too often people think of it as an almost arbitrary, personal decision. It is not.

Part of my goal with this series is to really clarify what is worth separating over. It cannot be about arbitrary, personal preferences. This is a terribly serious matter, and Scripture must govern any decision to separate from a Christian brother. I believe the term "separation" is thrown around a lot and mis-used. There are different levels of fellowship we all practice (more on this in the next article), without calling something "separation." Ernest Pickering wrote on this.

We have abused the term beyond belief by tossing it around so freely. Aaron's differentiation between "selective cooperation" and "separation" is right on the money here.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Communion test

This is a tricky one. There are denominations that use fermented wine for communion. I refuse to and I would not take wine for communion. That being said, I believe that a person could be a true believer and do so. So, if I refuse to take communion with them because they use alcohol but I believe they are believers, is that separation?

 

Likewise, I know people who believe NOT using wine for communion is wrong. Would come to my church and accept grape juice?

TylerR,   I hear you, but

TylerR,

 

I hear you, but thought communion was a good point.  Because an individual may not share a pulpit with someone over their belief in gifts, but they (and it seems most fundamentalist are probably in the Open or close camp on communion), are more than happy to make the communion line over whether you are a professing believer and someone who is not actively living in sin.  My view is that communion is a more intimate form of fellowship than pulpit sharing, although pulpit sharing is more public.  I would guess that most people would not draw the line in the sand over communion if Piper was in their congregation, but they wouldn't ask him to share the pulpit.  I think this plays into your secondary separation, because I see an inconsistency here.  I think we can all agree that an apostate is clearly separated over in both communion and sharing a pulpit.  And the same would go for someone within church discipline.  I am not sure we can limit communion entirely as a local church issue, since 1)open or close communion by its definition extends it beyond the local church, and 2) the same people who set the standards for communion (i.e. the leadership of the church) are really the ones that have the biggest concerns in terms of fellowship (by that I mean that a new member that goes to a CCM concert, is significantly less of a fellowship risk than the pastor or leadership endorsing a CCM concert).

 

I think if we don't have a clear line on what fellowship is, than how we can draw concerns of conclusion over separation?

Rather Fight Than Switch

Didn’t the original fundamentalists stay in their denominations instead of separating?  It seems their original goal was to stay and fight for the historic doctrines of the faith.  To save their denominations, schools, missions for the truth and the Gospel.  And to save them from liberalism.  To only leave when all hope of saving the denomination was lost. 

Few know Fundamentalist J. Frank Norris was a Southern Baptist till the day he died, although he fought many things Southern Baptist, and participated very little in his later years.  He was kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but not the SBC.  He gave to the SBC Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) right up to the end. 

On the other hand, John R. Rice left the SBC and encouraged others to do so.  But he maintained fellowship with conservative Southern Baptists and would print sermons in the Sword of the Lord by both living and dead conservative Southern Baptists. 
David R. Brumbelow

J. Frank Norris

IIRC, J. Frank Norris' position was that he was going to stay in there until they threw him out.  My understanding is that Al Mohler has taken the same position just a little bit further - he will stay in until they throw them out while not sending them one flat dime.  He is, in fact, is serving as a detriment to them because he is a net expenditure on their ledger.  It might be John Piper instead that does that - I don't remember which.  

I thought that was an interesting way to retard the Convention or Association that they were in, even if it's not the standard withdrawal move that most of us would make.

dgszweda: Our church practices open communion - anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus  as Savior and Lord, who has confessed that they have repented of their sin, and who is seeking to please the Lord in their life is welcome to participate.  The only time we 'bar' someone from communion is if they are in conscious and known rebellion against God (either by not being saved or because they have sin that they have not made right).

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Representatives of the view

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:

Several years ago, a Pastor wrote me and broke fellowship with me because I broadcast on sermonaudio.com.  He said that I was compromising by participating in a web site that allowed for such a wide body of churches.

At another time, a Pastor separated from me because I showed the movie "Facing the Giants" at our church ad did not mute the points in the film where CCM music was played.

This is one of the man problems people have with secondary separation today.  Much of what is called secondary separation is just nothing but unecessary division based on personal preferences and opinions instead of principles from the Word of God.

Without denying that these abuses are a problem, a view isn't truly represented by it's worst examples. It's like saying "Mammals stink and I reject them because there are so many skunks."

It might be time to put the brass knuckles on!

So I'm not a fighter - I'm a lover. However once in a blue moon I'm sufficiently moved as to put my brass knuckles on and head to a fight. This issue of secondary separation is a fantastic issue to consider as it relates to all things recent within the wold of fundamentalism and I'm thankful that Tyler had the guts to put his ideas down and to think out-loud. Good for you Tyler - as I always say - "Straight Ahead my man!"

1. Frankly - Joe you have the patience of Job. I'm just waiting for one of these "knuckle-heads" to tell me they are withholding fellowship because of things like the sermon-audio or watching a movie like Facing the Giants. I doubt I'll be the gentlemen Joe is on such an occasion.

2. I'm confident that on certain occasions it's time we fight back against brothers that are idiots in the name of separation.  Perhaps we tell them - look I'm separating from you because of your separating from me. That is your separation from me misses the clear teaching of Scripture by at least a mile. That means your separation from me is being Biblically schismatic. I'm warning you to "stop it" and if you don't our congregation and or group of congregations are naming you out and we are officially separating from you for being a Diotrephes....a schismatic....a heretic!  

I am tired and I mean really tired of good men worrying about certain "so-called" brethriem -  who use the secondary separation as a club to bully their way here and there. I don't know - there may be a time when we just look at one of these guys and say to them....."dude.....just go away already!"

Having said that:

3. Certainly there are times when we practice a kind of secondary separation - that can show up in a lighter version where not all koinonia is cut all the way to the more firm kind where we would not allow "communion" (by the way - I love that illustration).

4. While the idea of never practicing secondary separation seems separated from a New Testament reality (can you imagine Paul warming up to those who would practice koinonia with those he noted out as being a traitor to the gospel?), I think John R. Rice was concerned that the practice of secondary separation could end up on some kind of a slippery slope where fundamentalists would separate from other Godly men and ministries over issues that were far more "personal" than "Biblical." I'm very sure not only was John right on that end - he may have even been a bit "prophetic."

Straight Ahead!

jt

ps - by the way - just a little historical "aside" here - My dad when he was a BJ was also in the leadership structure of Southside Baptist Church back in the 60's and early 70's. Dad taught a massive College and Carrier Sunday School Class - when he had to miss a Sunday guess who was his substitute teacher? Yep - John R. Rice. That's a fun deal. If I remember correctly Pastor Handford's wife was a Rice. Small World - especially in fundamentalism. It amazing we all don't have a third eye right above our nose.....especially we who were born in Greenville!

Straight Ahead!

jt

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

These have not been "worst"

These have not been "worst" examples.  They have been typical examples I have dealt with repeatedly throughout my 20 plus years of ministry.

 

 

 

 

So sad

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:

These have not been "worst" examples.  They have been typical examples I have dealt with repeatedly throughout my 20 plus years of ministry.

This so sad, and un-Biblical. I hope this article, and the next one which follows, sheds some needed light on Biblical parameters for separation. 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Call me!

Joe,

Next time one of these guys contacts you - put me on a 3 way call with our "brother."

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Sharpeiron is not practicing

Sharpeiron is not practicing proper fundametlist seperatism, so I refuse to fellowship with Aaron Blumer. 

Joel Tetreau does not approve of everything on Sharperiron and while he expresses his concerns to Aaron Blumer, he still considers him a friend and maintains fellowship with him.

Scott Davis has fellowship with Joel Tettreau even though Joel refuses to take a stronger stand on Aaron.  So Scott is not fully obedient.

Dan Burrell fellowships with Scott Davis even though he has fellowship with Joel Tetreau who fellowships with Aaron Blumer.

So in the end, you end up with one person who sees most believers and most churches as compromisers.

 

And, you end up with a lot of factions and a lot of division.

 

How many fundamentalists camps are out there today who have nothing to do with each other and who give the impression that they are the last official remnant of the godly?

 

 

 

Be warned

I am definitely going to separate fellowship from anyone who has fellowship with me.

Heathen compromisers!

I'd tell ya' that I luvya' Joe, but if I did, you are likely to lose a lot of friends.  Therefore, I'm going to separate from you.

You're welcome.

Biggrin

 

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

wouldn't you know?

Mark_Smith wrote:

This is a tricky one. There are denominations that use fermented wine for communion. I refuse to and I would not take wine for communion. That being said, I believe that a person could be a true believer and do so. So, if I refuse to take communion with them because they use alcohol but I believe they are believers, is that separation?

 

Likewise, I know people who believe NOT using wine for communion is wrong. Would come to my church and accept grape juice?

this has all already happened! just that those involved all spoke russian and not english. Christian culture has its similarities all over the world, I guess. .... Biggrin

**I will add to clarify: a pastor stopped using wine in his communion services, and the other pastors "separated" from him. .... It says "wine" in the original Greek, don't you know..... It also says "one cup," and they were also upset that he started to use individual drinking cups for communion. Tsk, tsk. slippery slope, you know, stop using wine, stop using one big cup, next thing we'll stop believing in a literal hell, etc.

More comments

We could all go on for hours about poor, ridiculous and un-Biblical examples of so-called "separation" we've seen implemented. All honest Christians should acknowledge a few truths:

1. Separation must be Scripturally based

2. Separation is an ecclesiastical issue. In this context, the grounds for Biblical separation are really not any different than the grounds for church discipline against a brother or sister in Christ. If you are willing to say you would separate from a brother, you must also be willing to say they would Scripturally qualify for church discipline.

3. There are also different levels of fellowship we all recognize. I could enjoy a cup of coffee with a Reformed pastor, yet I couldn't have him preach on Sunday morning in my church. Just because we implement common-sense restrictions on different levels of fellowship does not necessarily mean I am "separating" from a brother. 

4. There is an undeniable element of subjectivism here, taking into account the sinfulness of men and differing interpretations on doctrine.

Recall my own definition of so-called "secondary separation" from the article:

A secondary separatist is a Christian who will not cooperate with:

 

(1) apostates
(2) true Christians who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them
(3) true Christians, when a Scripturally defensible claim of doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries

Is a brother compromising doctrinally or ethically, or do I simply disagree with him on a matter of preference? Is the issue at hand over a Biblical principle which may allow for genuinely different interpretations? If the matter is not an implicit or explicit teaching of Scripture, we must be very cautious at this point. Too many fundamentalists have not been cautious, but impetuous - to the detriment of both the movement and the cause of Christ. 

 

 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Tyler thanks for your

Tyler thanks for your article. My question is in regards to the third element of separation. The first is obvious as is the second. But I struggle to understand what the scriptural support for the third is or more specifically how to apply that. If we are to separate from apostates then we must separate from those disobedient brethren who refuse to do so. That much seems clear. But by what criteria do we decide if someone's theology is bad enough to separate from them? I believe this is where the idea of limited fellowship comes in. If a person is reformed then I am naturally going to have less fellowship with them. If they are charismatic then significantly less. 

But how do I say that their theology is so bad (even though they are fundamental in their understanding of the gospel.) that I am required to separate from them?

What types of errors would qualify? I can think of some errors that are bad enough that I would separate from an individual but they undermine the gospel itself.

Is this the type of thing you are thinking of?

Depends

I'll talk about this in the next article, which I have to email to Aaron tonight! 

There is an element of subjectivism in determining the parameters of fellowship. Nobody will be precisely alike on their applications. We have soul liberty in this matter, as we each strive to Biblically apply Scripture to our lives. 

1. Is the issue at hand an explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture (e.g. justification by faith)? If so, then separation is probably recommended. 

2. Is the issue a principle from Scripture (e.g. every believer must join a local church). If so, then separation may be appropriate. That's up to you!

3. Is the issue a mere personal preference (e.g. my own intense dislike of the phrase "soulwinning" in favor of "evangelism." Soulwinning assumes we are actually "winning" souls, not God. I think it's man-centered and really hate the term!) Some people would put use of CCM in this category. 

Too many fundamentalists are characterized by their willingness to separate from anybody and everybody. There is no matrix of explicit/implicit/principles/preferences for them. It is an all or nothing proposition. Such people are in serious error.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

"Too many fundamentalists are

"Too many fundamentalists are characterized by their willingness to separate from anybody and everybody. There is no matrix of explicit/implicit/principles/preferences for them. It is an all or nothing proposition. Such people are in serious error."

 

Bingo brother.  That was all I was trying to say.  Thanks for bringing these issues up.

Anne Sokol wrote: Mark_Smith

Anne Sokol wrote:

Mark_Smith wrote:

This is a tricky one. There are denominations that use fermented wine for communion. I refuse to and I would not take wine for communion. That being said, I believe that a person could be a true believer and do so. So, if I refuse to take communion with them because they use alcohol but I believe they are believers, is that separation?

 

Likewise, I know people who believe NOT using wine for communion is wrong. Would come to my church and accept grape juice?

this has all already happened! just that those involved all spoke russian and not english. Christian culture has its similarities all over the world, I guess. .... Biggrin

**I will add to clarify: a pastor stopped using wine in his communion services, and the other pastors "separated" from him. .... It says "wine" in the original Greek, don't you know..... It also says "one cup," and they were also upset that he started to use individual drinking cups for communion. Tsk, tsk. slippery slope, you know, stop using wine, stop using one big cup, next thing we'll stop believing in a literal hell, etc.

 

And if it's the Lord's "Supper", why do you have it in the morning?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

What about Rice and Graham?

Rice took a firm stand against the inclusive evangelism of Billy Graham.  He separated from Graham because Graham would not separate from apostates.  He loudly criticized Graham for being sponsored by committees that were composed of evangelicals and apostates, and he refused to cooperate with them.  Seems like Rice wanted his to have his cake and eat it too.

Rice and Graham

Not sure. If I could find  way to view back-issues of Sword of the Lord, we could look at it. Don''t know if they're available. If anyone knows if they are, give a hollar!

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

How it is applied...

The controversial parts of this have to do with the third portion of your definition of "secondary separatist". 

Many of the disputed claims on both sides of the NIU controversies could be entitled "ethical compromise", even if they are not doctrinal compromises in one's particular book. I do definitely think there is an ethical element to it. Some have suggested that those separating from NIU have been capricious and inconsistent in application. While I don't deny that could happen, it could also be that the ethics of what is happening is what is found to be offensive and worthy of separation.

2 Thess 3:6-15

(Sorry to be so late with this comment...I had to register to comment and there was an inadvertent delay in getting that through.)

Because 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 has so often been used in discussions of secondary separation, I did a master’s thesis on the passage, studying it in the context of Paul’s teaching on church discipline elsewhere in the NT.  I mention that for two reasons:

1) In association with that work, I put links to a good bit of source material on my blog at http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/resources-on-ecclesiastical-separation/. It’s been a few years since I did any updating, and many of the links in the “online materials” section are no doubt defunct, but there is also a print bibliography. That source material might be of interest in the present discussion.

2) Aaron, regarding your comment on 2 Thess 3:14-15 speaking of “breaking of fellowship with one who is clearly not being regarded as an unbeliever”: This is the most common interpretation of the passage in discussions of ecclesiastical separation. I tried to demonstrate in my thesis that this interpretation is actually a misconception of the “disorderly” discussed in the passage, especially in light of Paul’s practice of church discipline elsewhere in the NT. There is a very legitimate way of reading that passage which places it squarely in line with the other ones you mentioned.  I don’t want to lengthen my comment unduly, but if an explanation is of interest in the present discussion, I’d be glad to expound :-). You can read a summary of that position at http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2008/01/28/warn-him-as-a-brother-in-2-t...

Harmonizing Matt 18 with 2 Thess 3 is, as you noted, a challenge. (Indeed, trying to harmonize all of the various passages that reference church discipline has its challenges and may point to a bit more flexibility in the church discipline procedure than we might normally think.) My harmonization does have flaws, I’m sure, but I think there is a legitimate way to make the two passages fit together.

I will say that, in my view, it is important in this discussion to understand church discipline passages as such before we go about applying them to separation outside the church. Those are two different species of separation, and Scripture’s teaching about the former (church discipline scenarios) should not be uncritically applied to situations involving the latter (ecclesiastical separation more broadly speaking). This is not to say that such application cannot be made, but it is probably better made (from church discipline passages at least) less directly and more principally or by analogy.

 

CB

Chuck

Appreciate it. The second part of this article will post next week, I believe. That one surveys several fundamentalist leaders' views on  2 Thess 3. I believe the passage is speaking specifically about idleness, but is applicable to the greater body of doctrine Paul taught. Therefore it does teach the principle of separation from a brother if he is in violation of the teachings of Scripture. 

I don't think too many fundamentalists (except perhaps Rice!?) would say Scripture doesn't teach separation from brethren; the difference is in application. That is where the wheels really come off the bus. 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Ah, but...

Tyler, you said, "Therefore it does teach the principle of separation from a brother if he is in violation of the teachings of Scripture."

The exegetically prior question is, however, is the "disorderly" person from which separation is commanded in 2 Thess 3 to be understood as a brother after separation (i.e., church discipline) has occurred?  If he is not to be understood as a brother after separation/church discipline, then that has serious implications for how much application, and what sort of application, can be made to ecclesiastical separation from this passage.

CB

He is a brother

I take the view that he is indeed a brother after separation and church discipline. There is nothing in the passage to suggest the disobedient Christian in question is not actually a Christian. Church discipline does not remove an authentic Christian from the corporate body of Christ. It can remove a person from local church fellowship. The goal, obviously, is restoration upon repentance. V. 15 makes this clear. 

In what sense do you see this man as "no longer" a brother? 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

A brother?

Short answer: He is no longer to be considered a brother in that he has persisted in sin after repeated admonition, and he is being formally removed from the membership of the Thessalonian congregation. As one indication of this, compare "do not keep company with" (mh sunanamignumi) in 1 Cor 5:9, 11, with precisely the same expression in 2 Thess 3:14.

Longer answer: Membership in a local church is predicated upon a credible profession of salvation. When a person's profession of salvation becomes in-credible, non-credible, because of persistent, unrepentant sin, a church should enact church discipline. Church discipline is a way of saying that one's testimony of salvation is under question because of evident sin in his or her life that is not being dealt with. I see the final step of church discipline, where a person is to be expelled from church membership and treated as a pagan and a tax collector (Matt 18:17), to be the church formally saying that since a person's testimony of salvation is no longer credible, they must remove him (regretfully, lovingly, not harshly) from the body of those who claim Christ's name. This is for both the purity of the church and the good of the person expelled. Once removed from the church, there is no basis for the church to call him a brother.

This mentality is reflected in 1 Cor 5:11 where Paul calls someone who persists in unrepentant sin "one who is called a brother" (adelfos onomazomenos). I  think the NAS catches the idiom here with its translation "a so-called brother".  The idea seems to be that although he professes to be a brother, his unrepentant sin belies his confession.

________

And actually, I would contend that there is evidence in the passage that the disorderly should not be "considered" (by the church) to be a Christian. (1) They are running afoul of Paul's clear teaching after repeated admonition. When a professing believer persistently lives a life contrary to Scripture, especially in the face of repeated admonition, I'd say there is actually a fairly strong reason to call into question that person's Christian testimony. That's the point of church discipline. (2) They are being disciplined by the church, and barring their repentance, Paul is commanding their removal from the church, which reflects a stance of the church toward them as a non-believer. Again, this doesn't mean they are not believers in actuality (and if they are, they will repent), but that the church is to treat them as unbelievers.

Overdrawn

I see from your blog you have been studying this passage for your post-graduate work.

Briefly, I would say that you're overdrawing the text. Certainly, some people are put out of a local church who never really professed Christ at all, despite outward conformity. However, some Christians genuinely do backslide and church discipline is a measure designed to correct this disobedience.

I see the final step of church discipline, where a person is to be expelled from church membership and treated as a pagan and a tax collector (Matt 18:17), to be the church formally saying that since a person's testimony of salvation is no longer credible, they must remove him (regretfully, lovingly, not harshly) from the body of those who claim Christ's name. 

It is surely too much to broad-brush suggest that somebody who does not respond to the first two steps in church discipline is not really a Christian. It may be true in some cases, but certainly not true as a rule. This blog is not the place to get into a detailed discussion, but these are my initial thoughts. I'll hop over to your blog to read more.

Again, this doesn't mean they are not believers in actuality (and if they are, they will repent), but that the church is to treat them as unbelievers.

It seems as though you are suggesting they may be real Christians, but just shouldn't be treated as such while under discipline. I read one commentator state that church discipline is akin to shunning, and is supposed to be disgraceful. I understand where you're coming from in this regard. That does not make them not a "brother," however.

Back to the article, you do agree that Scripture teaches separation from brethren, correct?

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Overdrawn?

Tyler,

Thanks for the interaction. I'm not sure precisely what you mean by "overdrawing" the text, though. Reading more than is really in there?

As to church discipline, you said, "It is surely too much to broad-brush suggest that somebody who does not respond to the first two steps in church discipline is not really a Christian." In response, (1) I would actually see three steps in Matt 18 before expulsion: private confrontation (18:15), confrontation with witnesses (18:16), confrontation by "the church" (18:17). (2) What do you think Jesus meant when he said that if a recalcitrant offender refused to "listen to the church" (Matt 18:17), he was to be to the church as a pagan and a tax collector? (3) I find 1 Corinthians 5 to be particularly instructive when it comes to understanding how Paul viewed someone who is expelled from the church in church discipline. You might find it interesting to look at 1 Cor 5:9, 10, 11; 6:9-10. Notice how Paul takes the category into which he clearly places the offender of 1 Cor 5 (fornicator) and uses that as the core category around which he builds a growing list (5:10, add three more categories; 5:11, add another two categories; 6:9-10, add another four categories) which culminates in 6:9-10 by noting that people in these categories would not inherit the kingdom of God. That is, there is a strong link between those who to be expelled by church discipline, and those who will not inherit the kingdom of God--which is functionally equivalent to "unbelievers."

On the one hand, there is the consideration of what the offender is in actuality. Is he/she actually a believer in Christ? Then he/she remains one after church discipline, and will come to repentance should the Lord spare their life. That last bit is a theological point, but 1 John seems to bear that out with John's discussion of the believer and sin.

On the other hand, there is also the consideration of what the offender is considered to be by the church. I'm arguing that after the due process of church discipline, the church is to consider the offender to be and to treat the offender as (not precisely as (compare 1 Cor 5:11 with 1 Cor 10:27), but generally as) an unbeliever. This follows from their lack of repentance after due process, and comports with Jesus's language about pagans and tax collectors.

As to whether church discipline changes the status of the offender from "brother" to "not a brother": in connection with the two considerations I've just set forth, I would say that church discipline does not change the actual state of the offender from brother to non-brother (Christian to non-Christian). If the offender is truly a believer, he continues to be one after church discipline. But church discipline does, in my opinion, change how the church considers the offender, so that while the offender remains unrepentant, it does not consider him a brother, does not consider him a believer, although it holds out hope that the offender may yet repent and thus provide indication that he is indeed a brother, is indeed a believer.

______

Do I believe that Scripture teaches separation from brethren? Yes, but I think we pull that teaching too directly from 2 Thess 3:6-15.

When in conversations about ecclesiastical separation we speak of "separation from brethren," we generally mean that we disagree with some aspect of their doctrine or practice strongly enough that we refuse to cooperate with them, either at some level or at all levels. However, we still consider them to be Christian brothers. The whole idea of "separation from brethren" is drawn very directly from 2 Thess 3:6-15. That passage (3:14-15 especially) is usually read to say that there is to be some level of separation from these disorderly brethren, but that at the same time, we are to continue to acknowledge them as brethren (3:15).

But I disagree with that interpretation of the passage. I see the situation of 2 Thess 3:6-15 as equivalent to other examples of Pauline disciplinary practice (e.g., 1 Cor 5), where the recalcitrant offender is to be expelled from the church and considered to be an unbeliever. If you'd like, I'd be glad to go into detail as to why I disagree with the typical interpretation, and why I think 2 Thess 3 is better understood as a "typical" church discipline passage.

So on the one hand (in my understanding) at the end of the day in 2 Thess 3, those "separated from" at a local church level (via church discipline) are to be considered unbelievers. But on the other hand, "separation from brethren," as typically conceived, ends with those from whom one is separating being considered believers, albeit disobedient ones. 

 

Ah . . .

On the other hand, there is also the consideration of what the offender is considered to be by the church. I'm arguing that after the due process of church discipline, the church is to consider the offender to be and to treat the offender as (not precisely as (compare 1 Cor 5:11 with 1 Cor 10:27), but generally as) an unbeliever. This follows from their lack of repentance after due process, and comports with Jesus's language about pagans and tax collectors.

Got it. However, you also make this point:

So on the one hand (in my understanding) at the end of the day in 2 Thess 3, those "separated from" at a local church level (via church discipline) are to be considered unbelievers. But on the other hand, "separation from brethren," as typically conceived, ends with those from whom one is separating being considered believers, albeit disobedient ones

I understand the theological distinction you're making, but how do you implement this distinction in practical ministry, especially in this era of mass communication? This is an honest question, not a snarky attempt to trap you! I honestly think we're splitting theological hairs here. 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Chuck

Returning to the article, I would say that we would both agree that the matter of separation from brethren is a very serious matter. Far too many fundamentalists trivialize it, and my hope in these articles is to bring us back to a Biblical notion of separation. Your interpretation of 2 Thess 3 only emphasizes this vital necessity. Appreciate it! 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

2 Thes 3:6-15

I reread this passage since you all were talking about it. I haven't studied this passage out in any way, I am only giving my impression based off of reading it in the 1984 NIV. It seems to me 2 Thes 3 is about brothers avoiding and admonishing other brothers who were taking advantage of them financially. It has nothing to do with sin in general. That is why it is difficult to connect to Matthew 18. In this case Paul is telling the Thessalonians to not rely on the Christian charity of believers for their day to day living, but to work. And telling believers to not feel like they are not being loving if they refuse to feed a "lazy" brother. I see it as simple as that. vss 14-15 are a warning that if the "lazy" brothers don't correct themselves with this admonishment mark them and avoid them not as enemies but warn them as brothers.

 

Edit Addition: This isn't about separation, secondary or primary, at all in the sense we mean it. This is more about practical matters of daily living.

Nice!

Chuck,

Great work on the 2 Thess. passage!  Hope you are doing well.

Brian

Brian McCrorie Indianapolis, IN www.bowingdown.com

try another version

Mark_Smith wrote:

I am only giving my impression based off of reading it in the 1984 NIV. It seems to me 2 Thes 3 is about brothers avoiding and admonishing other brothers who were taking advantage of them financially.

I think a more literal rendering might help. This passage is one of several shaping the doctrine of separation.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Is 2 Thess 3:6-15 a church discipline passage?

Hi, Mark,

A cursory reading of 2 Thess 3:6-15 might very well give the impression that Paul is dealing with a relatively minor matter, and that is one reason that many people have not seen a full-fledged "church discipline" scenario in this case. So you are not alone in the impression you are getting as you read the passage.

In response, I'd offer several points for your consideration.

First, consider the seriousness of Paul's tone. He is not mincing words as he opens this section with "Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." The verb of command and the appeal to divine authority show that he means business here.

Second, consider the seriousness of the infraction. Most translations, such as the NIV, render a key word group in this passage in terms of "idleness" (3:6, 7, 11). That is not accurate. The ataktos word group should be translated in terms of "disorderliness" (as, e.g., the KJV does). (See http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/2-thessalonians-3-idle-or-di...) What is the "order" in view that the "disorderly" were not following? The "tradition they received from us" (3:6) -- the apostolic teaching, the handed-down body of instruction about Christian believe and behavior. (See http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/what-is-the-apostolic-tradit...). Specifically, they were not working when they should have been, in direct opposition to what Paul had taught them by word and example (2 Thess 3:7-11). As you note, it seems they were taking advantage of the patronage of others in the church (reflected, I'd say, in the language of 3:8, 12) when they should have been working for their own living. In addition, they were being "meddlers" ("busybodies") (3:11), which sounds fairly innocuous, but was very often condemned in strong terms in the standard moral instruction of the day.

Third, consider that they had been called out regarding this problem before in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. The problem had not been handled, and Paul is addressing it more strongly in 2 Thessalonians.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, consider the language Paul uses to indicate how the Thessalonians should respond to the disorderly should they not cease their disorderly living. They are to "keep away" from them (3:6) and take special note of them in order that they may not associate with them (3:14). The expression "do not associate" in 3:14 is precisely the same as the action commanded toward the sexually immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11, and those are the only times that expression is used in the NT.

All in all, it seems best to understand 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 as a church discipline situation on par with other Pauline church discipline situations.

Compare translations

Here's a list of the way 2 Thessalonians 3:6 is translated in a bunch of different translations.  There's quite a bit of variance in how it's translated:

American Standard Version
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us.

Bible in Basic English
Now we give you orders, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from all those whose behaviour is not well ordered and in harmony with the teaching which they had from us.

Common English Bible
Brothers and sisters, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us.

Complete Jewish Bible
Now, in the name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah we command you, brothers, to stay away from any brother who is leading a life of idleness, a life not in keeping with the tradition you received from us.

Douay-Rheims
And we charge you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition which they have received of us.

English Standard Version

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

GOD'S WORD Translation

Brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we order you not to associate with any believer who doesn't live a disciplined life and doesn't follow the tradition you received from us.

Good News Translation
Our friends, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep away from all believers who are living a lazy life and who do not follow the instructions that we gave them.

Hebrew Names Version

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks in rebellion, and not after the tradition which they received from us.

Holman Christian Standard

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother who walks irresponsibly and not according to the tradition received from us.

King James Version

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

Lexham English Bible

But we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, [that] you keep away from every brother who lives irresponsibly and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

New American Standard

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.

New Century Version

Brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ we command you to stay away from any believer who refuses to work and does not follow the teaching we gave you.

New International Version
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

New International Reader's Version

Brothers and sisters, here is a command we give you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keep away from every believer who doesn't want to work. Keep away from anyone who doesn't live up to the teaching you received from us.

New King James Version

But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.

New Living Translation

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from any Christian who lives in idleness and doesn't follow the tradition of hard work we gave you.

New Revised Standard

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

Revised Standard Version
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

The Darby Translation
Now we enjoin you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the instruction which he received from us.

The Message

Our orders - backed up by the Master, Jesus - are to refuse to have anything to do with those among you who are lazy and refuse to work the way we taught you. Don't permit them to freeload on the rest.

The Webster Bible

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received from us.

Third Millennium Bible

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother who walketh disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.

Today's New International Version

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

Tyndale
We requyre you brethren in the name of oure lorde Iesu Christ yt ye with drawe youre selves from every brother that walketh inordinatly and not after the institucio which ye receaved of vs.

Weymouth New Testament

But, by the authority of the Lord, we command you, brethren, to stand aloof from every brother whose life is disorderly and not in accordance with the teaching which all received from us.

World English Bible
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks in rebellion, and not after the tradition which they received from us.

Wycliffe
But, brethren, we command to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw you from each brother that wandereth out of order, and not after the teaching, that they received of us.

Young's Literal Translation
And we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw yourselves from every brother disorderly walking, and not after the deliverance that ye received from us.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Chuck

Ignore that weird phrase. It got in there by mistake!

I agree that this is a church discipline situation.

I say they are still brothers. You say they are brothers too, but are to be treated as functional unbelievers. We both agree church discipline does not make a Christian not a brother in reality.

What is the practical difference between our positions? Are we splitting theological hairs here, or is there a real difference? Think we're on the same page.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Tyler, it makes a very big

Tyler, it makes a very big difference on how you treat that disciplined person. Jesus says to treat him as a pagan and tax collector.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Different translations of 2 Thess 3:6

Jay, 
 

Yes, there is a good bit of variance. A rather literal rendering of the Greek would reading something like this: "Now we command you, brothers, in the name of the/our [textual variant here] Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from (avoid, keep away from) every brother who is living ataktos and not according to the tradition which they/you received [another variant] from us."

A key point of contention is the word ataktos, which used to be consistently translated something like "in a disorderly manner" (so, e.g., KJV). Papyri discoveries around the turn of the twentieth century provided some examples of the word in the context of idleness, which caused some scholars to assume that was a specialized meaning of the word, and so the nuance of "idleness" found its way into translations beginning around 1908. The scholarly consensus has shifted decisively since then back to the originally understood (and more general) idea of "disorderliness" but for some reason that consensus is not reflected in (at least most) modern translations of Scripture. Gordon Fee, for example, confesses in his recent Thessalonians commentary that he is unable to grasp why translations continue to use words related to idleness, in that such translations do "not in fact have a lexical leg to stand on," being supported in this regard by "a total lack of evidence" (First and Second Thessalonians, 209).

So, this shift in the understanding of a key term in the passage accounts for some of the variance you see in the translations.

Welcome to SI!

Chuck,

Welcome to SI! Hey - fantastic work on secondary separation, 2 Thes 3, et al. I'm sorry our paths haven't crossed. I don't know how I didn't know you in connection to Central. God bless as you plow forward in life and ministry.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Handout from our PTT conference

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 is found in the second section where Paul addresses the problem of willful unemployment with certain members of the congregation. Paul begins by laying down the principle that the congregation is to withdraw from any member who continues to live in conflict with apostolic instruction (3:6). Following this, Paul supports and applies the principle to the specific problem within the Thessalonian church. Certain members were refusing to work and were relying on the financial support of others in the congregation. Addressing the problem directly, Paul uses his own example of industry (3:7–9) and his previous instruction while with them (3:10–11) as authoritative guidelines to be followed. Next, Paul commands the disobedient to find gainful employment so that they can provide for their own needs (3:12). He then exhorts the congregation not to grow weary of supporting those who are truly in need (3:13). Paul concludes with a final exhortation, restating the principle from 3:6 that the congregation is to follow in disciplining the disobedient. The members are to mark those who continue to disobey Paul‘s directives, both his directives in the letter as a whole and in this section specifically, and not to associate with them (3:14). Paul ends with a caution that, in complying with this directive, the congregation is not to treat the disobedient as an enemy, but as a brother (3:15). Paul clearly views the disobedient in this passage as a fellow believer. He uses the term brother to describe the disobedient in 3:6.  The expression is commonly used in similar contexts as a metaphor of one who is a member of God‘s spiritual family, hence a believer. He also places the disobedient in 3:11 among the members of the Thessalonian congregation and, thus, as one who has made a profession of faith. And, he concludes the section in 3:15 by cautioning the congregation that they are to treat the disobedient member as a brother and not as an enemy when disciplining him.

The evidence for the disobedient being treated as an unbeliever in the present passage, however, is not as clear cut as Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. Although the willfully unemployed were persisting in disobedience, the sin itself does not seem to be of the same stripe as the sin in 1 Corinthians 5. Disobedience is still disobedience, but willful unemployment and freeloading do not seem to measure up to the level of transgression that gross sexual immorality does. The two sins do not seem to be on the same scale. Some, sensing the tension and seeing the two passages as addressing those who were to be treated as unbelievers, attempt to heighten the sin in view by associating it with the sin Paul harshly condemns in 1 Timothy 5:8. There, Paul declares that those in the church who fail to care for the needy among their own family are, in effect, denying the faith. He adds that such failure to care for one‘s own family makes the guilty worse than an unbeliever. Thus, by linking willful unemployment with failure to care for one‘s family, this approach heightens the sin in 2 Thessalonians 3 and argues for treating the disobedient as an unbeliever, rather than a true brother. The problem with heightening the sin in 1 Thessalonians 3 in this way is that such heightening must be read into the text. The text says nothing about the willfully unemployed not taking care of the members of their own families. Paul does describe other sins the willfully unemployed are involved with in 3:11 (leading an undisciplined life, doing no work, acting like busybodies), but failure to care for family is not mentioned among these. Since such failure involves a heinous sin, it is strange that Paul does not mention this, were the disobedient in 1 Thessalonians 3 guilty of this sin as well. Furthermore, Paul says nothing in 1 Timothy 5:8 about those who fail to care for their families as shirking their responsibility because they are willfully unemployed. In fact, the context points in the opposite direction. Those who fail to care for family are condemned precisely because it is assumed they had the means to do so. Theirs is not a lack of means, as though unemployed, but the failure to use the means they have to care for their own. In short, the two passages offer no common denominators that suggest the sin in the one is related to the sin in the other. Returning to the question, then, what is the spiritual status of the disobedient in this passage? Is the church to view the disobedient as a believer or as an unbeliever? The evidence thus far points in the direction that the church is to view the disobedient as a fellow believer. The fact that Paul specifically directs the church to treat him as a brother supports that conclusion.

The question that needs to be answered from this passage is whether the discipline Paul calls for is excommunication or something short of that. If it be excommunication, that argues for treating the disobedient as an unbeliever. As in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, he may be called a brother, but if the church is being directed to remove him from membership, it would be because his actions are viewed as those of an unbeliever and not those of a true believer. The chief argument in support excommunication is that Paul gives the church the same directive for disciplining the disobedient in 3:14 as he does the disobedient in 1 Corinthians 5:11. After directing the readers in 3:14 to publicly identify the disobedient, Paul then commands, ―do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.‖ The expression ―do not associate with‖ is identical to the command Paul gives to the Corinthian believers in 5:11. As noted above, the evidence from 1 Corinthians 5 is that the discipline there involves excommunication. Since the expression ―not to associate with‖ in 1 Corinthians 5:11 is used in a passage calling for excommunication, the expression itself must have a meaning consistent with that context. The Corinthian believers are not to associate with the incestuous man by removing him from membership and limiting their contacts to efforts to bring him to repentance. That being true, the identical expression in 3:14 can have the same force.

In a similar way, Paul is calling on the Thessalonians not to associate with the disobedient by removing him from membership and limiting their contacts to efforts to bring him to repentance. These similarities notwithstanding, there are difficulties with this reading of the text. The general consensus is that Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 call for the excommunication of the disobedient. Therefore, whatever is said of the disobedient in Matthew 18 can also be said of the disobedient in 1 Corinthians 5 and vice versa. In both passages, the unrepentant are to be viewed as unbelievers and removed from membership. And, in both passages, the discipline of the unrepentant is understood as the final step in church discipline. The overriding problem in placing 2 Thessalonians 3 in the same category is the command, "treat him as a brother" which Paul‘s gives to the congregation in 3:15. In Matthew 18:17, the Lord directed his disciples to regard the unrepentant as a Gentile and tax collector. To regard the unrepentant as a Gentile meant that he was to be viewed as an unbeliever and, specifically, he was to be viewed as an unbeliever at the point of excommunication. In other words, the Lord‘s directive represents the final step in church discipline, and it is at this last step that the unrepentant is to be viewed as an unbeliever. The tension comes in that Paul specifically cautions the Thessalonians in 3:15 that they are to treat the disobedient as a brother. Again, as discussed earlier, to treat the disobedient as a brother meant that they were to view him as a believer, as a brother in Christ. The problem in equating the discipline in Matthew 18 (and, thus, in 1 Corinthians 5) with the discipline in 2 Thessalonians 3 is that the respective designations of the disobedient are not synonymous. The semantic domains of Gentile and brother simply do not overlap. In fact, in these contexts, the two expressions are antithetical.

So, what is the nature and purpose of the discipline in 2 Thessalonians 3? When taken together, the evidence argues for taking the discipline in this context as pointing to a level of separation short of excommunication. In effect, the disobedient is given notice that his conduct is inviolation of apostolic standards and told he must repent. To drive home the seriousness of the breach caused by sin, the members are to withdraw normal fellowship, to include withholding of the Lord‘s Supper. And, they are to give notice that, if he does not repent and find gainful employment within a reasonable time as determined by the church, he will be viewed as an unbeliever and, thus, excommunicated from membership.

With the disobedient in 1 Corinthians 5, that point comes when the incestuous man fails to repent after the first confrontation. With the disobedient in 1 Thessalonians 3, that point comes if the willfully unemployed fails to find work in the time determined by the church.  The information from the key texts can now be applied to the questions raised at the outset about the subjects and nature of church discipline in order to arrive at a biblical paradigm. The initial question concerned the spiritual status of the disobedient. When exercising church discipline, is the church to view the disobedient as a believer or as an unbeliever? Two of the key texts, Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, identify the disobedient as an unbeliever. This is directly stated in Matthew 18 when the Lord says that the church is to view the disobedient as a Gentile, a metaphor for an unbeliever. It is clearly implied in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul directs the church to place the disobedient outside the membership of the congregation, that is, to treat him as an outsider or unbeliever. The third key text, however, identifies the disobedient as a believer. In calling for the church to exercise church discipline, Paul warns the congregation in 2 Thessalonians 3 not to treat the disobedient as an enemy, but to admonish him as a brother, that is, as a brother in Christ, as a fellow believer. This means that, when the circumstances call for the church to discipline its members, it is to discipline both those who are viewed as unbelievers as well as those who are viewed as believers. Thus, fellow believers can be and must be the objects of church discipline, when the circumstances warrant.

The second question raised concerned the nature of church discipline. Must church discipline involve excommunication or does the New Testament allow for a level that stops short of that? Again, two of the key texts call for excommunication. This is clearly implied in Matthew 18 when the Lord says that the disobedient is to be viewed as a Gentile and tax collector. As discussed above, the combination describes metaphorically those regarded as unbelievers to be placed outside of the membership of the church. In the 1 Corinthians 5 passage, Paul specifically commands the Corinthian congregation to remove the disobedient member from among them, that is, to excommunicate him. In contrast, the third key text calls for discipline that falls short of excommunication. The disobedient in 2 Thessalonians 3 is viewed specifically as a brother or fellow believer, to be disciplined within the church, not as an unbeliever, to be removed from the church. Paul says the readers are to withdraw from him and not to associate with him. In short, the members are to withhold normal fellowship from him in an effort to bring him to repentance. But this level of separation does not entail excommunication in that the disobedient is still considered a brother in Christ. Thus, depending on how the church views the disobedient, church discipline can involve excommunication, but it can also involve a level of separation short of excommunication.

Pastor Mike Harding

Interesting

Chuck Bumgardner wrote:

A key point of contention is the word ataktos, which used to be consistently translated something like "in a disorderly manner" (so, e.g., KJV). Papyri discoveries around the turn of the twentieth century provided some examples of the word in the context of idleness, which caused some scholars to assume that was a specialized meaning of the word, and so the nuance of "idleness" found its way into translations beginning around 1908. The scholarly consensus has shifted decisively since then back to the originally understood (and more general) idea of "disorderliness" but for some reason that consensus is not reflected in (at least most) modern translations of Scripture. Gordon Fee, for example, confesses in his recent Thessalonians commentary that he is unable to grasp why translations continue to use words related to idleness, in that such translations do "not in fact have a lexical leg to stand on," being supported in this regard by "a total lack of evidence" (First and Second Thessalonians, 209).

So, this shift in the understanding of a key term in the passage accounts for some of the variance you see in the translations.

Fee's commentary is priceless on that passage :). 

I always thought that the 'idleness' translation was a little odd for the passage, but hadn't thought hard about it until this morning.  I was going to look it up in BDAG when I got home, but now it seems like you've spared me the trouble! 

I've heard an argument that 'walketh disorderly' (ASV, KJV, Darby, etc) was actually more closely aligned with what Paul was referring to - something about an allusion to the church as an army, but don't remember now for sure.  I can't say that I care a lot for the ESV translation (the ESV's my Bible translation of choice), but I'm not overly impressed with HCSB rendition either.

In any case, thanks for sharing.  Appreciate it.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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