Separation: Can We Have a Better Debate?

The biblical doctrine of separation is difficult to discuss. I’ve read, listened to, and participated in quite a few exchanges over the years. More often than not, no movement toward consensus, or even increase in clarity, seemed to result. It’s not unusual for a discussion on the topic to end with—apparently—less mutual understanding than existed at the start, despite the fact that everybody involved seems to genuinely desire to know, live, and teach what the Scriptures require of us. (By the way, long before Internet, this sort of back and forth was going on in magazines, newsletters and pamphlets. It just moved slower in those days.)

So why is the topic so messy?

I don’t fully understand why clarity about separation is so elusive. I do continue to believe, though, that there is ultimately no reason why the various perspectives on the subject can’t be clearly distinguished from one another in accurate and mutually-accepted terms. In other words, though we’re unlikely to ever see complete agreement between conservative evangelicals, 20th century-style movement-fundamentalists, and all the miscellaneous-other among us, it really is possible to reach a point where the differences among us are clear, well understood, and debated mostly on-point—to the benefit of all who seek to know and obey the truth.

Why bother

Not only is a better debate about separation possible; it’s worth the effort to pursue. For one thing, the doctrine and practice of separation has been a prominent feature (some would say the distinguishing feature) of fundamentalist identity in the 20th and early 21st centuries. But the doctrine has importance beyond questions of movements and identities. We’re talking about the purity of the church and the unity (and disunity) of believers. To say the topic is non-trivial is an understatement. After all,

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  (ESV, Eph. 4:4-6)

In addition to these reasons to strive for a more fruitful dialog about separation, there appears (from where I sit) to be a major shift in perspective and practice of separation going on. For a couple of generations now, fundamentalists have been rising to leadership who are seriously questioning—or mostly, I think, completely ignoring—the separation concepts they grew up with. Those of the 20th-century movement persuasion (if not other groups as well) ought to be pretty concerned about how to halt that shift.

That may be impossible in any case, but if there is a way to do it, some kind of fresh articulation will be a necessary component. Where there is little interest in dialog, there should at least be interest in increased clarity, consistency, and winsomeness.

Toward doing better

As with any messy, emotionally charged controversy, we can move toward the sort of debate that actually helps truth-seekers grow in understanding if we take some steps to consciously lift the debate to that level. Among the many ways to do that, three (not rigidly-sequential) steps stand out.

1. Identify the points of agreement

The classical rhetors have a few things to teach us moderns (and post-moderns) about debate. Aristotle talked about stasis, using a series of questions to bring your own stand (stasis is basically Greek for “stand”) or position. The idea was that an effective rhetor (we call them communicators now) would need to know with precision what it is he hopes to persuade others to believe and do. Part of that process involved understanding what his opponents’ stand was and taking the points of agreement off the table. Why waste your time defending what is already agreed? People will only read or listen to you for so long. Make it count. Focus on the real points of disagreement by first identifying the points of agreement, acknowleding them, then dismissing them.

For Christians this step has a whole additional layer (or perhaps root) of meaning and importance. We’re debating with fellow bond-slaves of Jesus Christ, fellow pardoned sinners in the process of redemption. And we’re command to seek peace and mutual benefit (Rom. 14:19, 1 Pet. 3:11).

When it comes to the separation debate, incalculable energy and time has been wasted vehemently insisting on what almost nobody denies. For example, virtually nobody holds that there should never be any limits on fellowship and cooperation under any circumstances with anyone who claims to be a Christian. In other words, everybody believes in some kind of separation from disobedient brothers. Most of the debate has to do with the grounds of separation, the nature of the separation act itself, the process to follow, the ultimate end of the process.

2. Identify the problems hindering debate.

The quantity of ways to derail a debate seems infinite sometimes. Some of the most common in the separation debate are these:

  • Lack of clear definitions of terms (e.g., personal separation, ecclesiastical separation, secondary separation, second-degree separation), resulting in frequent equivocation, or just confusion. (By the way, to have a fruitful debate it is not necessary to agree on what definitions are “correct” or “incorrect,” only on how each party involved uses the terms, what they intend by them. The goal is to understand what each believes to be right and true.)
  • Overuse of accusation, resulting in defensiveness and counter-accusation. (For example, whatever accusations might establish about who is or is not guilty of “compromise,” etc., nothing in that activity increases understanding of what Scripture itself teaches. It’s application. Important, but secondary to clarity about what needs to be applied.)
  • The already-mentioned defense of points that are not really in dispute (and it’s ugly step-son, the straw-man fallacy).
  • Lack of clear application scenarios.
    This is really also a problem of definition. Much of the discourse in defense of separation is so vague, believers have little idea what obedience to the doctrine ought to look like in their local church, in their involvement in parachurch organizations, in their personal lives. 

I’ve often felt that if you took two brothers who are differing hotly about separation and tossed a couple of scenarios at them privately and asked “How would we obey Scripture in these situations?” they’d arrive at exactly the same conclusions. One might call it “ecclesiastical separation,” or “secondary” or something; one might call it “discipline” or something else, but they’d actually agree that it’s what Scripture calls us to do.

By the same token, I’ve been involved in more than one highly frustrating exchange in which the more I pressed for clarity and concreteness, the more my interlocutor altered his definitions or retreated into generalities. (I’m never sure what to make of that. Do they actually not want to be understood? Do they not understand their own position?)

3. Identify the problems central to the debate.

After working at steps one and two a bit, step three starts to accomplish itself by process of elimination. Still, conscious energy aimed in this direction can greatly further the other steps as well.

When it comes to the biblical doctrine of separation, my experience—which has included a pretty good sampling, I think—suggests that among conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, post-fundamentalists and everybody else who cares all about being obedient in this area, the central problems are mainly these:

  • What kinds of beliefs and practices are grounds for separation from other apparently-genuine believers and ministries?
  • How do we even go about deciding what kinds of beliefs and practices are grounds for separation?
  • What forms should this “separation” take?
  • What process should we follow in various situations?
  • More specifically, what sort of interaction with those being separated from does the NT require; who should do the interacting; what should be the attitude of those doing the interacting; how much should be public; and how do various responses along the way affect the process?
  • Again, how do we even go about deriving the answers to these questions?

I, for one, would love to see a series of public interactions (preferably live and in person) among sober-minded, clear-thinking, even-tempered, gracious, and humble leaders who differ on matters of separation—with the goal not of reaching consensus, but of achieving mutual clarity about what is in dispute and what reasons each has for his own stand on the subject.

Maybe we can do more than “agree to disagree.” Maybe we can agree that we are disagreeing accurately and fairly.

Aaron Blumer Bio


Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Chuck Bumgardner compiled quite a collection of documents on the topic a few years ago. Some of the links seem to be nonfunctional now, but the page is still quite a resource.

http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/resources-on-ecclesiastical-separation/

One of the most recent institutional statements on separation.

http://www.bju.edu/academics/college-and-schools/seminary/preachers-corn...

SharperIron posts on the topic

http://sharperiron.org/tags/church-ministry/separation

Jim's picture

Related Biblical words

  • "Fellowship" as in 1 John 1:3, "that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship (κοινωνία) with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Chris"
  • Also "partner", "fellowworker", "fellowhelper", "partakers", et cetera

And related non-Biblical terms:

  • "to support"
  • "association"
  • "cooperation"

Brief observations:

  • Seems to me that much separation is kind of "club like" (like "you're not in my club") that has boundaries set by where one matriculated or denominational sub-group boundaries (like GARBC)
  • ​Or around version debate or music debate
  • Or around non-essentials (like our youth group has a 'long shorts rule' at all our activities and if we are at camp with your kids you must also follow this standard) 
paynen's picture

I think the primary misunderstanding between beliefs on separation is the perceived importance of two fundamental aspects of Conservative Christianity.

These two aspects are our devotion to the holiness of God and our mission to evangelize the nations. Those on the fundamentalist side of the debate would tend to claim that evangelicals have a weak view of what it means to be holy and evangelicals would claim that fundamentalists own personal rules and requirements get in the way of our mission of evangelism. 

I think true balance will be a discovery of the purpose of those two aspects, along with an understanding of what separation actually is.

The fear of God, I believe is something lost on most of my generation. We forget, I think, that our God is immutable. He doesn't change. Even in this dispensation of Grace to where we are free from the law, God is still the God of the Old Testament as well as the New. This means that, in general, what pleased God in the Old Testament still pleases him today. Now, this may look different today as we are free from the law, and we are in the church age. But most, if not all of the principles of the Psalms and Proverbs as well as the Principles found in the narrative and prophesy of the prophets major and minor should still be important to us today. Through the books of the Old Testament we can find countless examples of the fact that being one of God's people meant being different from the rest of the world. It was a call to holiness and a demand that one should separate from the world around him. In the New Testament we see a slight difference only in the fact that we are not given a specific yes no set of rules and regulations. We are guided by the example of the apostles and the way in which they followed the principles of the Old Testament. Acts 9:31 states that the congregations where being edified and walking in the fear of the LORD. and then we have in chapter 10 Peter's vision to allow that Gentiles should be ministered to and brought into the church. We also see that in the future we will have the return of a law in which Christ will rule with an iron fist.

In my opinion it is clear to see that God desires for us to be holy and to be different and separate from the world around us. In my opinion the fear of the Lord, holiness, and separation mean striving to set oneself apart unto God away from the popular sinful culture of the world. Evangelizing the nations is our primary mission, but holiness and the fear of God should be our essence. Everything we do must in first be reverent to the Holy One, because it is he in which we are betrothed. 

What does this look like in the doctrine of separation?

In personal separation I think this should look like a disgust and distaste for the loves (pop culture) of the world around us, that results from a deep seeded love for God and our betrothed Savior. This also must be balanced with a love for God's people made in his image, and lost in the heart of idolatry (pop culture). The difficult question is how does one balance the fact that in order to reach people there must be some at least minor interaction with culture. In my opinion this will look different for many individuals but the key thing is to go into it with a fear of the LORD and a love for one's betrothed and purity first and foremost. 

In ecclesiastical separation this is a separation from any other organization that is Liberal or Legalistic by definition this means that one must separate from any organization that denies the fundamentals of the faith. Liberals deny some combination of Inspiration of Scripture, Deity of Christ/Virgin Birth, etc. and Legalists deny that salvation is by Faith alone through Grace alone and instead place some form of works required for salvation. (legalism has nothing to do with organizational rules)
Secondary separation is separating from any organization that do hold to the fundamentals, but don't separate from those who don't believe in the fundamentals.

Ecclesiastical separation does not prevent one from interacting or being friends with a liberal, a legalist, or an atheist, etc. We are to show love to these people, be friendly and make an attempt to bring them to Christ. One must still be careful that their closest and most influential relationships are ones with believers primarily I believe in their church or association.

There is a third category of separation that is not really doctrinally separation. This "division" is not based on separational issues but is based on a difference in purpose, direction, and emphasis. Every individual, organization, or institution has the right to fulfill its purpose called by God using the resources it best deems necessary to do so. A recent big example of this is the division between Faith Baptist Bible College and one of its former approved and supporting churches now Saylorville Church. Faith chose to remove Savlorville from its approved churches not because of any separational issue, but because Saylorville's style and direction in which God has called them no longer worked with direction that Faith was going and it no longer fit with Faith's mission of the students it wished to produce. IF this was a separational issue there would of been a separation from the GARB and a much tighter door closed on the relationship between the two organizations, there is no refusal of having ties with the organization, And there is (at least with a majority of those involved with the two organizations) a feeling of a mutual we wish you the best with your work for God and pray for your success. The problems where mainly stirred up with students current and former and a small portion of the congregation that blew the issue out of proportion all together. This division was biblical, but it was not separation.

That is what I believe is biblical separation, as is taught by Faith Baptist Bible College & Theological Seminary and led by Doctors George and Myron Houghton, but stated in my own words.

 

Jim's picture

Another word = "worldliness" as in: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." ( 1 John 2:15). 

Anecdote: Young seminarian preparing to teach ABF. He will be in this passage. I ask him the week before to define to me. He explains (among other things) - it's having the latest technology. Observation ... when one has a dumb phone (as I did at the time) and young adults are agog over the upcoming new IPhone, it is easy to nod head in agreement. But whenever someone buys technology is basically the latest and greatest. 

 

 

Ed Vasicek's picture

We human beings have to make judgments, and we do not always render the same verdict in identical situations.

For example, X-ray technicians will read the same X-ray and,if given the same X-ray just a few minutes later, will choose another verdict 20% of the time.

If you are in court for sentencing and your case is first or right after lunch -- when the judge has a good amount of sugar in his blood -- he will sentence you more lightly.  If you appear at 3PM, for example -- with the same case -- you will get a harsher sentence.  [Source: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman].

This issue really affects our PRACTICE of separation.  I know I see plenty of inconsistency in my past (in retrospect), erring perhaps on the more stringent side.

So, Aaron, part of the equation is that we argue and debate about these things, but, in practice, what we do may vary quite a bit.

As a result, I have known pastors in separatist denominations or fellowships (IFCA, GARB, Grace Brethren) who, in practice (especially in small towns) -- in certain situations (e.g., community VBS, ministerium) are less separatist where the rubber meets the road than pastors in denominations (EFCA, CMA, BGC) that do not emphasize separation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Hope to write a followup eventually focusing on "ecclesiastical separation" (ES) and what it means to it's various and sundry defenders. I'd be among its defenders though I'm not fond of the term. What I've observed is that, back in the 80's especially, one particular idea of ES (both prinicples and application) seemed dominant to the point that anyone who saw it differently tended to be portrayed as "not believing in eccles. separation," when in reality, they had differences about how to implement it. The difference between agreement in principle vs. agreement on implementation/application is one that has been too often overlooked.

I've also seen considerable variety in definition of ES in more recent years.

Need to do some research, unbox some of my books.

Joel Tetreau's picture

So one quick observation of the topic at hand. My guess is, one of the reasons why this topic (esp ecclesiastical separation - esp 2nd sep.) has been hard to come to consensus is because various sub-set's within fundamentalism has viewed their understanding of secondary separation as not only right and unquestionably right - but they bring their view of secondary separation to virtually the same level of importance and universality as the "real" fundamentals of the faith (Biblical authority, Deity of Christ, Sacrificial atonement, etc....). So in the minds of a few "type A" (and other) fundamentalist, this is sacro-sanct! No room for interpretation, various opinions, etc....what is odd here - is the same group of fundamentalists have no similar conviction for a sacro-sanct doctrine of functional unity (outside the confines of the local church)!? Interesting.....Maybe even "telling."

Straight Ahead!

jt

ps - another reality is that "we" who disagree with the more "narrow" approach ("we 4 and no more!") are in the main irritated with those of the stricter approach (usually because of the way we have been on the pointy end of certain accusations by certain Brethreim). In that sense we sort of don't even like each other. My guess is its hard to build a consensus when you have that kind of ugly elephant in the room. Just a guess!

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;

Don Johnson's picture

Joel Tetreau wrote:

what is odd here - is the same group of fundamentalists have no similar conviction for a sacro-sanct doctrine of functional unity (outside the confines of the local church)!? Interesting.....Maybe even "telling."

I think that this may be where the whole crux of the issue lies (between fundies, I mean). Most of what you call Type As are committed to Independence, non-denominationalism. I suspect the rise in Reformed theology has exacerbated this tension, as the Reformed view tends away form individualism.

Joel Tetreau wrote:
(usually because of the way we have been on the pointy end of certain accusations by certain Brethreim). In that sense we sort of don't even like each other. My guess is its hard to build a consensus when you have that kind of ugly elephant in the room. Just a guess!

Two (smart-alecky) things: What's a brethreim??? And two, you would have to bring up elephants and rooms, wouldn't you!

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

G. N. Barkman's picture

Let us remember that those who ignore Biblical commands regarding Christian unity are as much disobedient brethren as those who ignore commands regarding separation.

Let us remember that those who use exaggerated notions of separation to cancel teaching on Christian unity as as much disobedient brethren as those who use exaggerated ideas about unity to cancel requirements to separate.

Let us understand that it takes Biblical teaching on Christian unity to guard against unbalanced ideas of separation.

Should Bible believing fundamentalists separate from other fundamentalists who ignore Scriptural teaching on Christian unity?  (Just asking.)

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I certainly agree that unity is important too. On the other hand, I think if we were to put the unity passages in a column next to the separation passages, we might see some interesting differences. Or not. It would be worth doing. What I'm suggesting is that the two are probably not all that parallel, though both matter. I mean, even the idea of biblical unity requires, as GNB somewhat facetiously suggested, guarding and defending. So if separation is an extension of the mandate to uphold truth and reject error (among other things it might be an extension of), even unity requires separation.

... especially if we understand unity biblically as something that exists objectively, so to speak, from God's point of view not ("not only"?) something that describes what believers do in relation to one another. Eph. 4 speaks of the unity of the faith. The case could be made--and has been made--that unity depends on separation but the converse is not true (separation does not depend on unity).

KLengel's picture

Joel,

No offense, but I think your post is really just a cheap shot, something worthy of my teenage son when he's caught doing something wrong, rather than a valid observation.  It is always convenient for him to blame someone else for his sin.  It is very telling that those who believe in a universal church have no room in their midst for those who believe everything is essential.  It is very telling that those who say with words that they desire consensus but really just want acceptance for a multiplicity of interpretations and views. It is very telling that those who call these believers ugly elephants, they really have no understanding of unity or respect for the brethren at all.  Good thing we believe in our own local churches, for there is no room in your universal tent for us. 

KML

Joel Tetreau's picture

KLengel,

I'm not sure who you are - which is neither here or there. I've  been around for about 25 years in ministry and I've been having various discussions about the sinful approach to secondary separation for decades. Here on SI alone I've no doubt written hundreds of pages of substantive issues between the various approaches to ecclesiastiocal understandings of separation - including back and forth with brethreim over textual issues. I'm not going to  get in a spitting contest with you brother. If you really care to go back and forth with me - I'll speak to you directly over whatever issue you want to talk a-bout. My comment was a quick observations - primarily focused on an issue or two -which still stands despite your patronistic tone. I'm nothing like your teenage son who has been caught - I'm more like your peer who has spent at least 25 years in ministry or in active study of the issues at hand.

Try again.

Staight 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;

KLengel's picture

Joel,

Perhaps you shouldn't spit if you don't want responses.  Your "quick" observation was one that lacked any depth, regardless of your experience.  (I have been serving God for 35 years.)  Your issue is against an alternative position than yours who are firm in their beliefs, that was clear.  You seem to fault those of that certain fundamentalist type as the reason why we cannot come to a consensus.  Isn't that your "quick" observation?  Then in the next few sentences, you attempt to validate your quick observation by stating their unwillingness to accept a variety of views or interpretations.  You can't have any consensus at all, with a multiplicity of views. With your experience as you state, you already knew that. That was my point.  So, why else write what you did?  Patronistic? I didn't think that was a word, so not sure what you could mean.  You missed my many points provided.  Why is it a particular group's fault why a consensus cannot be made?  

Your observation was one that placed the blame on another, which is often what a child would do. Hence, the comparison.  Why is it not your "type" that is the cause for a consensus not being agreed upon? Where's your "quick" observation on your failure. It's easy to place the blame on others. I stand by what I said.  You started this strain of the conversation, I did not.  Perhaps in the future, you can avoid making it personal and then, actually working towards a consensus might be possible.  Perhaps it would have been better to suggest that one position is rooted in the belief that the local church is the only visible body of believers that God works through, and such independent, free churches choose to separate from other churches based on this and other beliefs.  In addition, another position is that some churches believe that believers are all part of a universal body or church and they are more hesitate to separate from fellow believers and the churches who accept the fundamentals of the faith (the gospel).  In my opinion, I believe the debate over the universal church and the local church only (if one wants to call it that) is one of the reasons for a lack of consensus.  Wouldn't it have been nicer just to have said that, then to blame the lack of consensus on one of the two positions?      

KML 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Guys, all the personal stuff doesn't help.

It could be that we can't have a better debate about separation partly because too few know how to talk about ideas at all without getting personal.

As for fundamentalism vs. everythingism, it really is a different topic--unless someone is suggesting that absolutely every difference of understanding or practice is grounds for separation.

... but then every honest (or at least self-aware) person would have figure out how to separate from himself. Who doesn't have the occasional wrestling match with self? ("Does the passage mean this or does it mean that? It's gotta mean that. No... on second thought, maybe it's this... wait, now I have to separate from me because we don't agree.")

KLengel's picture

Aaron, 

Out of all that conversation though, a valid point is brought up. I think the beginning point is the divergent views that come from the various groups that accept either that there is a concept of a universal church and those who do not. I believe this is a starting point, because depending on your view, each point will lead down a different path.  Those who believe in a universal church will focus on things such as unity among the "brethren" of THAT body.  Also, that discussion will focus around things like essentials vs. non-essentials.  Those that go down this path, would separate from those who deny the fundamentals of the faith or from those do not believe the orthodox views accepted regarding the gospel, such as the virgin birth, resurrection, etc.  Those who hold to these fundamentals or essentials would not accept a separation perhaps from someone who baptizes babies, Charismatic believers, Reformed believers, etc.  Perhaps they would, but their decision process on separation, I believe, starts based on the presupposition that a universal church view guides the discussion.  However, those who do not hold to a universal church position, focus more on internal purity of a local church, separation from all other churches in which they differ to some degree.  I believe that most of this separation here too is started from the point of one's position on the universal church.  They dogmatically (which unfortunately is a dirty word in these postmodern times) do not accept a multiplicity of views on anything.  They believe God provided His revelation to us so that we might KNOW the truth, not permit multiple acceptable conclusions on what the truth might be.  These different views on the universal church not only change the landscape about separation, but it lays the groundwork for a multiplicity of views on things like the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, water baptism, etc.  I think if we take each path down its road, and discuss in light of each path, perhaps we can all calmly see the reasons, hopefully in one's understanding of the Scriptures, why each group believes as it does.  We will not find a consensus or enjoy fellowship in our discussions simply as believers if we are going to make one party guilty for the lack of consensus. Thanks for initiating this discussion!  I think understanding where each of us starts is vital to determining what is truth. (and we may still never agree.)

KML             

 

KLengel's picture

Aaron, 

I think it would be accurate to state that Type A Fundamentalists would not believe in everythingism as you stated. However, I do believe that they would separate from all false teachers on areas of more than just the fundamentals. Most Type A's would separate from Calvinists.  Most Type A's would separate from Charismatics. Most Type A's would separate from paedobaptists.  I believe that most Type A's would see these as false teachings, and would therefore separate from those, or have limited fellowship with those who believe such things.  I agree that everythingism would be an impossibility, however, I would also state that essentials vs non-essentials is not enough, at least of the meanings of the two I have heard taught and written about.

KML  

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ken,

This is where the discussion takes such a weird twist. You are claiming that Type A fundies lump charismatics and paedobaptists in with - Calvinists??? So you would advocate separation from Spurgeon??? And the vast majority of original American Baptists, who adopted the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1689 (a decidedly "particular" Baptist document)??? 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

KLengel's picture

Chip, 

Not such a weird twist.  Look at John Piper. Wayne Grudem.  I could go on.  However, I am just saying that many Type A fundy's believe Calvinism is heresy.  I guess the point that is being missed here is this: Most Type A fundy's don't look at separation like most Protestant fundamentalists would. They don't see essentials vs. non-essentials.  They don't agree to accept a multiplicity on views on doctrine. For example, Arminianism and Calvinism cannot both be right, is that not correct?  Here is an example, while I disagree with the results of the Synod of Dort, at least at that time, those in power declared Calvinism orthodox and Arminianism heresy.  They understood both could not be considered orthodox. Are they both considered orthodox today? I would say yes.  I would also state that some would not separate today over holding different views on this matter.  Back then, one was called orthodox, the other heresy. Type A's desire truth, not multiplicity. They believe in a single truth on a particular doctrine.  Call it egotistical, call it dogmatic, call it absurd, whatever you like, that is how they think.  

Of course, some doctrine matters to them more than others, like anyone.  But they focus on being holy, being soul winners, being ambassadors for Christ to the world.  Another thing about Type A fundy's: I don't think they think about associating with past theologians. This is strictly a Protestant thing, in my view.   Men in Protestant circles, associate with Spurgeon, Edwards, etc. Most Type A fundy's don't to that.  They may emulate a certain contemporary leader they learned under or admire, but they don't think about whether or not they would separate from Spurgeon.  He's dead.  They read these scholars, but why discuss whether or not you would separate with someone who is no longer here?

I think another truth about Type A fundy's is that they would not consider themselves Protestant.  For those who grew up being taught that those who hold to Baptist doctrine came out of the Protestant Reformation, they cannot understand how those who don't see themselves as Protestants think in these terms.  Rather than trying to think like them or understand why they do, people ridicule and demean their positions.  They ridicule Armitage, Christian, and Carroll and others and those who read them.  I think it's ironic with all this talk of unity, that everyone attacks Type A fundy's for their views.  (it goes both ways of course, but my point is it is done by all parties not just Type A's) I have seen scores of pastors and theologians on this board and others just excoriating things like Trail of Blood, those who believe free churches existed apart from Roman Catholicism, etc.  Type A fundy's think different because they do work from a different world view.  As we discuss the doctrine of biblical separation, you need to know why Type A's think as they do.  They see the battle for biblical separation as one that has existed since the early church, not just since the Protestant Reformation or the Fundamentalist/Modernist Movement.  

Speaking of twists, I find it very disarming that many on this board who believe in the concept of a universal church or body of believers, would treat other brethren (Type A's) in the manner that has become customary here.  You wonder why Type A's don't post here, many (like Dr. Tetreau) have made them unwelcome.  I am not here to say that Type A's are faultless either.  I don't consider myself part of either Type A's or Type B's because I don't consider myself a fundamentalist, and never have. I believe in the fundamentals of the faith, but it neither labels me nor limits me when I search the Scriptures to determine truth.  It's a shame this got off the beaten path of the doctrine of separation.  I search for truth in the Scriptures. If someone starts their interaction on the topic of finding consensus and then blames one group over another for the inability to get to it, they allowed their disdain for one group to grind the conversation to a halt.  I think this is a worthy topic for discussion.  In order to find consensus, we need to see where we differ and where we agree, just as Aaron stated above.  Hopefully, we can get back to our discussion on it.

KML 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Why discuss separation from men who are dead?  Because it helps give some perspective to the question of living people you would separate from.  If Charles Spurgeon were alive today, would you separate from him?  Would you separate from living people today who believe what he believed?  This is another take on Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees for building monuments to the same prophet that their fathers killed.  (Even though they claimed to believe exactly what the fathers believed.)   Some of the same people today who read Spurgeon, admire his ministry (especially his big church and his effective soul-winning), quote him with approval, and sometimes even print his sermons, will also castigate as heretics men living today who believe exactly what Spurgeon believed.  Hmmm...   Ah, consistency, thou art a rare jewel.

G. N. Barkman

KLengel's picture

Pastor, 

If he was a Calvinist, yes I would have limited opportunities of fellowship with him.  I think while Reformed brethren maybe kin, their doctrine is dangerous for new and older believers alike.  The movement of Independent Baptist Churches towards becoming "Reformed Baptist" is one of the most troubling movements in our day.  Perhaps I am different, but I don't admire various theologians, pastors, etc. And what is it with all these pithy little statements?  As if they mean anything. I have castigated no one, but Calvin did actually have people murdered.  But let's go with consistency.  Do you believe it is orthodox to accept both Calvinism and Arminianism as biblical?  Can you have fellowship with an Arminian?  Also, let's take Spurgeon for a second since you mentioned him.  He was brutalized by men in the Baptist Union and even his brother James joined with those who opposed him.  Those who claim to follow Spurgeon could probably not separate the way he did, at loss to himself personally and in his ministry.  They would rather follow men, and clever theologians following the latest fad in doctrine, than following the word of God alone, just like his enemies.

KML   

 

JohnBrian's picture

KLengel wrote:
I think while Reformed brethren maybe kin, their doctrine is dangerous for new and older believers alike.  The movement of Independent Baptist Churches towards becoming "Reformed Baptist" is one of the most troubling movements in our day. 

Where is the 'dislike' button when you need it!

Calvinism is NOT dangerous and churches moving toward a greater respect for the Word of God (which is what it is) should NOT be troubling to anyone.

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

KLengel's picture

John,

So ONLY Calvinists and Reformed Baptists are moving toward a greater respect for the Word of God?  Amazing! As I stated, very dangerous! There is a prime example of universal body unity at work!  And they say Type A fundies are bad! Really?  How far mankind has fallen to accept these statements.

KML  

JohnBrian's picture

KLengel wrote:
So ONLY Calvinists and Reformed Baptists are moving toward a greater respect for the Word of God?  Amazing! As I stated, very dangerous! There is a prime example of universal body unity at work! 

Now you're quoting words I did not write!

Let me see now: you have only 11 posts on SI and you've decided to aim your big guns at Calvinists, misrepresenting US badly in the process.

Frankly, I'm not looking for unity with someone who is intent on misrepresenting fellow believers like you are.

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

KLengel's picture

John, 

Your implied conclusion in your post was that those who are "Reformed Baptists" are moving toward a greater respect for the Word of God, as though no other churches were.  Please be very careful to accuse people when your own words are written above.

Doesn't anyone else get tired of reading the veiled innuendo's on this board to people who are not Calvinists, who are not liberal when it comes to music or culture, to people who are not Type B or C, as Dr. Tetreau has defined them? Again, it is quite funny that I have been reading posts on this place for years, and you can all bash others who don't believe like you, but dare someone call you out on your words and innuendo's, and then "you are misrepresenting Calvinists."  Perhaps you should be more specific, rather than implying a thought and getting upset because someone called you to the mat on it.  I only represented what I thought you implied.  If you didn't imply it, then be careful next time, and be more specific.  If you thought others were moving in the same direction, why not say so, and declare who they are. Why not say so?  Because that wasn't your point, was it?  As for the number of posts, who really cares! Why does that matter? I could say that you haven't posted on your blog in 4 months, or that it's only gotten 3400+ hits in over 7 years according to your counter, so what does that say about your writing? Would you like others to draw conclusions from that?  I wouldn't think so, but I was trying to follow your way of thinking.

Look, I disagreed with the Synod of Dort, and I believe Calvinism is heresy. I believe Reformed Theology is very dangerous.  I am sorry if you don't like that.  I don't believe that both Arminianism and Calvinism can both be right. Either both are wrong, and something else is right, or one of them are wrong and one is right. Period.  I have a right to my perspective and I do believe Reformed Baptists are a danger to Christianity. Plain and simple.  

KML      

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Aaron, 

You raised a very good point in your article, specifically:

  • What kinds of beliefs and practices are grounds for separation from other apparently-genuine believers and ministries?
  • How do we even go about deciding what kinds of beliefs and practices are grounds for separation?

I must agree with Dr. McLachlan's remark from his Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, and say that if there is no "thus saith the Lord," we must not separate. A few points:

  • Separation is a negative term in Scripture, specifically used of a brother who is being Scripturally disobedient
  • We would all agree that some matters in Scripture are pretty clear, that is, they are explicit or implicit (e.g. salvation by faith, the Trinity). Some are general principles and still others are mere personal opinion. 
  • I submit that unless we have an explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture we must not "separate." We may choose not to fellowship, but we cannot say that brother is being Scripturally disobedient. 

Most of the debate over separation has to with confusing principles, or worse - mere personal preferences, with clear commands and teachings of Scripture. I believe if we can begin making these distinctions, we will be a lot better off. There are a whole host of issues to discuss once we get into the nuts and bolts of this, but I'll wait to see if this thread climbs out of the ditch before I continue! 

Another issue, are we just engaging in semantics when we proclaim, "I can't say I'll 'separate' from Bro. Franeknstein, but I certainly won't fellowship with him?" I don't think so, because there is a clear difference between willful Scriptural disobedience and a difference of opinion and interpretation. 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

KLengel's picture

One question I have for you in this regards...Do you believe this all depends on your church and their views of biblical separation?  The members of a local church covenant together with God to believe certain doctrines and certain practices, do they not?  I think where the confusion comes is when members don't understand what they have covenanted together with their church and God, and personally then accept views and practices contrary to their church and the covenant they made with both. This would address the issues of both personal separation and ecclesiastical separation. Since we all go to different churches, we all covenant different things as separate distinct local churches.

Where the challenges occur, is whether or not we can associate with or should separate from other churches, and I think that is dependent on the endeavor.  On a personal level, I think we need to realize that we have made a commitment that we believe our lives should be governed by that covenant which each of us made with our churches and our God.  (of course, it is important that that covenant be biblically based in its content.) When we decide to act outside of that agreed upon covenant, this can cause issues for that individual church with that member.  If I may, let me bring up a sore subject, just to give an example.  

If a local church is dispensational in its beliefs and proclaims Calvinism as heresy, it would be difficult for someone who believed in Calvinism to covenant with that church, would it not?  It would also be the same if a Reformed Baptist church had a person who wanted to join the church who believed Arminianism to be correct.  I think when a church is "open" to multiple views, it's covenant has to be very open and promotes a sense of confusion among its people.  I think that our individual churches have become too open to multiple views and it causes a great deal of issues.  

I personally think the fundamentalist movement has led us together for some essentials of the faith (as some would refer to them), but that bond has also led to us seeing the glaring differences between our beliefs and practices of our individual churches.  When people from one church, thru its pastors or theologians try to convince other pastors, theologians or people from another church that their view is, let's be nice and say, an "option", it causes division.  The reason I go to a Baptist church is not because I am not Methodist, but because I believe the Baptist doctrine and practices to be correct.  We don't agree, and we think we can easily agree, but our differences are there for reasons, and perhaps we simply cannot rally around separation like we could the fundamentals of the faith because of our view of the church we belong to.  A movement such as fundamentalism has different boundaries than a local church.  One final note, if one accepts the premise of a universal body of Christ, the issues become even more complex, because then we are trying to find agreements across multiple church views on doctrine.  Again, perhaps that is fine for a movement, but to come to a consensus among various churches in an area like separation, feels like an attempt to dictate from the decisions of a group of outsiders who agree what separation should mean to a particular local church who has covenanted together what to believe and practice.  

What do you think? 

KML

 

 

  

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Do you believe this all depends on your church and their views of biblical separation?

Yes. I am a Baptist, and believe the NT clearly teaches the primacy and autonomy of the local church. That is why, in another thread some time ago, I mentioned to Jay that, to some extent, I don’t worry whether somebody agrees with me on a principle of separation or not. I don’t have to worry about his church and his orbit; I only have to worry about my own! That doesn’t mean I don’t care, but it doesn’t matter a great deal to me.

If a local church is dispensational in its beliefs and proclaims Calvinism as heresy, it would be difficult for someone who believed in Calvinism to covenant with that church, would it not?  It would also be the same if a Reformed Baptist church had a person who wanted to join the church who believed Arminianism to be correct. 

I see what you’re saying, and I would agree so far as it goes. I don’t think Calvinism and dispensationalism are at odds with one another, though! A church member would certainly have to agree to the church covenant and statement of beliefs to join. Another pitfall would be having a statement of faith so detailed that only people EXACTLY LIKE YOU could possibly agree to it.

Also, how nuanced do we really think the average church member is on doctrine? I had an 86-yr old church member, a life-long Christian, ask me the other day, “Pastor, do you have to be baptized in order to be saved? I want my grandkids to be in church so bad, I wish I could tell them they need to come to this church and be baptized or they’ll go to hell . . .”

I think when a church is "open" to multiple views, it's covenant has to be very open and promotes a sense of confusion among its people.  I think that our individual churches have become too open to multiple views and it causes a great deal of issues. 

The issue here is what I believe Pickering termed “levels of fellowship.” There may be greater toleration for divergent views depending on the context. For instance, say you have a heavy LDS presence in your area, and you decide to bring in a special speaker to talk about whether LDS folks are really Christian. Pretend you want to call James White, a Reformed Baptist apologist, to address the issue. I disagree with him on particular redemption, aspects of his soteriology, ecclesiology and eschatology. But, he won’t be coming to address that, will he? Wouldn’t it be perfectly acceptable to tell him, “Look, we’re dispensational, Baptist fundamentalists over here! Reformed theology is off the table, ok?”

We don't agree, and we think we can easily agree, but our differences are there for reasons, and perhaps we simply cannot rally around separation like we could the fundamentals of the faith because of our view of the church we belong to.  A movement such as fundamentalism has different boundaries than a local church.

Yes, I agree. I think fundamentalism is a “big tent” philosophy of ministry that spans a theological gamut of options. It is bigger than dispensational, fundamentalist Baptists, but we are increasingly the only ones who will self-identify as fundamentalists any longer.

One final note, if one accepts the premise of a universal body of Christ, the issues become even more complex, because then we are trying to find agreements across multiple church views on doctrine.  Again, perhaps that is fine for a movement, but to come to a consensus among various churches in an area like separation, feels like an attempt to dictate from the decisions of a group of outsiders who agree what separation should mean to a particular local church who has covenanted together what to believe and practice. 

I agree with what Hiscox wrote in his classic work on Baptist polity; there is both a universal and a local church. I would say that the universal, corporate body of Christ should (ideally) be organized and structured into autonomous, local NT churches. 

I'm only half answering your questions, and basically thinking out loud. I'm a young Pastor, so I'm sure somebody more experienced can chime in with more substantive comments. I just don't see anybody coming to broad agreement over separation. Because I am a Baptist, I don't particularly see a need to do so, either. Maybe I haven't thought that one through enough, but there it is. I'm off to make coffee with my new french press . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Ken,

I think Tyler has summed up some of the issues pretty well.  You yourself have admitted that you can't separate over everything, and as Bible-believing Christians we believe there are key doctrines obviously worthy of separating over.  So what we are down to is defining something between those two views, and finding those lines of separation (and non-cooperation).  The local church is certainly one of the places where those battle lines are drawn, and the church doctrinal statement and covenant are two places where those lines can be laid out.

However, we know that there can be discussion and personal fellowship outside of our local-churches.  This occurs at a minimum when special speakers or missionaries come, but it is also true that the members will have Christian contacts and fellowship outside the local church.  This occurs even to some degree here on SI.  We also know that working together in ministry is different from other types of fellowship.  There are people of many views that participate here on SI, and each of us would find some we can cooperate with and some we can't.  That's the nature of Christianity.  We tend to look at this as our own views being correct and others not (and I would agree that on any issue, more than one view can't be correct), but I think it's more likely that all of us have incorrect views in some way, which is why some charity needs to be present in all our interactions, even if we must remain true to our own beliefs.  We should also recognize that non-cooperation is not necessarily the same as separation, but it's not always seen that way.  That's why I believe the OP's call for more understanding of separation is critical.

SI, of course, is a place that is open to all of fundamentalism, and even those who have fundamental views on the key doctrines named in our statement without naming the name.  You would be wrong to say that only Calvinism (for instance) is accepted here.  I'm a moderator here, and I'm not a Calvinist, and further, I don't come from a Baptist background.  But because of the nature of SI as a discussion forum and NOT a church, different opinions will be expressed, and SI is generally NOT the place to condemn all Calvinists (or all Arminians) as being heretical.  That is for inside your local church (if your church together as a body deems that appropriate).  However, you certainly will find that some views are defended more than others.  We don't have many "local church only" or KJVO types here, for example.  That doesn't mean they can't participate, but being in the minority, they may find it (fairly or unfairly) more necessary to defend their views than others who are more in the majority.  That's just the nature of human interaction.

As a forum, we have (at least) a couple of goals which seem incompatible -- we want to see the free expression of ideas surrounding and key to our faith, but we also want to keep unprofitable types of interaction to a minimum.  That is hard to do, and we don't always do it perfectly, or even well.  Nonetheless, if you can deal with our human frailties, you might find SI a good venue in which you can participate.  If, on the other hand, you find that SI is not "narrow" enough for you (and many have expressed that over the years), then that's OK too, but please don't hang around only to tell us that.  That would quickly enter the realm of "unprofitable interaction," at least as defined in this forum.

 

Dave Barnhart

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