Separation of the Individual Christian and the Local Church

Note: Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters was pastor of the Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis from 1940-1981. He led the Minnesota Baptist Convention out of the Northern Baptist Convention and convened the first section of the Conservative Baptist Association. During those years, he also founded Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. This article is from his autobiography, On the Upward Road. We believe it was originally written in the 1960s or 1970s. It is reprinted here with permission.

by Richard V. Clearwaters

A well-known evangelist of our day whose ministry is almost “sloganized” by the phrase “The Bible Says” has authored a tract published by the American Tract Society on the subject “Worldliness and Separation.” This evangelist speaks of worldliness and separation in the following words:

“God calls us to be a separated people: ‘Come out from among them, and be ye separate’ (II Corinthians 6: 17)… What is worldliness actually?

“A prominent writer described it very aptly: ‘It is the self­-indulgent attitude of the heart and mind towards life.’ It is not merely doing certain forbidden things or going to certain prescribed places. Worldliness is what we are, not just what we do. It is in reality an inner attitude, for as man ‘thinketh in his heart, so is he’ (Proverbs 23:7). Any Christian whose interest is directed toward himself is worldly.”

Our only comment on the above use of Scripture is to finish the quotation where the evangelist stopped at a comma and let the evangelist’s use of his text be condemned by his context. We simply remark, “The Bible Says” “Come out from among them, and be ye separate,” and in the same connection as we continue the inspired sentence, “The Bible Says,”” And touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” The evangelist’s text nor context say anything about “Be ye separate in your heart!” What the Bible says in this connection is primarily with, not the internal environment but with the external environment of these New Testament Christians.

“Vice is a monster of so frightful Mien,
As to be hated needs but to b seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

(Essay on Man, Epistle II, line 1, by Alexander Pope)

The Principles of Separation Throughout the Bible

Jude’s theme, “contending for the faith” treats the cause and course of apostasy, and in verse eleven warns the church of the ages against a false Religion, a false Ministry, and a false Worship in these words, “Woe to them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.” II Timothy and II Peter warn the church:

  1. against the apostasy of the false profession of the unsaved calling themselves Christians;
  2. against the apostasy of false teachers originating apostasy;
  3. and against the false doctrines of false teachers who deny the twin truths of Redemption and Christ’s Person.

An honest exposition and application of Exodus chapters 8-10 shows God’s warning against apostasy in the Old Testament. After Israel’s Moses rejected the counterfeit (Exodus 7: 11) and refused the compromises (Exodus 8:25-29; Exodus 10:8-11), Moses faced with Israel the same alternative the true visible church faces today: “Separation or Compromise”! The world will long remember Moses’ decision and has long forgotten the compromising collaborationists. Satan’s last resort in strategy was then, as now, open conflict (Exodus 14:1-16).

Deuteronomy 22:9-11 is the next great test of Israel’s keeping a pure testimony in which God warns Israel against mixed seeds of teaching which defile; mixed service of believers and unbelievers; and against mixed conduct represented by the garment of woolen and linen. God here condemns the present-day custom of mixing Scripture with science, Scripture with sociology, Scripture with politics, Scripture with psy­chology, Scripture with philosophy, art and so forth that has been the ruin of the modern pulpit. God knows only too well that the soil of fallen hearts, predisposed to evil, will grow the secular seeds more rankly than the sacred seeds, if both be sown together.

God’s second warning is against mixed service: “Thou shalt not plow with an ox (a clean animal) and an ass (an unclean animal) together.” God’s soil is not only to be sown solely with God’s seed, but His plow also must be drawn only by His servant. The deliberate choice of a partner or colleague God makes very important; in marriage for domestic ends; in business for commercial ends; in friendship for social ends; in religion for Christian and church ends-God forbids an unbeliever to be in the team.

God warns against mixed conduct: “Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together.” Conduct expresses a man’s character precisely as his clothes outline the contour of his body. Scripture likewise consistently uses clothing as figurative of conduct. Linen in Scripture is always the holy fabric (Revelation 19:8). It is the only textile fabric the priesthood were allowed to wear (Ezekiel 44: 17). The saved all belong to the priesthood of believers.

The best scholars have considered that, as literature, the New Testament was occasioned by four notable events or movements:

  1. the Greek Mission, or the evangelization of the Gentile world;
  2. the fall of Jerusalem as prophesied in the Old Testament is interpreted as history in the New Testament;
  3. the church is bracing itself against the persecution of Domitian;
  4. the church is plunged into controversy over its own beliefs because of the rise of early sects.

In considering this last division of New Testament literature any good analysis provides principles of separation with undisputed and inspired divine authority and illustration. Thus we identify our theme and thesis with the historic New Testament Christianity that we accept as our model and guide.

There will always be those who are willing to give aid or sympathy to the enemy who will be caustic or critical, and there will be those who will give heartfelt and sincere commendation to these stern and strong Bible teachings on this doctrine of Bible separation.

A dangerous progression becomes evident as we consider the philosophy of infiltration versus separation.

  1. Identification with evil: Webster’s definition-“To make to be the same; to consider as the same in any relation; to establish identity of or to prove the same.”
  2. Federation with evil: Webster’s definition-“A uniting by league and covenant especially in forming a sovereign power so that each of the uniting powers retains local powers.”
  3. Collaboration with evil: Webster’s definition-“Laborers working together. “
  4. Amalgamation with evil: Webster’s definition-“To combine into a uniform whole.”
  5. Subjugation to evil: Webster’s definition-“To bring under the yoke of power or dominion; reduce to subjection or submission; to make subservient; something joined.”

Note the warnings in the letter to Ephesus (4:12-30): Mental Darkness, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened’:’ Spiritual Death, “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart”. Moral Degeneracy, “Who being past feeling … “; and Physical Depravity, “have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ”; Throughout the ages God’s method has never been federation with evil, but separation from evil!

The Application of Biblical Principles of Separation

I. The separated life for the individual member of the local church:

a. Does the thought, deed, or act in question enslave me? “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful unto me, but 1 will not be brought under the power of any.” (I Corinthians 6: 12)

b. Does the thought, deed, or act in question build me up (physically, mentally, spiritually)? “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (I Corinthians 10:23)

c. Does the matter in question cause others to stumble? “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, 1 will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest 1 make my brother to offend.” (I Corinthians 8:12-13)

d. Does the matter in question glorify God? “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31)

e. Are the things in question doubtful: “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23), e.g. “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6: 16-19)

II. The separated position for the local church; Acts 14, 15.

a. Disciplining members who live in open sin (Matthew 18: 15, 17; 1 Corinthians 5:1; II Thessalonians 3:1-6; Titus 3:10,11).

b. Electing to office only members who live a separated life (Acts 6:3-7).

c. Employing only Sunday school teachers who live a separated life and bear a strong testimony (II Timothy 2: 1-3).

d. Refusing nonchurch members to teach or hold office (Matthew 18:17,1 Corinthians 5:1, II Corinthians 2:5-11).

e. Refusing unbiblical programs in the local church (Acts 2:42).

f. Accepting only sound missionaries and missionary objectives in the local church (Acts 2:42).

g. Intolerance of unbiblical pastors (Jude 11).

h. Refusal by majority of local church to authorize or send messengers to any unorthodox ecclesiastical organization or institution (Acts 14, 15).

i. Refusal of local church to receive or recognize unregenerate and unbaptized members in local church (I Timothy 1: 18-20).

j. Refusal of local church to welcome or allow any individual in church pulpit of questionable orthodoxy or any person of questionable orthodoxy to be presented or sponsored (I Timothy 1:18-20).

k. The local church preaching the true biblical gospel in the pulpit should refuse that any other gospel be allowed to be taught in the Sunday school or supported in any auxiliary organization bearing the name of the church.

l. The church should depend for its financial support of all objectives solely upon tithes and offerings and should be vocal against all commercial means and schemes of raising money (I Corinthians 16: 1,2; Matthew 23:23).


To be absolutely accurate historically, when we insist upon a strict biblical witness in Christianity we are neither proposing nor practicing separation! We are restoring “the faith once for all delivered” where it has been lost; we are reconstructing this faith where it is deficient, we are reviving it where it is dormant. These principles have been recognized in many courts of law.

Perhaps the greatest menace to fundamental Christianity today is a part of its leadership which professes to be fundamental under the name of the New Evangelicalism, but at the same time they hate the word separation like poison, usually for two reasons. First, because they want to be inclusivists and be yoke-fellows with Modernists and Liberals in the salvation of the lost and in the service of the church; and second, they hate the word separation because they want to walk with one foot in the path of the Christian and one in the path of the worldling. It is still true that the finest of the wheat in our Prayer Meeting crowd are not found at the card table, among the regular patrons of the theater, and among those who are fond of the dance.

We began this treatise with a sharp disagreement with a modern-day Evangelist who would misinterpret the Word of God in order to retain his popularity with a pleasure-loving, compromising, and worldly public. We close the treatise by quoting an illustration from a great sermon, “Overcoming the World” by William Edward Biederwolf, who was the father in the ministry of Evangelist “Billy Sunday”. (These men were both fearless, modern prophets in proclaiming the “whole council of God”, BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE):

Sunday golf tournaments, Sunday baseball, and Sunday night dances all claim a plentiful number of professing Christians among their patrons. Prize-winning bridge parties are quite the thing nowadays among church members who twenty-five years ago would have shaken their heads in resolute disapproval; and to these and other forms of indulgence, either questionable or admittedly unholy, professing Christians have been giving themselves to such a degree that today we find ourselves with a church going on crutches, unable to stand erect and be the power for righteousness God meant her to be, because the world has been boring its way like a putrifying abscess into her very vitals, her very heart.

Listen to this conversation:

“Dick,” said a young wife, “I’ve been a very happy woman for four years now, but if only one other thing could be, I think I’d be the happiest woman in the world.”

“Well, Mollie, what is it? I’d do anything for you.”

“Oh, Dick! If you were only a Christian!”

“Well, Mollie, are you a Christian?”

“Why, yes, Dick.”

“Well, Mollie, I-didn’t know it.” Dick went into a brown study for a moment and then said, “Mollie, you don’t swear, do you?”

“No, Dick.”

“Well, I don’t either. Mollie, you don’t steal do you?”

“No, Dick.”

“Well, I don’t either. And Mollie, you don’t get drunk, do you?”

“Why, no Dick; of course I don’t! Why do you ask me such questions?”

“Well, Mollie, you play cards, don’t you, and for prizes?”

“Certainly, Dick; there’s no harm in that.”

“Well, Mollie, I do too. Mollie, you go to the theater, don’t you?”

“Why, yes, Dick.”

“Well, I do too. And Mollie, you drink wine, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes; I do that out of courtesy to the hostess.”

“Well, I do, too. And Mollie, you dance, don’t you?”

“Why, yes; I love to dance.”

“Well, Mollie, I do too. And now, Mollie, if you will tell me the difference between the kind of life you are living and the kind of life I am living, I think I would be willing to become a Christian, if there’s any difference. “

Listen! If the religion of Jesus Christ doesn’t make any difference between the way you live and the way your unconverted friends or relatives live, it is not worth recommending to them as a religion for doing the things the religion of Jesus Christ is supposed to do. “He that is born of God overcometh the world.”

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