Read the series so far.
Please, consider reading all of the preceding articles before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make them each stand alone, they are linked together.
Aphorism 1: The debate between Bible believing Christians about separation is fundamentally about the how to apply the passages in the Bible commanding separation.
Aphorism 2: All applications of the commands of Scripture are based on a particular context outside the Bible. Therefore unless the context is identical to what was intended by the Bible, an application cannot be as normative as Scripture itself.
Aphorism 3: Applications of the commands of separation must take into account Jesus’ and Paul’s application of these same commands as recorded in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles.
Was Jesus a separatist? Given that Jesus acted according to some of the same commands He requires His church to obey, the answer must be yes.
Let consider some of the examples: “Purge the evil person from among you” (ESV). This phrase is from the LXX and is used six times in Deuteronomy (17:7, 19:19, 21:21, 22:21, 22:24, 24:27).The Apostle Paul uses this phrase and demands obedience to it of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5:12. The Greek verb behind “purge” is only used here in the New Testament, “suggesting Paul’s intentional and explicit use of the formula from Deuteronomy” (Beale and Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 709).
Our Lord Jesus was also required to obey, “Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing” (Isa. 52:11). The Apostle Paul requires this of Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:16.
Further, in His relationship with other believers Jesus was also required to obey the command, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). This command is picked up and proved as normative for the church by both Paul and James (cf. Gal. 5:14, James 2:8).
Obviously, Jesus’ context is different, but inasmuch as there are similarities in context, Jesus provides us an authoritative model for the application of the commands to separate and God’s intent in giving the commands. At the bare minimum, Jesus provides us with a rich example to think about separation.
The two generally well-known theological groupings in Jesus’ day were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It is almost completely anachronistic to call these two parties liberal and conservative. From the point of preserving the status quo religiously and politically, the Sadducees were conservative, but they also had a low view of the existing Bible and in that sense we might call them liberal. The Pharisees were conservative in the sense of having a high view of the Bible, but were liberal in the sense of going against the established norms of worship and practice. The sinful propensity of the Sadducees was to take away from the Bible (Luke 20:27, Acts 23:8) and the sinful propensity of the Pharisees was to add to God’s word (Mark 6:5-9). In our day the general propensity for “liberal” Christians is to follow the Sadducees by taking away from God’s Word by rejecting parts of God’s Word as authoritative. Modern “conservatives” tend to follow the Pharisees by adding to God’s Word.
The Sadducees, who rejected the existence of angels, the resurrection, and spirits, controlled the Temple in Jerusalem. For Jesus to come to the Temple required Him to come under the human authority and to fellowship with people who openly rejected parts of God’s word. The law required Jesus to go to the Temple and He did so. Further, we see Jesus both asking questions and listening to the teachers in the Temple as a 12 year old (Luke 2:46-47). Thus Jesus’ model allows a degree of fellowship and training with theologians and believers who reject portions of the Bible as true.
We should also note the Temple itself was tainted. The architecture did not exactly follow the model shown to Moses (Exod. 25:9; cf. Heb. 8:5) or to David (1 Chron. 28:19), but was instead an approximation of the written description contained in the Old Testament with some additions. Finally, the building had been funded by the syncretistic Herod and was policed and overseen by the pagan Romans.
Our Lord’s most basic means of separating Himself from the error found within the Temple was through His proclaimed doctrine and His actions. “Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (Matt. 26:55). Jesus obeyed the commands to separate through His teaching ministry as He united with the Sadducees and Pharisee in worship at the Temple. We also know it was Jesus’ custom to worship at the local synagogue (Luke 4:16) each Sabbath; an educated guess is that this was about as much of a mixed blessing as it is today for those of us who attend an unknown church while traveling.
We should also note the requirements that Jesus places on the godly members of the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29. There is a false prophetess functioning in the church “teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (v. 20). Yet, there is no command to separate from her or her followers as church members. In fact Jesus says to the faithful, “I do not lay on you any other burden” (v. 24).
And then we come to Paul. Paul worships at the Temple controlled by and administered by people who explicitly reject the deity of Christ and who reject portions of the Old Testament (Acts 21). He held a Bible study in a philosopher’s hall (Acts 19:9). Paul continued in fellowship with a church where people were getting drunk during the Lord’s Table celebration (1 Cor. 11:20), people were denying the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12), a party spirit divided the church (1 Cor. 1:12), church members were going to the local pagan temple and having sex with prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:16), and the spiritual gifts were operating without control. Paul, while forbidding these gross sins only demands church discipline for the man cohabitating with his stepmother. There is no mention of discipline for the whoremongering, drunkenness, or party spirit, but there is a request for funds for the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-4).
Yet at the same time, we read,
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 Cor. 5:11-13)
There is a tension between Paul’s practice and his commands. Paul commands “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,” and yet he fellowships with and accepts and collects funds from the church of Corinth. And we see the same in Jesus’ ministry; He also was required to “Purge the evil person from among you,” and yet He worships at the Temple, attended dinners with Pharisees, and so forth. How do we reconcile the commands with Paul’s and Jesus’ practice?
I will attempt draw the practice and the commands together in a two-step process. My first step will be to highlight how Jesus and Paul separate by proclamation and establish a timeline and benchmarks for repentance. This require us to continue the discussion of aphorism three next week.
The second step will be to argue for aphorism four (that none of the commands of Scripture contradict the other commands when rightly understood, and to be correctly applied and interpreted, all of the commands of Scripture must work together) in the fifth installment.
Shane Walker became the pastor of Andover Baptist Church, Linthicum, MD in June of 2007. Raised in Iowa, Shane graduated from the University of Iowa in 1996. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kimberly, have four children: Hannah, Malee, James, and John.