by Ernest Pickering (1928–2000)
Considerable discussion is taking place today as to why so many younger men raised in the separatist tradition are failing to take a good position and, in some cases, are backing off from the fray. One of the major reasons, it seems to me, is that they are disgusted with the lack of discernment on the part of some separatists who cannot distinguish between what is truly crucial to fellowship and what is not crucial.
It is one thing to embrace Biblical truth concerning separatism. It is quite another to implement it in day-to-day relationships. While a person may possess good convictions, he or she may not be able to clearly discern the right course of action; and separatists do not always agree among themselves as to the proper response to a given problem. So we separatists need to give attention to how we implement what we believe.1
Guidelines for Determining the Extent of Cooperative Fellowship with Other Believers
A few questions are suggested by Scripture that will aid the sincere believer in determining the boundaries of fellowship.
(1) Am I honoring God by my fellowship? “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When a believer remains in an apostate denomination, that believer is supporting the Lord’s enemies through his or her money and presence. Is that believer honoring the Lord by “staying in”? In all that we do we must earnestly seek to honor God.
(2) Am I aiding or encouraging someone to continue a walk of disobedience? The Bible clearly teaches that believers are to separate from apostasy. If a great preacher continues to remain within a group largely influenced by apostates and a separatist church has him speak, is this occasion helping or hindering others?
After Paul was converted, he went to Jerusalem, where he received the “right hands of fellowship” from James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:9). Later, however, when Peter went to Antioch, Paul said he “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (v. 11). Peter had not clearly enunciated that believers are delivered from the Mosaic law, so Paul undertook to correct his Christian brother. In this case, Peter repented of his error, and the purity of the faith was preserved. True fellowship demands confrontation when problems arise.
We can, in the name of brotherly love, employ men who are still in the apostasy. They can speak at our Bible conferences or write for our publications. But when they do, we are really telling them that their fellowship with apostates is not so bad after all. Having them participate with us is not the way to assist them from the path of disobedience.
(3) Will my cooperation with a person or organization give the impression that I condone a lackadaisical attitude toward apostasy and compromise? Did not the writer of Proverbs say, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:13)? Is the support of apostasy, its publications, schools, spokesperson, and missions evil? If it is, do I as God’s child truly hate it? Or do I have softer feelings toward it? Believers cannot afford to have lackadaisical attitudes toward false religious systems that the Lord hates. Yet if believers continually fellowship with people who remain in these groups and support them, what are they saying by such actions?
(4) Will others under my leadership or influence be tempted to further compromise or be confused or weakened in their testimony because of my actions? Leaders are to be examples to other believers (1 Timothy 4:12). We must always ask the question, What is my responsibility to others? We cannot live to ourselves. We are responsible for our brothers and sisters as well.
(5) What long-range effects will cooperation have? Bob Jones Sr. often said, “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.” It is a principle worth pondering and applying. We must consider what effects, good or bad, will accrue from a certain course of action.
Henry Parsons Crowell, a great Christian businessman, pondered the reason for the success of the apostasy within his own denomination and others. His biographer (who, incidentally, spent many weeks in personal conference with Mr. Crowell) gave this analysis of Mr. Crowell’s conclusions regarding the limits of cooperative fellowship:
Mr. Crowell finally realized that all attacks on faith were essentially the same; the discrediting of the Bible as the inerrant and perfect revelation of Truth and the Will of God. That was the Leaven of the Sadducees, whether it was the innuendoes of a maturing mind, or the broadside blasts of an endowed professor.
The integrity of the Bible, he felt, was the issue to be maintained no matter where it led! You can see in his own life just where it led him!
He began his Christian life by holding the Bible as true and authentic history. Then, he began to feel that his belief was a necessary qualification for every gospel worker.
Then he realized the case could be lost if it were not implemented at this point. No general worker should be kept on church pay rolls who did not accept the Bible as true and authentic history. Moreover, no one should be tolerated in high authority who did not accept the Bible as true and authentic history.
To his amazement, he saw that even with these precautions, faith was still losing the battle!
He realized that not only must faith be careful to select workers and leaders who are Bible believers; but these workers and leaders themselves must be intolerant of unbelievers in office! If they were tolerant it could bring defeat just as effectively as if they themselves were infidels. Therefore, faith must not support men in authority who, though they are themselves Bible believers, are tolerant of others in positions of trust and authority who do not so believe.
Mr. Crowell saw that the battle against the Leaven of the Sadducees was being lost in Christendom today by reason of—Tolerance toward believers who were tolerant toward unbelievers.2
Some General Considerations for Separatists
Separatists need to remember certain axioms as they wend their way through the maze of varied situations that they constantly face.
Some issues are complex
Fundamentalists and separatists are accustomed to seeing things in blacks and whites. For them (theoretically at least) there are no grays. From God’s viewpoint that is true. Our problem is that we cannot always tell immediately what is the right or wrong course of action in a given situation. Not everything is always crystal clear. Some separatists, quick on the draw and perhaps blessed with more discernment or faster spiritual reflexes than others, come immediately to what they consider the heart of a problem, draw the lines, and expect everyone immediately to step over them. Many factors, however, must be considered in approaching a problem. Some believers may still be weighing those factors and trying to determine the mind of God, while others have already “passed over Jordan.” Sometimes we give the impression that there are pat, easily accessible answers for every decision we must make regarding separation. That is not always true. Life is complex, and we must face that fact.
Some people are by nature scrappers. They are not afraid to confront a situation immediately and take a strong, open stand. Some are by nature pugnacious and rather enjoy a good fight. Others who may possess separatist convictions are by nature more reticent to become involved in open controversy. They will follow separatist convictions when driven to a decision, but they will tend to avoid a confrontation if possible. Many of these differences are reflections of varying personalities. Separatists are people too! There are different kinds of them. In fairness we must recognize and accept that truth and be careful lest we, too, carelessly mark as a compromiser someone who may not approach a problem in the same manner as we do.
One may see an issue a bit differently than another because of the context in which he or she is operating. We all tend to be influenced by our background and experiences, and we all have different points of reference. A separatist must try to see his brother’s point of view before acting too hastily to turn his back on him. This is especially true if a brother has maintained a consistent separatist testimony through the years but differs with someone else on some isolated question of implementation. We must be careful not to compromise vital convictions, but at the same time we must be big enough to allow another person to differ with us without rejecting that person.
(Read Part 2.)
1 In addition to the material from the first edition of Biblical Separation, portions of this article are from a later booklet by Ernest Pickering, Should We Ever Separate from Christian Brethren? An Examination of the Issue of So-Called Secondary Separation (Minneapolis: Central Baptist Theological Seminary, n.d.). Two former associates of Pickering have produced works from a similar perspective that discuss the implementation of separatist convictions. See Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998); and Fred Moritz, Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation (Greenville, SC: Journeyforth Press, 2000). See also the suggestions offered by Douglas McLachlan in “Implementing Authentic Separation,” Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (Independence, MO: American Association of Christian Schools, 1993), 114–142.
2 Richard Ellsworth Day, A Christian in Big Business (Chicago: Moody, 1946), 268–69.
Ernest Pickering (1928–2000) was a noted leader in American fundamentalism, having ministered as a pastor, seminary president, and leader in missionary organizations. He earned a ThD from Dallas Theological Seminary and was a 40-year member of the Evangelical Theological Society. This article is an excerpt from his book Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, published by Regular Baptist Press. This book, along with his pamphlets, articles, and additional books, have widely influenced the fundamentalist and evangelical movements.
Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin © Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.