Implementing Separatist Convictions, Part 2

By Ernest Pickering (1928-2000). Read Part 1.

The Practical Implementation of Separatist Convictions

The teachings of Scripture regarding separation must be implemented in a practical manner, or separation becomes a meaningless theory to which one gives lip service but that has no practical value in everyday life and ministry. Consider some of the areas of Christian work in which this doctrine must be obeyed.

Maintaining personal relationships

Separatists may have personal friendships that are broader than their official ties. Personal Christian fellowship is grounded primarily in a mutual knowledge of Christ as Savior. Personal interaction with other Christians is not wrong if it is found in contexts where compromise and disobedience are not involved.

Fellowshipping with other local churches

A church that would be true to God must not involve itself in a fellowship of churches or organizations in which it is going to compromise its character. Sometimes, because of expediency and in response to the trend of our times, churches are tempted to join some local body of churches. This is often done on the pretense that they are going to “promote the unity of the Body of Christ” or “show the unsaved world that Christians can get along with one another.” Their cooperation sounds kindly and magnanimous, but it is really subversive of a pure testimony for Christ. It sends mixed signals to the community: On the one hand, the church claims to proclaim and practice the truth; on the other hand, it is willing to cooperate with other churches that do not do the same.

Here are some questions a church could ask concerning any local church fellowship:

(1) Is the church happily cooperating with apostasy? If it is in an apostate group, and contentedly so, proper fellowship would be impossible.

(2) Is the church moving toward separation from an apostate group? If God is working in a church and the people are demonstrating dissatisfaction with their present apostate affiliation, they should be encouraged. The fellowship of separatists could provide that encouragement.

(3) Is a godly pastor seeking to strengthen the stand of the church that has had new evangelical tendencies? If so, a helping hand may be timely.

(4) Does the church have a good reputation in the community?

(5) Are the doctrines of the church compatible with those of your church? This compatibility would not necessarily imply 100 percent agreement, but it would demand a considerable agreement. Here again, prayerful judgment must be exercised.

(6) What do your members think about such cooperation? Will it cause a problem in your church?

(7) Will such cooperation damage the clear witness your church has maintained (assuming it has maintained such)?

Cooperating with interdenominational groups

Cooperation with interdenominational groups can be a sticky problem for pastors, since members of separatist churches often have direct or indirect connections with some interdenominational bodies. Some of the problems that separatists face with interdenominational groups are as follows:

(1) Their doctrinal position is usually rather general and broad.

(2) Comparatively few interdenominational groups take a strong separatist position because to do so would be to offend much of their constituency.

(3) They may tend to cultivate people’s loyalties and wean them away from, or at least weaken, their participation in the local church.

(4) If their stand on separation is weak and they have an influence within your church through some of the interdenominational group’s members, confusion and conflict can result.

Many separatist pastors have had heartaches as a result of inter­denominational influence in their churches. The spirit of interdenominationalism is broad, and it is difficult to coordinate it with a separatist testimony. Some interdenominational organizations, however, have sought to be faithful to Biblical separation.

Accepting invitations to speak

Not all separatists face the same degree of problem in the area of their public speaking, but the problem can be a real one for separatist leaders who receive many requests for their ministry. A speaker may not have a personal knowledge of a pastor or church that extends an invitation, so care must be exercised because damage can be done if a separatist leader seems to condone a ministry that is not standing where it should.

Some questions to ask concerning groups requesting a speaker may provide help:

(1) What is the doctrinal position of the church or group? This position can be ascertained either from believers familiar with the group’s beliefs or from a printed statement.

(2) Does this organization cooperate with the apostasy in any way? If it does, and a separatist speaks there, his action will be interpreted as approval.

(3) Will your participation create a problem for local pastors in the area? Sometimes faithful separatist pastors discover that one of their leaders is a featured speaker in some church or group that has opposed the testimony of the local separatist churches for years. It can be extremely embarrassing for local pastors if their people say, “You have told us for years that So-and-So is not taking a firm stand, but Dr. What’s-His-Name [a leading separatist] is speaking at his church next Sunday. Why is this?”

(4) Do you run the risk of damaging the overall separatist testimony by your appearance? If so, is a onetime exposure really worth the risk?

Inviting speakers to your platform

Some leaders operate on the principle that they will use speakers who are well-known—even though they may be shaky in their convictions in some areas—because they have specialties that are helpful and thus can be a blessing to their students or congregations. However, the wisdom of following this course of action is doubtful. For instance, this writer once objected to the president of a professedly separatist college that a man who had been a featured speaker at the school was not a separatist and definitely was not in favor of the separatist position. The answer was, “But he was such a blessing to our students—a very gifted communicator.” Giftedness hardly constitutes a sufficient reason for bringing a man to the platform of a separatist school to address impressionable young students.

The speaker may have expertise in the Scriptures, be fundamental in doctrine, and possess a tremendous gift of communication. He may also be one who goes everywhere, evidencing little discernment in the choice of places where he ministers, speaking one week at the separatist college and perhaps the next at a Bible conference controlled by new evangelicals or their sympathizers. Some see no harm in using such a man. They consider only the messages he delivers from the platform, which in themselves may be without fault.

But a man is more than his pulpit messages. He brings to the pulpit a lifetime of associations, actions, and perhaps writings. He comes as a total person. Is he in his total ministry the type of person you would want the young people at the separatist college to emulate? Perhaps you—as an adult, mature believer—could make the necessary adjustments in thinking and divorce what he is from what he says. Most of the youth would be incapable of doing that. The same would be true of most church members. They would be influenced by the man’s example as well as by his preaching. If he is a compromiser, his example would be harmful, and the college president would be at fault for setting him up as a role model. The separatist cause is not advanced by featuring nonseparatists.

There are at least three questions to ask concerning people invited to speak at a separatist church or school:

(1) In his public ministry, does the man speak out clearly against not only the apostasy but also against new evangelicalism and the compromise of fellow believers? Many men bring helpful Bible messages, but they do not wish to be identified with any controversies, nor do they wish to “positionalize” themselves publicly on any thorny issue. They lack the fortitude and courage to be honored as featured speakers for separatist bodies.

(2) With whom does he regularly associate? If the man appears in conferences of a compromising nature, why should he also be used at a conference of those who are trying to avoid compromise? Many noted Bible teachers will appear at some separatist institution while their next engagement will be at some new evangelical conference. They are “evangelicals” in a broad sense and do not see any contradiction in such broad associations.

(3) With what group or denomination is he affiliated? If a man is, for instance, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, which includes many apostates, should he be featured at some separatist college even though he himself is a Bible-believing minister? By his actions is he not denying a fundamental truth, that is, that one should separate from apostates? His position is contrary to the position of the school where he is appearing, and no amount of fine preaching will obliterate that fact. He is doing wrong by cooperating with a denomination that permits false teachers in their midst.

Choosing mission agencies

Every church of Christ should be vitally concerned with the evangelization of the world. Assisting the church in fulfilling this obligation is the mission agency, which provides certain services that the average local church cannot provide. But compromise with unbelief has infiltrated many mission agencies, and careful screening should be done to see where one stands on the vital question of separation, as well as other doctrinal matters. It is sometimes difficult to obtain clear information on this topic from certain agencies. They want to put nothing in writing that will jeopardize their support from any portion of their rather widely varied constituency, so they will make generalizations but avoid specifics. A church should be interested not only in an agency’s published or official statement on separation (if there is such), but also in ascertaining what is the actual practice on the field. Often there are considerable discrepancies.

Some questions to ask concerning mission agencies are these:

(1) Do the leaders of the mission follow a consistent pattern of separation themselves? Are they involved in questionable associations?

(2) Does the mission include in its official documents statements of its position on ecumenism, new evangelicalism, the charismatic movement, and other troublesome issues?

(3) Do the mission and its missionaries actually implement the position outlined in their official documents?

(4) Are the missionaries of the mission knowledgeable regarding the Biblical teaching on ecclesiastical separation, and do they wholeheartedly endorse and practice it?

(5) Does the mission cooperate at home or on the field with organizations and persons who may not be consistent with their position?

(6) Is the board of the mission composed of strong separatists?

Recommending Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries

A local church should consider carefully what educational institutions it recommends to its young people. More than one youth from a separatist congregation has been sent off to a supposedly fundamental school only to come back a full-blown new evangelical or, at best, a watered-down separatist. While no church can (or should) control the individual decisions of each believer, a church does have the responsibility to teach its youth the Biblical principles upon which it stands, and to encourage them to attend colleges, universities, and seminaries that are consistent with that position. The separatist position will be perpetuated as we have leaders who are well trained in the Scriptures and have internalized separatist convictions rather than merely adopting those of someone else. Normally such leaders will be produced in institutions that possess such convictions themselves.

Many Christian colleges claim to be separatist schools, but they do not offer to their students any structured courses in the history and theological basis of separation. As a result, graduates of these institutions come out devoid of any real convictions. The separatist movement today is much weakened because many supposedly fundamental colleges have assumed that students learned all that was necessary to know about the separatist position in their local churches and that it was, therefore, unnecessary to teach them anything further in the college classroom. In some institutions while faculty members may give lip service to the cause of separatism, in their classroom teaching and in their private contacts they tend to undermine a strong position and turn students away from separatist convictions. A considerable number of schools believe that separation involves only removal from direct associations with apostates and does not include refusal to fellowship with disobedient believers. These are usually the ones who condemn what they call “secondary separation” as unbiblical.

Some questions to ask concerning Christian educational institutions give local churches some guidance:

(1) Is the school’s leadership outspoken and clear in embracing a Biblical position on separation?

(2) What kind of speakers address the student body? Are they men identified with the separatist cause, or are they “middle-of-the-roaders” who go either direction?

(3) Do members of the faculty have a reputation for teaching separatist principles in a cogent manner?

(4) What kind of men and women serve on the institution’s board of trustees? Are they separatists with convictions? (The makeup of a board of trustees has an important impact upon the position of the school.)

(5) Do the school’s graduates give some evidence of being well-taught in separatist principles, or do most of them tend to vacillate?

Evaluating literature and curriculum

It is truly amazing how many churches purporting to be separatist in character use Sunday School and other literature that is in contradiction to that position. It is not acceptable that literature used for the training of believers be merely “evangelical” in its content. It needs to be more specific than that. We will never produce men and women of conviction if we do not teach them clearly and systematically the things for which we stand.

Summary observations

There are some questions that an individual needs to ask in determining where he should go to minister or whom he should use to fill his pulpit. For laypeople, the issue is where they can go to minister (e.g., music), who should publish their books, who they may invite to speak to men’s and ladies’ groups, and the like. Here are some questions to consider:

(1) How will my actions affect the ministries of other believers who are trying to take a stand for God in their own communities? On one occasion a professedly separatist college sent its choir to perform at a new evangelical church in an area where some separatist pastors were taking a stand against that church and its compromises. Needless to say, much harm was done.

(2) What theological confusion will be conveyed to the public if I (or my church) follow a given course of action? Will the position that I have occupied be blurred in the minds of people by my association with certain persons or groups? Is consistency important?

(3) What is the real purpose behind a group’s efforts to enlist my support? Nonseparatists often like to include separatists in their organization or cooperative endeavor as a kind of window dressing to prove that their group is truly a separatist body when, in fact, it may not be.

(4) What are the general attitudes of the body or individuals with whom I am considering cooperation? Have they demonstrated a true commitment to the principles that I hold? Are they willing to pay a price to hold them? And there is a price to be paid.

(Next: The Pitfalls of Separatists)


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.

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Pickering wrote:

More than one youth from a separatist congregation has been sent off to a supposedly fundamental school only to come back a full-blown new evangelical or, at best, a watered-down separatist.

I wonder why this happens ... ?

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?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Rather than focus on whether a university has separatist convictions, I suggest people ask themselves something like this (adapted from Pickering, above):

(1) Is the school’s leadership outspoken and clear in embracing a Biblical position on Christ, the Gospel and its implications?

(2) What kind of speakers address the student body? Are they men identified with theological orthodoxy and courage in this day of moral and Gospel anarchy, or are they “middle-of-the-roaders” who go either direction?

(3) Do members of the faculty have a reputation for teaching the Gospel and its implications for life in a cogent manner?

(4) What kind of men and women serve on the institution’s board of trustees? Are they Christians with actual convictions? (The makeup of a board of trustees has an important impact upon the position of the school.)

(5) Do the school’s graduates give some evidence of being well-taught in Christian principles, or do most of them tend to vacillate?

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?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Separation is a good and biblical concept. I think pastors need to think about WHO and WHAT needs separation today. You can be a cultural crusader, ever-anxious to preserve a very particular flavor of American Christianity characterized by an even more particular orthopraxy, or you can be a real fundamentalist.

Preach a thoughtful sermon about abortion, about homosexuality or about transgenderism. Preach about real "social justice," and the dangers of a theology and worldview that demands unending penance for being white, or heralds the so-called legitimacy of standpoint epistemology. These are the issues of the day; the ones the revisionists are pushing. That's what historic fundamentalists should be militant against. 

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?

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is what happens when an ecclesiastical group doesn't take separation seriously, but (sadly) the brand of separation peddled by some fundamentalists is much, much stricter: A Canadian Preacher Who Doesn’t Believe in God https://nyti.ms/2DQ0Uuh

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?

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding the question Tyler raises in his first post, it seems that a college could have non-separatist graduates for at least two reasons.  First, the college really is "closet non-separatist", and second, the students are viewing the arguments for separation and finding them wanting for whatever reason.  You can figure out which it is with a good, thorough look at chapel teaching and faculty publications.  That noted, it doesn't necessarily impugn a college to have graduates/former students who don't follow the company line.

That leads to some of the questions Tyler hints at; at precisely what things ought we to separate?  This is also precisely the point where I think the excerpts are fairly imprecise, and part of the problem is Pickering's insistence on secondary separation.  If I am talking about primary separation, I can simply point to a body of teaching or practice that is either sinful in itself (say by definition of 2 Timothy 3), or I can point to a pastor's writing that seems to deny one of the five fundamentals--it seems the most popular one to violate is the first.  

But when I am talking about secondary separation, I am (and Pickering is) really reduced to trying to judge at which point the "associations" of a brother in Christ are too suspect to tolerate.   We have a tough enough time figuring out actual sins and heresy in our own folds; we're suddenly going to be able to suss it out in friends of friends?  Are we serious here?  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

More than one youth from a separatist congregation has been sent off to a supposedly fundamental school only to come back a full-blown new evangelical or, at best, a watered-down separatist.

I wonder why this happens ... ?

I've heard BJU criticized for "watering down separatism" for:

-presenting eschatological views other than pre-trib rapture/pre-mill

-teaching Calvinism or something perceived as Calvinism

-presenting denominational views other than IFB

-for having non-Baptists speak and teach

-for selling books by authors like John MacArthur

 

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

Jay's picture

The key term in this article is “separatist”.  Almost everything must be done to defend “separatism” and “separatists”.  

Are we Christians first or separatists first? It seems to me that the primary concern of “being separated” in this article is distorting the whole point of being disciples of Christ in the first place.  It’s unhealthy to be a Christian that is separated from so many others because they might be somehow associated with someone who is insufficiently separatist enough.  That’s how you wind up with some of these hyper-fundamentalist sects and the endless and internecine wars we have seen.

People wonder how Piper and MacArthur were able to come in and steal the hearts of their separatist disciples and sons.  It's because Piper and MacArthur reoriented them towards standing for the faith instead of standing for separatism.

"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

pvawter's picture

Jay wrote:

The key term in this article is “separatist”.  Almost everything must be done to defend “separatism” and “separatists”.  

Are we Christians first or separatists first? It seems to me that the primary concern of “being separated” in this article is distorting the whole point of being disciples of Christ in the first place.  It’s unhealthy to be a Christian that is separated from so many others because they might be somehow associated with someone who is insufficiently separatist enough.  That’s how you wind up with some of these hyper-fundamentalist sects and the endless and internecine wars we have seen.

People wonder how Piper and MacArthur were able to come in and steal the hearts of their separatist disciples and sons.  It's because Piper and MacArthur reoriented them towards standing for the faith instead of standing for separatism.

I think your comments here overlook the simple fact that Pickering views separatism as a direct outgrowth of the principles of holiness. Therefore, he would say that your question is flawed when you ask, "Are we Christians or separatists first?" It's kind of like saying, "Are we called to be Christians or to be holy?" If you are one, then you must also be the other.

The excesses demonstrated by the so-called hyper-fundamentalists would be corrected if they simply followed Pickering's practical advice here. He isn't advocating for 8 degrees of separation from non-KJVOs or women wearing pants, and I think those who are vocal about such things probably would dismiss his points as weak and insufficient.

As far as Piper and MacArthur go, there's plenty to admire about their ministries, but there's also inconsistency when it comes to their public cooperation with brothers of various theological stripes. For instance, JM has taken a strong position against charismaticism for which I am grateful, but his unwillingness to separate from all Pentecostal brethren or the open-but-cautious crowd tends to weaken his stand, at least in my opinion.

It is encouraging to me, by the way, to see more fundamental ministries and fellowships define their positions in positive terms rather than negative. The state fellowship to which my church belongs, for example, changed its by-laws a few years back to reflect the theology for which we stand instead of the positions we opposed. We recognized that the names and ideas we stood against might change, but the truth we affirmed would not, and we wanted to offer a clear position that others could affirm in the future, yet we will not abandon our commitment to separation from unbelievers and disobedient brothers.

pvawter's picture

This is happening in our county.

http://www.refreshchurches.com

Churches from all sorts of denominations gather together for cooperative ministry, swapping pulpits, and doing "random acts of kindness." I get the idea but have no interest in joining in fellowship with them. Do I loudly denounce them from the pulpit? No. It's not a hobby horse, but it's something that comes up from time to time, and I make it clear that we are not getting involved with them. Separation is still necessary, but it doesn't have to be harsh or belligerent.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's a lot of "missing the context" going on in the comments. 

Rather than focus on whether a university has separatist convictions, I suggest people ask themselves something like this ...

Another...

Are we Christians first or separatists first?

First, there's the context of how books and articles work. All books and articles have topical focus. (Imagine a book store where all the books are called "Christianity.")

  • So someone writes a book about creation and creationists. Should we object: Are we Christians first or creationists first?
  • Or maybe he writes about inerrancy and inerrantists. Should we object: Are we Christians first or are we inerrantists first?
  • Or maybe he writes about the sanctity of life. Do we object: Are we Christians first or pro-lifers first?

Examples could be multiplied.

Second, the context of the times. Pickering was writing in a time when many ministries, institutions, associations, fellowships had been populated with higher critics/modernists and ecumenical evangelists (who sent converts to churches lead by higher critics/modernists). Leaders with a high view of Scripture had first fought for control of those organizations, then having lost that fight, fought to withdraw and bring all the faithful with them.

But many of the faithful didn't go... thus weakening the effort to form new organizations with strength matching the old, only with solid doctrinal foundations. Others sort of withdrew but maintained ties, similarly threatening the new efforts to realign ministries/institutions/organizations to the fundamentals of the faith.

In Pickering's day, the battle for control was lost and over with, the battle for withdrawing was still in progress, and the battle for making the withdrawn (the separated) viable was ongoing.

So naturally, he focuses on belief in and understanding of separatism. He was not talking to people who didn't believe in the fundamentals of the faith. He was talking to people who did, but who weren't understanding the importance of a new strong unity... because they continued to empower the apostate groups through their ties with them. ... or so it seemed, quite reasonably, at the time.

I still don't know if the perceived threat of the loosely-affiliated was really that much of a threat. We never really got to find out because so many separatists just kept splintering over smaller and smaller things... and inter-personal agendas.

But my point is that Pickering's focus has to do with

a) the nature of writing anything that has a focus and
b) the evangelical landscape of that time.

He can only be read fairly (like anyone else who writes anything) with attention to this context.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I know Pickering was writing for a different time. My comments are about applying them today. I doubt whether his time had more more capitulation from orthodoxy than we see today. He wrote his book in about 1970. What were the burning issues? Inerrancy and the charismatic movement were two big ones. I'm skeptical that the need for separation was more vital and pressing then. Its always vital; the crux is to figure out WHY and WHEN to do it. It's a matter of emphasis. 

I cannot imagine writing a book about separation. I would write a positive book about orthodoxy, and in the process note folks and movements that ACTUALLY impugn it. The enemy is the liberals and revisionists, not the evangelicals.

On a relatddd note, in our church's forthcoming revision of our doctrinal statement, we'll explicitly identify as an evangelical church. The self-identity of a fundamentalist label isn't worth having, because its been largely perverted by mission-drift in too many quarters. The ethos of REAL fundamentalism will be alive and well, but overt identification with a dying movement whose only distinctive and lasting theological contribution (so far) is books and articles about separation isn't a heritage to be proud of. 

In sum, I've taken on board the ethos and philosophy of the best versions of fundamentalism, but have no desire to formally align myself with the movement. As I re-read this article of mine after nearly one year, "A Report Card on Baptist Fundamentalism in 2018," I think it holds up quite well and I still agree with it. 

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?

Don Johnson's picture

That is, the "evangelicals" whose failure to fight modernists lost the battles in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and later plunged the Christian community at large into friendship with the world.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Craig Toliver's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

That is, the "evangelicals" whose failure to fight modernists lost the battles in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and later plunged the Christian community at large into friendship with the world.

Could you name 5?

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

At this year's G3 Conference (a Reformed event), the pre-conference was on Social Justice and the Gospel. This event, specifically the ethos and philosophy of the Christian life and pastoral ministry which prompted it, is real fundamentalism at its finest. At its best. It's separation at its best, too. Here are the introductory remarks from the pre-conference sponsor's website:

Postmodern thought has now made inroads into what until very recently, were conservative, Biblical Christian circles, all with the smiling face of “social justice.” The rapidity with which these deadly ideas have spread from the culture at large into churches and Christian organizations is truly shocking – all with an ever-present progressive political undertone that has become noticeable as the movement has gained steam. 

While the most influential French postmodernists, Derrida and Foucault, will not be immediately familiar to many citizens of western culture, their collective concepts have wreaked havoc amongst the socio-political and educational landscape in North America over the past decade.  As our secular educational institutions have become battlegrounds to “tear down the patriarchy” and to “root out white privilege,” this same battle has emerged within the most conservative of strongholds of the Christian church catching many congregants and seminarians unaware.

With this in mind, Sovereign Nations held its third purposed event titled “Social Justice & The Gospel: The God-breathed Hierarchy and the Postmodern Crisis within the Church.” It is our hope that these assembled scholars will help to elucidate the primary issues and concerns of this dangerous movement.

All conference videos are available here. If you want to see how to be a real fundamentalist, a real separatist, then this is how it's done. 

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?

Jay's picture

I knew as soon as I posted that these would be the inevitable and predictable responses, especially Don's little backhanded swipe.  So let me address them in order:

I think your comments here overlook the simple fact that Pickering views separatism as a direct outgrowth of the principles of holiness. Therefore, he would say that your question is flawed when you ask, "Are we Christians or separatists first?" It's kind of like saying, "Are we called to be Christians or to be holy?" If you are one, then you must also be the other.

I know and understand this.  But has the IFB movement ever distinguished itself by focusing on anything other than separation from others?  Where is our clear and precise stand on Christology, or Hamartiology, or the Trinity?  We're good on Bibliology - 75+ years of study and defense of that ought to make us good at it - but our publishing houses and online venues are generally distinguished by an unending drumbeat of 'separation'.

The excesses demonstrated by the so-called hyper-fundamentalists would be corrected if they simply followed Pickering's practical advice here. He isn't advocating for 8 degrees of separation from non-KJVOs or women wearing pants, and I think those who are vocal about such things probably would dismiss his points as weak and insufficient.

I agree with this.

As far as Piper and MacArthur go, there's plenty to admire about their ministries, but there's also inconsistency when it comes to their public cooperation with brothers of various theological stripes. For instance, JM has taken a strong position against charismaticism for which I am grateful, but his unwillingness to separate from all Pentecostal brethren or the open-but-cautious crowd tends to weaken his stand, at least in my opinion.

The inevitable 'yeah, but' comment just had to be made about other Christians.

Look, my point was that people were attracted to Mac and Piper because they stood for something other than separation.  It isn't an endorsement of Mac or Piper en toto, nor is it an insinuation that they are doing something wrong.  It's just a remark that their ministries are much more interesting and attractive to Christians than ones that are constantly beating the war drum of separation.  That's all, and Tyler has made the same point earlier in this thread.  People in the churches I attend have heard of Mac and Piper.  Pickering on separation?  Not so much, even though we do teach it.

It is encouraging to me, by the way, to see more fundamental ministries and fellowships define their positions in positive terms rather than negative. The state fellowship to which my church belongs, for example, changed its by-laws a few years back to reflect the theology for which we stand instead of the positions we opposed. We recognized that the names and ideas we stood against might change, but the truth we affirmed would not, and we wanted to offer a clear position that others could affirm in the future, yet we will not abandon our commitment to separation from unbelievers and disobedient brothers.

I've noticed this as well, and I'm glad it's occurring, but it wasn't all that long ago that there was yet another trumpet blast about the phantom menace of the 'convergents', who are still yet to be defined other than 'I know them when I see them'.

But my point is that Pickering's focus has to do with

a) the nature of writing anything that has a focus and
b) the evangelical landscape of that time.

He can only be read fairly (like anyone else who writes anything) with attention to this context.

I understand that too.  It would be...difficult...to write a post on this thread without mentioning separation.  I fully understand that Pickering's book is the product of the battles with liberals and new-evangelicals.  MY point is that the threat landscape has changed, in case anyone hasn't noticed, and maybe it's time to bury the hatchet with Mac or Dever or whoever because the secular left is coming for us and in a big way.  But we're too busy reading the histories of our forebears to pay attention to the barbarians at the gate and spilling over the walls.

"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

Jay's picture

I haven't watched the videos yet, but Tyler's post for the G3 conference is exactly what I'm talking about.  Instead of "social justice is bad, separate", we get a clear understanding of what it is (defined by their proponents instead of by people who don't know), and an articulation of why it's wrong and how to respond rightly to it.  Not another blogpost yelling at people to 'separate' from a movement they don't even understand or may not even be aware of.  You know where Baucham, Johnson, etc stand on it because they take the time to articulate and address it instead of just blasting away.

Props, by the way, to Baucham for that impressive beard!

 

"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

Joeb's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

That is, the "evangelicals" whose failure to fight modernists lost the battles in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and later plunged the Christian community at large into friendship with the world.

Don read or hear the news lately especially the Funny papers.  The Fringe has many gross sin problems so don’t take a back handed swipe at Evangelicals.  Your still stuck in the original battle.  Your side needs to move away from that battle against the Evangelicals and alleged Compromisers.  Everyone has their weak sinful people unfortunately some people fail to look at themselves in the mirror and that’s on all sides.  

Bert Perry's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

That is, the "evangelicals" whose failure to fight modernists lost the battles in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and later plunged the Christian community at large into friendship with the world.

Don, as someone who has inhabited evangelical and fundamental churches, I'd like to invite you to flesh this out a touch.  Exactly how has this happened? 

My experience in evangelical churches (an EFCA church, a predominantly Chinese denomination, and a few more) is that those who have come out of liberal churches (like my childhood United Methodists) have very little interest in partnering with theological liberals, perhaps outside of Billy Graham crusades and such.  For that matter, even most people there are fairly suspicious of Graham for a very simple reason; his fruit tended to be very, very temporary.  (really the biggest reason to avoid Graham, IMO)

I would even dare say that those in these churches tended to hold to the theological fundamentals more strongly than a lot of self-describing fundamentalists because a lot of "cultural fundamentalism" appears to contradict Scripture, at least in my view.  If you need to have a sophisticated workaround to explain what Scripture says, don't be surprised when someone questions your adherence to fundamental #1, the inerrancy of Scripture.

And for the hundredth time, if someone's got a good, compelling counter-argument, have at it.  But all in all, when I look at evangelicals, I see people who get some things right, some things wrong, but all in all, I don't see a huge difference between their walks with Christ and those of self-described fundamentalists--except they generally spend a lot less time fighting.  And that is, IMO, a good thing.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

That is, the "evangelicals" whose failure to fight modernists lost the battles in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and later plunged the Christian community at large into friendship with the world.

 

 

Don, as someone who has inhabited evangelical and fundamental churches, I'd like to invite you to flesh this out a touch.  Exactly how has this happened? 

Bert, just read the history. The reason the Fundamentalists lost in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was betrayal by the moderates. Even Curtis Lee Laws, who coined the term, voted against the fundamentalist side when it counted (if I recall correctly). I would recommend you read Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, and anything by Marsden on the period. I think Pickering covered it briefly in the book quoted in the original article.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

I don't have time to pull out Pickering, Beale, Marsden, or others so I am lifting this list of major events in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy from Wikipedia:

  • The Old-Side–New-Side Split (1741–58) and the Old-School–New-School Split (1838–69)
  • The rise of Higher Criticism and the Briggs Affair, 1880–93
  • The aftermath of the Briggs Affair, 1893–1900
  • The movement to revise the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1900–1910
  • The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910 (The Five Fundamentals)
  • The Fundamentals and "Back to Fundamentals"
  • Ecumenism, 1908–21
  • "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" (1922)
  • William Jennings Bryan and the General Assembly of 1923.
  • The General Assembly of 1923
  • The Auburn Affirmation (1923–24)
  • The General Assembly of 1924
  • Conservative activities prior to the 1924 General Assembly
  • Liberal activities prior to the 1924 General Assembly
  • Convening the Assembly
  • The General Assembly of 1925
  • The Scopes Trial (1925)
  • The Special Commission of 1925 and the General Assembly of 1926
  • The Battle for Princeton Theological Seminary, 1926–29
  • Foreign missions 1930–36

I know the liberals 'won' - I go by their empty shrines to the social justice god or the peace god or the Democrat party god quite literally every day.  They're empty husks of barrenness, and generally the only people in there are tourists taking photos of 'what used to be'.  All of us here know that.  All of us have heard the stories of betrayals and people who sold out to keep their pensions or their homes.  

You say "The reason the Fundamentalists lost in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was "betrayal by the moderates".  Just because some people sold out or betrayed the Fundamentalists doesn't mean that everyone did.  A lot of people were turned off by precisely the same thing that they're being turned off by today - the unending wars within the fundamentalist movement over xyz and abc; matters that didn't matter then and have been buried on the ash-heap of history now.  Stand up for something worth defending [the real fundamentals], and maybe you can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

I'll close with this quote from the film version of The Return of the King:

They guard it because they have hope. Faith and fading hope that one day it will flower. That a king will come and this city will be as it once was before it fell into decay. The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.

-Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Know your history.  Appreciate your history.  But stop this obsession with "heraldry" and "asking questions of the stars".  There is too much to do now to worry about lost theological fights from the turn of the 20th Century.  We have hope - that a Real King will really return and will really set things right, and that He will rule the nations with justice and mercy.  He will put an end to the old way of things and establish a new heavens and a new earth where compromise and sin will be gone, and He will be our God and we will be His children.  Teach people about that.

"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

Don Johnson's picture

although I didn't know Tolkien was an apostle.

When you can cite actual Bible references as your authority, I might think you have a point.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Agree that the battles of the past should not be permitted to distract from the battles of the present. Also true, though, that we are better equipped to make important distinctions and take important stands in theology and alliances, etc., now, if we understand the history of separatist efforts.

As for why we lost the fight with the theological liberals, this was only one of the fights. It's probably true that the battle for control of the denominations/associations/institutions failed due to moderates not joining the effort. But after that, separatists did an amazing job of defeating themselves, partly by viewing moderates as "the real enemy" rather than as leaders who made a tough decision incorrectly and who might be won over eventually. Once the denominations/institutions were lost, it wasn't in anyone's best interests to just shift all the energy toward denouncing the moderates.

The "real enemy" remained what it always was, and still is today: teachings that claim to be Christian but reject the clear teaching of Scripture. The category never changes. The list items change, or at least re-order, from generation to generation.

I'm persuaded that majoring on minors always loses more than it gains.

Don Johnson's picture

Actually, Aaron, I don't think the leaders of Fundamentalism from say 1930 to 1955 spent much time attacking the moderates. Instead, they spent their time building their own institutions, the NEA, Youth for Christ, GARBC, etc. The problem was, the moderates revenged themselves by creating new evangelicalism and gave the store away to liberalism once again.

I admit that fundamentalists of the 70s and 80s (and still today) made/make a lot of mistakes in shooting at each other. But don't diminish the culpability of the theological moderates for diminishing the fundamentalist movement and creating the amorphous disaster that is modern evangelicalism.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

"Don't diminish the culpability of the theological [fundamentalists] for diminishing the fundamentalist movement."

Or, as Phil Johnson said years ago (although many demonized him for it at the time):

“Fundamentalists” who tied themselves to the movement got sidetracked into fighting and dividing into ever-smaller and less significant factions. They managed to start with the all the right ideas, all the right enemies, and all the best men—and reduce their movement to virtual insignificance in less than a hundred years.

“Moderates” never did anything, period, except gum up the works of denominational discipline, while compromising and clouding everything that ought to be kept crystal-clear.

If you think about it, the twentieth century saw the same pattern repeated that you see throughout all of church history. The true vitality of the church is traceable through the nonconformists, the independents, the true biblical separatists. The true secret of their power is not—and never has been—in earthly organizations, political clout, or visible movements of any kind. Their power is derived from the biblical truth they preach. And the influence of that kind of power has always been what determines the relative health and spiritual vigor of the church.

In fact, if you want to see a who’s who of influential people in British church history, visit the nonconformist burial ground at Bunhill Fields in London. These are the people whose influence has done the most good for the church throughout her history. They are the ones that were ejected from the established church for refusing to conform to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. They built independent churches, and they were devoted to the truth and opposed to every kind of spiritual compromise. They were militant in defense of the truth. And they will stand alone if necessary. That’s the spirit fundamentalism ought to have cultivated, but it forfeited that spirit by becoming a movement ruled by politics and parties and petty tyrants.

When the spirit of independency flourishes, the church thrives. When simple gospel truth is proclaimed and human hierarchies are kept to a minimum, the church flourishes. When organizations, hierarchies, and human clout comes to the forefront, the church’s power wanes. That’s why I don’t care if the fundamentalist movement dies as a movement. I think it would untie the hands of a lot of godly men who are currently in bondage to other people’s opinions, and that would be a good thing.

I don't trust in the fundamentalist movement any more either.  But the idea of fundamentalism is, well, a fundamental worth fighting for and believing in.

"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

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don Johnson wrote:

Actually, Aaron, I don't think the leaders of Fundamentalism from say 1930 to 1955 spent much time attacking the moderates. Instead, they spent their time building their own institutions, the NEA, Youth for Christ, GARBC, etc. The problem was, the moderates revenged themselves by creating new evangelicalism and gave the store away to liberalism once again.

I admit that fundamentalists of the 70s and 80s (and still today) made/make a lot of mistakes in shooting at each other. But don't diminish the culpability of the theological moderates for diminishing the fundamentalist movement and creating the amorphous disaster that is modern evangelicalism.

I was actually thinking of the posture toward moderates after all the denominations and associations were lost... which I guess, now that I'm digging all that up again, may have been a longer period than I was thinking. If memory serves (I don't have good sources handy), the fundamentalist pull out from the Conservative Baptist Association was the last such event, or close to the last. Wasn't that in the 60's?

At any rate, I often wonder what might have happened to the movement if, say GARBC, IFCA, ACCC, BBF, and FBF had maintained -- or formed -- close ties rather than operating completely independently of (if not with active hostility toward) eachother. Moot now, but I got the impression in the 80's and 90's that the movement ate its own young.

Don Johnson's picture

At any rate, I often wonder what might have happened to the movement if, say GARBC, IFCA, ACCC, BBF, and FBF had maintained -- or formed -- close ties rather than operating completely independently of (if not with active hostility toward) each other.

A fair question, but Baptists in America have long debated whether they should operate denominationally or independently, the "convention model" vs. the "society model." It didn't start with the Fundamenalist-Modernist controversy. It was a controversy that in part led to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, as distinct from the more independent Northern Baptists who didn't form a Convention for about 60 years after the SBC.

Its really hard to get all Baptists on the same page on this issue.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don wrote:

A fair question, but Baptists in America have long debated whether they should operate denominationally or independently, the "convention model" vs. the "society model." It didn't start with the Fundamenalist-Modernist controversy. It was a controversy that in part led to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, as distinct from the more independent Northern Baptists who didn't form a Convention for about 60 years after the SBC.

Its really hard to get all Baptists on the same page on this issue.

I think part of the problem has been not looking at all of the options. There are a lot of things that could have happened (maybe still could) between the two poles of independent-and-not-even-talking-to-eachother and convention-with-strong-central-authority. I haven't really been watching much in the last decade or so, for quite a while there it looked to me like leaders of the various conservative Baptist and baptistic church fellowships were not even in touch with each other, much less actively looking for ways to strengthen eachother's ministries and organizations. I do see some signs lately that this is improving.

Part of the challenge, too, I think has been for ministry leaders to somehow improve the sense of proportion among those in the pews. There has been, and still is, much lack of awareness of context both theologically and socially, and so there's an environment where the smallest of issues is encouraged to become some kind of basis for righteous indignation, "battle royale," and various degrees of chilled relationships (from quiet split, to cold detente, to relentless pubic denunciation).

It's hard for groups that essentially agree to work together if they are unable to accurately identify "essentials" or even know that there is a way to stand firm on your particulars within a relationship of mutual respect -- and even a bit of cooperation.

Bert Perry's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

That is, the "evangelicals" whose failure to fight modernists lost the battles in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and later plunged the Christian community at large into friendship with the world.

 

 

Don, as someone who has inhabited evangelical and fundamental churches, I'd like to invite you to flesh this out a touch.  Exactly how has this happened? 

 

 

Bert, just read the history. The reason the Fundamentalists lost in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was betrayal by the moderates. Even Curtis Lee Laws, who coined the term, voted against the fundamentalist side when it counted (if I recall correctly). I would recommend you read Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, and anything by Marsden on the period. I think Pickering covered it briefly in the book quoted in the original article.

 

The history is that while yes, certain moderates did not separate from liberal churches prior to WWII, that's irrelevant as we address why a lot of fundamentalists left that camp after WWII to become evangelicals.  The only thing that would connect the two groups, really, is that both were often responding to the excesses (real and perceived) of the fundamental camp.  

And really, let's parse things out.  Having grown up in a liberal church, I'm well aware of the division between theological liberals and evangelicals there--it's especially acute when you get away from big cities, the seminaries, and university towns.  But if you'd "taken back" the denominations politically back in the Hoover administration or so, all you've done is to create situations where you've got incessant warfare in the church.  There is a time where it's simply better to pick up your marbles and go home.  

Plus, as Jay noted, if you actually do succeed in winning a huge portion of the old congregation to your position, the building becomes an empty shell that the denomination will end up selling in due time for a song because there are not that many other uses for church buildings besides being a church.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JBL's picture

Aaron wrote

I think part of the problem has been not looking at all of the options. 

This is an analysis that fundamentalist churches and pastors will be better served to do soon. 

For nearly 50 years, the MO of separation for too many fundamentalist churches has been an isolationist "take my ball and go home" stripe.  I understand how this came to be, and generally can't blame the decision to do so in the 60's and 70's.  Fellowship and cooperation with the moderates was a liability, and churches and relationships were already burned from it.

But since that time, the moderates have revealed themselves to be more heterogeneous than assumed, and out of that milieu, came biblically discerning ministries that were sensitive to inerrancy and accurate biblical teaching.  These ministries have now lapped fundamentalist institutions in several areas:

  1. Practical scholarship and writing
  2. Inter-ministerial cooperation
  3. Growth

Since fundamentalism already separated from the moderates due to their impending apostasy, it really has no good answer as to why the conservative evangelicals exist and are flourishing - and I mean this from a very practical pulpit to pew sense.  It can either say that the "take my ball and go home" strategy is currently not the optimum, or that the conservative evangelical churches are still compromisers and are to be avoided.  Many are still choosing the latter, a position that I believe will be increasingly untenable as time goes on.

My hope is that the vast majority of fundamentalism comes to a point where it can at least conclude that it has many brothers and sisters in Christ who are of the more moderate stripe who still take the bible literally and seriously, and use it as their only guide in following Christ as disciples.  Once there, a good first step would be to offer public commendation for those areas that these churches and ministries are doing well and are worthy of encouragement and prayer.

John B. Lee

Ron Bean's picture

At any rate, I often wonder what might have happened to the movement if, say GARBC, IFCA, ACCC, BBF, and FBF had maintained -- or formed -- close ties rather than operating completely independently of (if not with active hostility toward) each other. Moot now, but I got the impression in the 80's and 90's that the movement ate its own young.

I agree that this is a moot point now and it's too late to reverse the damage but this brought back memories. It's what made me move to an historical fundamentalist position and away from the fundamentalist position that seemed preoccupied with separation from brethren. I was a BJU grad and the pastor of a GARBC church and fellow shipped with brothers in these other groups as well as the Free Presbyterians and the invisible walls (not low fences)between me and others was uncomfortable. I don't think I was alone.

BTW, I say "too late" because some of these groups have separated themselves into insignificance. Just compare their memberships/fellowship numbers of the 70's and 80's to today.  

 

 

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

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