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.

4188 reads

There are 43 Comments

Don Johnson's picture

JBL wrote:

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.

I disagree with the characterization. If you are man-centered, it is "take my ball and go home." If you are God-centered, you are saying "What associations honor God?"

The problem with the persistence of the moderates include:

  1. Pragmatism. As one of my profs once said, the trouble with pragmatism is, it works. Just because something "works" doesn't mean the philosophy honors God.
  2. Continued compromise. Especially with charismatics. Can't work with them. They are a major problem, and err in a fundamental area, inspiration. They add to the Scriptures. Besides them, there are numerous other examples of varying compromises with error and or apostasy that are regularly overlooked. Think for example of Driscoll and James McDonald and the long, long rope given to them.
  3. Worldliness. Its still there, it's still an issue, it won't go away.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

From the Snodgrass Dictionary of Popular Pulpit Rhetoric...  

word-li-ness n. - whatever culturally normal things people do that I think they shouldn't, especially when the practice became popular after some arbitrary (relatively recent) date.

Yeah, it's a fictional dictionary, but I've never been able to figure out a better definition of what most seem to mean by the term. 

Jay's picture

The problem with the persistence of the moderates include:

Pragmatism. As one of my profs once said, the trouble with pragmatism is, it works. Just because something "works" doesn't mean the philosophy honors God.

It doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong either.  Lots of stuff 'just works', but we don't throw it out.

Continued compromise. Especially with charismatics. Can't work with them. They are a major problem, and err in a fundamental area, inspiration. They add to the Scriptures. Besides them, there are numerous other examples of varying compromises with error and or apostasy that are regularly overlooked. Think for example of Driscoll and James McDonald and the long, long rope given to them.

As one of the dreaded "convergents", I'd just like to note that I was one of the first to come out swinging against Driscoll (on the Pornographic Divination thread) and against McDonald (on the Elephant Room thread).  I think everyone here sees and vehemently disagrees with Charismatics for many of the same points you made - I know I've made the same point about how it alters the doctrine of Bibliology.  So who are you really targeting?  MacArthur doesn't hang with Driscoll.  Dever doesn't either.  CJ Mahaney has largely retreated from the limelight, although it still boggles my mind that he is in ministry.  I don't see any huge groundswell of support within what's left of the Fundamentalist movement for either of the men you cited.  I don't even see it in my largely conservative evangelical church either.

And I'm just going to note that the problem of inconsistency cuts both ways.  There are plenty of headshakers in 'our world' as well.  Do you hate that compromise as much, or is it excused because we run in the same circles and he's really a good person, even if he's too strong on the KJV?

Worldliness. Its still there, it's still an issue, it won't go away.

And your point is?  Worldliness has been a problem since John wrote 1 John.  Now seems like kind of a weird time to pick on it.  What about other doctrinal errors?  Why is it that worldliness is the catch-all category that gets brought up time and time again? 

"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

I've put some work into defining it better. More yet to be done, but the relevant point here is that the term can't carry much weight as an argument if we don't define it in a way that is biblically sound and internally consistent. Otherwise, it just serves as a catch-all. (More on that: Whatever Happened to Worldliness? and What Does Worldly Look Like? Part 3 - which links to Parts 1 and 2.)

JBL's picture

Don is correct in that there is much in the way of the moderates that would cause associational concern.  Those should be pointed out.  I'm certainly not advocating an undiscerning acceptance of all ministries.

Also in response to Don's rebuttal, I will amend my previous "take my ball and go home" characterization as being too harsh to describe the actions of fundamentalist separatists two generations ago.  I generally support that action for that time. 

What I'm hoping will happen quickly is a balance in how fundamentalists evaluate the moderates.  It is fine to offer criticism, but are there any aspects of those ministries that are praise-worthy?  Is there nothing about them to commend?  And if there are, fundamentalists would be better served in acknowledging them.  We have biblical examples of balanced evaluations of ministries with serious issues.  Paul's epistles to the Galatians and Corinthians, as well as Christ's letters to the seven churches all strike this balance.  The issues in those churches pretty much mirror the worldliness and heresy issues that Don brought up.  Also note that scripture does not mandate that all other churches avoid fellowship with them.

Balance is important for the person making a polemical assessment since without it, the person and his position rapidly loses credibility.  Think about the right wing and left wing pundits whose job is to provoke and instigate based on emotion, not balanced analysis.  Does anyone think that either Coulter or Dowd, Limbaugh or Lemon are credible sources of political acumen or policy?  The answer is no because they lack balance.

If fundamentalism seeks to contend for the faith, never mind doing so militantly, it needs credibility.  And its credibility is lost or severely damaged when it makes condemning broad brush claims across all moderate ministries, even those that are producing good fruit. 

What hurts the most is the thought that its credibility is being lost, maybe not to the unsaved, or even to the moderates, but among its own members.  And this begs the question - is the diminution of its ranks because of compromise, or because the 21st century American version is no longer credible?

John B. Lee

Don Johnson's picture

JBL, I mostly agree with your comment above. One problem I see, however, is that for many, balance means never criticizing. A few years ago the FBFI published a resolution on Piper, with an accompanying article by Mike Riley. The article, I thought, was fair. It contained commendations and cautions. Piper himself thought it was fair. But check the reaction here on SI at the time. (I'm pretty sure it was discussed here.) The general response was along the lines of "There you go again, always criticizing." Well. 

If we aren't allowed to voice any cautions, criticisms, or concerns, how is that balanced?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Joeb's picture

Don when someone like you raises a criticism you definitely should be heard.  No doubt.  Your reputation is impeccable and your opinion should be highly considered.  

Where I struggle is when people in the FBFI have done obvious wrong and then expect their opinion to be considered as if they have  never sullied their reputations. Even using highly questionable people to back them up as if they have done nothing wrong instead of admitting fault and moving on.   

It is these separatists who have destroyed the arguments and opinions from people like you Don.  Your own people harm your opinion which causes others to paint with a broad brush unfairly.   

Dave White's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
A few years ago the FBFI published a resolution on Piper, with an accompanying article by Mike Riley. The article, I thought, was fair. It contained commendations and cautions. Piper himself thought it was fair. But check the reaction here on SI at the time. (I'm pretty sure it was discussed here.) The general response was along the lines of "There you go again, always criticizing."

Here's all the Mike Riley articles ... wasn't published here.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Looks like the original discussion was 2005? If so, I can confirm that that's gone. If it was late 2006 or later it's probably backed up, but not in a format that would be easy to extract.

Might show up in the Wayback Machine/archive.org

But what would it prove?

Whenever there is public criticism of a ministry or leader that is controversial, some will feel the criticism is too harsh, or inaccurate, or delivered by someone who lacks standing to deliver it, etc. Sometimes they'll be right. But this is true, whether the"target" is conservative evangelical, or fundamentalist, or something else.

Don Johnson's picture

Dave White wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

A few years ago the FBFI published a resolution on Piper, with an accompanying article by Mike Riley. The article, I thought, was fair. It contained commendations and cautions. Piper himself thought it was fair. But check the reaction here on SI at the time. (I'm pretty sure it was discussed here.) The general response was along the lines of "There you go again, always criticizing."

 

Here's all the Mike Riley articles ... wasn't published here.

 

And how does this further the discussion? the article was discussed here. I don't recall if it was published here. I'm pretty sure the Piper response was linked here, which would have produced discussion. Regardless, my point stands. It would be nice for you to actually have something to say about the discussion rather than attempt to attack the messenger.

That is, however, the way moderates tend to work.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that if the most recent evidence of "there you go again, always criticizing" is 2005, maybe....maybe....we ought to consider whether we still ought to consider it an offense that is relevant today?  Let's be honest here; I'm not a great scholar of the FBFI, but for what I've seen, the key things they need to deal with are things like their "convergent" issue, which issued huge warnings about an undefined group of people that readers were supposed to apparently instinctively know.

And the fix for things like that is simple; if you're going to warn about a movement, you define that movement and speak specifically to the things to which you object.  If one happens to be an editor of a publication, one holds writers' feet to the fire on issues like that.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

And how does this further the discussion? the article was discussed here. I don't recall if it was published here. I'm pretty sure the Piper response was linked here, which would have produced discussion. Regardless, my point stands. It would be nice for you to actually have something to say about the discussion rather than attempt to attack the messenger.

That is, however, the way moderates tend to work.

If the article was linked here, and it is the thread that someone linked to earlier, then rest assured that there was no Fundamentalism bashing or attacks on the FBFI in it.  I re-read the thread (well, skimmed it) last night and there was a lot of discussion about the role of the emotions/affections but nothing about the evils of John Piper, the FBFI, or anyone else in particular.  I think you weighed in at one point, Don, and I know I did, but there weren't any complaints about the FBFI that I saw.  I wasn't interested enough to do a keyword search and be certain.  

So let's (please) stick a fork in the discussion about the evils of moderates and their hatred for all things separatist and return to the main point of this thread.

"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

Pages

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.