Against "Secondary Separation"

In 1974, the evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book on separation entitled Come Out or Stay In. Most Baptist fundamentalists are familiar with Ernest Pickering’s book on the same subject, but few are aware that Rice contributed to the discussion. Fewer still are aware he took a dim view of “secondary separation.” In this excerpt,1 Rice states his position plainly:

There is a Bible doctrine of separation. There is not a Bible doctrine of secondary separation. What do we mean?

Define “secondary separation”

The Bible very clearly teaches that we should not give Christian recognition nor Christian fellowship to those who are “unbelievers,” the unconverted, but we should come out and be separate from them (2 Cor 6:14-18). The Christian should not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, not sit in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1). He should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” (Eph 5:11). The Christian should not receive into his house (or pulpit or college or denominational program or even church membership) one who has forsaken the Bible doctrine of separation.

We are also told that sometimes the actions and attitudes of Christians can be so ungodly and wrong that we ought not associate with them. So in 1 Corinthians 5:12 the church at Corinth was commanded not to have fellowship with the nominal Christian if he be “ … a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” Also, Christians who rail and make divisions and strife cannot well be given warm Christian fellowship, and thus have their sin condemned.

I say, there is the Bible doctrine of “separation.”

But what is called “secondary separation” means not only must the Christian be separated from liberals, modernists, unbelievers, but he is to separate from anybody who does not separate enough from unbelievers. Those who insist on secondary separation say that if a man leaves the denomination because of some modernists in the denomination, then he ought also separate and break all fellowship with others who do not leave the denomination. If a Christian should separate and not take part on a program with a modernist, they say, then one should not appear on the same program with anybody else who has sometimes had some fellowship with the modernists.

Now, if The Sword of the Lord took that viewpoint, it would mean that since there are modernists among Southern Baptists and I cannot support their program, then I ought not publish any sermons by good, Bible-believing men who are still in the Southern Baptist Convention and who, thus, in some sense, may be thought to either support or condone or excuse the denominational program. That we do not believe. Because we may not agree on some matter of affiliation is not a reason necessarily for breaking Christian fellowship.

How we practice scriptural separation

We think that this editor’s position on following Bible rules about separation has been consistent through long years. Years ago when I found that to support the denominational program among Southern Baptists would mean supporting some modernists and some false teaching, I left the Southern Baptist Convention. I was not turned out; as a matter of conviction, I left that which I could not conscientiously support.

I did not break fellowship with born-again Christians, godly, spiritual, good men, among Southern Baptists. I still have had revival campaigns in some Southern Baptist churches. I still used Southern Baptist preachers on Sword of the Lord conference programs. I had Dr. John L. Hill, editorial secretary of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, and Dr. R. G. Lee, then pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, as judges on the Sword of the Lord panel of book club judges. I preached in a revival campaign with famous Southern Baptist singer B. B. McKinney leading the singing, and he and I had some sweet fellowship. He came to my new home and helped dedicate it by having a song and prayer and Scripture in every room.

In The Sword of the Lord I continue to publish sermons by L. R. Scarborough, B. H. Carroll, George W Truett, R. G. Lee, W. A. Criswell, E. J. Daniels, Jesse. M. Hendley, Herschel Ford, and others. I published sermons by Dr. W. B. Riley when he was still in the American Baptist Convention, and I published his departing message when he left the convention. I published sermons by Dr. Bob Shuler when he was pastor of Trinity Methodist Church in Los Angeles, and we published three books of his. These men were noble, godly men who believed the Bible and won souls.

I have felt that they were slow to come to the conclusion that they ought to come out and separate from denominational programs supported by modernists and largely controlled by modernists. I felt free to say so. But I counted these good Christian men as good Christian men and I loved them and said so. I had fellowship with them because we were together on the main things – the great essential fundamentals of the faith.

Through the years we have felt a clear duty to love born-again Christians, people who had a holy devotion to Christ and the Bible and the fundamentals of the Christian faith and who tried to win souls. So we published a sermon on Hell by Colonel Brengle of the Salvation Army and another by Dr. H. C. Morrison. Though we did not agree to their teaching of entire sanctification, we did believe what they preached in those messages.

We publish messages by Dr. James M. Gray, president of Moody Bible Institute, and Bishop Ryle of England because they were noble, good men of God. We did not publish and did not agree with some of their Episcopalian viewpoints.

We publish many sermons by Charles H. Spurgeon, great soul winner and mighty preacher, though we do not agree with part of his Calvinism. We have published sermons by Dr. Carl McIntire, though we do not agree on sprinkling babies.

Again, let us make our position clear. This editor came out of the Southern Baptist Convention, refusing to support the relatively small number of modernists then in the program, when Dr. Carl McIntire was still in the Northern Presbyterian Church, Dr Bob Jones, Sr., was still in the Methodist Church and Dr. W. B. Riley was still in the Northern Baptist Convention. We were pressing hard against the liberalism in Fuller Seminary and trying to save it for the fundamentals of the faith when Dr Woodbridge was active on the faculty and before he came out.

We made our open break with modernistic leaders and programs when it was a lonely, hard business and not convenient or popular. We helped fundamentalists and gave them a platform and helped them wherever we could. With Dr. H. A. Ironside and Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., we worked actively in the organization of the National Association of Evangelicals. I was on the International Commission of that group when the executive secretary made a strong attack on Dr. Carl McIntire and I immediately resigned. I would not be counted against a godly fundamentalist.

I think that well-informed people all know that my position has been consistent and my voice has been clear in standing against modernism and against association and support of modernists and in defense of fundamental doctrine and fundamental brethren. I have tried to practice Biblical separation.

But I do not find what is called “secondary separation” in the Bible. I did not believe that Dr. W. B. Riley, organizer of the World’s Fundamental Association and fighting consistently for the inspiration of the Bible and the fundamentals of the faith, was a crook one day because he was in the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Convention) and that he was a saint the next day after he announced his withdrawal. I think he probably should have come out sooner, but he was a good Christian trying to do right. He loved the Lord and believed the Bible. He was my beloved brother.

On this matter, let me say again as I have said before, I have tried to follow two Scriptures:

I am a companion of them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts (Ps 119:63)

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations (Rom 14:1).


1 John R. Rice, Come Out or Stay In (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) 217 – 221.

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There are 6 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


You have to draw them somewhere, and wherever you draw them there will be some individual cases that make the location of the line look absurd. (It's like the speed limit: why is 60 better than 61? Or the "age of majority": why is 18 better than 17.75?)

I don't remember the historical details now, but I believe there was a falling out between Rice and Bob Jones Jr. and that the degrees of separation were a factor in that. Maybe the primary factor.

AndyE's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I don't remember the historical details now, but I believe there was a falling out between Rice and Bob Jones Jr. and that the degrees of separation were a factor in that. Maybe the primary factor.

I used to have a little booklet, written by BJjr, entitled, "Facts J R Rice will not face" or something similar.  I loaned it to someone years ago and never got it back.  I think "degrees of separation" frames the issue the wrong way. I think you look at passages such as Romans 16:17-18 and ask, is this person or ministry causing divisions and offenses contrary to the apostolic doctrine? If so, then you have to avoid/separate.  The thing causing it may be direct false doctrine, or it could be giving Christian recognition to unbelievers, or it could be something else.  The question is not, how many degrees of separation, but is what this person doing -- will it cause damage to the truth of the gospel, or contribute to the spiritual downfall of others?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I grew up (and still am) Southern Baptist.  I also grew up with John R. Rice and the Sword of the Lord.  It was a good combination, and it’s good to hear from him again. 

Separation is a difficult and ambiguous issue.  It’s also difficult / impossible to be consistent on separation.  I basically agree with Rice, and praise God for the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  But I also thank God for the many conservatives who stayed in and fought and won the battle.  Rice, even though he was out of the SBC, still had a positive influence in the Conservative Resurgence because of his strong stand for the fundamentals of the faith.  I think most of the leaders in the Conservative Resurgence were subscribers to the Sword of the Lord. 

And thank God for our military on this 75th anniversary of D-Day.  

David R. Brumbelow

Don Johnson's picture

when a certain prominent evangelist started including modernists and resigned from his board, he took his name off the Sword masthead and spoke out against him

Rice didn't practice secondary separation in exactly the same way as others, but he did practice it regardless of his rhetoric.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

RajeshG's picture

2 Chronicles 19:1-3 

1 And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem.

2 And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord.

3 Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God.

Although Jehoshaphat was a godly believer overall, he made a wicked alliance with king Ahab (2 Chron. 18). After he had done so (2 Chron. 19:1), the prophet Jehu reproved him for his ungodly alliance and even declared that God’s wrath was on Jehoshaphat for his doing so (2 Chron. 19:2).

It is worth noting that in his rebuke of Jehoshaphat, Jehu also did acknowledge that there were good things in Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 19:3).

This passage instructs us that we are to speak out against other believers who enter into ungodly alliances with evil people.

Joel Tetreau's picture

I agree with Don Johnson.... (I'm sure Don is as amused by that statement as I am - it's fun to agree with Don here... we don't always agree.... Smile )

Like Don ... It's clear to me John R. Rice did practice a kind of separation from other ecclesiastical leaders if/when their approach was too different in his view. 

I'll let Don speak to what degree he agreed/disagreed with Rice.

Actually I love much of what Rice was trying to do. Their was so much second and third and fourth level mud-throwing - my guess is Rice was tired of it... sick of it. I don't blame him a bit. I've be shocked over the years to find out how wide Rice was appreciated in other corners of the Evangelical tent. 

In one sense it's hard to compare today with then. Sure there are some things that are similar but the evangelical - fundamentalist divide and inter-relationship vs. non-relationship is so very much changed... it's almost a different ecclesiastical planet... at least in my view. 

My guess is many of us in the IFCA world would be less inclined to separate as often as Dr. Bob Jr. would have been in those days... and maybe a bit more than Rice was in those days.... but that's just my perspective.

Please don't tag anyone else with that.... 

Straight Ahead!

Joel Tetreau

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (; Regional Coordinator for IBL West (, Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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