Now, About Those Differences, Part Twenty Two

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

The Disobedient Brother

Fundamentalism is predicated upon the notion that the gospel is essential to Christian fellowship. The fundamentals are fundamental precisely because of their relationship to the gospel. Outside the gospel, no Christian fellowship is possible. Christian fellowship should never be pretended with those who profess Christianity but deny the gospel (apostates). The gospel forms the boundary of Christian fellowship.

In addition to a boundary, Christian fellowship has a center. The center is “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The center includes the fullness of all that God wishes His people to know and to do. This “whole counsel of God” is also known as “the faith.”

Fellowship (koinonia) is properly defined as something that is held in common. Whenever Christians disagree about some aspect of the faith (the whole counsel of God), they do not hold that area in common. By definition, their Christian fellowship is truncated or limited.

God wants His people to know and to believe all that He has revealed. God wants His people to obey all that He has commanded. Any failure to believe all that God has revealed, and any neglect to obey all that God has commanded, is sin. It is disobedience.

When two Christians affirm contrary beliefs about the whole counsel of God, they cannot both be right. At least one of them is wrong—and perhaps they both are. In other words, disagreements about the faith usually imply some level of disobedience as well as some limitation upon Christian fellowship.

Our failure to believe and obey is not simply a function of our finiteness. Every one of us could have known more if we had simply applied ourselves to understanding. All of us might have obeyed more perfectly if we had simply exerted ourselves. In other words, every one of us is actually disobedient to some degree, and our disobedience is culpable. It is not ever merely a matter of circumstance. At minimum, our disobedience involves some failure of determination, some lack of zeal, some neglect of duty.

All of our brothers are disobedient brothers. We ourselves are disobedient brothers. Our disobedience is blameworthy, and none of us has yet repented of all disobedience.

These observations are of special relevance for a certain species of fundamentalist. Some fundamentalists insist that Christians are obligated to separate, not merely from apostates (professing Christians who deny the gospel), but also from all “disobedient brethren.” These fundamentalists correctly insist that certain Scriptures do require the limitation of fellowship with professing brothers who sin (1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; et al.—my present purpose is not to expound these texts). These passages must not be dismissed, nor may they be limited to the disciplinary process of the local congregation. It makes little sense to suggest that a notorious adulterer should be expelled from the pulpit of his church but invited to preach at the local Bible college. Separation among believers must extend further than simple congregational discipline. The problem for these fundamentalists consists in finding any brethren who are not disobedient.

These circumstances appear to place Christians in a dilemma. On the one hand, we are required to separate from disobedient brethren. If we fail to heed this requirement, we run the risk of disobedience ourselves. On the other hand, if we separate from every disobedient brother, we shall separate from everyone—including ourselves. Surely this behavior is schismatic.

Many evangelicals have seized one horn of this dilemma, failing to recognize necessary limitations upon their fellowship with other believers. Many fundamentalists have seized the opposite horn, implementing draconian and unnecessary separations. Historically, however, fundamentalists of the main stream have relied upon two insights that allow them to slip between the horns of the dilemma.

The first insight involves the nature of fellowship. As a rule, fundamentalists and their predecessors have noted that not all fellowship between believers is equal. Rather, the New Testament depicts several different kinds of fellowship relationships, ranging from simple, personal fellowship through discipleship and targeted collaboration, to church membership and church leadership. Some of these imply yet other levels that are not explicitly depicted in the Scriptures themselves.

The point is that different levels of fellowship require different criteria. Simple, personal fellowship is probably the broadest level, and requires little other than adherence to the gospel and a sincere desire to serve the Lord. At the opposite extreme, church officers must meet many requirements that touch upon both their character and their abilities. It should be obvious that Christians can and do fellowship personally with brothers and sisters who would never be qualified for church office. In other words, fellowship is not necessarily all-or-nothing. Neither is separation.

The second insight has to do with the nature of obedience. From the church fathers onwards, Christians have noted that some aspects of the faith are more important than others. This insight is shared by mainstream fundamentalists. The deity of Christ is an aspect of the faith. The identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6 is an aspect of the faith. Since both are part of the faith, both are important. Clearly, however, they are not equally important.

All disagreements over the faith represent limitations upon fellowship. Yet not all of those limitations are equally severe. Few Christians have required absolute agreement in every area as the criterion for fellowship at every level. In other words, we are all willing to tolerate some degree of disobedience in our fellowship relationships—arguably, even our relationships with church leaders.

By applying these two insights (levels of fellowship and levels of doctrinal importance), a balanced fundamentalism recognizes that no one can draw a single line that determines all decisions in matters of fellowship and separation. Rather, careful separatists will have to weigh a matrix of considerations. One of these considerations will be an evaluation of the level of fellowship, identification, and cooperation that is anticipated. The second consideration will be an assessment of the doctrinal and practical differences that might affect the possibility of fellowship at that level. A third consideration will probably be the attitude that a brother has toward those differences and the direction in which he is moving with respect to them.

Wise and biblical decisions about fellowship and separation are made by weighing all of the above considerations. Rarely are these decisions as easy as observing whether a brother is obedient or disobedient. The fact is that every one of our brothers is disobedient at some point, just as we ourselves are. The problem that we have to wrestle with is the nature of our brother’s disobedience and its effect upon the various levels of fellowship.

In the next essay, I want to apply these principles in three directions. These directions include the (now old) new evangelicalism, the growing coalition of conservative evangelicals, and the hyper-fundamentalists of the far Right. Then, in the final essay, I wish to explore certain specific problems connected with what is sometimes called “platform fellowship.”

The Third Hymn: Of Christs Birth in an Inne
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

The blessed Virgin travail’d without pain,
And lodged in an Inne,
A glorious Star the signe
But of a greater guest then ever came that way,
For there he lay
That is the God of Night and Day,
And over all the pow’rs of heaven doth reign.
It was the time of great Augustus Tax,
And then he comes
That payes all sums,
Even the whole price of lost humanity,
And sets us free
From the ungodly Emperie
Of Sin, and Satan, and of Death.
O make our hearts, blest God, thy lodging place,
And in our brest
Be pleas’d to rest,
For thou lov’st Temples better then an Inne,
And cause that sin
May not profane the Deity within,
And sully o’re the ornaments of Grace. Amen.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 11 Comments

Steve Newman's picture

First impressions:

There is some solid thinking here on the nature of fellowship. I would add that there is also an aspect of "organizational fellowship" that would apply to fellowships of churches or Bible colleges, for example. Maybe this is covered in the "pulpit fellowship" area. There were people that Paul and others sent out a general warning about fellowshipping with that was meant for a wide area of distribution.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Another dent in our collective "careful thought about separation issues" deficit. Espec. good job here of revealing the tensions involved... there never really were any easy places to draw the lines. It's just become more apparent lately maybe how untidy the business of separation has always been.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

For what it's worth, I don't know that I disagree in any significant way with the principles that Dr. Ketchum articulates. I also suspect that we will end up being rather close in our practice.

We may differ (perhaps only slightly) in the way that we think the principles ought to be brought to bear upon practice.

First, with respect to conservative evangelicals, I think it is not entirely fair to characterize their position on separation as "gospel only." They differ among themselves in their principles and applications, but at least some conservative evangelicals are willing to limit practical cooperation in a whole range of ways that are based upon differences over non-gospel doctrines. Perhaps the issue here is whether the want to call those limitations "separation." To me, the label is secondary to the idea.

Second, I am pretty sensitive about Fundamentalists who wish to point out the worldliness in other professing believers. As a class, I'm not sure that Fundamentalists are any less worldly than other American Christians. In my judgment, whole segments of the Fundamentalist movement were built upon (and some are still being sustained by) worldly practices.

Having said that, I think that I know what Dr. Ketchum has in mind when he refers to worldliness. As I have hinted elsewhere in this series, there are certain practical issues upon which I think Fundamentalists have historically been more-or-less right and most other evangelicals have been pretty consistently wrong. I suspect that those are the issues that Dr. Ketchum is thinking of.

Thanks to Pastor Newman for pointing out this article.

Kevin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Appreciate the additional perspective.
Seems like there is still a huge amount of work to do clearing up confusion about worldliness. On one hand we've got the attitude that fundamentalism has been 100% goofy about worldliness--and these either get angry or laugh out loud when we bring the subject up. Then you have the fundamentalist subset (majority?) that has reduced the idea of worldliness to a handful of "dont's" that have to do with hairstyles, clothing, theaters and music... and a couple of misc. other.
Not a whole lot in between as far as I can tell. (Maybe they are a quiet majority... the glass is half full)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

gdwightlarson's picture

Dr. Bauder's articles need printed in a book SOON. Bauder has had the opportunity to work closely with most of the fundamentalists of the Fourth Baptist circle and also knows the other leaders of fellowships in the States. Through the seminary in Romania he has experience with fundamentalist leaders in Europe. AND he has the rich historical perspective of his present seminary faculty and decades of interaction with men like the Drs. Houghton at Faith Baptist College and Seminary. His presidency of Central Seminary has also brought him in contact with leaders of schools and fellowships in close "orbit" to the seminary. He has shown us very carefully what the parameters of fellowshiping in all of these circles should look like. Yet, for some reason, men have continued to gnit-pick his articles as if they suspect a leaning toward (their definition of) compromise and even apostacy. I grow tired of this. Thank God for the fresh winds blowing in some of of our fundamental circles. Others seem to prefer what they like to term "the ancient landmarks", but I wonder if they will ever see that it's their elevation of preferences to the level of "tests of fellowship". I wonder what they think of Paul's words in Romans 14:17 ("For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.")? Is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Paul's
"dangerous" leaning toward compromise and apostacy?...OR(!)...part of the guidance we need to work out what the Spirit of God would lead each of us to do (Romans 14:5-6, 12)???

gdwightlarson

"You can be my brother without being my twin."

PhilKnight's picture

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
I think it is not entirely fair to characterize [conservative evangelicals ] position on separation as "gospel only." They differ among themselves in their principles and applications, but at least some conservative evangelicals are willing to limit practical cooperation in a whole range of ways that are based upon differences over non-gospel doctrines. Perhaps the issue here is whether the want to call those limitations "separation." To me, the label is secondary to the idea.

I wish we could discontinue the use of the term "separation" to refer to "limitation of fellowship." When the term "separation" is used in normal conversation, it is generally taken to mean completely separated, and that's indeed the way I interpreted that word as a younger man whenever it was used in the context of biblical separation. The result was that I viewed "separation" from fellow believers as binary: either you were "separated" from another believer (i.e., no fellowship), or you were "in fellowship." This, of course, created consternation over much of the practice of "separation" among separatist fundamentalist leaders. For example, it led to questions like: How can Dr. Militant-Separatist-Warrior-From-Our-Camp say we should "separate" from Dr. Popular-Conservative-Evangelical-De-Jour, yet still engage in limited fellowship with Dr. Another-Fundamentalist-of-A-Different-Ilk--With-Whom-We-Strongly-Disagree-Yet-Who-Agrees-With-Us-On-Separation? I just couldn't see how the type of "separation" I heard being preached (and I heard it preached a lot) could be practiced consistently. More importantly, I couldn't see how it squared with the Scriptures.

In retrospect, I don't know whether the fundamentalists I heard and read on the subject 1) believed in binary separation, 2) had a notion of a more dynamic form of separation that allowed for limited fellowship, or 3) were just confused themselves. One thing I do know, though, is that they confused me. My encounter with Dr. Bauder's writings a few years ago was the first time I ever recall being presented with a model of separation that clearly defined it in terms of both "no fellowship" and "limitations on fellowship." This model matched the model that I had already come to believe was the biblical teaching (although I didn't know how to describe it in terms of "separation").

Now, all of the aforementioned was background to say this: Although I agree that the separation label is secondary to the idea, I do think the label is important. Currently, it is being conflated to encompass both "complete withdrawal of fellowship" and "limitation of fellowship." I think communication would be much clearer if fundamentalists would use different terms to distinguish the two ideas. My recommendation (for whatever it's worth) would be to reserve the term "separation" only for the former, and pick another term like "limitation of fellowship" for the latter. (If someone can show me that the Scripture itself conflates these two ideas under a single term, I will withdraw the recommendation. Lol

Philip Knight

Don Johnson's picture

PhilKnight wrote:
Although I agree that the separation label is secondary to the idea, I do think the label is important. Currently, it is being conflated to encompass both "complete withdrawal of fellowship" and "limitation of fellowship." I think communication would be much clearer if fundamentalists would use different terms to distinguish the two ideas. My recommendation (for whatever it's worth) would be to reserve the term "separation" only for the former, and pick another term like "limitation of fellowship" for the latter. (If someone can show me that the Scripture itself conflates these two ideas under a single term, I will withdraw the recommendation. Lol

Phil,

I have posted similar thoughts elsewhere, but I'd like to refine your terms a bit further.

First, in the context of this discussion, we are talking about ecclesiastical relationships, not church discipline on the one hand and sharing common humanity on the other (sometimes called 'cup of coffee' fellowship).

Next, I think that separation is not a complete withdrawal of fellowship, but a complete refusal of fellowship because of evident apostasy.

Last, the options are more varied than 'complete withdrawal' and 'limitation' of fellowship. I believe it is possible and often necessary to refuse any ecclesiastical fellowship (ministry partnership, ministry cooperation) with men from whom you nevertheless are not separated. In other words, simply because I am not separated from, say, John MacArthur, by virtue of our common Christian testimony, I am nevertheless not willing to enter into ministry cooperation with him or his various ministries because I have disagreements with his positions, philosophy, and theology. It's really not a matter of 'limited fellowship'. No ecclesiastical fellowship exists. But that is not separation either.

Does that make any sense? It is getting a bit late...

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don wrote:
Next, I think that separation is not a complete withdrawal of fellowship, but a complete refusal of fellowship because of evident apostasy.

Last, the options are more varied than 'complete withdrawal' and 'limitation' of fellowship. I believe it is possible and often necessary to refuse any ecclesiastical fellowship (ministry partnership, ministry cooperation) with men from whom you nevertheless are not separated. In other words, simply because I am not separated from, say, John MacArthur, by virtue of our common Christian testimony, I am nevertheless not willing to enter into ministry cooperation with him or his various ministries because I have disagreements with his positions, philosophy, and theology. It's really not a matter of 'limited fellowship'. No ecclesiastical fellowship exists. But that is not separation either.

You have piqued my curiosity. But what would "complete refusal of fellowship" without "complete withdrawal of fellowship" look like? And, ecclesiastically, what would it look like to have zero ecclesiastical fellowship without separation?

I think I do see one thing that appeals here though: "separation" tends to sound very punitive. There are many situations in which our church doesn't participate with other churches in one activity or another because of various incompatibilities--call this non-fellowship. But in many of these areas, we simply differ. So we're not claiming absolutely that they're wrong and we're right (though we believe we're right or we wouldn't take the position we do)--there's no declaration of "we're separating because you are apostate" or even "we're separating because you are biblically disobedient." It's just, "Hey, we see this differently. Do it your way and we'll do it ours."

So I do think some refining of what we call separation is useful.

I'm not so sure trying to distinguish "withdrawal" and "rejection" is useful.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
There are many situations in which our church doesn't participate with other churches in one activity or another because of various incompatibilities--call this non-fellowship. But in many of these areas, we simply differ. So we're not claiming absolutely that they're wrong and we're right (though we believe we're right or we wouldn't take the position we do)--there's no declaration of "we're separating because you are apostate" or even "we're separating because you are biblically disobedient." It's just, "Hey, we see this differently. Do it your way and we'll do it ours."

So I do think some refining of what we call separation is useful.

I'm not so sure trying to distinguish "withdrawal" and "rejection" is useful.

Hi Aaron

What you describe, 'do it your way, we'll do it ours', is often the simplest version of what I mean. We have a Free Presbyterian congregation here in Victoria, good people, some have attended our church in the past. We are friendly with them, but obviously disagree at points and have distinct and somewhat distant ministries. There are others, including some Baptists, with whom we are much farther apart. We wouldn't promote their conferences (while we might promote some conferences of the FPs), we wouldn't share any speakers, etc. That is not to say that on a personal level we are unfriendly to these people, but we are so far apart philosophically that we would resist/refuse any ministry partnership.

with respect to 'withdrawal' and 'refusal'... you are probably right, my main point is that there is such a thing as having no cooperation that is not separation.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

PhilKnight's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

First, in the context of this discussion, we are talking about ecclesiastical relationships, not church discipline on the one hand and sharing common humanity on the other (sometimes called 'cup of coffee' fellowship).

Thanks. I did understand that the context here was ecclesiastical vs. personal. That's what I get for writing something like that too late at night. Smile If you change instances in my post where I say "another believer" and "Dr. so-and-so" to "another ministry" and "the ministry of Dr. so-and-so," respectively, it reflects what I really wanted to point out--although I think the point is equally valid for personal "separation."

Don Johnson wrote:

Next, I think that separation is not a complete withdrawal of fellowship, but a complete refusal of fellowship because of evident apostasy.

Let me see if I understand the distinction you're making: The word withdrawal implies you actually had fellowship previously; whereas, refusal implies neither the presence nor absence of prior fellowship. Some may also argue that refusal connotes an active separation about which you communicate; whereas, withdrawal allows for a more passive stance where you simply stop fellowshipping without explanation (not sure I can think of a case where the latter would be appropriate).

Don Johnson wrote:

Last, the options are more varied than 'complete withdrawal' and 'limitation' of fellowship. I believe it is possible and often necessary to refuse any ecclesiastical fellowship (ministry partnership, ministry cooperation) with men from whom you nevertheless are not separated. In other words, simply because I am not separated from, say, John MacArthur, by virtue of our common Christian testimony, I am nevertheless not willing to enter into ministry cooperation with him or his various ministries because I have disagreements with his positions, philosophy, and theology. It's really not a matter of 'limited fellowship'. No ecclesiastical fellowship exists. But that is not separation either.

Does that make any sense? It is getting a bit late...

Yes, that makes sense. As Dr. Bauder has quite ably pointed out in this series, practically applying biblical teaching here requires weighing various considerations. And, in many cases, facile formulas don't suffice.

I agree that the options are more varied that what I present. Your example is one case of what could be described as "practical non-cooperation." And I'm sure we could think of many more analagous examples just in that broad category. (In fact I just noticed you provided another example in your reply to Aaron.)

Philip Knight

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