Six Degrees of Separation

There are 38 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

After reading the article, there's really only one thing to do. Yes, I must separate from the author! Consider it done ...

  • Actually, I need to separate from anyone who clicks "like", too - because if I don't, I'm condoning their wickedness
  • Actually, come to think of it, I need to separate from Jim, if he agrees with the article - because he posted it.
  • If Jim agrees with the article, then I must also separate from SharperIron if it doesn't repudiate him.
  • If anyone won't follow me and separate from SharperIron, then I must separate from them, too.

Oh, where will it end?  

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

I remember mentioning an important church to my then-"pastor", and all I got in response was a dismissive "huh".  No appreciation for what my college era pastor had done, no interaction even, just a dismissive huh.  

I can see the importance of separation from those who truly deny the Gospel--the Osteens and Jakeses of the world and such--but what I see too often is, per the article, simply disagreement over music genre, beards, glasses, attire, and the like, or the simple fact that one had ever interacted with someone who was less than perfect doctrinally.  To repeat something a lot of people smarter than I have noted, what would they have done with the One who dined with prostitutes and tax collectors?  Who preached before Pharisees and Sadducees? 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mike Harding's picture

We believe that believers and churches must separate from those who deny essential doctrines of the faith (Jude 3; 2 John 9-11; Romans 16:17); that believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Romans 16:17; Philippians 3:17-19; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15); and that believers and churches must strive to reflect God’s holiness and to live differently than those who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:15-16; Ephesians 4:17-19).

Pastor Mike Harding

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The fallacy of the beard reasons that since it's impossible to tell exactly how many whiskers are required to constitute a beard, there is no such thing as a beard.

In separation this takes the form of: it's impossible to define everything that is grounds for separation, therefore there is no such thing as proper grounds for separation.

Of course, non-participating with apostates is pretty obvious (not really separation on a personal level, because we were never "together"). But when to separate from erring brethren? How about if we let the NT be our guide? ... which means local churches separate from erring brethren after an appropriate process of personal confrontation and discipline?

And how about if we stop calling various kinds of selective cooperation "separation"?

I just think the whole topic would be less confusing if we stuck to NT categories.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I wrote a two-part article on secondary separation some years ago for SI. I need to read it again, to see if I still agree with myself ...

I still remember once, when I put on a youth apologetics conference, I was told I couldn't give out a copy of The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, because he was associated with Willow Creek. I'll never forget that. How stupid can we be? Next month, I'm going to give away a free copy of Bill Hybel's Just Walk Across the Room at church, because it's a great book on personal evangelism. I don't like Hybel's method of ministry, and think he's wrong about many things. But, it's a good book. I'll give it away with a smile on my face, knowing it'll make some fundamentalists really mad ...

Should I not give out J. Warner Wallace's Cold Case Christianity, because he believes in evolution, and mentions it in passing in the book?

This kind of silliness only sounds good in the abstract. To be honest, secondary separation is more of a doctrine for pastors and theologians who don't live and work in the real world.

Before you comment on this, beware - if you disagree with me on any of this, I'll separate from you. And, if you're consistent, you should immediately leave SI and not associate with it at all. After all, you can't fellowship with a disobedient brother, can you!?

I always return to my Seminary training on fundamentalism:

  • Is it an explicit or clearly implicit teaching of Scripture? Then, separate.
  • Is it just a principle, not a didactic teaching which can be clearly proven? Meh, it depends - maybe just agree to disagree. Of course, this assumes you have the ability to fairly look at the other side, and concede they may have a point. That's a rare gift. That's why, in my secular field, most people aren't good investigators - their bias' get in the way of the facts.
  • Is it a preference or opinion? Get a life and deal with it.

That's a paraphrase from Dr. Oats' notes, but that's basically it. Extraordinarily helpful stuff. Extraordinarily balanced, and filled with common sense.

I'll leave ya'll with a word from Doug MacLachlan (Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, 132-133):

If there is no clear cut, “Thus saith the Lord,” we shouldn’t judge and neither should we separate.

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

All well and good, so then why did the FBFI serve a whole issue about separation from "The Growing Convergent Menace" (TM) if what you say is true? 

"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

TylerR's picture

Editor

Ah, yes. The infamous "Covergent" issue of Frontline. I'll never forget that edition, and the unfortunate screed by Dan Unruh. I have saved an electronic copy of that article, and I show it to everybody who wants to know what a wrong version of Christianity looks like. It'll do me good service for, quite literally, the rest of my life. That one article epitomizes everything that is wrong with that particular flavor of fundamentalism.

That article, and the mindset it represented, is one of the last, desperate death throes of the dying, rotting organization known as the FBFI.

It's all good though - Unruh separated from me (no, I'm not kidding) when I posted a public article with over 40 questions addressed to him.

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

Folks, here's some advice when it comes to fundamentalist identity politics:

  1. If you usually blindly support a particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, without any introspection or constructive thought, that means you're a Company Man. It also means you're unbalanced.
  2. Don't be a Company Man. Think for yourself, even if that means disagreeing with the Godly folks who trained you. You have a brain, so use it. If your congregation wants a robot, it can turn to Alexa or Siri.
  3. It's ok to disagree. If you blindly tow the line on everything your ecclesiastical sub-culture's powerbrokers say, you're probably foolish and shouldn't be a leader. Step down and make room for someone else. 
  4. Your fundamentalist heroes could be wrong about something. Yes, it's true.
  5. Nobody cares about the fundamentalist politics but other pastors. That means it's not important. 
  6. Most members of your church don't care about the FBFI, IFCA or the GARBC. They care about Christ, the Gospel, and living holy lives. That's means fundamentalism isn't very important.
  7. If "the movement" is more important to you than the original philosophy and impetus which inspired the movement in the first place (i.e. militant defense and offense against apostasy), then you're unbalanced and unstable. Go buy yourself a life on Amazon and get some perspective. 
  8. Fundamentalism isn't a confessional, pseudo-denomination. Anybody who acts like he, or his organization, is the enforcer for a narrow and very particular flavor of "fundamentalist orthodoxy" is a Company Man. Stay away from him.
  9. Think of historic fundamentalism as a philosophy of ministry, not a traditional movement. You'll be happier.

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?

Ron Bean's picture

If we define secondary separation as separation from a brother in Christ whom we believe is in error, then there seems to be a Biblical warrant for the practice. There is also a Biblical purpose for separation from a brother and that is restitution of our fellowship. That restitution is pursued by lovingly confronting that brother with what we perceive as his sin.

The problem many have with the secondary separation practiced today is that it is identical to first degree separation. There is no desire for restitution of fellowship and no effort made to pursue it. Simply put, men on the platform at T4G are treated like they were Rob Bell. 

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

Bert Perry's picture

Mike Harding wrote:

We believe that believers and churches must separate from those who deny essential doctrines of the faith (Jude 3; 2 John 9-11; Romans 16:17); that believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Romans 16:17; Philippians 3:17-19; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15); and that believers and churches must strive to reflect God’s holiness and to live differently than those who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:15-16; Ephesians 4:17-19).

Jay asked a good question about how this fits with the FBFI "convergent" issue, and my thought is that it it really depends on that last bit about "living differently", and whether one can be asked to separate based on "living differently" in that interpretation.  I can't speak for Mike, but I do know that my interpretation of what constitutes actionable separation differs markedly from the FBFFI's.

Really, I'm, like Ron, no enemy of the idea of secondary separation.  I've done it myself, specifically when a church I was a member of was using materials from a guy who had compromised on the Trinity (greeting T.D. Jakes as a brother), preached at least a hint of prosperity theology, and expelled elected elders because they actually wanted to see the line items of a budget.  So when someone compromises the Solas, the Fundamentals, the Trinity, and the like, I'm OK with that separation.

(and to be fair, it was almost primary separation, because the teaching that they were using was, politely speaking, nonsense, including the guy telling us, while obviously carrying at least an extra 50 lbs, that he'd overcome his "addiction" to food by fasting...nice try, but my eyes aren't THAT bad!)

Where I draw the line is when the argument is made that if someone partakes of Jesus' first miracle, or celebrates God's goodness as is described in Psalm 150, then one ought to separate.  Again, if the BFI can come up with arguments not rooted in "guilt by association" and the like that things have changed, I'll listen, but....crickets so far.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Fred Moritz's picture

"This is not to say that Pickering doesn’t adequately express the view of a separatist.  This is not to say that Pickering wasn’t an amazing man of God who lived a very holy life.  This is to say that this book was flawed in its explanation of ecclesiastical separation and has caused irreparable damage to a once thriving movement."

I knew Ernest Pickering.  I studied systematic theology with him as my professor.  I served as a trustee of Central Seminary under his presidency.  When I was executive director of Baptist World Mission he came to work in our administration.  Pastor Teis' statement above reveals his flawed understanding of Pickering.  If the book is flawed in its explanation of ecclesiastical separation, then please give us chapter and page number.

The question at issue is: does Scripture ever instruct believers and local churches to separate from disobedient brothers?  I refer to Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15.  You may call that secondary separation, or perhaps more accurately separation from a Christian brother as distinguished from separation from apostates (2 Cor 6:14-7:1).  The fact remains that such separation is taught in the Word of God.

I'm very sorry that Pastor Teis so misrepresents a man whom I knew and loved.  There wasn't a trace of bitterness in him.  I'm more deeply saddened that our brother doesn't deal with those scriptural principles.

Ron Bean's picture

According to II Corinthians 6:14-18, there seem to be definite blessings accompanying first degree separation. The question I've asked for years of those who practice secondary separation from another Christian without contacting the brother and pursuing reconciliation is what do you hope to accomplish or gain from such anonymous action? (Let me state again that I believe in the proper practice of secondary separation.) 

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

TylerR's picture

Editor

I appreciated Pickering's book. Of course, separation is Biblical and necessary:

  • On a personal level, a Christian ought to separate from another who is in deliberate and unrepentant sin. The details of how this works vary, depending on context.
  • On an ecclesiastical level, a congregation ought to distance itself from another congregation that is disobedient to some portion of Scripture. There is a Baptist church in our "orbit" that is ridiculously contemporary, hip and is desperately trying to be "relevant" in the typical loser way. Last year, for example, our church did a joint Good Friday service with this congregation, and I sat dumbfounded as the "pastor" of this church never mentioned the Gospel at all, and just urged all the visitors from the community to "talk to somebody" if they wanted to know about salvation. This blasphemy was capped with an open invitation for everybody to partake of the Lord's Supper. For various reasons, I'm going to do everything I can to lead our church to not participate in a joint Good Friday service with them. I don't think we should be associated with that philosophy of ministry.

If this is "secondary separation," then I'm for it. But, perhaps we could just drop the extra-biblical label and call it "separation?" The principles Larry Oats laid out during my Seminary training (which I briefly mentioned, somewhere above)  are excellent and common sense. I took the author of this piece to be reacting against an extreme perversion of these principles, to the point where separation gets so far out of hand you eventually end up separating fom everybody who isn't precisely like you. 

If we can remember MacLachlan's advice ("if there is no clear-cut 'thus saith the Lord," we shouldn't separate), and the principle that we shouldn't separate unless it's over an explicit or clearly implicit teaching in Scripture, then we'd all be much happier ... and Biblical.  

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

Somebody has systematically gone through this thread and deliberately "disliked" every post critical of the excesses of the Baptist fundamentalist movement or the rotting corpse that is the FBFI. Whoever you are, I still love you ... even if you separate from me.

Update - the "dislike" button was hit within eight minutes after I posted this.

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?

Ron Bean's picture

Fred Moritz wrote:

The question at issue is: does Scripture ever instruct believers and local churches to separate from disobedient brothers?  I refer to Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15.  You may call that secondary separation, or perhaps more accurately separation from a Christian brother as distinguished from separation from apostates (2 Cor 6:14-7:1).  The fact remains that such separation is taught in the Word of God.

I think almost all of us agree with this statement. The question I've had regards the way secondary separation is practiced.

BTW, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Pickering once. When I heard that he had done some post-graduate work in Scotland in the early 1950's, I asked him if he had observed any of the Revival on the Isle of Lewis that was happening at the time. He grew strangely quiet and said that it was one of the most wonderful and memorable things he had ever seen but he rarely talked about it because the enthusiasm and ecumenical atmosphere that surrounded the revival was difficult to explain.

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

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

After reading the article, there's really only one thing to do. Yes, I must separate from the author! Consider it done ...

  • Actually, I need to separate from anyone who clicks "like", too - because if I don't, I'm condoning their wickedness
  • Actually, come to think of it, I need to separate from Jim, if he agrees with the article - because he posted it.
  • If Jim agrees with the article, then I must also separate from SharperIron if it doesn't repudiate him.
  • If anyone won't follow me and separate from SharperIron, then I must separate from them, too.

Oh, where will it end?  

I accidentally clicked "like" on your comment. Now I'm contemplating separating my fingers from my hand. ;) 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Go for it. As our Savior said, "it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire," (Mt 18:8).

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?

JBL's picture

I would slightly disagree with Pastor Teis' thesis that secondary separation is a causal element of the decline of the IFB movement.

Separation (and its various degrees) should be practiced.  In terms of doctrine, if a ministry that identifies as Christian preaches a false gospel, we have no choice but to dissociate.  If a fellow church or brother in Christ extends Christian fellowship to the apostate ministry, the relationship is altered negatively.  There are numerous occasions of instruction that teach personal separation.

My opinion on why the IFB is declining is not because of its doctrinal convictions or standards (music, drinking, dress, etc), but the manner in which separation is practiced.

The problem as I see it is too many have substituted a militant defense of the faith with a belligerent practice of separation.  The belligerent practice of separation has led to very cynical, paranoid ministries that are not naturally open or outwardly focused, and those ministries tend not to reproduce themselves.  I truly believe that regenerate believers are receptive to principals of abstinence, modesty, and musical moderation and that these standards are not why people are leaving the movement.  They are leaving due to the earth-scorching attitude that is often exhibited the instant any of these subjects are broached.

Meanwhile, the militant defense of the faith is being largely ignored within IFB circles.  When practiced with a positive, patient spirit, even a militant defense of the faith can be highly attractive and compelling.  This is a gospel opportunity that most IFB churches are missing.

John B. Lee

Steve Newman's picture

What are the categories of separation? The scriptures (particularly the ones Mike Harding referenced) have to do with both doctrine and practice. 

What are the boundaries of separation? Doctrinal issues, but at what level? Bible versions? Non-gospel issues? Practice, but what practices, and to what extent do we separate? Music, worldliness, morality?

What are the applications of separation? Is the goal restoration? How can we adequately scripturally "separate" from someone who is not a member of our church fellowship where we have less "jurisdiction"? When does separation go too far (keep in mind that Paul had to tell the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians to receive back one they had separated from due to his instructions in 1 Corinthians)?

The author does make a more local application (many in the north have little to do with the SBC), but the article and the comments do help advance the discussion. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Steve, my paraphrased excerpt (somewhere above) from my Seminary training helps answer this question:

  • Is it an explicit or clearly implicit teaching of Scripture? Then, separate.
  • Is it just a principle, not a didactic teaching which can be clearly proven? Meh, it depends - maybe just agree to disagree. Of course, this assumes you have the ability to fairly look at the other side, and concede they may have a point. That's a rare gift. That's why, in my secular field, most people aren't good investigators - their bias' get in the way of the facts.
  • Is it a preference or opinion? Get a life and deal 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?

mmarprelate's picture

There have been some very good comments.  Let me add a few.

1. What are we separating from?  Sin

2. What are we separating unto? Christlikeness / holiness

We have become very good at parsing the when and the what, but we tend to forget the point the writers of Scripture were teaching.  There is a difference between separating from false teachers compared to sinful, disobedient brothers.  False teachers need to be immediately called out and identified.  We are to warn others about them.  We separate from disobedient brothers because of their sin.  There are to particular aspects we should observe in the New Testament. (1) We separate because of serious, persistent sin. This could be because the individual has fallen into false doctrine.  More often it was the result of gross immorality. (2) Separation from an erring brother was always the last resort, when everything else had failed.  It causes great sorrow when it occurs.

We may choose not to work with someone because we do not entirely agree with their methods or their doctrine.  We can still fellowship with them even if we don't see eye to eye missionally.  Breaking fellowship because somebody attended a T4G conference is not what the Biblical writers had in mind.

TylerR's picture

Editor

mmarprelate wrote:

We may choose not to work with someone because we do not entirely agree with their methods or their doctrine.  We can still fellowship with them even if we don't see eye to eye missionally.  Breaking fellowship because somebody attended a T4G conference is not what the Biblical writers had in mind

Agreed. This is where some flavors of fundamentalism ran off the rails a long time ago. Rather than return to the track of sanity, they continue to plow ahead into the wilderness. As one particularly wicked lady I once knew used to say (as a euphemism for a more emphatic manner of speech), "Well, bless their hearts!"  

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?

Ron Bean's picture

If you've ever gotten the silent treatment from some fundamentalists because:

     - You gave someone a copy of "The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church"

     - You attended a Weekender at CHBC and were blessed and said so

     - You spoke positively of T4G

     - You quoted a Getty or Kauflin hymn in a sermon

     - You've displayed John MacArthur books on your bookshelf

     - You've used a Tim Keller quote

You know what some of us are talking about.

 

 

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

Bert Perry's picture

Per the comment at 1:31 pm, it strikes me that when the stated justification for separation is a moral or cultural issue, the ultimate cause still ought to be some violation of the Gospel, really.  For example, if I separate from a pastor who has a mistress, the ultimate cause is that that "pastor" is misrepresenting the nature of Christ and the Church by his adultery.  

And that brings up JBL's point about the BFI's main problem not being the cultural issues, and my response is "yes and no".  Yes, it's definitely not that the stands themselves, which a huge portion of evangelicals live in their lives, but no, it is about how they argue them.  If we use bad logic to come to these conclusions, and in the process contradict things we know from Scripture, we are in fact infringing the first Fundamental and Sola Scriptura.

And that ought to be worth separating over, really. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Farewell, brother. I am separating form you:

  • Tim Keller supports BioLogos
  • Tim Keller is a Calvinist
  • Therefore, by quoting him, you support Calvinist theistic evolutionists

Goodbye.

  • I will also separate from anyone who doesn't immediately repudiate Ron.
  • If Ron repents, and displays fruits meet for authentic fundamentalism, then I may fellowship with him again
  • If I do this, I will still not fellowship with those of you who I separated from when I first separated from Ron. You, too, must be zealous therefore and repent.
  • If you repent, I will re-establish fellowship with you.
  • If, by chance, you separated from me because you disagreed with my separation from Ron, hopefully, when I re-establish fellowship with Ron, you, likewise, will re-establish fellowship with me.
  • If you fail to do this, after I have brought forth fruits meet for authentic fundamentalism, then I will separate from you.
  • However, realize that I may have already separated from SharperIron for not repudiating Ron at  the very beginning, so I will first have to re-establish fellowship with SI before I can come back to SI, at which time I'll seek to re-establish fellowship with ya'll.
  • If this doesn't work, then I'll stay separated. If you wish to re-establish fellowship with me in the meantime, please contact me through an intermediary whom I haven't yet separated from. 

If anyone disagrees with this process, I'll separate from you, too. But, if you repent, then I will re-establish fellowship. If you won't do so, I'll separate again.

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?

Mark_Smith's picture

Funny that you mention that. I was at an FBFI meeting this spring/summer, a regional meeting, and in private conversation with several men we talked about John Piper and John MacArthur, and no one was thrown out. Several agreed that there were good things to be found at places like Dever's material, though there was plenty we disagreed with.

Also, a man got up and proudly spoke about a  Michael Carr book, and how it was blessing to him. Carr is pastor of the church that makes such "evil" films as "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants". No one threw him out.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The best thing to do is separate from these people.

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?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, guys, for demonstrating the problems with hyper separatism.  It usually becomes very arbitrary and petty.  However, I feel compelled to say that there really are a number of godly and gracious men who sincerely endeavor to honor the Lord and His Word by practicing secondary separation.  I believe they often miss the mark of proper Biblical application, but I will not question their genuine desire to serve the cause of Christ and Truth.  Hopefully, the friendly sarcasm on this thread will help them think these things through more carefully.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

If you don't anchor your reasons for separation in explicit or clearly implicit teachings from Scripture, you fall into the morass of subjectivism. That is the terrible error some of our brethren make. That, and a pervasive fear of running foul of the gatekeepers. Discussions of material or teachers that aren't from the fundy orbit are often prefaced by something like this, "Yeah, that was really good, but ..." The obligatory "yeah, but" reference betrays a "Village-like" mindset that's indicative of a cultic sub-culture.  

Fly away, brethren. There are fundamentalists who are normal. Honest. You can find them. Here's one way to start - mention John Piper in a conversation, and if the guy doesn't separate from you or use a "yeah, but" within 15 seconds, you may have found a normal fundamentalist. Either that, or you're in the presence of the Wicked One - an evangelical. In that case, flee for the hills.  

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?

Pages