Series - Separation Aphorisms

Jesus Separated Better than We Can—Aphorism 8 for Thinking about Separation

Read the series so far.

Aphorism 8: All applications must include the sure knowledge that we can’t separate perfectly because we are still sinners living in the regime of sin and death. Thus part of the grace we extend to others must include the possibility that we ourselves are too narrow or too loose.

In seminary, a friend of mine from the Midwest told me that his father, who was a fundamentalist pastor, received a letter from a brother in Christ practicing strict separation. The letter informed him that he was being separated from. It was polite and earnest, established the chain of separation between the author and the recipient, and closed pleading that he separate from the closest of the offending parties. The only odd thing about the letter was that my friend’s father had no idea who the author was. They had never met.

My memory of the conversation is that the fellow writing the letter was practicing 5th degree separation, but the memory is hazy, so perhaps it was only 3rd or 4th. But if we were to imagine a chain of 5th degree separation, it would look something like this: the Roman Catholic Church (1st), J. I. Packer who signed Evangelicals and Catholics Together (2nd), prominent evangelical pastor who disagrees with Packer but does not separate from him (3rd), me who also disagrees with Packer, but who will not separate from him or my former pastor who is a friend of Packer’s (4th), anyone who remains in fellowship with me (5th).

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Grace Toward the Godly of the Past — Aphorisms for Thinking About Separation

Aphorism 7: Our patterns of application of separation today must include the grace we allow the godly of the past.

Gurnall’s work is peerless and priceless; every line is full of wisdom; every sentence suggestive. This “Complete Armour” is beyond all others a preacher’s book: I should think that more discourses have been suggested by it than by any other uninspired volume. I have often resorted to it when my own fire has been burning low, and I have seldom failed to find a glowing coal upon Gurnall’s hearth. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, quoted in The Christian in Complete Armour abridgment and modernization printed by The Banner of Truth Trust)

I am in full agreement with Spurgeon. The Christian in Complete Armour is a spiritual delight and treasure trove. Much of my preaching and illustrating from Scripture relies heavily on Grunall’s example and even remembering his sermons warms my heart to Christ.

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Separating from Our Enemies and Friends - Aphorisms for Thinking About Separation

Aphorism 6: Our patterns of application of separation need to include people to the left and the right on the group boundary markers—our “friends” and those who make us uncomfortable. Grace on believers who are like us or provide advantages to us but no or little grace on believers who are different is a sin (James 2:1; Luke 6:32-33).

Seven years ago, I became the pastor of a church that had a history of practicing second-degree separation. My exposure to the defense of such doctrine and the organizations enforcing it had been rather limited. And so I began reading, watching, and asking questions. Many of the conversations that I’ve had were decidedly cordial—some less so.

Allow me to share how one conversation about separatism with a representatives of a mission board went:

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"Imminent" May Not Mean "Soon" - Aphorisms for Thinking About Separation

Aphorism 5: No one knows when Jesus is coming back or how long it will be before Jesus comes back, and so application of separation passages cannot be dependent on how close or far the return of Christ is.

The words are startlingly clear—“the Pope of Rome … is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.” This statement is found in The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (26.4) as well as in unmodified versions of the Westminster Confession of Faith (25.6). Currently most modern Presbyterians and Baptists using these confessions have changed the wording or do not enforce this section. However, some stalwarts still remain.

Let’s unfold the exegesis a bit. There are about a dozen passages of Scripture in play, and application has been made. The “man of sin [has been] revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3, KJV). The “falling away” has occurred and the person bearing the title “the Pope of Rome” is the end time’s figure of the final antichrist (cf. 1 John 2:18). Of the 7 billion people on the planet currently, only one man or his successor can be the antichrist. There is now no possibility of salvation for some future pope, because he is the antichrist. And there is no point in continued exploration of the meaning of Daniel, Matthew 24, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Revelation on this issue.

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Not Separating What God Has Joined Together - Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation

Please, consider reading all of the preceding articles before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make them each stand alone, they are linked together.

Aphorism 4: None of the commands of Scripture contradict the other commands when rightly understood, and to be correctly applied and interpreted all of the commands of Scripture must work together.

Eight hundred feet below the surface of the water, in a cramped nuclear submarine armed with ballistic missiles, my friend and newly minted lieutenant felt like he was faced with an impossible decision. On Sunday morning would he meet and worship with the dozen or so sailors on the boat that professed Christ but belonged to compromised groups (American Baptist, United Methodist, etc.) or quietly pray by himself in his bunk? Would he “be separate” (ESV, 2 Cor. 6:17) or neglect “to meet together” (Heb. 10:25)? Would he “[b]ear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) or would he “[p]urge the evil person” (1 Cor. 5:13)?

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Jesus and Paul as Separatists

(Please, consider reading all of the preceding articles before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make them each stand alone, they are linked together.)

Aphorism 3: Applications of the commands of separation must take into account Jesus and Paul’s application of these same commands as recorded in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles.

The argument I am pursuing is that Jesus and Paul were separatist. (I’ve attempted to cover this in greater detail in the previous article.) Jesus and Paul must be separatists because they are obeying many of the same commands that we are. Further, Jesus and Paul give us a model to both follow and to understand God’s intent in giving these commands. Paul and Jesus’ model is the rule for Christians, because Paul commands us, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

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Were Jesus and Paul Separatists? Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation

Read the series so far.

Please, consider reading all of the preceding articles before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make them each stand alone, they are linked together.

Aphorism 1: The debate between Bible believing Christians about separation is fundamentally about the how to apply the passages in the Bible commanding separation.

Aphorism 2: All applications of the commands of Scripture are based on a particular context outside the Bible. Therefore unless the context is identical to what was intended by the Bible, an application cannot be as normative as Scripture itself.

Aphorism 3: Applications of the commands of separation must take into account Jesus’ and Paul’s application of these same commands as recorded in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles.

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Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation: Command, Intent and Application

Please, consider reading the preceding article before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make each stand alone, they are linked together.

Aphorism 1: The debate among Bible believing Christians about separation is fundamentally about the how to apply the passages in the Bible commanding separation.

Aphorism 2: All applications of the commands of Scripture are based on a particular context outside the Bible. Therefore unless the context is identical to what was intended by the Bible, an application cannot be as normative as Scripture itself.

Allow me to share an explicit command of Scripture, repeated five times in the New Testament which is patently ignored at least in literal obedience by almost all churches in the United States: “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (ESV, 1 Peter 5:14; cf. 1 Thess. 5:26, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Cor. 16:20, Rom. 16:16).

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