Why I Struggle with “Subjective Separation”

PCUSA's Eighth-Largest Member Church Votes to Leave and Join Conservative Denomination

"The presbytery dismissed them on a voice vote that was overwhelmingly in favor," explained Cole, whose regional body has seen other churches leave the presbytery over the past few years because of the PC(USA)'s liberal theological direction."

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A Theology of Fellowship

Purity vs. Unity

From Faith Pulpit, Fall 2014. Used by permission, all rights reserved. (Continued from Lessons from the Reformation.)

The same conflict we saw in the Reformation can be seen in contemporary Christianity in North America and the rest of the world. Pastors in Baptist circles today (or heads of institutions or agencies) have choices to make when trying to expand and extend the influence of their church in the community or the constituency of their organizations. Aiming for unity (lowest common denominator of beliefs and/or holy living) will most often result in larger numbers of people, but it does not produce the fruit one might desire.

Martin Bucer typifies this struggle from the Reformation. He not only tried to achieve unity (reaching as many people as possible), but he also retained a passion for the purity of his church members. As he discovered, he could not have both. In trying to reach greater numbers, he had to dilute his message. Under Bucer’s leadership (and the other Reformers), churches were little different from the world. Church membership was granted at birth, and requirements to keep it were not enforced. Holy living was not essential.

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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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