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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"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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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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