Secondary Separation

Against "Secondary Separation"

In 1974, the evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book on separation entitled Come Out or Stay In. Most Baptist fundamentalists are familiar with Ernest Pickering’s book on the same subject, but few are aware that Rice contributed to the discussion. Fewer still are aware he took a dim view of “secondary separation.” In this excerpt,1 Rice states his position plainly:

There is a Bible doctrine of separation. There is not a Bible doctrine of secondary separation. What do we mean?

Define “secondary separation”

The Bible very clearly teaches that we should not give Christian recognition nor Christian fellowship to those who are “unbelievers,” the unconverted, but we should come out and be separate from them (2 Cor 6:14-18). The Christian should not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, not sit in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1). He should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” (Eph 5:11). The Christian should not receive into his house (or pulpit or college or denominational program or even church membership) one who has forsaken the Bible doctrine of separation.

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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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Separation: Can We Have a Better Debate?

The biblical doctrine of separation is difficult to discuss. I’ve read, listened to, and participated in quite a few exchanges over the years. More often than not, no movement toward consensus, or even increase in clarity, seemed to result. It’s not unusual for a discussion on the topic to end with—apparently—less mutual understanding than existed at the start, despite the fact that everybody involved seems to genuinely desire to know, live, and teach what the Scriptures require of us. (By the way, long before Internet, this sort of back and forth was going on in magazines, newsletters and pamphlets. It just moved slower in those days.)

So why is the topic so messy?

I don’t fully understand why clarity about separation is so elusive. I do continue to believe, though, that there is ultimately no reason why the various perspectives on the subject can’t be clearly distinguished from one another in accurate and mutually-accepted terms. In other words, though we’re unlikely to ever see complete agreement between conservative evangelicals, 20th century-style movement-fundamentalists, and all the miscellaneous-other among us, it really is possible to reach a point where the differences among us are clear, well understood, and debated mostly on-point—to the benefit of all who seek to know and obey the truth.

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Secondary Separation: Should Christian Brethren Ever Separate? (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Is there such thing as “secondary separation?”

There is a remarkable consensus that the phrase “secondary separation” is unbiblical. Moritz maintains the grounds of any separation are principles based upon the holiness of God (72). McCune likewise repudiates the concept of “degrees” of separation (147). Charles Woodbridge was particularly offended by the term; he called any distinction of degrees of separation a “deadly menace.” To him, separation extended to any relationship in which disobedience to God is involved (10).

The Bible knows nothing whatever about “degrees” of separation from evil! The Christian is to remove himself as far as it is humanly possible from all forms of evil, whether they be peripheral, pivotal or relatively ancillary. To hate evil means to hate it in all its forms—its ancestry, its immediate presence and its progeny! (11)

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Secondary Separation: Should Christian Brethren Ever Separate?

The concept and practice of so-called “secondary separation” is a divisive issue within fundamentalism. It is appropriate now, more than ever, to examine the matter in light of Scripture. What follows is an all-too brief survey of several respected fundamentalist leaders of the past 50 years on this very matter. Their views are briefly presented and analyzed, and some conclusions will be drawn at the end. Hopefully, this modest study will edify the body and exhort fundamentalists to be captive to the Scriptures, wherever they may lead.

At the outset, a brief definition of fellowship must be offered so we’re all on the same page going forward. Loosely, “fellowship” is defined as a union for spiritual purposes. More precisely, a partnering of individuals, churches, organizations or any other group for the purpose of promoting Biblical truth, based on a common spiritual foundation. Therefore, when we discuss a separation among brethren, we are really pondering the question, “With whom or what can I legitimately enter into a spiritual partnership with?” (Oats).

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