Separation: The Call To Purity
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
For the most part, contemporary Christianity cringes when confronted with the word separatist or separatism. Almost immediately a offensive stance is assumed and separatism is attacked as being legalistic, unloving, and a threat to Christian unity. The fact is, most people who throw around the term legalistic or legalism are using a popular, home grown definition that is not biblical. Some define legalism as the presence of rules or standards that a believer should obey. Charles Swindoll says legalism is, "an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself." Both types of definitions of legalism are erroneus! Biblically, the term legalism "describes human attempts to gain salvation and/or spiritual maturity through self-help and conformity to a list of religious laws. A person who sees legalism as a way of salvation and continuing acceptance by God is called a legalist." A good illustration of a legalist, biblically defined, can be found in Luke 18:10-14, the Parable of the Pharisee & the Publican.
A legalist, biblically speaking, believes that he is saved by works and merits God's favor because of his works. Now, let me make something very clear to you. Legalism is not the presence of rules! While a person who keeps rules may not be spiritual, a spiritual person does live by rules! Rules and standards are necessary for individual Christians to maintain their own testimonies and the testimony of the churches and organizations they represent. Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. "The world is constantly trying to squeeze believers into its mold--to put the screws on believers, to pressure believers, to make the individual believer just another person of the world." If you are going to resist being conformed to the world and if you are going to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, there are things you will do and will not do! That is NOT legalism. (See Standards: Liberty or Legalism? by Dr. John Cawood in the appendix)
What about Christian Unity? Repeatedly biblical separatists are accused of undermining unity within the Christian community. They appeal to our Lords Great Intercessory prayer in John 17. They will take you to John 17:20-23 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. While Christ is praying for unity within the body of Christ, let me ask you a question. What is the basis of that unity? The answer is found in John 17:17-19 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. True Christian unity can only come when it is based on the truth of the Word of God, The Bible! Any unity that ignores, neglects or is not based on the Bible is not Biblical Unity!
"God is the great Separatist. He is absolutely separated from all evil and error." And, His children are to imitate His example. What I have discovered is this, those who practice sin often portray those who practice righteousness as intolerant legalists. In the face of this slander, we must defend biblical separatism and live out the moral absolutes mandated by God's Word. As Paul wrote to the Roman believers, "let God be true, but every man a liar " Romans 3:4a
The purpose of this paper is to show that Biblical Separation is to be practiced by all believers. Let's begin with
The Definition of Biblical Separation
According to the American Dictionary of the English Language published by Noah Webster in 1828 the general definition of separate is, "To disunite; to divide; to sever; to part; to disconnect; to withdraw from each other; being parted from each other." He goes on to define a separatist as "one that withdraws from a church, or rather from and established church, to which he has belonged; a dissenter " (Noah Webster; American Dictionary of the English Language 1828 Edition reprint; p. 68).
While these definitions are certainly true as far as they go, they do not adequately define the Biblical Separatist or Biblical Separation.
Graft together Noah Webster's definition of a separatist to the above marks of a biblical separatist and you will have a good definition of a Biblical Separatist.
A Biblical Separatist is a Christian who withdraws or will not cooperate with an established church (organization or individual) that 1) includes unbelievers and advocates godless philosophies and practices, and/or 2) is apostate and propagates apostate teachings and practices, or 3) those believers that aid and sanction apostates by their alignment and cooperation with them, and/or 4) individual believers that profess to be Christians but disobey and compromise clear Bible teachings and will not repent.
This definition raises the ire of many of today's Christians who have adopted the contemporary (not biblical) view of grace. They protest that even to suggest that you should not fellowship with another born-again believer is anamatha. They shout second degree separation as if it were not biblical (but it is) and assert we are living under Grace! Yet, they discount what the New Testament says about grace and what grace teaches. For a brief look, turn to Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
In order to help you better understand the issue of so called second-degree separation I want to list for you
The 5 Major Positions On Separation
Within contemporary Christianity today, to a major degree, all positions except the first position are maligned as second-degree separation. But I want you to know something Christian friend, "there is no such thing as first-degree, second-degree separation. There is only Scriptural separation." And I believe that true Scriptural Separation teaches the last position -- Christians ought to remain free from entangling alliances with all apostates and compromising believers while still loving them and seeking to minister to them so as to bring them to the Scriptural position.
Let's dig into why I believe this is the only Biblical position. In order to do that we need to look at
The Doctrine of Biblical Separation
What is the basis for the Biblical Doctrine of Separation? As I noted earlier, "God is the great Separatist. He is absolutely separated from all evil and error." The truth behind this statement and the basis of the Biblical doctrine of separation is the Holiness of God. Charles C. Ryrie gives us this definition of the holiness of God -- "In respect to God, holiness means not only that He is separate from all that is unclean and evil, but also that He is positively pure and thus distinct from all others."
The words translated holy in the Old Testament all carry with them the idea of purity and separation. God is pure and separated from sin or anything that would defile. A verse that comes to mind is Habakkuk 1:13a Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity . In the New Testament the words translated holy come from the Greek root meaning to be set apart or separated as well. The idea is, separated from sin and separated unto God.
Two awesome passages that drive home the point of God's holiness are these --
Isaiah 6:1-5 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
Revelation 4:8-11 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. 9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
The Lord God Almighty is a thrice holy God! God the Father is Holy. God the Son is Holy. God the Holy Spirit is holy! But He is thrice holy in another dimension as well. God is intrinsically holy. That is His nature. "His very being is made up of holiness, as light is the essence of the sun." God is transcendently holy. "This term conveys the understanding that God is unique in His holiness and is separate and distinct from His Creation" God's holiness is above all others holiness. It surpasses all other holiness. "He is the original and pattern of holiness He is the cause of all that is holy in others." God is immanently holy. Immanent means to dwell with. "It is overwhelming and almost incomprehensible to see that God who is holy in His nature and transcends man (and all His creation) in His holiness also condescends to dwell with man." A relationship with God is possible when man see his utter sinfulness in light of absolute God's holiness, repents of his sins and turns to Christ, who is God's provision for our salvation. In salvation God gives man justification, redemption, and holiness (or sanctification). 1 Corinthians 1:30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
One passage of scripture that points out the thrice holy nature of God is Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy (Intrinsic Holiness); I dwell in the high and holy place (Transcendent Holiness), with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Immanent Holiness), to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
So then, does God, who is the Great Separatist, separate from all evil and error, expect His children to emulate His example? The answer is YES! Consider what we read in Leviticus 20:7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. Note the context. God is calling for separation from idolatry and occult practices.
Now, there are always some who will objection saying, that is Old Testament. We live under grace. Therefore that passage does not apply to New Testament believers. If you believe that you are wrong! Consider 1 Peter 1:15-16 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (behavior); 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
Let me make a bold and perhaps unpopular statement with those who have swallowed the contemporary Christian heresy that biblical separation is legalism; A Christian's fellowship with God is impeded if he does not practice Biblical Separation. 1 John 1:5-7 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
I would remind you again that, "God is the great Separatist. He is absolutely separated from all evil and error" and expects His children to practice separation too!
Where does the church fit into all this? First, remember who the church is. The church is every born again believer. Therefore it is the churches duty (every believer's duty) to practice separation so that they remain pure and the message of the Christian faith remains pure. When a local church departs from the faith, the believer must separate from that church. Here's why. "The church has been commissioned with a two-fold responsibility for every agethe preservation and propagation of the faith. There is hardly a supremacy of one of these duties over the other, but there is an order of priority in the discharging of the responsibility. Obviously, if the faith is not preserved, it cannot be propagated. Whenever the church, or any segment of it, elevates the propagation of its message, at any cost, to the neglect of the preservation of its message, it is defeating its very purpose for existence. It is then no longer a light penetrating the darkness but has become part of the darkness. If you are not practicing biblical separation personally you are walking in darkness. If you are not attending a separated local New Testament Church, you are contributing to the confusion and darkness of the Age.
The Aspects of Biblical Separation
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
There are people who profess to be Christians who justify promoting the beliefs and practices of pagan unbelievers. Here are but a few examples --
Biblical separatism instructs us, "and touch not the unclean thing(s)." We are to "come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord."
The place to begin here is by defining the word apostate. The noun apostasy is used only twice in the Greek New Testament (Acts 21:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). The concept, however is much more prevalent. The word was used often in classical Greek in a political sense, the noun referring to a defection or revolt. Apostasy, however, as spoken of in the New Testament, refers to religious defection. It denotes the removal from or forsaking of a person or a system of thought (as in Acts 21:21). Apostasy was epitomized in Satan who revolted against His Creator and deliberately turned his back upon the truth of which he had been exposed (Ezekiel 28:11-19). Apostasy is a direct repudiation of divine truth to which one has been clearly exposed and which one has professed. The departure is willful as the very word implies and the actions of the apostates display (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Here is some additional information from Unger. Apostasy is the act of a professed Christian, who knowingly and deliberately rejects revealed truth regarding the deity of Christ (1 John 4:1-3) and redemption through his atoning sacrifice ( Philippians 3:18; 2 Peter 2:1). Unger goes on to say, apostasy departs from the faith but not from the outward profession of it (2 Timothy 3:5). In the NT its more usual meaning is that of a religious defection (Acts 21:21; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 3:12). This is called "apostasy from the faith:" a secession from the church, and a disowning of the name of Christ. Apostates apparently can only be professors and not actual possessors of true salvation, otherwise their defection would incur severe chastening or, if this failed to restore them, untimely (physical) death (1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:32; 1 John 5:16).
What is the Biblical directive concerning apostates? For the answer, turn to 2 John 1:7-11 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. 9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
Another verse that relates to apostasy is 1 Timothy 4:1-2 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
The Bible makes it clear, we are to separate from apostates. We are to expose their error. The word translated reporve in Ephesians 5:11 means to show to be guilty! Apostates are often wolves that dress in sheeps clothing. They claim to be Christians outwardly, but deny Biblical truth (Matthew 7:15).
Examples of Apostates & Apostate Teaching:
We are to separate from apostates & their teachings!
As believers we are to fight to keep the New Testament faith pure. Jude 1:3-4 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not possible to do that if you cooperate with apostates! So, what should you do when one who is a brother in Christ cooperates with apostates? Should you overlook it? Not according to the Bible. Consider the following two verses --
2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
We are to separate from believers who cooperate with apostates!
To be sure, worldliness is a compromise of the Holy Scriptures. 1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. We are to resist letting the world squeeze us into its mold as I mentioned earlier (Romans 12:1-2). We need to separate ourselves from worldliness so we are not "spoiled" by its philosophies (Colossians 2:8). Christian Rock music, Christian Psychology are but two examples where worldliness has crept into the Church.
Then there is disobedience in the area of morality. We are to separate from immorality or those who are immoral. 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
This verse leaves little to the imagination.
Finally, separate from Christians who refuse to repent of doctrinal error. There are many today who are promoting doctrinal error. There are even those who say the grace of God gives the Christian the liberty to sin. This is addressed in Jude 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. When a genuine believer preaches something that is false doctrine this is called heresy and he is an heretic. HERESY or HERETIC refers to false teaching or the false teacher. The word "heretic" - airetikon is used only one time in the Bible (Tit. 3:9-11), but the term "heresy" is used four more times (Ac. 24:14; 1 Co. 11:19; Ga. 5:20; 2 Pe. 2:1). Both words refer to a sinful, willful choosing of false doctrine. "The word `heresy' meant originally a `choice,' then an opinion that is the product of choice or of the will, instead of being drawn from the Divine Word. It is a man-made opinion. Hence the term was given as a name to departure from orthodox teaching which carried in them a breach of church unity"
So, what should our response to an heretic be? Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject;
All believers are to practice Biblical Separation. Separation is the call to Biblical purity!