By Paul E. Eymann President of Arizona College of the Bible, Phoenix, Arizona
Those who claim loyalty to Biblical separation find they must frequently articulate their position tactfully to those whose understanding of Biblical principles of separation is superficial. Some separatists who have had bad experiences with the apostasy of major protestant denominations tend to label as "compromisers" those who hold to Biblical separation but do not embrace their stand on a particular issue. They insist that peace and unity must be maintained among believers, but it must be on their terms.
Those with a more contemporary evangelical outlook tend to label Biblical separatists as schismatic. Since the word "separation" suggests to many people a spirit or attitude that is negative, petty, and difficult to get along with, they imagine Biblical separatists to be coroners who dissect the corpses of dead churches.
Definition of the term "separatist" has become difficult for two reasons. First, those interested enough in the subject of separation to try and define it usually acknowledge that they are separatists but tend to place their own values and attitudes upon their definition. Second, the contrasting viewpoints of separatists has generated a multiplicity of labels across the spectrum of fundamental Christianity so that some have real difficulty finding their identity.
The zeal of separatists who defend their position has often caused them to camp on certain supportive portions of Scripture. They tend to ignore the Old Testament and to infuse the New Testament with a higher level of inspiration, forgetting the fact that God has always wanted His people to be separate from the world. A true Biblical perspective demands that the Old Testament as well as the New must be searched for principles to guide God's people in their daily relationships with both believers and unbelievers.
THE OLD TESTAMENT AND SEPARATION
Since the beginning of redemptive history God has used His own to bear witness of Himself to the world. This witness requires penetration into the world while at the same time requiring non-conformity to the world, and the Old Testament provides us with several models of separation. God's ways of accomplishing separation are varied and flexible enough to accommodate the lifestyles, interests, involvements, and needs of all ages and sectors of His people.
In the time of Noah He chose to separate the believers from the world by destroying the world.
When He called Abraham out of Ur and when He led Israel out of Egypt He geographically removed His own from their pagan environment.
On other occasions He caused His own to thrive in worldly situations and permitted them to develop their personal resources, but kept them from defilement. Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon had an understanding and awareness of worldliness, but did not compromise.
The separation of Abraham from Lot demonstrates that issues submerged in custom and routine may be raised
afresh among the "righteous" and be resolved only by a spacial separation of those involved.
The Nazirites were a special demonstration of the separate character of God's people and were a means of furthering the sanctification of the nation of Israel. Their vowe was temporary and involved a separation from sensual enjoyment, from weakening influences and from defilement. They were evidently expected to produce a noteworthy contribution to the spirituality of the nation of Israel and thus were provided the opportunity to concentrate their time and energies in this area of interest during a time of special separation.
Israel was chosen as God's special treasure in order that they might be a light to their national neighbors. Her differences from them were the result of and also symbols of her spiritual separation. This separation resulted in:
1. Purity of moral life (Lev. 11:45; Ps. 97:10)
2. Stewardship of resources—tithe, support of poor, orphans,
RESOLUTION ON TELEVISION BOYCOTT
WHEREAS, the recent presentations of the various television networks have reached a deplorable state of low moral and ethical programming; and the content of many of these programs ridicules the standards of Christian and moral conduct which we hold and defend from our pulpits and in our churches,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates of the 48th Annual Convention of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America held at Winona Lake, Indiana, June 25—July 1, 1977, call on the constituency of this organization to support the following action of objection to such television programming:
FIRST, that we call for a "Boycott" during the week or weeks of the networks' fall premiers in protest of such deplorable programming,
SECOND, that a copy of this resolution with a covering letter stating the statistical strength of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America be sent to all the Television Networks' Presidents requesting a response, and
THIRD, that additional copies be sent to the churches, affiliated organizations, and other brethren of like precious faith, as determined by the National Executive Director, who may be willing to cooperate in such an effort as mentioned above.
3. Distinctive system of worship—sacrificial system
4. Distinctive food, clothing, agriculture
5. Centrality of holiness
Israel's desire to be like her national neighbors indicated her rejection of God (I Sam. 8:4-7). God permitted participation in the leadership concepts of the world but Israel soon forgot much of the Law and the ritual for handling holy things fell into disuse. Even David's attempt to do good in returning the Ark to Jerusalem was foredoomed to failure because God's precise directions about handling the ark were not followed. The sudden death of Uzza (II Sam. 6) demonstrates that the preservation of sacred things is not dependent upon human efforts. Those who take it upon themselves to rescue the cause of God, which they think is in peril, are in danger of overstepping the limits of zealous dedication.
The appearance of the prophets stemmed from the apostasy and rebellion of Israel. They sometimes sounded as political reformers but their purpose was always moral and spiritual in nature. They spoke out against the prevailing idolatry, corruption, and blindness of their times and called the nation back to separation unto God. Isaiah preached from the palace; Jeremiah from prison. Ezekiel dramatized his message by doing things calculated to attract attention and fire imagination. Hosea wept out his message from a broken home. They spoke out against alliances with foreign nations, lawlessness, immorality, and the superstitions which were at the heart of popular religion. And they were resisted and ignored by a people who were unwilling to listen to the voice of God.
These Old Testament examples of separation provide the basic intrinsic values which are carried forward and incorporated into New Testament teachings on separation. Briefly stated they include the following principles:
1. God desires His people to be separated from the world while
maintaining a witness to it. But He does not have a
stereotyped definition of separation.
2. The preservation of sacred things is not dependent upon
3. God's message may originate from a wholesome or an un
wholesome situation, but the messenger himself must be
4. Issues leading to separation of believer from unbeliever cen
ter around God's standard of holiness. Issues leading to sep
aration of believer from believer center around custom and
routine and result in spacial separation but not spiritual sep
5. Failure of separatists in their witness can be attributed to
either the hard-heartedness of the world, or the ineffective
ness of God's people in witnessing.
a. When the world becomes so corrupt and unresponsive to
the message of redemption that it "suppresses the truth in
unrighteousness," God can destroy the world (Noah) or
remove the witness (Israel from Egypt).
b. Failure of God's people in their responsibility to the
world may come in one of two ways. They may attempt to
rule the world through deliberately entering secular
forms (Israel seeking a king), or they may piously with
draw into isolation (Elijah at Horeb). To do the former
violates all biblical principles of separation. The error of
the latter is obvious for no witness can be had when ex
cessive inner attitudes cause withdrawal and loss of con
tact with the world.
6. Holiness in the midst of worldliness is true separation
(Joseph and Daniel). When God's people yield to the world
and lose their holiness, they no longer stand separate from
the world as God's ministers to it.
THE NEW TESTAMENT AND SEPARATION
These Old Testament principles of separation are reiterated in the New Testament where their application is
widened by both positive and negative examples and by apostolic dictum.
Judaism during the time of Christ was rife with separatism. A neighborhood of Pharisees would have been a desirable place to raise a family for they were law-abiding, educated, religious, and separated from the mixture of worldly-minded humanity. But their disengagement from worldliness gave them a legalistic attitude towards life. They tried to control outward actions by means of rules, enforced by penalties. They labeled as "sinners" those who did not agree with them on a particular issue and they insisted that peace must be maintained on their terms. Because of their attitude they lost their witness to the world and Christ caustically denounced their hypocrisy and directed His appeal to the "sinners," an appeal of grace.
Living within this system of religious separation were those who had neither the teachings of Christ nor the apostles, yet they were truly separated. Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Simeon, and Anna were in the system of Judaism, but were living examples of holiness. On the other hand, John the Baptist chose an austere lifestyle and witnessed to the system from the outside.
The Epistles contain several examples of separatist principles and some direct statements of exhortation, yet add little to the teaching of the rest of Scripture.
The Corinthians were reminded that God's people are to enter into no partnership with unbelievers (II Cor. 6:17).
The Ephesians were told not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but to expose them (Eph. 5:11).
Timothy was instructed to avoid those who hold to a form of godliness but deny its power (II Tim. 3:5).
Disobedient believers were to be disciplined for blasphemy (I Tim. 1:20), confusing other Christians (Tit. 1:11), teaching erroneous doctrine (II Tim. 2:16-18), immorality (I Cor. 5:1), being factious (Tit. 3:11, 12), rejecting apostolic doctrine (II Thess. 3:6, 14, 15), causing divisions (Rom. 16:17), carnality, strife, and jealousy (I Cor. 3:3).
Excessive zeal or personal involvement in a problem may make a separatist quick to retaliate when a believer becomes involved in sin or when a difference in custom or routine surfaces. But separation must be practiced with great care. Much is said concerning the sin in the church at Corinth, yet Paul instructs separation from only one man (I Cor. 5:5). The same limited practice is evident throughout the New Testament. Explicit criterion demanding separation from error are not stated, but it appears that those who clearly have a harmful effect upon the body are to be disciplined by having their Christian privileges restricted but always with the goal of restoration of the individual.
The most significant contribution of the New Testament to the doctrine of separation is that it is the responsibility of each believer to promote unity among the brethren. Every member of the body of Christ is dependent upon every other member. And as "members one of another" (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25) there must be a cooperative functioning of the body. This demands a loving concern for other believers and each has the responsibility of sharing the cares of other members. Discipline of an erring member may be necessary, but there are no separated individuals in the church which is His body.
In these critical days when our present way of life, so stained, so distorted, so fraudulent, is disintegrating under our feet, let each of us pledge loyalty to Biblical separation which teaches us to (1) Avoid those who deny the power of a godly life (II Tim. 3:5); (2) cooperate with Bible believing Christians where doctrinal compromise is not required and (3) seek to promote an inward, enduring, personal communion with the Lord Jesus Christ and each member of His body, the Church.