There are so many destructive teachings that are simply corruptions of actual truth. One of those is the doctrine of separation. Practiced within the more independent and fundamental sects of Christianity, this doctrine is mainly derived from 2 Corinthians 6:17, ” Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…” The idea is that if one group does not agree with another in all areas, then association is considered sinful, or at least liberal.
I personally believe that this has been taken way too far within the body of Christ.
A few Sundays ago I was at a church where a missionary was speaking. I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say. What disappointed me was what was on his prayer card. Listed on the back, in his statement of beliefs, was the “doctrine of separation.” However, during the message that he preached, he spoke of how it was good to be able to talk to a Charistmatic believer in Mongolia. He spoke of how it was good, in a land that so few missionaries frequented, to find anyone to talk to that was a Christian. But when it came to working together, that was a different story.
Years ago, in 1992, I was given the opportunity to travel to Romania for a month. Long story short, in order to do some first-time evangelical work in a small village, two other young guys and myself were priviledged to hire a young interpreter to help us. Actually, he was helping a Pentecostal church group rebuilding grain silos during the day. Because he was free in the evening, he helped us. He even helped us make friends with the Pentecostal group. We didn’t have services together, but we did get to have friendly contact. Ultimately, because of this unplanned cooperation (the Church of God folk paid the interpreter for us) around 80 souls came to accept Christ as their Saviour in one week.
When I got back to the U.S., thoughts crossed my mind about how Baptist missionaries could develope ways to work together with other Christian missionaries in third-world countries, especially where the work was great. Pooling local resources and manpower for mutual benefit seemed something totally logical to me; but not to BIMI, the mission agency with which I had traveled. Unlike Southern Baptist missionaries, independent Baptist missionaries have to raise their own funds to reach the field and to stay there. To me it seemed that being able to work with other Christians to accomplish like goals was a no-brainer, but not according to the doctrine of separation which BIMI held true to, as do most independent Baptists with which I have been aquainted.
The belief that Christians cannot work together, worship together, or evangelize together to reach a common desired goal is crazy. There are areas that make Baptists (of which I am) different from other denominations, and rightfully so. These differences, however, are more often than not of little eternal significance. Baptists believe in baptism by submersion, for instance, while Presbyterians normally do not. Is that worth saying that when it comes to winning the lost for Christ that we must remain separate in all things? Even if a friend of mine is a five-point Calvinist, does that mean that I can’t walk down a street with him as we both preach salvation through Jesus alone? I like what article XIV of the 2000 edition of theBaptist Faith and Message has to say on the subject:
“Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extention of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”
When it comes to the legalists and the Pharisaical crowd that promotes separation to the extent of mutual exclusion, finger pointing and self-glorification (i.e., “I am right with God and you are not, because you don’t believe the same as me.”), maybe isolation isn’t that bad. More people than not, I truly believe, think that working together for the greater good of the Kingdom is biblical. Only a small minority of so-called “fundamentalists” within the Christian faith feel otherwise. However, the problem is not so much that we believe that working together is good as long as there is no compromise, it’s getting us to actually DO it. Let the “separatists” stay separate if they wish, but let the rest of us unite where possible to form a true Nation of Christians, the body of Christ.
Say what you will about the “herd mentality,” but it is the loners that the lions and wolves look for first. There truly is strength in unity.