Doctrine of Separation Anxiety

So many destructive teachings are nothing more than corruptions of actual truth.  One of those is the Doctrine of Separation, and I believe it’s doing more harm than good.

The Missionary

A while back I visited a church where a missionary was speaking.  I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say, but was disappointed with his prayer card.  Listed on the back, along with his statement of beliefs, was the “doctrine of separation.”

Practiced within the more independent and fundamental branches of Christianity, the Doctrine of Separation 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.

Ironically, during his sermon the missionary spoke of how good it was to be able to talk to a Charismatic believer in Mongolia.  He spoke of how good it was, in a land where 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.

In Romania

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 men and myself were blessed to find a young interpreter who wanted to help us.

Actually, the teenage interpreter was helping a Pentecostal church group which was rebuilding grain silos during the day. When he was free in the evening, he helped us go out and distribute Bibles, tracts, and even witness and preach.  He even helped us make friends with the Pentecostal group.

Ultimately, this unexpected encounter led to unplanned cooperation, and the Church of God group paid the interpreter so he could work with us Baptists to get out the Gospel! Because of this, around 80 souls came to accept Christ as their Saviour in one week!

Back in the USA

When I got back to the U.S., thoughts crossed my mind about how Baptist missionaries could develop 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.  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 to which BIMI held true, as do most Independent Baptists with which I have been acquainted.

Cooperation

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 example, 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 Calvinist (which I am not), does that mean that it’s wrong to walk down a street with him as we both preach salvation through Jesus alone?  I like what article XIV of the 2000 edition of the Baptist 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 extension 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, and do the work of 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.

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3 Comments

Filed under baptist, Christian Unity, Independent Baptist, legalism, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Doctrine of Separation Anxiety

  1. Tom

    Thanks for the post, Anthony. I can relate. I was grounded in the faith at an IFB church so I do have a bit of a your-doctrine-is-right-only-if-it-matches-mine tendency. When I first started my blog I spouted off some Baptist smack and bad-mouthed our charismatic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters. But the flip side of that is an anti-separationist attitude where EVERYONE is embraced who names Christ, despite major differences in doctrinal essentials, because they also “love Jesus.” Both extremes should be avoided but it appears the latter is carrying the day within evangelicalism.

    • Yes, I understand. Thanks. But for the record, I do hope people (especially my friends) will understand that I am not endorsing some form of ecumenicalism, but a serious attempt at family getting along with family. I actually wrote the piece you read in 2009, then updated it. Unfortunately, there are still areas where the doctrine of separation is still as divisive as ever.

      • Tom

        Thanks, Anthony. I’ve learned a few lessons myself over the past 6 months about letting the secondary issues be secondary issues.

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