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.

5 Comments

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

5 responses to “Doctrine of Separation Anxiety

  1. Yes, amen. Most of what separates us is dumb in an eternal context, and they are totally secondary issues anyway. The few things we really should be standing firm on often find Christians capitulating all over the place, anyway.

  2. I believe that Jesus Christ’s fundamental nature and teachings were/are notably different from the unambiguously fire-and-brimstone angry God of Judaism and Islam (not to mention the Biblical Old Testament’s Almighty).

    Followers of Islam and Judaism generally believe that Jesus did exist but was not a divine being. After all, how could any divine being most profoundly wash his disciples’ feet as did Jesus, the act clearly revealing that he took corporeal form to serve. And that he, as a hopeful example of the humility of the divine, joined humankind in our miseries, joys and everything in between.

    Even John the Baptist — who was the equivalent of today’s social activist and believed in Jesus as the savior — was left troubled by Jesus’ contradictory version of the Hebraic messiah, with which John had been raised. Perhaps most perplexing was Christ’s revolutionary teaching of non-violently offering the other cheek as the proper response to being physically assaulted by one’s enemy.

    Indeed, how could any divine being NOT be a conqueror — far less allow himself to be publicly stripped naked, severely beaten and murdered in such a belittling manner?! …

    Jesus was/is meant to show to people that there really was/is hope for the many — especially for young people living in today’s physical, mental and spiritual turmoil — seeing hopelessness in a fire-and-brimstone angry-God-condemnation creator requiring literal pain-filled penance/payment for Man’s sinful thus corrupted behavior. Fundamentally, that definitely includes resurrection.

    Though no pushover, Jesus fundamentally was about compassion and charity. Therefore, Jesus basically was most viciously killed because he did not in the least behave in accordance to corrupted human conduct and expectation — and in particular because he was nowhere near to being the vengeful, wrathful, and sometimes even bloodthirsty, behemoth so many people seemingly wanted or needed their savior to be and therefore believed he’d have to be. …

    I can see many institutional ‘Christians’ finding inconvenient, if not plainly annoying, trying to reconcile the conspicuous inconsistency in the fundamental nature of the New Testament’s Jesus with the wrathful, vengeful and even jealous nature of the Old Testament’s Creator.

    Also, I place a much higher standard on those people in public life who claim to be Christian yet behave nothing like Christ nor his basic teachings.

  3. I’m going to disagree with you. Walking down the street is one thing, but joining up with someone you only have one thing in common with just leads to problems down the road.

    Plus, where are you going to draw the line?

    Pentecostals who don’t believe in the surety of salvation?

    Catholics and Presbyterians who believe in infant baptism?

    On a personal note, listening to Dr. David Cloud on separation saved me from getting sucked in to Gothardism and for that I remain very grateful.

    How’s everything going over there in the SBC?

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