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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Dennis W. Costella
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The fundamentalist is not trying to be unloving, schismatic or exclusive. He simply desires to be obedient to the Lord and His Word above all else!
The Principle of Biblical Separation
The Biblical doctrine of separation is based on one of God's essential attributes - HIS HOLINESS. He never looks upon sin with the least degree of tolerance, and this necessarily extends to His will concerning the conduct of His children. As believers, we are called unto fellowship with God who…”is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." I John 1:5, 6.
Therefore, there is an absolute necessity for separation from whatever is "darkness;" that is, whatever is in direct opposition to His very nature. The will of God for the saint is ever the same: "...be ye HOLY in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye HOLY; for I am HOLY." I Peter 1:15, 16.
Most believers agree that the Bible teaches the principle of separation - but comparatively few seem concerned about the need for its personal application. This is especially true when our fellowships and associations are examined.
All too often, the things we feel are most loving, expedient or non-divisive determine what we consider to be God's will in any given situation. But this is a grievous error if the result of such reasoning is contrary to the plain teaching of the Word of God. We would do well to carefully consider what the Bible teaches about "separation," and then direct our walk accordingly!
The believer's separation from evil and every false way is always God's order. We were called to be separated unto Christ and declared positionally sanctified "in Him" the moment we believed and were saved. In our Christian lives we are admonished to walk in a sanctified, separated manner which is worthy of our "…high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
And when our Lord comes back again and catches away His Bride, we will be partakers of that great, final separation! Yes, indeed, separation is a precious Biblical truth - past, present and future!
The Practice of Biblical Separation
Although the doctrine of separation is a dominant theme throughout the Scriptures, the difficulty comes, as mentioned before, in its application. The prohibition of participation in, and even identification with, blatant godlessness and unbelief is readily accepted as a Biblical imperative.
Yet, at the same time, many Christians find it more of a problem to understand why we are also commanded by God to have NO FELLOWSHIP with ANYONE or ANYTHING disobedient to the Word of God, even if this means we must separate from errant fellow believers and compromised Christian organizations and ministries. God's directive for the believer in respect to evil is the same whether the leaven is found without (Luke 12:1) or within (I Corinthians 5:6-8) the Church.
The first aspect of this doctrine is separation from the evil of the world, and from all unbelieving individuals and organizations. II Corinthians 6:14-18 plainly states that the believer must not be "unequally yoked together (fellowship, association or identification) with unbelievers... but is to "come out from among them, and be ye SEPARATE."
A fundamentalist must never join with any man or organization where those represented are not clear in their testimony of the new birth, or their strict adherence to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith. Any common endeavor (worship, evangelism, education, relief, dialogue, etc.) would be in direct conflict with this Biblical commandment. Such activities, when undertaken, identify Christians with the liberal, apostate position of unbelievers.
Our responsibility, however, does not stop there.
Ephesians 5:11 commands us to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather REPROVE them." We must not only separate from all groups riddled with unbelief, such as the National and World Councils of Churches, but we must also vehemently sound a warning to other believers who might be drawn subtly into complicity with the ecumenical apostasy. False religious leaders may present an amiable and pious exterior, but our duty is still to expose and oppose their unbiblical practices which deceive the unwary. I Timothy 6:3-5 and II Timothy 3:5.
A heretic who denies a fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith is to be rejected, not embraced! Titus 3:10. A Bible believer must not find himself in common cause with such individuals, whether it is by ecclesiastical affiliation, or by any form of joint ministry or worship.
The clear call is for everyone who names the Name of Christ to separate himself from every dishonorable vessel, that is, those who have turned away from the truth of the infallible Word. Only then will the believer be "meet (worthy) for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work." Only then will he have fellowship "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." A believer cannot be in fellowship with the apostasy and with the Lord at the same time! Read carefully II Timothy 2:19-22.
Withdrawal from counterfeit, apostate Christianity, however, is not the only application of this doctrine.. Separation from disobedient brethren is also a Biblical imperative! It is precisely at this point that many believers turn away from the plain teaching of God's Word and substitute their own faulty reasoning.
Today, there is an abundance of disobedient brethren who are so designated by the Word of God because of their refusal to separate from false teachers and apostate affiliations as previously mentioned, For them, the desire for visible unity, respectability, popularity or success, or the avoidance of appearing to be " schismatic" or "too negative" takes precedence over simple obedience to the Bible. They may even seek to justify their disobedience on the basis of love or opportunities to witness. But it is still disobedience, and God says we are not to walk in fellowship with disobedient brethren. We are to separate from them. II Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15.
There is no such thing as so-called "first and second degree separation," just BIBLICAL separation!
There are, for example, many brethren in the National Association of Evangelicals who say and do many commendable things. But no matter how much "good" may appear to be accomplished, the fact does not change that by their very association with this middle-of-the-road organization they are repudiating Biblical separation. Refusing to obey the call to be separate is SIN - whether it involves failure to separate from a false teacher or a disobedient brother. Compromised "evangelical" organizations like the NAE may present an impressive outward display of numbers and strength, but it is not a Scriptural unity. It cannot be pleasing to God when there is not, first of all, an agreement on - and then practice of - the TRUTH! Amos 3:3.
Romans 16:17 commands us to "mark them (point them out) which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and AVOID them." The fundamentalist (who, by definition, is one who practices Biblical separation) is not the one who causes divisions between believers.
Divisions are caused by the brother who does not practice sound doctrine - the doctrine of separation is no exception - and the fundamentalist is required to separate from him. The fundamentalist is not trying to be unloving, schismatic or exclusive. He simply desires to be obedient to the Lord and His Word ABOVE ALL ELSE!
The Purpose of Biblical Separation
There are at least four reasons why separation from disobedient brethren is required by God. First, this type of discipline is necessary in the local church fellowship in order to maintain church purity. I Corinthians, Chapter 5 presents a case in point. That church was charged "not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother (whether he is saved or not is not the issue of consideration — he bears the name "Christian") be a fornicator, or covetous ... with such an one no not to eat." Verse 11.
The individual spoken of here is disciplined by the church, and is no longer permitted to fellowship in the ongoing ministry of the local assembly. If sin is allowed to remain unconfessed and unforsaken in the Christian fellow ship, its corrupting influence will affect others. Verses 5-7. God has ordained separation to stem the leavening effect of sin in compromised fellowships.
Second, separation from a disobedient brother is for his spiritual well-being. Unless the standard of God's Word is raised before the erring brother, he may continue in his sin unrebuked. II Thessalonians 3:6 commands, "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." The context reveals that laziness is not the only basis for determining disobedience.
Any believer who is unfaithful to "the tradition" (ALL the Scripture that was given to the Church) was also considered to be disobedient (cf. II Thessalonians 2:15). Disobedience to the Word of God is the determining factor. Separation will have the effect of making that brother or sister "ashamed." II Thessalonians 3:14.
That one is not an enemy, nor should he be treated as such. He is an erring brother (verse 15), and the desired result of separation is his repentance and restitution to full fellowship with the brethren. This should be the attitude of every fundamentalist -- to lovingly raise a Biblical standard by way of separation so that the erring saint will realize his disobedience, repent and return to right fellowship.
The third reason for practicing Biblical separation is the desire for a "full reward" (II John 8) at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer is "not crowned (rewarded) except he strive lawfully." II Timothy 2:5. It will be possible for a Christian to lose a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ because of compromised fellowship, either directly or by identification (II John 10, 11).
Make no mistake about it, when a believer is identified with any religious activity which is not true to God's Word, he will receive the disapproval of God the Father as well. Our God is a jealous God. He wants our undivided loyalty! He will not allow us to be identified, even in the slightest, with compromise or error. Such double-mindedness would prevent our fellowship with Him. I Corinthians 10:16-22.
Therefore, the support of a mass campaign to reach lost souls may seem most noble.
But if disobedient, new evangelical brethren are in the endeavor, the results will not justify the com promised fellowship. God will never suspend the requirement for separation in order to accomplish ANY worthwhile cause -- even evangelism. That is simply not the way God works. He always leads according to the Book.
Finally, separation from disobedient brethren is necessary in order to maintain a strong, consistent testimony in the midst of theological turmoil and confusion. COMPROMISED FELLOWSHIP CLOUDS THE ISSUES, DULLS THE SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT AND SILENCES SCRIPTURAL REPROOF! "Be not deceived, evil communications (wrong fellowships) corrupt good manners (right conduct)." I Corinthians 15:33.
Only a separated Bible believer is able, in obedience to God's clear command, to sound a faithful warning concerning the deception that Satan is sowing in the Church today (Acts 20:28-31). Always remember that our God is HOLY, and He calls us to be the same! In order to be obedient to His command, we must endeavor, by the grace of God, to be separated WHOLLY unto Him, REGARDLESS OF THE COST!