In every age some churches of Christ have been lured into association with those who taught or practised some fatal corruption, leading to their ultimate falling away from evangelical purity. The story of the last century has been a history of tragic loss for Bible-believing congregations in Britain. First to fall were thousands of churches in the historic Protestant denominations, so that the latter now have only a handful of truly evangelical churches remaining in them. Bible-believing churches, reluctant to secede from these denominations when they capitulated to theological unbelief, were themselves taken over by it.
Association with error proved to be the death of them. Their young aspiring ministers went off to liberal denominational colleges to be ruined, churches became small and closed, and their assets and properties passed into the hands of their theological enemies. Today, the devil campaigns to destroy all remaining evangelicalism but with a different strategy. Instead of infiltrating the denominations with the unbelief of liberalism, he insinuates a heavily-modified evangelicalism of his own invention. This is the so-called new evangelicalism, with its weak view of salvation (which includes acceptance of Catholic ‘salvation’); its compromised view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture; its denial of creation, and even (frequently) of eternal punishment; its worldly lifestyle, and numerous other wrongs. It is more dangerous than blatant liberalism, because it claims to be Bible-loving and supportive of the new birth, but while it uses the language of Zion it has departed from Bible Christianity in many ways.
This viewpoint, hand in hand with new-style worldly worship and charismatic folly, now devours conservative evangelicals everywhere. It has never been more important for churches to recognise errors which undermine the faith, and stand clear of them. Those who dabble with Lausanne-style new evangelicalism invariably succumb to it. Those who are indifferent to danger will be taken over.
Since the time that Balaam counselled the Moabites to intermarry with the seemingly invincible Israelites in order to bring them down, infiltration and compromise has been Satan’s chief strategy for the destruction of faithful evangelicalism. Yet so many believers recoil from obeying the biblical commands to stand clear from error. Pastors and leaders who seek acceptance within spiritually decadent circles will be responsible for the ultimate ruin of their churches. There must be separation from worldliness, and from all forms of seriously wrong doctrine.
In the 1960s and into the 1970s a clear note was being sounded in Britain about the error of belonging to denominations dominated by unconverted, Bible-deriding, anti-evangelical teachers. Today, however, that clear note has almost disappeared. Nevertheless, 2 Corinthians 6.14-18 is still in the Bible, and it remains the command of God. Paul’s words must be our policy:–
‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.’
If people teach, for instance, that Roman Catholic allegiance is equivalent to evangelical conversion, so that the pure Gospel is no longer the exclusive means of salvation, they deny the faith, and we are commanded by God to separate from them and to warn against their teaching. (This means we should also turn away from their books.) If we do not, then all the plausible excuses imaginable in the world will not alter the fact that we will have spurned point-blank the command of God. We will have become (as Scripture says) partakers of the offender’s sin, and if we are pastors or elders or deacons, we will doubtless have jeopardised the spiritual safety and health of God’s people.
This does not mean that we cannot fellowship with other believers because we differ on such matters as baptism and church government. We will rightly keep to such distinctives in our own congregations, but these differences do not tear down the faith. The new evangelicalism, however, marks an erosion of vital matters, and the essentials of the faith are rocked to their foundations. Nor does separation mean we cannot have fellowship at a personal level with Christians who are caught up in denominational or new evangelical churches. Our quarrel is with those who wilfully promote the wrong, and associate with it, not with unenlightened rank and file followers. We long to win them from those circles, and they are not the guilty teachers. Biblical separation is always a careful and sensitive act.
It must be our aim to teach our churches the necessity of biblical separation from all wrong teaching which undermines crucial doctrines, and to ensure that every member knows the bedrock texts which establish this prime duty and act of loyalty to God. These are shocking days – times of spiritual high treason even among some professing servants of Christ. But where is love for the Lord, if his people are not protected in the way he has prescribed? Where is love for Christ, if his churches are handed over to his enemies? Where is love for the Word, if the ministries of its critics and detractors are admired and embraced? ‘Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?’ (2 Chronicles 19.2.)
Our aim must be to strengthen and protect the people of God from capture by plunderers, and this is secured by self-conscious and enlightened separation from false teachers and their pernicious ideas. To fail in the teaching of separation is to commit the ultimate cruelty of preparing the Lord’s sheep for the slaughter. We are described in Scripture as ‘saints’, meaning sanctified, or set apart for God. And we cannot be set apart for God without at the same time being set apart from sin, worldliness, and the enemies of Truth.
Some ministers in the past have practised biblical separation as far as their personal associations are concerned, and they have guarded their pulpits, but they have not given their churches any insight into their policy. The people have received no warning ministry, and have therefore developed no clear convictions on this matter. Tragically, when their faithful pastor has left the scene, they have yielded, in naive trust, to their spiritual foes.
Voices are raised today uttering the now hackneyed adage that we ought to be building bridges rather than erecting walls between Christians, but this is lamentably foolish counsel when it is advanced in preference to the plain commands of God’s holy and infallible Word.
In the 1870s the ‘Downgrade Controversy’ engulfed the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Professors in the Union’s theological colleges, as well as prominent ministers, denied essential doctrines, and escaped removal or censure. C. H. Spurgeon protested, urging discipline, but he went unheeded. Conscience-bound to obey Scripture, he separated from the Union over its refusal to repudiate denial of essential truths, and called faithful ministers to do likewise. Over the years, many did so, but the vast majority chose to make no stand for Truth, and to remain. The result was the decimation of that once great company of fervent churches by the forces of liberalism.
Scarcely anywhere today is there to be found a ‘union’ church which is firmly for the Gospel and the Word. Failure to stand for the Truth led to dreadful consequences. There are times when separation alone represents love for Christ, love for the Word, and love for the cause. There are times when separation alone will preserve the buildings which former generations of godly labourers have left behind.
The wise and discriminate application of biblical separation calls for a longer treatment than is provided here, and the writer trusts that readers will not mind his suggesting to them his booklet Stand for the Truth.
It is an essential part of our policy – as it was of the apostle Paul – to introduce the careful, thoughtful, prayerful and faithful implementation of biblical separation, including separation from wilful new evangelicalism. Without this, there can be no long-term spiritual quality in a church, and no stability. Biblical separation is certainly not negative, as some suggest. It is as positive as any cleansing, preserving process, for it keeps alive precious purity and biblical obedience in the churches of Jesus Christ. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are ‘saints’, or those dedicated and committed to the Lord and to his Word.
by Peter Masters
Available for purchase from the Tabernacle Bookshop
‘Prothesis’ / Policy 1: A Worshipping Church
Policy 2: A Praying Church
Policy 3: A Sanctified Church
Policy 4: A Working Church
Policy 5: A Learning Church
Policy 6: An Evangelistic Church
Policy 7: A Separated Church
Policy 8: A Sacrificial Church
Policy 9: A Loving Church
Policy 10: A Believing Church