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How far does this go?

November 29, 2011

In considering the idea of separation within fundamentalism, we have considered both primary and secondary separation.  Now we need to spend some time working through how those principles apply in real world situations.  So that everyone is on the same page with what’s being communicated below, I first need to define a couple terms.  Separation is the rejection of cooperation or comradery with a professing Christian based on the refusal to acknowledge that Christian as an obedient brother in Christ. Fellowship, in this article, is the acknowledging of a professing believer as an obedient brother in Christ.  As being used here, this definition of fellowship does not refer to face to face fellowship but a recognition of the communion shared between individuals or ministries as a result of both being obedient children in the same household of God.  An apostate is one who professes to be a Christian, but who has in reality denied core truths of salvation, either in his teaching or habits. The Bible clearly commands that we are to have no fellowship with apostasy.  This is laid out very strongly in passages like Galatians 1:8-9 and 2 John 1:10-11.  That means, as Christians, our response to apostasy should look something like this:

The Bible also teaches that we are to separate from those who are not obedient to the command to separate from apostates. This principle, generally called secondary separation, is found in passages like Romans 16:10, and looks a little like this: (For the last sixty years or so, those Christians who maintain fellowship with apostasy have been lumped into the new evangelical category, so for the sake of the illustration, that’s what I’ll label them.)

This looks pretty simple and straightforward, right?  However, the real life application of these principles is not always so easy.  One area of disagreement within fundamentalism is how to treat someone who doesn’t separate from those who fellowship with apostates.  Do we separate ftom someone like this, who I’ll call a conservative evangelical?

Two responses are possible to this. The first, which I will identify borrowing labels from someone smarter than me, is that of old-time fundamentalism.  That response refuses fellowship with anyone who fellowships with anyone who fellowships with apostasy.

The second, that of historic fundamentalism, maintains fellowship with those separated from apostates, while refusing fellowship to those who fellowship with apostates:

This is not merely an exercise in confusion.  These issues of separation have very pertinent applications to the fellowship of believers and churches within the ranks of Christianity.  For example, this issue has direct bearing on what colleges we recommend to our teenagers. More important than the practical implications is the necessity of being cleared directed by Biblical precept.  Too often churches and organizations have made decisions based on something other than Scripture.  The question of fellowship within the body of Christ is far too important to be decided solely on recent history, personal comfort or a prestigious leader.  Thought each of these things has legitimate weight, they cannot have the authoritative voice.

As has already been mentioned in this series, our default position in relation to all believers must be a position of open fellowship.  We move away from that position when one’s actions or teaching distort, deny or disparage the gospel.  To take the old time fundamentalist (as defined above) position of separating from conservative evangelicals, one must first be able to show how fellowshipping with a conservative evangelical opposes or obscures the gospel.  To put it another way, one must show Biblical precept or principle directing such a decision.

With those introductory thoughts out of the way, now you’ve got all week to ponder through these things. Next week I’ll attempt to late out a Biblical case for how far to extend our separation.


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