Dan Greenfield is Pastor of The Bible Church of Orwell, Orwell, Ohio and a member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. He is a graduate of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He was reared in the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and left that connection because of his conviction as to the direction of that fellowship.
My favorite meal is lasagna. There are certain ingredients necessary for a pan of lasagna: layers of lasagna noodles, sauce, meat, and several types of cheese. I’m no cook, so I leave the finer details to my wife, but I can tell when any of the essential ingredients are missing! My wife adds one additional ingredient that makes her lasagna better than any other I have tasted, Worcestershire sauce. Adding this secret ingredient adds such a delectable flavor that I consider her version the best ever. I can definitely tell when it is missing, as its flavor wonderfully permeates the entire dish.
Fundamentalism is distinguished from other Christian movements by three essential characteristics: (1) The belief in certain core doctrines as essential to genuine Christianity, (2) A militant spirit in spreading and defending those truths, (3) The doctrine and practice of ecclesiastical separation. These characteristics are essential for obedient individuals and groups to honor God. When these characteristics are adjusted, tampered with, or removed, fundamentalism is abandoned and God is not honored through obedience.
Church history details many instances where fundamentalism’s essential characteristics were ignored, disobeyed, or entirely removed. Such occurrences are often the result of a slow and gradual movement away from these biblical standards. There is less protest against apostasy and compromise, less teaching and talk about separation, and less forthright preaching of the whole counsel of God. Movements that have less of these essentials slowly lose their flavor, the Worcestershire sauce that made them what they were. Recently a group of churches, the Ohio Association of Regular Baptist Churches (OARBC), took formal steps to change the recipe. What happened? How did this happen? How can fundamentalists protect themselves from following the course the OARBC has taken?
On September 13, 2005, a meeting of the OARBC was held at the Faith Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, OH. This meeting was called by the Association’s leadership, comprised of State Representative David Warren and twelve representatives of the churches known as the Council of 12. The objective was to discuss and give formal consideration to amend their constitutional statement on separation.
THE PROPOSED CHANGE
The OARBC’s original statement on separation reads, “We believe in personal separation from all practices and influences of the world which hinder a Spirit-filled life. We believe in biblical separation from all forms of ecclesiastical liberalism, apostasy, and compromise.” The proposed amendment which messengers were summoned to consider was “there is room in the OARBC for both primary and secondary separatists.” However, upon arriving at the meeting, participants received an agenda giving the constitutional statement on separation, but changing the addendum to read, “while acknowledging the freedom and responsibility of each autonomous church to apply these principles as they understand the Scripture.”
The main catalyst of this addendum was David Warren. At the outset, Warren testified that when he left his teaching position at Cedarville to be the State Representative he gained a new set of students– the pastors and local churches of the OARBC. This proposed action is part of Warren’s educational process for the association– a sad thing to consider, since it was formed in 1928 in response to such hierarchical denominationalism!
At first blush, this new amendment seemed totally different from the first proposal. However, Warren made clear that there was no difference in meaning. Warren gave the reason for the change in the addendum’s wording as this: “this [new] statement is actually a revision of the former; there are different ways of saying the same thing. The terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ separation are emotionally charged words and thus were not used in the latest proposed amendment, but the meaning of this newest proposal is the same—the intention and goal are the same.” This is important, for the plain meaning of the original statement is that separation from disobedient brethren will not be a basis for fellowship and cooperation. The meaning of the new statement is vague but several times Warren made clear that it means the exact same thing as the first proposal: the association should no longer consider separation from disobedient brethren as a clearly taught doctrine that would characterize its fellowship.
AN ADJUSTMENT TO COMPROMISE
Warren later said that what initially sparked this needed amendment was Cedarville University’s connection to the Ohio Southern Baptist Convention. It was the general consensus of those present that Cedarville was not walking disorderly and was doing a good job in training their young people. One man, who confessed that the concept of separation was new to him, said, “The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Thou shalt not fellowship with Cedarville University.’” There were many “amens” to another, who, in support of the school, said “we can’t fight against brethren.”
The following texts were read, followed by an opportunity for discussing their meaning and application: Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5:11-13; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; Gal 1:6-9; Phil 3:17-19; 2 Thess 3:6-15; 2 Tim 3:1-9; Titus 3:9-11; 2 Pet 2:1-3; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-4. Any fundamentalist who is committed to obeying the Lord’s clear commands of separation will recognize the plain teaching of these verses, so it was very interesting to see the result of this “biblical” discussion by the OARBC. During the discussion time it became clear that the majority of those present believed the Bible taught separation from apostasy but not separation from disobedient Christians.
There were a few protests to the direction of the association and the overall tenor of discussion. Many men believed that all that is necessary for fellowship and cooperation is that the gospel is preached. A pastor of 50 years tenure in the OARBC rejected this opinion, quoting Robert T. Ketcham in support: the criterion must be the preaching of the Word, the whole counsel of God. If the whole counsel of God is preached, the gospel will be preached, but if this is reduced to merely “the gospel,” much of God’s Word will be neglected. This same pastor noted that “all you have to do to get rid of separation is to do nothing.” If men are silent about it, talk about everything but separation for a long enough time, eventually it won’t even be an issue. This tactic of avoiding separation has been the mantra of the association’s colleges and seminaries for years and the fruits of such a harvest are finally being reaped. Later he stated, “The one who holds to only primary separation gives up nothing, but the one who holds to secondary separation gives up everything.”
UNITY OR PURITY
Most present preferred this amendment because of the differences of opinion within the fellowship, for unity is more important than purity. They believed there should be no schism among believers, and therefore there is no command to separate from believers. It was maintained that ultimately one cannot know where unbelievers are and therefore a pure church is impossible.
When Warren was pointedly asked, “Are we saying we will not make separation a matter of separation?” he answered, “Our statement does have a little wriggle room for ecclesiastical separation. We have a total complex of beliefs. But this is an ‘adjustment’ in this area.” A follow up question to Warren was “How does this apply?” Warren answered, “Freedom.”
To get an additional flavor of the overall position of those assembled, the meeting reconvened after lunch and was ministered to by a CCM performer. There was only one voice of protest, the same pastor previously mentioned, who decried the worldliness of such music. His comment immediately brought many to their feet. He was denounced by a young youth pastor who said that he had no right to say such things. The young man’s comments were approved by a chorus of amens! The older pastor was also admonished by another, “If you’re a mature Christian, quit judging and start preaching the gospel,” This was again seconded by many amens. If the OARBC’s founders such as H. O. Van Gilder, Earle Griffith, Robert T. Ketcham, and Chester E. Tulga had been present they too would have denounced such worldliness and the fellowship’s direction. Would they too have met with the same amazing treatment?
Toward the end of the meeting, Warren was asked whether the Council of 12 agreed with this amendment change. Warren had all the Council members stand and answer, and all agreed. Two members of the national association (GARBC) Council of 18 said that the Council of 18 is presently working through what their identity is and where they stand on ecclesiastical separation!
What was the outcome of the meeting? The result of the vote was 107 in favor of the addendum, 34 against it. From the comments made during the meeting, it was clear that the most of those against the amendment voted “no” because they did not see the need for it, not because they saw the course to be wrong and unbiblical.
A CHANGE FROM THE PAST
If the OARBC truly believes that Christians should separate from apostasy, do we hear calls to Southern Baptists to “come out and be ye separate?” No, what we see is greater cooperation, fellowship, and partnering with the SBC! Did we hear resolutions against the mixed multitude seen at Promise Keepers rallies? No, what we saw was active participation and promotion of that ecumenical men’s movement. It is clear that the Bible’s commands for separation from apostasy also addresses separation from disobedient brethren. That is a fact made abundantly clear by one of the OARBC’s founders, Robert Ketcham who wrote: “the battle between modernism and fundamentalism was not being lost because of modernists, but because of those who were tolerant toward those who were tolerant toward unbelievers…the battle would be lost unless what some people call ‘secondary separation’ also be made a working principle” (GARBC literature item, The Position of the GARBC on Separation, p. 5). The truth is that were the OARBC to really stand against error it would lose connections with other Christians. But it places more value on unity than faithfulness to what it professes to believe so it willfully ignores what is going on.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
This meeting did not come out of the blue. It was the result of several factors: (1) Separation has not been clearly and regularly taught as essential for a God-honoring testimony. The only time it has come up in messages is for critique, modification, or to point out problems with it. (2) Separation has been treated like a bad relative whose existence is grudgingly acknowledged but who is never invited to family functions. (3) Separation is seen as an impediment to unity. In the modern GARBC unity always trumps separation. But biblical, historic, fundamentalists maintain that there can be no unity apart from purity.
This is not the first time that the sentiments of both of these amendments (the original and the final proposals) have been made public. In the February 1988 issue of the Baptist Bulletin, Cedarville professor Murray Murdoch wrote these words: “In light of the Baptist distinctive of the priesthood of the believer, it is time to recognize room for disagreement on degrees of separation. Each local church and individual pastor has the right to determine how the principle will be applied” (p. 10). Compare Murdoch’s words with the final proposed amendments. The similarities are striking.
It is clear that the recipe for getting rid of “secondary separation” has been slowly simmering for decades. The ingredients: false piety, disobedience to Scripture, ignoring separation, and the failure of churches and schools to teach this truth. Wisely, Dr. Arthur Williams, one of Cedarville’s early teachers, in an article against ecumenical evangelism, said, “If the fruitage we are now enjoying is to be the portion of our children, the same seeds must be sown today. They are not perennials! The adoption of the inclusive policy of evangelism by this generation will bring to an inglorious termination the entire separationist cause and greatly advance the predicted apostasy” (Baptist Bulletin, March, 1959, p. 27). These “seeds” were not sown, and the “fruitage” of such husbandry is now evident.
How can fundamentalists protect their churches and movements from suffering a similar fate? Be sure your pastors and people are being taught separation and have leadership that is committed to it. Don’t let emotions control decisions but obedience to the Word of God. Be committed to the whole counsel of Scripture. Teach and talk about separation. Proclaim the whole counsel of God. Don’t change the recipe and don’t take out any of the essential ingredients!
There are undoubtedly pastors and churches in fellowships such as the one described in this article that believe in God’s commands of separation What should they do? They must obey the Bible and separate before it is too late. The character of the group you are tied to will eventually turn up in your church. Perhaps there is a pastor reading this article whose church is in such a fellowship. You know good men and good churches in your association. There is, for the most part, good fellowship among you. But there are those nagging problems that keep coming up more and more frequently. You’ve talked and talked about the problems, but nothing has been done about them. In fact, it seems like they are only getting worse. You’re torn between what you know the Bible says you should do and what has been experienced. Let me encourage you. Don’t let emotion or fellowship control your actions, but rather obey God, trust Him, leave the results in His hands. God blesses obedience.