What is it about biblical separation that seems so distasteful to Christians today? Some view biblical separatists as people who don’t know how to enjoy life. Some view them as unnecessarily cautious. Some even view them as angry and inappropriately divisive people. But is this really the case? Are biblical separatists people who have gone over the edge with zeal for God’s holiness?
We believe that God desires unity within the Church (John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:1-6). We should strive for this unity because all believers are a part of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). However, because of differences of opinion, interpretation, and practice, unity is best accomplished by believers who share the same beliefs, convictions, and practices (Acts 15:36-41). We also believe that there are situations where unity is not possible or appropriate, and where God commands us to separate ourselves. This is where the practice of biblical separation is necessary. There are three major areas of separation taught in the Bible.
- Personal separation
We believe that all Christians should live in a way that reflects the change God has made in them (2 Cor. 5:17; Titus 2:11-14), that is holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:19-20), and that evidences a love for God instead of worldly desires and attitudes (1 John 2:15-17). This necessarily requires Christians to keep themselves from certain thoughts, conversations, and actions but it should not result in complete isolation from unbelievers (John 17:15; 1 Cor. 5:9-10).
For example, believers should not imbibe worldly and ungodly entertainment. If a television show or movie promotes sexual immorality, blasphemy, or covetousness, we should turn off that program and instead fill our minds with content that promotes good character. If a clothing style provokes immoral thoughts, promotes an ungodly alliance with rebellion or pride, we should not wear that kind of clothing. If having a television, computer, or mobile phone proves to be too much of a temptation to sin, a believer should limit its availability by installing protections of some sort or by limiting or removing access to such things.
- Separation from a disobedient brother
We believe that a Christian should lovingly confront another Christian who has sinned against him with a desire for his repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. If the sinning Christian does not repent, the next step is to involve other believers and, if necessary, to bring the matter before the local church (Matt. 18:15-17). If the sinning believer refuses to repent, he must be withdrawn from to show him the seriousness of his sin (2 Thess. 3:14-15) and to guard against his bad influence (1 Cor. 5:6-7). There may be situations when a believer’s sin is so egregious (1 Cor. 5:1, 11; 2 Thess. 3:6) that immediate separation is necessary.
For instance, if a believer is actively imbibing sinful media, other believers should lovingly confront this behavior explaining why it is wrong according to the Bible, and with the desire for repentance and restoration. If a believer is speaking in a way that is hateful, harmful, or unkind, other believers should confront him and help him to change. If a believer has committed adultery, other believers should confront him with his sin and seek his repentance and restoration. If, however, any of these believers refuse to deal with their sin, the matter should be addressed by a larger group of believers and eventually by the church. If the sinning believer does not repent, fellowship must be removed so as to escape his influence and to show him the seriousness of his sin.
- Ecclesiastical separation.
We believe that a relationship with other churches, organizations, or believers outside of the local church can be beneficial (Col. 4:12-15; Rom. 15:26). However, these relationships should be carefully examined before fellowship is offered (1 John 1:5-7). The local church should not cooperate in a spiritual endeavor with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), false teachers (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 John 9-11), or believers who are worldly (1 John 2:15-17) or disobedient (2 Thess. 3:6). Such cooperation sends a mixed message about true faith (2 Cor. 6:14) and fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11-13).
If a church in the area asks for our support in a spiritual endeavor, we must examine whether fellowship is biblical. If the asking church invites the Roman Catholic church to take part and treats them as believers, we would not be able to take part in the event. If the asking church includes worldly or sensual music, we would not be able to take part. If the asking church includes false teachers or disobedient believers on their platform, we would not be able to take part. If a formerly good Christian organization or school is unwilling to practice biblical separation, we would no longer be able to support or fellowship with it.
There are two basic views about biblical separation. One views it as an unnecessary division within the Body of Christ. The examples given above are considered extreme, distasteful, and a mar on the Church’s reputation to the world. Another view is that biblical separation is something clearly taught in the Bible. The examples given above are simply obedience to God’s desire to keep believers and the Church pure and holy for Himself. Separation, in this case, is not a bad reputation to the world, but a showcase of what God truly desires.
I believe that this last view is correct. While we needn’t separate over every difference of opinion and need to show love toward those who are untaught in these things, our first responsibility is to think about what God says. When God tells us to separate ourselves from the world, our obedience draws us close to Him and gives the world an example of God’s holiness. When God tells us to separate from a disobedient brother, our obedience is designed to show him the seriousness of his sin and need for repentance. Continued fellowship with him would not accomplish God’s desire. When God tells us to separate from churches and organizations whose actions or relationships are sinful, our obedience makes a clear distinction between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, and gives a clear picture of God’s desire for a pure Church.
Note: This article is based on the proposed revision of the doctrinal statement of Calvary Baptist Church of Willard.