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. – II Corinthians 6:17-18
So begins one of the most difficult and complex topics that the church has faced since its founding. It is this topic that has divided churches over the color of carpet or issues of doctrine, and has created the multiple different “flavors” of Christianity we see in the world today. We all can agree that separation is important– God will do it ultimately when he separates the sheep from the goats (the saved from the unsaved), but how do we know who to separate from now, and what are the criteria?
Since there are multiple ways to begin this discussion, let’s start with the differences between the actors. There is Personal Separation and Ecclesiastical (or Church-based) Separation.
In Personal Separation, there are fewer guidelines and complexities, so I will cover them in short order. There’s a command in II John that if someone comes to your house and does not bring the gospel of Christ, then you are not to let him in the door, because that makes you a partaker in his evil deeds. Why? Because you will be seen not as taking a stand against the person’s beliefs (they are probably well known). If you feel the desire to share the gospel or try to reach them, choose a neutral place where you can talk with them.
Also, you are to choose your friends wisely. There are many passages that talk about the effect someone has on a friend and vice versa. However, the Holy Spirit saw fit to make sure that we realize that we are in the world and not of it and that we are to be witnesses. If we were to take a position of separation from all sin, we would not be able to witness. Christ went to those that needed Him, but He never went somewhere that would have been equated with sin.
He went to Zacceus’ house– a sinner, publican, but the house was not necessarily associated with sin. Mary Magdelen poured ointment on his feet and head, but again the person was a sinner, not the location. You’ll never find Jesus in the New Testament going into a idol’s temple. You’ll never see Him visiting a house of prostitution (he doesn’t even go to the women at the well’s house, maybe for the association with that house?). We too need to make sure that the places that we go and who we invite in do not have something attached to them that people would get the wrong impression.
When we get to Church-based separation is where things get difficult. For one thing, Church Based Separation requires that we separate from people that we might personally like. Why? Two basic principles:
- Separation is a two way street: We separate from the world unto God. As a church body, if we truly believe that we are following the Word of God in our doctrine and beliefs, there will be issues that other churches believe that will be in conflict and we will believe is wrong. In our attempt to be more like Christ, we must keep influences out of our churches that would keep us from being the most like Him.
- We are living witnesses to Christ. Since Christianity is one of the mutually exclusive religions– either you are saved or not, following God or not, etc.– we believe that you’re either right or wrong on given doctrines. So, if someone is wrong on a given doctrine, we as a church should not support that group of people.
In effect, we as a church boy are rejecting another scheme of thinking, but it may not be us separating from one of our friends. It’s a group statement that we believe that a church’s doctrine is incorrect. This does flow on a church or organization level. Two churches with members that might be friends, at the same time will not do something together at a picnic organizationally because there is a marked difference between them.
Everyone draws a line somewhere– which doctrines are important and worth separating over (and whether you should separate over people who do not separate!), how it impacts members, and how it impacts the organization. With the culture continually seeping into the churches, more and more Bible-based churches are finding that they can no longer associate with churches that they used to because they are either not living what they say they believe or they no longer say they believe the same things.