Jesus & The Doctrine of Separation

Would Jesus have been a good fundamentalist?

I’ve often commented that I’m trying to put the “fun” back into fundamentalist because, let’s face it, the “duh” and the “mental” are pretty much covered. Due to the separationist nature of the fundamentalist movement, we tend to be more divided and nitpicky than we are unified and, well, gracious.

The question of whether or not Jesus practiced the doctrine of separation as we understand it is of immeasurable importance to the fundamentalist position, which is, of course, separatist by it’s very nature. We can easily re-state the question: “Would Jesus have been a good fundamentalist?” You see, the question we are asking here is not Charles Sheldon’s famous and over-marketed “What would Jesus do?,” but rather “Would Jesus do as I do?”

To determine how Jesus practiced separation, we must first define separation. A passage that stands as a key basis for separation is 2 Corinthians 6:17:

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you.”

We are to separate ourselves from worldliness (Rom. 12:1; 1 John 2:15-17). This is personal separation. James states that “pure religion” includes keeping “oneself unspotted from the world (Ja.1:27),” and that “whosoever will be the friend of this world is the enemy of God (Ja.4:4; cf. Jn.15:18-21).”It goes without saying that Jesus practiced personal separation, as attested in Scripture. He was so separate from the world that it hated Him. In fact, He alone was so separate from the world as to be completely without sin (Heb.4:15).

Then there is the matter of what is termed “ecclesiastical separation,” which involves separation from false teachers (2 Cor.6:14-18; Eph 5:11; 1 Tim.6:35; 2 Tim 3:5) and from disobedient brethren (2 Thess.3:6, 14-15; 2 Tim.2:15-22; Tit.3:10), which would be believers who are under church discipline for some reason. According to The Fellowship of Missions:

“The Word of God states that true believers are to take the following position in regard to disobedient Christians and apostates: to try them (1 Jn.4:1), to mark them (Rom.16:17), to rebuke them (Tit.1:13), to have no fellowship with them (Eph.5:11), to withdraw from them (2 Thess.3:6), to receive them not, nor bid them Godspeed (2 Jn.10-11), to have no company with them (2 Thess.3:14), to reject them (Tit.3:10), and to be separate from them (2 Cor.6:14-18) (“Statement on Separation”).”

As far as eccelsiastical separation and the disobedient brother are concerned, we have a clear teaching from Jesus:

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:15-17 KJV).”

After having consulted H. Wayne House’s “Church Discipline Flowchart” and noting that the majority of the references we tend to cite for separation throughout the epistles seem to refer more specifically to the context of church discipline, I’m convinced that we should view ecclesiastical separation in relation to disobedient brethren wholly within the context of church disciplinary procedures (House 127). It should be said that this church discipline should always be carried out with meekness and with the fallen brother’s restoration in mind (Luke 17:3-4; cf. 2 Cor.2:7-8; Gal.6:1). It is also important to note the admonition of 2 Thess.3:14-15:

“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count [him] not as an enemy, but admonish [him] as a brother.”

I also sincerely doubt that we would see Jesus in the presence of apostate believers. There is no record of Him chasing after those who left Him (Jn.6:66), but only those who sought after Him (Jn.9:35).

The question then is did he separate himself to the extent that we fundamentalists do. I don’t think He did. That He was separate from sinners the Scriptures state as fact (Heb.7:26), yet we also note how He was often criticized for associating himself with sinners, apostate publicans such as Zacchaeus, and Samaritans, whom the Jews viewed as heretical. We today might also wonder in that He associated with the Pharisees, especially since He railed at them so. A.H. Strong sums up this latter problem nicely:

“Here, as in all else, Christ is the model. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb.7:26), and yet He was in such contact with them for their salvation that the Pharisees, who illustrate the mechanical and ascetic conception of separation, judged Him as having lost His Nazirite character (Luke 7:39) (The New Scofield Reference Bible 1257).”

This may well be cause for caution amongst fundamentalists on this issue. The Pharisees themselves were separatists. In fact, they were separated not merely from the world, but unto God. They could have been the fundamentalist separatists of their day.

But they took it further than God did.

So what then is Christ-like separation? Again, it is here that I think A. H. Strong may have nailed down the issue for us:

“Separation is not from contact with evil in the world or the church, but with complicity with or conformity to it ([2 Cor.7]:14-18; cp. Jn.17:15; Gal.6:1) (The New Scofield Reference Bible 1257).”

— Sirius Knott

Works Cited

  • House, H. Wayne. “82. Church Discipline Flowchart.” Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. p. 127
  • The New Scofield Reference Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • “Statement on Separation.” Fellowship of Missions site. 5 Sept. 2002. 15 April 2003

Works Consulted

  • Costella, Dennis. “What Does the Bible Say About Separation?” Fundamental Bible Church website. 14 April 2003
  • House, H. Wayne. “81. Church Discipline.” Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. p. 126.
  • Jones, Jr., Bob. “What is ‘Second-Degree Separation’?” FAITH for the Family. Bob Jones University website. Copyright 1978. 14 April 2003
  • Woodbridge, John D., Mark A. Noll, and Nathan O. Hatch. “‘Sound the Battlecry’ The Division of the Church.” The Gospel in America. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979. pp.183-203, esp.192, 196-197, 199-203.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. singingmomma says:

    Okay, love the site. Absolutely wonderful. Now, I was raised in a very emotional, evangelical church environment. My repentance at the alter of my teen and early twenties was always genuine. But, I was never taught the importance of obedience and separation from not only condoning sin, but continuously committing the same sins again and again.
    For that reason, I have developed a much more disciplined, careful life and have chosen to separate more and more from those who don’t see the necessity of not only bearing the standard of what obedience is/is not, but being careful not to associate with willful sinners, lest I fall right with them!
    Now, I’m perfectly willing to admit my weaknesses in certain areas; gossip, slothful, etc. I don’t want to put myself in situations where any of my weaknesses could be challenged needlessly.
    The truth is, as a homeschool mom, I have enough to do to keep me quite busy without submitting myself or my family to situations where faith could be compromised. I believe this fallen world provides PLENTY of opportunities for me to have to repent on an almost hourly basis as it is.
    I guess I close with this final thought; I find it great joy to stay in the garden of God’s permissive, blessed will. It’s beautiful and the peace there is without comparison. I’m tired of battling with extended family and old friends about how we should “adapt with the changing times and compromise”. No, thank you. I’ll hold Jesus hand and stay right next to Him.

  2. Reblogged this on Truth Seekers of America!.

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