We don't have left, right, and middle when it comes to the Bible. We have right and wrong alone. We do what God says or we don't. It is as simple as that, despite the silly protests or silent-treatment you might get from the politcally inclined evangelicals and fundamentalists. A middle is nothing more than a mollifying gloss. Doctrine becomes a balancing act. It's like attempting to take the middle ground on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, we are to sort out what Scripture says and do it.
How the Doctrine of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Contradicts Itself
Two doctrines, both found in Scripture, that we must practice and that do not deny each other, are separation and unity. Evangelicals and fundamentalists teach that all believers make up the body of Christ. They say that the true church is all believers (You'll see this belief here, among many other places). Let's look at 1 Corinthians 12:25a:
God's will is no schism (division, faction) in the body. For those who believe that the body of Christ is all believers, no schism in the body means that believers are required not to separate from other believers at all. On the other hand, Scripture teaches separation from believers. Evangelicals mainly just don't talk about separation. You'll rarely hear them use the word. Primarily, they'll say "purity," not separation. They know it contradicts. Of course, it contradicts with purity too, but separate sounds like something someone has got to do. They don't want to do anything. Fundamentalists, however, have a problem here. That's why it is mainly them writing the odd and tortured essays attempting to bring these two concepts together. They know that the Bible teaches separation from believers and yet we are to have no schism in the body. A couple of conservative evangelicals try to bridge their Snake River Canyon between separation and unity (Phil Johnson , Al Mohler, and Mark Dever). They're about all I've heard attempting to do this among the evangelical crowd.
So they're teaching on separation contradicts their beliefs about unity. At least one of them must be the wrong. Which one is it---separation or unity? They're wrong on both. They don't understand either unity or separation. They are continuously disobedient on both of these doctrines and, therefore, practices. We can't "balance" separation and unity. We practice both of them 100% Scripturally.
What's wrong in the practice of fundamentalists and evangelicals? First, evangelicals don't unify with every believer. Phil Johnson writes in his "Dead Right" essay:
So there clearly are times when it is appropriate to refuse to keep company with someone who is a believer, especially if that person is deliberately and incorrigibly disobedient to the clear instruction of Scripture.Wait a minute! I know that this statement is loaded with qualifiers, but how can we avoid any schism in the body and yet separate from a believer? Separation is schism. That can't be right in a system that says the body of Christ is all believers. Of course, there's a way that evangelicals like Johnson will deal with this, which we'll mention again later. However, they contradict their own belief about the unity of the body.
Second, they don't separate based upon Scripture. We need to consider at least a few of the passages on separation for us to see this.
Separation passages don't limit the Scriptural doctrines and practices that are a basis for separation. However, that is how evangelicals and fundamentalists deal with their transgression of this doctrine. They place values upon teachings in the Bible and rank them according to their perceived importance. They say that certain kinds of false doctrine, the false doctrine of lesser importance, must just be allowed as they relate to fellowship (unity) and separation, so we must just agree to disagree on their so-called "non-essentials." The evangelicals are dogmatic about having a taxonomy, more so than certain actual teachings of Scripture.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. . . . . 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. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. Romans 16:17
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 1 Corinthians 5:11
Mark Dever, the Southern Baptist pastor in the Washington, DC area, uses 1 Corinthians 15:3 as a proof text for a taxonomy of doctrine to decide what is worth separating over. It amazes me how sure they are that the text is propagating their kind of essential/non-essential teaching. If these kinds of classifications are found in the Bible at all, they could only be inferred from the text. Evangelicals are notorious for not requiring doctrine and practice based upon inferences, and yet, here they require it. In the John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist statement on Scripture, we read: "It is not legitimate to infer a meaning from a Biblical text that is not demonstrably carried by the words which God inspired." So go ahead and look at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3:
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.Dever preaches ("Discern Your Doctrine" message) that "first" (protos) means "most important" here. When Paul wrote "first of all," Dever is saying that the gospel is a more important doctrine than any other doctrine. He jumps from there to say that the gospel then is the doctrine that Paul would separate over. Dever would not say that we shouldn't separate over other doctrines, just that the gospel is more important than the other doctrines. Then he would say that it is easy to see that certain teachings are not worth separating over, like those mentioned in Romans 14.
What's wrong with all this?
1. The passages on separation, like the three above, don't limit separation to the gospel alone.
2. Protos ("first") doesn't for sure mean "most important," but also could mean "first in order," that is, that Paul would preach the gospel before he preached other doctrines. And then even if it means "most important" or "foremost," he might be saying that the the death, burial, and resurrection are the most important of any of the truths that he is teaching in 1 Corinthians 15.
3. 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 doesn't provide any kind of taxonomy for separation, even if it were a more important doctrine than others.
4. A Romans 14 issue is a non-scriptural one. We don't separate over non-scriptural issues. That doesn't instruct us then not to separate over Scriptural ones.
5. The Bible doesn't mention anywhere a taxonomy of doctrines worth separating over. It isn't even implied anywhere. Neither will you find it taught in historical materials. (Phil Johnson has written on this and defended a taxonomy on separation, dividing only over the "essential" issues, which I have answered in this series of articles.)
Shouldn't this bother fundamentalists and evangelicals? Aren't they the ones who claim to get their teachings from what is demonstrable in Scripture? Don't they argue against many practices because they don't see them explicitly taught in Scripture? Why is it that they are so receptive to making something authoritative that isn't found in the Bible at all? Aren't they guilty of turning the teachings of man into the commandments of God?
The true position will be completely consistent on both separation and unity. The right stance on unity allows obedience to every Scriptural instruction on unity, and the correct view of separation will result in submission to every text on separation. We can embrace complete compliance to all that the Bible teaches on separation and unity. Evangelicals and fundamentals contradict themselves. Their doctrine can't be true. So, what is the truth? What doctrine will remain consistent?
The Correct Teaching on Separation and Unity: It Will Not Contradict Itself
The Consequences of Contradicting the Doctrines of Separation and Unity
Part Three Is Coming Soon.