Wednesday, January 23, 2013

R.I.P. Separation in Fundamentalism

Attending a fundamentalist college, I heard some teaching about separation.  In hindsight, it wasn't anything clear or systematic.  I was never required to read one book on it.  Now I know that there was little written on it anyway, maybe one book that dealt with it in any serious way, written by Ernest Pickering (since then, perhaps two or three others were written). Nobody understood separation when leaving the institution from which I graduated.  It was assumed, however, that you would be a separatist, whatever that might be.  Now I get why it was so ambiguous.  We weren't being taught biblical separation.

Whatever it was that we were taught on separation in classes or garnered from sermons, fundamentalism is a long ways away from what it once was.  Some would say that's good, that fundamentalists were wrong in their separation anyway, and that now they're moving closer to the truth (you know, along with the nation).  Yet there is still the infrastructure of fundamentalism still standing, but the doctrine of separation is disappearing.  Certain activities were once absolutely separating issues.  You couldn't do them and think that men wouldn't separate from you.  That helped keep churches and men pure, for sure.  It put pressure on men to operate in a certain fashion if they didn't want to be marked and avoided.    Those days are clearly over and I want to talk about that.

Let me start with revivalism, really to get that out of the way, because even though revivalism is worse too, it's not moved as much as conventional fundamentalism.  I'm not so familiar with how the revivalist fundamentalist wing practices separation.  Generally, I've not known the revivalists to practice church discipline, and that parallels with not separating either. At one time, I fiddled with the edges of the revivalists, but was never in it or much with it, and only because I didn't know better. This was while I was studying and teaching the Bible and in so doing, also figuring out how to obey the Bible on separation.  The revivalists would say they practice separation, and by that, they mean that they're not in the Southern Baptist Convention and they fellowship with those who only use the King James Version.   Almost any watered down gospel goes, including the exclusion of repentance.  Their view of preaching allows them to use Scripture to preach ideas not found in the passage to which they refer.  Most of it is filled with rank pragmatism that manifests itself in numerous ways.  It would be hard to diagnose how revivalists have gotten worse on separation than what they already were, but the kind of practice, for instance, of Clarence Sexton has made things worse.  The Baptist Friends are a mess.

One group of revivalists that you would think believe in separation are the Van Gelderens out of Menominee Falls.  They, however, are bringing everybody together with their relationship with Lancaster Baptist Church and West Coast Baptist College.  The doctrinal and practical deviations of Paul Chappell and his church now are in fellowship (here and here) with Falls Baptist Church and Baptist College of Ministry.  The common ground between them, as I see it, is the revivalism itself.  It's a coalition built around a particular view of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and sanctification.  You find a contradictory combination of gimmicks and spiritual power.

The steepest drop in separation, a slide away from previous fundamentalist separation, is seen most in traditional fundamentalism, the Bob Jones branch.  Andy Naselli, a favorite on Sharper Iron and praised by fundamentalists with zero criticism that I have seen, let alone separation, has been the personal assistant to D. A. Carson and now is going to teach with John Piper up in Minnesota.   Joel Tetreau, on the board of a few fundamentalist institutions, comments "Straight foward, Andy."  This is what he and others have wanted to see, probably prayed for.  No questions or criticisms.  If anyone did, he would be attacked roundly there.  Recently, Piper made it clear he is a Charismatic (here and here).  We knew he was a continuationist, but he is of the generation that seeks after signs.  That dovetails with the "worship" at Passion 2013.  Naselli goes to join him.  No problem.   If I went to Passion 2013 when I was a fundamentalist college student, I would have been expelled.  Now you get endorsed.

We can enjoy the dispensational writings and studies of Michael Vlach, but does that mean fellowship with him and The Master's College?  I guess so now at Inter-City Baptist Church and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.  This follows along the line of Northland's recent direction and activities.  Should Bob Jones University and Chuck Swindoll (The Grace Awakening, Promise Keepers) come together?  They do with Chris Anderson's music (here and here).  Who is on the blogroll at SharperIron?  These are promoted.  It would be one thing if it was indicated to be eclectic with a mixture of fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists, but it skews heavily toward those now in evangelicalism.  One teaches at a Southern Baptist seminary.  Another pastors at a Southern Baptist church.  One is Andy Naselli (mentioned above).  Another is an outright evangelical, non-separatist.  One is Evangelical Free, who attacks separatists.  Yet another recently wrote a long review of Les Miserables, promoting it after his attendance at the movie theater.

What I'm saying is that nothing is the same in fundamentalism anymore.  Nothing.  It can't be.  If you say some things are the same, you're wrong.  There is confusion and essentially elimination of the doctrine of separation as once taught by fundamentalism.   If you are a fundamentalist and you say that you're the same, you can't be, because you're a fundamentalist, and that now puts you together with these people. I'm not saying that fundamentalism and fundamentalists were right on separation.  They weren't.  They should read our book on separation, A Pure Church, which teaches what the Bible says about separation, and the only feasible belief and practice on separation.  But separation is no more in fundamentalism, unless separation is something different than what it was 20 years ago.

The only place where biblical separation exists in practice are in churches that teach and practice the whole counsel of God's Word.  These churches are not fundamentalist.  They are Baptist.  They are unaffiliated.  They have plenty of fellowship, including outside of their churches.  They, however, teach and practice what the Bible says about separation.  Fundamentalism was flawed from the start for many reasons.  Separation is not dead.  Well, it is in fundamentalism, rest in peace.  But it is alive and well, but where it belongs, in New Testament churches.


FlashGordon said...

I concur. I attended BJU in the late 80's, early 90's. Having grown up in south-eastern IFB churches and looking at separation as a way of life, I was unaware of the rift that separation caused o/s of the SBC/IFB. My first taste of the demise of separation as a doctrine came at BJU when I learned from a Bible professor that he did not believe the KJB to be the best translation. @ home he would have been relieved of duty, but he had no fear even at that time. BJU did separate from other IFB groups while I was there and which my dad witnessed first-hand as being correct, biblically-based decisions, but now even my parents are sad to see the slide away from the doctrine of separation by BJU.
Piper has starting to garner more attention in IFB churches and clear warnings about his teachings are appreciated and needed.
Thanks for the article and the links.

Anonymous said...

The 2nd law of thermodynamics doesn't just affect the natural, physical world.

I don't just mean this as an offhand comment about the tendency of things - including manmade institutions and fellowships - to degrade.

I also mean it in the sense that to build and then *maintain* something as good and useful (in this case, separated fellowships, associations, and personal lives) requires the constant application of energy to counteract the tendency toward entropy.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Flashgordon.


I agree that the physical and metaphysical operate according to Divine laws, including our consciences. Every of the efforts poured into "all believers" to separate finds several black holes to drain through. Churches have the ordained and God-given ability to maintain and sustain, i.e., keep.

Lance Ketchum said...

I think these changes are apparent in the comments by Dave Doran on the article I wrote a while ago on Romans 16:17-18. He CANNOT acknowledge that the text might refer to professing believers because such an admission would mean the text could refer to him and the others I mentioned by name. If this text does refer to believers teaching false doctrine, the whole issue of Gospel Centrism becomes moot.

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Kent. You follow this a lot more than I do, as I've noticed before. You probably need to more than I do, partly as a function of geography. I've acted on some things you posted in the past of which I had been unaware.

The BJU/Swindoll thing. BJU used his music in 2010, according to the link you gave. The Swindoll thing was in 2012. Seems like Chris is going in a direction I don't want to see, but not sure why it says anything about BJU, unless you think they knew what he was going to do two years later :).

It's not that I haven't had some concerns about BJU, but I'm not sure this is one. Am I missing something?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jon,

My point with the Swindoll thing was purely that Chris Anderson goes both places. What does that mean to BJU? It once meant something. You don't fellowship with both, only with one. Perhaps Swindoll is viewed as a fundamentalist now or Chris doesn't see himself as one, or BJU isn't. Somebody has to decide. That's how it once worked. It doesn't seem to work that way now. Or perhaps this is fundamentalism now. You can tell me if I'm wrong.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more thing, it's not hard to follow. I don't even go looking. It's all over. The people send me their material and I scan it, and am surprised. And I go to SharperIron blogroll and scan what's being offered there, read some, and some I don't. That's it. All of this would have been a neon light in the past.

Jon Gleason said...

Thanks, Kent. BJU used to work with Chris, but do they still? I don't know, and your link doesn't tell us. It's in his BC (Before Chuck) days.

I wonder if anyone at SI could even say what their criteria are for including a blog on their blogroll.

d4v34x said...

Bro. B.,

I'd lean toward the "this is fundamentalism now" diagnosis.

I'd also add that change is bad for sure only if you started out exactly where you ought to have been.

Gary Webb said...

The thing that I wonder is this: With all of the "expository teaching & preaching" going on within these groups, why can't they figure out that the focal point of separation is the local church. For example, II Thessalonians 3 is a passage they use as the primary "secondary separation" passage. But it is a passage teaching churches not to encourage & fellowship with people within their own local church who will not work to support themselves & their families. This is not hard to see.

Anonymous said...

@ Titus,

This is a correct statement. When personal communion with Christ is lacking, deterioration will take place. This is why the positive aspect of separation (separation unto the Lord) must be emphasized in our personal separation. Without personal separation, ecclesiastical separation will never work; without the positive aspect, it becomes isolationism (which is cultish) or separation does not actually exist.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for the comments.


I'm asking questions. Maybe it doesn't matter.


It's a good point that change is bad if you are where you were supposed to be. If fundamentalism didn't start where it was supposed to be, then change is necessary, but that point should be made, that is, a total flushing of fundamentalism and indicating why. Some of that might be happening, that is, concluding that neo-fundamentalism is a throw-back to original fundamentalism, leaving the mutation it became. I've read some of that. I think it is a convenient revision. Nonetheless, to me all this points out the flawed basis for fundamentalism, that it was impossible to begin with, lacking the essential materials to sustain itself. It has some good ideas, but was itself foundationally wrong. That ought to give everyone pause.

Jon Gleason said...

"Maybe it doesn't matter." :)

Well, it matters to ME if BJU thinks Chris hooking up with Swindoll has no impact on their relationship with him. As you said, in the past that would have mattered a lot.

As to good/bad change, if fundamentalists downplay separation (even if not dumping it entirely), they effectively concede that Ockenga was right all along. New Evangelicalism is the way to go -- just keep it conservative (because conservative evangelicalism always >stays< conservative, right? Right?).

Kent Brandenburg said...


My little statement, 'maybe it doesn't matter,' wasn't meant in a bad or harsh way, mainly in the sense of 'not hearing about how BJU comes down on this' doesn't matter. It used to be very public when someone was very public in their separation transgression. Was that good? I think so. What was bad perhaps is that it seemed that BJU could be a sort of Protestant Pope on these issues. However, I think we would understand today that these public, national leader types come out and say, "Hey I did this at BJU," and then, "Hey I did the same thing at Chuck Swindoll's." Crickets. No reaction. No one seems to care. It doesn't matter.

You are right, Ockenga was right then. But even greater, and I know you know this. Not separating is not Christian, not biblical, not honoring to God. It's bad. But now it's good in some gospel-centered way.

Jon Gleason said...

Kent, I see your point.

I'm not sure Chris Anderson is a big enough fish in a big enough pond with a big enough past link for BJU to feel a need to make a public statement about him mixing with Swindoll.

But I see your point.

Anonymous: I'm the one who mentioned Ockenga. I said that if fundamentalists are now downplaying separation, they are conceding that he was right. I stand by that point.

The difference between Ockenga and fundamentalism was separation. That's it. He was conservative, and would have been totally Together 4 the Gospel, etc.

If we're going to get less separated, then we are saying that he was right that we are / were too separated -- so then it is just a question of how far we'll go in his direction.

Don Johnson said...

Re Chris Anderson - Check the BJU Chapel page, see Jan 22 and 23, i.e., this week.

Not too happy about this. To give the benefit of the doubt, however, the administration may not be aware of the Swindoll connection.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

L. Peeler said...

One last comment...Pastor Gleason wrote this wonderful paragraph on his site:

I believe that God has a sense of humor, and I believe He intended us to enjoy life. I will use humor at times in my writing and preaching. However, there is a serious side to life, and the Bible tells us to be “sober-minded.” Don’t be surprised if you find humor in my writing here, but hopefully it will be used to enhance communication rather than diminish from the seriousness of the message.

T agree wholeheartedly!

Bill Hardecker said...

Pastor B.
Methinks that the entire "Gospel Centered" talk is jibber jabber for doctrinal reduction thus presenting a "fractional theology" to borrow a phrase from W.G.T.Shedd. Here goes another round of finding the least common denominator and then operating a host of compromises based on "the Gospel." I love the verse in Eph. 4:5 - Paul includes baptism in his "reduction" which really is not a reduction at all. He wouldn't be well accepted in that Gospel-Centered crowd. I say enough with the coalitions already, because we already have one it's called the church (God's ordained institution for ministry work and fellowship).

Kent Brandenburg said...

Good points, Bill. I like the fractional theology catch. Or should I just say you obsess over these things and have too much time on your hands, as you sit and condemn everyone else that isn't as perfect as you think you are.

Bill Hardecker said...

Okay, back to your dry wall and titles project, please.