How do associations come into a discussion of separation? Someone preaches for someone or two men preach or teach at the same conference. They are associating with each other. The appropriate question is: do they violate scripture? When someone violates scripture he either intentionally or unintentionally disobeys God. Then you have a person like myself pointing out the association.
What is association? The dictionary says that it requires getting together for a joint purpose. It isn't being seen together in a photo. It isn't even having a conversation. If association and biblical fellowship are the same thing, then teaching on separation applies. Disassociating one's self would seem to be an even stronger practice than biblical separation. I mentioned association as it regarded eating meat offered to idols at Corinth. There are ways that we can dangerously associate ourselves with a wrong idea or wrong practice or even the wrong people. For instance, a swastika could associate someone with a wrong idea and practice. Does rock music do the same thing? Is rock music itself still associated with evil? I believe it is, but it is also inherently evil. It is wise not to associate with certain people, to be seen as receptive of them, giving the appearance that you're fine with them. Ecclesiastical separation is different, which is what we're talking about here.
Preaching together might associate two people, which might be dangerous, but preaching together in the same conference is usually fellowship. I say "usually" because someone could be there to preach against what it is that the people represent. Paul didn't go to the synagogue for fellowship. He went there to preach the gospel, which repudiated the synagogue message. When John MacArthur appears on the Larry King show with Deepak Chopra, he isn't there to fellowship with Chopra. That is clear. However, Grace Community Church doesn't bring John Piper to the Resolve Conference to help Piper change in his Charismaticism. They have become yoked up with Piper's Charismaticism. They may say they haven't, but the Bible says otherwise. Calvary Baptist in Lansdale doesn't bring Mark Dever to preach at its conference in order to change Mark Dever. That's not how it's done anyway, but that isn't the purpose of bringing someone to preach to you. People who fellowship are two people yoked together in the same purpose. Now, I wouldn't even be considering refusing to preach somewhere with someone if the Bible didn't tell me to mark and avoid and withhold fellowship from people.
Where does this idea of separation come from? It's all over the Bible, but we see it modeled in the Old Testament. Israel got in big trouble when she didn't separate from other nations. She wasn't to fellowship with them. To remain in good standing in Israel, you were supposed to follow what God said. If you refused to do so, you could be cut off. That was to please God and then retain purity in the nation. False doctrine and practice were a disruption to unity, what I'll call "true unity" because of the fake stuff that is out there.
What is fake unity? Fake unity is disregarding or ignoring doctrine in order to come together. With most fake unity, not all doctrine and practice is disregarded and ignored. Some of it is. The example I gave was the Charismaticism or ecstasicism or continuationism or speaking in tongues belief of John Piper. I used that because people will still fellowship with John Piper, despite their rejection of that belief and practice of Piper. Is that what God wants us to do?
Unity is about God. We want unity with God. False doctrine and practice does not unify with God. He separates from it. Should we? Do we? Has God told us to minimize or reduce doctrine to one doctrine or a few doctrines as a basis of unity? That's not how the Bible reads. Nowhere do we see the Bible teach that. We see just the opposite. The Bible contradicts a coalition merely on the gospel or a few doctrines all around the gospel.
In parts one and two, I talked about Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 as an example. I didn't talk about every excuse that people will use for not separating out of obedience to those verses. Recently I read someone who said that Romans 16:17 is about unbelieving false teachers. Paul is telling us only to mark and avoid unbelieving false teachers. These are unsaved people, in other words. It's not plain that Romans 16 is talking about people outside of the church. It seems like he's talking about people in the church, people who call themselves brothers, because they cause division. And if it isn't people in the church, then it would contradict what Paul taught about separation from unbelievers in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10. If we had to separate from every unbeliever, we would have to go out of the world.
Even if I conceded Romans 16:17 on this, I would still be left with at least 2 Thessalonians 3:6. I say "at least," because these two are not the only verses that teach this practice in principle. Matthew 18:15-17, for instance, teaches it in principle. Ephesians 5:11 teaches it in principle. And then you've got 1 Timothy 6:3-5 that seems to teach the identical truth:
If any man . . . consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; . . . from such withdraw thyself.
This teaching is all over the place. I see it too in 2 Timothy 2:20-21:
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
There are vessels (people) from whom someone must purge himself to be a vessel unto honor. But people will argue against 2 Thessalonians 3:6 by saying that it's talking only about people who won't work. That's not how 2 Thessalonians 3:6 reads, but, as I said, there are still more and more places that teach ecclesiastical separation, and when they do, they are talking about more than the gospel or essentials or fundamentals.
I asked Albert Mohler if he could still be a Southern Baptist and obey 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. He looked irritated (fevered maybe), after I asked it. He looked resentful. I realize we can't read too much into how someone looks, but isn't a question like that a good question? He gave an answer, but it wasn't "yes" or "no." He hasn't left the Convention, so maybe we know what he thinks. He's got to make words be like gumby to get a "no" answer. Come out from among them doesn't mean stay in and try to make it better.
To say that separation is "hand-wringing" or "fever-minded" is either a red herring or a straw man. It's a red herring because it is focusing on the motive or the attitude of the one separating. It still isn't dealing with whether separation should occur based on what the Bible says about separation. It's a straw man because anyone might say that "hand-wringing" or "fever-minded" are bad, but we've still got to deal with whether separation should occur.
True separation and true unity are both taught and so both must be able to coexist. You can't have one without the other. The violation of one will mean the violation of the other. You aren't more for unity if you are less for separation. If you are more for separation, however, you are more for unity. Separation is about unity. To unify with God, you must separate from something. Not separating from something will hinder or prevent unity with God. If you can unify with people who are not unified with God, then you are not unified with God. These are all simple, I think. People can understand these things. They refuse to take them into consideration for particular reasons, I believe.
I'll talk about those tomorrow, Lord-willing.