Part One Part Two
I started writing sometime Sunday a first post on a presentation on the doctrine of separation by Albert Mohler at the Shepherd's Conference in Southern California. I am doing this because it is so infrequent to non-existent that you will hear teaching from an evangelical on separation, and that I have edited and written a book on separation, A Pure Church, dealing with what the Bible says about it. You should order and read that book.
Mohler doesn't use or deal with any standard passage on separation, even though those passages are all over the Bible. Anyone and everyone should start with the Bible as the authority for faith and practice. Mohler contradicts himself by not doing so. He says that a church is a church by being rightly ordered by the Word of God and then ties that to the five solas of the reformation, one being Scripture sole authority. Mohler doesn't use scripture as his sole authority for separation, and instead refers to tradition, which is what Roman Catholicism would rely upon for its authority. Catholicism maintains catholicism by being unscriptural.
In his session, Mohler says point blank that we need to be very careful not to separate from true brothers of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, however, says that we do need to separate from true brothers of Jesus Christ. Certain words like "true," I know, can make statements difficult to interpret and give wiggle room. Mohler, I've found for awhile, is a very natural politician and makes many of these types of statements that allow for multiple possibilities to enable deniability. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly." Scripture teaches separation from Christian brothers. This is part of ecclesiastical separation.
Mohler uses the terminology "schismatic," "heresy," and "heretical." If he relegated himself to a solely scriptural understanding of "heresy," he would be left with a belief or doctrine or practice of an individual church. A schismatic causes division or a faction in his own church and Titus 3 tells how to handle that person. When one expands the idea of schism to all believers, it is impossible to understand biblical separation. Mohler's teaching identifies as a schismatic someone who might separate over the unbelief or violation of an actual teaching of scripture. In other words, you are a schismatic if you obey what the Bible teaches about separation, at least according to Mohler and others like him.
From the 30 to 40 minute mark, where I left off in part two, Mohler speaks about the predicament of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott in the United Kingdom with the Church of England. Stott did not want evangelicals leaving the Church of England. He dreamed of the Church of England becoming true through evangelical witness. The Church of England never had hope of being true, because it never ever was founded on the Bible in the first place and it was never ever a church. Lloyd-Jones preached for separation and Stott advocated ignoring him in order to preserve his dream. If the evangelicals left the Church of England, Stott said it would cease to be a church.
Mohler compared what was happening in England to what occurred in the United States when evangelicals were deciding to stay in their denominations as an attempt to influence them at least until they "ceased to be a church." Bringing the argument back to Lloyd-Jones, he was saying that the dividing line isn't the creed of a particular denomination like the Church of England, but what is being believed and preached by the people. The denomination (he calls "church") has already reached the dividing line when it won't remove people from positions of leadership who proclaim a false gospel. Referring to Lloyd-Jones, Mohler says that a church, and by that he means the machinations of a denomination like the Church of England, must defrock its teachers of heresies, approving of a type of hierarchicalism repudiated by scripture.
At about 44 minutes, Mohler says the first step of why and how we should separate, we should be a very careful joiner. He says, "Don't get in if you have to decide to get out." Then he offers four reasons to leave or get out.
Mohler lists. One, when the ministry preaches another gospel. Two, when the ministry allows for the preaching of another gospel, that is, tolerates a false gospel. That is the same thing as preaching a false gospel. He says, "To allow for heresy is to commit heresy." By the way, two is secondary separation. Three, when a ministry refuses doctrinal correction by scripture. Doctrinal, he says, refers to everything in scripture, which includes the definition of marriage. He says that is Christian doctrine. Mohler breaks here and uses Spurgeon as an example, but doesn't show this from the Bible. Then, four, we should leave when a ministry refuses to take a stand in public in the open for the faith. Mohler gives an example of a the pastor of a church who had a private opinion on marriage. If he wouldn't say it in public, then it isn't a church. It won't give an answer in public.
Mohler then uses John 6 as the public stand on the faith. That is true. It was public for Peter. We can rejoice in that, but how does it affect the doctrine of separation? He ends with two sets of three, because we'll face the dividing line question.
First, Mohler offers three levels of theological importance, his theological triage -- the gunshot wound gets attention before the blister. That's an interesting example, really a red herring. Mohler argues that we have to operate this way or we can't operate -- we must know first, second, and third level theological issues. He doesn't prove this from the Bible, I guess, assuming people take it for granted. The first order is what is believed to be a Christian, according to Mohler. You can listen to his second two levels and you can read it in links I provided in the first post in this series.
What Mohler teaches on the triage is a foundational idea of fundamentalism. I'm saying that Mohler is in essence arguing for neo-fundamentalism, that is, a new fundamentalism within evangelicalism. His speech may be a seed for a new fundamentalism within evangelicalism. Watch for this. I can see a segment of fundamentalism joining these neo-fundamentalists in this new fundamentalism. It is possible some might not join because of cultural issues. They won't see this neo-fundamentalism as conservative enough, but others will and will be able to do it based upon this theological triage idea, all depending on what kind of music is incorporated in their cooperative gatherings.
For sure, we should separate over gospel related doctrines. Does that Bible teach that we separate only over those issues? Will we keep a pure church or will we stay obedient to the Bible with that practice? He never proves that. No one will maintain God centered purity or holiness without a compliance to all biblical doctrine and practice. The gospel itself encompasses all of the Bible in the product of the grace of God. God's grace produces obedience to everything, which assumes everything.
The first so-called first level doctrines are what have been called by others, "essential" versus "tertiary." Mohler is teaching that we can fellowship with those in the second and third level differences. People can disobey scripture in everything but the first level. These neo-fundamentalists will continual to argue about what are first level doctrines, so this is in no way settled. However, they have a way to disengage from same sex marriage by embracing some form of separation.
The benefit proposed by Mohler for cooperation over only first level doctrines is cooperation in the gospel. Will the gospel be preserved, however, in an environment or atmosphere of doctrinal and practical capitulation? A tacit admission exists in this of scriptural obscurity, either in the text, the inspiration, preservation, or teaching. The Bible loses its authority with advance recognition of incomprehension. On what basis are first level doctrines clear if second and third level ones can't fully be trusted? It is no wonder the world would see the Bible as hopelessly ambiguous. This undermines the gospel, because the Book in which the gospel resides can't be trusted implicitly. This capitulation on biblical authority also undermines the arbitrarily accepted first level beliefs, the ones that happen to most benefit the recipients.
The second set of three are Mohler's levels of cooperation: good work, gospel work, and church work. You can do good work, putting out a house fire with neighbors without creedal requirements. Mohler preaches with a fervor here on something completely absurd, as if there is some important point here to be made. Gospel work, he says, we can do with people who have the same gospel. He never proves it. This says, however, that gospel work might be beyond a church. After what he's said, one would be hard pressed to say what a church, the church, what church is. Where does the Bible teach that? Nowhere. Then finally, church work is the only place of doctrinal and practical precision, Mohler asserts. Why? On what basis? Nothing.
One is to assume from Mohler's talk, even though he never says it outright, that separation is a refusal to cooperate. He never says that, but one must assume from what he says. When someone stops cooperating, what does that look like? I know that evangelicals don't always cooperate. What I've found irritates them the most and gets the greatest attention is one's criticism of an evangelical. The quickest way to stop communication is to bring up a difference. If you want cooperation, tolerate almost everything and they might keep working with you. The greatest sin against an evangelical, as I've witnessed it, is to say they've done something wrong and then even worse, to threaten to do something about it.
The dividing line as presented by Mohler is better than nothing on separation. It is amazing for evangelicals in that it even utters the subject. However, it isn't what the Bible teaches, not even close. What I foresee is that these evangelicals, neo-fundamentalists, will have some basis now for separating at least from same sex marriage. How that will flesh itself out in the real world, we are yet to see, but the philosophical grounds for it have been spoken. At best it will prolong evangelicalism a little longer, but in the end, the Mohler strategy will collapse and fail, because it isn't founded on the Word of God.