A few weeks ago, I wandered over to the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI) blog (Proclaim & Defend), and saw that Larry Oats, longtime faculty and administration at Maranatha Baptist Bible College, had recently (March 2012) preached a series on separation at the Northwest Regional Fellowship meeting, held in Washington state. March 14, 2012 was a session, entitled "Going Too Far with Separation." I haven't seen any rampant problem or really any problem at all with "going too far with separation," so I was very interested. I have seen "not going far enough with separation" or "not separating at all." So I wondered what he would talk about and then how he would defend it.
Usually evangelicals are the ones criticizing for going too far with separation. But this would also be a complaint of fundamentalist parachurch organizations. They can't have "too much" separation, because a major way that Christian colleges get the enrollment to meet payroll is by cobbling together a coalition based upon minimizing doctrine. The bar is lowered until meeting the sweet spot that would include enough churches to support the school. I'm not saying that's the only way they reach their recruitment goals, but it is one aspect of it. You will hear that in Oats' presentation. He brags about hiring Bible faculty who take opposing points of view, an argument being that this diversity of doctrine is a strength for students (a little after minute 37). Actually, many churches just want to know that what they believe will be welcome on campus. If you have two or three different acceptable views, that will enlarge the tent for many different churches. As this relates to Maranatha, some of the distinctive positions of the school in its early history, when I was there, are among the casualties for the sake of progress.
At the very beginning of Oat's talk (4:10 or so), he says that the movement of fundamentalism centers on fellowship. It's true. Fundamentalism does center on fellowship. I know there are those who think it centers on separation, but no. It should center on the truth or on God, but instead, what's important to fundamentalism is getting along based on certain "fundamentals." So what really needs to be defended is where the Bible says fellowship is based upon fundamentals, to establish that as a truth in Scripture. Oats never does that. No one expects him to do that, even though it is imperative as a basis for the existence of fundamentalism. Instead, fellowship is the fundamental of fundamentalism, which requires diminishing truth to the degree that a movement will continue, a movement that is entirely extra-scriptural and unnecessary.
Oats calls it (4:20) a "core agreement" or an agreement on some of the "core issues." If someone wants to attempt to prove that someone might go too far with separation, he really does need to give the scriptural evidence for having "core issues" and "core agreement" as a basis of fellowship. Oats never does that. Never. This is an assumption of fundamentalism. He starts with that unproven assumption, one which debunks his entire point. Somebody is going too far with separation if he passes an arbitrary line drawn by fundamentalists---not by God or the Bible.
Larry Oats calls "going too far with separation," "hyper-separation." This reminds me of the term that I identified recently in a series of posts, used by conservative evangelicals, Todd Friel and Phil Johnson, "hyper-separationism." Essentially, hyper-separationism is, and this truly is what it is, separating more than what I'm comfortable with. It's especially when someone separates from me---that's got to be hyper. So if someone were to separate from Larry Oats, for instance, because of his compromise, that must be "hyper-separation." You might ask, "Well, what if the Bible teaches this doctrine over which separation occurs?" Good question. Obviously that isn't a "core issue," and since it isn't, those who separate over it are "hyper." The people who do not separate over it are balanced. They've got it just right. Where is this in the Bible? Nowhere. Hyper-unbiblical.
These hyper-separatists draw the lines of separation so tightly, that they "leave very little room for fellowship" (5:41). And yet, isn't fellowship based upon the truth? If you draw the line at the truth, then you've got fellowship. If you draw it somewhere short of the truth, you don't even have fellowship. You're just calling it fellowship arbitrarily. It is fellowship because the movement says it is.
Oats tries to find hyper-separation somewhere. And he finds it in Galatians 2 and 3 John 1. It's a typical fundamentalist tactic. You have a point you want to make, and you search for a text to make it. It sounds then like you're coming from Scripture. You're not. You're coming from your own opinion and then forcing a text to fit your opinion.
I'm not saying that Galatians 2 doesn't say anything about a wrong kind of separation. I'm not. Peter shouldn't have separated from the Gentiles out of fear. But Peter's separation was over personal opinion, over politics, over preference. That's not biblical separation. It wasn't over some kind of core of biblical doctrine, but over something that was entirely unscriptural that he separated from them. So that doesn't prove Oats' point at all. It shouldn't be used as a proof-text for not separating for anything but core issues.
A problem arose between two churches, Jerusalem and Antioch (this wasn't a 'Jerusalem council'). There was no scriptural basis for separation. But Peter's fear of some Judaizers led him to separate based on unscriptural grounds, and then other Jews followed his lead. Peter is actually promoting a false gospel by requiring unscriptural standards as a prerequisite of salvation. That's a little more and different than "hyper-separation." That was heresy. That was a cause of a church split between Jews and Gentiles. A certain faction of the Jerusalem church was spreading this wrong doctrine to the Antioch church. Paul was then protecting the church by calling out Peter.
Oats starts his development of Galatians 2 by saying that some in the last 20 or 30 years had become involved in hyper-separation, and then when he begins to make application, he contradicts that by saying that fundamentalists actually do have their heads screwed on straight in matters of separation (21:00).
The whole point of Oats delving into Galatians 2 was to pull out the idea of separating over fear. He's taking that passage and assigning motive to those who he thinks separate too much. They separate too much because they are afraid. They fear what friends might think of them, what someone might say about them, what will end up on the internet (sound familiar, think "I'm Gunna' Apply"). A false front is put up in order to look good for the people around us (all from about 23:30 to 24:30). That does sound like why fundamentalists separate. They don't want to look stupid for believing in the perfect preservation of Scripture (what Maranatha once believed) in front of "scholarship," so they savage those who are King James only. I get that. Maybe there's something there, but this has nothing to do with fellowship over "core issues." Nothing. People who want to stay in the fundamentalists club, out of fear of losing a chapel invitation, will pull away from churches that are an embarrassment to the college. That's the fear problem.
The next passage Oats uses is 3 John, and the example of Diotrephes. Diotrephes loved to have the preeminence and then cast men out of the church because of it. According to Oats, the hyper-separationist separates to get preeminence, what is really only for Jesus Christ. I'm puzzled about who these people could be, but Oats makes the connection for us.
At about the 35 minute mark, Oats makes his application of Diotrephes. Here it is. If I send my kids to Maranatha, will you uphold my theology? Answer. As long as it is scriptural, yes. You shouldn't be afraid if they will change, if what we're teaching is scriptural. The implication is that not sending your student because of a different doctrine is hyper-separation. And who does that? Mainly young pastors. The people who have to have total agreement are going to lose their people from their churches. And he says that's the way young pastors are. They want everyone to agree with them. Oats has combated that at Maranatha by hiring Bible professors who disagree with each other and who disagree with him. I got the message. If young preachers want to succeed in their churches, they've got to allow diversity in doctrine to some extent, and only to be dogmatic on what's important. You could lose people if you're tight about too many things that the Bible teaches. Certain doctrines you've just got to allow to go by the wayside. Do you know the passage that teaches this counsel from Oats? There isn't one. It's pragmatism.
Oats said that he has students who ask about the disagreement between Bible faculty. He answers them by saying that the disagreement is not in one of the core doctrines of Scripture. It isn't a significant doctrine, not one of the core doctrines. Oats makes an important statement for his viewpoint at about 38:28: "We can disagree and still be in fellowship with one another, as long as what we disagree on aren't part of those core, key, significant, important doctrines of Scripture that are at the heart of being Baptist and the heart of being fundamentalist and the heart of being part of our church."
Those passages used by Oats had nothing to do with the point he was making. He does not provide any evidence, no scriptural basis, for this idea of core, key, significant, and important doctrines. Oats' statement is so ambiguous. What is at the heart of being a Baptist, being a fundamentalist, and being part of our church. Where does the Bible say that? It doesn't.
Oats ends his speech with "Spurgeon stood for truth." That's good. That's what we should do. Stand for truth. All of it. Not just a core or what we think is significant, but for everything that God said. That's what I read in Scripture, but not what I at all heard in this presentation.