Monday, February 11, 2013

Separation 101: Associations and Separation from Those Who Call Themselves Brothers

This is a new and ongoing series on separation (get our book A Pure Church to read something important on separation).  Whenever I write about anything related to separation, it will be under Separation 101.


Last week I linked to a wacky post in which a young evangelical commented on separation.  It is rare that any evangelical even comments on separation, except for purposes of ridicule, and I'm afraid the latter is what this amounted to.  Nonetheless, it gives us something to explore, that is, what does biblical separation have to do with associations and separation from those who profess salvation?

To start, which is important for a 101 course on separation, we should review what separation is all about.  God is holy and He expects His children to be holy.  Those with His nature will be holy, because He is holy. Does that make it a gospel related issue?  Sure.  Truly saved people have been separated unto Him.  The whole separation doctrine is, like all others, about pleasing, glorifying God.  When we look at the glory of God in the face of Christ, we are changed into His image.  We want to reflect who God is.  And what does God say in His Word about this?  That's how we look into the face of Christ and are changed, that is, by looking into the Word.

Consider these two verses (first, Romans 16:17, and, second, 2 Thessalonians 3:6):

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

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.

Paul wrote both of those under the inspiration of God.  Both teach separation.  What is the separation over? The first says "divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned."  The second says "every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."  I think we should hold ourselves to exactly what the text says.  We should try to read the verses without predisposition, letting the words give us the message and the meaning.

To start, Paul related separation more to professing believers than to obvious unbelievers.  He taught to separate from professing believers' false doctrine in practice.   Remember 1 Corinthians 5:10:

Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

We don't practice separation from unbelievers like we do with believers.  Our greatest concern is the false doctrine and practice of those who call themselves brothers.  Why?   Because that's what Scripture teaches. This isn't hand-wringing or fever-minded.  Those are just name calling, like scoffing that we read about in 2 Peter 3 and see in the example of the Pharisees with Jesus.

We really don't separate from professing believers because "the associations could be dangerous."  I'm not saying the associations might not be dangerous.  It's just that Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 don't even mention that.  We separate from them, first, because God told us to.  That would be like believing in the  Lordship of Christ, observing whatsoever we are commanded by the Lord, and loving Him and keeping His words, sayings, and commands.  Happy are ye if ye do them.  If we look in the face of Jesus, we will see His obedience perfectly to the Father, so we are following His example when we obey what God said.

Why do we obey these passages?  Because God is God.  Because God's Word is authoritative.  Other problems will occur when we disobey them, sure.  We will contribute to the dilution of doctrine and practice, the corruption of it.  We will be a bad example to other believers.  We can cause someone to stumble.   We will not shame the disobedient.

Notice the verses don't say, "gospel related," or, "having to do with salvation doctrine," or "fundamental teachings and practices," or "essential truths."  They don't.  You have to read that into the verses to get it out.  I know why men have practiced that way, but it isn't because of what the Bible teaches about separation from a brother.

Let's see how this works in real life.  Our church teaches that sign gifts have ceased.  They have.  It's clear.  That is contrary to what our church has learned.  It is also walking disorderly and not after the tradition our church has received of us.  John Piper calls himself saved by grace, a brother in Christ. John Piper says speaking in tongues is fine and he wants to see more of it.  John Piper is dividing from the doctrine we preach and is contrary to it.  What do we do with John Piper?  Scripture doesn't say, "Go ahead and fellowship with him, but just make sure you don't have him teach on the sign gifts."  It doesn't say, "Have John Piper preach for you or fellowship with him, but just make sure to use discernment on this area where we disagree?"  The issue here is not all about association, and what association with him will do to your people.  That's not all it's related to.  OK, so we've thought a little about what it doesn't say to do with John Piper.  What does it in fact say?  What does God tell us to do?

I'll await your answer before I write more.


Lance Ketchum said...

It always amazes me that New Evangelicals can use so much verbiage describing practices of which they know nothing.

David said...

Will the book "A Pure Church" become available for Kindle? For missionaries as myself, we are able to get books a lot easier and cheaper through e-books. I would love to have it available for Kindle. Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi David,

Email me about it. You can find our email on lots of sites, but I don't want to give it here because of spammers. It's hard to put a book into print, and we want to sell the hard copy first, because it's a lot more expensive and there are many who still want books. It's helpful if people will get the hard copy, and encouraging to our endeavor. People still, I don't believe, see something as serious if it isn't in a hard copy.

Scott said...

Are you sure you're using 2 Thessalonians 3:6 properly? In the overall context, Paul follows by describing one who is disorderly as one who is being an idle busybody, while one who is not disorderly is one who labors and travails. This could very well be the tradition Paul speaks of. Using 2 Thess. 3:6 as a verse to support an all encompassing definition of separation could be going a bit too far.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Scott,

I bring us back to this in part 3, and I think Paul's example indicates separation involves more than fundamentals. The general is bad behavior and apostolic tradition (what the apostles taught---scripture) and the specific of that is laziness and busybodying.

Jon Gleason said...

Scott, the lazy busybodies were obviously the "trigger" for the instruction. That doesn't mean the instruction is intended to be just for that problem.

Let's turn it around. Why would being a lazy busybody be different from other sins, that we get this special discussion of just that problem, but nothing to guide us on how we respond to things like habitual gossip, or gluttony, etc?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm not alone in my thoughts here. Albert Barnes wrote:

From every brother that walketh disorderly - compare the notes, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13. A “disorderly walk” denotes conduct that is in any way contrary to the rules of Christ. The proper idea of the word used here ( ἀτάκτως ataktōs), is that of soldiers who do not keep the ranks; who are regardless of order; and then who are irregular in any way. The word would include any violation of the rules of Christ on any subject.

And not after the tradition which ye received of us - According to the doctrine which we delivered to you; see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:15. This shows that by the word “tradition” the apostle did not mean unwritten doctrines handed down from one to another, for he evidently alludes to what he had himself taught them, and his direction is not that that should be handed down by them, but that they should obey it.

Spurgeon wrote:

Paul had been to Thessalonica, and had given oral teaching, and now he commits to the book what he had spoken; but he bids them take care not to associate with those who wilfully broke the ordinances of the church which he had taught them. There are some brethren with whom it is ill for us to associate, lest they do us hurt, and it is ill for them that we associate with them, lest we seem to assist them in their evil deeds. Especially is this so in the case of brethren of the glass that he is about to describe — mischief makers, troublers, people that can always tell you the gossip of a congregation, that can tear a neighbour’s character to pieces that are able to perceive spots on the sun; people who delight in parading the fault of God’s own children, and are never so happy as when they are making others unhappy by what they have to retail. These are the kind of people to whom you should give a wide berth.

These are two of many.

Lance Ketchum said...

II Thessalonians 3:6 is a GENERAL PRINCIPLE applied to a specific problem in the text. The GENERAL PRINCIPLE can be appled to any issue of disobedience or ethical compromise.