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.