Later in the same chapter in verse 33, Paul writes, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners," which NASV translates, "Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals." The reason Paul gives for the doctrine of the bodily resurrection, so foundational to the gospel, being corrupted, was because of evil communications or bad company. You have to separate from people for the gospel to be preserved. If you love true doctrine, you have to do something about false doctrine and those who teach it. If you don't do anything more than talk about the false doctrine, you are not loving the true doctrine. You have to separate from it.
If separation really was popular, there sure isn't very much of it. I don't see it in evangelicalism. They don't write about it, except to mock it. Most of the attention is paid to what evangelicals call "unity," which isn't biblical unity, so it isn't unity. It's the kind of unity you see at a family reunion, where everyone agrees to keep the conversation on a few non-offensive subjects. There is far more talk about unity and emphasis on unity, very little to none on separation. So I talk about separation again, a word that you rarely hear in evangelicalism, except to ridicule.
In one very important sense, the gospel is separation. Jesus separates you from sin, and that is not just at the moment of justification, but in the ongoing sanctification that proceeds from justification. Noah and his family were saved by separating them. The wheat and the tares will be separated. 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 say that those who are not separate are not God the Father's sons and daughters. In the end, salvation is separation of the spiritually dead into Hell and the alive into Heaven. The church is a place of separation, and that is the community of the gospel. The Bible separates error from truth, darkness from light, wrong from right, and the profane or common from the holy. You don't have a gospel that doesn't include separation in it or with it. Since God separates, we will separate. You will know that you are saved, because you will do that.
In a recent communication, John Piper, prominent evangelical was asked, "Do You Regret Partnering with Mark Driscoll?" You can read that Piper wrote, "John Piper has no regret for befriending Mark Driscoll," which is not answering the question. It is not a good statement, but Piper is not a separatist. He's being expected by conservative evangelicals to what? To separate? Where would he get instruction for doing that or how to do that? Evangelicals don't separate. They don't talk about separating. I think we should assume that "partnering" is "fellowshiping." If you were to "regret partnering" with another church in ministry, how would you avoid that regret? By separating. And for what reason? Where is this line of separation to be drawn?
At the Strange Fire Conference this year, a panel including John MacArthur and Phil Johnson were asked to comment on statements John Piper made about speaking in tongues. John MacArhur said (from 46:15 to 48:54):
With someone like John Piper, that is a complete anomaly. That is just so . . . off everything else about him. . . . It’s not that he speaks in tongues, it’s not that he prophesies, he’s admitted that. It’s just that there is this anomaly in his mind that is open to that. That’s the way he’s always stated that, that he’s open to that, he’s open to that. He’s even made statements like, ‘I don’t know, I’m not sure, I don’t know exactly what to think about all of this.’ That’s a far cry from the propagation side of it and so I look at this with him and even with Wayne Grudem who has made such immense contributions in so many ways, as an anomaly, and I don’t know, and I don’t need to know, where the impulse for this comes from, where the influence comes from. Sometimes it comes from family, sometimes it comes from a spouse, you know we see that, we understand that, I don’t know where these influences come from. But I do know the great body of work that John Piper has done is true to the faith. And John is a friend whom I not only admire but whom I love. And I don’t know why on this front he has that open idea but it is . . . it is not an advocacy position for the movement and he would and he would join us in decrying the excesses of that movement for sure and even the theology of it. So I think if we start shutting everybody down who has got one thing they are not clear on or . . . you know, we’re going to really find ourselves alone and uh, that’s going too far. I have no fear that John would ever tamper with anything that is essential to the Christian faith, starting from theology proper all the way through to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s going to be faithful to the word of God as he understands it in a historical sense. Uh, how to explain anomalies like this. . . . I think at this point this is where love comes in to embrace faithful men . . . .
This is in answer to Piper's position on speaking tongues, as seen in this statement (found in a clip played here beginning at 42:22 and ending at 43:44).
But I thought of tongues, and I said I haven’t asked for tongues for a long time. I just paused, I’m walking back and forth in my living room, Tala is up in her room, Noel is at the gym. And I said, “Lord, I’m still eager to speak in tongues. Would You give me that gift?” Now at that point you can try to say banana backwards if you want to. I used to sit in the car outside church, singing in tongues. But I knew I wasn’t. I was just making it up. And I said this isn’t it. I know this isn’t it. But this is what they try to get you to do if you’re in that certain group. And I just…I did everything to try to open myself to this and the Lord has always said to me, without words, “No.” No. But He never just said no, He always said, “John Piper, I have given you a gift, I’ve given you the gift of teaching, of preaching, of shepherding. You shepherd the prophets. You shepherd the tongue speakers. I’m not going to give it to you.”
But I don’t assume that’s His last word, and so every now and then I’m just going to go back to him like a child and say, “A lot of my brothers and sisters have this toy…this gift, can I have it, too?”
I'm only going to comment on this one situation, because I believe it so illustrative. In other words, this isn't a full fledged analysis, just a break down of this single instance as an example.
Piper does not separate over strange fire. Does Piper practice strange fire? From the content of the Strange Fire conference, yes, he does. Is strange fire a separating issue? It was and is to God. It should be to us. In an analysis of Piper's comments, he's seeking after a sign. He's allowing for it and encouraging it. He's praying for tongues, asking God to give them to him. And then he talks about God speaking to him, saying, "The Lord has always said to me." The Lord "said" that to Piper.
MacArthur doesn't separate from Piper. Why? He explains. (1) It's an "anomaly." (2) He's not propagating the false position. (3) Direct quote: "if we start shutting everybody down who has got one thing they are not clear on or . . . you know, we’re going to really find ourselves alone and uh, that’s going too far." (4) Piper does not deny what is essential to the Christian faith. And, (5) Love embraces faithful men. In a sense, this is the MacArthur code on separation and unity. Earlier, Phil Johnson argues for fellowship with Piper with the example of Samson -- Samson was in Hebrews 11 -- and he leaves the conclusion up to you on what you are supposed to do with that.
Piper right now is being pummeled directly for not having separated from Driscoll (here and here). Again, how are evangelicals to know how to separate from other evangelicals? They never talk about what separation is. They usually mock and attack separation by making it look like separatists mainly are doing 3rd and 4th degree separation and then separating from someone for wearing wire rim glasses and pleated pants. That's how they frame it.
Piper is not repentant of the false doctrine. He doesn't separate from strange fire. Should we ask John MacArthur and Phil Johnson, "Do you regret partnering with John Piper?" Should that question be asked?
Read the MacArthur code on separation above. Is any of that scriptural? Any of it? Where does he glean those five points from the Bible? To decide what to do, what scripture is he relying on? I contend that all five of them are horribly wrong. It is not an anomaly with John Piper. Then, he does propagate the position --- that's what he was doing with Driscoll and in the interview where he talked about wanting to speak in tongues, except God talked to him. And then, would MacArthur really be alone if he practiced biblical separation? Is being alone really going too far? MacArthur says it is. What verse do we have for "being alone," "going too far?" Jeremiah and Noah were alone. Jesus was often alone. Paul was sometimes alone. You don't determine the truth by how many people are supporting it. And then fifth, it isn't love that MacArthur is describing, but mere sentimentalism. His sentimentalism is what causes him to embrace this person.
What these men should consider is, "What does God say about separation?" And, "what does God want from me as to separation?" God wants it, so it does matter. Not wanting to be alone, is akin to Baruch in Jeremiah 45. He didn't want to be alone. But God told him to stop seeking great things for himself. Being alone is a form of suffering. God has called us to go outside the camp. That's what it means to be a Christian. MacArthur confuses that, and it does matter.
I'm happy too where these men embrace the truth, but that doesn't mean that we should partner with them and their churches. More than the essentials matter to God, and He wants to separate over more than them. Neither does he just want us talking about them, instructing about them, warning about them, but also actually separating from them. You have a conference about something really bad and then keep fellowshiping with it -- that isn't what God would do.
For more on separation, order and read A Pure Church.