Evangelicalism as a whole does not separate over beliefs and especially practices, which has been a historically differentiating factor between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. As I have been keeping track, I have begun to hear the separation engine sputter to a start after sitting on blocks in the back yard. It’s a dry, lifeless cough, but the mechanic is still tinkering. Those mentioning it, as I follow along, are seeing that they need separation. They need it as an escape craft as everything collapses around them. They see the threat of something near total apostasy in the United States, and they are dusting off some kind of separation as a desperate move to stop that from happening.
Separation is a very awkward presentation and conversation for evangelicals, because separation is essentially mutually exclusive of evangelicalism. It’s hard to pull it out with any kind of credibility after all these years of disuse. It’s also become more awkward as fundamentalists have followed evangelicalism down its rabbit hole.
As has become the norm now, all conversations about separation come with long discussions about where to draw the line, what is worthy of separation. I’m going to write more about this in my next post, but for now, you often hear that only certain doctrinal issues are worth separation. This is not a biblical concept and at best it will throw a speed bump on the runaway ramp. I’m saying that it is an embarrassing half measure at best.
NOT JUST DOCTRINAL, NOT EVEN MAINLY DOCTRINAL
The point of this post, however, is to say that evangelicals and even most fundamentalists see a doctrinal issue as either the reason or sometimes the most important reason to separate, but that I see this as entirely not true. They have that wrong. What is the biggest problem for evangelicalism and fundamentalism might be the destruction of the gospel, but it isn’t and it won’t be and it has not been primarily through a change in doctrinal statement.
The Bible doesn’t say that only doctrinal, or even practical, issues are what are important or all that are important or vital to a person or a church. That is a lie of or at best the deceiving vanity of evangelicals, now being borrowed by fundamentalism, as I see it. Doctrine and practice cannot be and will not be separated from the imaginations and affections of an individual, so if the imagination and affections are spoiled, the former will go along with those. Those, doctrine and practice, actually are accessed through the imagination and are influenced by the affections. What I’m talking about here is the same truth that Jonathan Edwards wrote about in his Treatise on the Religious Affections.
IMAGINATIONS AND AFFECTIONS
What I’m saying is that total apostasy is less likely by far to come through the destruction of spoiling of doctrine, but through idolatrous and covetous imaginations and inordinate or misplaced affections. I believe both the Old and New Testaments bear this out. Old Testament Israel knew the right things, but they were drawn away by their lusts, and then they just adjusted their worship to fit with they liked. They were what and how they worshiped. While harping about fundamental doctrines and essentials and really mocking those who don’t take that same position (never proving almost anything about what they mock — mockery is their proof like the apostates of 2 Peter 3), evangelicals (and I'm using a broad brush) have themselves contributed to the corruption of imaginations and perversion of affections.
Don’t get me wrong. Fundamentalists are guilty too of what I’m talking about here, just less than evangelicals. They thought something bad was happening even if they weren't good at explaining why they were against it. At some point fundamentalists became guilty of the same things as evangelicals, just in a different way. Much of America for much of its history had the instinct against what evangelicals offer as worship and thus promote far worse in the private life. Even the most conservative evangelicals still are the apologists for the apostasy about which I speak.
Among separatists, keeping the imaginations and affections pure, by which someone gets his doctrine and practice, has been often called “personal separation.” Sure, many fundamentalists have abused this and replaced a biblical type of personal separation with a placebo. I have heard evangelicals blame their problems on these fundamentalists, who have replaced real personal separation with their false front city. They have all the props of personal separation without really believing it and practicing it.
For years, I have pounced all over fundamentalists for what they have done and do. However, evangelicals should take responsibility for their own problems that they have uniquely caused for themselves, instead of putting the blame on others. This kind of whining is common in evangelicalism, also a part of an widespread effeminate quality to the movement. Who might be just masculine posers totally misdiagnose the effeminacy they recognize. I'm sure most of them don't even see it anymore. Fundamentalists have their own problems, but they are not the reason for the problems in evangelicalism.
For sure, not knowing who Jesus was and not keeping His commandments were serious misunderstandings or violations as seen in the gospels. You can't think that He's only a prophet and be right. If you believed He was merely a Galilean, who grew up in Nazareth, that wrong view would leave you without light and life. You have missed the doctrine with that assessment. That isn't often what Jesus targeted. He zeroed in on their love, as did Paul. You really didn't know God, know Jesus, unless you loved Him, and you don't love Him like your boyfriend or girlfriend. That's not how someone loves God. But people get messed about what love is in evangelicalism, because they have turned it into sentimentalism with their methods and techniques and dogged defense of their freedom.
AS SEEN IN THE BIBLE
The Bible talks a lot about loving God, not just being right about Who He is and then laying out all His rules and doing them. No doubt you've got to do them if you love Him, but love is what He requires. And if you don't love Jesus, you don't love God. This was how Jesus presented it. A barrier to love includes love for other things, which are fueled by lust. A non stop diet for lust that is pushed by evangelicalism diminishes God to people. They use the fleshly lust as a lure, as if they can use it to get people into church, where they'll then love God.
The apostle Paul said at the end of 1 Corinthians that you're cursed if you don't love Jesus, and love was the problem for Corinth. At the beginning of the epistle, you see it start with how they got people. The Greeks wanted wisdom and the Jews wanted signs. God alone wasn't good enough. Evangelicals with this incredible genius know what Americans want. They want rock music, so they take sacred lyrics and put it to the lustful tunes and rhythms, and then call it worship. They do other things like this too, but it has been going on for awhile. They bridged the gap between the sacred and the profane. What Christians wouldn't do for entertainment and recreation are now permissible --- all of these things --- and 1 Corinthians 1 is violated. The problem, of course, is that the attraction becomes something other than Jesus.
Evangelicals say they are about Jesus, but Jesus is understood through the imagination. He has to be the actual Jesus, not the one people want to be their Jesus, someone who Jesus knows isn't Him. They gladly take him, the impostor. He fits a particular doctrinal profile, but he doesn't have the sacredness, the holiness. He's common and profane in fitting with the taste of each postmodern individual. And you can't judge that, because if you do, you're judging a non-essential. Their Jesus is the Jesus compatible with their lust, with their desires, where He really is diminished below what they really love, which is idolatry. They have convinced themselves now that this is Jesus being Lord. It isn't.
Much more in the New Testament declares what I'm writing about here, what evangelicalism does, including the conservatives, to warp Jesus and belief in Him, to change the gospel. They say this is all non-essential or non-scriptural, like there is very little meaning to anything. They mock it. They say personal separation is really all about wearing wire rimmed glasses and whether you've got or not got pleats in your pants, because they really have nothing to say. Christianity is going down the drain with them. They gave up on this long ago to keep their numbers to look like God was working. As the world moved and got worse, they went with it.
Peter had the same concern back in the first century when he wrote his first epistle (1:14): "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance." He saw people who were being fashioned, conformed, or formed by their former lusts. The point of the Christian life isn't handing a tidy doctrinal statement, but it is to be holy as He is holy. If you understand biblical holiness, then you know that it is a transcendent life, not a mundane one that looks like everyone else. Later on in the next chapter, Peter writes, "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." If you were a Christian, you had different interests than a worldly person.
The evangelicals have designed much of their program around giving people things of the world, of course with the idea that Jesus and doctrine will get in there too. Those things don't mix. A different assessment of Jesus will occur. He will be seen through this worldly prism, so it's no wonder they don't live holy.
I could go on here, making many other points, including about a false spirituality that comes from feelings choreographed by the evangelical presentation, but I think you get what I'm saying. Doctrine is serious, so is practice, but the affections and imaginations are where people are getting another Jesus to believe in, and then belief isn't belief, because it is absent the ordinate affection for Him. What they say is either a disputable or non-biblical or non-essential is actually where the challenge to the gospel is most. If they want things to change, they need to start with more than the doctrine and practice themselves, and then separate over those things too, the things that they mock others for teaching, practicing, upholding, and separating over.