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June 30, 2010


Ecclesiastical Separation, Part 1

Psalm 119:63 says, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.”
One of the hallmarks of the Baptist movement is Ecclesiastical Separation, and taking a biblical stand on the matter is crucial. Failure to observe the Scripture’s mandates on Ecclesiastical Separation endangers the integrity of the Gospel with which we have been entrusted. Sometimes, however, our own ideas about Ecclesiastical Separation fall short – neglecting the clear instructions of the Bible or adding our own opinions to the Word of God.

We must adopt a biblical position that, in the spirit of Christ, steers us clear of heresy yet maintains the fellowship of the Faith that maximizes our impact on a lost world for the cause of Christ.

What is Ecclesiastical Separation?

We are discussing in this venue a church-level separation in ecclesiology. Although the individual’s personal separation from evil is essential, we are concerned here with defining proper relationships and interactions between New Testament churches and other groups or organizations that identify themselves as Christian. Those groups or organizations would range from other bona fide New Testament churches with which we would find ourselves in complete agreement, to other bodies of authentic faith that we find to be in error on important doctrines, to apostate “churches” that have abandoned the fundamentals of biblical truth.

Why is Ecclesiastical Separation important?

Failure to maintain an appropriate degree of ecclesiastical separation is a violation of Scripture. The dangers are twofold. On the one hand, failure to stand clearly for the essentials of the Gospel can only hinder the progress of the Gospel. We endanger the clear transmission of Gospel to next generation when we create a “camouflage Christianity” in which the “Gospel” is just another choice among many options. On the other hand, we can become consumed by endless arguments with other believers about doctrines that are not clearly enumerated in Scripture or about preferences based on our application of the Scripture. As a result, we fail to exhibit the Christ-like spirit by which a lost world recognizes us as God’s people.

There is another way in which an extra-biblical stance on Ecclesiastical Separation leads to a dangerous obscuring of the Gospel. If we insist Gospel partnerships can be formed only with those with whom we are in complete agreement on every issue, we will inevitably find ourselves working alone, separated from other Christians with whom we completely agree about the fundamentals of the faith. We are left unable to create any kind of network for the advance of the true Gospel because we differ over non-fundamentals. We lose influence on a lost world because we cannot join hands with brothers and sisters in Christ to attack challenges too large for us to tackle alone.

Some inevitably will point out that in the past cooperative efforts have often failed. We have seen brothers of fundamental conviction engage other Christian groups in an effort to draw them back from doctrinal error, only to fail. Failure, however, is not pertinent. What matters is obedience to the Bible’s commands. When inspired Scripture lays out the conditions that require us to separate ourselves from others, nothing else matters. My philosophy, my ideas, my success – or someone else’s failure – are irrelevant. The only question that matters is, “What does Scripture say?”

  1. Jun 30 2010

    Good post. Would be interested in a follow up post on the “how” of ecclesiastical separation.

  2. Jun 30 2010

    Thanks for tackling this issue in this generation. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the posts.

  3. Rachel Green
    Jun 30 2010

    Thank you Bro. Clay…you are an inspiration to Chrisitians to rise above the “traditions of men” and follow what the Bible says.

  4. Jun 30 2010

    Thanks for tackling this touchy and misunderstood subject.

    It is often overlooked that there are dangers on both sides of this issue, and you have done a good job of summarizing both.

    I eagerly anticipate the rest of the posts in this series.

  5. Jul 1 2010

    I look forward to reading the rest of the posts in this series. It will be helpful to read the conclusions that you come to.

  6. Jul 3 2010

    Thanks for tackling this issue in this generation. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the posts.

  7. Aug 22 2010

    Thanks, that was refreshing to read. I feel a little weird now when I hear that Independent Baptists must only associate and cooperate with other independent Baptists which come from a certain college, use a certain Bible version etc..

    There are levels of cooperation that are closer with others the more we agree with them Biblically, and then there are lower levels of cooperation from those we would disagree with.

    Ultimately, separation is from those who deny the fundamental doctrines of the faith that consitute being a Christian.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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