Fundys, Evangelicals and the Eye of a Needle …

I minister in a church sub-culture that has no understanding of the fundamentalism/evangelical debates. I received theological training from an excellent fundamentalist seminary. But, the church I serve has no self-conscious fundamentalist identity, even though it’s a member of the GARBC. It’s an “evangelical” church, though many members might not know exactly what that means.

Recently, a church member asked me what an “evangelical” is, what a “fundamentalist” is, and how they’re different. This article is basically how I answered. It’s a short answer. But, I think it captures the basic distinction between the two groups.1

Fundamentalism in America began as a protest movement within conservative Christian circles in the late 19th century. Christian leaders in churches, bible colleges, seminaries and denominations began to be aware of a revisionist, unorthodox approach to the Bible and theology. There was a willingness to reevaluate the integrity of the Bible, how it was transmitted and preserved, whether Adam and Eve were real people, whether Moses really wrote the Pentateuch, whether Isaiah really wrote all of Isaiah, whether Jesus was really conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, whether miracles really happened, and more. This openness to “new ideas” began in seminaries and gradually filtered down to the pulpits in local churches of many denominational stripes.

Fundamentalism was a movement that fought against that. It marshalled brilliant men; pastors, theologians and laymen, to make the case for orthodoxy. Working in very loose, often disjointed concert, men from many denominations fought this revisionist approach in the denominations, bible colleges, seminaries and churches. They fought them for several decades.

They lost. They lost big.

Throughout the mid-1920s and 1930s, some fundamentalists stayed within their now compromised denominations for various reasons. The forerunners of what became the Conservative Baptist movement stayed within the Northern Baptist convention for about two more decades. Others led their churches out of the denominations to form protest movements. The Baptist Bible Union (now the GARBC) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are examples.

Until the 1940s, fundamentalists generally thought of themselves as “evangelicals.” The words were synonyms. They meant something like “conservative, bible-believing Christian.” It meant you believe generic Protestant orthodoxy and were probably somewhat loud about it.

So, why are the terms different, today?2

They’re different because the conservative Christian movement split in the mid-1940s through the late 1950s. It didn’t split over doctrine per se. It split over mood, over approach, over mindset. It split because two camps arose within this big tent, and each had very different approaches to Christian life and ministry. This is where conservative Christianity largely split into two camps; fundamentalist and evangelical. Roger Olson explains:3

The difference between early fundamentalism and later fundamentalism is not so much one of doctrine as of mood. The single most important distinction between them has to do with late fundamentalism’s adoption of a militant stance toward exposing the ‘heresies’ of other Christians and of a policy of separation not only from liberal Christians but also from fellow evangelicals who do not separate from liberal Christian denominations and organizations.

This “mood” is indeed different, and so is the mission. First-stage fundamentalism (Olson’s term) was a protest movement to preserve generic Protestant orthodoxy. This remains part of its core ethos even today. The overwhelming amount of literature and media designed to protect and equip the church against heresy is produced by evangelicals.

However, second-stage fundamentalism is less about combatting theological revisionism and more about separation from perceived heresies and “disobedient brethren.” Fundamentalist literature preaches avoiding perceived compromise and emphasizes personal holiness. It spends little time combatting heresy, and the movement’s influence and reach is so small that even if it did commit the resources to do so, its message likely wouldn’t reach much beyond its own constituency. Tellingly, its best scholars are often educated at evangelical institutions.

The doctrine is largely the same. The mood is different. David Beale called pre-1930 fundamentalism “non-conformist,” and post-1930 fundamentalism “separatist.”4 The ethos changed. Some agreed, and others didn’t. Thus, the split. In many cases, the heirs of first-stage fundamentalism refer to themselves as “evangelicals” today. Likewise, many second-stage fundamentalists own the “fundamentalist” label proudly. Some examples may help:

  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a first-stage fundamentalist denomination and is a decidedly “evangelical.” It engages the culture and pushes aggressive orthodoxy. It does not focus on separation.
  • The Conservative Baptist movement left the Northern Baptist convention in the early 1940s. It later split into various factions amidst sustained and unfortunate infighting; it was a fundamentalist/evangelical split in microcosm. The heirs of this split include, respectively, the FBFI and CBAmerica. Many readers here are well aware the FBFI is a solidly fundamentalist organization. CBAmerica is evangelical.
  • The GARBC, formerly the Baptist Bible Union left the Northern Baptist Convention in 1923. Whatever it used to be, it is a solidly evangelical association of churches today. It recently changed its purpose statement to drop legacy language from the fundamentalist/evangelical split.

The difference in mood is even clearer if you example mission or vision statements:

  • CBAmerica (evangelical): Its vision is “Gospel-centered transformational churches in every community.”
  • FBFI (fundamentalist): “FBFI’s Vision is to perpetuate the heritage of Baptist Fundamentalism complete, intact, pure, and undiluted to succeeding generations of fundamentalists.”
  • GARBC (evangelical): It’s mission is to “champion biblical truth, impact the world for Christ, perpetuate a Baptist heritage” and to “advance the association churches.”

So, what is the difference between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” today? We can draw these general observations:

  • Fundamentalism, at its best, is generally concerned with personal holiness and local church purity in practice and doctrine. The content of this holiness and church purity will vary according to the particular flavor of the movement to which the group or church belongs. Its doctrinal emphases are often framed through a prism of separation from compromise and combined with a remnant mindset. Its rhetorical foe is often not theological revisionism, but evangelicalism – those who are believed to have “compromised.” The movement’s essence, according to Beale, is “unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures.”5
  • Evangelicalism, at its best, is concerned with evangelizing the world and preserving generic Protestant orthodoxy. Its scholars produce mass amounts of literature and media to equip the church to navigate a complex and changing world. Its name is synonymous with “conservative Christian.” Roger Olson explained, “[t]he genius of evangelicalism is its combination of orthodox Protestantism, conservative revivalism, and transdenominational ecumenism.”6

Or, to generalize further:

  • Fundamentalism is about purity and holiness. It wants you to obey the Bible, and it wants you to stay away from folks who allegedly don’t.
  • Evangelicalism is about the Gospel and protecting the faith from those who want to re-define it.

Many conservative Christian groups in America today are heirs of the fundamentalist-evangelical tradition. Most of these took a side during or after the big split. Where you find yourself is not so much a matter of doctrine, but of mood, approach and emphasis. Both movements try to do good things, necessary things, biblical things. Evangelicalism today takes many forms. Fundamentalism is dying as a movement, but its ethos may well live on.

J.C. Ryle gave his summary of the “evangelical religion” a long time ago, in a different context. He had five headings:7

  1. The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy.
  2. The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption.
  3. The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which He has wrought out for man.
  4. The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man.
  5. The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man.

This encapsulates the Christian faith and message so well. It doesn’t distort a good thing out of proportion by framing the Gospel and the Christian life through a prism of separation from error, real or imagined. It’s a balanced expression of divine truth. I admire that old Anglican, and that admiration forces me to align myself with “evangelicalism” today.

Notes

1 This is not a comprehensive history of either movement, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It doesn’t malign Billy Graham. It doesn’t mention Billy Graham. It’s a very brief, 500 mph drive-by discussion to orient a reader to the general “lay of the land” who knows nothing about this chapter in American religious history. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. To those that don’t, well … what else do you expect from a “convergent!?”

2 Roger Olson lists seven different ways the term “evangelical” is used in contemporary culture (Pocket History of Evangelical Theology [Downers Grove: IVP, 2007] 7-14). The etymology is fascinating and instructive.

3 Ibid, Pocket History, 84-85.

4 David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1950 (Greenville: Unusual Publications, 1986), 5.

5 Ibid, 1.

6 Olson, Pocket History, 15.

7 J.C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion from the Standpoint of an Evangelical Churchman, 10th ed. (London: William Hunt, 1885), 3-7.

Christless Christianity?

hortonI believe a troubling proportion of what passes as “Christianity” in contemporary American evangelicalism is at best sub-biblical, and at worst completely un-Christian. This isn’t necessarily true of the smaller churches scattered hither and yon throughout our fair land, amongst the amber waves of grain, in the shadow of purple mountain majesties. But, I believe it is generally true of the evangelical industrial complex in general, and celebrity ministers in particular.

To be sure, much of this pseudo-Christianity retains the same words, liturgies, creeds, confessions and outward form of orthodox Christianity. But, internally, it bears little resemblance to the true faith. Does this mean most pastors are wicked men, out to lead their flock to the flames of hell? Not necessarily; but make no mistake – such men do exist. I think this situation is more the result of a series of compounding problems:

  1. A drive to become “relevant” to the secular world will result in a subtle, then increasingly deliberate “softening” of the Christian message to avoid “offense.” Thus, the Gospel is increasingly buried under an avalanche of “love.” See my description of evangelism and “the church that’s ashamed of the gospel,” here.
  2. Our cultural climate is producing men in ministry who are timid. Such men are well-intentioned and quite pleasant people. But, they’re often weak, vacillating, hesitant, indecisive, and afraid.
  3. Our society is totally consumer-oriented, and this has filtered down to the churches. Many Christians shop for a church out of convenience and with a mercenary sense of entitlement. They view church like Wal-Mart, and they’ll hit the road or the Safeway down the street if you make them mad. This influences weak pastors to further round the rough edges off their ministries and Gospel presentations.

The end result of these (and other) problems is that you eventually end up with a “faith” that isn’t even Christian at all. God is somebody who just wants to bless. Jesus is the cosmic butler who lives to serve. The Spirit is there to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The church exists to fill your needs.

Nearly a decade ago, a sociologist named Christian Smith observed five defining factors which summed up the defacto “creed” of modern “religious” teenagers in the United States, from many different faiths:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Basically, young people would take these propositions, and fit them into whichever faith system they happened to be associated with. The result, of course, is a syncretic stew of blasphemy which has no objective content whatsoever.

If you know somebody who is “religious,” and they’re not grounded and schooled in a very conservative version of their faith tradition, then I’m betting you right now that they’d sum up their religious outlook with some or all of these five propositions. You know somebody who is “religious,” but doesn’t take it seriously. You’re thinking of her right now, aren’t you? You know exactly who you can ask. Try it. You’ll see . . .

This isn’t a modern phenomenon, of course. The Israelites perfected this technique, and repeatedly gave God lip-service with empty cultic rituals, while worshipping pagan gods. They viewed Yahweh as a spiritual 911 operator; somebody they had in their back pocket for a rainy day, but didn’t want to chat with otherwise. For example, consider this (Jeremiah 2:26-28):

As a thief is shamed when caught,
so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their princes,
their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
are your gods, O Judah.

 

I suggest you read the book Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. It’s about, well . . . a “Christianity” which has taken Christ off the cross and made Him a cosmic butler. He writes:[1]

My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for “relevant” quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped, and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God’s judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be.

As this new gospel becomes more obviously American than Christian, we all have to take a step back and ask ourselves whether evangelicalism is increasingly a cultural and political movement with a sentimental attachment to the image of Jesus more than a witness to “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). We have not shown in recent decades that we have much stomach for this message that the apostle Paul called “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense,” “folly to Gentiles” (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 1:23).

Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitimacy.

Harsh words. I think they’re warranted.

Notes

[1] This excerpt is from Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 19-20.

The Bizarre Mindset of Post-Modernism

Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner, has a new ministry of his own in Minneapolis. Bakker recently celebrated  gay marriage by partaking of the Lord’s Supper with rainbow-colored communion bread. Bakker is typical of the post-modern, edgy, un-Biblical and heretical fringe of evangelicalism. In his company would be men like Rob Bell. communion19n-3-web

I have really tried to understand why people take such un-Biblical positions on issues which are so clear-cut. I know the reasons, I just don’t understand them!

1. Typically they have a low view of Scripture

2. Therefore the Bible does not contain final authority for Christian faith and life

3. Their exposition of Scripture is frequently non-existent or pitiful

4. They play to emotions rather than Biblical truth

5. Their worldview tends to be amazingly man-centered

6. Their theology, such as it is, is frequently heretical and un-Biblical

7. This last charge is meaningless to them, because to them, God has not spoken authoritatively and decisively on anything

The reason Bakker is evidently enjoying success in his new “bar/church” venture is because he is not confronting his “congregation” with their sin. The Gospel is clear on this matter – repent and believe (Mk 1:14-15). God is holy, and He commands His people to act holy as well (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). There are certain standards expected of Christians. True salvation entails repentance from sin.

It is so sad to see such heresy enjoying such apparent success. I doubt a Bible preaching man could garner a fraction of the attention Bakker is getting, or even a fraction of the congregation.

I will be starting an intermittent series very soon, where I review and comment on a book which speaks to this mindset, specifically a low view of Scripture. The book is older (1991), but Bakker is nothing more than a product of this un-Biblical way of thinking. It breaks my heart that this heresy is considered Christianity.

The Historic Roots of Fundamentalism

This article is a work in progress. More information may be added as I conduct more research. As it stands now, this modest article is a very brief history of the Christian fundamentalist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

In this article, I’ll very briefly outline what historic fundamentalism is; specifically American fundamentalism. I cannot hope to discuss the genesis of the movement in a comprehensive fashion here, but hopefully it is helpful to the fundamentalist community at large, both as an all-too brief summary introduction to the movement or as a refresher to faithful warriors still on the field of battle!

This material will be old-hat to many of you. Some may never even read it because it may tread the same ground you’ve trod many times before. I believe it is important, however, to remind ourselves of how fundamentalism started, and visit old battlefields of the past periodically. We cannot understand our movement unless we grasp how it all began.

This is the first in a three part series examining, in sequence, (1) the historic roots of fundamentalism, (2) the historic roots of evangelicalism and (3) the idea of secondary separation.

What is Fundamentalism?

Just what in the world is fundamentalism? Numerous authors have provided their own definitions throughout the years.

George Marsden writes,

“A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something. That seems simple and is fairly accurate. . . . A more precise statement of the same point is that an American fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in opposition to liberal theology in the churches or to changes in cultural values or mores, such as those associated with ‘secular humanism.’ In either the long or the short definitions, fundamentalists are a subtype of evangelicals and militancy is crucial to their outlook. Fundamentalists are not just religious conservatives; they are conservatives who are willing to take a stand and to fight,” (4).

William Ayer observes,

“Fundamentalism represents a resurgence of ancient practices, which began not with Martin Luther but at Pentecost. Fundamentalism is apostolic, and the doctrine of justification goes back to Paul. That branch from which the fundamentalist movement sprang lived obscurely through the ages and had never been completely silenced even in the Dark Ages. . . . What fundamentalism did was to awaken the slumbering apostolicism from lethargy. The theme of the Reformation, like the cry of the fundamentalists today, was ‘back to the Bible and the Apostles,’ with no mediator between men and God except Christ. Fundamentalists are in the direct line of succession to those preaching this same message (2-3).

David O. Beale, in his excellent history of fundamentalism, gives perhaps the best definition of the movement:

“Ideally, a Christian Fundamentalist is one who desires to reach out in love and compassion to people, believes and defends the whole Bible as the absolute, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God, and stands committed to the doctrine and practice of holiness. . . . Fundamentalism is not a philosophy of Christianity, or is it essentially an interpretation of the Scriptures. It is not even a mere literal exposition of the Bible. The essence of Fundamentalism goes much deeper than that – it is the unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures” (3).

Fundamentalism is not denominational centric. It is authentic and historic Christianity in action. Theological liberals may scoff and sneer at this “quaint” theology, but forget they have departed from historic Christian traditions. Beale quoted an opponent of fundamentalism as stating, “fundamentalism is . . . survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians . . . The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he (4).

Broadly, the historic fundamentalist distinctives are these (Moritz 46):torreys-fundamentals

–          The inerrancy of Scripture

–          The virgin birth of Christ

–          The substitutionary atonement of Christ

–          The bodily resurrection of Christ

–          The authenticity of miracles

Genesis

Fundamentalism as an identifiable movement can be traced to a reaction against liberal theology coming out of Europe in the latter part of the 19th century – Ernest Pickering matter-of-factly called this “the poison from Europe!” (1). The corporate church was confronted with a number of critical issues, all of which had a profound effect on the entire theological landscape:

1. Philosophers began to elevate reason and materialism above the objective revelation of the Bible. Where it had once been considered the handmaiden of theology, philosophy now began to stand in opposition to Scripture.

2. Naturalistic science rejected the traditional biblical concepts of the world and humanity

3.  Historical and literary criticism as systems began to reinterpret traditional Christianity by the new parameters of the Enlightenment.

4. Higher criticism, typified by the works of Friedrich Schleiermacher, sought to re-interpret Scripture. There was a distinct emphasis on humanism, elevating man rather than God. Revelation was “not an in-breaking of God, but an upsurging of divine humanity (Schleiermacher 50). Religion was not an objective truth, but more of a subjective feeling.

Schleiermacher wrote:

Schleiermacher
Schleiermacher

Religion is an immediate, or original, experience of the self-consciousness in the form of feeling. It is immediate, in that it is not derived from any other experience or exercise of the mind, but is inseparable from self-consciousness; and it is feeling, in that it is subjective experience and not objective idea, and in this respect it is identical with the self-consciousness, Religion is not an act of knowledge nor the result of a process of knowing. If it were the former, its source would lie in human activity. If it were the latter, its content would be doctrine, dependent upon prior processes of the intellect, and subject to all the uncertainties which pertain to scientific investigation. The measure of knowledge would be the measure of piety; religion would be a mere acquirement or possession and no essential element of human nature . . . Religion, then, as consisting in feeling, denotes a state of our being, and hence in religion man is not primarily active but receptive (Theology 119-120).

Under such pressure, Christian doctrine was adjusted in some denominations to accommodate the conclusions of science (thus ruling out creation), philosophy and criticism. Orthodox Christian were alarmed at this onslaught against precious Biblical truths. It was into this theological abyss that “fundamentalism” was born. It was an orthodox, Biblical reaction to distinctly un-Biblical theology.

The way fundamentalists react to this liberal theology, both historically and currently, adds another two other distinctive aspects to the five historic points above – militant and separatist. “It’s common basis is a set of biblical doctrines and beliefs, and its esprit is principally its militant separatism. Fundamentalism is a movement, not an attitude of belligerence, ugliness, or a negative mentality as often depicted” (McCune 16).

 Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy[1]

As theological liberalism made inroads into orthodox seminaries and mainline denominations, an inevitable conflict arose between those who advocated the “new thought” coming out of Europe and those who resisted such change and stuck to Biblical orthodoxy. McCune is careful to observe this was not merely a clash with secular culture; “the controversy concerned the truth-claims and belief-system of fundamental Christianity versus an essentially new religion. It was a fight over the retention and control of denominations, mission agencies, colleges, and seminaries” (18).pcharles-briggs2

Prior to 1930, Fundamentalists practiced Biblical separation by attempting to purge their denominations of liberal theology; they tried to preach the liberals out of the denominations (Beale 8). I would also add they tried to write them out of the denominations too; the publication of The Fundamentals illustrates this point. The authors hoped The Fundamentals (published 1910-1915) would win over those sitting atop the theological fence and convince the liberals of the error of their ways. This series is viewed as the starting point of fundamentalism as an identifiable movement. It was a series of twelve books, filled with many articles. The authors were mostly fundamentalist Presbyterians and Baptists; the writers were interdenominational in their perspectives. Historic fundamentalism is therefore cross-denominational in scope.

After 1930, to the present day, Fundamentalists have instead practiced separation by separating themselves from liberal and apostate churches and denominations (Beale 9). The movement had re-grouped around new leaders. Many familiar organizations and schools today are the result of this practice of Biblical separation, including Westminster Theological Seminary, Grace Theological Seminary, Bob Jones and the GARBC, to name but a very few.

McCune included an excerpt from a contemporary, liberal Christian newspaper in his text which is well worth reproducing here:

Two worlds have crashed, the world of tradition and the world of modernism. The God of the fundamentalist is one God; the God of the modernist is another. The Christ of the fundamentalist is one Christ; the Christ of modernism is another. The Bible of the fundamentalist is one Bible; the Bible of modernism is another. The church, the kingdom, the salvation, the consummation of all things – these are one thing to the fundamentalists and another thing to modernists. But that the issue is clear and that the inherent incompatibility of the two worlds has passed the stage of mutual tolerance is a fact concerning which there hardly seems room for any one to doubt (“Fundamentalism and Modernism” 5-6).

 The Bottom Line

1. Historic fundamentalism has its roots in Biblical separation from clear-cut, apostate, false teaching.

2. Historic fundamentalism evinces a willingness to stand fast and actually fight against false teaching and for Biblical truth.

3. Historic fundamentalism is an inter-denominational movement.

It remains to be seen how fundamentalism differs from evangelicalism, and what “false teaching” and secondary separation actually consists of in the context of the fundamentalist movement. We’ll examine these issues in another article.

Works Cited

Ayer, William Ward, speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, April 1956, quoted in Louis Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement, 19301956 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 2–3

Beale, David O, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, SC: BJU, 1986), 3.

Marsden, George, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 4.

McCune, Rolland, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2004), 16.

Morrison, Charles C. “Fundamentalism and Modernism, Two Religions,” The Christian Century (Jan 3, 1924), 5-6. Quoted from McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, 18.

Moritz, Fred, “Maranatha is Fundamentalist,” Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal 1:1 (Spring 2011) 46.

Pickering, Ernest, The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC: BJU, 1994), 1.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich, The Christian Faith, 50

—————— The Theology of Schleiermacher, ed. George Cross (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1911), 119-120. Emphasis mine.


[1] For an excellent summary on this issue, see Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 93-111, or McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, 3-26.

The Historic Roots of Evangelicalism

What in the World is Evangelicalism, Anyway?!

Dennis Walton, a contemporary critic, wrote:

“One area in which the New Evangelicals are united is the willingness to compromise for the sake of fellowship. This spirit could possibly be identified as the genius of the movement. Allowing varying opinions in nearly every field of doctrine, they are united in a willingness to sacrifice conviction for fellowship. Evidence of this spirit is seen in a statement by E, J. Carnell, “Since love is higher than law, the organization is servant of the fellowship…Christ alone would rule the church. Laws are made for the unrighteous. Here is the final norm: Polity is good or bad to the degree that it promotes or hinders fellowship.” This statement obviously subordinates doctrine to love, or fellowship,” (1961, 17).

Harold Ockenga, a leading figure in the new evangelical movement, observed:

“New-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life,” (1976, 11).

Contemporary, critical cartoon by Donald Pfaffe (1959):

evangelicalism

George Dollar remarked:

“This new type of evangelical thought and attitude has many virtues—many of them having descended from historic Fundamentalism and others arising from an honest attempt to correct some glaring weaknesses within . . . The areas which it has sought to correct include those of academic integrity, social betterment, discussions with non-Fundamentalists, and journalistic excellence in order to attract the religious, the respectable, and the intellectuals whatever their doctrinal convictions. Another area of study has been that of cooperation with all existing religious bodies, denominations, and groups for the purposes of infiltration, not separation. In fact many prominent men in this movement openly advocate closer ties with those whom old-time Fundamentalism tagged apostates and Liberals,” (1962, 21-22).

A New Mood

During the first half of the twentieth century, ― “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” meant roughly the same things. People might use either name to describe those who preserved and practiced the revivalist heritage of soul winning and maintained a traditional insistence on orthodoxy. After the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies, however, fundamentalism became increasingly prone to fracture. Pickering (1994) observes that evangelicalism was born with a particular “mood.” This particular mood was a marked dissatisfaction with a militant ministry philosophy. Pickering remarked that the militant excesses of some fundamentalists “disheartened younger men, and  . . . propelled them toward a softer and broader position,” (7-8).

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), founded in 1942, admits their organization was formed in response to a consensus that a new course must be charted, one that did not perpetuate the mistakes of excessive militantism:

“Evangelical Christianity, while remaining outside the cultural mainstream, established a thriving subculture, centered around engaging personalities and independent institutions. The downside to this emerging popular movement was that many radio preachers, Christian college presidents, and pulpiteers tended to speak and act independently with seeming little regard for the big picture. Instead of acting like brothers, they acted like rivals, weakening the possibilities of meaningful Christian witness” (“History”).

The schism was never over doctrines of the so-called “fundamentals.” The clashes between fundamentalism and evangelicalism frequently centered around the biblical parameters of ecclesiastical and personal separation. Most self-proclaimed fundamentalists today could sign the NAE creed! (“Statement of Faith”). It is not about doctrine, it is about a particular philosophy of ministry.

 Specific Causes of Schism

Rolland McCune (2004, 27-52) and Ernest Pickering (1994, 7-11) have both outlined their own views of the cause of this split. There is considerable overlap in their analysis;

 Picture1

There is simply no space to adequately cover all of these issues, but a brief survey of some of them will be attempted here.

Unity or Separation?

There was a general impetus to present the fundamentals of the faith in a positive, not simply defensive, way (McCune, 29). Evangelicals were more willing to forgive doctrinal differences for the sake of the Gospel. The NAE was formed in 1942, according to its formal history, “when a modest group of 147 people met in St. Louis with the hopes of reshaping the direction of evangelical Christianity in America.” Ockenga challenged Christians to put aside denominational differences for the sake of a more consolidated witness for Christ (NAE, “History”).

Well-known fundamentalist leaders such as John R. Rice and Bob Jones Sr. and Jr. initially supported the NAE, but eventually left over the organization’s different philosophy of separation. “These departures consolidated the leadership of the NAE in the hands of those with less restrictive convictions who wanted a softer stand and a far less militant direction,” (McCune, 31).

Fundamentalists could not bring themselves to endorse ecclesiastical unity to the same extent. The philosophy of evangelicalism seemed to be, “Be positive, not negative!” Pickering (1994) astutely observed, “while this statement has an emotional appeal to many, it is not a Biblical philosophy. Scripture is both positive and negative – it is for some things and against others,” (8).

These men continued to reject and oppose liberalism, but dropped militancy as a primary aspect of their identity. George Marsden argued that, “aspiring to be a broad coalition of theologically conservative Protestants, they usually tolerated some other theological differences, including Pentecostalism. Evangelism, as epitomized by Billy Graham, remained their central activity, although the forms of presentation now sometimes avoided accentuation of the offensiveness of the Gospel,” (as cited in Pickering, 1994, 11).

The Social Issue

Carl F. H. Henry penned a book in 1947, The Uneasy Conscience, in which he decried the lack of social involvement in fundamentalism.

“If the Bible believing Christian is on the wrong side of social problems such as war, race, class, labor, liquor, imperialism, etc., it is time to get over the fence to the right side. The church needs a progressive Fundamentalist with a social message (xx).

“Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by-passing suffering and humanity . . . by and large, the Fundamentalist opposition to societal ills has been more vocal than actual,” (2-3).

McCune argues that an anti-dispensational bias was at the root of this call for social consciousness (36). It would be over-reaching to suggest that dispensationalism was virtually synonymous with fundamentalism – it was not (McCune, 1996, 179-180). However, McCune argues that theology was the root of this renewed social activism; posttribulationism “emancipated them from dispensational pessimism and gave their societal activism biblical legitimacy,” (2004, 36-37, see especially footnote #42). Pickering agreed with McCune and tied evangelical theology directly to a repudiation of separation; “new evangelicals were not separatists and hence resisted the inevitable conclusions brought about by the acceptance of dispensational thought,” (1994, 17).

George Dollar (1962) argued for an altogether different philosophy of ministry;

“It is true that Fundamentalists have never turned their pulpits into forums for discussion of racism, labor, and slum clearance. It is true that most Fundamentalists have not made startling pronouncements on how to have world peace, how to integrate the races, and how to promote brotherhood in the midst of discord. The Fundamentalist has directed his attention to the salvation and sanctification of the individual—and indirectly to the alleviation of societal injustices,” (30).

This anti-dispensational bias converged with a general dissatisfaction with a militant philosophy – thus social activism came to typify evangelicalism as a movement.

Scholarship

Disenchanted fundamentalists also reacted against a perceived anti-intellectual bias among their brethren. “Narrow-mindedness” was repudiated. A contemporary critic, Douglas Walton, noted “the absence of intellectual respectability was a very sore spot . . . the result has been a striving to attain that status,” (1961, 26).

Pickering, in a 1964 review of a work by Ronald Nash advocating new evangelicalism, took issue with Nash’s pursuit to “recapture a place of respectability in the modern religious and academic world.” Contemporary critics seem to be unanimous in decrying the new evangelical’s quest for scholarship and prestige. Dollar wrote, “it would seem that the major prerequisite for joining the evangelical elite is the number of degrees one can brandish, the impressive list of schools attended, and the staggering account of authors read and quoted,” (1962, 26).

It is a profound mistake to suggest fundamentalism is anti-intellectual. Admittedly, there are some among us who espouse this view and they are certainly wrong. It is also incorrect to impugn the motives of evangelicals who are scholars. The problem arises when Christian scholarship stops being about serving the Church and starts being about respectability and prestige in the eyes of men. The new evangelicalism explicitly sought this prestige and therefore drew swift condemnation from contemporary fundamentalists.

 Bottom Line

An article appeared in the magazine Christian Life in March, 1956. It was a collaboration between many prominent advocates of the new evangelicalism. Entitled “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?,” it enumerated eight points about their new movement (Crum, et al. 16-19);

  1. A friendly attitude toward science
  2. A re-evaluation of the work of the Holy Spirit
  3. A move away from dispensationalism
  4. A more tolerant attitude toward varying views on eschatology
  5. Renewed emphasis on scholarship
  6. Renewed emphasis on social responsibility
  7. Re-examination of Biblical inspiration
  8. Willingness to dialogue with liberal theologians

Above all, this groundbreaking article advocated an altogether different philosophy of ministry. There was, initially, broad agreement on essentials of the faith, but new evangelicalism was different. It was a negation of “embarrassing” militancy for the sake of evangelism. “That’s why to the man on the street fundamentalism got to be a joke. As an ignorant, head-in-the-sand, contentious approach to the Christian faith, it seemed as out-dated as high-button shoes,” (16).

The roots of historic evangelicalism emphasized unity over separation and sought to engage in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a distinctly different “attitude” or “mood” than fundamentalism. Any thinking Christian simply must grasp this point – it is not doctrine which separates the two camps; it is a philosophy of ministry.

The next article in this series will examine the concept of secondary separation, surveying the views of a variety of fundamentalists on the issue.

Works Cited

Crum, T.B., Erb, P., Grounds, V., Henry, C.F.H., Horton, S.M., Kalland, L., Kantzer, K., . . . Young, W.C. Is Evangelical Theology Changing? Christian Life (March 1956), 16-19.

Dollar, George W. Dangers in New Evengelicalism. Central Bible Quarterly, CNEQ 05:2 (Summer 1962), 21-32.

Henry, Carl F. H. (1947). The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

McCune, Rolland. Doctrinal Non-Issues in Historic Fundamentalism. Detroit Baptist Theological Journal 1 (Fall 1996), 171-185. http://www.dbts.edu/journals/1996_2/nonissue.pdf. Accessed 18APR13.

McCune, Rolland. (2004). Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism. Greenville, SC: Ambassador.

National Association of Evangelicals. History. http://www.nae.net/about-us/history/62. Accessed 15APR13.

National Association of Evangelicals. Statement of Faith. http://www.nae.net/about-us/statement-of-faith. Accessed 15APR13.

Ockenga, Harold J. (1976). Foreward. In Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (11). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Pfaffe, Donald. Views of New Evangelicalism. Central Bible Quarterly, CNEQ 02:2 (Summer 1959).

Pickering, Ernest. Book Reviews. Central Bible Quarterly, CNEQ 07:2 (Summer 1964).

Pickering, Ernest. (1994). The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evengelicalism. Greenville, NC: BJU.

Walton, Dennis M. An Identification of New Evangelicalism. Central Bible Quarterly, CENQ 04:3 (Fall 1961), 9-38.

A Brief Look at So-Called “Secondary Separation”

Slide1

Introduction

The concept and practice of secondary separation is a divisive issue within fundamentalism. It is appropriate now, more than ever, to examine the matter in light of Scripture. What follows is an all-too brief survey of several respected fundamentalist leaders of the past 50 years on this very matter. Their views are briefly presented and analyzed, and some conclusions will be drawn at the end. Hopefully, this modest study will edify the body and exhort fundamentalists to be captive to the Scriptures, wherever it may lead.

At the outset, a brief definition of fellowship must be offered so we’re all on the same page going forward. Loosely, “fellowship” is defined as a union for spiritual purposes. More precisely, a partnering of individuals, churches, organizations or any other group for the purpose of promoting Biblical truth, based on a common spiritual foundation. Therefore, when we discuss a separation among brethren, we are really pondering the question, “With whom or what can I legitimately enter into a spiritual partnership with?” (Oats)

What in the World is “Secondary Separation?”

Ernest Pickering

“A secondary separatist would be one who will not cooperate with (1) apostates; or (2) evangelical believers who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them; or, as employed by some (3) fundamentalists who fellowship with those in the previous category,” (1979, 217).

Rolland McCune:

“Secondary separation” is the refusal to cooperate with erring and disobedient Christians who do not adhere to primary separation and other vital doctrines,” (2004, 146).

Douglas McLachlan:

“Familial separation is the unfortunate necessity of functional severance from members of the family who are true Christians, when doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries,” (1993, 132).

John R. Rice:

“Do you see that since this secondary separation is an artificial, man-made doctrine, in every case it must depend on one’s personal, variable judgment? How much better to follow the simple rules in the Bible. Since there is no clear-cut Bible teaching on the question, secondary separation is a manufactured doctrine that leads to great confusion. And, sad to say, it also leads to passing judgment on Christian brethren, judging people’s motives, and this leads to division and strife among people who really are serving the same Saviour, who believe the same Bible, who preach the same Gospel, and both seek to win souls. That is unfortunate and, I think, unscriptural,” (1974, 228).

After seeing what respected fundamentalist leaders have had to say on the matter, my own working definition of so-called “secondary separation” is therefore offered:

“A secondary separatist is a Christian who will not cooperate with apostates, (2) true Christians who aid and abet the apostates by their continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them, or (3) true Christians, when a Scripturally defensible claim of doctrinal or ethical compromise creeps into their lives or ministries.”

This is a very concise definition, and one all fundamentalists would do well to adopt. Many would disagree, and I believe they are wrong. John R. Rice, as we will see, draws his circle of fellowship around the fundamentals of the faith and allows very wide latitude within this boundary. His views will surprise many, especially fundamentalists of the Sword of the Lord vintage. 

John R. Rice

Rice was strongly against secondary separation. His primary focus was revivals and soul-winning, and his theology on separation reflects this. For Rice, the threshold of orthodoxy was the fundamentals of the faith – period. Rice would accept any Christian so long as he espoused (182, 224):

1. Faith and salvation in Christ

2. The Bible

3. The virgin birth

4. Blood atonement

5. The deity, and

6. Bodily resurrection of Christ

I have chosen to spend a great deal of time on Rice because I believe he speaks for a great many frustrated fundamentalists on this matter.

“The important thing is, is a man for Christ and the Bible? If he is, and he makes no divisive issues and strife, then fellowship with him. So the Scripture teaches. That means I can fellowship with some who fellowship with some they ought not to fellowship with,” (182).

“[W]e have an obligation to have brotherly love and kindness and charity toward those who are weak in the faith, but just so they are ‘in the faith,’ ” (224).

Rice would likely separate from fundamentalists who were in favor of secondary separation, citing Rom 14:1 as support.

“Listen, you are not to run with anybody if it means quarreling and strife and division and hair pulling and hell raising. Say to that one, ‘God bless you, but go your way, and I will go mine.’ If there is going to be strife and no real unity and no real heartfelt joy and results for God, then sometimes we cannot cooperate with Christians who make strife over minor issues. They are weak in the faith and they make an insistent division over it,” (184).

Rice decried undue obsession with division at the expense of evangelism. Fighting modernism was not Rice’s main priority – evangelism was.

“The tendency to go to extremes appears in the matter of defending the faith and standing up for Christ and the Bible. Those of us who would defend the faith and expose false prophets are constantly urged to attack good Christians, to spend our time and energy in fighting good Christians who may not agree with us on some matters or may be wrong on lesser matters but are born-again, Bible-believing, soul-winning Christians. We have followed a simple course down through the years. We are against infidels and false teachers. We are for good Christians,” (196).

Rice’s most passionate plea was for Christians to have perspective. The great division, he warned, is between those who are saved and those who are lost. “Let us face it honestly: Are we going to fight for God’s people and against Satan’s people? That is what we ought to be,” (197).

 Rice’s Critique of Secondary Separation

riceRice’s guiding verses on this matter were Ps 119:63 and Rom 14:1 (221). He outright denied that Scripture teaches separation from brethren. “No, there is nothing in the Bible like that,” (224). He saw separation as an “all or nothing” proposition. He did not allow for the different “levels” of separation that Ernest Pickering wrote about, which we will examine shortly. Rice defined the doctrine as follows:

“But what is called ‘secondary separation’ means not only must the Christian be separated from liberals, modernists, unbelievers, but he is to separate from anybody who does not separate enough from unbelievers,” (218).

Rice charged that Christians are commanded to fellowship and love other Christians (Jn 13:34-35), and this very love, not division, should guide Christians in this matter. Fractious, subjective battles among real Christians divide the body and hinder the cause of Christ.

“But still the weight of the Scripture here is tremendous. We should love other Christians as Christ loved us. Our love for others ought to be such an obvious fact that people will know Christians are different. So only a very serious matter ought ever hinder the fellowship of good Christians who love each other,” (222).

Most fundamentalists who uphold separation from brethren point to 2 Thess 3:6-15 as support. Their arguments will be presented shortly, but I ask Christians to examine the passage for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Rice expressly denied that 2 Thess 3:6-15 teaches secondary separation, labeling this “a clearly biased interpretation,” (226). He maintained it merely taught that the disorder in question was eating without working (224-225).

Going back to his call for unity for the sake of evangelism, Rice protested that secondary separation resulted in arbitrary decisions. “Where can one draw the line? Unless he takes the plain Bible position of separation from the unsaved and the restrained fellowship with Christians who live in gross sin, one will make subjective decisions according to his own preference,” (226-228). Fred Moritz (1994) dismisses such objections as a “smokescreen,” and calls for biblical discernment on the matter (84).

Finally, Rice appealed to examples of other Godly fundamentalists to bolster his case, men who did participate in inter-denominational fellowship for the sake of the Gospel, including Moody, Billy Sunday, R.A. Torrey, Bob Jones, Sr., H.A. Ironside, W.B. Riley, Bob Schuler and J. Frank Norris (228-234).

Rice’s work on separation was published in the midst of his very public falling out with Bob Jones, Jr. Any honest Christian will admit that views change with perspective, as hard-won knowledge, wisdom and experience are brought to bear upon tough issues. Perhaps Rice would have taken a harder line on separation earlier in his ministry. Regardless, a position must be evaluated in light of Scripture.

Rice’s plea for unity is appealing, but incorrect. He errs by failing to acknowledge different levels of fellowship and ignores Scripture which clearly teach separation from brethren. In this respect, Rice epitomized a particular fundamentalist mindset which is antithetical to militant separatism. George Marsden (1991) remarked;

“Antedating fundamentalist antimodernism was the evangelical revivalist tradition out of which fundamentalism had grown. The overriding preoccupation of this tradition was the saving of souls. Any responsible means to promote this end was approved,” (67).

Rice’s was a “big tent” fundamentalism, and given the nature of his revivalist ministry, perhaps it is understandable Rice was so inclusive about doctrine. He was still mistaken.

 Is There Such Thing as “Secondary Separation?”

 There is a remarkable consensus that the phrase “secondary separation” is un-Biblical. Moritz maintains the grounds of any separation are principles based upon the holiness of God (72). McCune (2004) likewise repudiates the concept of “degrees” of separation (147). Charles Woodbridge (1971) was particularly offended by the term; he called any distinction of degrees of separation a “deadly menace,” (12).[1]  To him, separation extended to any relationship in which disobedience to God is involved (10).

“The Bible knows nothing whatever about “degrees” of separation from evil! The Christian is to remove himself as far as it is humanly possible from all forms of evil, whether they be peripheral, pivotal or relatively ancillary. To hate evil means to hate it in all its forms–its ancestry, its immediate presence and its progeny!” (11). 

What is a Disobedient Brother?

This is the very heart of the matter, isn’t it? Woodbridge (15) declared, “churches or schools which have become “theologically unclean” must be separated from! (2 Cor 6:17). Well, what is the definition of a disobedient brother? McCune, following Mark Sidwell (1998, 56) has perhaps the best definition:

“A professing Christian who deliberately refuses to change some aspect of his conduct to the clear teaching of Scripture is a disobedient brother,” (148).[2]

moritzMcLachlan (132-133) echoes this point, noting we can differ over matters of preference, but not divide. Issues must not be superficial. “If there is no clear cut, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ we shouldn’t judge and neither should we separate (Rom 14:10-13).” Fred Moritz has produced perhaps the most compact, yet comprehensive analysis of this matter from Scripture. All Christians should examine the texts below for themselves to reach their own conclusions. Moritz’s broad categories of disobedient brethren are as follows:

The Sinning Brother – Mt 18:15-17 (74-75):

The grounds for any separation is sin, not some trite issue. Christ does not differentiate between classes of sin. Separation is a last resort, and only then when reconciliation has failed. Moritz also cites Gal 5:19-21, specifically separation from brethren who indulge in doctrinal or moral heresy (81).

The Immoral & Unequally Yoked Brother – 1 Cor 5:1-11 (75-77):

Paul instructed the Corinthian church to separate from Christian brethren engaged in specific classes of sin (1 Cor 5:10). “[T]his passage commands separation from a disobedient brother on both theological and moral grounds,” (76-77).

The principle of separation from Christian brethren is precisely the same as it is with unbelievers. “Should a fellow Christian insist on remaining unequally yoked in such a way, the local church or believer must separate from him,” (77). Sin is the threshold, and God’s holiness the principle, of separation from brethren. “The local church is to be holy in doctrine and lifestyle,” (77).

The Lazy and Disobedient Brother – 2 Thess 3:6-15 (77-80):

The “tradition received” from Paul included the body of faith, specifically the entire contents of 1 Thess, of which “work” is only one issue (79). Moritz appeals to the example of 1 Cor 5, where Paul uses the pressing issue of sexual immorality to expand the application of separation to all manner of sins. 

The disobedient brother’s lifestyle reflects poorly on the holiness of God (80). “This passage clearly teaches separation from brethren in Christ who are openly and willfully disobedient to the written, revealed Word of God and is not limited in its application to the lazy brother only,” (79). McLachlan agrees; “The passage does not restrict us to such a narrow or limited application. The particular event in this chapter may be indolence in view of Christ’s coming, but the general principle is disobedience to the whole of the Christian message as revealed in Scripture,” (135-136).

McLachlan is quick to emphasize that reconciliation is the goal of this separation. It is disgraceful in flavor (2 Thess 3:6, 14). Christians must withdraw from a disobedient brother, but never with a spirit of superiority. “This kind of shaming is designed to humble him, disgrace him, and hopefully alert him to the catastrophic consequences of refusal to pay heed to the Word of God . . . So while the immediate flavor is disgraceful the ultimate objective is beneficial,” (135). 

The separation is gentle in its spirit. Christians must be relentless to defend the Word, but never heartless. “There are always those who are overly zealous to point out the faults of others and who seem to relish drastic responses,” (135).

The Divisive Brother – Titus 3:9-11 (Moritz, 80).

This includes separation from brethren who promote division. Moritz explained that the Greek behind the KJV translation “heretick” in Titus 3:10 refers to a self-willed opinion which is substituted for submission to the power of the truth. “Paul identifies the divisive man who, after the pattern of Acts 20:30 and 3 Jn 9, seeks for prominence in order to gain a following.” A heretic promotes a peculiar doctrine and is divisive in doing it. William Mounce (2000) referring to this divisive doctrine as “vacuous,” (453).

 Parameters of Fellowship

Moritz remarked, “All ecclesiastical separation in the NT is on the local church level.  It involves the church not working with unbelievers (2 Jn 8, 9) or separating from professing believers in sin (1 Cor 5).  It must extend to personal fellowship between professing believers and application on the inter-church and interdenominational levels,” (personal communication, 15MAY13). In this vein, Ernest Pickering’s concept of different “levels” of fellowship is simply excellent, and a great help to any separatist (218). They are: pickering

  1. Personal Christian fellowship between individual believers
  2. Local church fellowship
  3. Inter-church fellowship
  4. Interdenominational fellowship

We each engage in these types of fellowship regularly, but there are obvious limits to cooperative fellowship depending who we’re talking to. “It is impossible to have harmonious, working fellowship with all believers at all of these levels. Doctrinal considerations govern certain types of fellowship,” (219).

McLachlan asks us to consider whether a brother’s deviation is an isolated event or a continual pattern. “All of us, I think, would prefer to be judged by the ebb and flow of our lives and ministries rather than by the eddies, which seem at times to move against the main current,” (133).

McLachlan poses numerous questions for the separatist to consider (133):

  1. Is the position shift permanent or transient?
  2. Is the shift a major change in direction or a fleeing moment of experimentation?
  3. Is it an appeal for a new and un-Biblical theology, or merely an attempt at discovering a new and functional methodology, which might on the surface appear unconventional but is not unnecessarily un-Biblical?

Separation is a necessary complement to evangelism. Christians are commanded to be holy (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16) in order to show Christ to a lost world. It is this concern which informs Scriptural principles of separation from brethren.

“If the purity of the bride of Christ is not at stake, then we shall have to discipline ourselves against judgmental or pharisaical attitudes and actions toward our brothers with whom we disagree. On the other hand, if a specific behavioral pattern or belief system has the potential to defile the bride, then we shall have to love our brother enough to confront him Biblically . . . so that Christ’s cause does not suffer loss before the watching world,” (McLachlan, 133).

 A Subjective Sinkhole?

Critics frequently charge so-called “secondary separation” with being little more than a subjective sinkhole. Moritz is quite correct to dismiss this as a smokescreen. Pickering’s words are particularly relevant here:

“First of all, it is very clear that no direct scriptural teaching will cover every problem we face. As in so many areas of Christian thought and life, we must determine our practice by the application of doctrines, principles and emphases that are found in the Bible. The exercise of personal judgment, in the light of known divine truths, is required. It is this element of separatism which non-separatists often attack . . . Yes, it is dangerous in the sense that not all will come up with the right answers and make the right judgments. Some will go to extremes. Nevertheless, it is a privilege given by God to each believer – the right of private judgment and soul liberty in things divine,” (222-223).

There is indeed an element of subjectivism at work. How could there not be? However, it is not nearly the sinkhole critics like John Rice claim it is. The chart below may assist brethren in making some practical applications in this regard (Oats):

categories of separation chart

The Bottom Line

 Edward Hiscox (1893), in his enduring work on Baptist polity, had this to say:

“Nothing can be considered a just and reasonable cause for the withdrawal of fellowship, and exclusion of the Church, except it be clearly forbidden in, or manifestly contrary to, the Scriptures, and what would have prevented the reception of the individual into the Church had it existed at the time and been persisted in,” (180).

Hiscox’s was writing about ecclesiastical separation in the context of local church discipline, but his words are perfectly applicable here. A faithful, Biblical separatist considering separation from a Christian brother must subject an issue to the following litmus tests:

1. Is the Christian brother aiding or abetting apostates by continued organizational or cooperative alignment with them? If so, the faithful Christian must separate.

2. Is there a Scripturally defensible claim of doctrinal or ethical compromise in the life or ministry of the Christian brother? Let the honest separatist consider the following:

3. Is the issue at hand an explicit teaching, an implicit teaching, a principle or a mere personal preference from Scripture?

Separation complements evangelism; it is done to glorify God and obey His command to imitate His holiness in our lives (Eph 5:1; 1 Pet 1:14-16). The faithful Christian must prayerfully consider whether separation is truly warranted if the issue is not an explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture. Christians will inevitably differ on application of certain issues; some may even shift positions upon reflection. It is never easy to re-evaluate heretofore sacred “flash point” issues, particularly in light of Scripture. It occasionally goes against ingrained expectations. A fundamentalist, however, cannot forsake this responsibility and remain a Biblical separatist.

Bibliography

Hiscox, Edward. Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1893. Reprinted with no date.

Marsden George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

McCune, Rolland. Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism.Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004.

McLachlan, Douglas. Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. Independence: AACS, 1993.

Moritz, Fred. Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation. Greenville: BJU, 1994.

Mounce, William D. “Pastoral Epistles,” vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Oats, Larry. American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Watertown: Maranatha Baptist Seminary, 2012.

Pickering, Ernest. Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church. Schaumberg: Regular Baptist Press, 1979.

Rice, John R. Come Out or Stay In?Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1974.

Woodbridge, Charles. Biblical Separation. Halifax, Canada: People’s Gospel Hour, 1971.


[1] Charles Woodbridge, Biblical Separation (Halifax, Canada: People’s Gospel Hour, 1971), 12. Retrieved electronically without page numbers – the pagination here is mine.

[2] McCune’s quotation from Sidwell is longer than the one I included here.