Starting at the Right Spot (or at least close to it) Part I


My goal through these posts on gospel-driven separation has been to lay out what I believe are the biblical obligations regarding separation that are explicitly stated in or implied by clear biblical texts. I’ve tried to summarize these obligations with the following three statements:

  • For the sake of the purity of the gospel, believers and churches must separate from those who deny essential doctrines of the faith (Jude 3; 2 John 9-11; Rom 16:17).
  • For the sake of the clarity of the gospel, believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Rom 16:17; Phil 3:17-19; cf. 2 Thess 3:6-15).
  • For the sake of the credibility of the gospel, believers and churches must strive to reflect God’s holiness and to live differently than those who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:15-16; Eph 4:17-19).

It is important to note the difference between what I am calling obligations and other decisions regarding the extent of our ministerial cooperation and fellowship. My understanding of these obligations is that they are necessary for our church’s obedience to Jesus Christ—we don’t have any other option if we desire to be obedient to our Lord. We cannot extend Christian fellowship to those who deny fundamental doctrines of the Faith. We cannot ignore the disobedience of those who do so. We cannot blur the line between the church and the world.

Once these obligations have been met, though, each local assembly is free to determine the extent of its external relationships and participation in inter-church fellowship and cooperation. Because this kind of fellowship and cooperation is voluntary (i.e., it can’t be forced on the local church), local churches should make these decisions consistent with their theological and ministerial commitments rather than operate from a lowest common denominator approach. Each local assembly, because of its peculiar context and condition, will have particular concerns related to its health and mission, and, so, will need to examine things so as to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:10).

By coming to this subject from the angle that I have chosen, I’ve attempted to work from Scripture to our contemporary ecclesiastical context. My desire is to know what God expects of His people in all times and all places. Once I have some clarity about that, then I can prayerfully and carefully apply it to the actual time and place in which I live. The proper flow, I believe, is from timeless principle to timely application.

One of the concerns that I have is that some (perhaps many) seem to work at this from the opposite direction. They look at the current ecclesiastical landscape which they have inherited, then to the Scriptures in search of texts to defend or debunk the existing boundary markers (depending on whether they want to retain or change the status quo). One side keeps adding items to list of what qualifies one as a fundamentalist while the other side keeps paring the qualifications down. The problem with both, from my perspective, is that they are focused on identity in relation to the movement. Each has its idealized version of when fundamentalism looked best and then defines what a fundamentalist is according to that ideal.

I’ve already gone on record stating that I don’t believe there is a fundamentalist movement at this time (here and here), so I’ll not retread that ground other than to point out that this undercuts both of these approaches. The current fragmentation inevitably results in identity markers that are very provincial. The deeper problem, though, is that both approaches run the risk of elevating historic identity markers over biblical ones. Fundamentalist was a label developed in response to a specific historical context and conflict, but biblical Christianity existed before that label and will exist after it has faded. To the degree that some who profess to be fundamentalists have actually drifted from biblical Christianity the label has been tarnished and that raises questions about the value of fighting over who can legitimately wear the label. My contention is that we’d be better served by looking at what God expects of us, and then find cooperation and fellowship with those who are likewise committed to meeting, by God’s grace, those expectations. It’s the content on the inside, not the label on the outside that really matters.

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