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


The parenthetical portion in the title of this post is to make it clear that I realize that it is impossible for us to really stand outside of ourselves and our situation completely. I have spent my Christian life in the context of fundamentalist churches and schools, and I unapologetically committed to fundamentalist beliefs, and I realize that my perspective is affected by this. All of us, because of our backgrounds, need to work hard to make sure that we are not assuming things that we need to actually prove. I hope we all recognize this.

I am not, though, inclined to think that we are so conditioned by our experiences and personal histories that we cannot look at the Word carefully and have it shape (and reshape) us. That’s what we constantly need. The Word must have full and functional authority over us.

I believe we have much to learn from history, but we need to view those lessons as descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, we see what people did, not necessarily what we must do. Prescription comes from the Bible, not fundamentalist or new evangelical history. We can’t afford to be historically ignorant or live as if truth was born today, but we also must justify our decisions on the basis of Scripture, not merely on traditions received from our elders. The split between fundamentalists and new evangelicals, after all, wasn’t like a feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. It was division produced by very clear differences regarding the obligations Scripture places on us to safeguard the gospel. If we separate from a professing brother, it must be rooted in something more significant than the fact that he comes from the wrong family line.

Try this thought experiment. Imagine that you are a missionary church planter in Africa. As God graciously blesses clear gospel preaching with conversions, a church is formed, then another, a third, and so on. As the work multiplies, men are trained to pastor and plant new churches. How would you teach these men and churches to practice separation for the sake of the gospel in this context? None of the big names, well known schools, or movements from America really matter over here, so your inherited taxonomy isn’t very helpful. To talk about separating from new evangelicals wouldn’t make sense to these godly and gifted African brothers or the churches. What would you do?

Here’s what I would do—teach them these three obligations as the base line for ecclesiastical fellowship and cooperation, then focus their attention on the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission for the glory of God. Since the Great Commission calls for discipleship and reproduction, I’d encourage them to partner with those who are likeminded in matters of faith and practice.

Maybe this is too simplistic. I don’t think so. I think it will work better than most of what I see happening. Separation is not the end. It serves the gospel because the gospel serves God’s glory (2 Cor 4:4-6, 15). Personally, I think we need to recover this kind of gospel-driven simplicity on the matter of separation. If they’ve denied or compromised the gospel, then we say no to cooperation and fellowship. If they’ve not denied and are not compromising the gospel, then the possibility of cooperation and fellowship exists. Since we have a clear task to carry out in obedience to Jesus Christ, then wisdom calls us to join with those who are likeminded so that we can pull together in the same direction. Applying this isn’t easy, but is fairly simple.

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