Preserving Movements or Practicing Truth?

Although some seem to suspect sinister motives for my writing about separation, my central concern is that faithfulness to the biblical principles of separation demands fresh application of those principles to the present challenges we face. One of the reasons that I’ve been quite vocal about not allowing separatism to be reduced to mere labels is because it is not helpful to biblical practice. We should separate, if we must, because the Christian faith is at stake, not on the basis of ecclesiastical label or tradition.

Real life examples, as I’ve mentioned before, can be helpful, but they can be dangerous too. I’m going to risk a little danger for the purpose of trying to demonstrate a point I’ve tried to make several times over few years.

The American Council of Christian Churches recently published a resolution which was entitled “Resolution on Together for the Gospel” and something they said it in illustrates my concern. First, though, let me say two things that I believe are important to get or you’ll miss my point: (1) my views on separation are very similar to the ACCC’s and I have no problem with this group and actually appreciate the clarity with which they speak; and (2) I too have expressed concern about the weakness of the T4G affirmation and denials as it relates to separation (9Marks asked me to write on this and I did so here). So, I have no problem with the ACCC, with the ACCC drafting a resolution critical of T4G on the issue of separation, or with the ACCC expressing concern about cooperation between the “conservative evangelicals associated” with T4G and “some Fundamentalist institutions.”

Now that we got that out of the way, here’s the portion of the resolution that I’d like to draw to your attention:

This new movement, then, follows previous error in neglecting the Biblical doctrine of separation that has always marked Fundamentalism. Sadly, some Fundamentalist institutions have begun to welcome as co-laborers some conservative evangelicals associated with efforts like Together for the Gospel. If such trends continue, what has been known as historic Fundamentalism, with its emphasis on Biblical separation, personally and ecclesiastically, will be seriously eroded if not rendered irrelevant.

Reread that last sentence again, because that’s where I want to focus our attention. I would contend that the argument that we must be against T4G because it will accelerate the erosion and irrelevance of Fundamentalism is actually symptomatic of Fundamentalism’s erosion and increasing irrelevance. While probably not deliberate, the essence of this argument is that we don’t do that because it hurts the movement. This, from my vantage point, is a classic case of people talking to themselves inside an echo chamber. For people who care about the movement, the resolution may carry some weight, but it means virtually nothing to those who think (a) there is no movement at this point and (b) separation decisions must be made on biblical principle, not membership in the movement.

I keep beating this drum, but it really does illustrate the point which I am trying to make. Because a man like Jack Schaap loosely holds the membership card, it’s okay for men to go speak for him or speak along side of him in a conference. Because a man like Mark Dever does not hold the membership card, it’s not okay for someone to invite him to speak or speak along side of him in a conference. Which of these two men represents a greater threat to the fundamentals of the Faith and to the health of the church? If one is contaminated by some of his contacts and friendships, why is the other not? If one contaminates others by contact with him, why does the other one not do this?

Here’s part of the problem for us separatists—where is the resolution about the Baptist Friends Conference? How ironic is it that a speaker from that conference happened to be speaking at the ACCC meeting in which this resolution was presented? How disappointing that a conference emphasizing the next generation sends such confusing messages to them!

I might be wrong, but I think the only way you can miss this kind of glaring inconsistency is if you have elevated the preservation of a “movement” over the truths which are supposed to be the animating principles of that movement. Personally, I care too much about biblical separation to watch it get discredited by reducing it to party affiliation. If groups like the Baptist Friends and beyond all claim the title Fundamentalist, then worrying about the erosion or irrelevance of Fundamentalism because of T4G is trying to close the barn door after the horses are already gone.

Now, if you want to discuss and debate the meaning and application of biblical texts regarding separation and fellowship that would be a welcome development. In fact, we must do this because there really is no consensus on the Fundamentalist position at this stage of the game. Look at how many divergent and conflicting groups claim they represent pure Fundamentalism—each group has its own set of “ancient landmarks” that it claims should not be removed.

Don’t forget, I’ve got concerns about T4G too (read the article I wrote!). My concern, however, isn’t about the erosion and irrelevance of Fundamentalism. My concern is that we must articulate fully and apply carefully what the Bible says about how believers and assemblies should respond to: (1) those who deny the Faith; (2) those who extend Christian recognition and fellowship to those who deny the Faith; and (3) those who obscure the distinction between the church and the world. These are the standards by which T4G as a whole and its principal players should be examined. And these are the standards by which all professing Fundamentalists should be examined as well.

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