How not to make an argument for separation


While the blog was down, I posted this over at SharperIron, but also wanted to put it up here.

Recently, Pastor Tod Brainard has published two articles in which he addresses the issue of ecclesiastical connections between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. The two articles overlap in argument, and portions of his arguments have also been passed along by David Cloud. I receive The Projector via mail, so I read his article a couple of weeks ago when it arrived. Earlier today I had someone pass along the Cloud email, then I noticed that a blog based in the toxic state of Illinois also published a modified version of the article. The article is pretty weak in general, but one particular argument he makes serves as an illustration of how we separatists often hurt ourselves when making our case.

In trying to show that Mark Dever is a compromiser, Brainard writes:

Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and R. Albert Mohler were contributors to a document issued Together for the Gospel (T4G) which lists the imperatives of the movement. they write: ‘We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or DIVISION without betraying the Gospel.’

Who can argue that the church should accept discrimination and racial prejudice, but to say that ‘division’ betrays the Gospel is to say exactly what the New Evangelicals said in the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s. Division over error is how the Gospel (which by the way includes the whole of Scriptures, not just salvation truth) is kept pure and protected for God’s glory, yet we are led to believe that ‘division’ betrays the Gospel. Unity at all costs is the heart throb of New Evangelicalism” (Tod Brainard, “The Convergence of Fundamentalism and Non-Separatist Evangelicalism,” The Projector, Fall 2010, pp. 6, 9).

Brainard’s completely misinterprets the T4G document. This statement (“We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or DIVISION without betraying the Gospel” [emphasis added by Brainard but not acknowledged]) does not in any way mean that they reject any and all divisions. In fact, when Brainard himself concedes that discrimination and racial prejudice are wrong, he is acknowledging that the statement is addressing racial issues, but for some reason he separates division from those other two components and makes it mean something other than what the statement says. They wrote about ”racial prejudice, discrimination, and division” (emphasis added to highlight that the the word racial modifies all three).  They are talking about racial prejudice, racial discrimination, and racial division. Oddly, Brainard recognizes that racial applies to discrimination, but somehow he feels justified in separating it from division.

This was an argument in search of a place to land that found it by dislocating a word from its context. That statement had nothing to do with ecclesiastical separation at all. It was about race relations. In case you think I am being uncharitable in my assessment, here’s what the affirmation portion that is joined to the denial states:

We affirm that God calls his people to display his glory in the reconciliation of the nations within the Church, and that God’s pleasure in this reconciliation is evident in the gathering of believers from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. We acknowledge that the staggering magnitude of injustice against African-Americans in the name of the Gospel presents a special opportunity for displaying the repentance, forgiveness, and restoration promised in the Gospel. We further affirm that evangelical Christianity in America bears a unique responsibility to demonstrate this reconciliation with our African-American brothers and sisters.

Nothing there about separation. Brainard imports that concept into the statement so he can score a point. But it’s a total straw man and straw man arguments only serve to reinforce already held conclusions.

This is my concern. I believe there are great biblical arguments for separation, but when people make arguments like this it diminishes the case for genuine separatism by making separatists look ignorant and/or dishonest. I am fine with having those who reject the Gospel think I am ignorant for embracing it, but I am pretty sure that there are no crowns to be gained by failing to read properly and handle people’s words honestly. We can do much better than this kind of stuff.

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