This is the final installment of the ACCC’s The Bible Doctrine of Separation: A White Paper of the American Council of Christian Churches (previous posts are here, here, and here). Please go to our store page for ordering information to order a hard copy.
A Fundamentalist Practice
So once we have decided that we would rather be a Micaiah than a Jehoshaphat, and we begin to feel that intense New Testament emotion for the cause of ecclesiastical separation, what do we do with the questions we have to answer week after week about from whom we must separate and from whom we must not? The history of fundamentalism provides a helpful template for answering that question.
Fundamentalism was born as a multidenominational call to the theological importance of the Bible doctrine of separation from apostasy.13 Because of its multidenominational birth, fundamentalists from the beginning had to discern the difference between different levels of theological importance when it comes to Bible doctrines. There are weightier and less-weighty matters of the law. Simply put, fundamentalists believe that we can have a large measure of fellowship unified on the weighty matters of the law while we agree to disagree on the less-weighty matters of the law. Where we disagree on a weighty matter of the law, we must separate.
Having inherited this godly set of parameters for fellowship, we can simply ask the question, “Is the Bible doctrine of ecclesiastical separation a weighty matter of the Law?” This study has demonstrated from Scripture that the yes answer our fundamentalist fathers taught us is correct. The Bible doctrine of separation is one of the great camels of the faith, not a mere gnat. Given that, with each new question of fellowship that arises, the fundamentalist pastor would do well to ask those involved two simple questions: (1) “Where do you hold your formal church membership?” and (2) “What are your convictions regarding ecclesiastical separation, and how do these regulate your ministry?”
The answers this questioner seeks are those that support a complete understanding of the theological importance and biblical content of the Bible doctrine of separation as outlined above. Where he senses that he is communicating with a Micaiah, who feels the New Testament passion for this responsibility, the answers are even better. Fundamentalists never mitigate the weighty matters of the law in their willingness to fellowship, and the Bible doctrine of separation is a weighty matter of the law. Where we cannot agree on it, we cannot fellowship in a Christ-honoring way.
The Separatist’s Care for Christian Unity
John 17 contains our Lord’s prayer for His people, and two requests pervade this prayer. He prays that they would be one (v. 11), and He prays that they might be sanctified in truth (vv. 17, 19). This unity and sanctity constitute Christian consecration. In the answer to this prayer, oneness and separation are companions. Separation is the necessary guardian of Christian unity, just as separation from all others is a commitment necessary to the unity of a couple’s marriage. This unified sanctity glorifies Christ (v. 10), and it encourages faith in a faithless world (v. 21). It is when believers walk together in the light that they have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7-10). The place of sanctified unity is the place of the Lord’s blessing (Psalm 133), but when iniquity is allowed to abound in violation of biblical separation, the unifying love of many grows cold (Matt. 24:12).
In the cause of Christian unity, the separatist believer must be committed to a readiness to forgive (Philem. 10-20), a spirit of humility (Phil. 2:1-11), the love that gives and sacrifices (1 John 4:7-21), diligence in this regard (Eph. 4:3), a willingness to resolve conflict (Phil. 4:2-3), a mutual commitment to obey God’s Word (Col. 3:15-16), controlled liberty (1 Cor. 10:14-33), and a proper respect for spiritual leadership and authority (Eph. 4:11-13).
The separatist will speak the truth in love that the body of Christ might “grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). At the center of his principled application of the Bible doctrine of separation, the faithful believer will long for the genuinely sanctified unity our Lord prayed for so fervently, and he will eagerly anticipate the day when that prayer shall be answered in full.
13 See the 2011 ACCC resolution, “Resolution on the Multi-denominational Heritage of Biblical Fundamentalism.”