The following message was delivered by Pastor John E. Ashbrook at the 57th annual convention of the American Council of Christian Churches in Monett, Missouri, October 27-29, 1998. This is the first of three installments of his message.
I am delighted to be a part of a convention whose theme is, “Flying the Flag of Fundamentalism. One July morning in 1944 I stood at the base of a flag pole with two other navy recruits to put up the flag. They were the flag detail. I was the bugler. The veteran chief in charge of the detail asked, “Have you men ever raised the flag before?” We replied, “No, Sir.” He said, “Let me give you some instructions. When you raise that flag in the morning hurry it up that pole and make it spank the pulley at the top like you cannot wait to see your country’s flag fly. In the evening, inch it down that pole like you cannot bear to see your country’s flag come down.” Then, looking at me, he said, “Bugler, when you play morning colors put a thrill in your horn and at night make that bugle weep.” I feel that way about the flag of fundamentalism.
Many who call themselves fundamentalists cannot use that word without an apology for the “harsh fundamentalists” of early days, who supposedly were very rough men. I grew up in a Pastor’s home in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus was a railroad hub, and many of the pioneers of fundamentalism stopped at our table. I remember Carl McIntire of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Merrill T. McPherson and Nye Langmade of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, Robert Ketcham of the General Association of Regular Baptists, Harlee Bordeaux, a previous General Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, and Harland O’Dell. I sat at our table and heard those men pray, argue their convictions, and conduct themselves as spiritual men. They told us kids preachers’ jokes and asked what we wanted to do in life. They exhorted us to serve the Lord. Men of firm conviction they were. Vindictive and harsh they were not. I am happy, with them, to fly the flag of fundamentalism.
The Line Fence
I want to speak to you this evening on, “The Biblical Truth of Separation.” I spent my boyhood summers on my grandfather’s farm. Farmers were always careful to maintain the line fences which separated from the neighbors. The doctrine of biblical separation is the line fence between belief and unbelief and between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism.
A Biblical Prescription
As we study our subject we will arrange our thoughts with three points. First, consider the biblical prescription for separation. The doctrine of separation has always been the foundation of the American Council of Christian Churches. This was not a policy which early fundamentalists formulated, but a doctrine, a truth, a prescription which they found in their Bibles. Let us turn to the passage to which most of them would have turned, 2 Corinthians 6.
The passage begins at verse 14 with a command. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…” The yoke was an instrument designed to join two animals for work. The passage is not talking about yoking animals but people. The Corinthian believers were not to be yoked with unbelievers. The work in question is obviously spiritual work. The clear teaching of the passage is that believers and unbelievers are not to be yoked together in spiritual work.
The passage continues in verses 14b–16 with reasons. God does not have to give us reasons for his commands but sometimes he does. In this passage the reasons are given as a series of rhetorical questions. Verse 14 asks, “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” The Greek word translated “unrighteousness” is the word for “lawlessness.” Anyone knows that doing right has no fellowship with lawlessness. The same verse goes on to ask, “And what communion hath light with darkness?” When light shines darkness leaves. When darkness falls light is gone.
Verse 15 asks, “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” The word translated “concord” is the Greek word sumphonasis. You can hear and see in it our word “symphony,” for it is the Greek word for harmony. The question might be worded, “And what harmony hath Christ with Belial?” I mention the word because the contemporary Christian music aberration is an attempt to produce harmony with Christ’s words and Satan’s music. The simple question put in this passage exposes the heresy of trying to produce such harmony. The same verse goes on to ask, “Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel.”
The question in verse 16 is considerably longer but it points out the incompatibility of the temple with idols and goes on to make the point that we, as God’s people, are His New Testament temples.
Verse 17 repeats the command of verse 14 in a different way by saying, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing…” All of us have met that born again man or woman who has said to us: “I dare not leave my apostate Methodist or United Church of Christ Church, for I am the only Gospel witness there. If I leave there will be no witness.” That is appealing human wisdom. Actually, it is nothing more than disobedience, for God says, “Be ye not unequally yoked,” and, “come out from among them and be ye separate.”
The passage continues in 17b and 18 with God’s promise. God leaves a great promise which the obedient separatist may pick up as he walks away from the unequal yoke: “And I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Over the years obedient fundamentalists have paid the price of separation and then watched a Heavenly Father keep his promise of provision.
There are various definitions of fundamentalism. Mine is: Fundamentalism is the militant belief and proclamation of the basis doctrines of Christianity leading to a Scriptural separation from those who reject them.
Graduation Day to Fundamentalism
You will notice that separation is a vital part of being a fundamentalist. The founding denominations of this council all came through the narrow pass of separation. The Bible Presbyterians separated from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. The Bible Protestants, Evangelical Methodists, Independent Methodists and Fundamental Methodists left the Methodist church. The General Association of Regular Baptists left the Northern Baptist Convention. The Independent Fundamental Churches of America men came from various associations. That step of separation from unbelief was their graduation day into fundamentalism.
Here in Missouri, we are in Southern Baptist territory. Let me point out that there are no fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. There are some Bible-believers, some conservatives, some godly people. But, the Southern Baptist Convention is a mixed multitude of belief and unbelief; and the man who remains in that unequal yoke is not a fundamentalist.
In the matter of the relationship of belief and unbelief, God’s key word is separation. In the matter of the relationship of belief and unbelief Satan’s key word is cooperate. Separation is God’s biblical prescription.