In nearly fifty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard many arguments against the separatist position, particularly ecclesiastical separation.
I am now seventy-one and have been a separatist by conviction all my adult life. Recently, I paused to reflect on why I hold the convictions I do. Let me share five reasons.
I am a separatist because:
1. Separation Is a Scriptural Position
From Exodus 33:16 where Moses said, “So shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth,” to Revelation 18:4 where the angel said, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins,” separation is Scriptural. It extends from the Pentateuch to the Book of Revelation.
2. Erosion of Ecclesiastical Separation Invariably Leads to Declension of Personal Separation
The defining difference between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism is basically the principle of separation. Historically, that demarcation commenced as ecclesiastical separation. It has been my observation after decades in the ministry, however, that churches and institutions which are cavalier about ecclesiastical separation invariably see a declension of personal separation.
What starts in the pulpit quickly moves to the pew. When preachers compromise ecclesiastical separation, their people soon begin to accommodate the world on a personal basis. I have watched this phenomenon repeatedly for decades.
3. I Will Someday Stand before Jesus Christ and Give an Account
I have been in pastoral ministry for close to fifty years now, and Hebrews 13:17 makes it clear that I will give an account for those I lead as a pastor. The Bema is coming, and, as an undershepherd, I will give account to the Chief Shepherd. Among other things, I believe I will be held accountable for how I influenced my church.
After having read the Bible through more than three hundred times, there is no question in my mind that our Lord takes a dim view of a churchy world and worldly churches. The mandate of 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Come out from among them and be ye separate,” has never been abrogated. I suspect middle-of-the-road pastors who soft-pedaled separation from the world and the compromise of the age will be chagrined in that day. And that day is coming!
4. A Lack of Personal Separation Leads to Worldliness in the Church
Ideas do have consequences. Many members of today’s evangelical churches look like the world, partake in the same entertainments of the world, and pretty much live like the world. Richard Quebedeaux, a non-separatist, wrote more than forty years ago about the “worldly evangelicals.” Then Francis Shaeffer, likewise not a separatist, stepped back and looked at his own movement—the non-separatist evangelical movement and wrote a book about it entitled The Great Evangelical Disaster.
The line of demarcation between the fundamentalist movement and the evangelical movement is separation, both ecclesiastically and particularly in personal separation. Shaeffer accurately described his own movement. The non-separatist evangelical movement today is worldly disaster.
I have observed over the decades that the people in the pew almost always will have a lower standard of separation from the world than their pastor. When the pastor soft pedals separation, his people will invariably have even lower standards than him.
5. The Next Generation Is at Stake
To be sure, there have been failures and embarrassments of second generation fundamentalists. But in general, I will compare the youth of a separated church, who grew up with godly standards of separation to the youth coming up out of the non-separated evangelical movement. There are always exceptions, but in the main, youth who have had the biblical principles of holiness and separation instilled in them over the years are far more devout than young people from non-separated, evangelical churches.
Conclusion: We can debate at length the merits or demerits of fundamentalism versus evangelicalism and separated versus non-separated Christianity. But the proof is in the pudding. Far, more separated youth head to New Testament missions than their non-separated counterparts. Far more youth from old-fashioned fundamental churches continue on in faithful service to Jesus Christ than those who grew up in non-separated evangelical churches. I speak from close to fifty years of experience in the ministry.
As I look across biblical history, I suspect that Elijah the prophet or John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul would take a dim view of the soft-separation, middle-of-the-road Christianity so prevalent today. I suspect the Holy Spirit is grieved thereby as well.
After all these years, I have no regrets of being separated from the world and separated from ecclesiastical compromise and apostasy. It was the heritage of my father and grandfather. I firmly believe it will be significant criteria at the Bema. Separation has never been popular. It was not in Moses day. It is not today. Non-separatists will likely draw larger crowds. But that will not be the criteria at the Judgment Seat of Christ.