That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life...
Philippians 2:15-16a

Monday, March 28, 2011

Introductory Thoughts on Separation

I have been working on a post about biblical separation.  As I was writing it, so many more things came to mind that I've decided to do it in a series of posts. This one will lay some ground work about separation.  What is it?  Why is it necessary? Who decides who and what to separate from?  Please keep in mind, this is not intended to be an exhaustive Bible study on the topic.  It would take pages and pages of commentary to cover all the Bible has to say about separation.  However, I do hope that your appetite will be whetted, and that you will continue to study what God has said about separation.  My own understanding of this subject continually develops as I read the Scriptures and put into practice what God teaches me.  This is only the beginning.  We can never exhaust the knowledge of God or fully comprehend His ways.  However, as God reveals Himself and His truth through His Word, each one of us are responsible to take action on those things He teaches us.  

Biblical separation is really a fancy term for simple obedience.  Separation is a command in the Scripture.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (II Cor. 6:17).  Living separated for a Christian is no different than obeying every other command in the Bible.  Some other commands include baptism (Matt. 28:19), love (Matt. 22:37), witnessing (Mark 16:15), being kind (Eph. 4:32) and church attendance (Heb. 10:25).  In the grand scheme of things being separate is just one more command Christ has given us in order to help us become more like Him.  Now this is the key... becoming more like Him!

Many people, including a lot of Christians, look at the Bible as a list of do's and don'ts.  While this can be expected of an unbeliever, it's a horrible perspective of God's Word for the child of God to have.  When we (Christians) start looking at the Scriptures as just a bunch of silly lists of rules, we'll become frustrated, defeated, and defensive when others admonish us to live by the "rules."  Our flesh doesn't like authority.  It revolts at the idea of being told what to do, and thus, we begin to set ourselves up as the authority, instead of realizing that we serve a greater purpose.  Once we get our eyes off ourselves and what WE want, and back on Christ, obedience becomes so logical.  Rules actually seem like a good idea.  Adherence to the commands is no longer a burden, but a blessing, because we KNOW it's honouring our Saviour.

Back to separation.  In a later post I will link to an excellent article on this topic, so I'm not going to delve into a lot of the finer points and Scriptures that support them here.  However, I would like to present a few things for consideration.  First, separation for a Christians occurs in many forms and takes place on many levels.  There's ecclesiastical separation, which is the separation of the church from false teaching.  There's moral separation, which is being separate from sin. In these two areas, one must keep in mind that separation does not mean isolation.  Just because my church will not fellowship with another church we believe to be in error, doesn't mean I will not have contact with individuals in that church on a personal level.  Likewise, moral separation doesn't mean I isolate myself from the unsaved living in sin.  Do do these things would be violating Scripture, and thus, it's important to keep separation in perspective.

Then there's personal separation.  That can be guidelines and boundaries an individual sets up in his or her life in order to maintain a right relationship with the Lord.  These can include things like not owning a TV, not going to the movies, certain dress standards, etc.  Sometimes these personal guidelines are simply that, personal.  They are not necessarily specific commands in Scripture, but they are based on Scriptural principles.  However, just because they may not be a specific command does not make them any less worthy of obedience.  Many use this line of reasoning to excuse a less than holy lifestyle.  How many times have I heard this? "The Bible doesn't say anything specifically about _________, so that means I don't have to do it.  You're just trying to enforce your own personal beliefs on me."  I say this.  Just because the Bible doesn't specifically say "Thou shalt not______", doesn't mean it's a BAD thing NOT to do it.  I could give many examples, but I'll limit myself to one.  Drugs.  Where does the Bible talk about drugs?  It doesn't, yet I believe most Christians, and many unbelievers, would agree with me that using drugs is wrong.   However, the Scriptures we use to defend our anti-drug belief, do not specifically address that issue.  They are simply used to build a principle that's then applied to drug use.  Something to think about!

Second, we are to be separated "from" some things and separated "to" some other things. To sum up in one statement, are are separated "to" God.  We are to be as close to Him as we can be.  We are to do and say the things that please Him.  He is all that matters.  I can think of two things the Bible says we are to be separated from.  First, the world. I John 2:15-16.  Second, from false teaching. Romans 16:17.  Being separated from the world basically means we are separating from sin.  That makes sense for a Christian!  Separation from false teaching is less clear, mainly because everyone has his or her "opinion" of what is true and false.  It takes discernment, good counsel, study of the Word, and prayer, but remember God promises to give us wisdom if we ask for it (James 1:5).  Making biblical decisions about false teaching can be difficult because we are constantly being bombarded by differing views, opinions, doctrines, and theologies by the Christian/evangelical/fundamental world.  Ultimately it has to come down to what does the Bible say?  No matter how much we like someone's preaching, personality, or how big their church or ministry is, if they are holding to beliefs that are not scriptural we are commanded to separate from them.  That's really where the rubber meets the road.

Let me say this once again. When it comes to making decisions about separation, the Bible must be the authority.  It's not about what the pastor says, what the prevailing belief in Christianity is, or what everyone else is doing. Being in the majority doesn't automatically make it right. Many are afraid to stand up and be separated.  Why? Because there is a cost involved.  I'll get more into that in my next post.

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