What Does the New Testament Teach About Biblical Separation?
Probably the most frequent criticism of the Fundamental Independent Baptists and biblical Baptist churches concerns their stand on the doctrine of separation. It is not my intent to defend fundamentalism per se, but to defend the biblical doctrine of separation. I am a Fundamental Independent Baptist by conviction because the doctrine of FIB churches is the New Testament (and the Bible) which is our sole authority for our faith and practice. Because the doctrine of separation stands as scriptural, the Bible believer must uphold this doctrines in preaching and practice, and defend it as God’s word.
At the heart of biblical separation is discernment. Discernment comes from first receiving Jesus Christ as one's Lord and Savior and being indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God. (2 Cor. 2:11-15) This enables the believer to comprehend spiritual things. Actual discernment comes from studying the Word of God and learning its precepts. Discernment grows as the believer spiritually matures. Discernment then comes alive in the life of a believer through his faith and commitment to Christ Jesus.
At the heart of discernment is a heart-felt love and commitment to God's Word. Without a commitment to the Word, discernment is a hollow doctrine without energy or life. Living a separated life as God’s word teaches is a matter of having a deep unerring devotion to one's Savior and to His word.
It is vital in this confusing day when the compromise of God's word is rampant, that God's people, preachers, and churches, know and practice biblical separation. It is critical that Christians, who equally have the calling and responsibility to be a testimony to the Gospel, and preach the whole counsel of God’s word, understand separation as presented in God’s word. It has been rightly stated, that often the doctrine of biblical separation is ignored at one end of the spectrum and used as a battle-axe at the other. The doctrine of separation needs to be studied with as much attention and scholarship as any other doctrine of God's Word. To do less is to place ourselves into the hands of the one who is the benefactor of all false doctrine the Devil himself.
If the heart of the doctrine of separation is discernment, then the soul of separation is purity in life from sin and error. It is not a matter of just standing apart, but of standing with God. To stand in God's presence and in the center of His will, one must be separated from sin and error. God is separated from sin, and He will not have fellowship with one who is callously living in sin or is condoning false doctrine and those that do. This is not a matter of God withholding his love, but a matter of God withholding his fellowship and the blessing of his presence and power to those who are in error. God cannot nor will bless error and sin. Sin separates a believer from the fellowship of God. The action of biblical separation is of being separated from sin and unto God. (Rom. 6:13) The natural course of biblical separation is a movement towards God and a deeper and closer relationship with Him.
There are several erroneous conclusions drawn by those who do not understand biblical separation. One false idea is the one who practices biblical separation is uncaring, unloving or feels superior to those from whom he separates. Those that take this position see separation as a personal affront. It is an affront, but if separation is practiced biblically, it is not personal. In fact, the opposite is true. Biblical separation comes from a caring heart that loves the one who is in doctrinal error and seeks to lead them to what is correct. Taking a correct scriptural position sets a proper example that could lead one to the truth and into the blessings and fellowship of the Lord.
Who is the author of biblical separation? If it is God, do we also accuse God of being unloving because He is separated from sin and error and condemn sin? The answer is obvious. God is love and all He does is loving. That includes practicing separation from sin and evil doers. Condoning sin and doctrinal error is excusing it and compromising with doctrinal error is corrupting the truth. To be lenient with those who teach doctrinal error is to support lies. Clearly, God hates lies that enslave men and deny them the blessings of God. Truth set men free, and error enslaves them to continuing sin. (John 8:32) Further to support and stand with doctrinal error is to be a party to sin. Preaching and teaching doctrinal error is gross sin and condemned repeated by God in His word.
Doctrinal error is, in fact, a lie that is presented as truth. Who is the author of all lies? (John 8:44) How can a true child of God defend those in doctrinal error and those that thrive in it? We should take off our blinders and see doctrinal error for what it is . . . sin, which God hates. We should understand that doctrinal error destroys lives and prevents God’s people from growing, maturing and receiving God's blessing. Is it love to condone sin that is so destructive in people's lives and separates them from God's love and fellowship?
We should ask those who criticize those of us who practice biblical separation is it truly a loving act to gloss over sin and doctrinal error, and ignore it. God says the wages of sin is death. All sin has its destructive result in the lives of the persons who practices it. Doctrinal error is no blessing to anyone, but it enslaves one to error. No, it is not an act of love for a Christian, pastor or church to excuse doctrinal error and not stand for the God’s truth.
Let us get to the practical side of Biblical separation. Biblical separation is not an option for the child of God. It is a commandment. Let's look at the following verses let God speak on the matter.
Practicing Biblical Separation
The Mandate from God God instructs believers to "try the Spirits." (1 John 4:1-6)
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.” (1 John 4:1-6)
"Trying the spirits" is a matter of seeking to determine those who are in truth from those who are in error. The warning is to be on the lookout for false prophets. What then is the purpose of seeking to determine if someone is in doctrinal error or not? John does not say in the verses what to do, but points out clearly that those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ are antichrists. It is assumed that any child of God would not have fellowship or support those whom God says are against Christ.
”Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11)
In these verses John tells us what should be our relationship to these who are identified as antichrists. Let us be clear, an "antichrist" is one who is "against Christ" or presents false teaching instead of truth. The antichrist presents an error under the guise of teaching truth. John says in 2 John 11, to be separate from them and not even let them in your house, neither bid them God speed. He instructs us that those who wish these false teachers well are partakers of his evil deeds. The context of this statement is in the framework of the local assembly of believers. The identity of these antichrists is clearly shown as being those who do not “. . . abide in the doctrine of Christ.” The doctrine of Christ is His word, and He is the Word as John 1:1,14 plainly states. God’s assemblies are to preach the whole or all the counsel of the word of God. (Acts 20:27) The word "partaker" means having "fellowship" with and further to share in their error and become a partner to their sin. It means that to partake of false doctrine is to distribute it to others.
Watch or be on guard for false teachers and regularly warn the congregation of them. (Act 20:26-32)
”Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Act 20:26-32)
Paul's calls these false teachers “grievous wolves” who do not spare the flock. The illustration presents false teachers in churches as ravenous wolves who destroy the lives of those in the churches. He said the wolves would come from outside, and within the congregation (Verses 29-30) Paul says he for three years warned the church at Ephesus about this matter. Paul thought it important enough to speak regularly on the matter for three years. Jesus commended the Ephesians in Revelation 2:2, saying, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” Clearly Jesus thought it was commendable for the Church as Ephesus to “not bear them which are evil. . .who found them to be liars.” This is talking those who were in these churches who professed to be serving the Lord and who falsely claimed they were apostles of the Lord. It is loving to embrace those who by their unbiblical teaching, show themselves to be wolves bent on destroying God’s people?
Mark and avoid false teachers. (Rom. 16:17-19)
”Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” (Rom. 16:17-18)
Paul uses the strong word "beseech" in commanding the congregation at Rome to mark and avoid false teachers. What was the basis of his instruction to separate from these false teachers? It was because they caused division and offenses contrary to doctrine. God does not say what specific doctrine is false, but by the way the sentence is structured it means doctrine in general. Note too that in verse 18, He says these false teachers deceive by good works and fair speech and deceive the simple. The word "simple" means "naive" or innocent simplicity. Paul commends them for separating from these false teachers and says, "I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning that which is evil" which means that believers should not mix with this evil.
The basis of marking them and avoiding them was that these people caused divisions and offenses “contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned.” This was not separation because of personality or other reasons. It was because these people did not believe or accept sound doctrine and encouraged those in the church to accept their false ideas. Paul called their actions evil. It is not biblical or obeying God to accept evil for the sake of unity.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father, which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:13-23).
Jesus sound warned about accepting a professing Christian or church just because they claimed to speak in Christ’s name. Note who these people are and that Jesus said were “workers of iniquity” of whom He said He never knew them. These were unsaved men who were professing to be Christians calling Jesus, Lord, who preached in Jesus’ name; they even cast out demons and did miracles. However, our Lord and Savior exposed these false teachers and said they were ravening wolves. He gave us further instructions to identify them saying that they would be disguised in sheep’s clothing. That means they would present themselves as brothers.... as fellow sheep... when in truth they were wolves.
Is it an act of love to put our arms around wolves prosing as sheep and let them into our churches and among the truth sheep giving them the opportunity to ravage them? It is sound to promote false teaches and thereby exposes our churches to their error? Does such a policy help the cause of Christ or hinder it? A true under shepherd and pastor of the Lord Jesus Christ would teach his congregation all God’s truth and be ever vigilant in watching for the false teacher. It is not an act of love for the Lord's sheep to care for them by exposing the lies that distort God’s truth?
Let false teachers be accursed
”I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:6-11)
In the strongest words, possible Paul twice says let false teachers be accursed. These teachers who “troubled” the Galatian church were not pagans or idol worshipers outside the assembly, but teachers who had entered into and have been received by the congregation. The word "accursed" means “anathema” or dedicated or given over to be destroyed. The same word "anathema" was used in pagan temples of the virgin who was to be sacrificed to the idol. She was considered “anathema” or dedicated to be destroyed. He says these false teachers preached an "another gospel, which is not another." This statement should clarify the matter for all that mix, pollute God’s word, and teach lies that are not "the" Gospel. In verse 10, Paul boldly proclaims in the face of obvious criticism that he will not compromise God’s word to please men, but rather that he would preach the truth and please God.
The details of how these false teachers gained excess and power in the Galatian church is not revealed. However, clearly at some point these false teachers began to preach their doctrinal error and sadly, it appears no one in this congregation questioned them or rebuked them. The Galatian assembly did not practice biblical separation, which could have avoided their apostasy.
Here lies the heart of the matter. To choose not to practice biblical separation is to accept ecumenicalism and compromise. Those who criticize those who seek to live separated lives, and who preach ecumenicalism do so using worldly wisdom. They think it is loving to overlook doctrinal error and sin and not embarrass or offend those who practice these things. They take great pride from their supposed superior position saying they preach love instead of hate. It is well said we are to love the sinner and hate his sin. However, is it an act of love to put the stamp of approval on doctrinal error and sin, ignoring it? Does it honor God’s word close one’s eyes to the truth and let mislead and destroy the one who is practicing it?
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
Note that Peter calls the teaching of these false prophets “damnable heresies.” Further, he warns that many will follow them. This is the reason for the mandate of biblical separation, to keep these heretics out of God’s churches and to protect the flock from their damnable ways. The motive of these false teachers is also revealed in what they do, in making merchandise of God’s children. They do it for personal gain, whether it is for money, popularity, leading a large church, pride, or seeking the vain favor of men.
Sadly, most of the “preachers” who condone false teachings, gravitate to the pulpit seeking an audience and to be seen of men. Like Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence among the brethren, these “hirelings” too love the praise of men. Diotrephes used the church as a stage to strut upon and further his ambition to rule of the assembly.
Manpleaers maintain their position by controlling others. (Gal. 1:10) Paul foretold of their coming saying, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The other motive is money, the “root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10) These compromisers and false teachers receive ill-gotten gain from their sorted work of making merchandise of God’s people. Is it an act of love and pleasing to God to condone these false brethren?
Many pastors and preaches take the easy road to avoid the difficulties that come when a man stands for the truth in the face of opposition. It is no fun to be criticized, and ostracized by others. It takes a strong faith and commitment to stand in the face of such pressure. Note what God says,
”Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” (2 Cor. 6:14-17).
The principle of separation here is illustrated by comparing it to unequally yoked oxen. The analogy is very apparent. Unbelievers and believers are not equal and cannot work together. In other words, truth and lies do not go together. A false teacher is surely an unbeliever and is referred to in this verse as being unrighteous and in darkness. Verse 15, says they are of "Belial" which is a name for Satan and calls them infidels. In verse 17, Paul here too uses strong language to say, ". . . come out from among them and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing..." Note the clarity of the last phrase of the passages that says, (1) “be ye separate, saith the Lord, and (2) touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” This means you cannot be in fellowship with the Lord and not be separated from sin and false teachers.
However, those who criticize those who believe God and follow His instructions practicing biblical separation ignore this verse completely, or seek to mislead through a false interpretation. Who then is pleasing the Lord? Christians should make a distinction betweenthe compromiser who embraces false teachers, false churches, or the one who disobeys God. The Bible says we are to:
This verse is also dealing with biblical separation from evil and sin in any form. It is the broadest of all the verses and plainly states to “abstain” from every appearance of evil. To “abstain” means to “hold one’s self off from” or to “refrain from.” Is not false doctrine evil? God clearly throughout His word repeatedly condemns sin, false, and idolatrous teachers. Is standing beside them, and working with those are in doctrinal error “refraining” evil? The answer is obviously no.
“Obey not their word and have no company with them.” (2 Thess. 3:13-15)
”But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:13-15)
It is not pleasant to be criticized for obeying the Lord and seeking to please Him. Further, the biblical separationist often finds himself the object of disdain from the ecumenicist who with open arms accepts all who profess Christians with no effort to “try the spirits” or “examine their fruit.” However, God says to separate from false teachers and sin. Verse 15 explains an important truth that the biblical separationist understands...the goal and purpose of biblical separation is not to treat a brother as an enemy but rather to rebuke his sin and error and turn him to the truth. As the Lord says in James, “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). False doctrine is not God’s word and thereby cannot save a soul nor give sound instruction to the believer. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” We are to worship God in “spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) Only the word of God can save and mature a believer in Christ.
Thus, the biblical separationist seeks scriptural restoration with an erring brother. He longs to see the one in error, believe God, and receive the benefits of living by God’s truth. There is no pride in genuine biblical separation, and in having true “agape” love others. As Paul states in Galatians 4:16, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”
"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you” (2 Thess. 3:6).
The New Testament gives a matter-of-fact command. It does not suggest or recommend, but commands Christians to withdraw from the brother who walks disorderly. The word “disorderly” refers to one who is out of ranks or deviates from the teachings of the Apostle Paul (biblical traditions). This would include personal sin and Paul’s doctrine. The Bible does not support the idea that we are to embrace everyone regardless of his sin or doctrinal error. Once again, God says we are to stand for His word and to be separate.
This is not popular and will bring the one who practices biblical separation much scorn. The unseparated professing Christian is offended at those who hold uncompromisingly to the biblical standard.
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:10-14)
Paul warned us that evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse. Note that these evil men are called “seducers.” It is plain their prey is Christians, and their goal is to deceive for whatever their motives may be. The answer is not to condone false doctrine or compromise God’s truth with mixing it with error. As the passage points out the answer is in preaching God’s truth because it and it alone can make the “man of God...perfect and throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:17b)
The belief is stated by the dictum, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” Another phrase often heard is “Let’s not major on the minors.” The question this demands we answer is what is essential and what is not major? What parts of God's word are we at liberty to ignore. The phrases mean that some believe that there are doctrinal truths that are not essential to salvation, and thus they are not important. What this means those who hold this philosophy think that some doctrines and can be discarded because it interferes with fellowship or unity. In reality, to stand for the “essentials” is to stand for the whole word of God. God commands that believers are to separate themselves from worldliness and false teaching. God says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)
Paul warned about divisions in the local congregation. He said we are to mark them and avoid them. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
For example: For example, should a biblical church have fellowship and work in cooperation with a church or individuals who do not believe in the biblical doctrine of the eternal security of the believer? Those who deny eternal security of the believe plainly do not understand salvation. Would the Lord Jesus approve of an assembly bearing His name, having fellowship and unity with churches and individuals whose teaching what contrary to His word?
Should a sound biblical church fellowship and stand equally with a church that is actively involved in the unscriptural modern tongues' movement? Should a Bible believing Christian or church join in unity with the doctrinally false Reformed movement or the Arminians? They too do not understand salvation and teach “another gospel that is not another.”
Biblical separation rebukes false teaching, practices, and stands for God’s truth. Unity that ignores sound doctrine never brings anyone to Christ, but rather places a stumbling block to finding Christ and His truth. The unity God wants believers to have is biblical unity.
God says “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:11-18)
The doctrine of biblical separation precludes a true believer or a Bible believing church from being a part of any church, organization, denomination that practices and is committed to unbelief. God says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
We thank the Lord that others responded positively and became an important part of our congregation. What a blessing and encouragement they are who hold God’s word in truth and will join with those who love the Lord. How tragic also it is that they continued live in unbelief and as John explained, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)
If you are one of those who have compromised God word and criticized the biblical separationist clearly you do not understanding what God’s word teaches. This article was written for you. If you truly want to serve the Lord and do love the brethren, do you not see that the Lord would be pleased by you obeying him and abandoning your ecumenical ideas and practices governed by faulty human wisdom? Should you be condoning error and sin rather than upholding God’s truth? Let God’s word speak to your mind and heart, thus directing your path? He says to you:
”And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:11-18).
Yes, we are to love the brethren even as God has loved us and we are to:
”Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity” (1 Cor. 16:13-14)Revised April 2016.