The Doctrine of Unity and Separation

by Mike Ratliff

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:5-9 ESV)

It doesn’t take very long for me to discern whether the person I am dealing with is truly God’s man or woman or is a pretender. That personal interaction is necessary for me to see the true nature and focus of the person. As we debate or discuss doctrinal or church issues or even secular issues it soon becomes very clear whether I am dealing someone who is walking according to the Lordship of Christ or is their own man or woman. Their values soon become apparent. All of us are in various stages of spiritual growth and repentance to be sure, but the mark of the washing of regeneration is there to be seen in all of God’s people that cannot be counterfeited. Of course, this is only discernable by those who are looking for it and then only through God’s testing fires. 

I think that is why those of us who truly belong to Him are so often struggling in the fires of tribulation. As I have that personal interaction with people as I shared above, I am given glimpses into their value systems and what is truly beleaguering them, et cetera. When some come to me full of retribution, meaning to shut me up or whatever, I always prayfully look at their motives. Never have I had anyone do that with the motive of bringing God glory. No, it has always been self-motivated personal glory. In light of this I pray that you will carefully read the passage from Titus I placed at the top of this post.

According to those in the Rick Warren camp, unity is what the Church must be about. This unity is all encompassing with no regard for doctrine, et cetera. However, as you just read in that passage, the elder of the Church is to do what? He must be ready to give instruction in sound doctrine and also be ready to rebuke those who contradict it. Does this “rebuke” mean we separate from them as well? First, here is a definition of the “Unity” part of the Doctrine of Unity and Separation.

The church is united in Christ, having a common salvation which is found in Christ; a common citizenship which is in heaven; a common hope which is Christ; a common spirit which dwells within each believer; a common fate which is likeness and conformity to Christ; a common interest to walk with Christ and to spread His name.  (Matt. 28:19; 1:Cor. 2:2; Phil. 3:8-10; Rom. 5:2,5; Col. 1:5; Heb. 6:18-19).  These things all believers share regardless of race, ethic or political background, class distinction and church affiliation.  We are united together to the Head which is Christ.

However, we are also called to be separate from the world and those who profess to be Christians, but who are worldly or who refuse to submit to the doctrine of Christ. We are also to separate from professing Christians who refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ.

Consider the following two quotes from C.H Spurgeon.

“On all hands we hear cries for unity in this and unity in that; but in our mind the main need of this age is not compromise but conscientiousness. `First pure, then peaceable…’ It is easy to cry, `A confederacy,’ but that union that is not based on the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion. Charity by all means: but honesty also. Love of course, but love to God as well as love to men, and love of truth as well as love of union. It is exceedingly difficult in these times to preserve one’s fidelity before God and one’s fraternity among men. Should not the former be preferred to the latter if both cannot be maintained? We think so.”

The following is an excerpt from “The Bond of the Covenant,” preached Sunday morning, May 10, 1885 at the Met Tab in London. Spurgeon’s criticisms of 19th-century modernism are also perfectly suited for 21st-century post-modernism:

This generation has made a god of its own. The effeminate deity of the modern school is no more the true God than Dagon or Baal. I know him not, neither do I reverence him. But Jehovah is the true God: he is the God of love, but he is also robed in justice; he is the God of forgiveness, but he is also the God of atonement; he is the God of heaven, but he is also the God who sends the wicked down to hell.
We, of course, are thought to be harsh, and narrow-minded, and bigoted: nevertheless, this God is our God for ever and ever. There has been no change in Jehovah. He has revealed himself more clearly in Christ Jesus; but he is the same God as in the Old Testament, and as such we worship him –

Biblical Separation or correctly obeying the doctrine of separation is not to be taken lightly and we must do it correctly. Here are the guidelines.

l. Be discerning (I Th. 5:21). Biblical separation begins with spiritual and doctrinal discernment. I cannot separate from that which is false if I do not know truth from error! See also I Col. 1:9; 3:16; Ph. 1:9; He. 5:12-14. This is where separation begins. Each child of God is to study the Scriptures intently and prayerfully that he might know sound doctrine. He is to exercise CAREFUL discernment that he might know truth from error, good from evil, fidelity from compromise.

2. Maintain an earnest proclamation and defense of the faith (Jude 3).

Jude exhorts his readers to contend for the faith, not because he loved contention, but because it is necessary to preserve the faith from corruption. He indicates that he would rather write concerning the common salvation but it had become necessary to take up the sword. Here is a picture of the well-balanced Christian: he loves to proclaim the gospel, but when necessary he will take up the sword in defense of the gospel.

Jude did not say, as some say today who wish to avoid the reproach of a liberal ecclesiasticism, that all one has to do is to preach the gospel, or the Word of God is its own defense. The real Christian has to contend for the faith in these times. Jude would have had scant sympathy for that type of ministerial self-righteousness which often says, “I preach the Gospel and let these issues alone.” This convinces some people that he is not a “wicked” separatist, but it also convinces a compromising ecclesiasticism that they have nothing to fear from this ex-Gidionite, who has a number of reasons for not serving in Gideon’s army.

The prophets contended for the faith within the structure of religious Israel, often to their own death. John the Baptist contended for the faith, incurred the enmity of the religious leadership and was beheaded for denouncing sin by name in high places. Jesus contended for the faith, that the Messianic hope and promise was fulfilled in Himself and was murdered. Stephen contended for the faith that Christianity was the fulfillment of the Old Testament faith and was stoned to death. The evangelical inclusivists of our day, though, seem to be alive and doing fairly well! [`Inclusivist’ refers to those who promote ecumenical union and disregard doctrinal and moral purity.]

3. Mark those who err (Ro. 16:17). Not only are we to know the truth and to be discerning, not only are we to aggressively contend for the truth, but we are to identify false teachers and apostate Christian groups by name. In this way we protect ourselves and others. This was Paul’s custom. Consider the following examples: 1 Ti. 1:19-20; 2 Ti. 2:16-18; 4:14-15. In these passages the Apostle warned Timothy of several false teachers and disobedient men, and he identified these men by name. This was also the custom of the Lord Jesus Christ (Lk. 20:45-47; 12:1; Re. 2:6,15,20). Following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His Apostles, we must identify and label those who are false, apostate, or disobedient. To fail to do so is rebellion to the Bible’s command. It is also the mark of an unfaithful, careless shepherd. A good shepherd protects the sheep from danger.

4. Avoid fellowship. Once we have discerned false doctrine or practice, what then? God’s command at this point is very clear–separation. The following expressions are used in the N.T. to describe separation: “Avoid” (Ro. 16:17). “Shun” (2 Ti. 2:16). “Turn away from” (2 Ti. 3:5). “Purge oneself from” (2 Ti. 2:21). “Come out from among” (2 Co. 6:17; Re. 18:4). “Have no fellowship or communion with” (2 Co. 6:14). “Receive them not into your house neither bid them Godspeed” (2 Jn. 10). One does not need a Ph.D. to understand the meaning of these exhortations. God is telling His people to stay away from those who teach or practice false things!

5. Avoid yoking together in ministry, organization, etc. (2 Co. 6:14-18). This command does not allow a Christian to be in the same denomination, Christian organization, fellowship, or church with those who are committed to unbelief. However, I see no issue with someone like John MacArthur going to Liberty University and preaching the truth of the Gospel to the students there for example. If we cut ourselves off completely from the world then how can we share the gospel with them?

6. Avoid their doctrine (2 Ti. 2:14-18). In this passage Christians are warned to avoid the Words of the false teachers. Let us not be deceived. False teachings have been very successful. Christendom is permeated with false doctrine. Wherein comes this success? The Bible reveals to us that there is a supernatural power behind false teaching. That power is Satan (2 Co. 11:13-15; 1 Ti. 4:1). It is for this reason that Christians are warned not to become involved in any way with false doctrine. Rather we are taught to “shun” it, for “they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker.”

This means the Christian is not to attend a church in which false doctrine is being proclaimed. We are not to attend Bible studies, or meetings, or prayer groups in which false doctrine is involved. When those involved with false doctrine ask permission to sit with us to “explain their beliefs more clearly,” we must wisely refuse. The only exception is an occasion in which we ourselves teach the one who is in bondage to the false belief. And this is only when that one is willing to listen with an open heart and not argue and resist the truth. See 2 Ti. 2:23-26. Apart from our own ministry to try to help the deceived, we must avoid all false instruction.

7. Rebuke them openly, publicly, and plainly (Mt. 23:13-33; Ac. 13:8-10). God’s Word commands us to rebuke false teachers openly, publicly, and plainly, and the faithful servant of God will do just that. Christians who dislike biblical separation often protest that we cannot help the erring person if we separate. This is not true. One reason for separating is to help those who err see the seriousness of their error, to make a clear distinction between true and false doctrine. Many excuse their refusal to obey biblical separation by saying they are ministering to the false and disobedient. This is wrong. The Bible warns that a little evil leavens the whole body (1 Co. 5:6; Ga. 5:9). The ecumenist is confused. He apparently thinks a little good leavens the whole body!

8. Try to convince them of the truth (2 Ti. 2:24-26). We are to try to help those who are involved in false doctrine, but we are to do this from a separated position. It is our separation which shows them that we do indeed believe false doctrine to be evil. It impresses them that we take the Word of God seriously. And though we must refuse to have close fellowship with those involved in false doctrine, and though we must not allow them to be members in our churches and organizations, we are to try to teach them the truth if they will listen.

Notice in 2 Ti. 2:26 that the false teacher’s root problem is revealed. They are in “the snare of the devil.” False doctrine is not a problem of ignorance; it is a spiritual problem. Only a great miracle can rescue a person out of the grasp of false doctrine once he has fallen prey to it.

9. Maintain a spiritual demeanor (Jam. 3:13-18). Last, but not least, we see that the ministry of discernment, judgment, contention for the truth, and separation from error are to be carried out in a spiritual manner.

I pray that you noticed that these calls to separate had nothing to do with traditions or personalities or personal disagreements. No, this has to do with Biblical Doctrine alone. The reason I could not in good conscience go and have my name attached as a speaker at a Purpose Driven sponsored event (it would never happen anyway) is that I consider the PDC paradigm to be heresy and Rick Warren to be a heretic and scripture twister and have rebuked him many times in articles on this blog and will continue to do so.I would like to add a number 10 to this.

10. Do not become discouraged if the ones being rebuked never repent and if all their followers consider you to be the bad guy and attack you as divisive. This is what is going to become more and more prevalent as these times grow ever more darker.

Soli Deo Gloria!

32 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Unity and Separation

  1. Dear Mike, the reason so many cannot DO this based on scripture is they have been taught to ‘get connected’, ‘be involved’, ‘get plugged in’ and all the other teachings of the flesh.
    I see men who desire to be well known, cutting edge with cutting edge people, the famous “Pastors”, “Teachers” and “Authors” who are trying to make a name for themselves. They will strive to argue against what you have just written, based on some ‘higher ground’ they are taking. It makes me sick to watch.
    Rebuke? Ha, They only rebuke those who question thier stances on unity.
    The old saying ” Unity without TRUTH is conspiracy”.
    When I heard John Piper was ‘taking some time off’ I wanted to laugh and ask, “What little mom or janitor in the congregation can ‘take some time off’ at the expense of her family or his family to ‘rejuvinate’ and ‘refresh’ and ‘rethink’ and then I will come back and really bless them with my presence? Sad I’m not a better writer to place into words the upside down so-called ‘church’ we see now days. The famous are coddled and the common are thrown by the wayside when it is pointed out or questioned. A real man or God will lay down thier lives for the flock and coddle the sheep in love, not be fed by the sheep and milked and taking vacations at the expense of the flock to ‘refresh’.
    What I see is nothing more than ‘business corporations’ with benefits, sabaticals, vacations, perks, gas cards, book writing privileges, flights, speaking engagements, programs, accalaids and positions and titles, retirements, houses and cars and tax write-offs for ‘IRS legal Ministery’…. nothing more. Then I see the ‘want to be’ people who will praise them with open letters and shun anyone who questions them for doing so.


  2. I see. I think it may be worth for you take a look, because I have a hunch Turk is just the tip of the iceberg. Through Piper and others, Federal Visionist Doug Wilson’s teaching will enter the “Reformed” and “reformed baptist” churches in some form.


  3. Daniel, after your first comment, I did a bit of reading on it. Two things bothered me about it. The first is that it has some similarities to the heretical “New Perspective on Paul” and that is is Post-millennial which is what most of the New Calvinists are. I was not aware of either of these things before. I thought it was just a form of Van Tilianism before. Well, that combination means that those afflicted with it throw off the doctrines that Paul so carefully laid out there for us and many other things as well as believing that the Church’s role is not the Great Commission as we know it, but it is to transform the World because Jesus is already on the throne, et cetera. Do I have it right?


  4. Thank you Mike. This commentary came at the perfect time.

    I DO think you have it correct re: Doug Wilson and Daniel; I think you have hit the nail on the head. Daniel, this position seems to be contrary to what Phil Johnson’s would be since he is a pastor/member of Grace Community/ MacArthur’s church.
    I am very puzzled that their blog is “shared” at this point as I assume (could be my problem here?) that their stance is different.

    Anyway.. thank you Mike for this very fine; Biblically sound presentation of “unity vs. separation”.

    I am praying that Phil Johnson might remove himself from these men who believe contrary.


  5. Denise, I watched that video of the interview Phil did with John MacArthur. I think J.M. is right in what he said at the end. We cannot get into separation according to opinion. It has to be according to doctrine, according to what the Bible clearly says. I think God is opening many eyes to these things. I am grateful for Daniel debating Frank. That revelation of Federal Vision being the issue was something I did not see. The connection between it and New Calvinism makes a lot more sense to me now. I have research to do…


  6. Mike, I am so grateful for this post!
    I have often gone to Daniel’s blog to see what he has to say about things, and have been blessed…


  7. Hi Mike,

    broadly speaking, yes. Although the terminology they use to cloak themselves are rather profound, and some of the concepts they embrace are not errors by themselves (ie post-millenianism), but they co-opt the term and give it a new meaning that it historically does not have.

    For example, they do see themselves as being for the Great Commission. Except that the Great Commission means “transform society together with souls”.

    You will find many such redefinitions of biblical and historic terms in their writings.


  8. Mike, the Federal Visionists are very good at splitting hairs. They will disavow that they are New Perspective; rather they think that it has “good things to offer the church”. They are very good at obfuscation, for example saying that they believe in justification by faith alone, EXCEPT that when they mean faith, it DOES not mean “coming to Christ with an empty hand pleading for His mercy”. Instead, when they say “faith”, they mean “faith which continues on in good works [faithfulness]”.


  9. Hi Mike,
    This was very good! First love- Christ and His word. Otherwise, we will have no desire to separate. We’ll go along to get along. But if love for Christ is a flame that will not be put out in our hearts, we can do no other than obey His plain teachings…and it is our delight to do it. If someone sees the need to have more discernment in their life, then ask and pray for it. If one doesn’t have a heart on fire with love for Jesus and for His will in their life-not their will- then pray for one and He will see to it! Be blessed and encouraged!


  10. Mike, I hope that after you have had time to research all of this you will help us to understand what it all means. I see all of the threads but am not able to put it together. I.e. Piper, Wilson, New Perspective, FV, New Calvinism, etc. In the meantime, a clarifying post with a brief summary of these things would be very helpful?


  11. “Unity” seems to be the latest rallying cry of the wolf pack. Unity in their mind boils down to: “agree with the ‘leardership’ of this ‘church’; find no fault with our doctrines and our chosen teachers/preachers; it matters not that incorrect doctrine can be proven to be taught here; it is not the right of any ‘member’ to speak out against said false doctrine/teacher; it is your responsibility to agree with all that is deemed to be correct by your ‘leaders’; if these terms are not aggreable to you, then you may ‘shut-up’, leave the ‘church’ or be physically removed from the assembly (I do mean threats of physical violence).

    These same wolves encourage the tearchers of false doctrine by refusing to correct them except in a cursory manner only; they allow ambiguous statements (supposed ‘corrections’) to be issued which would seem to be a restatement of their original position on the one hand or a back door correction on the other. Either way HONESTY is not forthcoming. When pressed, ambiguity is the order of the day.

    There is one more trait of a wolf that I did not know if I would ever witness first hand or not—but I did. I John 4:1-3. In a group of six “church leaders” I possed a question to the current “chairman of the deacons”. “Did Jesus Christ come in the flesh”? There was no answer, affirmative or negative. He only crouched in his chair, head and shoulders lowered, as if to try and hide. (What a pathetic sight). I asked the same question once, then twice a total of three times. Same response. It should be added that there was NO affirmative response from the other five “leaders”.

    The wolf brand of unity has NOTHING to do with the Unity of the Spirit. It has every thing to do with false doctrine, false prophets and the cruelty of self-appointed leaders who set themselves up as indispensable to the “church” and place a strangle hold on the true believers who want to rid the church of such demon-infested men. They are parasites of the worst kind and operate with impunity in too many churches today.

    This has probably struck a nerve in one or two readers. So the question must be asked: Do I shut-up, or stand up and speak? My answer among many other verses is JUDE 3

    Wolf season is always open.


  12. I have never witnessed that level of outright denial myself Darrel, however, I know that there are many very popular wolves in the visible church right now who would have been agreement with those men. I never thought I would see this day to be honest. The great downgrade that Spurgeon went through has continued through many generations with it now bearing the fruit of a visible church that is led by demon infested men leading those who think they are christians because they are simply religious. They demand unity, but it is as you say, not Unity of the Spirit, but unity in agreement with their hypocrisy and doctrines of demons.

    I remember about 20 years ago or so in Bible study classes on Revelation how we would speculate on where the persecution of the Church would come from, et cetera. I doubt if anyone thought it would come from within the Visible Church, but that is exactly what we are seeing now. What can we do? We must pray and stand firm in the Lord.

    Soli Deo Gloria.


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  14. Has anyone read The Heresy of Orthodoxy?

    I am as I write in Manila and have been here for almost two weeks. The church here seems to permeate with love. But doctrinally it is a mishmash of varying theologies. Pentecostalism, Methodism, WHAM etc but they all seem to get along. I think this is dangerous. This is a youthful culture (most of Asia is) and I think in terms of theology , very idealistic and relational first. They seem to have boughten into the Postmodern lie of a synergyism of thinking—a dialectic.They seem to love the mystical aspect of God/Christ.They all worship (which seems to imply music and by that I mean modern popular Christian music) with hands raised, and even dancing around a bit. To not do this seems to make one feel out of place (as it did me). It seems spontaneous , however, I did wonder.

    They see our divisions of doctrine as missing the point of Christ after the initial salvation or faith, which is to bring healing to relationships, even our own with ourselves. It is about lamenting of our inner hurts and heartaches as Christ heals us and makes us fit for service. Doctrinal differences are just mans interpreting and we all interpret differently. Live and let live seems to be the unsaid mantra.

    So in saying this, I wonder the direction of Christianity. One American trainer here said that Protestantism was a infant and a rebelling one at that, and threw so much of the richness of the Catholic faith out with the bathwater (mysticism). I wonder is that where we are headed—back across the Tiber as James White says it?


  15. Amen Mike. I wish I never be one of the false ones. There’s a quote by a preacher who’s name I cannot remember, but he said “Lord, make me anything but an hypocrite”. I made it my prayer in time to time for fear of being such a thing.

    As for the Federal Vision, it would be nice to know if someone has a link to their website to research more about their doctrines. This new calvinism thing is rather confusing and extremely subtle anc complicated, makes me mad.


  16. @Brent. Actually you write well. Your points were visually and of a nature easy to grasp. With “not so elegant speech” you very nicely encapsulated the essence of the fallacy you poked at.


  17. Joao, Good to hear from you brother. Look for articles and books by Doug Wilson on the Federal Vision. If you do a search via Bing or Google you will find plenty. I found tons. A lot of the links were broken, but I do know that one of the fellows that Daniel has been debating on this stuff has been reading Doug Wilson so I think he is the source of much of the error.


  18. Michael Henry… thanks for the encouragement! I loved the “not so elegant speech” . It was funny and meaningful to me. Thanks! 🙂


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