The Church, Unity, and Separation

by Mike Ratliff

5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. Titus 1:5-9 (NASB) 

It doesn’t take very long for me to discern whether the person I am dealing with through personal interaction 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 up me or a friend 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 Metropolitan Tabernacle 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!

6 thoughts on “The Church, Unity, and Separation

  1. So many good points in this post. These are hard scriptural lessons but necessary. Thank you for sharing.

    “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.”

    “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.”

    “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.”

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  3. Those who do not mark and avoid the false teachers; those who do not abhor the leaven of false doctrine; those who refuse to separate from that which vaunts itself against God’s Word have a shallow understanding and dim view of the holiness of Christ and of His Body. Unity is only in Truth, not compromise.

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