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The Beatings of Separation

January 25, 2017

I am so thankful for fundamental Christianity. Those believers who desire to live out the truths of the Bible with separated Christian lives are a blessing to me. For over 30 years, my wife and I have sat under the tutelage of dedicated fundamental pastors and men of God who have preached and lived out separated lives unto the Lord! Praise God for these wonderful Christian men! We have also learned under their guidance and instruction that we should never let down our guard on the separation front…….not for one second. The discipline, desire, passion, and leading of the Holy Spirit should consume our determination to live separated lives to the very end. We hope and pray that one day in heaven we will hear those wonderful words, “well done thou good and faithful servant.” We practice separated living as an act of worship and praise as God (operative word….God) impresses upon our hearts the need for holy and righteous living. As God orchestrates the choruses and chords of progressive Christian sanctification in our lives, we begin to be molded and shaped into that perfect image of Christ. However, I am also reminded that we should never be motivated for separation based on a long list of do’s and don’ts that choke the leading and working of His Spirit. An improper motivation for Christian separation can lead us directly to the abyss of legalism and a works-based mentality. In this position paper I want to fully explore what our motivation should be for helping and teaching others about separation along with some of the potential pitfalls and things to avoid.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” (Galatians 6:1-3)

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;” (Titus 2:1-3)

We must be extremely careful not to beat people with the stick of righteous separation. If we are honest, I think that we can all think back to instances and circumstances in our lives where we have led with the issues of separation first, summarily pointing out with fervor the laundry list and inadequacies (sin issues) of growing Christians and inquiring unbelievers. We instinctively survey the landscape of those who are less mature in the faith and we formulate in our minds the list of vices and areas of spiritual development and needed improvement. We have a natural tendency to want to jump right in, point out the sin, and fix the issues without even getting to know and love them as fellow believers in the Lord or love those who desperately need Him as Savior. I believe that there are many in fundamental circles who must learn to graciously and lovingly allow room for the spirit of God to work. I believe that by our very nature (the old man within) we have a propensity to commence with the conceptual spiritual beatings, vitriol, and judgment of the unsaved and those less mature in the Lord. There have been many occasions over the years where I have found myself rushing to righteous standards of judgment in the flesh, acting as if I were the divine lawgiver myself.  

I am praying that all fundamental Christians (especially me) will desire to put away the whips, crown of thorns, and the scourging instruments of pharisaical judgment while putting on the peaceful and gentle edifice of love. Let us determine together to have a deeper understanding and love for fellow believers first, before hastily rushing to the sin issues of “the law” and higher standards of righteous living. Please do not misunderstand my intentions for this position paper in pointing out the above approach. I believe the Bible and what it says about separation. All I am saying is that some of us need to readjust our attitudes and approaches when teaching, counseling, and encouraging those less mature in the faith. If we are unable or unwilling to make course-corrections in our approach to Christian council along with greater allowance for incremental growth (compared to the instant super-Christian expectations), I believe that we will continue to see defections in our ranks to the more liberal factions of Christianity. When we first learn to love people and get to know and respect them right where they are in their positions of life, then I believe that God will exponentially bless. When we develop a compassion and love for the ungodly and not a spirit of judgement, God will multiply our impact. If not, we will leave an unfathomable trail of resentment and bitterness in the wake of those pious and ceremonial beatings of separation.  

In the present day and culture in which we live, I believe that the book of Acts clearly articulates a reasonable position and approach for fundamental Christians teaching on separation. In their book, “Bringing Your Faith to Work” Norman Geisler and Randy Douglas point out varied evangelistic approaches to spreading the gospel message. They indicate in the first half of Acts (1-12) that Peter is portrayed as the primary evangelistic leader. His primary approach to evangelism was a proclamational style based on those he was engaged with at the time. The Jews had a fairly good grasp of who God was and had a general understanding of the Scriptures. Therefore, sharing the good news of the gospel through proclamation to the Jews was appropriate since they could connect the dots to a coming Messiah. However, in the second half of Acts (13-28) the Apostle Paul was the primary evangelistic leader and used a totally different approach. Paul was dealing with a primarily Roman-Greek culture who knew very little about God and the Scriptures. Paul used much more of a relationship-oriented approach to proclaiming the gospel message.

Shouldn’t we be taking a page out of that same divine playbook in the book of Acts when counseling on separation? We are living in a day and age where many people have very limited knowledge and understanding of God’s word. We once had a Christian consensus in our society where Christian values were shared by believers and unbelievers alike. That isn’t the case anymore. We are in an age where the secular humanist consensus has taken root. Shouldn’t we adjust our approach on separation with those we are trying to reach? Shouldn’t our counsel and guidance on separation first begin with a genuine love and concern (relationship-oriented) for others while building long-lasting friendships in the Lord? I do not believe that preaching at people (with the exception of our pastors from the pulpit) and pointing out all of their sin issues will create the amount of trust needed to help people grow in the Lord.

I would like to use a few humorous (reverse illustrations) captions to make my point relating to a gracious and loving approach on the issue of separation.

“The beatings will continue until your attitude about separation changes.”

“I am going to slap you upside your head if you don’t start practicing righteous separation.”

“If all you are is the separation hammer, everything will look just like a nail.”   

As Christians, we are called to be separate and distinct in our approach to living out our faith here on earth. There is no debate on that issue. However, it is the Holy Spirit who will work in the lives of Christians everywhere, bringing them closer to His image and standards of excellence. And yes, Christ will use us as instruments and channels to guide and direct.

Why do we often lead with separation in our discipleship? Why do we want to bring out the checklist items of separation before we even get to know them? Why are we so obsessed with hammering people (figure of speech) into compliance for doing all the right things while the rest of the Bible gets lost, overlooked, or becomes secondary? I want to offer a few simple explanations for us to consider.

  • Some Christians are exuberant – These Christians are so full of zeal and exuberance for the Lord that they overwhelm the less spiritually grounded (they cast an inadvertent cloud of demanding compliance)
  • Some Christians are fearful – These Christians are inadequately trained and are afraid that they will not be able to provide the proper guidance and counsel for sin issues (easier to stay in their comfort zones by telling others what not to do)
  • Some Christians are lazy – These Christians are predisposed to pointing out and proclaiming what should be corrected vs. engaging in meaningful teaching moments from the Word of God (teaching is hard work and they prefer not to get involved)
  • Some Christians are novices – These Christians treat their salvation experience as a badge of honor and a “secret club” type of mentality where the rules must be obeyed (a religious club compared to a dynamic and living faith in God)
  • Some Christians are prideful – These Christians take much pleasure in the sanctimonious and royal decrees that others are not living for the Lord (they think they have achieved a higher level understanding and discernment with an air of superiority) 

Ultimately, we need to get to know people and learn how to genuinely love them. We must ask the Spirit of God to give us profound and unselfish motivation to lovingly and gently guide people to new spiritual heights. Yes, we are to hate sin. Fortunately for us Christ has died for the ungodly and was the sacrifice and propitiation for the sins of the world. Let us desire to put away the dogmatic, uncompromising, and judgmental sword of separation, replacing it with the sweet aroma of spiritual discernment and grace.  Praise God in the highest!      


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