What does it mean to be a Separatist?
by Missionary David Cox (c) 2003
“Separatist” has been defined and redefined by people through the years. In its essence, it means to separate or shun something or somebody. I would define being a separatist as . . .
(1) somebody who believes strongly in the holiness of God, and does everything possible in his own life, family, church, and ministry to be holy and separated from the world and sin.
(2) somebody who sees such a problem with sin that not only does he personally “clean up” his own life of sin (by constantly fighting against sin), but goes so far as to limit his friendship and companionship to those who are of like mind. He limits his relationship with those around him and in a religious context or friendship to those Christians who are not deliberately allowing sin to have the victory in their lives by not fighting strongly against it.
(3) somebody who understands that doctrine determines conduct, and therefore false doctrine will both lead the person into sin in some way, as well as jeopardizing his eternal salvation. Therefore he refuses to allow sin in the form of conduct in his life, or unbridled (unrepented) sin in the life of those around him, OR FALSE DOCTRINE.
Attitude towards sin is the key.
The separatist is somebody who has a very strong conviction in his own life to stand against sin, and to stand for the Lord. He is not proud about this, but he is very determined. He knows everybody, including the best of Christians, sin (1 John 1:8-10). But this is not so much about whether a person sins or not, but in their allegiance to God and against the enemy (Satan and sin). Being a separatist is about a correct attitude towards sin.
Attitude towards a sinning brother.
A separatist is also somebody who has a caring attitude towards helping his Christian brother who is sinning. He knows that sin is deceitful and extremely dangerous, and that everybody has a problem with it. When a separatist sees his brother sin, he sympathizes with him such that he suffers with him. He knows that sin destroys lives and everything good, and eternally it puts people in hell (eternal punishment and suffering). But the separatist is an attitude that desires to fight against sin, wherever it is found. The separatist therefore will be patient, caring, and supportive of his brethren that are fighting against sin. They carry the same banner of hatred towards sin that he carries, and they are soldiers on the same side of this fight.
But the separatist is intolerant of supposing “Christians” who put up no fight against sin, or worse, seek out with glee and thrill sin. Those who cover up sin so that they can continue in sin are despised by the separatist. Those who put no stress, importance nor desire correction of sin are the separatist’s enemies within our ranks.
Christ died to take care of the sin problem. The Bible, the church, salvation is all about the sin problem. If a person embraces this solution of God which is in the Savior, then God will see that there is many and much victory over sin. It is hypocrisy and a fraudulent religion to claim to be saved and to see no regular victory over sin. To deliberately hide, cover, and ignore discipline in order to promote, protect, and continue is sin is just anathema to the separatist. This is the attitude of an unsaved man, not a true Christian.
In the cases of a Christian brother who has sinned, but has clearly repented and abandoned that sin, making no provision for the flesh to continue in that sin, the separatist will put what is past, behind him, and treat such a Christian brother as if he had never sinned in the first place. He holds no grudges, he dredges up no muck against those who have left off their sinning to live for God.
What does being a separatist mean practically
Being informed. Unfortunately being a separatist means being informed of people, movements, groups, trends, and fads. We must be constantly educating ourselves against the varying attacks of the devil. Satan changes his tactics constantly, and there is always some new way of doing his same old business. We must know where people stand, and what they are up to. We do not relish reading, studying, knowing, and informing others of the sins and digresses of our brethren, but if we are to hold to the word of God as we should, we have to keep from falling into error and things that lead into error.
The separatist’s interest in what is going on in the religious world is not for gossip, (so that he can defame and spread evil against others) but rather so that he can first of all help his brethren, exhorting and praying for them when he able to, and secondly to protect himself and his charge from error.
It is not a big club. Being a separatist above all assumes that a person is mature spiritually, and that he does not “use” separation to belittle, hurt, slander, defame, and cause problems (especially in losing people, support, or money) from another man or ministry simply because somebody else “shines” brighter than he does. It is totally outside of what is proper to use separation as a big stick to attack others in the ministry that are not agreeable in some way, or have differences that are acceptable (use other names for themselves, use other schools for training, or other elements that are biblically bound).
Example Jack Hyles – After having read Sumner’s treatise against Jack Hyles, I meditated on the presentation. The bottom line is that the entire issue should have been handled in First Baptist Church of Hammond, and if the deacons and church leadership there felt there was impropriety, they should have dealt with it. The problem there is not that Jack Hyles had an affair. It is an unbiblical, unscriptural concept of pastor whereby sin is allowable if the person sinning is “a soul winner”, and even more if he is a high profile pastor and leader of Fundamentalism. The comment by Jack Hyles that if Jack Hyles goes down, Fundamentalism will go down reveals a tremendous arrogance in that man, that would immediately disqualify him biblically from the ministry in any capacity. Humbleness, meekness, and self-abasement are the traits of a man of God, not pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation. Although I take the position that Jack Hyles has “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-7) because he has removed biblical repentance (Luke 13:3) from the plan of salvation, I do not see the attack of Sumner being appropriate. There are a host of things biblically and legitimately that one criticize Jack Hyles for, so why get involved in the internal affairs of another autonomous church? It would appear to me that there was a hidden agenda.
Example John MacArthur – The issue of John MacArthur with his position on the blood of Christ not being needed for the atonement is another such example of the improper use of separation. The issue is simple, and John MacArthur lined up on the wrong side of the issue. John MacArthur is a well known, popular, and very studious Bible teacher. It is unfortunate that he did not humble himself and just say he preached that when he was young, made a mistake, and retracts what he had taught. But the whole issue smells foul when a group of men in a competing religious orientation attacks him, and in order to find some “dirt” on him, they have to go back 30 years to find an issue they use to beat MacArthur with. Simply put, this is an improper use of separation. I seriously doubt MacArthur has taught this blood thing for years (or the antagonists would have taken a more recent book or sermon as their club). It would appear as though they bought all of MacArthur’s tapes and began studying them for something with which they could criticize him publicly and “de-popularize” (defame and gossip) him in the eyes of Christianity. It is a good testimony to the man that they had to go back 30 years to find something in his teachings and sermons that would even pass as controversy. All preachers “grow” in their understanding and ability to exegete the word of God, and the early years have their mistakes, problems, and misunderstanding (potential heresies). The great sin of MacArthur is that he makes all of his teaching and sermons public, so people can criticize him with his own words. He too has other problems that would cause the separatist to be extremely cautious or to totally separate from him, but the issue that is used against him is questionable as to its motives.
Ignorance is a great evil among separatists. Every separatist must inform himself as to what is going on. Much of what is being done is often done openly, without any pretense of hiding what they are doing, because people in error are often self-deceived into believing that they are biblical in their doctrine and misconduct. But the separatist is a serious student of movements, groups, and people, especially what they say they believe and do, and what they actually say and do. It is a sad commentary that the majority of conservative churches today simply do not know or do not care about separation issues. When they lose their families, churches, and young people to sin, they cannot understand why.
A separatist will always take fellow Christian at his word, until his actions disprove his words, or he shows himself to be a liar and hypocrite, changing what he says with the audience. The one redeeming element in all of this is time. Time proves what a man says he believes. Few hypocrites will be able to hold the lie forever. Sooner or later they will slip and the truth will come out.
A separatist looks beyond the surface. Being a separatist means looking beyond the surface of things. Things are not always what they may appear to be. People make great boasts of orthodoxy, but living it is another thing. The separatist meditates long on the Word of God and the world around him, as well as his own life and ministry. Just because people call themselves “Christians”, “Separatists”, “Fundamentalists”, “Orthodox”, or a host of other labels we have invited to discriminate between people, he does not necessarily accept it as given that these people are “one of us”. Dealing with cults and false religions, the separatist learns that words are often redefined so that on the surface all may seem well, but in reality things are amiss.
A separatist is not impressed by “credentials” or “validations” such as being endorsed by such and such person or group. This is an old trick of the devil. People change, and people are often deceitful. Those changes often go unnoticed for years. Only to the separatist that is always seeking to inform himself of these things will notice these changes. Nor does he quickly accept self-applied labels “I am a Fundamentalist”. The entire terminology of “evangelical”, “orthodox”, “conservative”, “fundamentalist”, etc. has proven that labels are not reliable in describing people, groups, or churches, simply because it only describes what they want to be know as, not what they actually are.
Example of Jerry Falwell – Jerry Falwell has ardently applied the term “Fundamentalist” to himself, his church, and his school. Unfortunately, Jerry Falwell refuses to take the true position and practice of a Fundamentalist, and just uses the name. In recent years he has had very tight dealings with Pentecostals and the Southern Baptists, and the Southern Baptist Convention among others that would not be lined up with “Fundamentalism”. The name means nothing if it does not describe accurately. Being a Fundamentalist is much more than just using the name for yourself, it means you take that position.
A separatist is not an isolationist, but a remnant
We would seem to come to the conclusion that a separatist is an isolationist. This is not necessarily true. A separatist isolates himself from sin, erring brethren that are unrepentant, and from false doctrine and teachers of false doctrine. The separatist is not deceived into thinking he is in a majority, but rather he listens to God when God says His people will be a remnant (a small almost insignificant number). He does not try to accommodate heathen and erring brothers around him so that he will seem to have a majority. He understands his role as being a lighthouse of what is right in a dark stormy night, when there is no other light to be seen except his. This is not a reason to turn off the light, but to stand firm and let the light shine brightly. Although the separatist is very careful, he will always seek to have good fellowship with people of like mind, faith, and practice (when he can find them). If he cannot find them, then he is content to stand alone.
A separatist understands Christian liberty, and soul liberty
God has rules and commands that eternal. These we can say have a spiritual principle behind them, and that never changes. But some applications of these principles do change with our changing culture. For example, is it a sin to eat pork or not? In the Old Testament, God gave Israel a set of principles, and they wanted more, and so God gave them specific applications of those principles to their culture and life as it was back then. The principles are eternal and never change, but the applications are bound at times to culture, and what it means in that particular time, society, culture, and people. That means that some things can change as far as what is right and wrong. Eating pork was a sin in the Old Testament (my guess is that wandering around in the desert, pork spoiled too quickly and people did not understand when it would do them harm). In the New Testament, the association or situation was different, so God clearly released Christians from a prohibition against eating it. Yet Paul says that if eating meat (this time offered to an idol) trips up his brethren, he will eat no meat. So the point is that at times it is right to do something, and at times it may be wrong. (I would assume from studying Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 8 that the main point Paul makes is that idols are demons, and meat offered to demons is not a worship of a true god, but demonic deception. Therefore Paul’s point is that it is totally okay to eat that meat. But because of the brethren in the Corinthian church (their background and lack of spirituality), Paul would forego eating that meat so that they would not be tripped up spiritually.
This is called Christian liberty, or soul liberty. What this means is that there are some things we cannot argue about (thou shalt not kill, thou shalt no commit adultery, etc), and there are some things we can argue about (eating meat/being a vegetarian, how far does not being identified with idols is taken). For example, some Christians today take it to an extreme that a certain corporation that has a moon and stars in their logo is Satanic, therefore Christians are not to even use a product made by them. (Joseph’s father, mother, and brethren are represented in a dream from God as sun, moon, and stars, is that satanic symbols then?)
So Christian liberty is a concept that there is some latitude within Christendom that would allow for some differences between Christians and that even though these differences exist, neither is in sin. Some people would make an issue of being in a restaurant that serves alcohol. They see it as always being a sin, and they impress upon other Christians that they are sinning by eating in such a place. Yet they see no problem buying groceries in a store that sells alcohol. Where is the difference? Both sell alcohol, one is for consumption on the premises and the other off. Not much of a difference. Economically you are supporting both companies that are making money from the sell of alcohol. Testimony wise, you are in a place that serves and sells alcohol, and has drunks coming in for their fix there.
These specific restrictive practices are technically a conviction. It is a strongly held “personal” belief. We must separate this in our thinking from clear declarations in the Bible, which is apostles’ doctrine. But today everybody seems to blur the conviction to mean it is clearly biblical. Knowledge has a lot to do with this also. Most Christians today would say that smoking is a sin. But what would they say if their pastor smoked cigars? Spurgeon smoked cigars. Was he wrong? Medically, the knowledge was not what it is today to discern that it was a harm on the body. We should not judge Spurgeon by the knowledge that we have, and he didn’t have.
Christian liberty means that God will hold each person responsible for his own actions, based on the light given to that person. This does not excuse a “see no evil” attitude whereby the individual deliberately refuses to get knowledge readily available to him. Perhaps in a few years science will prove that eating pork causes cancer, then a future generation of Christians will judge all of us for our bacon and pork chops. No good Christian should ever have eaten them!
A separatist understands that at times, people need education on an issue. That is not an excuse to fellowship with them, but it is an issue to deal with. When the separatist does not make sufficiently clear the Bible’s position on issues, and the facts of people, groups, and movements, then he can only blame himself for the conflict with those who do not understand his position.
The separatist will seek to form biblical convictions and to live by them, but he will not judge people by his convictions. He will allow some room for doubt in his Christian brethren. They do not have to agree with him point by point. There are some issues that he will be firm and unmoving, especially when the doctrine is clearly and unequivocally stated in Scripture. On points where good godly men differ because of difficult and unclear exegesis, he will form his own convictions on the matters, but will allow latitude in his brethren.
A separatist is a Fundamentalist
A separatist has to be a Fundamentalist. A Fundamentalist is a Christian who sees a core of essential doctrine and believes that have to be maintained, and on which there can be no latitude given. These Fundamentals of the Christian Faith are the core beliefs upon which nothing can be conceded. Much more than just clear biblical teaching, they are essential to Christianity, especially to salvation and the work of God.