Separation is a Bible doctrine. In fact, the word holiness means set apart. The emphasis in Scripture is being set apart to God, and this necessarily demands being set apart from anything that hinders your separation unto God. There is a “separation to” that requires a “separation from,” but focusing on “separation from” misses the point of being “separated unto.”
Generally, separation falls into two categories: ecclesiastical and personal. Ecclesiastical separation involves organizational cooperation in church and Christian endeavors while the personal element has to do with worldliness (separation from the world). Some matters of separation are absolutes based on the clarity of the written Word. I often liken these to the high ground of a plateau. Other matters are variables dependent on the leading of the Holy Spirit within the plateau of absolutes. This distinction is often overlooked and can easily lead to confusion, offences affecting fellow Christians, and a hindering of the cause of Christ.
In today’s Christian world, what is labeled primary separation is absolute, and secondary separation, I believe, is variable. Typically, both terms apply to ecclesiastical separation, but there is also the matter of what we might term secondary-issue separation.
Primary ecclesiastical separation is the biblical demand to refuse association and cooperation with unbelievers. When an individual or a group promotes “another gospel,” we are not to officially join hands with them and thereby condone the false message—even if our aim would be to leverage the association to gain a greater audience for hearing the true gospel. Rather, the Scripture says of such a one, “let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). This is primary separation, a separation from unbelievers in religious cooperation, a biblical absolute which all believers must obey.
Beyond this, secondary separation engages in separation from those who do not apply primary separation. Some take it a step further and separate from anyone who doesn’t separate from those who don’t apply primary separation. Others take it yet another step out. Usually, most people stop three or four steps removed from the primary separation issue. Studies reveal that if you go six steps out, you would have to separate from yourself! This indicates the fallacious logic of secondary separation, leaving it without biblical warrant in an absolute sense. Secondary separation is not black and white like primary separation.
There are times when the Spirit may lead you not to associate with a given situation, but it’s not an absolute for all or necessarily for all times. Beyond the primary level, lack of association must be motivated by obedience to the Spirit and not be a matter of fearing man lest you find yourself “kicked out of the synagogue.” When the Spirit leads in a given situation, just obey.
Personal separation from the world is vital for a healthy walk with God. What the Scripture makes absolute must be practiced. As the Spirit leads regarding variable applications within the plateau of absolutes, again, we must respond in obedience.
Then, there is the danger of secondary-issue separation. This involves taking a lesser issue of personal separation (something not unimportant but less important) and elevating it to the level of the fundamentals, thereby making it a matter of separation. Practice this and say “only” where God doesn’t and insist on it being universal for all and you will find the separation that follows unnecessarily splinters the cause of Christ. In the variables of application within the absolutes, each of us must follow the Holy Spirit’s individual leading, and allow others to do the same.
Former generations of Fundamentalists seem to have understood this far better than many today. They unified around the essentials of the faith—the fundamentals—and then fussed about everything else! Afterward, they ate together, fellowshipped, and found no room for angry separation. They were able to distinguish ideas that could be legitimately debated from those that the clarity of Scripture made absolute. Thus, when arguing and supporting respective sides in discussions, they didn’t take matters personally. They understood the issues were not personal and that the debated concepts would rise or fall on their own merits.
We can learn from them. We know from Scripture that primary separation must be embraced by all of God’s people. Beyond that, we must follow the Spirit’s leading—and afford others the opportunity to do the same.
John Van Gelderen
About This Blog
Hello, I’m John Van Gelderen. I am an evangelist and the president of Revival Focus Ministries, an organization for the cause of revival in hearts, homes, churches, and beyond, and for evangelizing. This blog is focused on experiencing Jesus. I believe in order to really live, you must access and experience the very life of Jesus Christ.