Thinking About Separation and Unity (Part 1: Personal Separation)

I have been thinking a lot about biblical separation and unity lately. I think it might help to put into words my thoughts and see what folks in the blogosphere think.

There are two main areas of biblical separation: “Personal” separation and “Pastoral” (Ecclesiastical) separation. Both Personal and Pastoral separation have “practical” aspects that must be addressed.

First let’s look at Personal separation.

Personal separation is for each believer individually. Every Christian must evaluate their walk with the Lord and see that they do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10.31). To help us in this walk, God has given us three categories that all things in this world fall into.

1. Biblical – There are biblical things. These are the things that we should be doing. We think of these things as “Thou shalt…” (in King James speak)

2. Anti-biblical – There are anti-biblical things. These are the things that God has commanded that we not do. We can think of these things as “Thou shalt not…”

3. Extra-biblical – These are things that are not spoken of directly in the scriptures. This is not to say that scriptures do not speak to them, but that they are not specifically named. These are things that we must take biblical principles and make personal applications for. These are sometimes referred to as “convictions”.

I propose that these categories are given to the believer so that we can walk as salt (deterrents to decay) and light (righteousness revealers) in this world. Biblical and anti-biblical things apply to all believers. Convictions on the other hand are for each individual believer so that they can keep themselves separated from the world.

It is important for us to take a moment and define worldliness. 1 John 2.15-16 gives us a good definition.

1 John 2:15-17 (NLT- [brackets mine]) Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure [Pleasure], a craving for everything we see [Possessions], and pride in our achievements and possessions [Prestige]. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

So worldliness can be described as a lust for pleasure, possessions, and prestige. God knows each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and gives appropriate convictions to each one so that they can be “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17.14-16). Personal convictions allow the believer to be ‘insulated’ from the world as they walk about in the world.

As a side note: When an individual believer (or group of believers) attempts to make their personal convictions the convictions of every believer, the tendency is for ‘isolation’ from the world to occur (for example: the Amish).

The Practical Aspects of Personal Separation

Now let’s consider the “practical” aspects of personal separation because I believe that much of the conflict we experience in churches today is because we do not differentiate how to apply separation to these different categories. There are different areas of scripture that deal with the different categories of personal separation.

Biblical and Anti-Biblical Applications

In the cases of biblical and anti-biblical things we have many scriptures that I am assuming that most churches know of and at least try to apply. I won’t spend much time here because I believe that the biggest problem in churches today is the misapplication of dealing with ‘extra-biblical’ things. Suffice it to say that for biblical and anti-biblical things the process of Matthew 18.15-17 should be applied. It is important to remember that this process has the goal of restoration, not shunning. Shunning is a last resort when the hard heartedness of the sinning brother will not listen to the pleadings of the church. Other scriptures that address these categories are 1 Thessalonians 3.6-15, 2 Corinthians 5.9-13, and 1 Timothy 5.19-21.

Extra-biblical Applications

Here are some examples of areas that are in the extra-biblical category (where we have to apply biblical principles): music, dress standards (i.e. ‘pants on women’), hair styles, television in the home, attending movie theaters, earrings on men, education of children (home school, Christian school, public school), et. al.

I mentioned before that God gives each believer different convictions in extra-biblical areas based upon their individual strengths and weaknesses. If there is great variation in personal convictions in these areas amongst the brethren, then how in the world are we to have the unity the Jesus commands us to have?

I believe that as Pastors we must develop an “Attitude of Acceptance” in our people. These principles can be found in Romans 14.

1. Accept people where they are.

Romans 14:1 (ESV) As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.

2. Allow the Holy Spirit to work.

Romans 14:5 (ESV) One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

3. Agree to disagree agreeably.

Romans 14:3-4 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

I tell my people that I want them to have convictions. They should use God’s word to discern how they should walk as salt and light in this world. But once they have their convictions they need to keep them to themselves. It is not right to try and force others to adhere to your convictions. And it is especially heinous to believe that your convictions are the best because you are “more mature”. Read Romans 14.4 again and put that sin far away from you. Rejoice that God has given you convictions to insulate you from the world. But don’t despise those that do not share your convictions.

If your convictions differ from mine, then there will be certain limitations placed upon our fellowship out of love towards each other. If I know that you do not have a television in your home, then when you or your children come to my house I will not have a television turned on. We must agreeably disagree as to our personal convictions, but I will willingly limit my liberty to watch television so that I can have the opportunity to minister to you and your family.

Church Membership

One final area of personal application that we must address is church membership. Churches typically have a doctrinal statement and a church covenant. These are the uniting documents of a group of believers. The doctrinal statement spells out what the church believes and teaches. The covenant typically contains a commitment that members must agree to adhere to. Some covenants do contain extra-biblical convictions that the church has agreed are important for fellowship. It is vitally important that all members of the church agree on the doctrinal statement and whatever may be contained in the church covenant. It is upon these two documents that the church membership must have unity. In all others areas there must be unity in diversity. It is my contention that unity in diversity can be found by having the “attitude of acceptance” in extra-biblical areas.

In my next post I’ll discuss Pastoral (or Ecclesiastical) separation (Lord willing).

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2 Comments on “Thinking About Separation and Unity (Part 1: Personal Separation)”

  1. Chuck Landon Says:

    Excellent thoughts considering Pastor, Practical and Personal separation. I think that the emphasis on separation from those who do not follow ones convictions (which are not necessarily biblical) is the biggest problem with fundamentalists today. It’s hard to understand how those who are so passionate about God’s word completely disregard the bits about love, peace, etc. And that doesn’t make one a compromiser. That’s why I think this article is so important to our state of fundamentalism today.

    Chuck Landon

  2. Rory Says:

    Good thoughts. agreeing to disagree on what sometimes are called abiblical issues is key to fellowship. That is why Baptists have traditionally accepted the concept of individual soul liberty.


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