Thinking About Separation & Unity (Part 2: Pastoral Separation)

I want to continue my discussion on separation and unity this week. In part 1 we looked at personal separation from the world and how it affects unity in the church. This week I want to consider Pastoral (or Ecclesiastical) separation and how it affects unity between different churches.

I want to keep this post as brief as possible, so understand that there may be some “painting with a broad brush”. I will try to qualify some statements as we go, but just understand that this is a complex topic being boiled down to a short blog post.

Some Essentials

First, we must understand that there are doctrines essential to salvation, and there are doctrines essential to the Christian Faith. The reformers understood this when they battled the Catholic Church over the essentials of the Gospel. They formulated their five ‘solas’ to define their position: Sola scriptura (“by scripture alone”); Sola fide (“by faith alone”); Sola gratia (“by grace alone”); Solus Christus (“in Christ alone”); and Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”). The fundamentalists of the late 19th and early 20th century also recognized the modernist movement’s threat to the Faith and developed a set of fundamentals of the Faith: the inerrancy of Scripture; the Virgin Birth and Deity of Christ; Substitutionary Atonement; the bodily resurrection of Jesus; and the literal return of Christ. There may come a day when it is necessary to defend the truth against some new form of error and further elaborate on what is essential to the Faith. But for now, and for the sake of this discussion, let’s say that these 10 terse statements, while not exhaustive, do well represent the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Some Non-essentials

These essential doctrines that we just looked at are by no means exhaustive when considering the total teaching of scripture. But the defenders of the Faith recognized that there were certain things that were necessary to the Faith, while others were matters of interpretation. There is much said in the scriptures about church polity, baptism (both the method of baptism and the recipients of baptism), the timing of the Lord’s return, and more. But one’s belief concerning the way to govern their church does not affect one’s eternal destiny. The reformers and fundamentalists understood this and took great pains to define what was essential versus what was non-essential. They knew that there were areas where agreement was a must and other areas where they could agree to disagree agreeably.

Pastoral Separation Over Essential Doctrines

Now, we have determined that there are doctrines that are essential to the Faith. How does this affect unity between churches? The scriptures are very clear here.

2 John 7-11 (NKJV) For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

Notice the extent of separation that we should have from false teachers in verse 10. Do not let them in your house or even greet them! It should be obvious that if we are not to give this person a cordial “welcome”, then we certainly cannot share in any cooperative church efforts or fellowship. So we have a False Teacher (FT) that I cannot have any fellowship with.

FT ≠ Me

Notice also that whoever does greet this false teacher becomes a partaker in his evil work. It should then be obvious that the person working with the false teacher (FT) is a disobedient brother (DB). Should my church fellowship with Disobedient Brother’s church? Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 3.14-15.

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (NKJV) And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

I understand that this scripture is from a different epistle that is addressing different issues besides false teaching. But if we take the principle taught in these verses and apply it to our church situation, then I believe we see that we should not cooperate or associate with (keep company) the disobedient brother’s church.

FT ↔ DB ≠ Me

Now let’s go a step further. What if a pastor decides to have fellowship with the disobedient brother? Here is where things get a little more difficult to discern, so let’s call this fellow a Questionable Brother (QB). If it is clear that there was direct fellowship with a disobedient brother, and there is no indication of repentance, then we have a brother that is being disobedient: I cannot fellowship with him.

FT ↔ DB ↔ QB ≠ Me

I said before that this was more difficult to discern, but why? Well, what if it has been a long time since he fellowshipped with the disobedient brother? Has he since repented? Where does his church now stand on the situation? Would he do the same thing given another opportunity? We must remember that this questionable brother is still our brother in Christ. We need great discernment as to how to handle these situations. God wants us to do right and He has promised to help us do right if we but ask, seek, and knock.

Matthew 7:7-12 (HCSB) “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them—this is the Law and the Prophets.

Now that we have discussed separation from a personal and pastoral outlook, we need to look at situations where churches disagree on non-fundamental doctrines such as church polity, mode of baptism, dress standards, and music styles among other things. I call this sort of separation ‘practical’ separation. But that topic is for another post.

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12 Comments on “Thinking About Separation & Unity (Part 2: Pastoral Separation)”

  1. […] no other term to describe what I am has made it to the forefront. Just understand that I believe separation should be over doctrine, not preferences.) I try to make sure that I have a good relationship with all other […]

  2. VanceH Says:

    Hi Pastor Wit,
    In this post you make a distinction between “doctrines essential to salvation” and “doctrines essential to the Christian Faith.” Can you say more about this? What do you see as the differences between these two categories. Is this a Biblical distinction?

    — Vance

  3. pastorwit Says:

    Good question Vance. I do make a distinction between “essential to faith” and “essential to salvation”. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy makes this distinction in Article XIX.
    “We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian *faith*. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ. We deny that such confession is necessary for *salvation*. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church” (*Emphasis* mine)

    So I believe that a person can be saved without believing (or understanding for that matter) in the inerrancy of the Scriptures. However, I do believe that Inerrancy is essential for a church to teach in order to be considered orthodox in teaching “the faith which was once delivered unto the saint” (Jude 3). Therefore inerrancy is a doctrine that is fundamental to the faith and should be considered essential to ecclesiastical unity.

  4. VanceH Says:

    Hi Pastor Wit,
    Thanks for your quick response to my question. In your “essential to faith” category I would have to put myself in the un-orthodox / non-unity position. While I agree with most of the Chicago Statement, I disagree with the deny portion of XII. While my position does open up a scary abyss on the hermeneutical front, I can not accept a less than 10,000 year old universe in the face of what appears to me to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Rather than discounting the Bible because of this, my energy is towards understanding this gap, perhaps in the light of progressive revelation. If the Chicago Statement had been written 400 years ago, I suspect it would have included geocentrism in XII. While I agree that the 7 literal days of creation is much more central to the word than observations about the sun and the foundations of the earth–the point is that the orthodox biblical interpretation that used to prevail on the sun / earth has been suplanted. Any thoughts?

    — Vance

  5. pastorwit Says:

    Hey Vance,

    Spent a short time checking out your blog. I too was a software developer for 16 years before entering the ministry. I also spent the last several years managing a group of developers and had to watch them do all of the cool stuff. Much of my writing is formulated around ‘if-then-else’ or ‘select-case’ paradigms. I think the developments in software design are tremendous illustrations of how God used ‘intelligent design’ in his creation. Someday we’ll have to discuss these, but unfortunately non-programmers won’t follow along or will get really bored. So we’ll save that discussion for another day.

    You raise some issues that would probably be better off as full fledged posts rather than comments, but I believe that discussion is best had ‘in the moment’. So let me give you a few thoughts on inerrancy and how it relates to creation. As with many things, good men disagree with me on this, but here goes…

    First let me comment on the ‘deny’ portions that you referred to in the Chicago statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The first one states:

    “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.”

    My understanding is that this statement is saying that the Bible ‘trumps’ what we understand about history and science, not the other way around. Since inerrancy is derived from the nature of God (Titus 1.2), we must interpret history and science in light of the scriptures. Claims that the bible contains errors based upon historical or scientific assertions are incorrect. More could be said, but I want to stay on topic.

    Now let’s look at the second ‘deny’ portion of the inerrancy document.

    “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”

    My understanding of this statement is this: The Bible plainly states that God created all things and that there was a worldwide flood; therefore no scientific hypothesis can correctly deny these truths. In fact, 2 Peter 3 warns us about false teachers and scoffers who deny the return of Christ (v.1), Creation (v.5), the worldwide Flood (v.6), and Judgment Day (v.7).

    Those two denials are fairly straightforward and simple. But they leave plenty of ‘wiggle’ room for different theories in regards to the details of how creation happened. There are many theories as to how the biblical account of creation and scientific discoveries can be reconciled: some more orthodox than others and some that I believe are not orthodox. In his book, Christian Theology, Millard Erickson lists 5 general theories (details vary from person to person) that attempt to explain the apparent age of the earth with Scripture. They are the Gap theory, the Flood theory, the Ideal-time theory, the Age-day theory, and the Pictorial-day theory. I personally believe that the flood theory provides sufficient explanation of the fossil record and the ideal-time theory provides sufficient explanation of the age of the Earth. On pages 406 and 407 of the second edition he states:

    “The ideal-time theory says that God created the world in a six-day period a relatively short time ago, but that he made it as if it were billions of years old. This is a genuinely novel and ingenious view. Adam, of course, did not begin his life as a newborn baby. At any point in his life he must have had an apparent (or ideal) age many years older than his actual age (i.e., the number of years since his creation). The ideal-time theory extends this principle. If God created trees, rather than merely tree seeds, they presumably had rings indicating an ideal age rather than their real age. Thus, each element of creation must have begun somewhere in the life cycle.”

    I like to call this “creation in motion”. If you are God, why wait billions of years for the universe to mature in order that Earth can support life. Why not just speak it into existence at a mature point (ideal-time) and then create life?

    I also believe that God designed His creation to adapt. Some call this micro-evolution. I believe that this helps to explain different breeds within a species such as dogs. In the software development world we are just now trying to copy this design. But while we may develop sorting software that adapts and becomes more efficient, we won’t develop sorting software that learns to be a word processor (macro-evolution).

    Surely there is also the possibility that certain adaptations to given time frames may no longer be necessary, such as certain organs of the body. Also, given that creation was marred by the fall, there is the possibility of frivolous adaptations that appear to serve no purpose, such as jellyfish eyes without a brain.

    I need to wrap things up here before I go too long. In short: The Bible is inerrant (as given in the original manuscripts) and clearly states that God created all things. There are different theories as to how scripture and science can be resolved while still remaining orthodox. However, to deny the inerrancy of the scriptures is not orthodox.

    I hope this helps.

  6. VanceH Says:

    Hi Pastor Wit,
    That’s fun that you used to be a software developer / manager. I’m not particularly surprised, your writing is very well organized and clear. That’s kind-of important for someone writing software.
    I have read a fair amount about various theories attempting to reconcile the scriptural accounts with the apparent age of the earth. Of the ones you mention I also favor the appearance of age theory. I have no doubts that God could have created the universe in 6 days—or in a blink of an eye for that matter. The thing I don’t like about it, is that it seems to come close to being deceptive. If the universe is really 10,000 years old then it requires God to create red-shifted photons, in-flight, that appear to come from far-away stars and galaxies that never existed (their life cycles ended billions of years ago). My pastor pointed out this is really no different from the wine at the wedding at Cana (which I discuss in my latest blog post). With that miracle, the wine that Jesus created was probably never close to a grape, and hence also gave an unwarranted appearance of age—but I can’t find untoward deception in that. By extention I can’t complain about missing galaxies…
    I will close with a question. The cornerstone of Chicago Statement style inerrancy as I understand it is that the Genesis 1 & 2 language must be taken literally (e.g., a day = a 24 hour period). Yet, embedded in the account is the statement: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The literal interpretation of “day” (yowm) and “die” (muwth) would require that Adam and Eve physically die within 24 hours of eating the infamous fruit. What is the hermeneutical basis that you use in interpreting this passage non-literally?

  7. pastorwit Says:

    Enjoyed your post on the Miracle at Cana. Your Pastor makes a great point! I had not considered that miracle in that context. I understand your hesitation on the ‘ideal-time’ theory being considered deceptive. That is the biggest complaint against it. However, I believe that we must consider some things. First, the point of the opening of Genesis is that ‘God created it all’. The details of that creative act are unimportant to the context. And if given would have been very confusing to those who read it without our understanding of science (and I suspect that we don’t know as much as we think we do). Second, The bible gives us all we need as it pertains to ‘life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1.3). There is much truth that is not contained in the Scriptures. The details of creation don’t really help me to be more godly. That being said, God did give us a brain to use to fill in the details. I believe that it is plainly apparent that Adam appeared older than his actual age in the account that we have in Genesis. Same for the trees. Now logic kicks in… if the trees, then it must be true of the Earth. If the Earth, then the Solar System, etc. To summarize: the details of creation are fascinating, but not all that important in the grand scheme of things. I love your pastor’s example: The focus of the wedding event is not water or how it became wine, but rather the One who transformed the wine. Same with the creation account in Genesis.
    Next item: I think that you are misunderstanding the wording found in the Chicago statement. I can’t find where the statement requires a belief in literal days in Genesis 1 in order to believe the doctrine of inerrancy. From what I read, the Chicago statement is basically saying, “If you believe the doctrine of inerrancy, then you must believe the statement ‘In the beginning God created…'” Any (Naturalistic) explanation that excludes God denies inerrancy. But the details of how God created everything is dependent upon your hermeneutical methods. You can affirm inerrancy and still subscribe to the ‘day-age’ theory of creation (such as Millard Erickson who wrote the Christian Theology book I referred to previously). I believe you have a serious hermeneutical problem if you do, but that is not related to the doctrine of inerrancy.
    As related to this post (Ecclesiastical Separation), I believe that inerrancy is a must for Church cooperation. It is fundamental to the faith. As an extension of that, belief that God created everything would be necessary as well. However, different beliefs concerning the details of how God created everything would fall into the practical aspect of separation (it would depend on what we were doing cooperatively).
    As to your question (whew, thought we would never get here) on ‘in the day…thou shalt surely die’: My Hebrew instructor in seminary said something like this, “In God’s judgment Adam and Eve died spiritually that day. In God’s mercy Adam and Eve did not die physically that day.” So we can say that they literally died spiritually the very day that they disobeyed God. The process of physically dieing began that day as well. Physical death was sure to follow. I use the following (somewhat inadequate) example to explain: When I buy my wife flowers from the flower shop, they have every appearance of life. Even the buds will bloom if kept in water. But because the stem has been cut off from its source of life giving nutrients it will eventually die. You could say that Adam and Eve were ‘cut off’ from their source of life that day. They still appeared to be alive, but death was immanent.
    Hope this all makes sense. I kinda rushed through it. Be sure to let me know if there is need for further clarification.

  8. pastorwit Says:

    Just a quick followup to my last comment because I want to make sure that I don’t come across as ‘anti-intellectual’. While the details of how God created everything do not help me to lead a more godly life, I want to stress that it is not wrong to try and discover them. Nor is it wrong to study creation and try to find out how everything works. Much good can come from the study of creation. Examples abound: New medicines can be developed that are fine tuned to the individual; Diseases can be identified and controlled (or even eradicated); earthquakes and hurricanes can be detected/tracked; buildings can be built to withstand natural disasters; et. al. Studying creation is an exercise in study of the Creator, a God of order and design. He is infinitely brilliant and we are just scraping the surface of how great His methods of design are.
    The focus of the Scriptures is God and His plan for mankind. While I believe that the Scriptures are wholly true, I also understand that the Scriptures do not contain all truth. Therefore it is good to study God’s specific revelation (the Scriptures) and God’s general revelation (His creation).
    “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. ” Rom. 1.18 (NASB)

  9. VanceH Says:

    Hi Pastor Wit,

    I have not taken any of your responses as anti-intellectual. Historically I think that Christianity, and the Bible has been a very positive influence and a huge inspiration to science because it teaches an intentional, ordered universe—not a lawless place of chaos. While I am very interested in the big gaps that I see today between mainline science and evangelicals, the primary motivation for my current line of questions, for you and for others is an investigation on hermeneutics. Recently I came to a stable point regarding different opinions about truth in the Church (based around controversies in the early church [Acts 15, Rom 15, I Cor 8, Col 2, Heb 9]), but I found that stabilizing that topic immediately opened up issues regarding another one of God’s creations—the written Word. The Church, with its people, has a dynamic aspect to it. It has changed a lot over the last two thousand years, and I can see God’s hand it that. The Scriptures, on the other hand, are essentially static, with only slight fine-tuning occurring with the most reliable texts in the original languages and the usual fighting over translations. Of course, various hermeneutical approaches can turn biblical teaching into a free for all, and I see the Chicago Statement as a reasonable attempt at defining an evangelical position on many of these approaches. While the Statement doesn’t define a hermeneutic of literal days in Genesis 1 & 2, I suspect that my own belief, that “In the beginning God created” the universe by speaking it into existence with the Big Bang almost 15 billion years ago would not be considered compliant with the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy by its signers.

    Of course, my belief creates considerable hermeneutic difficulties, but for the time being I am not accepting that the only way to resolve these difficulties is to frame them as a choose science or choose the bible binary. I wonder if a big problem with the Statement is article 5:
    “WE DENY that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.”

    Revelation, at least in God’s general creation seems to be an ongoing thing.

    As always any thoughts or observations are appreciated.

    — Vance

  10. pastorwit Says:

    Sorry for the delay in a response. Ministry to my church must come first and this blog last as far as priorities go. A few thoughts and then a few links…
    Yes, the Bible is static. Therefore we have to look for the principles and apply them to our day. I believe in a literal (understanding that poetry and symbolism must be interpreted as such), grammatical, historical approach to interpreting the Bible. We seek out what God said in the context that he said it (historically). We then look for the underlying principles of the situation and then bring them into our present time and apply the principle(s) to our lives.
    Your belief does create great hermeneutic difficulties, but I don’t want to get off topic. I do not think that there is a binary between science and the Bible. If science is discovery of truth, and God is truth, and God’s word is true, then there are no problems. However, to accept naturalistic origins (no God involved) via the theory of evolution is in direct conflict with the Bible. In that case, there is a binary choice: either the Bible is right, or scientists (not science mind you) are right.
    This comment is a bit nit-picky, but I think it is an important distinction: you said “Revelation, at least in God’s general creation seems to be an ongoing thing.” I would state it this way, “Discovery of God’s general revelation of creation seems to be an ongoing thing” No new revelation is occurring, only discovery of already completed revelation. I am pretty sure that is what you meant, but I wanted to clarify.
    Now to some links… I want to separate these topics so I have created new posts with links.
    Creation meditations are here

    Inerrancy Post is here:

  11. VanceH Says:

    Hi Pastor Wit,

    Yes, I can agree that your statement “Discovery of God’s general revelation of creation seems to be an ongoing thing” better captures what I meant.

    Thanks for taking the time to put together some links regarding creation and inerrancy. On the Inerrancy link the path does not seem to be working. I read through the creation links, but did not see anything surprising.

    I like how you stated: “I believe in a literal (understanding that poetry and symbolism must be interpreted as such), grammatical, historical approach to interpreting the Bible. We seek out what God said in the context that he said it (historically). We then look for the underlying principles of the situation and then bring them into our present time and apply the principle(s) to our lives.”

    Your first parenthetical statement is the arena of our difference of opinions. I am absolutely astounded at Gen 1 through 3, and can’t see how anything that nuanced, multi-level, and insightful could have been anything other than inspired and captured exactly as God intended. I just don’t interpret it as an historical account. However I respect your opinion and believe that you might be right.

    I suspect this thread has reached its natural end, but if you have any thoughts that you think might be helpful I am always interested in what you have to say.

    Best Regards,


  12. pastorwit Says:

    Hey Vance,
    I’m not sure why the silaspartners link does not work for you. I tried it in firefox and ie without problems. If it does not work, then goto the website and search for inerrancy.
    Genesis 1 through 3 is certainly beautiful. It would seem that Jesus interpreted it literally in Matthew 19.4 (and Mark 10.6). Paul also seems to have held to a literal interpretation of the creation account in 2 Cor. 11.3 and 1 Tim. 2.13.
    I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone referred to creation via evolution as “creation by death”. That certainly describes it well, as minor advancements are made over eons of time with innumerable deaths. In this the theory of evolution just doesn’t seem to jibe with Romans 5.12.
    I don’t think there can be any doubt that an Intelligent Designer was involved in creation as we learn more and more through science (and I know you don’t doubt this). As a former programmer I love logical explanations and order. However, we cannot rely solely on naturalistic explanations in regards to our LORD’s activity. Miracles are by their very nature… unnatural. They are supernatural. And just as it can be noted in your post on Jesus turning the water to wine, miracles defy natural explanation. Creation was truly a miracle by a supernatural God. Yet, as a God of order, He also created our world in such a way that our observations of it would show how things naturally work.
    And in closing I want to re-emphasize, while I think difficulties abound, there are those that agree with your theory of creation and hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
    Keep seeking Him,

    Pastor Wit

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