Thinking About Separation & Unity (Part 3: Practical Separation)

Sometimes I am asked, “Why so many denominations? Why can’t we just all get along?” And sometimes I have asked myself the question, “If we’re all independent fundamental Baptists, then why can’t we get along?” It seems that there is always some issue or doctrine that divides churches. These are areas of practical separation. But I want to emphasize something from the start: These issues and doctrines do not call for total separation. There are times where unity can be realized, and other times it just isn’t practical. I’ll answer the questions above and give you and example from my own ministry.

Why so many denominations?

My answer to “Why so many denominations?” is fairly simple. Having understood that there are fundamental doctrines of the faith (doctrines that are essential to salvation, to the Christian Faith, and that serve as the very basis for unity), we must also understand that there are doctrines that are non-fundamental. While they are important, they do not affect the doctrines of salvation. And in these areas there are differences of interpretation. Some examples would be church-polity (how you govern your church/denomination), mode of baptism, who is qualified to be a deacon, among others. While our understanding of salvation is the same, the differences in other areas severely limits our ability to be unified. Thus we have denominations and churches that are formed around a specific set of doctrines (both fundamental and non-essential).

Let’s consider a situation where unity can be had among churches of differing denominations. I am a fundamental Baptist. I believe in baptism by emersion after salvation. I also believe in congregational rule. Let’s say there is a Presbyterian church nearby that is also fundamental (remember: we can’t have any sort of unity with those that do not agree with the fundamental doctrines of salvation and faith). Presbyterians baptize infants prior to salvation and most that I have encountered utilize sprinkling as a proper mode of baptism. Presbyterians also believe in leadership by elders. I would have no problem allowing the pastor of the Presbyterian church preach in my pulpit on a subject that he had expertise in, as long as he stayed away from the topics of baptism and church polity. If he were to ask me to preach in his church, I would accept and be sure to leave those two topics out of my sermon. I am not compromising my beliefs, but simply agreeing to disagree agreeably so there can be unity. And unity can be had in this situation. Another example of an area where we could have unity would be an Easter Sunrise service. However, if we were asked by this Presbyterian church to help plant a new church somewhere, we would have to decline. We disagree in too many areas to be able to work together in that particular endeavor. It simply would not be practical. So there are times where we can have unity, and other times we cannot.

Why can’t we fundamental Baptists get along?

My answer to “If we’re all independent fundamental Baptists, then why can’t we get along?” is fairly simple as well. I was always told, “We separate over doctrine.” As we have looked at in prior posts, and this post, there are doctrines that are essential to the Faith and there are doctrines that are not. But some pastors/churches want to elevate certain preferences to doctrinal status. Two issues that come to mind are bible versions and music preferences. Some pastors want to totally separate from other churches based on these preferences. The first time I met one local pastor in my area he said, “I just want to know one thing. Where do you stand on the King James Bible?” *Sigh* Another time I heard that another local church was looking for a pastor. I called them to recommend a friend of mine. First question: “Is he King James only?” Forget, “Where did he go to school? Where has he been a pastor? Is he doctrinally sound? Is he godly?” Nope. Those were not concerns. Only one’s conviction on what bible translation you use. The bible version issue has become a severely divisive issue. You can read my thoughts on that issue in other posts on this blog. My point here is that use of bible versions is a preferential issue that should have practical separation instead of pastoral separation. If I were to preach at a KJV only church, I would not only preach from the KJV, I would also be careful not to use the phrase, “this would be better translated”, or “a newer translation says this.” I understand that there may be times where practical separation would have to be exercised when a translation was involved. But it should not be total separation.

Now let me give you a true life application of practical separation in my own ministry. I am very conservative in the area of music. (One of these days I’ll post on that subject and describe my music philosophy). I understand that different people will draw the lines in different places, and I understand that it is a non-essential doctrine concerning pastoral separation. A local Baptist pastor, whom I consider a dear friend, invited our youth to a basketball outreach. Unfortunately, besides basketball, there was also Christian rap, and other various forms of contemporary Christian music. I had kids and parents complain. I went to the pastor and explained that I loved him, and that doctrinally we can have fellowship between our churches. I also took the time to explain my philosophy of music. Then I told him, “Anytime there is going to be that type of music playing, our churches will not practically be able to fellowship. There may be other things that we can do together, but when those styles of music are played, we won’t be there.” My pastor friend was so gracious. He told me that when we have combined activities, they’ll keep the music conservative. It was wonderful when the next Easter came and our churches were able to come together for an Easter Sunrise service.

Different ministries are going to differ on non-essential doctrines and convictions. When agreement can had, there can be fellowship. There may be times when it will not be practical for us to cooperate with one another because of our differing conviction(s). But by focusing on our common beliefs and convictions, and by carefully walking in love where our convictions differ, we can have sweet unity.

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3 Comments on “Thinking About Separation & Unity (Part 3: Practical Separation)”

  1. mamiler Says:

    I would just like to respond to your issue of Christian Rap being played during a basketball game. What do you feel is wrong with Christian Rap music being played, especially at a basketball game? I love all styles of Gospel music, especially when the lyrics line up with the Word of God, such as FLAME from Cross Movement Records or any of their artists.

    I’d love to hear your response. In the meantime, feel free to check out http://www.flame314.com


  2. This article is great. What an interesting take on separation. At times this can be a very confusing issue but clearly you’ve found your way through that confusion in a “practical way”.

    In response to the previous commentor. Notice he didn’t say anything was wrong with the music. I think some music is not suitable for certain churches. Remember what Paul exhorted when speaking about having liberty to eat meat, that not everyone felt that way.

    I personally believe that our music should be spirit-filled and that in the perfect church (which doesn’t exist yet) we wouldn’t take our cues from the world on how to style our music.

    However, that doesn’t stop my friend who says he is deeply blessed by Christian rap. I understand your conflict and I’m very interested in what kind of response you get.

  3. pastorwit Says:

    Thank you for the comments. I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond. I just got back from a wonderful week of teen camp.
    I have been planning a post (or posts) on my music philosophy for some time. From these comments it appears that I need to up that priority on getting those done.
    I will address why I think some forms of music are inappropriate for the gospel and other various issues related to music. But in the mean time I want to leave you with two articles to read from secular sources. Be warned that they are secular and may contain some offensive language, but I think they are very revealing as to how ‘Christian’ music is viewed by the unsaved world. I’ll discuss these articles in one of my posts, Lord willing.
    The first is this article from GQ magazine back in 2005
    http://men.style.com/gq/features/landing?id=content_301
    The second is a more recent article from Slate
    http://www.slate.com/id/2190482/pagenum/all
    Enjoy the reading. I hope to address some of these issues next week.


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