God has adopted us into His family, and we can’t ignore the other members that have been adopted in. The doctrine of separation is clearly evident in Scripture and a foundational doctrine of Fundamentalism. It is at our core that we separate ourselves from those whose words, actions, associations, and stances are different from our own.
We derive this staunch stance from verses such as:
1 John 4:1-6 — Try the spirits
2 John 9-11 — Do not give false teachers hospitality
Acts 20:26-32 — Warn and be on guard against false teachers
Rom. 16:17-19 — Mark and avoid false teachers
Matt. 7:13-23 — Jesus warns against accepting teachers based on their claims to Christianity, and not on their fruit.
These passages teach these things; they are commanded and should be done. However, I would like to consider the extent of separation. What are the principles that should drive us? Finding a line to draw is hardly possible if at all desired. But often the mindset of “better safe than sorry” which leads to extreme separation also ignores Scripture and leads to sin. I don’t propose to arrive at an end argument, but to provide thought upon this subject that the disciples struggled with as well.
In Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus tells the disciples to not accept teachers based on their claims to Christ. He tells them that by their fruits they will know them.
13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
So the disciples hear this, as many of us have several times in our lives and consider that good works do not mean sincerity of heart. Good works are not enough to get one into Heaven. The good works are often done by those that “work iniquity.” We are to be discerning and know them by their fruits.
So in Mark 9:38-41, the disciples having heard this exhortation they present Him with something they did.
38And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40For he that is not against us is on our part. 41For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
They told this guy who was casting out devils to stop because he was not following with them. Certainly we can understand the disciples perspective. Christ, the Son of God, is here and this man is not following him. Good works are not enough, because people who cast out devils will stand at the judgment and be turned away. They forbad him, and Jesus then reproves them. “He that is not against us is on our part.” Elsewhere, Jesus says it the other way: “He that is not with me, is against me.” The disciples are not to forbid him because he is doing good in Christ’s name.
How many other people, within or without of our denomination do good things in the name of Christ? How many of them do we deride? When we practice a “better safe than sorry” separation we are committing the mistake the disciples made. God has brought us all into his family. We don’t know who truly is and isn’t. We look at others’ fruit and we show discernment. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be fooled.
Neither does that mean that people who do something we would never do are wrong. This guy was not following Jesus. Out of all the things to not do, Christ was on the earth and he didn’t follow with Him. We get unnerved because some guy shared a platform with some other guy. We get upset because someone prayed with someone we disagree with. We cast off the influence of those we feel are not following with us.
We need to be careful. God has brought us into His family, and we put such a line between us and those who may very well be other of God’s children because of something they do that we don’t approve of. “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” How many other people regularly serve the Lord helping other believers, and yet we criticize and deride them?
The disciples were not to forbid this guy because he was doing right. We don’t even know if he was saved. Paul spoke of others preaching Christ of contention, and yet he was happy because Christ was preached. This guy was casting out devils in Christ’s name and Christ says he cannot lightly speak evil of him. Is it in the same vein as Paul; maybe this guy was not truly saved and yet he was proclaiming the truth? Perhaps. Is it possible that some of these people we rebuke are truly wrong? Sure. Maybe, there is a facet of presenting Christ to the world to save souls that overcomes arguing and debating about everything all the time. There may be a time to not rebuke other people because they are ministering in Christ’s name.
The other thing that stands out to me here is that almost all teaching on separation deals with teaching a false doctrine, or persuading the saints with false teaching. The unity comes with persuading the lost. Those who are preaching the Gospel, should not be rebuked from preaching the Gospel. Those false teachers spreading heresy among the beloved are to be marked, rebuked, and avoided. Is the line easy to find? Is there even a line? We need to respond correctly in each situation as we walk with the Lord rather than attempting to create a simple line of who we can rebuke and who we can accept.