|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Editor's Note: This article is the second of a series presenting a position paper on the Biblical doctrine of separation published by Reformation Bible Church, Darlington, Maryland USA. We are grateful to Dr. John McKnight, RBC's senior pastor and a member of the TTW Advisory Board, for permission to reproduce it. We pray that the Lord's people will be edified and challenged to obey our Lord in this vital matter. - Dr. Paul Elliott
Obedience to the command to be separate is not popular. Our Saviour spoke of the oppression his disciples were going to bear, telling them that they were blessed when persecuted for righteousness sake, being assured of great rewards in heaven and of identity with a godly line of prophets (Matthew 5:11-12). Paul warned the Philippians: "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29). And Timothy was advised: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).
Examples of Biblical Separation During the Roman Empire
Christian history is the record of godly men striving to obey these commands and suffering the consequences. During the first three centuries, believers separated from the paganism of the Roman Empire. As a result of their fidelity to God's Word, they were randomly tortured and martyred. But truth prospered, and the body of believers grew.
Christianity became not only legal, but fashionable in A.D. 313 when the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity. That newfound popularity made it easy to feign allegiance to Jesus Christ. This opened the visible church to unconverted professors, and true Christians had to separate from them. The disengagements took place amid great controversy regarding correct doctrine.
Whereas the Christian church has possessed the full body of truth since it was first revealed in the Scriptures, that truth was not expressed in a creed without being subjected to strenuous and divisive debate. Such debate resulted as misguided men taught doctrines contrary to the Word of God. When their ideas were preached, Christians were driven to intensive study, examining those ideas closely in the light of Scripture. These studies provided historic Christianity's creedal statements of orthodox doctrines.
The first major separation occurred when Arius, a popular teacher in Alexandria, Egypt, preached that Jesus Christ was a created being, not God. The debate produced the first firmly held creedal statement on Christ's deity, and Arius was condemned as a heretic. Though his heresy has reappeared in the history of Christianity, the body of Christ has always condemned his error. In similar fashion all the doctrines of Christianity gained creedal authentication.
The Faithful Few Under Roman Catholicism
As time passed, the church that grew out of the fallen Roman Empire took in many who might never have entered under the earlier persecution. Their pagan practices often came with them. Ideas and practices founded on human tradition and reasoning - rather than Scripture - arose and gradually became the established dogma of the Roman church. Central among these errors was the teaching that justification is gained through faith in Christ plus performance of church-prescribed works. Roman Catholicism has never abandoned this heresy.
Outside the massive and powerful Roman church, a faithful remnant, small and despised, continued to preach the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone and to cry out against corruptions of the religious establishment. Like Christ, whose ministry reestablished the truth buried beneath traditions of the scribes and Pharisees, this faithful few proclaimed the truth when prevailing religious tradition had well nigh obscured it completely. And like Christ, these believers were hated and murdered, thousands of them, at the hands of the Roman church. The Waldensians in mountainous northern Italy, the Hussites in Bohemia, and countless other saints were brutally tortured and slain in an officially orchestrated quest to eliminate Christ's flock. The record of bloodshed for Christ at the hands of Rome's church is lengthy, well documented and dreadful.
By God's grace, the light of truth shone brightly once again in the 16th century. The Protestant Reformation exposed the heresy and abuse of the dominant religious establishment and amid great controversy reestablished the important doctrines of justification by faith alone and the supremacy of Scripture over religious tradition.
Next: Biblical Separation in the 19th & 20th Centuries
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