Scripture and the Church

Come Out From Among Them: Biblical Separation in the 19th & 20th Centuries

By The Board of Reformation Bible Church, Darlington, Maryland
The succession of conflicts entered a new phase in the 19th century. While earlier arguments regarded single doctrines, 19th- and 20th-century conflicts focused upon the reliability of Scripture.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Editor's Note: This article is the third 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

The first two installments of this series have recounted, in brief, the separated stand taken by small remnants and lone individuals in the Old and New Testaments, and in the history of the Body of Christ through the time of the Reformation. This installment focuses on developments in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This succession of conflicts entered a new phase in the 19th century. While earlier arguments regarded single doctrines, this one focused upon the reliability of Scripture, a doctrine upon which all other doctrines stand or fall. If Scripture is totally trustworthy, then all its truth is to be embraced. If Scripture is untrustworthy in any way, then nobody can be sure of any truth.

This unprecedented attack on Scripture was the legacy of rationalistic 18th century theologians who began to openly question the reliability of Scripture. The century that followed witnessed a gradual spread of their unbelief. These unregenerate theologians were often seminary professors who succeeded in imparting to their students a faith in human reasoning that supplanted faith in Scriptures. By the early 20th century, major denominations of North America were increasingly led by clergy who had learned well the infidelity of their instructors. Theirs was not historic, biblical Christianity: it was "another gospel," of which the Spirit of God had warned through the Apostle Paul.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, believers vigorously opposed the apostasy which by then was very evident within these denominations. But the pattern of history was to be repeated, not reversed. Heresy cannot be reformed; it must be renounced. God's children are to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." Rather, they are to reprove them, to come out from among them and be separate.

Noah and Abraham, Elijah and Isaiah, the prophets, Christ and His apostles had all labored outside the religious establishment of their days. First-century Christians, the faithful remnant that would not cooperate with the growing Roman religious machinery, the Waldensians, and many others knew and practiced well the principle of Titus 3:10: "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." Infidels will not be reformed. Once identified, they are to be rejected.

These infallible truths of God's Word were recognized by many believers within the major denominations of North America. They obeyed Scripture, coming out of their comfortable denominations to establish separated, biblically-obedient congregations. They were called "fundamentalists," a name that has now been wrenched from its original meaning and applied to any extremist movement or individual. By this misuse of the term, Christian Fundamentalists are further scorned.

The 19th century theological struggle over the reliability of Scripture led to the great struggle of the 20th century. That struggle focused upon the biblical doctrine of separation from false teachers, teachings and movements.

In 1947, a term was coined to identify a new departure from the biblical commands to separate from false teachers. The term "new [or neo] evangelicalism" identifies a philosophy that advocates the infiltration of apostate denominations to reform them rather than separating from them in obedience to Scripture. New Evangelicalism seeks to avoid the reproach for Christ that comes with maintaining a biblically-obedient, separatist position. It advocates tolerance for infidels rather than rejection of them, tolerance for evolutionary theories rather than exclusive acceptance of the seven-day creation revealed in Genesis, and tolerance for an all-inclusive approach to Christian religion. With this new philosophy the doctrinal struggle of the 20th century became evident. Must one obey the biblical commands to separate from false religion and denounce those which purport "another gospel"? Or may one embrace a philosophy of disobedience that advocates unity at the expense of truth?

New Evangelicalism rapidly became a major religious philosophy in North America. Its most visible proponent was Evangelist Billy Graham, whose ecumenical evangelism ignored biblical commands to separate from "another gospel." General approval was thereby given to idolatrous Romanism and theological liberalism. New publications such as Christianity Today appeared to serve the cause of the New Evangelicalism. Many Bible colleges which were originally established in the spirit of separatism succumbed to this philosophy. The sad effect has been that a whole generation of professing Christians now lacks any perception of the biblical commands to stand separate from those who, while religious, are in fact the enemies of God's Word and God's people.

Throughout this lamentable development, an underlying unbiblical principle has been employed to justify the disobedience. Advocates point to the movement size and to professions of salvation gained through the enlarged audience that compromise engenders. Herein the philosophy of pragmatism, "the end justifies the means," is employed as the measure of whether the New Evangelical philosophy is correct. Consistent with the movement's abandonment of Scripture, it rests its defense upon human wisdom rather than upon the Word of God. To turn to Scripture would expose its error.


Next: The Word of God Is the Standard of Separation


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