My Two Cents on Elephants and Ecclesiastical Separation

Pastor Voddie Baucham’s discussion of The Elephant Room and his removal from the men’s retreat at Harvest Bible Church following ER2 is an essential read for people sorting through separation/fellowship issues in our day. I’m grateful for his conviction and candor. Give it a read.

Baucham’s post is one of many sage responses to ER2 (read blog posts by Thabiti AnyabwileFrank Turk, James WhiteLarry Rogier, and Chad Vegas <edit: post removed by author>; read a summary of James White’s tweets; listen to an interview of Carl Trueman; watch a video on T. D. Jakes’ Prosperity Gospel teaching from Wretched; that’s a start). I’ve been asked by a few friends for “my two cents” on the issue. Since others have weighed in so capably, I’ll limit my comments to the unique angle of a young-ish fundamentalist targeting other young-ish fundamentalists who may read. Here are a few brief points (which may be fleshed out by my sermon on Jude at the 2011 Truth Conference).

1. Separation is a Bible strategy. It’s not “old school.” It’s as necessary today as ever.

Many who have grown up in self-identified fundamentalist churches have grown weary of ecclesiastical separation. Much of that is due to a pendulum-swing away from what they perceive to be abuses of separation in the past—separation that was more a matter of turf than truth. Many think of separation as an eccentricity of their grandparents’ and parents’ generations—an embarrassing “tick,” if you will. “It may have been necessary at the time. But we’re so past that. It’s time to give peace a chance.” They’ll acknowledge that the battle for doctrinal orthodoxy that gave rise to the fundamentalist/modernist controversy was necessary. They may begrudgingly acknowledge that the ecumenical evangelism of early new evangelicals like Billy Graham in the mid-20th century was a mistake. “But those discussions are old and tired. Separation is so Second Millennium.”

Well, those ideas have been crunched like a wicker chair in an Elephant Room. Drawing lines of exclusion in response to unorthodoxy outside the body of Christ and unrepentant sin within the body of Christ is actually very first Millennium. First century, in fact. Bob Jones University didn’t invent separation. Whether or not our fundamentalist forebears always got the application of separatist principles right—whether they exercised separation with the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons, in the right spirit—the principles themselves were and are biblical. Scripture clearly forbids having ecclesiastical fellowship with false teachers (2 John 7-11; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; Rom 16:17-18). And it clearly forbids maintaining normal ecclesiastical fellowship with Christians who are perpetually unrepentant of sin (Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5; 2 Thes 3:6-14; Titus 3:10-11). (Note: I say “perpetually unrepentant” because we’re all “disobedient brothers,” which is the common description used when discussing separation. The New Testament calls for censure and separation when a sin is persisted in.) So setting boundaries for fellowship isn’t old school. It’s orthodoxy. And the ER2 mess displays once again what happens when biblical commands to break fellowship are denied or ignored.

2. Separation is being exercised outside of fundamentalism. This is a good thing.

I grew up thinking that fundamentalists were right on separation and new evangelicals wrong. There was truth to that, though it was a bit simplistic. But today, broader evangelicalism is more complex than ever. We can’t think merely in terms of “fundamentalist” and “new evangelical.” What we saw this weekend and in the months ramping up to ER2 is biblical separation being both eschewed and embraced by evangelicals. Men who are orthodox(ish) themselves (McDonald, Driscoll, etc.) are holding hands with those who are not (T. D. Jakes). That’s wrong, albeit clarifying. On the other hand, men who don’t wear a fundamentalist label are exercising biblical separation, both from false teaching and from brothers who tolerate it—what has typically been called first and second degree separation. That’s what Dever did by canceling his participation in the Elephant Room. That’s what Anyabwile and Trueman and Team Pyro did by their bold warnings about the Elephant Room. That’s what Baucham did, both by his refusal to speak at ER2 and his stepping away from the Harvest Bible Chapel retreat following ER2. That’s what Chad Vegas did by pulling out of Acts 29. The message should give fundamentalists a sense of Deja vu: “If you hold hands with that guy (the unorthodox, here personified by Jakes), you can’t hold hands with us (the orthodox separatist, here personified by Dever, Baucham, Vegas, and others).” Bravo. We may not always agree with others’ applications of separatist principles, but we should applaud the fact that they’re defending the faith with both their words and actions.

3. “Gospel” matters more than “Coalition.” It’s unclear to me if the Gospel Coalition sees this, or at least acts on it consistently.

I was relieved to see McDonald withdraw from The Gospel Coalition. Whether he quit or was “fired” is unclear. Probably a bit of each. But “unclear” is the perfect word to describe the official TGC statements on the matter, crafted by D. A. Carson and Tim Keller. Both this statement from a couple months ago and this statement from last week work so hard at being gracious to ER participants that they leave readers like me wondering where TGC really stands. Did they draw a line in the sand? Did McDonald? What if he hadn’t resigned? Does TGC think his inclusion of Jakes was biblically wrong, or just a differing opinion? Was there any censure, or just an amicable exit? And what about the other TGC Council Members (Mark Driscoll and Crawford Loritts) who participated in ER2?  Back-room solutions to front-page problems are insufficient. I would love to see TGC leaders speak with greater clarity, as some TGC members have. Connect the dots for the thousands of people that are watching. Show leadership regarding what will continue to be a watershed issue for this generation—not just ER2, but the principles it brings back to the limelight. Bidding McDonald Godspeed as he pursues God’s will for his life (about which you appear to disagree?) leaves TGC in no man’s land. “Absolutely. Maybe.”

I rejoice that there are people both within and without self-identified fundamentalism who are drawing lines in the sand on this and other vital issues of our day. It’s a time for clarity, not obfuscation.

About these ads

28 Responses

  1. Good words, Chris. I appreciate your insight on this issue. Have only recently been aware of ER2. I think your comments well represent the young fundamentalist who believes in Biblical separation and seeks to consistently apply it in today’s ever-changing culture.

  2. Very good article Chris. Dr James White adds more here – http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4964
    key quote from White’s article – “It says a lot that MacDonald would embrace Jakes, but not Baucham. Ponder that one a moment.”

  3. Chris,

    Too often those in my generation of fundamentalists focus on excesses of separation. It’s moments like this the clarify the importance of communicating the importance of doctrines like the trinity and sufficiency of the gospel for all of life. At the heart of the best kind of fundamentalism is concern for truth that’s backed up by hard words and difficult deeds. Thanks for modeling that here.

    Shayne

  4. Chris, are you calling for separation from Driscoll now? MacDonald? What would that look like?

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. I’m not sure I understand your question, Don. I’ve had no alliance with them, and I obviously won’t. You must mean more than that.

  6. Ok, l’ll try to clarify… then I’ve got to hit the sack! Boy, you’re up later than me at the same time. Or maybe you’re up early!

    From what you say in your post, you seem to indicate that the separation-like actions against MacDonald is good and that something is called for against Driscoll. Or at least might be called for, at least by TGC.

    Is that true? Would you now be calling for organizations like TGC to separate from Driscoll?

    Further, would you say that these actions by MacDonald/Driscoll et al call for a change in the way others speak of them? I.e., should fundamentalists, for instance, continue to recommend them as worthy teachers on any point?

    Hope that helps. Now I’m going to go konk out. Maybe I’ll make more sense in the morning, or maybe not!

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. I’m up early.

    Yes, I think Driscoll hurts institutions like TGC. Not just through ER1 and ER2, but through his propensity to say and teach outlandish things. I wish it weren’t true, as I’ve heard him say some very good things on occasion (as I indicate here). But that’s obviously not what he wants to focus on, sadly.

    I’ve always been wary (and I know more about Driscoll than McDonald), but yes, I think the confusion these men have caused on vital issues outweighs any help that might be gained from them. I can’t imagine the benefit of recommending them at all. Call me a hater. (rolling eyes)

  8. Thank you, Chris…well stated.

    It is sad and difficult….and we often get labels such as “haters”, “fundies”, “Bible-thumpers”…and one of my favorites, “legalistic” which is nearly always thrown at us by people who take very legalistic, controlling stands, like Driscoll seems to be doing these days. How ironic!

    It’s also confusing to so many because these folks DO often have some good things to say…you know, some real truths, but often with just a touch of error mingled in. You know what they say about brownies. ;)

    Things like the armour of God become more real to me every day as I see the importance of being very sober and uber-diligent about what’s going on around me. The road seems to get more and more narrow as we near the end….and the enemy gets more and more desperate and dangerous.

    Sorry…I tend to wax on and on in the mornings. :) Anyway…thanks for being willing to take a stand (that will prove to be unpopular) on this issue. God WILL bless you for it! :)

  9. “The message should give fundamentalists a sense of Deja vu: “If you hold hands with that guy (the unorthodox, here personified by Jakes), you can’t hold hands with us (the orthodox separatist, here personified by Dever, Baucham, Vegas, and others).” Bravo.”

    Good observation. And good article. Thanks.

  10. [...] Separation is being exercised outside of fundamentalism. This is a good thing [...]

  11. [...] Back-room solutions to front-page problems are insufficient [...]

  12. This ER2 controversy is quite compelling and interesting to watch.

    It is also the result of celebrity pastors who, at least from the transcript, are unable to craft and confront theological nuance. It is a terrible thing for evangelicals to believe that we should run to the cult of celebrity like this.

    James White’s point is extremely good.

  13. [...] Pastor Chris Anderson has a very perceptive post from a Fundamentalist perspective, on recent events [...]

  14. “The best way to promote unity is to promote truth. It will not do for us to be all united together by yielding to one another’s mistakes. We are to love each other in Christ’ but we are not to be so united that we are not able to see each other’s faults, and especially not able to see our own. No, purge the house of God, and then shall grand and blessed times of unity dawn on us.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

    (Stole this from Facebook today. :))

  15. Bravo! Well articulated statement of the doctrine of separation, with clear applications to a current situation. Thanks, Chris!

  16. [...] My Two Cents on Elephants and Ecclesiastical Separation « My Two Cents [...]

  17. [...] For more click this link. Share this:StumbleUponDiggFacebookRedditTwitterEmailPrintLinkedInTumblr Permalink [...]

  18. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
    (Titus 3:10-11 ESV)

  19. The “Elephant Room saga” is 1948 secondary separation for slow learners at TGC. In fairness, many of the “Conservative Evangelicals” have practiced a form of separation for many years. When has MacArthur or Baucham preached in a liberal church or on the same platform as liberals?

    The point is that they practice separation inconsistently. This current little spat is a case in point. Baucham/Dever etc separate from MacDonald over promotion/dialogue with a Modalist/Prosperity heretic but they don’t over Piper and his dialogues with another false teacher, Rick Warren or Piper’s claims that Mother Theresa is the model of sanctification. Indeed, Mohler also continues to get a pass for his tie ups with the universalist heretic Billy Graham.

    We still await a biblical exposition and practical application by the Evangelical crowd of the doctrine of biblical separation. You can search through all of their copious writings and textbooks and you will find it is the doctrine that no one wants to talk about. That is the real “elephant in the room.”

  20. Well said, Paul. You have put your finger right on the pulse of this issue.

  21. Yes, Paul…very well stated and all too true.

  22. I agree that evangelicals need to apply biblical separation consistently, Paul. As do we—and it’s sometimes difficult to determine when, where, and how. Those endeavoring to obey Scripture on this matter shouldn’t be met with our disdain. Nor is it accurate to treat “the Evangelical crowd” as though they’re any more monolithic than “the Fundamentalist crowd.” It’s complicated (e.g. Trueman’s battle for inerrancy at Westminster, MacArthur’s stepping away from T4G and writing/preaching against evangelical compromise, Mohler’s efforts to recover Southern from liberalism, etc.). That’s not to give anyone a pass or to agree with every decision they make. Just to acknowledge efforts to apply Scripture in this area, to rejoice where we can, and to encourage us to teach and model truly biblical separatism, which is as needed now as ever.

    Grace to you.

  23. The point is that they practice separationinconsistently. This current little spat is a case in point. Baucham/Dever etc separate from MacDonald over promotion/dialogue with a Modalist/Prosperity heretic but they don’t over Piper and his dialogues with another false teacher, Rick Warren or Piper’s claims that Mother Theresa is the model of sanctification. Indeed, Mohler also continues to get a pass for his tie ups with the universalist heretic Billy Graham.

    We still await a biblical exposition and practical application by the Evangelical crowd of the doctrine of biblical separation. You can search through all of their copious writings and textbooks and you will find it is the doctrine that no one wants to talk about. That is the real ‘elephant in the room’.” (bold added)

    To this excellent analysis I would only add that Piper is routinely given a pass by fellow evangelicals. Furthermore, men in fundamental circles who claim to be biblical separatists are giving Mohler and Piper a pass by refusing to openly mark and admonish them for the egregious (unrepented of) errors noted by Paul above and call on believers to withdraw from and avoid them (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

    LM

  24. [...] You know things are weird when a star QB exercises more spiritual discernment than well-known evangelical leaders. [...]

  25. Chris, I applaud anyone who makes a step in the right direction in respect of separation. It is good that some of the Evangelicals are at last thinking about the idea.

    But before we roll out the red carpet, let us remind ourselves that for 60 odd years they were the ones claiming to be the “expositers” and “exegetes.” The Fundamentalist movement were the obscurantists and lacking in exegetical sophistication.

    The doctrine of separation began in heaven with the expulsion of Lucifer and carries on till the eternal golden age with the Great White Throne judgment. It is an integral part of Scripture – both OT and NT. So those who claim to have been at the vanguard of biblical exposition such as MacArthur, Dever, Piper et al have either:

    (1) Missed a central doctrine of the Bible
    (2) Deliberately avoided a central doctrine of the Bible for expediency
    (3) Misunderstood a central doctrine of the Bible

    My suspicion is that they are like Jonah – they know what they should do but have deliberately chosen not to do so. I cannot believe that a movement that has been going on for 60 odd years, whose roots were in Fundamentalism, could have missed such an obvious biblical doctrine. Grace to you also.

  26. The Gospel Coalition has for a while left a bad taste in my mouth…I think they were always far too inclusive with some of the men on their board.

    That is not to say that there is much good the board is doing, and of course I have benefited from their blogs and the pulpit ministries of many of these men. I am very grateful. Just saddened at the same time at the obvious lack of discernment of some of the very solid ones.

    Moreover, I have noticed one glaring absence in their board of directors: MacArthur. The free-wheeling attitude of some (many?) of the TGC men made me glad that Mac distanced himself from them. (I personally always thought he was essentially fundamental in his position, even though he might draw the lines a little differently than others.)

    That being said, I am encouraged by the actions of men like Dever and Baucham, who (as it has already been said) are practicing secondary separation from MacDonald over the Jakes issue. Good to see this being done, even inconsistently, outside Fundamentalism.

    Two thoughts:

    1) I am saddened that Dever apparently saw no issue with being part of ER2 before Jakes was on board. That he could willingly fellowship with an immature disgrace like Furtick, and even Driscoll, is problematic to me. (I am not claiming to judge his heart at all. I am just wondering why he drew the line with Jakes, but seemingly not with Furtick and others.)

    2) Why is MacArthur distancing himself from T4G?

    BTW, Chris, Colonial has as its guest preacher this week a small, struggling, unknown pastor: R. Kent Hughes. :o) If you want the audio I can email it to you. (He’s also spoke to our seminarians this past Thursday. I got to meet him and he’s really nice.)

  27. Sorry, but in reading some fundie responses to ER2, and even events leading up to it, and in evaluating some of my own thoughts on it, this comes to mind… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Gf8NK1WAOc (It’s safe, don’t worry)

  28. [...] me bring you up to speed. Others have given helpful responses from various perspectives including ecclesiastical separation, unity, ministry associations, the African American angle, and one from D. A. Carson and Tim [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 841 other followers

%d bloggers like this: