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 Anyabwile, Frank Turk, James White, Larry 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.