Volume. XXV, No. 31
Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Practice of Ecclesiastical Separation - Part 2

(This article is written by Preacher Mark Chen, and is applicable to us at Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church, Adelaide)

Ecclesiastical Separation Corrupted

What is good and right in the eyes of the Lord can be corrupted in the hands of man. Ecclesiastical separation, as a means of church purification and restoration of disobedient believers, has been so corrupted as to excuse impurity in the church, bind the conscience of believers, and overrule God’s instituted means of church discipline.

Separation because of minute doctrinal differences

Sadly the battle where ecclesiastical separation is fought is not so much between unbelief and orthodoxy, but often between factions of orthodoxy.  Christians end up separating because of minute doctrinal differences.  To some, the practice of head coverings in worship, the length of a woman’s hair, or the use of certain Bible versions are so vital, that churches separate over them.

This is often accompanied by anti-Christian behavior, where brethren decline to speak or sit with one another, but rather denounce each other.  Those that were bought by the Lord, washed by His blood, and who are are supposed to be characterised by love and forgiveness, treat each other as enemies.

And the doctrine of ecclesiastical separation is alluded to in order to excuse such impurity. It is sad when evangelical and Bible-believing Christians, yea, even Fundamentalist Christians, deal with one another in this fashion over minor points of disagreement. While 2 Thessalonians 3:15 exhorts that we deal with one another as brothers (“Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”), yet in reality, there is great enmity.
We need to remember that the pursuit of holiness is not the only worthwhile pursuit; there is also the pursuit of peace.  Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

Charles Spurgeon commented on this verse – “Some who have aimed at holiness have made the great mistake of supposing it needful to be morose, contentious, faultfinding, and censorious with everybody else. Their holiness has consisted of negatives, protests, and oppositions for oppositions sake. Their religion mainly lies in contrarieties and singularities; to them the text offers this wise counsel, follow holiness, but also follow peace. Courtesy is not inconsistent with faithfulness. It is not needful to be savage in order to be sanctified. A bitter spirit is a poor companion for a renewed heart. Let your determination principle be sweetened by tenderness towards your fellow-men. Be resolute for the right, but be also gentle, pitiful, courteous. Consider the meekness as well as the boldness of Jesus. Follow peace, but not at the expense of holiness. Follow holiness, but do not needlessly endanger peace.”

Separation because others are not separate enough

Because of second-degree separation, Christians separate because the separation of others is insufficient.  This is not a wrong thing to do, because if separation is a command, and those who do not separate are disobedient, it is good and right to separate from them.

This, however, is easier said than done.  To how many degrees will ecclesiastical separation go?   If A is liberal, but B does not separate from A, then C must separate from B.  But if C does not separate from B, must D separate from C?  According to some separatists, this must be done.

For example, J. Ligon Duncan III, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor, signed the Manhattan Declaration, which is a document jointly issued by Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders to support of the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.  Joel Beeke, a pastor and seminary professor, has spoken in the same conferences as J. Ligon Duncan III.  Joel Beeke has also been invited to speak at the School of Theology, organized by Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  Peter Masters is a Bible-believing Christian and a separatist.

Does this therefore mean that separatists must separate themselves from Peter Masters because he has not separated from Joel Beeke, who has not separated himself from J. Ligon Duncan III?

Many separatists will not, but will themselves judge others for the very same behaviour they hypocritically display.  They exhibit characteristics of the weaker brother, legalistic in their attitudes and lacking in love for others.  The ironic thing is that many separatists do not see themselves as weaker, but stronger, because legalism has a way of deceiving us.

The fear of being labeled an inconsistent separatist or any one of those scathing names invented by separatists drives some to conform to the separation propounded by others. Fear is a great motivator to conform.  This binds the conscience of separatists today as it did Peter’s conscience years ago when he removed himself from the Gentile believers for fear of the Jews.

Separation without going through due process

Much of the separation that occurs is done carnally and hypocritically.  While such behaviour is already unjustifiable, it becomes even sadder to realize that much of the separation achieved is not done according to due process.  In Matthew 18, Christ had laid down the principles of church discipline; that if a brother sins, he is to be confronted privately.  And if he refuses to hear, he is to be admonished in the presence of two or three witnesses.  And if that fails to restore him, he is to be brought before the congregation to be disciplined.

So even if the matter concerns a brother who errs doctrinally, such divinely instituted means of dealing with them and the offenders are to be followed. There is a church court and there is a due process.

Unfortunately, this is not usually the instance in many cases of ecclesiastical separation. And so, many separatists are overly eager to name names, and warn their churches, without going through divinely instituted processes.  This is tantamount to nothing more than gossip.  And the tongue is a fire, blazing destruction wherever it speaks, dividing brethren with nothing more than hearsay and issuing judgments independently of the church court.

But the doctrine of ecclesiastical separation is alluded to in order to justify such urgent and hasty dealings with brethren.  What irony when we consider that ecclesiastical separation is supposed to be an act of church discipline!

Article 6.6 of the Constitution of Life Bible-Presbyterian Church says, “there has been a notable growth of autocratic domination on the part especially of modernistic leaders by whom the rightful powers of true churches are often usurped and are now being usurped.”  This is sadly but ironically mirrored in Fundamentalist churches, where the rightful powers of true churches are often usurped by an autocratic group who practice unbiblical separation.  If it is not biblical separation, then what is it? Unfortunately, what passes off as ecclesiastical separation may be plain old schism!

(To be continued…...next Lord’s Day)

More Lively Hope



*Kitchen Rosters: Team Leader: Bro Raymond Ang. Next Lord’s Day: Team Leader: Sis Yvone Kam.
*Welcome back our Batam Missions Team.
*Hope Bookstore - open 12:30 - 1:30pm. Books & cards are for sale.
*Congratulations to Bro Richie & Sis Myra Horenung on the birth of Lydia (Mindanao).
*Resignation of Sis Josephine Wong as Sunday School Superintendent effective 23 Jan.
*Appointment of Sis Susan Weng as Sunday School Superintendent from 23 Jan.
*2011 Family Bible Camp Committee: Volunteers are still welcome to join. Please meet in extended Sanctuary after service.
*Today’s Fellowship Lunch is catered. $5 per person. Under 5 years old FREE.
Looking Ahead
*YAF Adelaide Uni O-Week - 21 & 24 Feb.
*YAF Welcome Dinner, Fri, 25 Feb at 6:30 pm.
*Easter Family Bible Camp, 22-25 April.
Praise & Thanksgiving
1. Journey mercies: Ps Weng; Dn David Yeo; Bros Samuel Ki, Phil Surman (Adl), Jason Teng (M’sia) & Jonathan Yeo (Viet); Sisters Annie Li (Melb), Clara Sim, Serene Wong (Adl), Shu Ai Cho, Catherine Teng & Sally Teng (M’sia), Xandrea Cai, Yvonne Kam & Buey Yeo (S’pore); Bro Len & Sis Margaret Pearson (Adl); Bro Aaron & Sis Monica Tan & family (Melb/Adl), & others who have arrived safely at their destinations.
2. Batam Missions - fruitful ministry & answered prayers.
3. Church activities - over the past week.
4. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings
Prayer Items
1. Health & God’s healing - Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow; Rev George van Buuren; Rev & Mrs James White; Preacher Zhang, Dn Yaw Chiew Tan; Bros Colin Creaser; Elton Law, & Len Pearson; Mr Swee Liang Ng; Grandpa Ki (S’pore); Auntie Oei; Sisters Lynette Booth, Mabella Booth, Lydia Fan, Myung Ki, Choon Fong Lee (KL), Nan van Buuren; Gillian Ong, Lehia Paauwe, Margaret Pearson, Julie Tan, Irena Kurek-Braden; & others in affliction.
2. Hospital - Sis Susan Varadi in RAH, Ward Q8.
3. Cambodia Missions - Rev David Koo & Ministry; Life University (Sihanoukville).
4. Laos Missions - Bro Surish Dharmalingam & Ministry (Vientiane).
5. Batam Missions - for people to come to Christ.
6. iSketch&Tell Studio - Pr H S Lim & ministry.
7. IBPFM (USA) - Rev K Coleman, Board & Missionaries around the world.
8. Ministry in London - Ps & Sis Ki.
9. Presbyterian Missionary Union - Missionaries.
10. Ps & Sis Weng - ministry in Hope BPC.
11. Hopefuls in S’pore; In Kuching: Teo family.
12. Journey mercies: Sis Grace Seow (S’pore); & all those who are travelling.
13. Job - Sisters Judy Li & Corinne Teng. Jobs for our uni graduates this year.
14. Good recovery following delivery - Sis Myra Horenung (Mindanao).
15. Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
16. God’s comfort - Those still in grief.
17. God’s guidance & help - Bro Christanto & Sis Jenni Budiman & family (Per); Bro John & Sis Josephine Wong & family (Melb); Sis Grace Seow (Nutrition & Dietetics placement in S’pore).
18. Floods in Queensland, Northern NSW & Victoria - Comfort for those affected by the floods; & volunteers. People to repent and turn to Christ.
19. Unity in doctrine & fellowship of Australian B-P Churches.



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