June 25, 2017

Axioms of Separation: Chapter 2 (Part 1)

The late Dr. John Ashbrook, long–time pastor of Bible Community Church in Mentor, Ohio, wrote a little book called Axioms of Separation. The current publisher has kindly given us permission to serialize the book here on Proclaim & Defend.

Previously on P&D:

Axioms of Separation
John Ashbrook

Chapter II

SEPARATION FROM DISOBEDIENT BRETHREN

During the thirty-seven years I have been in the pastorate, I have been a member of two different church organizations. The first organization was a result of separation from apostasy. The second organization was a result of separation from brethren.

When I entered the ministry I joined the Independent Fundamental Churches of America. In the 1930’s and early 40’s many obedient pastors practiced separation from apostate denominations. They came out of the Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Brethren and other backgrounds. Many of those men organized new denominational affiliations, such as the General Association of Regular Baptists and the Bible Presbyterian Church. Others, having had their fill of denominationalism as well as apostasy, joined in the happy fellowship of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America.

In the early 1960’s that happiness was broken. There was a growing group within that fellowship, mainly led by men trained at non-separatist Dallas Theological Seminary, which desired to cease reproving apostasy. The Voice Magazine, official organ of the group, had always had militant articles encouraging separation from apostasy. Some articles expounded Biblical passages. Others gave factual reports of apostasy in the denominations. Others gave victorious testimonies of those who had come out. In the early 1960’s a decision was made to change the image of the publication by eliminating this material. Such a decision seems to be characteristic of the decline of every separatist group. The same trend could be observed in organizations like the Bible Baptist Fellowship and the General Association of Regular Baptists. The men of the Ohio Regional of the IFCA, abetted by others of the Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Northern California Regionals, began to protest that shift. As a result of various debates on the convention floor over a period of five years, the Ohio men came to the conclusion that we were a slight minority and that the leadership of the group was on the other side. Believing that reproving apostasy was a Biblical mandate, we severed our previous connection and became the Ohio Bible Fellowship.

This introduction leads us to the question of this chapter. Is it ever right to separate from brethren? I would answer that with another axiom.

AXIOM #5: SCRIPTURE TEACHES USTO SEPARATE FROM DISOBEDIENT BRETHREN. At this point it becomes necessary to define two terms which will become increasingly prevalent in our discussion. The terms are fundamentalism and new evangelicalism.

One of the great pitched battles for the faith raged in the 1920’s between a Baptist unbeliever, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Presbyterian believers. By a strange arrangement, Dr. Fosdick was supply pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City. In 1923 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church made an effort to remove the blasphemy of Fosdick from a Presbyterian pulpit. It passed a resolution, championed by William Jennings Bryan and Clarence E. Macartney. I quote from The Presbyterian Conflict by Edwin Rian:

“It called upon the Assembly to direct the Presbytery of New York to require the preaching and teaching at the First Presbyterian Church in New York City to conform to the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith. It also asked the Assembly to reaffirm its faith in the infallibility of the Bible, in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, in His substitutionary atonement on the cross, in His bodily resurrection and in His mighty miracles, as essential doctrines of the Holy Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

The five points which the Assembly was asked to reaffirm became known as “the fundamentals.” The fundamentals espoused those points as the lowest common denominator of Christianity. The modernists in the Church reacted by signing the Auburn Affirmation, declaring that these five points were not essential to Christianity. By original definition, fundamentalists were those who adhered to the fundamentals.

WHAT IS FUNDAMENTALISM?

A wider definition of fundamentalism is needed today. I would argue for the following: Fundamentalism is the militant belief and proclamation of the basic doctrines of Christianity leading to a Scriptural separation from those who reject them. There are three keys to the definition. The first key is “militant belief.” The basic doctrines are held with the conviction of faith. The second key is “proclamation.” These doctrines are not only believed, but taught to congregations and preached to the lost. The third key is “separation.” A man cannot be rightly called a fundamentalist unless he practices separation where necessary.

WHAT IS NEW EVANGELICALISM?

It is also necessary to define new evangelicalism. The faint-hearted who do not want to oppose new evangelicalism love to opine, “What is new evangelicalism? … you can’t define it.” The truth is that we do not have to define it because the man who coined the term defined it for us. Fuller Seminary opened its doors in California in 1947. Its first President was Dr. Harold John Ockenga. These are his words:

“New evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. The ringing call for a repudiation of separatism and the summons to social involvement received a hearty response from many evangelicals. … It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separation and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day.”

When you analyze that statement you see that new evangelicalism differs from fundamentalism in three basic points. (1) It repudiates separatism. This is its most fundamental premise. (2) It gives a summons to social involvement. This traces back to the modernist’s social gospel. (3) It expresses a determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. This is also a repudiation of separatism. It says, “We will not come out; we will sit down and talk.”

WHICH WORDS ARE SCRIPTURAL?

Let me repeat what I have already said: separation from apostasy is the fork in the road between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism. The fundamentalist says, “I believe and will practice separation from apostasy.” The new evangelical says, “I do not believe and will not practice separation from apostasy.” The watchwords of the fundamentalist are: “Be not unequally yoked;” “Come out from among them;” “be ye separate;” “touch not the unclean thing;” and “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” The watchwords of the new evangelical are: “stay in;” “associate;” “infiltrate;” and “dialogue.” The big difference which I see in those two sets of words is that one set is Scriptural.

To be continued…

Next in this series: Axioms – Chapter 2 (Part 2)


Dr. John Ashbrook served the Lord for many years as pastor of Bible Community Church of Mentor, OH. His ministry made a strong contribution to Biblical fundamentalism.


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