August 16, 2017

Scholarship, Separation, and ETS (4)

Part Four: Examining ‘Staying In’ in Light of Separation Passages

Wally Morris

[One] ♦ [Two] ♦ [Three] ♦ [Four] ♦ [Five] ♦ [Six]

The Application Of Separation: Do Biblical Principles Of Separation Apply To The ETS?

Common Reasons For Fundamentalist ETS Membership & Responses

Often in discussion and debate about separation,[1] the various arguments focus too much on personal opinion and less on exegesis and application of Scripture to the specific situation. What follows are three main reasons why Fundamentalists are members of ETS and some analysis of major Scriptural passages on separation.

  • Reason: The ETS is an association of academic professionals for the purpose of furthering scholarship, where Christians share research and propose ideas before publication.

Response: This characterization of ETS is correct. The founding documents of ETS explicitly mention this purpose of the organization, and the ETS has fulfilled that purpose. Fundamentalists who are members of ETS tend to emphasize the academic and professional aspects of ETS rather than the spiritual aspects.

  • Reason: The ETS is not a church but a scholarly, academic association, and therefore the principles of separation do not apply to the ETS.

Response: This professional organization is also a theological organization which every year requires its members to affirm their agreement with its Doctrinal Basis. When the theological organization refuses to support its stated theological beliefs, is it not time to either change and improve the organization or leave the organization? Fundamentalists who are members of ETS should work to protect the doctrinal position of ETS because 1) each member has a responsibility for the whole, similar to Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 12 about the body of Christ., 2) If separation principles were limited to church situations, then separation would not apply to parachurch ministries, missions organizations, schools, or other organizations of Christians not directly linked to a church.

Additionally, the ETS Constitution (Article IV, Section 4) specifies the process for challenging the legitimacy of someone’s membership, and By-Law 12 specifically mentions that the CSBI is the ETS explanation of inerrancy. These statements of ETS are the basis for potential discipline of a member. Although not a church, ETS has assumed, in practice, some functions of a church such as discipline and even corporate worship. Therefore the “not a church” argument is somewhat weakened by the Society’s own practice.

If the ETS refuses to discipline a member whose beliefs deny what the ETS says it believes and what a Fundamentalist says he believes, then the ETS is refusing to maintain its own integrity, and, by continuing membership, the Fundamentalist creates questions about his own commitment to separation.

  • Reason: The Evangelical scholarly world knows very little of the scholarly academic work that Fundamentalists have done in Biblical studies and therefore Fundamentalists must interact within Evangelical scholarship in order to have some impact on Evangelical thinking and attempt to influence Evangelical thinking toward more Biblical positions on important theological issues, such as separation and Biblical authority.

Response: This is a noble goal and one which I suspect partially motivates the publication of some Fundamentalist scholarly journals and dissertations. But is involvement in ETS the right method to accomplish this goal?

Specific Biblical Texts

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

These verses focus on unbelievers. By definition and history, ETS is not an organization of unbelievers. Therefore these verses cannot be used to justify separation from ETS unless someone could demonstrate that the views of some members are so contradictory to Scripture that those views clearly call into question a person’s salvation and that person should be treated as an unbeliever.

2 Timothy 3:2-5

These verses list almost 20 characteristics which people living in the “last days” will exhibit. These characteristics make the last days dangerous and difficult. None of these characteristics seem to apply to members of ETS, although individual people may at times display some of these sins. Therefore these verses cannot be used to justify separation from ETS as an organization, although the verses may apply at times to specific, individual people.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

These verses list 6 characteristics of the professing believer which justify “judging” the person and “putting away” the person from the church. The Greek word translated “put away” is ἐξαίρω, used once, maybe twice in the NT, and has the idea of “remove”. The verb in verse 13 is Aorist Active Imperative, suggesting definite action.

None of these 6 characteristics seem to apply to members of ETS.[2] So the conclusion would be the same as the previous passage.

Titus 3:10-11

The word translated “heretick” by the KJV is the Greek word αἱρετικός (only NT use). The word has the idea of factious, causing divisions, schismatic. The person Paul refers to is someone who causes division, disagreement, and disunity among believers, either because he is teaching doctrinal error or some other reason. After two attempts to teach him and warn him have failed, we are to “reject” this person. The Greek word translated “reject” by the KJV is παραιτέομαι, which has a variety of meanings, such as “request, decline, reject, avoid, refuse”.[3] Many of the NT uses have the idea of refusing or rejecting someone for various reasons (such as refusing to put younger widows on the list for support, refusing to listen to profane, foolish statements and questions). Titus 3:10-11 seems to be one of the strongest uses of the word, being applied to rejecting and refusing someone who causes division. This person has “turned aside, sinning, and condemning himself”. Whatever the nature of his teaching or actions, if he fails to yield to corrective teaching and warning, the church and individual believers are to refuse to allow contact with him, partially in order to limit the divisive damage he can do to the church and believers.

Truth often divides[4], so division possibly caused by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) is not the issue here. Error also divides, as church history and the NT amply show us. These verses can be applied to those who teach error, and the teaching of that error deceives some believers to accept that teaching while other believers reject that erroneous teaching, thus causing division. Church leaders have the responsibility to limit confusion and error, so they attempt to correct and warn the one causing the division. If these attempts fail, then practically the person must be removed from the church in order to limit influence and perhaps motivate repentance.

The ETS is not a church but still has a responsibility to the truth and to uphold its Doctrinal Basis. If members of the ETS promote teaching which appears to be doctrinally erroneous, specifically contradicting its Doctrinal Basis, then the ETS must attempt to determine if the teaching does contradict its Doctrinal Basis. If that teaching does, then the ETS must try to correct and warn the individual. If he rejects those attempts, then that individual must be “rejected” and refused a platform within ETS to promote his teaching. The ETS must separate from him, as its By-Laws allow.

If the ETS refuses to correct a member in doctrinal error, then Fundamentalist members have a decision to make about whether to leave ETS since the organization as a group refuses to correct a believer in error. The situation would now have developed from an individual believer in error to the organization now in error for refusing to reject a member causing division.

One point to consider is that the conscience of many ETS members may not allow them to vote to remove someone from membership. For example, the conscience of someone raised since childhood to be a thief probably will not produce any guilt about stealing. He may actually enjoy stealing. Nevertheless, his actions are still sin even though his conscience does not produce any guilt. Stealing is wrong whether your conscience bothers you about it or not. Many Evangelicals have not been properly taught about separation and therefore probably wouldn’t have a guilty conscience about allowing people whose theological beliefs question their understanding of inerrancy to remain ETS members. Therefore the ETS as an organization may not produce enough votes to remove someone from membership since members are “voting their conscience”. However, following your conscience does not necessarily mean that you are correct. The organization may still be in error.

Romans 16:17-18

These verses are similar to the Titus 3 verses. Paul uses 2 words to describe the object of his attention: διχοστασία, used 3 times with the idea of dissension, division, and σκάνδαλον, used several times in the NT with the idea of causing someone to sin or “stumble”, metaphorically causing spiritual hurt or damage to another person. Paul is describing a person whose teaching or life contradicts “the teaching which you have learned”, which probably at a minimum is what Paul has written in Romans. Verse 17 gives two commands concerning such a person: to “mark” them and “avoid” them. The Greek word translated “mark” is σκοπέω, used 6 times in the NT, and has the idea of observing, watching, sometimes with a cautionary or wary motivation. The Greek word translated “avoid” is ἐκκλίνω, used 3 times in the NT, having the idea of turning away, either from a person (Rm 16:17), from sin (1 Pt 3:11), or from doing what is good and right (Rm 3:12). The purpose of the careful observation would be to decide if and when to “turn away”. Verse 18 gives some unflattering characteristics of the person causing the division and stumbling and suggests that the person’s motivations relate more to himself than the good of other people.

ETS members whose teaching is “contrary” (Greek preposition παρά, “against, contrary to”) to the Doctrinal Basis (and, of course, God’s Word) must be “watched” and “turned away from”. At present, the ETS is “watching” those whose teaching results in denial of Biblical historicity. In fact, the ETS has been “watching” them for many years. The question is: At what point will the ETS determine that this teaching is contrary to inerrancy and Biblical orthodoxy and decide to “turn away” from them? As I mentioned earlier, the ETS can debate, discuss, present papers, and host seminars for a long time. The Bible tells us to “turn away”. When will the ETS do that, and when will Fundamentalists who are ETS members “turn away”? Pickering, in his comments on these verses, says that “Paul’s concern” was “definitely false teaching” and that “To remain, therefore, in whatever kind of religious organization with such persons seems in direct contradiction to the command of the apostle.”[5]

2 John 4-11

John begins emphasizing “walking in truth” (4) and “walk according to His commandments” (6 [2x]). The immediate commandment is to “love one another” (5), but in verse 6 he mentions that love is walking according to God’s commandments (plural), which include more than the one commandment he mentions in verse 5. In verse 7 John highlights deception about the nature of Jesus Christ, and in verse 8 he warns us to watch/examine ourselves concerning what we believe about Christ. In verse 9, the person who does not accept right teaching about Christ has “gone ahead” or beyond what has been revealed about Christ. John then says that this person “does not have God”. In verse 10, the person who presents himself as a believer but does not accept correct teaching about Christ is not walking in truth because his teaching about Christ is erroneous. John tells us in verses 10-11 that we should not “receive him” into our house and not “give him a greeting” because to do so associates us in some way with “his evil deeds”.

These verses have more application to ETS since the person John refers to seems to make some claim to be a believer. The problem is that his teaching, particularly his teaching about Christ, is wrong. The specific error John refers to is denial that Christ “came in the flesh”, an allusion to Gnosticism which denied Christ coming as a physical, human man.

What is interesting about the current debates in ETS is that some members of ETS are using redaction criticism to deny what the Gospels teach. Peter Enns teaches that Christ knowingly used “myth” to accommodate 1st century Jewish understanding. This is not the exact Gnostic error, but it is still error about Christ. Mike Licona uses the same interpretative methods to deny the historicity of the resurrections in Matthew 27. Although Enns and Licona are not members of ETS, many members of ETS support either their beliefs, many others in ETS support either their beliefs or the theoretical legitimacy of their beliefs.[6]

Therefore the ETS, as an organization, is for the present allowing people to remain members who accept in principle the legitimacy of denying the historicity of statements in the Gospels and other parts of the Bible. Is this not in some way approaching the principle that John established in 2 John of not tolerating error about Christ? If it is, then should we consider applying the sanctions which John stated in verses 10-11? If these principles do apply, then the Fundamentalists who are members of ETS should seek the removal of those members who deny the historicity of parts of the Bible. If the ETS will not remove them, then Fundamentalists who are members of ETS should resign their membership, a step of separation, since membership is association with those who tolerate error about Christ. If John commanded restrictions on the home and greetings (which is probably giving recognition as a brother and perhaps even a normal greeting), then separation from ETS would seem to be a minimal application of the 2 John verses. In commenting on these verses, Pickering says “The verse forbids the continual fellowship of those who are in doctrinal error. By retaining associations with such within a denominational or other organizational framework, we disobey this command of Scripture.”[7]

1 Thessalonians 5:12-24; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

Due to limited space, I am not going to give a thorough exegesis of these passages.[8] Evangelicals usually will not apply these verses beyond the specific situations of the 1st century. Those who understand the Biblical principles of separation usually apply these verses more broadly to include ecclesiastical and personal associations. The commands of 1 Th. 5:21-22 tell us to examine everything carefully so that we can determine what is good and “hold fast”[9] to that good. That examination will also help us see what is evil and the various “forms” and “external appearances” of evil so that we can “abstain” from that evil. The Greek word translated “abstain” is ἀπέχω, which can have the idea of keeping one’s distance from something. Once we determine that something is evil, we are to keep that evil distant from us.

The 2 Th. 3 passage has the immediate application to the believer who “walks disorderly” and not following the “tradition” which Paul taught them. The Greek word translated “tradition” is παράδοσις. In the Gospels, the word always has a negative emphasis. Paul almost always uses the word with a good emphasis, with “tradition” being the correct teachings of the past. “Walking disorderly” has the idea of living a lazy, undisciplined life, a life of not working and living off of the work of others. Paul emphasizes (verses 7-9) that he did not live this way but worked hard so that his needs would not burden others. But Paul seems to be thinking of more than just laziness. In verse 14 Paul refers to those who do not obey the words he has written in this letter. He tells them to take special notice of such people and to refuse association with them. In chapter 2 Paul writes about the end times and following the traditions they were taught previously, either personally or by letter (probably 1 Th.). The separation application would be to those believers who refuse to work and those not following the “traditions” or teaching of the Bible. To apply these verses only to laziness ignores the wider context of 2 Thessalonians.

I doubt ETS has very many members who are lazy, but ETS does have members who openly question the inerrant teachings of Scripture. We are to “keep our distance” from every form of evil and refuse association with those who do not obey Paul’s words. The ETS has an obligation to carefully examine questionable teachings which may contradict its Doctrinal Basis. If those teachings do not follow the “traditions” of Scripture, those teachings and those who promote them should be rejected. Yet we are not to consider these people enemies but are to “admonish” them as the believers they claim to be.

Fundamentalists have usually applied these verses to broader situations than the immediate 1st century situation. If those Fundamentalists who are members of ETS view the Thessalonian verses as applying more broadly than the 1st century situation, then I would assume they would believe that ETS members who deny the historicity of certain Biblical events are also denying the “traditions” of Scripture and would come under the admonishment and commands of 1 Th 5 and 2 Th 3.

Application of Separation to Scholarship and Academic Organizations

Do separation principles apply to scholarly academic organizations such as ETS?[10] In other words, is separation limited only to church ministry connected situations where a “gospel-centered” focus is primary? Another relevant question: Are those who deny Biblical historicity “false teachers”?

Dr. David Innes (Hamilton Square Baptist Church) and Dr. A. Philip Brown II (God’s Bible School & College) have developed charts to aid the illustration and application of doctrinal beliefs to four categories of importance.[11] Category One includes those doctrines and beliefs that are essential to the Christian faith. Denial of Category One doctrines would require separation and questions about a person’s salvation. Category Two includes those doctrines and beliefs that are logical conclusions of Biblical teaching, strongly believed preferences that are not essential but still important. Denial of these would limit fellowship and association. Categories Three and Four move further away from doctrinal certainty to personal preferences which allow disagreement and should not affect formal separation in the same way that denial of Category One beliefs would.

These categories are helpful in helping us decide which doctrinal beliefs are important enough to warrant the important step of separation. Therefore, which of the four categories apply to inerrancy? Since the Bible teaches its own inerrancy as a fundamental and integral part of inspiration, inerrancy is a Category One doctrinal truth. Denial of the historicity of Biblical events and persons is also a denial of what is essential to the Christian faith since such denial rejects the historical basis for Biblical truth. I would also place historicity as a Category One truth.

Denial of such important truths requires attempted correction and, if refused, separation. The application of separation also applies to academic organizations such as ETS. The reason separation should be applied to ETS is that, despite attempts by some to bring correction within ETS concerning inerrancy, the members of ETS seem unwilling to apply their own Doctrinal Basis and By-Laws to its members who deny inerrancy and historicity. Fundamentalists who are members of ETS should actively work to convince the Executive Committee to confront the situation. I realize the importance of careful evaluation and the benefit of scholarly discussion. But the ETS has been debating these issues for years! A cynic might suspect that the debate slouches on in the hope that the issue will fade from active discussion, much as the open theism debate has done. If the ETS will not confront this issue, then Fundamentalists should leave ETS as a matter of Biblical principle and personal integrity. Fundamentalists who are not members of ETS should not join ETS because of its history of doctrinal inclusion and rejecting separation.

If the ETS will not enforce its inerrancy basis, then why are Fundamentalists members of that organization? Do they hope to be a positive influence or a moderating influence? Does any evidence exist which demonstrates that Fundamentalist membership in ETS has had any positive influence in moving ETS toward a more conservative (i.e., Biblical) position?

After reviewing several major NT passages on separation, I can’t find any exegetical basis for not applying separation to scholarly, academic organizations. The Biblical emphases on separation, holiness, purity, and loving the Lord by obeying His Word indicate that we cannot limit separation to certain areas of our life or work. Instead these emphases must apply to all of our life and associations.

When I look at the totality of teaching on separation, I find an emphasis on protecting believers and the church from the error and dangers of wrong teaching and those who would teach wrong. This protection extends even to scholarly and academic theological associations.


Pastor Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN and can be reached at ">. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.

  1. In addition to the standard separation resources by Moritz, Pickering, and Sidwell, also see the pamphlet by the BJU Bible Faculty, Biblical Separation (BJU, 1980); various articles on these websites: Glory & Grace, In The Nick Of Time, Faith, Theology, & Ministry (no longer active, but many articles), An Oxgoad, Eh?, and SharperIron; Charles Woodbridge, The New Evangelicalism (BJU Press, 1970), John Ashbrook, The New Neutralism II (Painesville, OH: Here I Stand Books, 1992) and Axioms of Separation (Painesville, OH: Here I Stand Books, n.d.). Peter Masters has four good articles at Sword & Trowel, here, and SermonAudio has many messages on the topic of separation, here. Since the ETS is being discussed in this paper, I should note that Dr. Pickering was a member of ETS until his death in 2000 and did not see an inconsistency between separation and ETS membership, at least during the time he was a member. []
  2. One possibility would be when the acceptance and use of alcoholic beverages becomes drunkenness, since many in the ETS do not see anything wrong with social drinking, even with drinking brandy. For example, Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary drinks brandy. []
  3. Interesting that the NIV and ESV, translations used by many Evangelicals, translate the Greek word as a phrase: “have nothing to do with them”. If that is not separation, I don’t know what is. []
  4. The words of Christ and the apostles often divided people into those accepting the truth and those rejecting the truth. The problem, of course, is not the truth but the heart. []
  5. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle For A Pure Church (Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Press: 1979) pp. 175-176. []
  6. I am thinking of Daniel Wallace (Dallas Seminary), Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary), and others. According to the ETS website, Wallace is listed as the current President-Elect of ETS (here). []
  7. Pickering, Biblical Separation, p.181. []
  8. For an excellent discussion of 1 Th 5:12-24, see Layton Talbert, “Context, Exegesis and Separatism: A Case Study (5:12-24),” Biblical Viewpoint 38:1, April 2004: 41-52. []
  9. The Greek word translated “hold fast” is also used in Acts 27:40 of a ship heading toward the beach. Perhaps we are to examine everything in order to point our life to that which is good and “steer toward it”. []
  10. A future discussion about separation could focus on the application of separation to social and political contexts. []
  11. Dr. Innes’ chart may be found here, and Dr. Brown’s chart may be found here. []


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