Dr. Peter Masters on Secondary Separation

Article review by Don Johnson

‘Secondary Separation’ is a bad word for many North American Christians. The critics of fundamentalism use it as a pejorative in their attacks on separation in general. Many fundamentalists shy away from the term because of its opprobrium. Dr. Peter Masters, long-time pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Baptist Church in London, England, embraces the term.

In an article entitled “When to Stand Apart” (Sword & Trowel 2013: Issue 2, pp. 23-32), Dr. Masters defines and argues for the concept of secondary separation as appropriate obedience to the commands of Scripture. Dr. Masters is well aware of the controversy around the term, but he insists that it nevertheless is a Christian duty.

It should not be forgotten that the duty of separation, whether primary or secondary, is laid upon us in the Bible by the infinite kindness of God. Far from being loveless, it is a Gospel-preserving and a church-protecting duty. It is designed for our blessing and power. It is to keep us from a thousand snares and heartaches.

Dr. Masters is careful to note that all separation is to be applied with “discretion”, citing 1 Cor 16.14, “Let all your things be done with charity.” With that admonition in mind, he argues that when a brother stays in a compromised or liberal denomination and is actively contending against the error, “we must respect him, and be charitable,” even though we cannot have public fellowship or cooperation while they remain in their compromised fellowship.

Masters cites Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Charles Spurgeon as examples of the kind of discreet separatist he advocates. On Lloyd-Jones, he says:

To prove the point we remember the way in which Dr Lloyd-Jones refused to work with Billy Graham, and this is a significant example of secondary separation. In 1963 the evangelist asked Dr Lloyd-Jones to chair the first World Congress on Evangelism (eventually held in Berlin in 1966; predecessor to Lausanne). Dr Lloyd-Jones told Billy Graham that if he would stop having liberals and Roman Catholics on his platform and drop the invitation system he would support and chair the Congress.

And he quotes Spurgeon here:

‘That I might not stultify my testimony I have cut myself clear of those who err from the faith, and even from those who associate with them’ (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 1888, No. 2047).

In response to the charges that secondary separation is not called for in the Bible, Masters argues firstly that “the many texts that command primary separation are emphatic, insistent, obligatory, and imperative, showing how great a wrong it is to reject them.” To fail to follow these passages is a matter of grave disobedience, ignoring the doctrine of the apostles, which clearly violates the teaching of 2 Thess 3.14, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”

He also warns about the corrupting influence of bad associations, citing Rev. 18.4 and 2 Jn 11. These two Scriptural principles firmly establish the duty of secondary separation.

In the end, those who mistakenly remain in apostate denominations contribute to (whether they aim to or not) the victory of the Lord’s enemies. We see this in the historic decline of once great evangelical denominations.

All of this is standard fare in the argument for secondary separation or separation from disobedient brothers as we have seen in the many interminable debates over the subject. Dr. Masters takes the argument a step further as he tackles the problem of worldliness in Christianity. Worldliness is an epidemic problem in the church today. Dr. Masters boldly asserts:

The biblical duty to stand apart from certain fellow-evangelicals applies not only to false teachers and those who help them but also to evangelicals who promotesinful, worldly and harmful conduct. This category of separation includes those who commit serious offences, such as immorality and the other disfellowshipping sins referred to in 1 Corinthians 5.9, 11 and 13 and elsewhere.

He wryly notes that even secular groups are aware of the blemishes on their reputations that accrue when scandalous behaviour is tolerated.

Worldly and harmful conduct certainly includes cursing and swearing, gross disrespect to Christ or to Scripture, and deliberate sexual innuendo or verbal pornography. There are preachers today claiming to be sound evangelicals, who bring the testimony into disrepute by such behaviour, and we cannot possibly endorse them. It is truly astonishing that some evangelicals do commend them.

Such tolerance is one thing, but beyond the toleration (and cheerful recommendation) of the worldly religious hucksters of evangelicalism, Dr. Masters rightly criticizes the incursion of “wilful worldliness” in the churches.

Who would have imagined twenty years ago that rap, with all its debased cultural associations, would be used in worship and applauded by reformed churches? Incalculable harm is done, reverence forfeited, the message distorted by the culture, and the young deprived of any distinction between the church and the world.

Masters boldly calls for us to ‘stand apart’ from this kind of Christianity:

Right now there are some preachers who possess fine presentational skills and winning personalities, and say they want to see souls saved, but who have mistakenly attached to the Gospel the menace of heavy rock, rap and other sin-stained methods. It is wrong to say that their belief in the Gospel, and their desire to win souls, is all that should concern us.

His article is a welcome voice for the cause of Christ. I encourage you to read the whole thing. There is no excuse for dallying with the world in attempting to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no excuse in promoting, endorsing, and encouraging those who besmirch the gospel with their conduct or their connections, leading Christians into confusion and error.

May I say to pastors, elders and deacons – we have a choice. We either show unreserved kindness, protection and solidarity toward the offender, or we show it to the Gospel and our congregations. We either commend one or the other. Which will we embrace? No pastor or church officer can be truly loyal to the Word and protective to the flock of God without the practice of biblical secondary separation, applied with all the sensitive discretion of charity.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.