December 18, 2017

Axioms of Separation–Chapter 4

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

(Links to previous articles in the series below.)

Axioms of Separation
John Ashbrook

Chapter IV

WHAT SEPARATION IS NOT

I have read good articles on separation where the author took a firm stand and then retracted it at the end of the article. You may have read the title to this chapter and decided that I am about to take back what I have written. No, I believe what I have written; but I do have an axiom on the subject of what separation is not.

AXIOM #11: SEPARATION IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERY DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN BRETHREN. What kind of people are Biblical separatists? They are men with strong convictions. They are resolute. They have something of Elijah, John, Paul and Jude in their natures. The very traits God uses to make them strong must be controlled or separation can turn to fragmentation. Let me set forth four areas in which separation is not the answer.

PERSONAL DISAGREEMENT

First, separation is not the answer to personal disagreement. Sharp arguments, wounded feelings and hot words are not as rare as they ought to be among good separatists. Being agreed in important matters does not stop such things. The answer to such problems is not separation, but face-to-face talk, confession, forgiveness, prayer and forgetting. When I started in the ministry 37 years ago my father said, “Son, if you will settle your problems Scripturally you can spend a long time in the same church. If you don’t care to do that you had best keep your suitcase packed and be ready to move every three years.” I have spent my 37 years in the same pastorate. It has not been without many a night spent seeking out brethren to get things right. I have played the part of the wounder and of the woundee. Both have an equal obligation to find one another and get things right.

DIFFERENT DECISIONS

Second, separation is not the answer to a difference in decisions. In any fellowship of fundamental men there will be differences of opinion. Separation does not standardize all decisions. Two separatist brethren may consider the same mission board. One may decide to support that board, and the other to withdraw his support. There is danger in seeking to make your brother see the same thing you see and at the same moment. In my first college experience I was educated as an engineer. All of the answers to problems were mathematical. I have set forth “Axioms of Separation.” I believe that they are definite; but they are not always mathematical. There has to be a charity in coming to our conclusions. It is easy to separate from a brother because he has a speaker we would not have, supports a mission we would not support or recommends a school we would not recommend. Every separatist has made his share of mistakes over the years. I have had speakers, supported missions and recommended schools which I could not have, support or recommend today. But I am a separatist even though I may be a slow learner. If a man has the conviction of separation from Scripture he will learn by mistakes and come out on the right side. Be careful not to run up the red flag for every mistake or differing decision. Wait to see if it is a pattern. If a man always comes out on the wrong side, it will be obvious that he is new evangelical, and it will be time for separation.

STANDARDS

Separation is not the answer to a difference in our standards. Our slovenly world has forced us into standards for such entities as camps and Christian schools. We dare not neglect such things. We cannot form Christian character without the confrontation of good rules. However, standards can and have become a battleground among good men. No two churches, schools or camps will have exactly the same set of practices. All of us must be battling the world’s attack on Biblical holiness; but when we work together, we will have to adjust to one another and come to agreement on what we will expect as a group. This is not an area for separation, but for prayerful consensus. That will always require some compromise; and in that context, it is not a dirty word.

DENOMINATIONAL DISTINCTIVES

Separation is not the answer to denominational distinctives. Can we fellowship together in spite of denominational distinctives? There is a difference between apostasy and truly held Biblical convictions. The name “fundamentalist” came out of the context of Presbyterian separatists. There are independent fundamentalists, Baptist fundamentalists, Methodist fundamentalists and other varieties. Differences in the mode of ordinances, church government and forms of worship have nothing to do with separation. One could wish that Zwingli and Luther might have agreed to disagree on the Lord’s Supper without a separation. Amos 3:3 asks the question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” That text is sometimes interpreted to mean that if we disagree in any way, we must separate. The passage does not teach that. Study the context of the passage and you will see that God was dealing with the apostasy of Israel and not with denominational distinctives or minor disagreements. There is a proper ecumenism of separatist brethren as well as a false ecumenism of Satan’s system. Separation is God’s answer to apostasy. Separation is God’s answer to the problem of disobedient brethren who will not separate from apostasy. But, separation is not the answer to every disagreement between brethren.

Next in this series: Axioms – Chapter 5 (Part 1)


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.


Previously on P&D:


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