December 12, 2017

The Biblical Mandate and Motive for Separation

John Vaughn

For many believers, “separation” seems to contradict God’s command to love your neighbor. Clearly, the Bible requires believers to seek and maintain unity. Therefore, the reader may wonder how it can be that Fundamental Baptists argue for separation. The better questions are, “Is there a biblical mandate for separation?” and, if so, “What is the biblical motive for separation?” In brief, there is such a mandate, and the motive is love for and loyalty to Christ, as a sampling of texts will show.

In its simplest form, the biblical mandate for separation is threefold. Separation from the world, from false teachers, and from blatantly disobedient brethren is clearly taught in the Bible. First, we learn from 1 John 2:15–17 and 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 that love for the world is in direct conflict with love for God: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Physical indulgence, visual indulgence, and the arrogance of ungodly self-reliance are spiritual adultery (1 John 2:16; James 4:4). Can we love that which hates Christ (John 15:18)? Just as the Lord is not of this world, neither should we be (John 17:16). Indeed, we are commanded, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). Because your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, your most intimate fellowship is to be with Christ (2 Cor. 6:15–16a), not with the harlot of worldliness.

Second, we learn from Romans 16:17–18, Galatians 1:8–9, and 2 John 9–11 that separation from false teachers is clearly taught in the Bible. Unquestionably, doctrinal modification of the gospel is an intolerable offense. Apostolic doctrine admits no alteration. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Paul instructed Timothy to withdraw himself from those who taught perverse applications of doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3–5). Giving aid and comfort to false teachers, or even wishing them well in their efforts, makes one a “partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9–11). The biblical mandate is to “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).

Third, we learn from Matthew 18:15–18 that separation from blatantly disobedient brethren is clearly taught in the Bible. A similar command is given in 1 Timothy 5:22 regarding the public rebuke of spiritual leaders, lest he who fails to do so “be partaker of other men’s sins.” Even if we were to grant (which we do not) that these passages may only be applied within a specific local church, they certainly refute the false claim that it is never right to separate from a brother. Biblically, disobedience must be lovingly confronted, with separation following if no repentance is forthcoming. In the case of spiritual leaders, when sin is properly in evidence, public rebuke is required. In fact, unrepentant disobedience is an indication of a false profession of salvation.

Thus, the Bible provides a process of restoration that changes fellowship into evangelism (Matt. 18:17) in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. To reiterate, unrepentant disobedience is a practice of rebellion that contradicts the claim of salvation (1 John 2:19; 3:6–10). Further, refusal to separate from blatant disobedience is disobedience itself, leading to eventual separation from new disobedience. Some call this “secondary separation,” an unhelpful term because it implies that levels of contamination require degrees of separation, whereas biblical separation is always for a direct cause. Obviously, discipline of members in local churches is biblical separation. Churches that will not discipline the blatantly disobedient are not scriptural churches. Therefore, worldly churches and those who teach false doctrine as well as those who refuse to practice separation in necessary church discipline are themselves appropriate objects of biblical separation. The biblical language tells us to “put away” (1 Cor. 5:13), “withdraw . . . from” (2 Thess. 3:6, 14–15) and “reject” (Titus 3:9–11).

In addition to these passages that provide a biblical mandate for separation, we find primary support in the classic text on the doctrine of separation, 2 Corinthians 6:1–7:1. There we find not only what to do but why we are to do it. As Christians we are the subjects of a spiritual kingdom; we are to be ambassadors representing that kingdom while living in hostile territory (2 Cor. 5:20–21). Our role as ambassadors is stated after the explanation that we persuade men to be reconciled to God because “the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5:11–19). The command and promise of 2 Corinthians 6:17–18 are unequivocal: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” The reason we are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers is that there is to be no fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness (2 Cor. 6:14). Christ’s love for us must produce within us love for and loyalty to Christ. Thus, the supreme motive for separation from all unrighteousness is love for and loyalty to Christ.

If you truly love Christ, you must be working to win souls (2 Cor. 6:1–2). That expression of love for Christ has been called “evangelistic unction.” Men are saved to glorify God, and salvation is God’s gift to men through Christ. In that context, Paul’s motive is our example: we are “workers together” in cooperation with God! Paul’s appeal is critical; he implores us to “receive not the grace of God in vain.” Quoting Isaiah 49:8, Paul explains that now is the time for us to concentrate on offering salvation to others through Christ, just as Christ offered salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. Biblical separation occurs within the mindset that we are not here merely to enjoy the world but to reach the world. The young theologian who seeks purity of doctrine must employ the power of doctrine, using “”evangelistic unction to make orthodoxy function.”

It follows that the one who is working to win souls will be willing to make sacrifices (2 Cor. 6:3–10). He will focus not on what he has the right to do for his own enjoyment but on what he has the responsibility to do for God’s glory. He will do nothing that could cause anyone to reject the ministry of the gospel but will demonstrate that he is an ambassador of Christ. He will not succumb to mental or physical pressures but will work hard, at times losing sleep or nourishment, enduring every kind of hardship, to serve as a loyal, faithful servant. To be in the world but not of the world requires discipline. The minister who would excuse himself from the rigorous discipline and great sacrifice required may argue, “I can’t be like Christ!” Then be like Paul.

If you truly love Christ, you will discern and maintain wise motives in biblical separation (2 Cor. 6:11–7:1). You will have a right attitude toward those who are sincerely trying to help you, listening to the earnest pleas of those whose hearts overflow with concern for you (2 Cor. 6:11– 13). You will love those who love you by loving what they love. As well, you will have a right attitude toward those who are trying to corrupt you. You cannot cooperate with God while cooperating with His enemies. You cannot be an ambassador for Christ while living like an idolater (2 Cor. 6:14–16a). Finally, you will have a right attitude toward the One who paid the price to save you, standing in awe of His promises to you and in obedience to His command to you (2 Cor. 16b–7:1). The effective ambassador is to stand up, clean up, and grow up!

In summary, the Bible clearly presents a mandate for separation. The mandate requires us to separate from the world, from false teachers, and from blatantly disobedient brethren. In doing so, we are to maintain the biblical motive for separation: love for and loyalty to Christ.

A helpful illustration of biblical separation is observed in the medical practice of a surgeon vigorously scrubbing his hands before a life-saving surgical procedure. He does not scrub so that he may parade through the hospital halls holding his clean hands up for all to admire. He scrubs to protect the one whose life he is committed to saving. He separates himself from every contaminant, enabling him to fulfill his critical mission. Separation is to the ministry as sterilization is to surgery. Of course, questions remain regarding when, how, and from whom, exactly, but there can be no doubt that the mandate and motive are in the Bible.


In addition to his extensive evangelistic ministry, Dr. John C. Vaughn is president of Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International and pastor emeritus of Faith Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, where he served as senior pastor for thirty years.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2015. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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