“Degrees of Separation”

“The nature of our relationships with others is one of the most challenging areas in our Christian life and witness. We need to be prayerfully searching the Scriptures to remain sensitive to the Spirit of truth if we want to safely traverse this high wire of holiness.”

I want to thank Dan of The Battle Cry for REFERRING ME TO THIS ARTICLE. I had a not-so-easy question, at least not for me, and I asked Dan for his opinion. This article was very helpful.

One of the most faithful Christians I know is my wife of 35 years. We are both Christians. Do we agree on all of the most important things taught in scripture? Yes, I would say so. Do we agree on all topics? No. There are Biblical subjects that are interesting, even important, but they are not subjects that one has to agree with for salvation. Do I think less of my wife because of these differences? Of course not.

When should you separate yourself and to what degree should you separate yourself from your church, your friends, fellow believers, preachers you see on T.V. or the internet, or anyone for that matter? I hope THIS ARTICLE helps you as much as it helped me.

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Source: “Degrees of Separation”

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6 Responses to “Degrees of Separation”

  1. Jasper says:

    Interesting topic and article.

    My first comment that the article itself focuses on relation between churches or denominations, not too much on personal level. At least “friendship” is mentioned 🙂
    However, on a cross-denominational basis much more can be achieved. Doing mission together with cross-denominational organizations for example. I have personal experience with International Fellowship for Evangelical Students and have heard many people’s experiences with Operation Mobilisation.
    This aspect seems to be orthogonal to the focus of the article, however I find it pretty important.

    My second comment is on the order. I am not to support heresies but I am far more concerned about local churches with a toxic image of God than disputes over doctrines over baptising infants or continualism vs. cessationism

    I remember a friend asking my advice about going to another local church in her area of a different denomination. I learnt that she had been dreading about God’s punishments, and to also learn that there was no actual sin just slight cultural differences (really slight ones). She also mentioned she had talked with some elders about that but the elders told that the assembly is doing everything well…
    I was surprising her when I told her: leave that assembly as soon as possible. Look for either a neighbouring church in the denomination or a local one from another, explore the churches and go to another one. (we actually are from the same denomination).

    Another personal experience: I have also surprised a few people in my former church where I have grown up as a child, that at the age of about 20 I rejected secondary separation over cessationism vs. continualism.
    My denomination is not united on the topic, however many people in the local church belongs to a cessationist movement… My talks in the cross-denominational organisations led me to first recognising this is a dispute about how to interpret certain parts of the Bible and secondly some of the arguments convinced me so since then I am a continualist — again, I care about practice to be Biblical 🙂
    (I could still stay at my church — I have left several years later due to moving away 40 kilometers — still have many kins and friends there)

    I have one more comment, on secondary separation.
    Unfortunately my experience tells the story does not stop here and there is tertiary separation as well. What I have seen:
    – on the cessationist vs. charismatic scale, some cessationist separate from everyone who do not separate from all charismatic people. I cannot interpret the whole charismatic movement as a heresy and am only willing to separate from people or local churches with unbiblical practices, like speaking in tongues without interpreter in open assembly
    – some people ask for separation from each and every Roman Catholic people… No, I am not willing to do secondary separation that way. I separate from the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in some matters, but I do not separate from all people there…
    I think tertiary separation is burning the last bridges left over.

    Finally, I would like to mention some chapters from the Bible which teached me a lot about separation. Joshua 22 and Jugdes 20 are interesting examples.
    What is in common that there are messengers first. In case of Joshua 22 the messengers succeed to avoid war due to separation among people of God, in case of Judges 20 they could not succeed.
    However I sometimes see separation without sending messengers first… and many times there is something in behind but whom to separate from is defined far too wide…

    • Chris says:

      Welcome to the Wings of the Wind, Jasper. I know you’ve been here before but I appreciate the comment.

      This aspect that you termed orthogonal to the focus of the article, may very well be. I am not familiar with the two organizations you have mentioned. I’m sure you could be right. It depends on what the mission is, of course. I’m sure there would be “degrees of separation” on this point alone.

      Your second comment is on the order….and then I don’t find much of a comment about the order.

      Here is the beginning of your second point:

      My second comment is on the order. I am not to support heresies but I am far more concerned about local churches with a toxic image of God than disputes over doctrines over baptising infants or continualism vs. cessationism

      Can you clarify what you are communicating here? I don’t understand what you are trying to say and so the rest of your second comment stands alone in my mind. I think I do understand some of your theology. 🙂

      Sorry to understand so little of your comment Jasper but then you have written this:

      – some people ask for separation from each and every Roman Catholic people… No, I am not willing to do secondary separation that way. I separate from the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in some matters, but I do not separate from all people there…
      I think tertiary separation is burning the last bridges left over.

      This sounds contradictory to me. Help me to understand you. You seem to be saying, “I do not separate from all people there (The Roman Catholic Church) and then you say “tertiary separation is burning the last bridges.”

      Your comment about the chapters in Joshua and Judges I find very interesting. I don’t know what you mean though. From my understanding I think you are trying to say that messengers succeed sometimes and sometimes they don’t and that this is in relation to separation.

      Please forgive me, Jasper. I don’t understand your last sentence at all.

  2. Jasper says:

    Chris,

    let me try to respond…

    on the mission by cross-denominational organizations: there Christians try to reach out together. If someone wants to become a Christian, they will help the new Christian to find a living local church of her/his choice.

    on the order: I would start with not biblical practice that someone or some assembly is not willing to change. (If they are willing but weak and fail that is a more complicated story). Doctrine as a reason for separation is only the second point for me.
    I see it has been long ago, for centuries the first concern and I have seen side-effects around me: both separating on nuance differences in doctrine and not caring about practice…

    on my definition of tertiary separation: separation from people or communities who are not willing to do some secondary separation.

    And about messengers: I think it is crucial to send messengers before separating and get involved in complicated dialogues first. I miss this many times — many separate without the slightest attempt on clarification.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Jasper.

      I can see how cross-denominational organizations might help the new Christian to find a living local church of her/his choice.

      On order, it sounds like you would switch the first reason and the second reasons given in the four areas to consider. I guess it could be possible that you notice the practice of the church is so wrong before you even know the doctrine that you decide that is not the church for you. Some “churches” are blatantly wrong these days. My experience has been the opposite for the most part. Most “churches” try to be friendly and try to sound good because they want to add to their numbers and in many of these cases the true doctrines are not easily accessible at the beginning of the relationship. Some even hide what they believe knowing it may chase true believers away. Many that do teach false doctrines start by sounding Christian. Many “churches” ease people into understanding their false doctrines and some don’t understand they are following false teachings. Some know they are following false teachings but they stay anyway for a number of reasons. These people are very unwise or maybe even disobedient. If things seem OK, the first thing to do is look for or ask for a “statement of faith” or a “statement of belief” or “a doctrinal statement.” I think you know what I mean. If this is not easily accessible, then it is a red flag (not good) in my mind. A church should be very transparent about what it believes.
      These days one can easily check online for a church website. Many have them. I have found that many don’t have any kind of statement of “what we believe.” The good ones almost always have one and it is a good way to find out what a church believes. Those who don’t have a way of accessing the information on the web can possibly find a good church through word of mouth or even through a good cross-denominational group.
      Interestingly, a man whom I went to college with who is now a pastor made this statement: “We’ll do anything to get them in here.” I find that to be the sad reality of many churches these days.

      I think most situations fall within this framework. If you can find a third level of separation that helps you in your connections to truth seeking Christians, then I say: “good for you.”

      I have been, along with another, such a messenger in a situation where a church was heading in the wrong direction. I let my intent to leave a church be known to the most important person; the one responsible for my eventual separation. Unfortunately, the entire church voted to hire the man not living in a very Christian manner so I left quietly. I was young and given that same situation now, not only would I confront (with another) the man and those over him as I did, I would write a letter to the leaders of the congregation to let them know why I was leaving and I would be more than willing to answer any questions about my reasons.

  3. Jasper says:

    Hello Chris,

    About “what we believe” — I belong to the Reformed Church (or I could say I am Calvinist). We have a number of confessions for the past 400-500 years — most local churches dont have a local version and if anyone asks, the first response is a reference to one or few of them. Especially the Second Helvetic Confession is the most popular…

    (A short comment about this confession: when I was questioned by my cessationist friends about becoming a continualist, I referred to a small but important part of the Preface of the Second Helvetic Confession:
    But we declare before all, that we are always most readily and most willingly prepared, if any one should require it, to explain more copiously all and each of the things set forth here by us: finally, to those who can teach better things out of the Word God, thankfully both to yield and to follow in the Lord, to whom be praise and glory. ” and told that I found continualist have teached me something I found to be better based on 1Chorintians 12-14.
    My friends were scratching their heads a bit, but accepted this, without separating from me)

    I can understand your situation in the past… a leader who is not living in a non-Christian manner can do lots of harm and most of that to be recognized very hard and much later. However, if someone was in such a situation I would advise to talk to a few elders as well (after talking to this person). On one way the church deserves to know about such issues and why people decide to leave. On the other way, after talking to the person, the biblical way of resolving conflicts is to seek for two other people 🙂

    In addition, I also experienced this. Some years ago (not in my childhood church) we were about to leave the church after some strange private talk with our pastor and his wife, however we talked with two elders and we were asked to change our decision: to re-evaluate within a year if we would like really to leave or to stay. At the end we have decided to stay, even if we and the pastor still see some important questions very differently.

    About tertiary separation: my purpose with this (fresh) definition is to limit secondary separation. Secondary separation is necessary in some (rare and serious) cases, but do not let separation become tertiary…

    • Chris says:

      Hi Jasper.

      If you are referencing the Second Helvetic Confession, and it is your creed, I think you are not only in good stead, but that your creed is more detailed than those of certain denominations. Growing up in a Lutheran Church (Missoui Synod), we recited either the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed every Sunday. They could be stated in a short time. As you know, the Second Helvetic Confession is quite lengthy. It appears very protestant at a glance, and I am going to have to sit down and read it thoroughly as time allows.

      Do you mind if I ask which country you live in, Jasper?

      It sounds like you have wise friends. I wouldn’t separate from you over the cessationist/continualist myself unless, in practice, it hindered my ability to worship or if it were obviously unscriptural. Also, I like the section of the preface you mentioned to your friends.

      As far as speaking to elders, I completely agree. In the situation I discussed, I talked to one of the elders who was a friend and he said, “I thought you liked him.” To me it wasn’t a matter of whether I liked him or not, in fact some of his sermons were good, it was whether he was living in such a way that he should be a leader in any church. Let me put it this way: the church broke its own rules to “call” the man as their pastor. And this wasn’t even my main concern. I disagreed with the elders. It was obvious to my wife and I that it was time to move on.

      The results of your experience were different than mine but it sounds like we both did the right thing. In John 5:39, Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and it is they which testify of Me.” If we are honestly searching the scriptures for answers, and we pray for God to help us to understand His will for us, I don’t think we can make decisions that will ruin our lives.

      I’m still not sure I understand your fresh definition of separation. 🙂

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