When I was growing up in the 70s, the watchword among independent Baptists was separation. And with good reason. Many of my mentors were men who had come out of denominations that denied the inerrancy of the Scriptures, miracles of the Bible, and even the virgin birth of Christ. I was privileged to personally know men who had taken a costly stand for truth—in many cases losing their churches, friendships, and being misunderstood for their convictions.
These were men who then watched the rise of what Fuller Seminary and Harold Ockenga termed “Neo-Evangelicalism”—an effort to bring together liberals and fundamentalists. Bible-believing pastors who had already taken a strong stand for truth recognized the danger of such collaboration and called for separation. Their concerns were further confirmed when Billy Graham began collaborating with leaders of all faiths, including inviting Catholics and Modernists (who denied the basic doctrines of the faith) to share the platform in his crusades. (A member of our church walked out of a planning meeting for the Los Angeles crusade when the Catholic priests were introduced.)
To those of us who received first-hand accounts of what it meant to stand for the faith against ecumenicalism and doctrinally-drifting denominationalism, we appreciate the courage of these separated and taught us the importance of this Bible truth. We recognized that the birth of the autonomous Baptist, or independent Baptist, movement was made through courageous decisions, based on deeply-held convictions concerning the doctrine of separation.
In Amos 3:3, God poses the question to Israel, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” And in 2 Corinthians 6, Paul asks a series of questions with the same obvious answer:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God…Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord…—2 Corinthians 6:14–17
So we know that ecclesiastical and personal separation from false religion and worldly living are an essential call to the Christian who desires to walk with God.
Now, we’ve come a generation or two from those who took these kinds of stands when it was so costly, and we have pastors in their 30s who have always been independent Baptists. These men have not had to pay the same price over decisions to separate. These younger leaders still hold to the fundamentals of our faith. They are our co-laborers…and there is much that my generation can learn from them.
If, however, the watchword of my generation was separation, the buzzword of younger leaders is collaboration.
Their heart for collaboration isn’t unbiblical. In fact, it is very much like the Apostle Paul who was more concerned that Christ be preached than that others recognize his leadership.
Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.—Philippians 1:15–18
Paul, who was willing to separate when need be, was also desirous to work with others who would “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
Younger men (and I find myself applying that term to an increasingly older age 🙂 ) have less of the World War II, single-leader-forge-the-way picture of leadership and a greater desire to work together with other leaders.
The bright side of this is that these men are usually less concerned with who gets the credit than they are with the desire to be a part of something larger than themselves.
The downside is that those of us who are more familiar with the top-down leadership style too easily feel uncomfortable with collaboration and can be suspicious of compromise, fearing a lack of separation.
So who’s right? Both.
Who’s wrong? Both can be.
There’s a ditch on both sides of the road.
It is entirely possible to be so hyper-separated that you alienate fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who share your doctrinal convictions. The separatist who has no heart to collaborate is wrong, because the Bible commands us in 1 Corinthians 3:9 to be “labourers together with God.” The leader who sets himself as superior to others and instructs people to follow him is fostering the carnality Paul warned against in this passage.
But just as it is possible to hyper-separate, it is entirely possible to so over-collaborate that you reach across lines of doctrine or holiness where there should be separation. The fact is that Bible-believing men can and should collaborate, but I fear there are some men today whose collaboration will lead them into alignments that belittle the preservation of Scripture, the “whosoever will” call of the gospel, and biblical worship in the church.
So what is the answer?
Both. And both in balance.
Collaboration is biblical and vital. But unchecked collaboration leads back to the compromise my mentors taught me to stay away from. Separation is vital, but separation just for the purpose of separating becomes isolation and pharisaicalism.
This is why we must manage the tension between separation and collaboration. And I would say that a big part of that is to learn from one another.We must manage the tension between separation and collaboration. A big part of that is to learn from one another. Click To Tweet
Those of us who have the spirit of a separatist and have taken a stand and avoided preaching in certain places or endorsing certain personalities, need to learn from and be reminded that there is a need for greater fellowship, prayer, and striving together with others.
The younger leader who desires greater collaboration needs to remember that there is great importance in the biblical commands regarding separation.
If you are a leader who enjoys greater collaboration, could I encourage you to guard against dismissing the importance of separation?
I am not exaggerating to say that the collaborative man whose emphasis is on simply getting rid of the old, tired, burdensome machinery of legalism and basking in the freedom of grace and innovation may unintentionally (or intentionally) begin to espouse, endorse, and platform ideologies that ten years ago he would have said were wrong—including differing Bible versions, Calvinism, charismatic doctrine, and more.
I recently was speaking with a young leader from our own state of California about this subject, and he expressed his concern over it as well. His words were that he fears that the current spirit of collaboration among some of the younger leaders could become the seeds for the next generation of new evangelicalism. (Remember, that’s not my statement, but a statement from a thirty-something-year-old, highly successful pastor who is glad to collaborate and is respectful of his father’s generation.)
My challenge to you is to hold to the truth and fellowship with those who do. Truth is never worth compromise. Hold it fast. Study, preach, and live sound doctrine.Truth is never worth compromise. Hold, study, preach, and live sound doctrine. Click To Tweet
Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.—Titus 1:9
Remember that we are exhorted to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Don’t over collaborate so you end up of a different doctrinal persuasion or dismissing the biblical ministry philosophy you’ve been taught.
Don’t dismiss biblical separation. It is still a vital part of the Christian life, and we need to practice it now as much now as we ever did.
If you are a leader who defaults toward separation, could I encourage you to guard against dismissing those who need your encouragement?
Don’t write others off. God often uses both Pauls and Apolloses to give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). Be willing to work to understand those younger than you and to rejoice in the ways they evidence another side of spiritual leadership that sometimes we are less drawn toward. My desire is to hold to a right position with a right spirit. Not every young man who is doing some things differently is a rebel.
It is possible to have collaboration without compromise. And it is possible to practice separation without pride.It is possible to have collaboration with out compromise and to practice separation without pride. Click To Tweet
May we be people who guard against the extremes of both—who collaborate with one another to contend for the faith and to lift up Jesus!
This is part one of a three-part contemporary theology series. Part two will include common questions and answers for pastors, and part three will examine the DNA of a biblically-sound church.