The Biblical Truth of Separation, by Pastor John E. Ashbrook

The following message was delivered by Pastor John E. Ashbrook at the 57th annual convention of the American Council of Christian Churches in Monett, Missouri, October 27-29, 1998. 

I am delighted to be a part of a convention whose theme is, “Flying the Flag of Fundamentalism. One July morning in 1944 I stood at the base of a flag pole with two other navy recruits to put up the flag. They were the flag detail. I was the bugler. The veteran chief in charge of the detail asked, “Have you men ever raised the flag before?” We replied, “No, Sir.” He said, “Let me give you some instructions. When you raise that flag in the morning hurry it up that pole and make it spank the pulley at the top like you cannot wait to see your country’s flag fly. In the evening, inch it down that pole like you cannot bear to see your country’s flag come down.” Then, looking at me, he said, “Bugler, when you play morning colors put a thrill in your horn and at night make that bugle weep.” I feel that way about the flag of fundamentalism.

Harsh Fundamentalists?

Many who call themselves fundamentalists cannot use that word without an apology for the “harsh fundamentalists” of early days, who supposedly were very rough men. I grew up in a Pastor’s home in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus was a railroad hub, and many of the pioneers of fundamentalism stopped at our table. I remember Carl McIntire of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Merrill T. McPherson and Nye Langmade of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, Robert Ketcham of the General Association of Regular Baptists, Harlee Bordeaux, a previous General Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, and Harland O’Dell. I sat at our table and heard those men pray, argue their convictions, and conduct themselves as spiritual men. They told us kids preachers’ jokes and asked what we wanted to do in life. They exhorted us to serve the Lord. Men of firm conviction they were. Vindictive and harsh they were not. I am happy, with them, to fly the flag of fundamentalism.

The Line Fence

I want to speak to you this evening on, “The Biblical Truth of Separation.” I spent my boyhood summers on my grandfather’s farm. Farmers were always careful to maintain the line fences which separated from the neighbors. The doctrine of biblical separation is the line fence between belief and unbelief and between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism.

A Biblical Prescription

As we study our subject we will arrange our thoughts with three points. First, consider the biblical prescription for separation. The doctrine of separation has always been the foundation of the American Council of Christian Churches. This was not a policy which early fundamentalists formulated, but a doctrine, a truth, a prescription which they found in their Bibles. Let us turn to the passage to which most of them would have turned, 2 Corinthians 6.

The passage begins at verse 14 with a command. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…” The yoke was an instrument designed to join two animals for work. The passage is not talking about yoking animals but people. The Corinthian believers were not to be yoked with unbelievers. The work in question is obviously spiritual work. The clear teaching of the passage is that believers and unbelievers are not to be yoked together in spiritual work.

The passage continues in verses 14b–16 with reasons. God does not have to give us reasons for his commands but sometimes he does. In this passage the reasons are given as a series of rhetorical questions. Verse 14 asks, “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” The Greek word translated “unrighteousness” is the word for “lawlessness.” Anyone knows that doing right has no fellowship with lawlessness. The same verse goes on to ask, “And what communion hath light with darkness?” When light shines darkness leaves. When darkness falls light is gone.

Impossible Harmony

Verse 15 asks, “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” The word translated “concord” is the Greek word sumphonasis. You can hear and see in it our word “symphony,” for it is the Greek word for harmony. The question might be worded, “And what harmony hath Christ with Belial?” I mention the word because the contemporary Christian music aberration is an attempt to produce harmony with Christ’s words and Satan’s music. The simple question put in this passage exposes the heresy of trying to produce such harmony. The same verse goes on to ask, “Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel.”

The question in verse 16 is considerably longer but it points out the incompatibility of the temple with idols and goes on to make the point that we, as God’s people, are His New Testament temples.

Verse 17 repeats the command of verse 14 in a different way by saying, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing…” All of us have met that born again man or woman who has said to us: “I dare not leave my apostate Methodist or United Church of Christ Church, for I am the only Gospel witness there. If I leave there will be no witness.” That is appealing human wisdom. Actually, it is nothing more than disobedience, for God says, “Be ye not unequally yoked,” and, “come out from among them and be ye separate.”

The passage continues in 17b and 18 with God’s promise. God leaves a great promise which the obedient separatist may pick up as he walks away from the unequal yoke: “And I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Over the years obedient fundamentalists have paid the price of separation and then watched a Heavenly Father keep his promise of provision.

There are various definitions of fundamentalism. Mine is: Fundamentalism is the militant belief and proclamation of the basis doctrines of Christianity leading to a Scriptural separation from those who reject them.

Graduation Day to Fundamentalism

You will notice that separation is a vital part of being a fundamentalist. The founding denominations of this council all came through the narrow pass of separation. The Bible Presbyterians separated from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. The Bible Protestants, Evangelical Methodists, Independent Methodists and Fundamental Methodists left the Methodist church. The General Association of Regular Baptists left the Northern Baptist Convention. The Independent Fundamental Churches of America men came from various associations. That step of separation from unbelief was their graduation day into fundamentalism.

Here in Missouri, we are in Southern Baptist territory. Let me point out that there are no fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. There are some Bible-believers, some conservatives, some godly people. But, the Southern Baptist Convention is a mixed multitude of belief and unbelief; and the man who remains in that unequal yoke is not a fundamentalist.

Key Words

In the matter of the relationship of belief and unbelief, God’s key word is separation. In the matter of the relationship of belief and unbelief Satan’s key word is cooperate. Separation is God’s biblical prescription.

The Protection of Separation

In the second place, consider the historical protection of separation. In this section I want to give a brief historical comparison of two organizations and two positions.

The two organizations are The American Council of Christian Churches and The National Association of Evangelicals. Both were formed by Bible-believers. Both were formed to combat the godless influence of the Federal Council of Churches.

The American Council of Christian Churches began September 17, 1941 in New York City. Initially it was a joint effort of the Bible Presbyterian Church and the Bible Protestant Church. In succeeding years it attracted the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the separatist Methodist groups and a number of smaller fellowships.

The National Association of Evangelicals was born April 7–9, 1942, in St. Louis. One hundred forty seven Christian leaders gathered to form it. In that group were many good men—Charles Woodbridge, David Otis Fuller, Bob Jones, Sr., William McCarrell, Harry Ironside and R.G. Lee.

At their founding there was one major difference between the two organizations. That is the subject of my sermon—separation. The American Council of Christian Churches required all of its members to take the step of separation from the denominations of the Federal Council of Churches. The National Association of Evangelicals required member denominations to take that step but allowed individuals and churches to have dual membership. Thus, compromising men and churches could maintain their prestige, positions, and pensions in the apostate denominations and their spiritual fellowship in the National Association of Evangelicals.

The Bunny and The Circle

What has been the result of the violation of the doctrine of separation? I am sure that some of you folks in southeast Missouri have hunted rabbits with a beagle hound. In that pursuit the dog flushes a rabbit, gives chase, and bays after the bunny. The hunters stand still and talk a while for they know that the rabbit will make a circle and come right back to where it started. That is what happens when separation is neglected. The group makes a circle and returns to fellowship with the very thing they were born to protest.

Let me quote from my local paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, for Friday, November 15, 1996:

“in the historic moment when evangelical leader Don Argue addressed the National Council of Churches General Assembly in Chicago Wednesday, the first words out of his mouth were a prayer for a dying Catholic archbishop.”

“The appearance of Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, marked the first time an official of the theologically conservative association has addressed the NCC assembly, which tends to be more theologically liberal.”

“…Argue’s presence at the gathering of mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christians was viewed as an indication that the nature of ecumenism, mostly the domain of mainline Protestants in the United States may be changing.”

“…Both Argue and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the NCC, said shared issues—from racism to pornography—have prompted new communication between their groups.”

So, for lack of the doctrine of separation, the bunny has made the circle from the protest of apostasy to cooperation with it. That is what the years will bring to any organization which proposes to abandon the doctrine of biblical separation.

In contrast to that circle of change, the American Council of Christian Churches still stands where it began. It is not as large as you might wish. There have been some heart-rending divisions over the years. Satan’s opposition has been obvious. But, it has not changed its doctrine. It is still opposed to the National Council of Churches. Its president has not spoken for the NCC. It has not changed its doctrine. The American Council of Christian Churches still has a flag worth flying.

I said earlier that I wished to contrast two organizations and two positions. The two positions to which I refer are the positions of fundamentalism and new evangelicalism. Most of you are familiar with Dr. Harold John Ockenga’s famous statement in delineating the difference between these two positions. Speaking as the founder and spokesman for new evangelicalism he said:

“It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day.”

It is very clear that the basic difference between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism is the doctrine of separation. Fundamentalism espouses the doctrine. New evangelicalism repudiates it. What has been the historical result of that?

Quoting the Enemies of the Truth

In ignoring separation, and dialoging with liberalism, new evangelicalism has developed a tremendous toleration of, and respect for, unbelief. The pioneers of fundamentalism hated liberalism. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Charles Buttrick, and G. Bromley Oxnam were names spoken in contempt because of their hatred of the truth. Christianity Today is the flagship magazine of new evangelicalism. During the past year, in the columns of that magazine, I have read favorable quotes and citations from Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolph Bultman, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoffer. Those men share one thing in common with Fosdick, Buttrick and Oxnam. They were all unbelievers who rejected Bible truth. Why should believers quote the enemies of truth?

Changing Belief

Perhaps that is not as serious as a second charge. New evangelicalism has begun to quietly change its doctrine. When Dr. Ockenga made his first statement about new evangelicalism he said that it would retain the doctrinal basis of fundamentalism. Today, that is not true. Fellowship with unbelief has begun to show in changing belief.

Millard J. Erickson, a self-confessed new evangelical theologian, recently wrote a revealing book, The Evangelical Left, with the subtitle, “Encountering Post-Conservative Evangelical Theology.” The purpose of the book is to show how far new evangelical theologians such as Bernard Ramm, Clack Pinnock, Stanley Grenz and James McClendon have gone.

Erickson first deals with the doctrine of Scripture and shows that, with clever words, the new theologians have abandoned the inerrancy of the Bible. I need not point out to you that, when we abandon an inerrant Bible, we are adrift in a sea of doubt.

God Doesn’t Know?

Erickson goes on to deal with the doctrine of God. He discusses what these new evangelical theologians call, “the open view of God.” Basically, this is conceding God’s sovereignty to human freedom. Erickson explains by saying:

“As we proceed through the discussion of the open view of God, we shall see that this same assumption of human freedom lies at the center of much of the discussion. Not only the control of human behavior, but even the knowledge of the future human actions would militate against humans being truly free. Consequently, those doctrines, as held in classical theism, must be modified.” (p. 93)

Erickson goes on to state:

“In contrast, their view of God is that of a loving, caring parent. He experiences the world, interacts with his children, and feels emotions. He takes risks and, in response to developments in the world, changes his mind and his actions. He does not arbitrarily and unilaterally control the world. He shares that control with humans.” (p. 93)

In other words, God is eagerly watching the world to see what happens. That is not the God of the Bible.

Inclusive Salvation

The third realm with which Erickson deals is the area of salvation. The new evangelical theologians have come to believe that many more people may be saved than previously thought. Let Erickson tell it:

“A final challenge to the traditional view is inclusivism. This is the idea that Christianity is the true religion, and that salvation is only through the work of Jesus Christ, but that more persons may be included in these benefits than had traditionally been thought. It may be that some are saved by Christ’s work but without consciously believing in Christ.” (112)

You say, “That is way out, surely no one believes that except some of these radical theologians!” Dr. Mark Sidwell, in his book on biblical separation titled The Dividing Line quotes evangelist Billy Graham as saying in a 1997 television interview that God is

“calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the nonbelieving world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.” (pp. 122,123)

Here is new evangelicalism’s most famous evangelist parroting the dangerous thinking of new evangelicalism’s most radical theologians. Did these men get this new theology from the Bible? No! They got it by dialoging with the unbelievers. Separation does matter.

I recall hearing Dr. Harry Ironside tell a story from his youth. He found a nest of baby sparrows and decided to put them in the cage with the family canary so that the sparrows could learn to sing like the canary. At the end of the experiment the sparrows still chirped like sparrows—and so did the canary. It is the same in the world of men.

The Eschatology of Right Now

In the third place, consider the eschatological necessity for separation. 1 John 2 is one of the classic passages on personal separation for the believer. In verse 18 John says:

“Little children, it is the last time: and as he have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”

That verse may trouble you. Over 1900 years ago John declared that it was, “the last time.” What did he mean? John saw that the Gospel of salvation, which had been progressively revealed in the Bible, was now complete and that this gospel age was the time of man’s full opportunity in Christ. He knew this age would end with the rapture of the Lord’s people. Then would come the most awful period the world will ever know, the great tribulation. One of the features of the tribulation will be a one-world religion, part of the kingdom of the Anti-Christ. John knew that he was in that last time because he could already see in society little anti-christs beginning to do their work.

The One World Church

Before our eyes in 1998 that one-world religion is being assembled. The National and World Councils of Churches have been busy gathering the one-world church. Billy Graham has led new evangelicals to cooperate and consort with that project. The charismatic movement has become a cement to weld people together by experience rather than doctrine. The Catholic Church cooperates increasingly. Promise Keepers has been busy helping to “pull down the walls.” Feelers are out to Judaism, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, heathen religions, and new age philosophies. The pressure is on to find and unite on the least common denominator of human religion.

It is like the ugly, boiling pot of MacBeth’s witches. The only group not yet drawn into the bubbling brew of ecumenism is fundamentalism. The pressure is bound to increase. What has kept fundamentalism out of all this? The biblical truth of separation has been our protection. We need to cherish, stand upon, and practice that doctrine more than at any time in history.

In speaking to a YMCA group one night after the Civil War, Major Daniel Whittle used a war illustration. A small federal force, guarding a supply depot, was surrounded by a superior confederate force. The order for surrender had been given to them. As they contemplated their answer they picked up a semaphore signal from a hill several miles away. The message said, “Hold the fort, for I am coming. Sherman.” P.P. Bliss the song writer, who was in the meeting that night, could not sleep until he had penned the words and music which said:

“Hold the fort for I am coming,
Jesus signals still.
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

As fundamentalists in 1998 we are living in the days of the countdown to Anti-Christ’s kingdom. We need a thrill of expectation in our spiritual backbones. It is not a day to lower the flag. Rather, it is a day to run the flag of fundamentalism to the top of the pole and salute it until the Saviour welcomes us home.

Pastor John E. Ashbrook (1926–2011) served as pastor of the Bible Community Church in Mentor, OH for 46 years. He authored dozens of articles in the Ohio Bible Fellowship Visitor as well as three books published by Here I Stand Books: Axioms of Separation, New Neutralism II, and Family Fundamentals.

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