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
These were men who then watched the rise of what
Fuller Seminary and Harold Ockenga termed “NeoEvangelicalism”—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 who 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
The younger leader who desires greater
collaboration needs to remember that there is great
importance in the biblical commands regarding
separation. In fact, decisions of collaboration must
be made while keeping in mind the reality of the
impact they will have on others. For instance, a
pastor not only makes decisions for himself, but
also for the influence he gives to those in the church
Even as separation just for the sake of separating
is harmful, so collaboration just for the sake of
collaborating ignores the strong Pauline admonition
not to be a stumbling block. Romans 14, a chapter
often used to argue the liberty we have in Christ,
emphasizes that with liberty comes a responsibility
to avoid causing a weaker brother to stumble.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but
judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock
or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way…It is good
neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any
thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or
is made weak.—Romans 14:13, 21
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,
unholy worship, 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
with 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.
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
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.
May we be people who guard against the
extremes of both—who collaborate with one
another to contend for the faith and to lift
This is part one of a three-part contemporary
theology series. Part 2 will include common questions
and answers for pastors, and Part 3 will examine the
DNA of a biblically-sound church.