some objections

In response to the recent MACP presentation on separation, I posted some questions. Today, I’d like to post a few objections. That is not to say I object to the basic concepts concerning separation as presented, I thought that was quite helpful. But I do have some objections to particulars and I think they should be noted.

First of all, one problem that seems to be fairly frequent these days is the problem of historical revisionism. The general outline of the history of separation is presented, but certain details are somewhat distorted in order to make a point.

Before I mention a specific example, let me say that I am not saying that anyone’s distortion is deliberate or malicious. We all have faults of memory and can often say a thing a certain way enough times that we think we are telling the story correctly, but it is a distortion nonetheless.1

In the third lecture, a point was made concerning the early fundamentalist movement being one where Christians found their fellowship outside their local church in ‘parachurch’ gatherings. The notion was that since their churches were so divided they couldn’t find likeminded fellowship there, so their outside the church gatherings became their place of spiritual camaraderie and involvement.

I don’t doubt that some churches were divided like that, and that in some cases, people found themselves involved in churches where there was so little gospel preaching and belief that conferences and gatherings outside their own local churches provided a welcome relief. However, I can’t imagine that those churches led by the men who eventually came out of the Northern Baptist Convention were as described. That is not to say they may not have had some problematic non-Gospel believing people in their churches, but if these had the Gospel convictions that could provide that ‘welcome relief’ to Gospel-starved individuals in ‘parachurch’ conferences, it is hard to see how their own churches would not be beacons of true Gospel fellowship, belief, and practice.

Thus, I think there is a bit of a distortion of the state of things in the historical presentation of the first wave of fundamentalism. While this distortion may be relatively minor, there are many such distortions being promoted in the ‘Fundamentalist Modification Movement’ which attempt to make points about ‘what’s wrong with fundamentalism’ and to point to some new kind of attitude and orientation.

Second, in the fourth lecture, a pretty good definition of worldliness is offered. I’ll attempt to paraphrase it: “Worldliness is adopting the beliefs and values of the world in an enjoyment of its sinful pleasures and the pursuit of its earthly treasures.” The definition is really good, I think. But the following presentation keeps reiterating only part of the definition which seems to weaken the position of separation from worldliness that Fundamentalism has usually been noted for.

That is, a statement is repeatedly made to this effect: “If the activity can be said to actually be sinful then we need to separate from it, but if it isn’t clearly sinful, then we need to be tolerant.” I am not quoting directly, this is my paraphrase! But this is what I came away with: an activity must rise to the level of clear sin before it can be objected to.

For example, this makes some forms of music less problematic for Dave than for many other fundamentalists. That is, he is less bothered by musical styles than has been argued for, although his personal taste and practice is very conservative.

Now, I don’t want to get sidetracked on music alone here. My problem with the presentation is not some specific application. I think I would be more bothered by some music styles than Dave would, but that is not my point.

The problem is that the whole presentation in lecture 4 had to do with the “enjoyment of its sinful pleasures” part of the definition and made no mention of the “pursuit of its earthly treasures” part. It does seem to me that worldliness isn’t simply a problem with identifying something that is clearly sinful. It is a problem with a world-admiring value system, with lusts and desires that exalt the earthly rather than the spiritual. This part of the definition was left alone and as a result, separation from worldliness came down to separation from sin (clearly identifiable). Well, duh!

Finally, I have an objection to some comments that were made with respect to the ‘errors of fundamentalism’. In the presentation, we are told to be patient with evangelicals who are moving in the right direction. We are told that one deed doesn’t a pattern make. But then we have raised again an issue that occurred within fundamentalism. We are reminded yet again about someone’s teaching concerning the blood of Christ. This is mentioned as an example of fundamentalism giving someone a pass because he has a fundamentalist ID card, whereas an evangelical wouldn’t get the same treatment (supposedly).

I agree that the particular point of view isn’t biblical and it isn’t really acceptable. However, I question whether the view is actually one that undermines the gospel itself. I also question whether it is a pattern that leads to erosion of orthodox doctrine. What I mean by that is that denials of the virgin birth, of the supernatural in general, of inspiration, etc, all hallmarks of liberalism, certainly eroded orthodox doctrine and devolved into a kind of social gospel, good works salvation, modernistic teaching. How exactly did this one odd view of the blood of Christ work out into that? I don’t believe it did.

Dave has brought this thing up many times in the past. It appears to be something that seems to be a big objection to fundamentalism at large in his mind, and in the minds of several others.

I don’t defend the teaching, but it never had the impact on orthodoxy that any liberal aberration did. If in fact we should be patient with the errors of others, why shouldn’t we be patient with this one? Where did it lead? (Nowhere) What was its effect? (nothing). What’s the big deal? (It’s an opportunity to use as a whipping boy for fundamentalism)

And, as far as fundamentalism is concerned, it’s ancient history. No one is promoting it currently, it isn’t putting anyone at risk, and it is an evidence only of an error that essentially has corrected itself.

In the end, I think there is a good deal of value to the basic presentation of fundamentalist separatism as Dave has given it to us. There have been some overly separatistic practices by some on issues that were not ‘gospel-oriented’ essentials. This is true. I object to that kind of divisiveness as well.

I am concerned, however, that some issues might be minimized in this presentation of separation that shouldn’t be minimized. I am concerned that too much might be made of other, rather minor issues. And I am concerned that sometimes a distortion of history may lead to faulty conclusions.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate the presentation as it is. I think everyone should listen to it. I see Dave is writing out his views on his blog. It is worth reading.



  1. I recently caught myself in such a distortion with respect to the purchase of our church property – for  years I have been telling people that the appraisal was one number when in fact it was an entirely different number. []


  1. I agree with Pastor Johnson when he says that worldliness is “[also] a problem with a world-admiring value system, with lusts and desires that exalt the earthly rather than the spiritual.” The description in 1 John 2:15-17 presents worldliness as a heart attitude bent on fulfilling earthly appetites rather than pursuing a single-minded, selfless relationship with Christ.

    With this in mind, it is helpful to consider the opposite of worldliness, which is Christian holiness. It is easy to oversimplify a discussion of holiness by restricting the discussion to matters of practice. While the matters of practice are a necessary part of holiness, they are peripheral to the main issue, a single-minded pursuit of God (opposite from attitude portrayed in 1 John 2:15-17, and on par with Paul’s attitude portrayed in Philippians 3:7-12).

    Gospel separation really does address something more than obvious sinful infractions. It must address trends that encourage believers to value elements of this present world system over a single-hearted devotion to Christ. It must also address trends that endeavor to combine elements of worldliness with elements of holiness. As John points out in 1 John 2:15, any such synthesis is flat-out worldliness, too.

  2. Don,

    Happened to pop by and was curious as to your objections. Not sure what it says about me that I have read your objections post, but not the other post (hence no comments regarding it). Two quick replies:
    (1) I think you have misunderstood, or I miscommunicated, something regarding the first point. What I intended to communicate was not a matter individual local churches being divided, but of the larger group, e.g., the Northern Baptist Convention or the Presbyterian Church. Because there was great division there, fundamentalist believers began to form fellowships apart from their churches–Bible conferences, pre-convention meetings (which is what the FBF traces itself back to). Because their church fellowships were so fraught with conflict, they began to form parachurch places of fellowship and cooperation to replace them.
    (2) Regarding your final concern, I’d simply counter by saying (a) denying the full humanity of Christ is a very serious theological error based on my reading of 1 John; (b) that you seem to be making my point, i.e., you counsel a relaxed response to it whereas anything but a relaxed response was given in response to teh supposed heresy of others. This difference is illustrative of my point. Friends get a pass, while perceived enemies feel the full weight of the law. (c) it seems to me that you are conflating my statements about these matters. I urged some patience as men are working their way through how to respond to separation, not patience for them as they come to grips with heretical teaching. I am pretty sure that I did not encourage anybody to be patient with heresy. I urged, though, the same kind of patience we have exhibited with one another in how to respond to those who have not broken as cleanly as we believe they should.

    • Dave, thank you for taking the time to respond. I want to concede first of all that in making these objections, I was relying primarily on memory. I didn’t want to go back through both presentations to find and clip out relevant sections as I have done in the past.

      On point 1, I accept your explanation, but you were making such an emphasis on the local church centric nature of Christian fellowship and unity that your comments seemed incongruous to me. Are you saying “outside the convention” = “outside the church”? Surely you are not saying that the Northern Baptist Convention is equivalent to any sense of the meaning of the word ‘church’ in the Bible are you? It was every bit as much parachurch as the Fundamental Fellowship was/is, to my way of thinking. So I don’t see how the early fundamentalists can be faulted for seeking fellowship in a parachurch gathering when they didn’t find it in another parachurch gathering.

      On # (2), I am not certain that the issue is as grave as you portray it, but regardless of its gravity, I would like to point out again that it appears to have led nowhere. I see it more as an oddball view that one man held and no one was really sidetracked from orthodoxy by it. It seems to be used by those with an axe to grind against the FBF more than anything else.

      On (2) (c), if the issue is as grave as you suggest, then I would be conflating two things in my mind.

      I am not in disagreement about being patient with men who are moving in a separatist direction. I am not optimistic that they will ever get to where we would be able to have full fellowship with them – you said about Dever that he was the most conservative of the various men considered to be conservative evangelicals. But for him to move out of his orbit and into ours, he would have to sacrifice a lot of connections that currently exist, might have to refute some of his own previously published material, would have to change a good deal of his current practice and philosophy of ministry. I just can’t see it happening. I can see some erstwhile fundamentalists (your “D” in your A, B, C, D breakdown) moving into the “C” configuration. It is a regular occurrence.

      Nevertheless, I am willing to remain patient, but I think that young men should note significant areas of problems with such men and be warned in moving in that direction (for example, ties with Acts 29 and Packer and other less well known compromises). It seems to me that a lot, probably the majority, of the fellows in your “D” category … who seem to be moving away from Fundamentalism, are seeing only positives with the C crowd and are denying or minimizing the negatives. While it is appropriate to remain patient, it is incumbent on men like you to be publicly pointing out why we are being patient at a distance.

      Instead, what we are getting from some leaders is the continued positive commentary on what Piper is saying or what Dever is saying with no counterbalancing warnings. And when I point out negatives, I am chided for always wanting disclaimers, which isn’t the point at all.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • I want to add a little something here. I recently heard of a situation where members of a local church became concerned with the teaching of an assistant pastor that included favorable references to Piper and inclusion of Piper quotes in the bulletin. When challenged, the assistant wanted to know what associations Piper had that would make him objectionable. Of course, perhaps he knew but didn’t care, but let’s assume that he genuinely didn’t know.

        It seems to me that it is incumbent on those in our educational institutions to thoroughly educate our young men about the dangers of compromise. I don’t know what is being taught at Detroit, but at the institutions I am most familiar with, students are often getting unqualified recommendations to read Mahaney or read Piper or whoever.

        Those recommendations may be fine as far as they go and for such writings of these men that might be beneficial. But are we simply going to make recommendations without constantly making the distinctions clear so that our young men understand we are separated from them in some ways? In Dave’s recent lectures, he said that his categories A, B, and C were all categories to be separate from. A = Apostate, B = Graham like ecumenical evangelicals, C = inconsistent separatists, i.e., those who would separate from A but not B. Piper, Mahaney, et al, thus fit in category C.

        So don’t you think our young men need to see why it is so important to maintain a stance of separation with category C if it is as serious as Dave seems to think, given his position in his recent lectures? I think it is. I don’t think our young men should be unaware of the problems. It is not that we are simply looking for dirt to besmirch people with. It is a matter of diligently training our young preachers.

        From what I have heard coming out of at least some Fundamentalist schools, this training hasn’t been happening thoroughly enough. That’s why we have a lot of youngsters sitting in Dave’s category D and edging towards C and beyond.

        Ok, I’ll quit now. I just think we need to have a little more unction in our separatism and less nuanced evangelical admiration societies.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

  3. It is one thing to praise God that the gospel is being preached. It is another thing to publicly recommend resources and ministries that compromise the gospel, even though they preach the gospel.

    It is not necessary to change the basic theological elements of the gospel for gospel compromise to occur. Weaving threads of worldliness into a fundamental gospel is compromise. A Christian leader who preaches the gospel with proper content, but places the gospel in a worldly context commits compromise.

    To recommend a book, conference, ministry, etc. that maintains gospel content, but not gospel context, is risky at best, and wrong at worst, especially without an articulate disclaimer. Recommendations made by pastors of churches and leaders of Christian training institutions have a sacred responsibility to protect the gospel and their people from error.

    This being said, the best antidote to these problems is preaching, teaching, and writing that articulates a pure gospel, both in content and context. More resources (especially books) written by fundamentalists that accomplish this end, with genuine life and vibrancy, are certainly welcome!

  4. Dave says:

    Very quick follow ups:
    (1) I was talking about ecclesiastical separation which, by its very definition involves churches relating to other churches, etc. If, for instance, the mission board of the NBC gets twisted up with modernists, fundamental churches begin looking for other avenues. The result, for better or worse (mainly the latter in my mind), was often the formation of mission agencies that are not under the authority of the local church–they are parachurch entities doing what they want. Whether I did a good job of it or not, that’s the point I was trying to make.
    (2) I guess we’ll just disagree with one another about both the severity and widespread influence of the heresy I cited in the session. I’ve plenty in my files that convinces me that this is not a false doctrine tucked away in a closet somewhere. I really think your fixing on this is beside the point, so enough said by me on it.

    I’ve got an ordination council today along with the usual, so I’ll back away and move along now.

    • On the first point, I think I’ll find the audio clip and add it to the post in an update so people can judge for themselves.

      I am fine with leaving the discussion where it is at present… but I’ll be back!

      BTW, I notice that you didn’t deal with my objection concerning the worldliness issue. Should I take it that my objection stands?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • As a follow-up, it was pointed out to me that going back and finding an audio clip now would make it look like I doubted Dave’s explanation of his meaning or was accusing him of dishonesty in making the explanation. That is NOT my intent at all. So… I won’t post any audio on this one. I would urge anyone interested to listen to all six sessions by Dave. In spite of objections and questions, I think the presentation expresses what the Fundamentalist position should be.

        Now what I would like is to see it specifically and regularly applied to currently popular teachers from whom we must nevertheless separate. I think our younger preachers need to know how and why we need to be separate from these men.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

  5. We are having our first annual Word of Truth Conference at our church, Nov 11-14, 2009. In the mornings thurs-sat of this conference we will have four sessions on Ecclesiastical Separation. At the end of three years, we will have a book on Ecclesiastical Separation we will be done with. I bring this up because of Detroit having this conference there on that subject. We really have planned this for about three years and I didn’t know they were covering it. I’m doing one of the four sessions every year and will be editor of the book. Be looking for the sessions potentially on line in audio at least and perhaps in video.