Vol. VIII — No. 32 August 13, 1967
2 Corinthians 6:17a; 1 Corinthians 5:6b
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.
Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
In Christ Jesus, who has placed us in this world but would keep us separated unto Himself, Fellow Redeemed:
An event occurred in Istanbul, Turkey this past week which symbolizes the main thrust of modern church life. The event in itself was commonplace and insignificant—a visit and a hand-clasp. But the persons involved were leaders of two church bodies that have been separated for more than one thousand years. Pope Paul VI, Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, visited and was photographed clasping the hand of Patriarch Athenagoras, Spiritual Head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The mutual excommunication of these two branches of Christendom, solemnly pronounced in the year l054, was disannulled in 1965. Further steps are now being taken to heal the breach and thus to restore unity in the church.
The hand-clasp, photographed and publicized throughout the world, was symbolic of the ecumenical movement which so dominates modern church life. In a brief article in last Sunday’s bulletin we observed that the modern ecumenical movement cannot result in unity of the Spirit, for it has disavowed the very means, the word, by which the Spirit of God would create such unity. What we are witnessing in our day is a worldwide effort on the part of men to achieve a semblance, an imitation, of unity that only the Spirit of God can produce.
In what relation does Holy Trinity Congregation stand to the ecumenical movement? Instead of becoming a part of this movement, instead of going along with it, instead of supporting it, you have opposed it, separated yourselves from your parent church body and have established an independent congregation. You have chosen the course of swimming against the stream, of opposing the tide of events in the church at large. The question now is whether this separating action, which was and is most unecumenical, is God-pleasing.
Let no one imagine that separation in the church is always and under all circumstances God-pleasing. Quite to the contrary! Scripture again and again warns against schisms, that is, separations that are caused by the sinful will of man. But as strongly as Scripture warns against such unholy separations, so strongly does it teach that at times separation is necessary, yea vital for the survival of the individual child of God and the congregation of believers. At times separation is demanded in obedience to the Word of the Lord.
As our text for this morning’s meditation I have chosen two brief passages, one that states the principle of separation and the other that gives a basic reason for the necessity of the separation principle. The passage that states the separation principle is a cry recorded by St. Paul, but a cry that re-echoed an Old Testament Word of God: ”Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” Soon after the church was established here on earth, the separation principle was announced and put into effect. It shall continue in effect until the end of time. History has proven again and again that whenever the church has lived according to the God-given principle of separation, it has prospered, but when it has abandoned that principle for some man-inspired syncretistic or unionistic or ecumenical principle, it has brought down upon itself judgment. The passage that gives the basic reason for the necessity of the separation principle is expressed by Paul as a well known saying: ”Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?“ Just a bit of leaven or yeast put into a lump of dough will leaven the whole lump. It’s impossible to restrict the effects of yeast to a certain prescribed area of the lump of dough. So also is it impossible to restrict or limit the effects of error or false doctrine. Any error in doctrine tends to penetrate the whole body of doctrine. The central doctrine towards which error makes its way is the doctrine of the justification or the forgiveness of the sinner by grace for Christ’s sake. Whenever error is admitted into any group of believers, it will strive to choke out saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is only due to the grace and mercy of God that error does not always succeed in destroying the doctrine of the justification of the sinner and in destroying faith in the heart of the believer.
If we ask: what is the purpose that God has in mind in establishing the separation principle as a way of life for His Church? —we can answer in this way:
Let us pass swiftly through biblical history to see how the Gospel is preserved when men live according to the separation principle and how it is lost when men ignore that principle. The first division in mankind occurred after Cain set his course in life in defiance of the Word of God. Mankind was divided into two groups, the Cainites and the Sethites. The promise of a Savior to come was lost to the Cainites and was being preserved among the Sethites—as long as they lived according to the separation principle. But then there occurred a breakdown of faithfulness to that principle. He are told that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Genesis 6:2. The believers began to intermarry with the unbelievers. Spiritual values lost out to carnal values. The spirit of idolatry, lawlessness and defiance of God was taken into the home. The leaven worked until the sole remaining family of believers on earth was Noah and his family. God was forced to purge the human race of this violation of the separation principle with the worldwide catastrophe of the flood.
The human race began anew after the flood. Once again the Lord reaffirmed the promise of a Savior. But once again mankind smothered that promise under worldly considerations and the hope of building a civilization, a culture and a one world according to the specifications of man. Then it was that God reached down from heaven to put the separation principle into effect for the benefit of man, lest the Gospel promise be entirely lost. God singled out one man, Abraham, and made of him a great nation. He built a fence around this one nation, which should be both the bearer and preserver of the promise of God’s salvation for man. The law with the rite of circumcision, the ordinance of the Sabbath, the many sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, the temple in Jerusalem separated the nation of the Jews from the other nations inhabiting the world in those days. In the midst of this selected nation, unto whom were given the law and the prophets, the promise was to be preserved.
Review in your mind the history of Israel. They prospered when they lived according to the separation principle. They suffered judgment when they violated that principle. When they entered the Land of Canaan, God instructed them to act as His judge and executioner upon the idolatry of the inhabitants, but they failed to heed that instruction. They accommodated themselves to the heathen about them and began to adopt their gods and ways of worship, trying to integrate all of it into the worship of Jehovah. Prophet after prophet warned the people that they could not worship the Lord God and Baal. They had to separate themselves from all idolatry and idolators. But they refused to heed and to hearken. Destruction and judgment came. The ten northern tribes fell to the Assyrians; the Babylonians destroyed Judah; only a remnant was spared. Why? Because the people violated the separation principle. They refused to believe that the leaven of idolatry would permeate their whole worship and finally smother the promise of salvation by grace from God who would send men a Savior.
The same principle of separation sounds and resounds throughout the New Testament. “Beware of false prophets.” Don’t sit and listen to them, don’t support them with your presence and your money, but beware! “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees!” That leaven is the leaven of work-righteousness, which is common to the thinking of all mankind and which never ceases trying to strangle the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” When someone teaches and preaches otherwise than God’s Word teaches, we are warned not to sit and listen, not to put up with and tolerate such activity, certainly not to support it, but to avoid all such. That exhortation is the same old, but ever new and relevant separation principle, as expressed in our text, “wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate!” Do this to preserve the Gospel among you! Error first seeks but tolerance in a church body. Then it wants recognition. And finally it demands control. Haven’t we witnessed this very development on all sides. Churches which once stood with both feet on the foundation of the Word began to tolerate error. Before long that error gained recognition in those churches. And now that error rules supreme in many of the churches. Parishioners, pastors, leaders of the church now condemn what they once defended and defend what they once condemned as error and heresy. The only way to survive is to come out from among them, avoid them, be separate. That is what you people did in forming this congregation, even as many others have done and are doing in other parts of the country.
But separation dare not be only to preserve the Gospel truth unto ourselves. Yea rather we separate that we may have to give to others, that we may propagate the Gospel throughout the world. Our Lord’s final instructions before He ascended into heaven were that we should go and make disciples of all nations by teaching them all things that He had commanded. How can the church do that when it has lost the truth that the Lord has committed to it? Think of the time and talent and money that is being spent by churches today to educate, to prepare literature, to send witnesses to all corners of the earth, to broadcast over radio and television and through motion pictures. But what is the value of all this if the churches have lost that which the Lord entrusted to them? You can’t give to others that which you have lost yourself. Who can teach a child ora neighbor or a friend or an inquirer that which he doesn’t know himself or has abandoned? Here is the tragedy of our day. By coddling error and errorists within the bosom of the church the whole body of doctrine has been infiltrated with the result that the Word of the Lord has been lost and replaced with the contradictory words of men. The blind lead the blind, and both fall into the ditch!
We have separated because we desire, as our Lord gives us strength, to fulfill His commission to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching all things that He has commanded. During the past two weeks we have studied the law of our God, which is a reflection of His holiness. In studying the standard of behavior that our God has set for us we have observed again and again how far we have fallen short of the perfection in love towards God and our fellow-man that our God has set for us. We want to teach others to learn to see themselves as their God sees them—as lost and condemned sinners. Then we want to share with all and any lost and condemned sinner the Good News that by the grace of God we have found: though guilty, we need not suffer eternally because our God sent His Son to suffer for us. Though worthy of death, we need not die eternally, for our Lord Jesus died for us. Though mortal we shall live forever, for our Lord Jesus died, arose and lives for us. Though weak and helpless by ourselves, yet Christ is willing to dwell within us and give reason and purpose, guidance and direction to our lives. These things we have learned; these things we would share with others. We would give away what we have because we know that is the best way to gain more.
Yes, we are swimming against the stream of events in modern church life. While others are compromising the Truth of God’s word in their vain hope of creating a worldwide One Church, we have separated and are going our separate way. That we have done because we would preserve unto ourselves, our children and our grandchildren the saving Gospel of Jesus our Savior. That we have done because we want to be able to give the message of salvation to others. Lord, strengthen and support us? Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.