May 11, 2011

Fellowship vs. Separation

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

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Q. I thank you for your support and godly advice, I am praying about being led into a strong body of believers, I have been out of the organized church for over a year now, and it seems most churches I seek are in some form of worldly compromise, such as women pastors, rock and roll church, unholy practices, paganism, etc.... I know there are no perfect churches, but the apostasy is rampant.

I meet other professing Christians as I share my faith, and they invite me to their church, but as I check out their church I can clearly see they are not following the truth as per the new testament Church.

Many pastors will not address my questions before I seek fellowship in their congregation, as I am a firm believer that what a church teaches and practices shows where their hearts are as to what they believe, such as marriage and divorce issues, tithing, celebrating pagan holidays, even when they know its against the word of God, and when they know the pagan roots.

I hate being out of direct fellowship with LIKE MINDED BELIEVERS, here in my city, it breaks my heart.

I wouldn't fit into the modern church of today, I am not perfect, and do not seek perfection in man, this is impossible, but I believe holiness, separation, and liberal Christianity isn't from God.

I have grown more in this past year as to coming out of the world and its ways, I do not seek the entertainments of the world, such as TV, sports, etc... and this is my conviction, so if a body of believers are not walking in purity, not perfection, then I will not fit in.

Do you feel I am being unreasonable? I know there are no perfect churches, but if they are not following Christ, with a pure heart, and abstaining from being of the world, and mixing the worldly practices and traditions with the purity of Christ, then I have a difficult time being a part of this fellowship.

Thank you so much for your advice, and I pray constantly for a strong body of believers who have come out from amongst her, (Rev 18:4) and are following Christ on the narrow path.

A. While I appreciate and applaud your desire to personally separate from aspects of the culture which are opposed to or distract from the cause of Christ (e.g., entertainment of some types, adulation of sports, pagan practices) I also detect in your writing what I would characterize as possible strains of legalism and spiritual pride. For one, you seem to view the entire “organized church” as being apostate to the degree that you cannot participate in any local fellowship.

From your description, I'm guessing that you might not even find the church at which I’m an elder acceptable. After all, our church recognizes and celebrates Easter, a holiday which is known to have pagan roots in its original incorporation by Christianity. However, while recognizing that some elements of Easter have pagan associations (the name, fertility symbols such as rabbits and eggs), we feel we have the freedom to celebrate the Biblical aspects which are neither motivated or influenced by those pagan elements. At Easter, we choose to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. To us, the pagan elements from the past have no power (1 Cor. 10:25-26). The key here is the motive of the heart.

Similarly, although I myself watch very little TV and am not much of a sports fan, other believers are free to do so provided they abstain from ungodliness (an admittedly difficult task with today's media). And you yourself are utilizing the Internet which also is a source of much ungodliness. What would happen if I took the stance that you were a ‘worldly Christian’ who refused to separate from the world as evidenced by your use of the Internet and concluded I should not fellowship with you?

I would urge caution in this area because if you take the approach of separation over disagreement concerning purity to an extreme, then you will isolate yourself, not be able to learn from many teachers (because they aren't up to your standards) and won't be able to find fellowship with others, except for some small number of like-minded separatists who are themselves out of the will of God by withholding participation from any local fellowship with a real Biblical government (Heb. 10:25). These are also the dangerous characteristics of cults and other Christian fringe groups which often consider themselves as the only ‘true remnant’ and suffer from deception and spiritual pride. This is ground which is ripe for an aggressive charismatic personality to lead others astray, often using Revelation 18:4, which you also referenced, in support of their isolationist agenda and ignoring the Scriptural teaching that ‘Babylon’ refers to a city (Rev. 17:18; 18:10,21) in a specific geographic location (Jer. 51:59-64).

I would urge caution however, with a position which says that you must separate from all local churches because all of them are too worldly or unbiblical. Such a position is fraught with it's own danger because aside from Biblical fellowship with live believers, you have no checks on knowing whether you yourself are falling prey to an overly legalistic walk. Yes, you have God’s Word, but your interpretation and application of it can easily be askew and you could wind up being deceived. You may wind up majoring on some aspects of Scripture (purity, holiness) while significantly falling short on others (grace, love, patience, edification of others). Besides all that, you wind up outside of a true Biblical authority structure which would otherwise provide additional safety.

Biblical separation is one thing, but refusing to participate in any local assembly because you alone understand true godliness can be an indication of spiritual pride, self-deception, and a recipe for trouble.

May the Lord guide you as you seek to attain Biblical balance and remain true to Him.

Related Links

What factors should one consider when trying to find a good local church? -
Revelation 18:4 (Come out of her my people) - A Testimony of Jesus Christ (Tony Garland)
Christian Fellowship - (J. Hampton Keathley, III)
The Last Days Apostasy of the Church (Part 1) - BPB (Andy Woods)
The Local Church - Ariel Ministries (Arnold Fruchtenbaum)