Biblical Separation and “Platform fellowship”

“Platform fellowship’ is a phrase coined to describe the artificial distinction some see in the relationship, or fellowship, experienced among participants in a conference situation. Sometimes this conference scenario primarily involves preaching, while in others it is primarily academic in nature. However, when a conference is theological or involves handling the truth of God in any form, it cannot simply be regarded as academic, whether it involves preachers or seminarians.

The concept of ‘platform fellowship’, as defined by many conservative evangelicals, allows them to justify in their own minds the freedom to associate with, worship with, preach with and lecture with those that, on a strictly Biblical basis, they should distance themselves from. It is in many ways an attempt to find a way for men to bring together what God has put asunder!

Often this ‘platform fellowship’ involves participating in an event with those who are in the apostasy or professing Christians who are disobediently compromised with apostasy. While association on a platform does not necessarily mean a personal agreement with every speaker in every non-fundamental issue of the faith, it must at a minimum, entail the recognition of any differences as being within the pale of Biblical orthodoxy and that nothing prohibiting a joint exercise in worship exists.

An act of worship

It has to be stated that it is not possible to deal with any aspect of Biblical truth, in any scenario, without an act of worship taking place, at least on the part of the one faithfully presenting the truth of God. Does a presentation of truth not involve an exhortation to submit to and worship the God who is its source? Biblical truth can never simply be an academic matter, nor can the truth of God be reduced to spiritually-neutral academic jargon. The faithful servant of God will want the help of the Holy Ghost to glorify Christ in presenting the truth of God’s word regardless of the type of conference in view. To preach at a conference, to read a paper at an academic gathering or a theological society, and deal with some aspect of the word of God cannot fail to involve worship and service of God – both as a speaker and a hearer. Every time I handle the truth of God in any context I must do it with reverence and with godly fear, which the essence of acceptable worship. To do otherwise is, for the moment at least, to handle Scripture as the Pharisees and Sadducees did – they made the commandment of God of none effect, Matthew 15:6.

The speaking participant in a conference must actually be seen as a leader in the activity of that conference. He is there to lead the thoughts of his hearers in a certain direction. He is therefore a leader in any worship activity that is inherent in the handling of Divine truth. Far from being an insignificant thing, this is a position of prominence and leadership with reference to all in attendance. Yet, by engaging with others involved in that conference, he becomes a joint-leader of worship with them, yoked together in common purpose for that time. So often there is an instance of the forbidden unequal yoke because his fellow conference speakers are such as to be separated from, rather than joined with in a leadership role in joint worship activity.

Every act of worship must be regulated by Scripture. It is never left to the individual to define what is acceptable or not in terms of the worship of God. Aaron learned that God will not be worshipped by altered means when he made the golden calf but retained the use of the name of Jehovah, Exodus 32:5; Nadab and Abihu his sons learned this to their destruction, Leviticus 10:3. To engage in that worship with those who are directly involved with apostasy or those who support it by compromised associations with it, is sin. It is a pollution that destroys worship that must be in spirit and sincerely according to truth if it is to be accepted by God.

Is the concept of platform fellowship Biblical?

Is it possible for a servant of God to participate on equal terms in a conference with an apostate, a modernist, a Bible-denier, a preacher with compromised associations? Is he obeying God by doing so? The fact is that Scripture does not justify such fellowship but emphatically forbids it.

The practice of the Christian in every area of life is to be regulated by the word of God. Especially in the area of worship, there must be a clear Biblical precedent or command to justify such fellowship. The fact is that there is no such command or precedent to justify fellowship in a conference setting with those ordinarily prohibited from joint-worship activity. There is no command in Scripture that warrants the relaxation of the Biblical standards of separation that are to govern the life and worship of the Christian simply because of a conference situation. There are no exemptions to the Biblical rules on separation of life and worship for the Christian given to conference preachers, seminarians, or academics.

The ministry of the Lord Jesus affords numerous examples of how He dealt with religious ‘academics’ with whom He had a great deal in common. “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Matthew 23:1-3 AV) The Saviour and these scribes had the entire body of Moses’ revelation in common but the perversions of the Law introduced by the scribes, and especially their practice of the Law, was such that the Saviour rarely lost an opportunity to preach against them. He certainly never engaged in ‘platform fellowship’ to address spiritual matters.

The Apostles also practiced separation of this kind. Paul, when he met with the philosophers in Athens, did not fellowship with them – though a brilliant academic himself – but preached against their devilish superstitions and empty worship. His attitude to fellow-believers who erred and fell into sin is also striking. The incident of Galatians 2:11ff is a case in point. Peter allowed himself to be influenced by some who came from James in the church at Jerusalem – an apostolic delegation who were advocating wrong Christian practice. Barnabas and others were caught up in the hypocrisy. Yet Paul stood against their error in an open, forthright, public fashion. He did not and could not continue to preach with Peter, though both were Apostles; or Barnabas, though he had preached with him many times previously; while this error remained. Peter at this point was acting contrary to Paul, building up what they through the gospel had sought to tear down, v18. Fellowship between them was ruptured for a time till this matter was dealt with.

An earlier incident is also recorded in Galatians 2:5 when false brethren had come into the church in Antioch. At least initially they had appeared as brethren but their doctrine had quickly proved this to be a false claim. Paul did not tolerate their doctrine which was a perversion of the gospel – no, not for an hour. It is interesting that he specifically says that he did not give them place by subjection. In other words he did not sit in the attitude of a listener being taught by them. Yet many conservative evangelicals sit in this very subjection at conferences listening to that which is presented by a perverter of the precept and practice of God’s truth.

Biblical separation

The doctrine of Scripture on this subject is remarkably simple. It is a doctrine that is seen everywhere in Scripture. In the Old Testament, Levitical regulation emphasized the necessity of maintaining a vigilant state of separated purity unto the Lord. It is against the background of these regulations that Paul writes as he does in 2 Corinthians 6:17. Touch not is one of the summary statements of the Levitical legislation used in Col 2:21. The spiritual application of the Levitical laws of cleanness and purity is made to Gentile believers in Corinth.

1. Touch not the unclean thing. There is no agreement between Christ and Belial; no spiritual harmony or joint-activity between light and darkness and the Christian by his behaviour is not to give the impression that there is! The Corinthians were guilty of doing so by their attendance at the heathen temple on social grounds.

By using the words touch not Paul indicates that there is to be a care taken to avoid the least contact with that which is defiling. This Divine ordinance rules out joint conference activity between a believer and one involved in apostasy. It is not possible for a servant of God to appear on the same conference bill as a priest of Rome, for example, and do so in obedience to God. The command of God to touch not the unclean thing does not provide for exception to embrace such at a conference.

2. Those who touch the unclean thing become unclean. Those believers who disobey God’s injunction to separate from the unclean make themselves unclean by contact with them. That which is holy is always defiled by contact with the unclean, rather than the reverse. Cp Haggai 2:11-13. Evangelicals who endorse Rome as Christian such as those who signed the Manhattan Declaration or the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) documents, make themselves as unclean as Rome! The unforeseen implication of the activity Paul was rebuking in Corinth was that those believers were in fact drinking the cup of devils – there was an unavoidable spiritual/sacramental link to devilish apostasy, even though they sought to distinguish themselves from it by claiming liberty to act as they did. Their distinctions were artificial and utterly wrong no matter how loudly they may have been insisted upon! By engaging in this behaviour they ruled themselves out from drinking the Lord’s cup in a worthy fashion. That is, they lost fellowship with God.

A measure of the contracted uncleanness is seen in that Scripture teaches very clearly that the persistently disobedient believer is in fact to be treated as an unbeliever – an heathen man and a publican in the words of Matthew 18:17. While acknowledging that they are not in fact an unbeliever or an enemy (2Thess 3:15), they are dealt with as if they were because of their sin. This is simply because by refusing to separate from, and by maintaining fellowship with the wicked, they are held to be guilty of the sin of that wicked associate. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2John 1:10-11 AV)

The Christian who enters fellowship with the spiritually unclean has become a willing accessory to, and proponent of their wickedness. Those who are contaminated by apostasy contaminate all who associate with them in spiritual activity. The conference floor or platform does not sanitize this pollution, render a man immune to the transfer of this uncleanness, or prevent its spread.

3. A brother who has made himself unclean is to be separated from. God says: Withdraw from him. There is no exception clause given in the case of a conference! The servant of God who participates in a conference with a brother who maintains compromised associations is disobeying the clear command of God to withdraw from such a disorderly brother. By doing so he is only encouraging defiance of God and refusing God’s command to discipline sin. This has the additional effect of also making him complicit in the original offence. By preaching with, lecturing with, a brother who is worthy of discipline by the command of God, he supports that brother’s sin. There is no getting away from this.

The supposed meaningless nature or negligible effect of platform fellowship is often used as an argument to avoid bearing the cross which is involved in separating from error and all who support it. It is a specious distinction without Biblical basis. God’s laws on the separation of His people apply in every context.

5 Replies to “Biblical Separation and “Platform fellowship””

  1. Really enjoyed this. May we separate from sin. I would like that all Free Presbyterians read this and obey the Lord. We do need to separate from sin and obey God.
    Thank you for this

  2. What though of the books of men who are sound, but are in unsound denominations ? Can we still learn from them?

    Eg I’m sure there was probably compromise in the c of e in JC Ryle’s day, but we still enjoy and are built up by his works.

  3. There was a indeed great deal of compromise in the CoE in Ryle’s day. He preached against it undoubtedly but I am sure that there were those in his own time that were grieved by his remaining in that church in fellowship with the deists and other modernists. This may even have coloured their attitude to his writings. The fact is that once a man is dead the perspective changes. While a man is alive, and has a real influence on those he ministers to, he has a duty to obey God and separate from error. That becomes rather a moot point when he is dead! It is still something however that casts a shadow even over the writings of a man like Ryle, that he remained in the rottenness of the CoE. The fact that he remained and yet wrote such good material does not negate the fact that God’s word clearly teaches a duty to separate from error. At least Ryle took a more militant stand against error than many evangelicals take today, even though he may have come short on the actual separation issue.

  4. Thank you so much Rev Andy Foster, I think you have hit the proverbial nail right on the head with this statement.

    “Biblical truth can never simply be an academic matter, nor can the truth of God be reduced to spiritually-neutral academic jargon.”

    I believe this clearly identifies the leaven contaminating our denomination and reformed churches in general. When people treat God’s Word as a purely academic matter it quickly grows into intellectual elitism allowing man to override the plain truth of scripture with faulty human reasoning. We know it is impossible to rightly divide the Word of God without the help of the Holy Spirit.

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