A brief overview of what the Scripture teaches.
God’s people are to separate from apostasy and the uncleanness of the world. This is the standard of personal holiness that Scripture demands. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” (2Corinthians 6:17 AV)
Those who refuse to separate from apostacy and worldliness become spiritually unclean. They become contaminate with the apostasy they refuse to separate from and are held guilty of the same sins in those they associate with. “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 brother who will not separate from apostasy and error must himself be separated from and be treated as an heathen man and a publican, Matthew 18:17.
Some objections that may be raised to this view
#1: If I practice this kind of separation then I will be obliged to separate from men such as A, B, or C. Surely this cannot be right since these are good men.
It is important to remember that no such personal considerations are to interfere with an objective application of the commands of God. This is best illustrated in the words of the Lord Jesus as He outlined what faithful following of Him meant. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 AV) Many have wrongly argued that separation to Christ that demands such a price cannot be right!
It is also important to think carefully about the description of a man as good, or godly. These terms are relative. No man is without sin! Good men are capable of great sin and their past record of service for God cannot be used as a reason to ignore present sin. The man who is a useful preacher of God’s word is to be separated from if he acts in a way that supports apostasy and error. Nathan may well have argued that David’s previous service record meant that he could avoid denouncing his sin with Bathsheb, 2Samuel 12:7, but did not. Paul could have argued in a similar fashion concerning Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2:11ff, but did not.
The vital thing here is to establish what Scripture teaches and act in simple obedience no matter who it means aving to leave – even father or mother – in order to be faithful to Christ.
#2: Separation causes division and Christ has called His people to be united.
Certainly separation brings division to the surface and makes it visible. Yet the Biblical reality is that it is the entrance of error that causes the division – not the faithful, obedient response of separating from it. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17 AV) It was the false teacher who initiated the division.
Undoubtedly Christ has called His people to unity. Yet the basis of that unity must ever be the truth itself. The Lord Jesus does not command unity for unity’s sake. The application of the doctrine of separation is a vital part of this. “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Hebrews 13:13 AV) Christ is the focus of all true unity. The advance of that unity requires separation from the camp. In this instance as the Apostle wrote to the Hebrews, the camp represented those who insisted on an erroneous methodology in the worship of God – i.e. those who insisted on the continuing relevance of Levitical practice.
#3: All of us are disobedient in some degree. To be consistent if I separate from a disobedient brother I am required also to separate from myself which is clearly illogical.
Certainly, no Christian is without sin. Yet each of us has a duty to strive after perfection in this life. We have a duty to obey God. Even knowing that our obedience will always be imperfect in this life does not negate the duty. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12 AV) This rather foolish objection would destroy the basis of all Church discipline. It would destroy the basis of all preaching and denounciation of sin – since such a thing should only be done by the perfect.
This objection ignores a crucial fact. Denunciation of sin, and the required action against it, proceeds on the objective authority of God’s truth which is perfect and not on the basis of personal holiness. When a Christian speaks against sin and their life does not support such censuring of another that person is a hypocrite and they undermine any criticism they make of sin in another because they lack moral authority. Yet, such failure on the part of the critic of sin does not undo the legitimacy of the condemnation if the criticism is valid in the light of Scripture.
The Christian has a duty to apply the teaching of Christ in Matthew 7:3-5 – “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” The duty is seen to be two-fold:
a. first cast out the beam out of thine own eye if it exists, then;
b. cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Every Christian must approach the matter of denouncing sin with the spirit of humility, grace and a real consciousness of personal liability to sin. This is evident in Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1-2. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” In the context (Gal 2:11ff) he has recorded how he denounced Peter’s folly and error. No doubt this is how Paul had dealt with that matter in Peter’s life as he had withstood him to his face.