At the writing of this article, I have been an evangelist for close to twenty-four years. I was reared in a preacher’s home, and have had the privilege of being around some men in my generation whom God used in a great way. I’m certainly by no stretch of the imagination a great man of God, but I have been around the block for quite a few years.
The older I get, the more I like to reminisce about the past. I love to go back in my mind and see what those whom I used to listen to are doing today. One day I was going through one of those times when I wanted to reminisce. My thought was to go back and look at my ordination certificate and see where those men were who were on my ordination council. To my surprise, only one man who signed my ordination certificate is even in the ministry. Some have passed away, some fell into sin and others simply changed.
I then began to think of those men who have been my pastor throughout my lifetime. Again, I was in shock. Of course, there are some who are now in Heaven, but I was amazed to think about those who used to preach with the independent Baptists who now no longer want to associate with us.
Then, I started going through my calendars and tried to remember all the men who I’ve preached for throughout the years. I was pleased that many men for whom I’ve preached are still preaching the old-time religion, but I was also amazed at how many men I can no longer preach for because they changed their stance or direction. Many men whom I was close to in years gone by are still friends, but they are distant friends because I have had to separate from them because of their directional change.
One man comes to my mind. This man is Mr. Personality! He is someone who had so much potential. Yet, I remember a time years ago when a friend of mine and myself preached for this preacher. After our meeting, I was sitting in the airport with the friend who preached with me and we discussed about whether we would come back to this church. We both agreed he was going a different direction and that we would not come back and preach for him if he invited us back. Sadly, that was the last time I preached for that man for now he no longer has Sunday school, he is about ready to cancel his Sunday night services and he associates with Southern Baptists.
The question comes, when do we separate from people or institutions? Bible colleges change just as much as preachers. When they change, we must choose to stop following them or associating with them, even if it was the Bible college where we attended. Where is the line that tells when we must choose to separate from an individual or institution?
To answer this question, I must use the Scriptures to search out this all important question. First of all, let me make it clear that there is nothing wrong with separation. Samuel separated from Saul when he disobeyed God. 1 Samuel 15:35 says, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” Does this make Samuel a bad person because he separated from Saul? Certainly not! It was needed so that Samuel would not be influenced in a wrong manner. In 2 Thessalonians 2-3, Paul gives us advice as to when to separate.
WHEN DO I SEPARATE?
1. Separate when doctrine is attacked.
You would think this would be a given, but to most it is not. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 says, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” Notice that this is a command. In other words, God is not giving us a choice about whether to separate from those who attack doctrine, but He commands us to separate from them. When a brother or institution attacks doctrine, they are walking “disorderly.”
The test of what you truly believe is whether your stand for truth will cause you to separate from a friend or an institution you admire when they change doctrine. It’s easy to separate from those with whom you have no ties, but the test of what you believe is when a friend or institution stands against doctrine. You will find that many will say that it is all semantics, and that we all still believe the same. They say this so they can justify a friend or an admired institution’s change in doctrine. Galatians 1:8-9 says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” There is no choice, God command us to separate from those who have turned from doctrinal truth.
Furthermore, we are admonished in Jude 1:3, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Contending for the faith is not always going to be easy when those whom you contend against are those with whom you used to be friendly; however, this is the truest test of what you believe. It matters not who it is or what place it is that stands against the doctrines of the Word of God, you are to separate from them.
2. Separate when direction is different.
I want you to notice again that God says in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “…withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” It is important that you understand that a tradition is the direction in which a person is heading. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” A directional change is normally a change of methods or precepts of living. Notice, there are some traditions that are taught by “our epistle.” God is showing us that when a person stops doing what they used to do, and changed to do things differently, then their direction has changed and we are to withdraw or separate from them.
A person’s direction is very important, for their direction will determine their destination. If you want to end up in the right place, then you better be sure that you are going the right direction. A direction is determined by finding out who someone reads, whose conferences they attend, whose methods they are following, and what music they play. Determining one’s direction is one of the most important things you will learn to determine.
3. Separate when associations are wrong.
When a person starts running with the wrong crowd, then it is time to separate. If we are to withdraw ourselves from a brother who walks “disorderly,” then I would think that God expects us to withdraw ourselves from those who associate with those who walk “disorderly” or whose doctrine is incorrect.
Friend, with whom you choose to associate will highly determine who you will become. When you see a person recommending books of those who believe differently, then you need to separate from that person. When you see a person preaching with those with whom they should not preach, then you need to separate. Just because someone can preach good doesn’t mean you should preach with them or listen to them. Throughout the Scriptures people were influenced by associations. If you are going to stay strong in the faith, then you must be very choosy with your associations. Only choose to associate with those who have the same associations as you do. If you run with a crowd whose associations are weak, then they will eventually influence you. Separation is needed when associations are wrong.
HOW DO I SEPARATE?
It is very important how you separate. Let me make this clear, you don’t have to attack a person just because you are separating from them. Many times you are drawing attention to one who would never get the attention because of your attacks. Let me give you a couple thoughts on how to separate.
1. Separate slowly
Don’t completely cut someone off at the first sign they begin to change. What you perceived as change could simply be a misunderstanding. You would be wise to watch them for two or three years. In that amount of time you will be able to determine whether you should separate.
2. Separate quietly
You don’t have to publicly attack someone just because you are separating from them. I’ve learned that if I publicly attack someone, that I forfeit the right to help them if they ever choose to come back. I am not saying that you shouldn’t fight the battle if it becomes public, but I am saying that a quiet separation may allow you to help them in the future if they choose to come back.
3. Separate prayerfully
Don’t give up on that person or institution because you had to separate. Pray that God would bring them back to where they ought to be. When Samuel separated from Saul, he mourned for him, and I would imagine he prayed for him. Separation does not mean you stop praying for someone, but it means you continue to pray that they would come back to where they should be.
Separation is a necessary part of life. It is not pleasant at all, but if you are going to be who you should be throughout your life, then you are going to have to separate from individuals and institutions at some point. These thoughts will help you when you are faced with whether you should separate.
Allen Domelle is the editor of the Old Paths Journal which is more than just a Christian’s publication. It is an excellent place to learn how today’s headlines will forge tomorrow’s laws and statutes. Keep yourself in tune with what is happening around the world, as well as in your own backyard with our daily updates and devotionals.