What does Christian separation mean? Your effectiveness as a Christian hangs on your concept of what separation means, and I think almost all of our personal and church problems will be solved if we get a biblical concept of what separation really is.
This question of separation has been a bone of contention among Christians for many, many years, and although I believe that the Scriptures are very clear on the matter, still I'm sure that we're not going to solve all the contention in this article. But we do want to look at it very plainly. It's interesting that you don't read very far in the New Testament without becoming aware of some very pointed warnings to Christians concerning their danger from the world around them.
Second Corinthians 6:14 is a very well-known passage: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." And then it goes on, but ". . . come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
These words, "come out from among them, and be ye separate" have been nailed to the masthead of many denominations and church groups as the one idea that Christians need to heed in these days.
Then we have that very strong passage in 1 John 2:15-17,
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world ... For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And - the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
Then James comes out with probably the strongest word along this line and says very flatly and very plainly, .". . .
know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
Now that's very plain language, and as we read these passages we begin to realize that there's something dangerous about the world and the world's ways and the world's thinking.
Christians have rightly taken these passages very seriously. They have thought that the Lord would not speak so plainly if there was not something to be warned against. They've remembered the sad words of Paul when he had to write about one of his own young men who traveled with him: ". . . Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. . . ." And Christians have realized that a worldly Christian is a useless Christian. He's no good to the world and he's no good to God. Neither one gets any good out of him at all.
So Christians, in the light of these passages and because of them, have through the centuries drawn up lists of things they considered worldly. The trouble was that their ideas differed very widely along this score. Whenever anybody had any trouble with something or with some temptation or some particular type of recreation or some type of work where trouble occurred, they learned a lesson from it or thought they did and wrote that thing down as worldly.
And so there came into being a great many different lists of worldly things. Tremendously different because of the different places.
And as a result of this you have such things today as the folks in the South called the Hook-and-Eye Baptists. They got that name because they believe that buttons are worldly, and that the proper way to fasten your clothing is not with a button but with a hook and eye. And so the button-wearing folks are worldly in their estimation and the hook-and-eye people are spiritual.
Frankly, I can't for the life of me imagine (and I have a very lively imagination) how they ever got started thinking of buttons as worldly but that's what they think. So buttons are on their list as worldly. And they mean it! They're serious about it. It's just as much a worldly thing to them as some of the things on your lists.
You find standards differing widely in Christian circles about other things. Drinking of beer among Christians is very normal in places like Germany, and Christians over there think nothing at all about having a glass of beer with their meals. Nobody thinks they're not spiritual because of it. But in this country it's quite a different matter. In this country beer drinking is almost always considered a worldly thing.
I've been in parts of this country where people regarded with horror mixed bathing, when boys and girls went swimming together. They thought that was terrible. And yet in most places, here in the West at least, mixed bathing is not frowned upon at all. We consider--it quite a normal, natural thing and few think twice about it as being essentially wrong.
There are places in this world today where lipstick is called "devil's grease" because it's thought the devil is behind the lipstick business.
Now I've mentioned things that most of us would laugh at as being considered worldly. I haven't mentioned any of the things that are on our lists.
But the point I want you to see is that these people are just as disturbed about these things as you are about the things on your list. And the result is that these ideas have been passed on from generation to generation.
We all have a tendency to think that the things that we have been taught are inspired truth. And few of us have ever taken time to check these with biblical principles as to whether they're really worldly or not worldly. I'm afraid that many of us often mistake our prejudices for our convictions. And it's a very easy thing to do.
I was talking with a man about a certain matter, and I had to confess that perhaps I was mistaking my prejudice for a conviction of immorality in connection with it. That's an easy thing for us to do. But we must remember that not what we've been taught or what our fathers believed or the way we were raised is the standard of Christian behavior, but the Word of God. Always! And if what we are taught is not in accordance with the principles declared in the Bible, then we'd better revise our standards and our thinking in accordance with those principles.
Now that's a very simple thing to say but it's hard to follow out. If we will follow it out though, we'll discover that it'll make some great changes in our lives.
The result of this habit of drawing up lists of things which are worldly and making an index of that which is right and which is wrong in the Christian life has been that today nine out of ten Christians have mental lists of "do's" and "don'ts." And by checking this list they blithely determine if they're worldly or spiritual.
And they call these lists Christian standards!
Yet, if they were so very important it's strange that they're not mentioned in the Scriptures themselves.
Now I don't want to make fun of certain Christian and those standards once arrived at in each individual standards at all. There are necessities along that line, life must be carefully adhered to. I am not saying that there are no such things as standards but I am saying the method by which we determine those standards must be in accordance with the Word of God and not simply by our upbringing.
Now then, since all the things that are on your particular list (and on mine) ' are being done by the unsaved worldly people around about us then there comes a tendency for us to either consciously or unconsciously avoid temptation by avoiding worldly people. There is a tendency to withdraw, to seek our own crowd, to create our own little separate world which is a world that is as complete as we can make it with recreation and education and all that we need from the cradle to the grave. We create our own smug little airtight circle in which we live and which we've set up to run in competition to the worldly world outside of that life.
Now the ultimate result of that kind of thinking produced the monasteries that appeared in the Middle Ages where men, taking these things literally and looking at it from this same standpoint, decided that the way to avoid the temptations of the world was to completely seclude themselves from it. They built high-walled monasteries and lived their lives inside and thus thought to avoid the world.
Today we do not build walls of brick and of mortar in order to avoid these things but we still have walls of thought and seclusion that are almost equally effective. So we are doing this very same thing.
And the worst tragedy of all, in my estimation at least, is that we're passing all this on to our young people. We're teaching them these same things because they pick up our way of life and our way of thinking, and instead of teaching our young people to overcome evil we're teaching them to avoid it. They are not learning how to fight the good fight of faith. We don't know how ourselves, many of us, so how can we tell them? How can we show them?
What are the results of this type of separation? Let me say, I do not speak from hearsay or from mere observation on this matter. I speak from very sad experience. An experience born of at least 10 years of my Christian life that I consider now almost utterly wasted because I was thinking and acting along these very lines. These were the results in my own life. I'm confident, from observation, they're the results in other Christians' lives who think in this way.
The first result is, there comes a terrible sense of boredom and frustration in life. Life becomes pale and uninteresting, especially Christian things. You just go through a routine. You go to church and you go through the set formula of things you're supposed to do, but there's nothing very gripping, very fascinating, very illuminating about it. Life becomes very boring. The challenge is gone.
Why? Because there's no sense of danger! There's nothing to call forth heroics out of a young Christian faced with that kind of thinking. He's protected. He's sheltered. His life is arranged in such a way that temptations are reduced to a minimum and consequently he becomes bored and frustrated and there's no challenge. Life becomes very lackluster.
We sense this in our Christian lives and often we try to correct it by creating false challenges. You know, "Let's win the attendance contest," and we get all excited about the attendance contest. Or, "Let's gain a reputation in our church for having a tremendous missionary outlook, and let's parade the figures in front of us all through the years as to how much we're giving for missions," and so we create false challenges and false goals along this line. Not that these things are wrong in themselves but the trouble is, the personal challenge in the individual life is gone.
You remember what Peter Marshall said so graphically, "Today's Christians are like deep-sea divers encased in suits designed for many fathoms deep, marching bravely forth to pull plugs out of bathtubs." That's a pretty graphic way to put it, and it's true. We're taught all the resources of the Christian life, for what? Well, to just win attendance contests with! Build buildings with! No real challenge, you see. Life just becomes lackadaisical.
I think that's one of the major, if not the major reason, why our Christian young people today, (and I say it sadly because I see it in my own church) are so lethargic, so lackadaisical, so utterly pepless about their Christian lives. It's difficult to get them to avoid the things on our lists any longer. They'd rather feel some of the stimulation and the challenge and the temptation of the world than to live lives that are so colorless and lackluster as many of us would like them to.
Now the second result of this isolationist separation is a tremendously increased amount of worldliness in Christian living. Now I mean that! This is a paradox. It seems strange. But the reason why Christians isolate themselves is because they're trying to avoid worldliness, and it always results in more worldliness.
You see, if you think that the things on your mental list are the only worldly things and you avoid those, then what happens? Why, you let down your guard and the world then begins to seep in, in a thousand places all through your life. And instead of being worldly in the ways that are on your list, you're worldly in a thousand different ways and all of them equally as bad.
The truth is that worldliness is not a matter of things. Of doing this and--not doing that. That's not what marks the difference between worldliness and spirituality. If we could just learn that! That's the mistake we so often make.
But worldliness is a matter of the attitude of the heart, the attitude of life in thinking and dealing with things.
Let me see if I can illustrate that. If you ladies wear a new dress to church in order to attract attention, that's worldliness. You're trying to attract attention to yourself. The opinions of others mean much to you. That's worldliness, no matter whether you never drink, dance, smoke or go to a nightclub or anything else. You're just as worldly as if you did. Thoroughly saturated with it.
On the other hand, if you wear a dowdy old dress to church in order to be thought spiritual, that's worldliness too. Now the dress, you see, has nothing to do with it. New or old. It's the attitude of the mind that constitutes the worldliness.
If you have to have a new car every year in order to keep up with the style, that's worldliness. Pure and simple. Worldliness! If you need it in your business and you're honest about it and you really need it, that's another matter entirely. For this reason no one else can sit in judgment on you on this matter. But the Lord knows the heart, and if you have the car just because you're trying to keep in style, you're worldly!
If you are hurt because people don't notice you, that's worldliness!
If a TV program conflicts with something that you know the Lord wants you to do, your attendance at church or prayer meeting or something else, that's worldliness! You've chosen that, you see, in place of the Lord's will.
Now I'm not trying to make up new lists in this article. What I'm trying to do is to show you that everything can be worldly just as everything can be spiritual. This is a tremendously important point.
Read what John says. "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh" (that includes eating and drinking and sleeping and wearing clothes or anything else your body wants to do); "all that is in the world, the lust of the eyes" (that includes the desire for anything that you want to buy or possess, whether it's good, bad or indifferent), all "the pride of life" (or the vainglory of life, the fighting for station and for promotion and for advancement and all the other things), "all that is in the world, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
Now what does he mean by that? He means that everything is worldly, if your attitude is worldly. And on the other hand, if your attitude is that of the Father, nothing is worldly. You see what he's getting at? That's why the Apostle Paul could say and did say, "All things are lawful to me. But there are only three restrictions: I will not be brought under the power of any, all things are not profitable for me, and all things do not help other people." And those are the only restrictions. Everything else is fine.
Now you can't make up lists. Each of you may have your own personal areas in which you feel, under the guidance of God, you cannot enter. There are certain things you cannot do or do not want to do, not because someone else doesn't want you to or because you think the church will frown on it, but because you feel that's not the Lord's place for you personally. But that must be decided individually.
You see, what makes a thing worldly? Listen to John again. "All that is in the world ... is not of the Father. . . ." That's the thing. You exclude the Father out of your thinking and when you do that, you're worldly no matter what you're doing. You've done some act or taken some step or made some plan without the Father, without taking Him into consideration and seeking His guidance on it. That's worldliness. No matter whether it's a completely innocent thing in itself.
So the making of lists only increases worldliness. It makes it worse because we let down our guard about the things that are off the list, and as a result we become saturated, we become steeped in worldly thinking, worldly acts and worldly deeds.
Building walls does not shut it out, any more than building a wall or a fence around your backyard will keep the weeds out of your garden. In order to have the weeds out of your garden, you've got to cultivate it and plant it with good seed or it'll produce weeds forever. I've had a fence around my backyard for five years and my garden is loaded with weeds. In fact, because of the fence they've all intermarried with one another and I have a special variety of my own! But they're still weeds! You see, the fence doesn't keep them out.
The third great result of this type of thinking is a total or partial loss of the of sacrifice in our lives. When we worldly people because we're trying to avoid worldliness, we also lose most of our opportunity to sacrifice for Christ's sake. The result is, and I've seen it and you have too, that this process of withdrawing into our own little watertight Christian circle of affairs results in people who become insensitive and unsympathetic and smug and complacent in their thoughts and in their lives.
We can get all worked up over missionaries 10 or 12 thousand miles away, but people can live right next door to us and be perishing in their spiritual agony and we do nothing.
That's worldliness. It results from this business of thinking we can live our own lives; that we can withdraw from the world and create our own little tight circles and live within them.
We have changed the Lord's words "Go ye," into "Send ye," and we think if we're sending out people into the mission field, that's the adequate answer to our own responsibility. But the Lord didn't say that. He said, "Go Ye into all the world." And I don't think He meant that only geographically. I think He meant that from the standpoint of into all the ways of the world, into all the thinking of the world, into all the attitudes of the world, in order that you might understand and have some sympathy with the poor dying wretches who live next door to you that are in the world and lost in the world.
I think this is one of the most tragic things about our Christian lives. We become disobedient Christians, you see. We forget our own personal responsibility in witnessing. We talk about witnessing but we seldom ever do it. We're embarrassed about it. We confess in moments of honesty that we're embarrassed and ill at ease in this process of trying to witness to someone else and talk to them. We confess we don't know how to do it.
We're supposed to be imitating our Master who gave up all things, who pleased not Himself, who laid down His life in order that He might win these lost worldlings to Himself.
But when it comes to us, we don't want to give up an afternoon of golf or a night of bowling or an afternoon of tea or open our homes or give up some time on Sunday to do something to win these lost ones.
Isn't that the truth? Doesn't that describe us? When I think sometimes of our comfortable, easeful, luxurious lives that many of us lead and then read in the Scriptures about those early Christians who loved not their lives unto death, I tell you I sometimes grow sick with the very shame of it.
Why don't we have the spirit of sacrifice? Well, I think it's because our view of separation has built a shell about us so that we don't see the need of sacrifice. And that's the terrible tragedy of it. We're living in the midst of people who are dying for what we have, really who are hungry, who are putting bullets through their heads, and jumping off bridges, and turning on the gas, and living in utter misery year after year after year. And they don't live 10,000 miles away. They live two blocks down the street, two houses down the street, right next door to us, behind us, all around us, and we don't see the need for sacrifice!
We've become deaf to the cries that surround us. We've become hardened to them -- to all the hands that reach out from every side.
We take the place of the Pharisee and the Levite in that parable of the Good Samaritan, who passed by on the other side of the road when they saw the wounded traveler lest they become defiled themselves by helping him. We're there really. That's not the modernist and the liberal. That's the fundamentalist Christian who is so concerned about being defiled with worldliness that he's lost his touch with the world. He's no longer interested in helping worldly people, in meeting their problems, in learning to become friends with them and meeting their needs. That's where we stand.
Now there are many people who sense the hypocrisy of this kind of Christian living and they try to remedy it, and the result is that they go to the other extreme. They rush out and they begin to mix with the world in every way. They begin to drink cocktails and take up card playing and small gambling, and they learn how to dance, and they move in with the world.
Now please, I'm not making lists of things; please don't misunderstand me. I'm simply trying to characterize some of the thinking of a life like this. They adopt the world's standards and the world's values in the hope of being of some influence to the world in some small way for Christ. Now the result of that is always tragic. When we become like the world we lose all our power to influence the world.
I remember reading of a boy who had a cage full of sparrows and he thought it would be nice to teach the sparrows how to sing like a canary. So he bought a canary and put the canary in the cage with the sparrows. After a couple of weeks he came running in to his mother and said, "Mother! The sparrows are not singing like the canary. The canary is now chirping like the sparrows!" That's always what happens. The canary begins to chirp like the sparrows.
If you want to see the folly of a life like that, go out and stand by the shores of the Dead Sea and look at that cheerless, dreary, lifeless waste.
And then go read the story of Lot who moved into Sodom in order to try to win it and influence it by being like it and see what he lost as a result. That dreary, desolate place stands as a mark of the folly of moving in to be like the world.
Well now, what's the answer? How do we reach the world and still not be like it? Well, we must learn to walk and to live on a frontier between these two extremes. We must be in the world, we must seek worldly friends, deliberately become friends with them. Invite them into our homes, go into their homes.
We're going to have to ignore some things that are irritating to us, some of their habits, some of their ways of thinking and talking. We have to ignore it for awhile.
But we must make friends with them. We dare not shut ourselves away from the perils and the dangers and the dilemmas of the world around us. Our Lord doesn't want us to! We must be in the world, seek worldly friends, but we must not be like the world.
You see, the word that we need to emphasize is not separateness; that's not the word if you think of that as withdrawing, but the real word and best translation here is distinctiveness. We're to be distinct, different. Dare to be different. Be in the world like our Lord was in it up to the hilt. But never to live under false colors.
We're not to be thinking like the world, you see; our attitude is different. Our thoughts are different. And yet we're to be with them.
We're to be out-and-out Christians. Distinct but not distasteful. We're to be sheep among wolves, as our Lord says. That is, we're not to stay in the sheepfold. We're disobedient if we stay in the sheepfold. We're to be out, He wants us out among the wolves, boldly out there.
Well, you say, isn't that dangerous for sheep to go out in the midst of wolves? Yes, it is. Of course it is. But that's the thing that makes it gripping, vital, interesting, challenging, stimulating. It's this danger!
The Lord wants us to live on a frontier where we're constantly under danger, and we'll be safe just as long as we're loyal to the Shepherd and never begin to think or act like a wolf. When we do that, we're really in trouble. But as long as we think and act like a sheep, we're safe among the wolves.
Well, you say, isn't this difficult? Doesn't it present a lot of problems? Aren't you constantly having to make adjustments and make decisions? Of course you are! Whoever said the Christian life was easy? That's been the trouble with it. We've made it so easy that we have no problems any longer, and so we have no power.
Now we're to have problems. Our Lord wants us to have problems. He wants us to be constantly wondering what to do about this particular situation and thinking it through and testing it according to the Word and praying about it and finding the answer that satisfies and that works. He wants us to live that way. That's what makes it challenging and interesting, and without it life becomes dull and meaningless.
Let me share with you a brief paragraph from a letter that came recently from a woman in Southern California. She says, "My husband is getting rather fed up with church." (Now the church in mind here is a very prominent evangelical church in their city.) "He is from a very strong Christian family, and was a strong Christian himself. But now he says to get ahead in the world and make the kind of money he wants t6-,make, you can't be a full-time Christian because you either give up all you've got to follow Christ's claims, or you're riot worthy. Since he's not worthy, why go half-way? I can't make him see otherwise."
Now, that's a tragedy. There's a modern prodigal son who has chosen to go out from the Father's house seeking the things he wants, and he doesn't realize that what he really wants is to be found only in the Father's house. And he's going to have to learn by going down into the pigpen, or by drinking of the empty, unsatisfying cisterns of this world; how barren and meager such an affair is. He's going to have to learn the hard way, and this is the tragedy he must face.
This man is choosing a dead-end street today, and when he gets to the end of it, there'll be nothing to do but to turn around and come back. But though we pity his choice, let me say I admire his honesty. This young man at least has seen that the Christian life is insipid and tasteless if it's only lived half-way. Here's an example right here in black and white, and others like it are taking place all around us today.
Let me bring you another quote from another source that I think says it much better than I. Here's a young man who writes very penetratingly about this problem, and this is what he says:
"To sum up, the Christian's vocation is to be in the world, but not of it; to represent Christ in it and to intercede on its behalf because it's under judgment (this is the Christian's priesthood), to identify himself with its sufferings but not with its attitudes; to bring his influence to bear upon the world's life without being corrupted by the world's ways; to stand on the frontier, holding forth the Word of Life, and so to love and obey that Word that he's delivered from the evil one and sanctified in the truth. Such a calling involves a cross. The man who separates himself from the world and seeks to escape it does not know that cross. The man who submits to the world's pressure and loses his distinctiveness as a Christian does not know that cross. The man who seeks to be in the world, as our Lord was in it, but shows that he is not of it because he's a Christian and in Christ, that man will find his cross. It's only the disciple who follows Christ in both these respects who has a cross to take”.
Now, let me say, if this sounds hard and harsh and difficult and unappealing, it's because you haven't got your values straight.
Let's be honest now. Is God right, and is the Bible right, when it says this world is passing away and is really very unimportant? Is it really peanuts to us, this world in which we live and the things of it? If so, then it's the easiest thing in the world to live a Christian life. But if this world's things mean much to you, it's a hard and grueling thing to be a Christian. Believe me, I know that's so, and you do too.
You remember the story of the woman who went to the psychiatrist and said to him, "My friends have asked me to come to see you. They suggested that I've blown a fuse or something and I don't know why." "Well," he said, "what's your trouble?" She said, "The only thing is that I like pancakes, that's all ... .. Well," he said, "there's nothing wrong with that. I like pancakes myself ... .. Oh," she said, "you do! Well, you must come over sometime. I've got six trunks full of them up in my attic."
Now that sounds silly to us. But do you know that is exactly what most American people are doing today? Storing up pancakes in the attic! Really!
These passing temporal things, these little transient baubles that we are so concerned with are just pancakes, and yet that's exactly the world we live in.
We're in a world that's so confused, that has its values so twisted that people think you're crazy if you don't store up pancakes in the attic like they do. Isn't that right?
But Christians, you see, have seen the Truth. They've seen the Light. They're not interested in pancakes any more. ". . . We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Now let's be done with nursery stuff. Let's be done with the kindergarten and with playing children's games. We've a man's job to do in this world.
We're co-laborers with God. Do you know what that means? We're to supply the hands and the feet and the voices that He needs today. Every day should see us at the task of binding up the broken-hearted around us; of bringing sight to the poor sightless, blinded creatures that live next door to us; of leading thirsty men and women to the waters of Life; of bringing beauty for ashes and the -'oil of joy for mourning and bringing happiness and harmony into the desolate homes that are all about us today.
You remember what old Robert Moffat said after 30 years in Africa when he was asked by a little slip of a girl to sign her autograph album. He wrote in it these words:
"My album is a savage breast, Where sorrow reigns and darkness rests, Without one ray of light. To write the name of Jesus there, To speak of worlds both bright and fair, And see that savage bow in prayer Is all my soul's delight."
Now there are savage breasts like that all around us today. They're not naked. They're dressed in gabardine and nylon, but they're just as savage as those in Africa.
Now are you willing to be expendable for Christ? Are you willing to count not your life dear unto yourself but willing to make friends with these wonderful people? To put up with all their irritating ways and for Christ's sake go after them no matter how little they encourage you? To learn to talk about storing up pancakes until you can find an opening to talk about more wonderful things? And to pray and invite them over, and pray again and invite them over again, and pray again until you see the darkness lift and God's Spirit write the name of Jesus there on that savage breast?
Are you willing to do that? I'll tell you what will try it. You'll learn first of thrill of a Christian life! I'll tell you what will happen when you all the wonderful thrill of a Christian life! How challenging it can be. How wonderful it can be. And then you will discover how utterly inadequate you are for the job.
And do you know what you'll do then? You'll come to your pastor or to some other Christian leader, and you'll say, "I tried to say something to so and so and I made an awful botch of it. Could you show me how to study my Bible so I'd know the answers?"
You'll be at prayer meeting because you'll realize the power that's there to reach behind the mask of this world and open up doors that can't be opened up any other way. You'll become an effective Christian when you begin to try to live this-way for Christ.
And do you know what else? You'll discover what Christian separation really means!
Our heavenly Father, we thank Thee now for the promises of Thy Word and for the revelation of it. Here is Truth. This is the way things really are in this universe. The things we read of and see outside here are not true. Many of them are but perversions of the Truth. Here is Truth. Help us to live by it. Help us to believe it and obey it and walk in its light and dare to be different for Christ's sake. Amen.
(NOTE: Text from the 1957 Booklet. Elaine Stedman offers the comment that when this booklet was first printed, one group of Christians at a well-known evangelical church in Los Angeles gathered all the copies of this booklet they could find--and held a book burning ceremony! Note added by Lambert Dolphin, September 24, 1998)