Come Out From Them and Be Separate
The following article first appeared in the August - October 2009 issue of SALT Magazine.
COME OUT FROM THEM AND BE SEPARATE
By James McDermott
“Do not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? … ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’ ” (2 Cor. 6:14,17-18)
In a conversation I had recently with a co-worker about homeschooling, she voiced concern about parents who would shield their children from the real world. She thought over-protectiveness (meaning homeschooling) would make children inept and/or rebellious. In a conversation with another co-worker, he voiced concern about the needless teasing we may be subjecting our children to for not trick-or-treating like everyone else. Upon hearing that Cindy was expecting again, a Christian brother recently asked me whether I would still have 12 children if I was the one who had to have the babies. Another believer questioned the wisdom of Cindy having a baby at 45 years of age. (Of course, I told this person she was 29!)
The world – and, sadly, many of our Christian brethren – are concerned, offended, and in disagreement over the lifestyle choices we have made that separate us from the culture at large. The world now considers homosexuality a morally neutral lifestyle. Sexual activity outside of marriage is so common now that single motherhood is becoming the norm. Cindy works in the post-partum wing of a local hospital and she estimates that less than half the births are between married people happy to be having a baby. In such a culture, it is not surprising that unborn baby killing is considered a maternal right – which is used over a million times in the U.S. every year. Millions of women take carcinogenic pills that prevent (and sometimes kill) the blessing of children. So many small children are sent off to preschool to give Mom and Dad a break. Schools are more than places where children learn to read and write. Do you remember the old TV commercial that shows the parents rejoicing in the office supply store as “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” plays? You see, school is just as much for the parents to get rid of their offspring as it is for the children. Drunkenness and illegal drug use are everywhere. So many people are shallow, selfish gossips. Although most people still acknowledge the existence of God, they live as if He doesn’t.
I don’t think the call to “come out from them and be separate” was spoken so much in the era of cultural but unregenerate Christianity in which I grew up. Now that the world has unmasked itself and openly wallows in sin one would think the church would want to come out of the cesspool and be separate, but in large part it doesn’t.
Instead, churches are seeker (not yet believer) sensitive – basing sermons on popular TV shows and movies, abandoning the deep and historic music of the church for shallow words dressed up in rock-n-roll music. The largest church in town put a Starbuck’s coffee shop in the church building. Whole denominations have abandoned the Scriptures because the Scriptures condemn the sins of the day: homosexuality, promiscuity, adultery, divorce, child sacrifice (abortion), greed, feminism, etc. The denomination I grew up in recently decided it was OK to ordain practicing homosexuals as pastors. (They had already decided to ordain women.)
Even churches that aren’t theologically liberal emulate the world in many ways. They are organized like little corporations – the pastor is the CEO – and their meetings require parliamentary procedure and minutes. Their teaching ministry is modeled after the public school. Advice is called counseling and is dispensed by the pastor under the influence of psychology. Almost everyone in church has been guilty of fornication. Almost everyone in church tries real hard not to have too many children. Almost everyone in church puts those children all day in the care of an officially atheistic institution where most of the students are unsaved. We are told that most of the children raised in Christian homes will leave the church when they get on their own. It’s a real shame, but somehow most Christians are hostile to those who want to “come out from them and be separate”.
Given the trends of our day, it is not surprising that people – even most Christians – disagree with our lifestyle decisions that distinguish us from the world. We homeschool. We have 13 children. Our children don’t date (although we have 7 single children between the ages of 13 and 22). Our standards for TV and music are very strict in comparsion with the norm. Our children dress modestly. We have a church fellowship in our home. In the eyes of many Christians we are seeker insensitive, legalistic, divisive, extreme, idealistic to a fault, and cultish. Some might say we’re too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good, since the people of the world can’t relate to us.
But that is just wrong thinking. Our problem – my problem – is not that we’re too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good, but that we’re too earthly-minded to be any heavenly good. John said, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) James writes, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” (James 4:4-5)
We are like the Israelites of old who constantly showed their unfaithfulness to God by running after and emulating the heathen. They intermarried with them and worshipped their gods. They rejected God and asked for a king like the godless nations around them had. They sacrificed their children in the fire, engaged in prostitution, tolerated homosexuality, drank too much wine, and depended on godless, unreliable allies instead of their God to protect them. God prescribed one way to worship Him, but they made up their own ways – incorporating heathen practices into their worship of God. And God brought war, famine, and plague against them, but nothing could make them heed the word of the Lord.
Are we any different today? Don’t our churches emulate corporations and schools? Isn’t it all too common today for Christians to marry outside the faith? Aren’t Christians sacrificing their children by having abortions and using abortifacient forms of birth control like the Pill? Aren’t all kinds of sexual immorality plaguing our churches? Are our church government and our church meetings modeled after the Scriptures or are we doing it our own way? (Read the end of 1 Corinthians 14. Most churches are ignoring or twisting what God has prescribed.) In our nation, Christians have helped elect the most ungodly of human beings and our wicked leaders have abandoned God and sought protection in alliances with the godless nations of the world in order to protect us. As wise Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” There is nothing new in what we are seeing today and if God’s patience runs out and we are destroyed for our unfaithfulness that won’t be new either.
My prayer for me and for all of you is that we come out from them and be separate and touch no unclean thing.
HOW DO WE SEPARATE OURSELVES?
1. Don’t be yoked with unbelievers: This principle is usually applied – and I think accurately – in the context of marriage. Throughout the Scriptures we are warned not to marry outside the faith. Young men and women who ignore this principle have brought much sorrow upon themselves and upon their children.
We are to separate ourselves from ungodly brothers and sisters. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” If that wasn’t effective, he was to see his brother again with witnesses and then tell it to the church. Jesus said, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:15, 17) Likewise, Paul commanded the Corinthian church, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” We are not to tolerate gross sin in our church fellowships, yet most churches never expel anyone from their fellowship in the way prescribed despite the fact that gross sin is a plague in modern churches – and even among pastors. How do you think a denomination comes to allow homosexuals to be ordained as pastors? Because a long time ago gross sin was tolerated and now they are reaping the harvest of their indifference.
That being said, I think some well-meaning folks have misinterpreted the call for separation and made it at least partially geographic in nature. We should flee the cities, they say, and put as much space between us and our nearest heathen neighbor as we can.
I’m not opposed to rural or wilderness living in the least (there are many advantages to commend either one), but Paul didn’t write the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, or Thessalonians and tell them to move out of town. In the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, Jesus never commanded anyone to move out of town. City living isn’t discouraged in the Scriptures. Consider that God sent Jonah to Nineveh to preach a message to repent or in 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed. Jonah was upset with God because the people repented and the city was saved. But God told Jonah, “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
Therefore, the command to separate ourselves from unbelievers is not geographic but relational. We are not to be yoked with unbelievers in marriage (although once married one must not leave one’s spouse), or in our church fellowship. But we can live near them. Paul wrote, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” This is consistent with Jesus’ words in the book of John, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” We are to be in the world – some in the city, some in the suburbs, some in the country, and some in the wilderness – but we are not to be of it. We don’t need to separate geographically like the monks who lived in monastaries. We are separated from evil men simply because we love Jesus Christ.
2. Don’t be yoked to sin: God told the Corinthians to come out from them and be separate and touch no unclean thing. If they obeyed, God promised to live with them and walk among them. He would be their God and they would be His people. He would be a father to them and they would be his sons and daughters. Paul then continued, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Cor. 7:1)
We all need to take our sin more seriously. We may think we shouldn’t sweat the little sins, but in God’s eyes there are no little sins. Adam and Eve lost their immortality for themselves and their billions of descendants, they made themselves and all their descendants subject to eternal damnation, they were kicked out of paradise, and they caused the entire creation to groan with futility, and they ruined their close relationship with God – all because they ate something God told them not to eat. Jesus suffered on the cross and died for that fourth bowl of cereal I shouldn’t have eaten.
We Christians take our sins too lightly. We – including me – don’t purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit. God didn’t extend His grace and mercy to us so we could sin without punishment. After all, isn’t it sin that separates us from God? Isn’t it sin that keeps others from seeing Christ in us?
Yes, Christ died for sinners, of whom I am the worst. But Christ changes us and gives us the Holy Spirit so we can overcome sin. Paul says, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18) Day by day we are being molded into the image of Christ. We are constantly in a state of becoming the person God wants us to be – a process that should continue until we die or the Lord returns. At that time we will receive our glorified, eternal bodies and the process will be complete. If we are truly in the Lord, we should gradually be purging ourselves of sin. The Scriptures say, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and, “Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.” But we choose not to examine ourselves too closely lest we be forced to give up the sins we really don’t want to give up.
We are told not to yoke ourselves with unbelievers, but we are also told not to yoke ourselves with sin. And I do believe the latter is far more difficult than the former. God didn’t forgive us merely to save us from the punishment our sins deserved. He forgave us so He could be our God and so we could be His people. He forgave us so He could be our Father and so we could be His sons and daughters. Sin is what separates us from God, sours our relationship, and grieves him. Paul said, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30)
“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
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