When Should We Separate from Others?

Sometimes, entries into the combox make for good conversation. Here are a few comments from a ‘PatQ3c’ after reading The Reformed Downgrade: Exposing New Calvinism:

Mohler signed the Manhattan Declaration with roman catholic. Do we need to separate from them? This morning I think the answer should be positive. If we separate from apostate and Christian’s who don’t separate with apostate… Would I be alone?

Do we have to separate us from our Christian brothers (truly saved) who are in error or in connection with apostates?

Ralph Ovadal isn’t in favor of modern translation of the Bible (me too). R.C. Sproul is well know to favor the ESV (NT translate on Nestle-Aland). I found nothing bad in Mohler but he join Together for the Gospel with Driscoll, Mahaney and Piper.

Is the new Calvinists are our brothers in Christ? I do not think they are heretics. I disagree with some of their teaching, but I still attend[ed] a “new calvinist” event recently. Is what I did wrong?


David Leach responds, and I will, Lord willing, have more to say regarding this in the very near future.

David Leach:

The above questions put to Pastor Taylor involve vexing issues I’ve mulled over for over 30 years. Somewhere between the response of writing off any dissenters from my theological point of view – and embracing everyone and everything irrespective of doctrine, lies a spiritually  appropriate response to error. The problem is – how do we decide what deserves censure, and what merely rates mild correction, or even perhaps just a knowing wink at a less mature but otherwise sound brother?

When I was a Landmarker in the mid 70’s I had little interest in or use for non-Landmarkers. You might think like Edwards, preach like Spurgeon, write like Owens and pray like Hyde but if you did not embrace "church truth" I had no use for you. I remember attending a church in Anchorage, Alaska in 1979 that today probably would be called a "Bible church." My motive was curiosity, as I had no intention of prolonged fellowship, much less membership as I knew this was not a "Landmark" church. Imagine my consternation when I discovered the pastor to be on of the best exegetes and preachers I had ever heard. His sermons were so rich and  I was taking ceaseless notes. He took passages of Scripture I had merely read past on the way to other (I thought) meatier verses and opened them up and pulled from them riches I would never even guessed to be there. I attended this church for a number of weeks, perhaps about two months – only to to finally abandon it because it was not Landmark.  In my zeal, my very misplaced zeal, I spent nearly 3 years in Alaska unable to unite with a church.

Eventually, years later, I dropped Landmarkism for a sounder, and infinitely less narrow ecclesiology. However, I had established a pattern of a rather exacting standard for church fellowship which was… in short: I am always right, and  if we disagree, you are wrong and probably an unfit companion. And the truth of the matter was, sometimes that happened to be right. But sometimes, I know now as a much older man, I was more driven by a form of theological egocentricity than a balanced and appropriate measure of patience and forbearance, to say nothing of a bit of humility. Which leads me to today.

What do I read and with whom do I fellowship? My view is that I expect more agreement in my church than my library. Which is to say, within the fellowship of the local church my expectations are higher for an agreed upon fidelity to specific doctrinal standards. Far less so with those I merely read or know personally but only casually, and outside my local church. I cannot imagine I would ever be a part of a church with the Anglican J. I. Packer, but his book Knowing God is one of the finest, practical, easily read discourses on the Christian life I have ever read. I do not have to endorse the error of those I read in the privacy of my home, nor must I reject them in total due to  any over fastidious preferences of my church brethren, to say nothing of those outside my church. I am free, as nearly as I can discern, to select which books I read. (Within the bounds of general Christian propriety, of course.)

It goes without saying that I wish all the Calvinistic Baptists were even as I on the issues of the law, and eschatology, and other issues we disagree about. I wish the paedobaptists would abandon their unscriptural and hybrid view of baptism and become what we find in the N.T. – baptizers of those of faith only. I wish some of my independent friends who are five point Calvinists but cling to a form of dispensationalism would jettison that error-filled nonsense post haste. However, the problem is, I don’t even know one person, inside my church or outside, or even in my family that sees everything exactly as I do. I have read a lot, thought a lot, and have very fixed views. Or, oddly and paradoxically, sometimes I have NO exacting, finely nuanced  fixed view, such as in eschatology.

I generally leave it to wiser, more insightful brethren to affix the title "heretic" to men who I’ve largely thought fairly sound. If a man denies the incarnation, or the atoning sacrifice of Christ or is a modalist, or teaches universalism…etc, etc., I agree, brand him on the forehead with the word "HERETIC." But fellow Baptists who see the law differently? Or for that matter, even paedobaptists who destroy baptism? I don’t know. At some point we have to make a distinction between error and "damnable error." Don’t we?