Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
The divine idea of separation in religion is as old as the Jewish race. God divinely determined to raise up a people to be his own, a peculiar people, separate from all other people, to preserve belief in the true and living God, to prepare the race of man, then in universal apostasy, for the coming of the Redeemer of man.
Abraham was chosen of God to be the father of the chosen race. But idolatrous Ur of the Chaldees was not a land to nourish such a race. Influences were overwhelmingly against God’s purpose to raise up a separate people. Hence, the call of God came to Abram to abandon country and kindred and seek a home in an unknown land. It was a stern requirement, but the true philosophy and absolute necessity of such a demand is seen, and the lofty purposes of God justify the radical measure. “So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him.” And that is the beginning of separation–a separate family.
Years afterwards the posterity of Abraham, through a series of varied providential circumstances, settled in the land of Egypt. There they grew into a numerous race. Their presence within the empire presented a rather ominous aspect to Egypt’s Pharaoh, and, as a safety measure, the Israelites were reduced to serfdom. Time developed that they could not serve God in Egypt. Their religion was contrary to Egyptian customs and their worship was in direct conflict with Egyptian idolatry. Separation was essential. God called them out of Egypt. The emancipation of Israel was accomplished by wondrous power. A peculiar nation was formed at Sinai, with peculiar laws, a peculiar government, and peculiar life and relations. In keeping this law and maintaining this separation Israel was blessed. But when they departed, changed their government (1 Sam. 8)) served other gods (Deut. 8: 19), and formed alliances, they were rejected by God and subjected by their enemies. And only after reformation did God grant them restoration (Ezra 10: 10, 11). The lesson of the story is separation—a separate nation.
But that is not the end of the story of separation. God still requires it—a separate church. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but now are the people of God” (1 Pet. 2: 9, 10). As fleshly Israel was called out of Egypt, God has called the church, spiritual Israel, out of the world. And to retain the favor of God, the church must maintain that separation distinct and peculiar.
The church must maintain separation in speech. “Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard in me” (2 Tim. 1: 13). The power of a united language is demonstrated in the Tower of Babel. It became the bond of an apostate union which God had to break up in a confusion of tongues. And it is so that unity and purity of speech—calling Bible things by Bible names—is a bond among Christians that will triumph over error and bring order out of confusion.
The church must maintain separation in doctrine. Paul’s charge to “preach the word” and his admonition to “speak thou the things that become sound doctrine” need constant emphasis today. There can be no compromise. Jeremiah said: “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2: 13.) God’s word is the fountain of living water, our only source of truth. The creeds and doctrines of men are broken cisterns. A compromise with error can only be regarded as a repetition of the evils assailed by the prophet Jeremiah in his day. The New Testament command to “touch not, taste not, and handle not,” does not refer to strong drink, but to “the commandments and doctrines of men.” (Co]. 2: 21, 22.) It is a warning against flirting with error and fraternizing with denominationalism. The growing idea that the “church of Christ” is just a church among churches will prove fatal, and it must not prevail. It is the church or nothing. It is only one way or none. Any participation on the part of members of the church of Christ in denominational functions can only compromise the church and is detrimental to the cause of truth.
The church must maintain separation in worship. The Old Testament injunction to “take heed lest ye turn aside” has its counterpart in the New Testament counsel: “Let no man beguile you,…intruding into those things which he hath not seen,…and not holding the Head,…after the commandments and doctrines of men. Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship” (Col. 2: 18-23). Self-devised worship is condemned along with man-written creeds and man-made doctrines. The New Testament pattern must be adhered to. The forms and formalities of men in worship must be shunned. God’s worship is sacred and God is jealous. He requires separation in worship.
Finally, Christians must maintain separation in life. Terms of dignity are applied to Christians. The church is “a chosen generation,” it is “a royal priesthood” and “a holy nation.” Christians are to “show forth the praises [or excellencies]” of God who called them. But is there any visible distinction in the lives of professed Christians today and admitted non-Christians? What is it that non-Christians do that the majority of professed Christians are not doing?
The demand of the Bible upon Christians is to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and to live “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” It is a demand for separation of life. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”