By Kenneth Haney
The doctrine of separation is one of the most prominent doctrines of the entire Bible. It is difficult to distinguish the concept of the church from the doctrine of separation. The words “church” and “separation” are in some important ways interchangeable. The New Testament Greek word ecclesia, translated as church, means “to summon forth,” to show the church as the “called out” (or separated) assembly. The church is called out not in a restricted sense, but rather we position ourselves to be blessed and receive the promises of God by coming out from the world system.
The concept of being called out goes as far back as Genesis 11 where God called Terah out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan. (See Genesis 11:31.) Terah partially obeyed, going as far as Haran. God turned to Terah’s son, Abram (Abraham), calling him to fulfill what his father had left undone, namely to separate himself from family and friends and dwell in the land of Canaan. (See Genesis 12:1.) God promised Abram that he would form a new “great nation” whose people would be separated unto God.
In Genesis 13, after Abram separated himself from his nephew Lot, God again visited him with renewed promises of blessing. Although Lot had journeyed from Ur with Abram, strife between their respective herdsmen led Abram to propose that they go their separate ways. Lot chose the cities of the plain, pitching his tent toward Sodom (a symbol of corruption, immorality, and worldliness), while Abram remained apart from the cities. Immediately after they separated, God visited Abram and renewed those promises of blessings, land, and posterity to him.
Separation is even more clearly taught in God’s dealings with Israel, His chosen people, especially in the record of the Exodus. Israel had suffered for generations under Egyptian bondage after the death of Joseph. Their cries of distress ascended to God, who called Moses to miraculously lead them out of Egypt to a land of their own so they could freely worship the one true living God. An analogy can be drawn in the divine way God brought them out—through the Red Sea by way of the pillar of a cloud and fire—to the New Testament church as referenced by the apostle Paul in his writings: “Our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (I Corinthians 10:1-2). The way out of Egypt (a biblical representation or “type” of sin and the world system) in the New Testament church is by our baptism in water and Spirit.
After God miraculously delivered Israel through the Red Sea, they arrived at Mount Sinai. Moses ascended to the top of the mountain to receive commandments and instructions from God as to how His people were to live and worship. The Lord’s directions were detailed and specific; they affected not only their mode and place of worship, but their property rights, how they ate, their manner of dress, personal relationships, and crime. These instructions were not simply burdensome requirements and regulations; instead they positioned Israel to receive multitudes of blessings from God. God told them if they would diligently live and worship according to the law given to Moses, He would set them on high above all nations of the earth and bless every part of their lives. Consider the vast and abundant blessings promised to those who live in obedience and separation to the Lord as outlined in Deuteronomy 28:1-14.
The church, as we know it, is first mentioned in Matthew 16:18. Jesus Himself announced the beginning of the church: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” While Old Testament prophets had spoken about the concept, none of them used the word “church” before Jesus did. The only possible exception is the way Stephen referred to Israel as the church in the wilderness because they were the people God called out of Egypt (Acts 7:38). The church is not called out of a nation, country, or land as Israel was called out of Egypt; instead we are called out as a distinct people. God has called us out of a life of sin and unrighteousness; He has empowered us by His Spirit to live acceptably before Him. So many today in Christianity want us to believe that separation is no longer a relevant message; however if we are part of God’s church, we are a part of this called-out people, and we have separated ourselves from this world’s values, customs, and ideas.
It is the intent of the enemy of our souls to spread the mistaken idea that disciplines will cause the gospel to be less attractive, and consequently, less people will desire to belong to our fellowship. The enemy would like for us to think that people do not want to be part of anything that teaches a difference in lifestyle from that of contemporary society The enemy would try to convince us that there would be great resistance to such a message, and therefore, silence the pulpit from preaching messages about coming out and being separate from the world. If he could cause us to believe that, he will, in reality, cause us to miss out on the favor and blessing of God. The New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, is clear about the blessing and favor of God being conditional upon a life of separation.
So many honest and good ministers struggle daily with how to obtain the blessing and favor of God upon their churches. They hunger for the magnetism that draws people and seek desperately for what can be done to enhance the growth of the church. Sometimes they spend thousands of dollars and travel hundreds of miles attempting to learn a new approach to church growth or to obtain a new program that will create a revival spirit in the congregation, but often what is really missing is the clear teaching and preaching of separation.
The preaching of coming out from the world, following God, obeying His voice, and forsaking previous lifestyles and habits does not discourage people from coming to church. There is an anointing, blessing, and favor of God that comes when this message is clearly taught. There is an intensity of the Spirit, a vibrant spiritual climate that cannot be realized when worldliness prevails. The flow of the Holy Ghost cannot be present when the prevailing atmosphere of the church is worldly. There is something about a people who have truly separated themselves from this world and unto God that causes others to be drawn to believe they too can be changed and their lives made different. The doctrine of separation is not a hindrance to church growth, but rather it is the answer. I do not believe that if the church is full of world-loving people, it can experience true New Testament apostolic revival.
Many times in my years of pastoring in Modesto I have had visiting pastors ask me what the key to great revival is. I think they are expecting me to give them some kind of agenda, calendar, or outline that they can go back to their churches and follow in order to obtain the same intensity of God’s power and presence. I sincerely believe the spiritual climate we enjoy has been due to my efforts to consistently teach and maintain a clear message of separation.
It troubles me when I hear people talk about our doctrine as only referring to our belief and convictions on the new birth. They call the “Acts 2:38 message” our doctrine. They call separation “holiness standards” to distinguish it from our salvation doctrine. In reality, the Bible has a whole lot more to say about the doctrine of separation than it does about the new-birth experience. This does not mean I believe less than anyone else in the necessity of the new birth, but I point this out to say that distinguishing between the salvation doctrine and holiness standards is erroneous. The word doctrine simply means teaching, and if so, our standards are as much a doctrine as baptism in Jesus’ name and the infilling of the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues. Our standards are not simply men’s ideas and philosophies, but they are acts of separation, which again I emphasize is a prominent theme of the Bible.
Most new converts are not resistant to lifestyle changes. In my experience, new converts are so thankful for their salvation experience that they are anxious to learn whatever they can do that might please God the most. If they need to dress differently, when it is explained to them appropriately, they receive it gladly. When they are taught from God’s Word in such a way that they understand, they are willing to make any adjustments because they desire the blessing and favor of God. More than anything else, they want to be the recipient of His promises. Unfortunately, the resistance to separation from the world seems to come from those who have been in the church for a substantial amount of time. Over the years some have become neglectful in their prayer life and church attendance, or forgotten the pit from which they were saved, and they find themselves looking back to the things of this world and somehow these things become attractive to them. Consequently, they resist admonition to live a life that distinguishes them as the children of God. Others attack separation as nothing but legalistic, rigid, and artificial rules. However, holiness and separation have nothing to do with attaining salvation by slavishly adhering to a set of rules. We who love God want to please Him in all ways through purity of heart, thought, spirit, and lifestyle.
Let me pause here for a word on how standards should be communicated to the congregation. Many times new converts ignorantly continue to engage in their previous lifestyles and dress, and others may transfer from churches in our fellowship whose standards deviate from our own. No one should ever be threatened or publicly embarrassed, but instead they should be instructed from the Word of God in a loving, redemptive manner. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing …” (II Timothy 2:24). We should never behave as Pharisees or policemen, “neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter: 5:3). We do not condemn or pass harsh judgment on any brother or sister who is disobedient or weak in the matter of separation, but pray that by our loving example and patient instruction, he or she will be led to repentance and change.
The concept of holiness is a basic tenet of Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament. (See Leviticus 19:2; I Peter 1:15.) The seraphim Isaiah saw in his vision cried one to another about the Lord: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3). The word for holy in Hebrew is qadash, which is translated “set apart, separated.” So God, whose very nature is holy, is Himself separated from all sin, unrighteousness, and uncleanness, and commands us to follow His example. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you … and ye shall be my sons and daughters” (II Corinthians 6:17-18). Therefore, the foundation of our very relationship with God as His children is hindered and weakened if we do not practice holiness.
The Bible repeatedly instructs us to avoid loving the world. Jesus said to His disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19). The apostle John told the first-century Christians, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).
What does the Bible mean by “the world”? For clearly, if “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), a contradiction might seem to exist. But the Bible is not talking about the inhabitants of the world. God does not intend that we should isolate ourselves from society. We are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “ambassadors for Christ” (II Corinthians 5:20) and “walk in wisdom toward them that are without” (Colossians 4:5). The apostle John explained what he meant by the world: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). Separation from the world, therefore, is a recognition of its lustful, prideful nature and a commitment not to participate in it, nor desire approval from it. Our actions and appearance should make clear to all who observe us that we belong to God, and it is upon His commandments that we base our lives. “Ye are our epistle … known and read of all men” (II Corinthians 3:2).
The world is constantly trying to squeeze us into its mold and pressure us to conform to its standards, dictated by Hollywood, foreign fashion editors, music superstars, and other ungodly influences. While I understand there are some passages of Scripture that might be interpreted by one differently than another, the great majority of our standards are very clear Bible doctrines.
Modest apparel is a clear doctrinal teaching: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel” (I Timothy 2:9). The distinction between the apparel of a man and a woman is a very clear Bible doctrine: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). The fact that a woman is to have long uncut hair is a very clear Bible doctrine: “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” (I Corinthians 11:15). It saddens me that some who object so strenuously to church dress standards do not find it strange to spend time, money, and great effort to conform to the latest fad and fashion pronounced by models on a runway in Paris.
Separation also extends to our thought lives and recreational habits. In order for the old nature to stay dead—and so that sin cannot regain a foothold—we should be careful about what things we allow to enter our eyes and ears through television, music, reading material, movies, and the like. David said, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psalm 101:3). David had personal and painful experience with how the eye can fall on the wrong thing, causing the carnal nature to be tempted to lust, resulting in a fall into sin. (See II Samuel 11.)
Separation also extends to our social lives, friendships, and marriages. We are not to fellowship with people who are indulging in lascivious lifestyles. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (II Corinthians 6:14). “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (I Corinthians 15:33). “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). “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” (James 4:4).
Indeed, separation can be summarized by this simple statement: “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).
In order for the church to have revival in these last days, we must remain a beacon of light in the darkness. We who are separated from the world, and its lusts and prideful system, are walking in light. When the world looks at us, what do they see? We cannot weaken our standards and dilute our separation or we will become part of the darkness. Let us continue to communicate the love and holy nature of God to a lost and dying world by our words, deeds, behavior, and appearance. A “light … set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).
The above article, “The Separated Church” was written by Randy Keyes. The article was excerpted from Kenneth F. Haney’s book, Turning the World Upside Down.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.