Separation among men and their societies is the result of sin. The history of redemption given to us in the Word of God clearly outlines its course through the years. Abel was separated unto true faith because Cain was a hypocrite. And because his kinsmen were idol-worshippers, Abraham was called out of that context of idolatry by the true and living God (Gen. 31:17).
The quarrel of Laban with Rachel was over a household god that had been stolen. Throughout the Old and New Testaments there is very plainly revealed the divine teaching of separation, and the purpose of this is to preserve the people of God for his own immutable purposes, in the midst of a sinful and unregenerate environment…the World.
In the Old Testament, Israel was constantly warned not to mi x with her neighbors, the pagan peoples around her. Even among the people of Israel the principle, nay, the Law of separation was applied in every sphere of life—national, tribal, family,—and individual. They were not to mix holy things with the profane.
In the New Testament we see many passages that teach the separation o[ the people of God, those “Sons of Abraham” through Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:29) . In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 6, verses 14–17, we read, “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? and what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever, and what agreement hath a temple of god with idols, for we are a temple of the living God;…come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing.”
We ought to notice the style of emphasis that the writer uses as he puts the above passages before us. Almost the same meaning is many times repeated in the same sentence. This repetition puts emphasis on the matter of separation.
See also the same teaching in Romans 16:17; John 16:1; Amos 3:3. The leaching concerning separation for the people of God is found all through the Bible.
But we believe also that the Bible teaches much concerning the principle of separation as well as it has described separating events in the history of the nations and individuals that is presented to us in its pages. There is a basic principle of separation that we must always regard with reverence and obedience. The Bible teaches that a church split or division not grounded upon the teaching of the Bible is a sinful split. The fifth chapter of Galatians says that unbiblical separation is considered to be a sin that breeds faction and ungodly strife (Gal. 5:20).
Therefore we ought to study the PRINCIPLE of separation that concerns the Church of Christ. I believe that it is best to understand the principle of separation in the light of the main qualities of the church, namely:
I. The unity of the church,
II. The apostolicity of the church,
III. The holiness of the church.
I. THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
Underlying all else that the Bible teaches concerning the church is the basic fact that there is one church and only one church; a church that has Jesus Christ as its head (Eph. 1:23, 5:23)—Christ’s marriage with his church is a monogamous marriage—truly, a scriptural marriage. This oneness is to be interpreted as spiritual oneness, divided today into various denominations.
The external, physical oneness is broken because of the darkness of the hearts of human beings. We must remember two things:
(1) So long as sin dwells in this world, heresy and apostasy will continue to exist in Christian churches. But do not forget to make a testimony first to that heresy-ridden church. While there is spiritual life, there is hope that the Holy Spirit will work through this testimony a reform and a regeneration. If we separate ourselves from that church without first making testimony against the heresy, then we might well be counted guilty of having committed the sin of schism.
But if the church is controlled completely by heresy, we are duty-bound to leave the doors of that church behind us. Otherwise we are committing the sin of helping a heretical movement.
We all know very well that Dr. Machen did not ever have it deep desire to separate himself from the old church, but he was suspended by the old Church, and cast outside its ecclesiastical sovereignty. Thus he was physically bound to go out from a church that he loved, and wherein were many well-loved friends in Christ. But before he did, as well as afterwards, he made good testimony as an example for true Christians.
Abraham Kuyper’s reformation was a testimony movement. That is why the movement was called doleantie (mourning).
Nevertheless, in spite of sorrow and heartache, it must be repealed here at this point, that when the testimony is firmly rejected by the church authorities, true Christians have no alternative—they can no longer remain in that church.
To remain is sin.
(2) Churches are often wrongly separated by human pride.
We can see it all in church history. A history that tells us how there existed, side by side with a worldly situation that was dark and grim, a gloomy ecclesiastical atmosphere or spiritual and moral decay. We remember that era of great papal divisions, with one pope in Avignon, dwelling in splendor, while in Rome there was “another pope,” for a period of about 70 years.
The great reformers were always humble.
When their opponents attacked them with brutish methods, they faced brutality with firm courage, yet they stood in that very moment humbly before their God.
When Farel was mimicked as “the barking dog of Luther’s party,” he quite humbly made reply that he was only a preacher of the Word of God. Calvin, even in the heal of the battle, was jealous not to hurt his fellow reformers, even when he differed in details.
When there was discord between contemporary reformers, he sent a letter to them to the effect that even reformers need to have humble prudence. Part of the letter reads as follows:
“This indeed grievously afflicts me, and is highly absurd, that discord is springing up among brethren who are for the same faith, exiles and fugitives from their country. Nor do I blame the firmness of those, who, even to fight in a just cause, are unwillingly dragged into the contest, but I condemn—and with justice—that stubbornness which clogs and retards holy efforts to form a church. Though in indifferent matters, such as are external rites, I show myself indulgent and pliable; at the same time I do not deem it expedient always to comply with the foolish captiousness of those who will not give up a single point of their usual routine. The faults which could not be corrected straightway on the first day, as long as there is obvious under these faults no manifest impiety, then we can endure them for a time.” (CALVIN’S LETTERS, Vol. 3, pp. 117–118).
If we want to capture and keep the real grace of reformation, and if we want to increase as Paul says, “more and more,” we must learn how to be really humble. In this connection, I would like to tell about one of the recent events which occurred in our church in Korea. Our church has separated from the Korean Presbyterian Church. I cannot here speak about all the facts concerning this separation, but I would like to point out the one principle which our church leaders have ever had before them. That principle is this: They did not little, they did not want, they did not initially seek after separation, but they held fast to the right cause to the end.
At first, the separation occurred in the presbytery in the Pusan area. Those who are now leaders in the General Assembly Church at that time held fast to the principle that the presbytery, from top to bottom, should go through discipline on the issue of the church’s tolerance to the Japanese shrine-bowing. But, at the top there were some ministers and elders who opposed this oven public act of humiliation and penitence. These unrepentant men went out finally from that presbytery and organized a new presbytery. The end of it all was that the General Assembly sympathized with this split group.
The second separation happened a few years. ago as the final separation. Then the General Assembly voted to cut off our group, known as the “Masan Presbytery.” One of our delegates wanted to speak about our situation. but the house refused to hear him. Our presbytery had sent delegates to the General Assembly for three years, but they were never given seats in all that time.
These two separations plainly tell us that our presbytery had only been passive in the church split. We wonder, quite humbly, if the Lord spoke of our case in the Gospel of John (15:1–2) when he said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”
II. THE APOSTOLICITY OF THE CHURCH
The present doctrine in this matter is that apostolicity means the succession of the doctrines, the teachings of the apostles the apostolic doctrines themselves. (BAVINCK, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, Vol. IV, p. 353)
Ephesians 2:19–20 says, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.
Those of us who art! gathered together here today are of one mind that the only base of the church is the Bible. Therefore the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
In our times historic Christianity faces all kinds of attacks upon its doctrine of Scripture. The historic doctrine is, and always has been, verbal inspiration, or as James Orr puts it, “plenary inspiration,” of the Scriptures. But, in our day, as much because of the Formgeschichte schools its the Barthians, most theologians in the larger denominations do not believe verbal inspiration.
This is nothing but it death blow aimed at true Christianity. What comes out of the mill is the grist that the authority of the apostles is just the same its that of ordinary Christians, In modern times, also, there are basic attacks against the doctrine or “closed canon.” All of us here believe that the New Testament is closed, that the 27 books contained in our New Testament complete the planned revelation of God to his people, But many modern theologians reject this with vigor. Take for instance G.R. Gregory, who holds to “general inspiration”…a theory that says there are other books that can be called “inspired,” books other than those of the New Testament. Naturally he holds “open canon” as a basic to his thinking.
Furthermore, the Barthians hold to the “open canon” theory. Barth does not maintain the doctrine of “static canon,” and knows only it “dynamic canon.” He sees in all types of exegesis of the Bible a principle of “give and take” (nehmen und geven). He avers that it is always impossible to get the “pure” meanings of the revelation from exegesis of the Bible, Offenbartes Wort Gottes does not belong to the category of the predicated. (Compare also Die Lehre vom Wort Gottes I, Munchen, 1932, bl. 95, 101, 111).
The Barthian method of undermining the authority of the Scriptures is more subtle, but because of that, it is infinitely more dangerous, There is, however, now no time to go into a longer discussion of this matter.
The ecclesiastical unrest of days past, and of our own day, is plainly caused by the false teachings against the Bible as the Word of God. Let us ever affirm that the Bible is the base of the Church. Let us go from this institution determined to defend the true doctrine of the Scriptures. Otherwise we will passively loosen the very foundation of the church, Spurgeon, one of the world’s greatest preachers, withdrew from a church union which had denied verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.
And again I would like to speak in this respect concerning the case of our own separation in the Korean church. A theological problem as well has been one of the causes that brought the Korean Presbyterian Church into a split.
There is in the Korean Presbyterian Church a seminary which taught in its classes the Higher Criticism, and denied Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. This seminary has words of praise for Barthian theology. The most outstanding professor in this seminary denied the doctrine of the infallibility of the Scriptures. Therefore we spoke against this seminary and made testimony to the effect that the General Assembly should correct the policy of having such theology taught in the Presbyterian denomination. But the assembly did not welcome our advice.
Our position has become more and more a stumbling-block to the General Assembly. We think that we would not have been cut off if we had not made the testimony for the truth. But we had to do it. We could show no other than a preference to follow the same track followed by the Apostles, which we find disclosed in the following passages:
“But Peter and John answered and said unto them. Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19).
“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).
“For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I pleased men, I should not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
At this point, we—that is, the separated church—have seen evidence that we are on the side of the Lord by his grace and providence towards us. Now the task before; us is to build our new separated church on the solid rock which is the Bible.
(1) We believe that this reformation movement is demanded by historical necessity and is commanded by God and now exists as it fait accompli (accomplished fact).
(2) We believe that we can h;we the most solid kind of reformation for the present only by way of true Calvinism. Furthermore, we believe we can preserve and propagate real Reformed faith also by way of Calvinism. But to be Calvinists is not an easy thing in the context of today’s theological world, We must needs have grace, and we must persistently study God’s Word through grace. Therefore, we who represent 450 Reformed Presbyterian churches have a strong desire to strengthen the brave ranks of the faculty of the Korea Theological Seminary (Reformed) in Pusan.
At present, we have no regular professors in such important departments as Apologetics, Practical Theology, Old Testament, and Church History. More than that, we are beginning a small university as our pre-seminary school. In this school we are supposed to have three classes already. But in this case we also have no full-time professors. Our budget cannot at this moment be stretched to fill this crying need.
One of the great questions before Korea and before the United Nations is: “How can Korea, war-torn and impoverished, be rebuilt?” One of the answers is…man power.
The nation’s manpower must be rebuilt because of the millions that died in the war, because of the great loss sustained to our trained leadership, because of the near vacuum in the lack of education to raise up those to take the place of the dead.
This is terribly true of the Christian church.
In North Korea, fully 80% of the ministers and evangelists were killed or captured into a life of useless imprisonment. In South Korea, the church did not escape damage as the waves of battle swept away not only villages and villagers, but Christian leadership in the form of many, many pastors and evangelists.
The Communist hands are dripping with the blood of martyrs. The Christian church has before it the great problem of replenishing its leadership.
How can the Korean church be rebuilt?
Only by cultivating its every source of manpower. But this is no easy task. This, more than any other field of rebuilding, is a matter of truth. Not merely a simple Gospel truth, alone. There needs to be much study before leadership is valuable. To believe well-explained truth is comparatively easy, but to teach, to explain this gospel truth believably, is difficult, indeed. To have a real Calvinistic seminary means to have real Christian scholars of the first water, in adequate numbers.
I believe that Calvinism must be placed at the very heart-center of the rebuilding plan of Korea. I say this even with respect to the territory of common grace. This is no time for a soft gospel. What kind of a Korea will you want to see emerge as the result of the rebuilding work in Korea? Are not Calvinists best equipped to plant the seed in this land so peculiarly marked by martyrdom, and washed with the blood of uncompromising Christians?
III. THE HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH
The Roman Catholic Church holds to a liturgical holiness, consequently the result is sacerdotalism. But the Protestant church holds this doctrine in the sense that the members of the church are spiritually renewed. They are regenerated and have no desire to do God’s commands, to walk in the holy will of God.
Herman Bavinck said that the churches of the Reformation have not fallen into the fault of Donatism, but that in practice they neglected this doctrine of holiness very much. This doctrine of holiness is plainly taught in the Scriptures (John 17:19; Eph. 5:25–27; Titus 2:11·; I Thess. 4:3; Hebr. 12:14; I Peter 2:9).
The church must be holy. It must be holy because it is closely connected with God. The church is the temple of God. It is called the bride of Christ, her Head and her Redeemer. The true church cannot be maintained in an atmosphere of secularism. Many Christians of our times have fallen into the deadly sin of loving pleasure more than God. They have not taken the Christian life seriously. They have not seen the smoke of battle. the blood of the dead, the hatred of their mortal enemy—Satan. The tendency of the modern church is to hush things up, to smooth things over, and silently to tolerate an unholy condition.
But this is not the biblical presentation of the case.
Every true Christian in the early apostolic church tried to live true to the Word of God…to the full. Later men like Bunyan mirrored this early church attitude. Bunyan, who feared a sentence of the Holy Scriptures more than some thousands, of threatening soldiers. Many Puritan saints, as well, feared God in the same rich, deep sense of the word fear.
In the same way, in this connection, I would speak a few words about our separated church and its attitude toward holiness. That church emphasized discipline against unholy acts of the Christians; this is one of the reasons why our church is now in difficulty.
But we grow more convinced that it is right for our church to do so as we see the Lord working so mightily in our churches these days. In the Theological Seminary at Pusan, and its sister school, the Higher Bible Institute, there came, by the grace of God a great revival , that arose among the students and faculty, who spent many d:lys in prayer, in open confession of their sins, and deep testimonies of repentance.
Again, during the Communist War, there streamed into Pusan and the surrounding territory, pastors from all over Korea…drawn into this area by very extreme necessity. Again, among these there was experienced a great revival…a real blessing of the Lord in the midst of the affliction of his people.
Another point is that a large number of our church leaders failed to defect, and they remained faithful to the Lord in the face of active Communist terrorism. One of our founders, Rev. Chu Nam Sun, was empowered to speak out against Stalin in a great meeting in the very heart of the occupied area.
Another martyr of Korea is Bai Choo Tal. During the days when the Communists held the largest part of South Korea, in the days of the famous Pusan Perimeter, the Communist soldiers came to him and forced him to fetch a swine on his back for t.hem to a distant place on the Lord’s Day. This Bai Chao Tal refused to do, not because it was hard work, not because it was. for the enemy, but because it was not work fit for the Lord’s Day…a day of worship of the true and living God…He was threatened with death…threatened for a long time in an attempt to force him to go against his deepest convictions, but he refused to the last. They brought him up the slope of the mountain and shot and killed him.
It is from such a church that I bring you greetings.
It is from such a church that I come before you with this discussion of the real, rich meaning of separation. I beg of you today just two things, in the name of our Lord and the Head of the church, Jesus Christ:
First,…seek earnestly through the days ahead God’s will for each of you with regard to active ministry in such a church…as missionaries, as teachers, as men qualified to fill empty posts in the Korea Seminary, as men and women who will have a greater part in the rebuilding of Korea than any soldier, or Red Cross official, or United Nations Rehabilitation Committee, as men and women given by God to begin building at the very heart of the nation in the hearts of the people.
Second, wherever God may call you, I beg you never to be clothed with the cloak of mediating compromise. Keep your teaching clear. Keep it sharp. Keep biblical. Keep it close to the Word of God. Be ye separate, be distinctly God’s “ambassador” preaching and teaching only “whatsoever things he, the sovereign Head of your church has taught you.” Never be afraid of discipline: in your own lives first, and then in the church in whose midst you work, and over whom God has called you to be leaders. Seek, always to build a church that is united under Christ, and His teaching, a church that is apostolic, and a church that is distinguished by its holy living, and its closeness to a holy and all-righteous God.