Come out from among them and be separate, says the LORD. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you
– 2 Corinthians 6.17
With a somewhat heavy heart I must write to you regarding separation from error. I have a heavy heart because I know that these are matters which can cause upset and contention. But these are matters which we must be very clear about.
From time to time I receive invitations to join our church with various organisations or events. One such well-meaning invitation was to an event called ‘Arise Bristol’. We understand that over 5,000 people gathered at Ashton Gate Stadium for a time of prayer, worship and so forth. We surely rejoice in one sense, that so many people cared enough about their faith to come together.
This event saw many churches in the area joining together. Surely it is mean-spirited to raise any objection to so many people who seem to long for God’s blessing, gathering together? But that is not the case. In order to foster this ‘unity’, many simple truths of the Word of God are ignored. We see the Roman Catholic church simply accepted as equal to any other church. We see outright liberal denominations given the same courtesy. What foolishness can have seized us if we think that God will be pleased to bless those of his children who are ‘unequally yoked together’ (2 Cor 6) with those who deny the clear teaching of His Word?
In this one event were people who deny the clear and vital doctrine of justification by faith alone, and believe that the Pope is the Head of the Church, rather than Jesus Christ. They were joined by others who deny the Trinity. There were yet more there who teach the appalling ‘health and wealth prosperity gospel’. There were many there who deny the Bible’s clear teaching on the respective roles of men and women, particularly relating to the ministry. We also know that amongst the churches represented there were those who deny the plain teaching of the scripture relating to human sexuality. Also disturbing is the prominence given to so-called ‘Prophetic Words over Bristol’, but that is a matter needing more attention than a few lines.
What does Almighty God think of all this confusion? Or is ‘confusion’ too soft a word to use? Are we not seeing outright disobedience to the Lord? We ask with the Apostle Paul ‘What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?’
We have no business joining ourselves with false teachers and deniers of the plain truth of the Bible. We rejoice to join with and pray for churches of ‘like faith’, such as our friends at Quedgeley Baptist Church, and their bold desire to plant in Kingsway, or such as our friends at Grace Church Westerleigh, and their hoped-for expansion in Yate. There are many other Bible-believing churches we could mention also.
But can we join ourselves with ‘Churches Together in Thornbury’ or ‘Arise Bristol’? No matter how many sincere believers may be found in those groupings – we cannot! It is disobedient to the Word of God to join with, or to identify with, those who contradict Scripture.
We will certainly be mocked and scorned for such a stance on these issues. We will be called ‘divisive’ and ‘isolationist’ or ‘out-of-touch’. Some may say that we are not ‘open to the Spirit’. I do wonder what spirit they are speaking of, who seems to lead them in paths which are contrary to the revealed will of God. We have the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in our understanding of Scripture – which is the final, authoritative, Word of God, and we are genuinely ‘open’ to every word of it!
Some may cry ‘but what of our Saviour’s prayer in John 17, that Christians all may be one?’. Our response is simple: What of it? Do you think that our Saviour’s prayer is unanswered and that somehow we have to run after a false unity in order to bring his wishes to pass, as though he was a dead man who wrote something in a will? He is the risen and living Lord! Of course His prayer was, and is, answered. His true people are one, at all times, and this unity is frequently demonstrated in many, many ways. It cannot be demonstrated by the formal joining together of denominations and para-church organisations filled with people who make a big deal out of these few words of Christ, and ignore many, many more which they dislike. The whole of the scriptures are the words of Christ (red-letter Bibles are quite misleading in this respect).
Let us be quite clear about where we stand. We do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of many who seek unity. We do not doubt that many are born-again Christians. We do not claim to have everything right or to be the only church in our area. That would be arrogance on a grand scale, and a terrible error.
But we have a great and solemn responsibility to be faithful, and to ‘contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 1.3). Let us not foolishly imagine that the Lord’s work will be furthered by compromise with those who reject God’s standards. Although we may see ‘success’ in the eyes of this world, we surely cannot expect any blessing, or true spiritual success, if we do so.
Do we care for the young people amongst us? Will we guard and protect them from error? Do we really care for our community, lost and without Christ? If we do, then we will hold to the ‘old paths’, and the truth of God’s Word, without compromise, whatever the cost. It is unchanging truth which our lost community needs! This is not a question of the way we worship, or the version of the Bible we use. Neither is it about whether we wear smart clothes on a Sunday or whether we have chairs or pews in the chapel. The only question is whether we will hold fast to the clear teaching of the Word of God, and stand clear of those who refuse to do so.
This is not a comfortable topic, and doubtless some will tell us that none of this matters. Let us be blunt – it matters to the Lord. He assures us that if we are willing to come out, and be separate – ‘I will receive you’. And that promise is all we need.