Some people speak and write as if division was always sinful; and should be avoided at all costs. True, division is due to sin. There was unity and harmony in Eden before the Fall. It was sin, which Satan introduced, which brought discord and disharmony. But though Satan instigated the rebellion, God did not accept the situation in any pacifistic attitude. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed”, said God to Satan.
That cleavage runs through the whole of Bible history. There is a division between the line of Cain and the line of Seth. Abram is called out of the heathen environment of Ur to live a separated life in Canaan. God put a difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians, and then took them out of Egypt to be a special people to Himself. He gave them laws which were intended to keep them separate from other nations. He enjoined that the priests put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.
When the Israelites failed to preserve that distinctiveness, and mixed with the heathen, they became corrupt. When this principle of separation was ignored God raised up prophets to denounce them, and also punished them for their sin. But there was always a faithful remnant which remained true to God—a faithful minority amid prevailing defection. The religious leaders did not always belong to this remnant. Indeed, God declared through Ezekiel, “The priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 22:26). Whereas God promised to bless Jeremiah if he “took forth the precious from the vile” (Jeremiah 15:18).
The same situation exists today. Important distinctions are being obliterated. Just as they were not all Israel which were of Israel, so not all who are in the visible church are Christians. Perhaps the Church leaders are most to blame, for, like the priests of old, they put no difference between the holy and profane.
It has been said, “All cows are black in the dark.” And so many are living in a condition of such low visibility in the ecclesiastical world that everything looks the same colour. There is nothing clear and definite. We need to turn the searchlight of God’s Word upon the scene that we may take the precious from the vile.
But some will say, “You are appealing to the Old Testament. We are living in the New Testament dispensation where we breathe a different atmosphere. Now the middle wall of partition is broken down and we have a more tolerant spirit. We recognise our unity with all men everywhere.”
Well, let us turn to the New Testament. There we find Christ and His disciples appealing to the Old Testament as still valid and authoritative. True, the middle wall of partition is broken down. The privileges of God’s grace flow out over racial and national barriers. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. Yet the principle of separation continues. Three times in John we read that there was a division among the people because of Christ. Indeed, He, Himself, declared that one of the purposes of His coming was to cause division (Luke 12:51). He that was not for Him was against Him. Neutrality was impossible. His followers had to choose alternatives.
The same challenge came to the apostolic church. Christ had warned His disciples that they would meet opposition, and be put out of the synagogues. So the disciple had to count the cost if he would obey God rather than men.
Paul foretold that some would depart from the faith and others would not endure sound doctrine, and he commanded the Thessalonians to withdraw from every brother that walked disorderly and not after the tradition which had been received from him (i.e. the Gospel). He enjoined Timothy to withdraw from men of corrupt minds (1 Timothy 6:5), and he followed this practice himself when he left the synagogues of Ephesus and Corinth when the truth was rejected. And Paul did not take the blame for the divisions. It was those who opposed the truth who were responsible. “Mark them that cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” he said to the Romans (Romans 16:17). To the Corinthians he set out as clearly the line of demarcation, and called for separation (1 Corinthians 6:14-18).
Peter, too, warns against false teachers, whom he likens to the false prophets in the Old Testament. Jude tells of certain men, who denied the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ, who crept in among the saints unawares, and he exhorted believers to contend earnestly for the faith against them. And John, the apostle of love, is just as definite that believers should have no fellowship with him who “abides not in the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9:10). Finally, in the book of Revelation, we hear a voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her my people, that ye be not partaker of her sins, and that ye receive not her plagues” (Rev.18:4).
Clearly, then the Bible makes distinctions, recognises differences and calls for separation.
Rev R W McEwen.[i]
[i] This article is part of a speech held in 1956 by Rev R W McEwen. It was quoted by Rev G van Rongen in Una Sancta Vol 4/1.