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Separation from Professing Brethren

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In a previous post, I mentioned that I wanted to take some time this week to interact with some of the workshops and general sessions that were presented last week at the National Leadership Conference.

As I try to track down a couple of things that I need for two of the workshops, I thought I would start out by dealing with Dr. Kevin Bauder's presentation on Separation from Professing Brethren.

Dr. Bauder's presentation was a very helpful presentation. Not because what he presented was necessarily novel (in my mind, it was not novel at all), but because it was put together clearly and practically. It was also interesting in that he ultimately did not answer many of the questions that he ended up posing.

For those who were not there, I will present a brief background, synopsis of the presentation and then discuss and interact with some of what was presented.

Background:
This presentation was born out of presentation that Dr. Bauder was asked to present in another location about how should Fundamentalists respond to Pastor John Piper. For those who have been living in a foxhole, Dr. Piper is the Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is widely considered one of the leading spokesmen among the conservative evangelicals. He is also very popular with many of the "Young Fundamentalists" (and a number of the not-so-Young Fundamentalists) and his popularity led to a resolution and paper regarding Dr. Piper at last year's annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship at Faith Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina. (In my opinion, both the paper and resolution were fair.) Rather than stick specifically to the topic, Dr. Bauder has done us a greater service by dealing with the principals regarding separation instead of just focusing on one particular application - although he uses the specific application as a type of "case study." In case you are wondering why Dr. Bauder would have been asked to present this issue in the first place, Dr. Bauder also lives and ministers in the Minneapolis area at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and has interacted with Dr. Piper on numerous occasions.

Synopsis:
Dr. Bauder broke his presentation down into four areas: Definitions, Biblical Evidence, "The Matrix" (A Theory of Separation), and A Test Case.

In the section of definitions, he dealt with three key concepts that need to be understood in this discussion. Those concepts were 1). A Professing Brother, 2). Fellowship, and 3). Separation.

In the section of Biblical Evidence, he provided a chart that discussed thirteen key Scripture passages that deal with separation and dealt with the circumstances and required actions from each passage.

In the section he entitled "The Matrix", he presented his "Theory of Separation". This theory of separation involved dealing with three key questions.

1. What level of fellowship is being considered?
2. What manner of difference exists between two brothers? What level of error is involved?
3. What is the attitude of the brother toward whatever differences are held?

In the last section, he dealt with issues that would unite and issues that would divide between he and Piper and asked the question: At what level(s) is fellowship possible, and at what level(s) would it be required?

Evaluations and Comments:

Dr. Bauder dealt with a needy topic in a way that should be a help to those who sometimes get sidetracked on the principle of separation. He purposely did not pose the question as dealing with "erring" or "disobedient" brethren (at least according to reports I heard before the session), since that tends to get side-tracked into a discussion of the meaning of "disobedient." I think, by doing so, he helped to move the discussion along and he also faced the reality that unless two people completely agree then, by definition, one of them must be "erring" in some areas.

In many ways his "Matrix" which he views as a three-dimensional grid based on the questions listed earlier, is very close to the type of picture that Dr. Dave Doran gave in his earlier general session where he dealt with a circle and a fence and various places between that circle and fence. In both cases, the key is that as you approach the center, you have more fellowship. As you move away from the center there is less fellowship (or more separation - depending on your emphasis).

One of the comments that Dr. Bauder makes seems to highlight some of the errors usually made in regards to separation.
Making fellowship an all-or-nothing matter is a serious mistake. This mistake is committed by some fundamentalists and some evangelicals. If evangelicals perceive that any level of fellowship is warranted, they often assume that every level of fellowship is obligatory. If fundamentalists perceive that any level of fellowship is impossible, they often conclude that total separation is obligatory.


It is because I agree with part of this assessment that I have no problem fellowshipping with other non-Baptist Fundamentalists - at some level (e.g. The American Council of Christian Churches), while still understanding that I would never plant a church or do missions work with the same individuals due to doctrinal differences.

I do believe, however, that one of the problems that come up is in the deciding about how serious the various areas are that require separation. For instance, I believe that refusing to separate from apostasy is a serious error. As Dr. Bauder said (I hope I got all this quote right):
Refusing to separate from apostasy is not a denial of the Gospel, but it is a denigration of the Gospel.


Dr. Bauder's three questions are definitely a helpful guide for our decision making in the area of separation, although I think it is understood that we will probably answer some of these questions differently - which leads us back to the issue that always seems to divide us - where do you draw the line in application.

One small critique I have (admittedly very minor) is that in his description of separation, he gives two possible approaches:
Separation occurs whenever subjective fellowship is truncated or impaired, particularly when the impairment arises because of a limitation in objective fellowship.


Separation involves more than merely limited fellowship, it also indicates an element of censure or rebuke.


Later on, however, when giving his own approach, he makes the following statement:
In all instances when subjective fellowship is limited by disagreements about the faith (limited objective fellowship), some element of censure is at least implied.
Therefore, I believe the most fruitful understanding will arise by using the first definition, i.e., that brethren are separated whenever they do not experience (subjective) fellowship.


It seems to me that Dr. Bauder's approach does not really make a choice between the two approaches, but really redefines the first approach to include the censure element of the second approach. However, as I said, this is a minor point and I feel as though I am nit-picking by even bringing it up.

One last comment before I throw this out to you to comment and critique.

I believe that his third question is actually a key question:

The question:
What is the attitude of a brother toward whatever differences are held?


I would include with this the idea of the knowledge level of the brother in this area where there is a difference held.

In other words, a person who has knows the issues at hand and moves away from a proper stand is to be held more suspect than the one who is relatively ignorant (about a particular issue), but takes an improper stand.

Anyway, these are my initial thoughts about this presentation. As Chris Anderson might say, "What Say You?"

Just my thoughts,

Frank

File under Conferences_, Fundamentalism_, Christianity_, Ministry_

2 comments:

Scott Aniol said...

Thanks for providing this summary, Frank.

jon said...

Frank,

Like Scott, I would also like to thank you for the summary. I believe Bauder is doing us all a tremendous service by his hard work in this area. I appreciate the fact that both he and Doran are willing to "go out on a limb" with public comments and blog postings. I especially agree with this asessment:

"Making fellowship an all-or-nothing matter is a serious mistake. This mistake is committed by some fundamentalists and some evangelicals. If evangelicals perceive that any level of fellowship is warranted, they often assume that every level of fellowship is obligatory. If fundamentalists perceive that any level of fellowship is impossible, they often conclude that total separation is obligatory."

It will be inetresting to see how all this fleshes out in the days to come.

BTW, I am Brian's brother. He is currently a VP at Faith Baptist Bible College in the cornfields of Iowa somewhere.