Posted by: stpowen | September 4, 2013

Dr. Masters and Two-Stage Separation

Romans 14:4. ‘Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own Master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.’

My attention has been brought to an article by Dr. Peter Masters on the Metropolitan Tabernacle website {1}. In it, Dr. Masters explains and defends his policy on separation. There is much in the article with which I can agree and, having written extensively on this subject elsewhere, I don’t intend to write a full-scale critique. However, the matter seems to me to be of increasing importance as the situation of Bible-believing churches in Britain becomes more and more despised and isolated. For one church or denomination to split unnecessarily from another seems to me to be a grievous matter and to be adding egregiously to that isolation.

I will first lay out briefly what I understand to be the criteria used by my own church to determine whether to have fellowship with another congregation. These are nowhere written down (apart from No.1 below), but are the usual practice of the leadership.

1. We will not join Churches Together and neither will we, as a church, support their events.
2. We take no cognizance of denominations. There will be none in heaven, so we should get used to doing without them here. We may have fellowship with one church within a denomination, but not with another. That we may ask a minister within a denomination to preach for us does not mean that we approve of his bishop, presbytery or moderator.
3. We will have fellowship with churches that publicly bind themselves to the word of God in its entirety and which consistently preach the Gospel. There may be other issues that might dissuade us from fellowshipping, such as the lack of discipline and lack of reverence towards God. We would not regard the use of more than one instrument in hymnody as automatically being irreverent, though obviously it might be. Equally, a particular hymn may be irreverent when accompanied by only one instrument, or indeed by none.
4. Before we invite a man from another church to preach for us, we would need to be assured of his ability and that what the congregation hears from him will be consistent with what it hears at other times and that the preacher will conduct himself in a godly and reverent manner. It is possible to have fellowship with another church that does not include ‘pulpit-swapping.’

We certainly believe that Bible-believing churches should withdraw from mixed denominations. I frequently challenge visiting ministers about this, and I understand that some are making contingency plans to do so. However, we are not prepared to treat such churches as outcasts, bearing in mind Romans 14:4.

My particular disagreement with Dr. Masters is when he states: ‘ In the past, independent churches, Strict Baptist churches and Brethren assemblies in Britain have practically all held that secondary separation, often with great regret, is also our duty.’ Now I don’t know when Dr. Masters considers the ‘past’ to be, but in the 18th Century, John Sutcliff, Minister of the Particular Baptist church in Olney, exchanged pulpits every Christmas-time with the Vicar of the neighbouring Anglican church, who just happened to be John Newton. Newton himself had fellowship with Thomas Scott when the latter was a Socinian and an Arian. By that fellowship Scott was eventually converted to an evangelical faith. Coming a little closer to our own time, in the biography of E.J. Poole-Connor by David Fountain (published by Dr. Masters’ own Wakeman Press), we read of Poole-Connor’s assessment of one of his predecessors at the Talbot Tabernacle in London: ‘Mr. White was a man of gracious personality and a true pastor. In his prime the large building was filled to its utmost capacity; and late-comers would often be told to go to the adjoining parish church “as they would hear the same Gospel there……He was a firm yet gracious “defender of the faith”, and strongly supported Mr. Spurgeon in his Down-Grade protest’ {2}. So one could be a firm defender of the faith, and support Spurgeon’s ‘Down-Grade’ controversy while recommending people to attend an evangelical Anglican church.

Next we come to the question of the famous Dr. D.M. Lloyd-Jones. Dr. Masters claims him for a ‘Secondary Separation’ man on the grounds of his refusal to chair the London ‘Crusades’ of Billy Graham in the 1960s.. My understanding of this is (gained from Iain Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones) that joining in would have meant sharing the platform with assorted liberals and Roman Catholics, so that the issue was one of single, rather than secondary, separation. The question of Ll-J’s refusal to chair the ‘World Congress on Evangelism’ does seem more like secondary separation, but it is important to say that Ll-J’s policy was not cast in stone. He had close fellowship and cooperation for many years with Anglican J. I. Packer, and this only ended when the latter co-authored Growing into Union in 1970 and gave his name directly to various unbiblical doctrines.

Finally, I would like to turn to the Bible and to 2 Chronicles 19. I accept that it is not always simple to transfer O.T. historical narrative directly into N.T. doctrine, but I feel that there are some lessons that may be learned. Jehoshaphat is regarded as one of the best of the kings of Judah who followed after Solomon, but he is related as making one egregious mistake. He entered an alliance with the evil King Ahab of Israel, even marrying his son to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab. In 19:2, the prophet Jehu is sent by God to rebuke Jehoshaphat. ‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD?’ The question answers itself; of course not. ‘Therefore the wrath of God is upon you. Nevertheless good things are found in you, in that you have removed the wooden images from the land, and have prepared your heart to seek God.’

Jehoshaphat’s policy of alliance with the Northern kingdom was highly displeasing to God. It was opposed by Him (20:35-37), and came close to destroying the whole kingdom (22-23). Those who compromise with apostate churches should take note. However, there is no suggestion that God required his people in Judah to separate from Jehoshaphat. In 19:4-11, we see him commanding and encouraging the judges and Levites to good works and none of them appear to have refused to work for him. In Chapter 20, he summons the whole nation to come together for prayer and the people come (v.4). Moreover, the Lord sends him a prophecy (v.14) through one of His servants and grants him an amazing victory.

There is no doubt that separation from wickedness and apostasy is a command of God, but, ultimately, every church and every Christian is going to have to come to their own minds about Second-Stage separation. For my part, I cannot separate from my faithful brethren within the mixed denominations who are holding onto Biblical convictions in the midst of such deep darkness. I believe that such people need our support and understanding and that we should stand together, ‘Holding fast the word of life’ (Phil. 2:16).

Notes

{1} http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/Sword-And-Trowel/Evangelical-Magazine-Sword-and-Trowel-Articles/Secondary-Separation-When-to-Stand-Apart

{2} Contending for the Faith By David Fountain (Wakeman Books. ISBN 1-870855-32-9), Page 92f.

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