Separation: The Default Position of Fundamentalists


This was originally published in 2011 on my old blog. I have been thinking a lot about fundamentalism and its manifestation today as “discernment blogs”. I wrote about this last week and have subsequently taken the post down to rework it.

I thought I would share some more thoughts in general on the issue of separation. This seems to be one of the most important issues to the fundamentalist. It is at the heart of fundamentalism. Whether we are talking about first century Pharisees or modern day discernment blogs the fundamentalist has been appealing for greater separation from the world. And when a Christian leader doesn’t keep separation to their standard that individual is condemned.

This manifests itself today as people question how connected Christians should be with Rick Warren or whether or not Billy Graham should let a Catholic priest be on stage while he preaches the gospel. There are a lot of major and minor examples of this issue. But it all goes back to one word; “separation”.

So what does the Bible say to these things.

The Bible teaches both separation and engagement. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 appeals for the believer to be separate from the world. But 1 Corinthians 10, and Jesus life and teaching instruct the believer to be integrated with culture.

Separation is commanded for the sake of personal purity. Integration and engagement is commanded for the sake of the gospel.

But the issue gets a little bit more complex when we begin to talk about engagement with the ideas and inanimate objects of pagans.

For example, the fundamentalist will go to great lengths to explain how a Christmas tree is rooted in pagan rituals. They appeal for separation. But on the other hand the pro-Christmas tree person will say, “I had no idea that it was rooted in paganism, and I enjoy my Christmas tree because it is a part of culture.” The tree itself is an inanimate object. To the fundamentalist it represents a compromise towards pagan worship. For the pro-Christmas tree person the tree is harmless and representative of warm family memory around the holidays.

Paul spoke to the issue of inanimate objects. In his culture, it was an issue of meat offered to idols. He said, the meat is harmless because there is only one God and the act of offering it to a pagan idol is empty and meaningless. If your conscience permits, eat the meat. (See 1 Corinthians 8, and Romans 14.)

The issue of separation gets extremely complex when we talk about language and epistemology.

Some fundamentalists recognize and oppose the use of language and knowledge that appears to originate with pagans. For example a non-christian might write a book on relationships, sports, life-lessons, communication, or business strategy. The fundamentalist goes to their default programing and appeals for separation. But the truly discerning Christian recognizes that God is the author of truth and non-christians are not prohibited by God from discovering truth. So there may be value in what they write.

Now, the truth that non-christians discover is often pragmatic, mixed with falsities, and unfiltered for motives and priority. The TED talks come to mind as I write that. The beauty of a Christian worldview is that it deals with truth in a holistic way.

The point is, we can’t just default into a separation mode on every issue and every relationship. Jesus and Paul were strategic and clear as they engaged culture and did not fear the effect that the pagan world would have on them as they fellowshiped with sinners.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…