A liberal writer, in assessing the possibilities of future rapport with evangelicals, stated that separatist movements tend to become less separatist in the second and third generations. Another has declared that movements often live to see the day when they repudiate the very principles that gave them birth. Israel’s great leader Joshua was concerned lest this should happen to God’s chosen nation. As he neared the end of his life, he became increasingly concerned that Israel would lose her special, separated place among the nations and amalgamate herself with them, worshiping their heathen gods and practicing their shameful rites. For this reason he gathered the people and their leaders together to deliver a strong address on the obligation of holy people to remain unintangled with false worship and worshipers. The twenty-third chapter of Joshua, where this address is recorded, constitutes one of the major calls to separation found in the Scriptures.
I. Separation commanded
The keynote of Joshua’s address is found in the words, “Come not among these nations” (23:7, KJV). Israel was to have no spiritual fellowship with those who were walking in darkness and worshiping false deities. The command was specific and clear. God wanted His people to be separated.
There was to be no mixed worship. They were not to “make mention of” nor “bow” themselves to the gods of the nations who lived around them. This principle is still operative. In our day when the National and World Councils of Churches (NCC and WCC) are sponsoring so-called Festivals of Faith and various worship services in which persons of widely divergent convictions purpose to worship God, the true people of God must continue to maintain the principle of complete separation from such confusion. Interreligious services, “living room dialogues,” and other such efforts that combine, in many cases, orthodox and unorthodox persons, are out of bounds for all who would be true to God’s Word.
It should be noted as well that Joshua warned them against any form of mixed service, for they were not to worship false gods, “neither serve them.” Under the guise of what is popularly known as the “new evangelicalism,” people who claim to accept the Bible as God’s infallible Word are seeking ways and means of cooperating with those who do not. Numerous evangelicals have declared that there might be great profit in participating in an exchange of ideas with liberals who reject the cardinal doctrines of Scripture. Others have promoted the concept of cooperating with religious liberals in evangelistic campaigns, in the process inviting liberals to participate in places of leadership in such campaigns and sending converts of the meeting to the “church of their choice,” often a liberal church where they will receive no spiritual food. Can such a procedure be justified from God’s Word? Joshua’s words should suffice to answer that question. He warned that cooperation with false religionists would only weaken Israel’s testimony. The worshipers of false gods would be “traps” and “snares” for the true people of God. It will be no less true today.
If we make common cause with religious infidels who reject the cardinal doctrines of Christianity, we are disobeying the Lord and destroying our testimony for Christ. The question asked of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, is pertinent today: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?” (2 Chronicles 19:2, KJV). Regular Baptists must maintain a clear testimony for Jesus Christ, unadulterated with the unbelief that permeates a large portion of modern organized religion.
It is interesting to see that Joshua placed some emphasis upon the importance of the home in maintaining a strong stand for Jehovah God. He warned that Israelites were not to “make marriages with them,” that is, with the heathen peoples who lived around them. The strength of the nation was measured by the strength of its homes. If parents and children did not maintain a separation from the heathen, then the separated stand of the entire nation would be threatened. The same is true today. The stand of our churches will be only as strong as the stand of its homes. We cannot expect to have churches that are strong in their separated position if the homes that compromise those churches are weak and worldly. To this end we must guard against any deterioration of our position on personal separation from the world. A church whose homes are in fellowship with the world cannot maintain itself as a separated testimony from the world.
II. Separation maintained
It is one thing to assume a separated stand; it is quite another to continue to maintain it. Under Joshua’s leadership, Israel had kept clear from involvements with the heathen. But Joshua’s leadership was nearing an end. He was going to die soon. Would Israel continue to obey the Lord? In order to challenge them to do this very thing, Joshua called the conclave referred to in Joshua 24. Interestingly, the leaders of Israel are specifically mentioned as receiving Joshua’s challenge. The “elders,” “heads,” and “judges” were there. Joshua knew that a position cannot be maintained without convicted leadership. The position and stand of a body of people is largely determined by the position and stand of its leaders. For this reason, the pastors and other leaders of our Fellowship must themselves be convinced of the truth of Biblical separation if our Fellowship is to continue, as it has, a determined witness for Jesus Christ. Our deacons and lay leaders must be instructed concerning the problems we face and the Biblical answers we hold. Churches are weak when their leadership is weak. Constant education of our leadership is necessary, particularly with regard to the Satanic delusions of the ecumenical movement and the insidious compromises of the “new evangelicalism.”
Listen to Joshua’s exhortation to his people! They were to “keep and do all that is written.” They were to heed to the written Scriptures, the Mosaic law, which had been given to them by God. They were to obey it all. No less a duty is required of us today. We are living in days when many feel that we ought to unite upon a basis of the least common denominator. Baptism, matters of church polity, details of eschatology, and the implementation of separation are rather unimportant in their viewpoint. On with evangelism! Forget about these “minor” doctrinal matters! But can we do so and still honor the Lord? Are we not commanded to give heed to all that is written? How then can we neglect or depreciate plain teachings of the Scriptures?
And yet this is what even some evangelicals would have us do in these critical days. For refusing to neglect such doctrines we are sometimes marked as “unloving” or “uncooperative.” But God’s principle is clear: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). God wants obedience to His entire expressed will more than He wants anything else. For this reason our Regular Baptist fellowship continues in its path of complete separation from religious apostasy despite the cry of those who would have us weaken our position.
The tremendous courage often required to do this was emphasized by Joshua when he called upon Israel to be “very courageous.” To obey God would bring upon them all sorts of opposition. And when has this not been true for God’s people? To maintain a separated testimony for Christ today requires courage born by the Spirit of God. There are so many pressures upon us. There are pressures from local ministerial groups, from interdenominational organizations, from other evangelical churches, and even from leaders and members in our own churches. This is a day of strategic compromise, and many Christian people have been infected by this philosophy. Not desiring controversy, they attempt to avoid it by beating a hasty retreat when they see any issue arising that might seem to mean trouble. Obedience to God, however, will involve one in controversy. There is no escape from it. For this we need the courage spoken of by Joshua.
It should not go unnoticed that in the midst of this discourse on separation from the nations Joshua declared, “Take good heed . . . that ye love the Lord your God” (Joshua 23:11, KJV). A heart of love for God will issue in obedience to the One loved. One cannot truly love God and continue to disobey Him. Modern pietism threatens to weaken our churches with a false concept of love. One leading evangelical spokesman declared, “The badge of discipleship is not orthodoxy but love.” He failed to remember the words of Christ: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The badge of discipleship is obedience. Evangelical pietists today tell us that it is acceptable to cooperate with unbelievers in spiritual efforts as long as we do it in true love. But true love does not cooperate with heretics. True love obeys God and remains undefiled from their abominations.
We ought to be reminded from these words of Joshua that we not only are required to be separated unto God, but in so doing we are to possess a heart that burns with love for God and others. It is possible for churches to be completely separated from ecclesiastical compromise and yet be spiritually cold and lacking in evangelical warmth and fervor. May God breathe upon us afresh with His own Spirit that in the midst of our battles for the faith, we might not lose our first love, that zeal and joy that characterized the early church and ought to characterize ours!
III. Separation rewarded
“If our church takes such a strong separated stand in the midst of an ecumenically minded community, will we not lose our effectiveness in reaching that community and become isolated and powerless?” This is a question often posed. The answer is a resounding “No!” We never become ineffective for God when we are obeying God.
Joshua promised Israel that divine blessing and abundant power would attend their obedience in the matter of separation. He declared that such power would be theirs, that no nation would be able to stand before them. They would be invincible and go on from victory to victory.
What will God do for churches that are separated unto Him today? He will provide for their needs. Joshua reminded Israel that “not one thing [had] failed” of all that God had promised to do for them. God will give us power in evangelism, bless our congregations with revival, and increase our influence and outreach. Obedience in separation will produce wonderful rewards.
Dr. Pickering delivered this message at the 1969 GARBC Annual Conference, held in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was featured in The Baptist Bulletin the following September. A few minor editorial adjustments have been made to the original. Dr. Pickering was well-known in the GARBC as a pastor, Council of Eighteen member, writer of books and materials published by Regular Baptist Press, and academic dean at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.