Salvation Is Cultural Separation
Evangelicals know something is wrong. They talk about it. They’ve essentially ignored cultural separation for decades and they’ve gotten huge in part through their non-practice. The emerging evangelicals are compromising even more on cultural issues. Now the especially conservative evangelicals seem to be starting to see that the Bible has something to say on it. But if they say much about it, they might sound like fundamentalists. If they tolerate, they’ll keep more audience, but if they do that too much, they see mounting ungodliness from their left flank. Sound confusing? It gets that way when you’ve been compromising your entire life. So now, certain evangelicals are mentioning worldliness somewhat regularly, more than I’ve ever seen. Since many evangelicals are moving further to their left on cultural issues, even they can’t stomach it any longer, and even they feel compelled to say something.
Here’s John MacArthur over at Pulpit Live—
You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if we don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christanity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times. Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.
There is and always has been a fundamental, irreconcilable incompatibility between the church and the world. Christian thought is out of harmony with all the world’s philosophies. Genuine faith in Christ entails a denial of every worldly value. Biblical truth contradicts all the world’s religions. Christianity itself is therefore antithetical to virtually everything this world admires.
But what the contemporary church is into is not holy living, it is worldliness. They think that rather than being separate from the world and thereby laying a foundation of credibility on which to witness, you need to be like the world. They don’t call it worldliness, they have a new word for it, it’s called contextualization, which is a fancy word for worldliness. The contextualization of the gospel today has infected the church with the spirit of the age. It has opened the church’s doors wide for worldliness and shallowness and in some cases a crass party atmosphere. The world now sets the agenda for the church.
And then there’s his comrade, Phil Johnson, at Team Pyro—
[N]ot all the world is charmed by worldly religion, and the apologetic value of “Disco Night in the Sanctuary” is by no means a given. In short, taking pains to demonstrate how hip and liberated we can be in our places of worship might not always be the finest “missional” strategy.
Think about it: Youth ministries (not all of them, of course, but the vast majority of squidgy evangelical ones) deliberately shield their young people from the hard truths and strong demands of Jesus. They tailor their worship so worldly youth can feel as comfortable in the church environment as possible.
And then you have David F. Wells, who writes about the culture:
What the church has to do, therefore, is to look for correlations between worldliness as I have described it and the cultural consequences of modernization that I am sketching. At the point where they coincide, the church has to become both anti-modern and carefully self-conscious about its virtue and its cognitive processes.
What Wells wrote, in very dressed up language, sounds just like what separatists have been saying for years. When you say it in such a high-brow way, it seems easier for evangelicals to swallow. I think it actually makes it easier for them to dismiss themselves from the actual practice of separation from the world. However, again, they know something is wrong.
Evangelical Criticism of Cultural Separation in Fundamentalis
When evangelicals are asked to evaluate fundamentalism, a common negative is fundamentalism’s emphasis on cultural issues. Just recently, as we ended writing this first month on culture here, very popular Southern Baptist evangelical, Mark Dever, and his 9 Marks organization published a critique of fundamentalism in their online ejournal (pdf). Here are some quotes from some of the evangelicals, critical of the emphasis of fundamentalism on cultural issues:
David S. Dockery—
Carl Henry once said that Fundamentalists cannot distinguish between the important truth regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ and questionable matters like attending movies. In their attempt to defend the Bible and the gospel, Fundamentalists have often presented the truths of Christianity in a negative light. Their concerns with worldliness have resulted in a separatism that has no impact on the culture or society. The emphasis on holiness often results in an unhealthy legalism.
In their zeal to resist modern culture, for example, Fundamentalists have been quick to abandon such costly teaching of Jesus as “Love your enemies” and forgive as we have been forgiven without limits.
Fundamentalists tended to take a hard line on drinking, dancing, movies and the like, and to withdraw into separate colleges, missionary organizations and denominations. Unfortunately, this separation too often fostered an oppressive legalism and divisive denominationalism that impeded the gospel.
So you can see that several evangelicals have a concern about modern day cultural philosophy and practices of professing Christianity, but on the other hand, they will criticize cultural separation within fundamentalism. You really can’t have it both ways. We either should separate culturally or we shouldn’t.
What Does Scripture Say About Salvation and Cultural Separation?
What matters is what God says, and the Bible does instruct us about cultural separation. What I see in Scripture is that salvation is cultural separation. When God saves us, He separates us from the culture. A “salvation” that is not culturally separate is not salvation at all. I want us to look at just a few passages and I believe you will see this truth with me.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
God commands Christians not to fellowship with non-Christians. In light of a lot of other instruction in Scripture, this doesn’t mean that we don’t interact with unbelievers. All of the nouns and verbs combined in this text help us to understand what this separation is. Believers are not to fellowship, have communion, have concord, have part, or be in agreement with the unsaved. Scripture nowhere teaches a believer to find common ground with an unbeliever. A Christian as light has characteristics that pertain to his nature and lifestyle that are incompatible with the darkness descriptive of the unconverted man. He especially does not share a common culture. He is radically different than the unbeliever—he isn’t to cooperate, share, or associate with.
Now, what “communion” can there be between persons so different one from another? for what is more so than light and darkness? these the God of nature has divided from each other; and they are in nature irreconcilable to one another, and so they are in grace. . . [W]hat part, society, or communion, can they have with one another?
In vv. 17, 18 we see this connection to salvation. Those who do not separate from the world and its way, God will not receive and He will not call these non-separatists His sons and daughters. Those God saves He also separates.
As a separatist, have you ever looked at a worldly evangelical (they’re all over), and thought: “to me he doesn’t seem like a saved person”? This passage says the same thing, that those who won’t separate culturally aren’t saved. Their desire to associate, share, and relate with the world says something about their profession of faith. God doesn’t receive them nor will He call them His sons and daughters. You’re seeing them the same way He does.
1 Peter 3:18-21
During the days in which Noah built the ark, out of His longsuffering the Lord Jesus Christ preached through Noah to those on earth who mocked and persecuted him. At the end of that time period, Noah and his family, eight souls, were saved by water. That’s right, Noah and his family were saved by water. Those eight souls were also saved by the ark, but not in the same way they were saved by the water.
If you were rushed down river in dangerous rapids, ready to drown, but you reached up and grabbed a tree branch just in time, you wouldn’t say that you were saved by water. You would say that you were saved by that tree branch. So how were Noah and his family saved by water?
One aspect of a believer’s salvation is his separation from the world. We will not share eternity with those who oppose God, like the men who ridiculed Noah while he built the ark. God will separate His own from unbelievers. This is another way that God saves us.
Like water saved Noah and his family, so v. 21 says that baptism also saves. Someone’s water baptism will separate a believer from the world. It is one of the reasons for baptism. When a new Christian makes his salvation public through baptism, he will separate himself from the world. The reality of God’s salvation of Noah from the world is symbolized by baptism. Some day God will physically and permanently separate His people from all others. However, believers are to subject themselves to a temporal separation through water baptism.
Noah did not share the antediluvian culture. He clashed with their way of life. God saved him from it with the flood waters. After the flood, he could live without their influences. When we get saved, God wants the same for us, so he provided baptism, water that saves believers from pagan culture just like the waters of the flood saved Noah and his family.
Hebrews 13:13, 14
Gill writes concerning v. 13:
[T]he world [is] full of enemies to Christ and his people; and for the noise and fatigue of it, it being a troublesome and wearisome place to the saints, abounding with sins and wickedness; as also camps usually do; and for multitude, the men of the world being very numerous: and a man may be said to “go forth” from hence, when he professes not to belong to the world; when his affections are weaned from it; when the allurements of it do not draw him aside; when he forsakes, and suffers the loss of all, for Christ; when he withdraws from the conversation of the men of it, and breathes after another world; and to go forth from hence, “unto him,” unto Christ, shows, that Christ is not to be found in the camp, in the world: he is above, in heaven, at the right hand of God; and that going out of the camp externally, or leaving the world only in a way of profession, is of no avail, without going to Christ: yet there must be a quitting of the world, in some sense, or there is no true coming to Christ, and enjoyment of him; and Christ is a full recompence for what of the world may be lost by coming to him; wherefore there is great encouragement to quit the world, and follow Christ: now to go forth to him is to believe in him; to hope in him; to love him; to make a profession of him, and follow him.
The separation from the world is shown here to be the act of saving faith. Believing in Jesus Christ is changing association Jesus bore the reproach of the world and receiving Him is also receiving His reproach. Believers don’t engage the culture, but bear its reproach.
Verse fifteen further explains. We aren’t trying to fit in here because this isn’t our home. We have no “continuing city” here. We’re passing through so we’re not interested in conforming or fashioning ourselves like the world as if we had some future here. Jesus didn’t fit in, so neither do we.
1 John 2:15
John tells us that the love of the Father does not abide in the man who loves the world. Salvation is love for God. Love for the world can’t be. Worldliness is incompatible with salvation.
Evangelicals Divide Cultural Separation from Salvation
Against this teaching of Scripture, evangelicals remove cultural separation from salvation. They do this by making cultural issues a secondary matter, distant from the gospel. On p. 24, the 9 Marks ejournal reports:
Most of the answers focus, positively, on the Fundamentalists willingness to stand for truth and, negatively, on their tone and an inability to distinguish between primary and secondary matters.
Even professing fundamentalist, David Doran, mentions this (p. 25):
Later, in the midst of the conflict between the Fundamentalists and new Evangelicals, in some ways the focus shifted off of the gospel to secondary matters. Separation, rather than serving the goal of gospel purity, sometimes came to be viewed as end in itself.
Lance Quinn writes (p. 30):
While we can appreciate the Fundamentalists tight grip on the essential elements of Christianity, we must eschew their doctrinaire stances on issues which are much more secondary or tertiary.
Evangelicals also disjoin cultural separation from salvation by disconnecting the practice of separation from the gospel. In their view, the gospel is something we can prize in everyone that claims the gospel, even if they are worldly too. However, we can change the nature of the gospel by our lifestyle (1 Peter 2:11, 12). The terms of the gospel, who Jesus is and what faith is, can both be affected by our association with the world. The cares of this world can choke the word, so that it becomes unfruitful (Mark 4:19). In other words, Scripture itself doesn’t separate worldly living from the work of the gospel. Evangelicals have done and do it at their own peril. Their ranks are full of worldly individuals, who still profess to be saved. Doesn’t sound so secondary, does it?
Cultural Separation Doesn’t Separate from the Gospel
The Gospel separates from the culture. The practical righteousness that we live comes out of the positional righteousness from our justification. The Gospel does not disconnect from personal separation. God saves us but He keeps on saving us. That ongoing salvation through our justification also continues to separate.
The grace of God that brings salvation also teaches us to deny worldly lust (Titus 2:11, 12). We won’t desire to act, look, or sound like the world if we have received the grace of salvation. It won’t stop teaching us to deny wordly lust because it won’t stop saving us until our glorification.