By Mike Willis
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:17-18).
The Lord’s people are to be a separate people (Exod. 33:16; Lev. 20:24; Ezra 6:21). The charge of these verses is a call for the church to be a separate people. What necessitated this call?
The Corinthian Problem
Paul had a specific situation in mind when he charged the Corinthians to “come out from among them” and be separate. The church at Corinth had some among them who were joining hands with pagans in worshiping at heathen temples. Earlier in I Corinthians, Paul instructed these Christians to “flee idolatry” (10:14). He told them that joining with the heathen in their worship was sinful: “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor. 10:20-22)
Another problem was the receiving of false teachers. Some denied the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). Earlier Paul had warned of their influence among the Christians: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). Some were influenced by the Judaizers (see 2 Cor. 3). Unfortunately, the Corinthians were receiving some of these false apostles (2 Cor. 11:4).
To address these very problems, Paul wrote this section of 2 Corinthians demanding that a separation occur.
The Call For Separation
Here are the words of Paul’s call for a separation:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
Joint participation in false religion is an “unequal yoke.” (The figure of an “unequal yoke” was taken from the Mosaical legislation forbidding plowing with an ox and ass yoked together [Deut. 22: 10].) Paul used a number of parallels to re-enforce his point that Christians have no fellowship with unrevealed religion. Here is an outline of them:
|Agreement||Temple of God||Idols|
There are several truths which logically follow from Paul’s words.
1. The line of demarcation between true andfalse religion can be known and drawn. The modern concept that there are so many shades of gray that one cannot distinguish black and white is foreign to New Testament teaching. Men can know the truth (Jn. 8:32) and identify those who have departed from it (1 Jn. 2:19).
2. Men are guilty of sin when they join with others in the participation ofsin. When the Corinthians went to the heathen temple and ate at the table of demons, they were guilty of sin. John adds that when a person bids Godspeed ‘Lo those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, he is guilty of sin: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. fie that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11). Paul added, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). These passages demand a separation from the works of darkness.
Application of Paul’s Teaching
It will not apply to marriage. Some have misapplied this passage by teaching that Paul’s instructions condemn as sinful the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian. If this verse applies to a mixed marriage, then we need to tell those who are in that marriage what Paul said: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17-18). Though some misapply these verses to mixed marriages, I know of no one ready to tell those who are in a mixed marriage what Paul told these Corinthians! The fact of the matter is that Paul told those who were involved in mixed marriages not to depart one from another (1 Cor. 7:12-15), the very opposite of what this verse teaches.
While the marriage between a believer and unbeliever is not sinful in itself, some believers who are married to unbelievers join their mates in committing sin. Some worship with their unbelieving mates in denominations tacitly approving the unrevealed worship that is offered there.
These verses apply to joining with others in the practice of sin. Sin is described as “darkness, ” “unrighteousness, ” and “idolatry.” Though idolatry is not the only form which sin can take, it serves to emphasize that this passage is forbidding joining with others in committing sin.
Heathen religion is one form of sin which Christians cannot join in. The pagan religions of Paul’s day were sinful expressions of religion. Indeed, Paul said that their worship was “sacrifice to devils, and not to God” (1 Cor. 10:20). What was true of pagan religions of the first century is equally true of pagan religions of this century. Christians cannot join hands with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other pagan religions in offering worship to God. One Episcopal Church became so ecumenical that it hosted a Shinto ceremony in its building (Growth and Decline in the Episcopal Church 21). When Christians recognize as saved and join hands in work and worship with those in heathen religions, they are guilty of the very sin which Paul condemned. He called on men to “come out from among them and be ye separate” and “touch not the unclean thing.”
So-called Christian denominations are another form of unrevealed religion. The denominational churches do not teach the plan of salvation, do not offer worship according to the divinely revealed pattern (dare anyone deny there are patterns for worship?), and do not abide in the divinely revealed work and organization of the church. As they move further and further away from the truth and into sin, some of the mainline denominations openly advocate the appointing of homosexuals as members of their clergy. Many denominations openly defy the Lord’s limitation that women not “teach or usurp authority over” men (1 Tim. 2:12), Some sponsor gambling, such as those Catholic Churches which have casino nights, bingo games, raffles, and such like things. They encourage drinking by serving wine at their casino nights. Some churches sponsor lascivious dances for their young folks. Their clergy wears religious titles in violation of Matthew 23:9.
Christians cannot join hands with the denominations in offering worship to God without being guilty of sin. Max Lacuado, a popular writer and speaker among the liberal brethren, has participated in worship at a Catholic Church. This is the conduct which Paul forbade Christians to do. There are other signs that brethren are ready to join hands with the denominations. The editor of Image recently wrote that he was “tired of a sectarian message that postures ‘our church against someone else’s church… (Jan./Feb 1992, p. 4). Leroy Garrett wrote a series of articles in Restoration Review describing the positive things he saw in the various denominations he visited in his area.
Liberal brethren have also departed from the truth to commit unrighteousness and lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4). The Christian Church brethren introduced the church supported missionary society and mechanical instruments of music in worship. Through the years, the spirit of apostasy has continued to work among them as they have moved further and further from the truth. Some of them were not willing to go as far as others; as a result a division occurred breaking them into two groups – the more liberal Disciples of Christ and the less liberal Independent Christian Churches. Both denominations have departed from the truth in many different items. Here are a few items gleaned from the Christian Standard which is circulated among the more conservative independent Christian Churches:
1. Using mechanical instruments of music in worship. (Some Christian Churches are ready to accept only a piano and organ while the group sings bluegrass, southern, or contemporary gospel. Others are ready to accept a full band, even those who sing “rock gospel.”)
2. Allowing Christian college bands to entertain during the Sunday evening worship period.
3. Using solos, quartets, and other singing groups.
4. Using church funds to support human institutions such as: missionary societies, hospitals, orphan homes, colleges, old folks homes (retirement villages, see Christian Standard [15 September 1991], p. 19), national conventions, etc.
5. Using church funds to build schools.
6. Allowing women to speak to groups where men are present, to lead singing (or sing solos), etc. in violation of the role given to women (see Christian Standard [ 17 November 1991], p. 9 for a republication of an article from a liberal member within the churches of Christ calling for a more leading position for women in the church; also note the call of David McCord in his address to the NACC fChristian Standard, 15 September 1991, p. III). Some Christian Churches allow women to address audiences where men are present (for example, in order for a missionary to make contact with as many people as possible, his wife sometimes speaks in one church and he in another).
7. Accepting the pious unimmersed into fellowship (this varies among the Christian Churches).
8. Observing unauthorized holy days (special worship services for Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.).
9. Using entertainment to draw a crowd (a special singing group, a popular sports figure, etc.). Max R. Hickerson recommended “all-church events” such as “filling the 150-seat sky box at Candlestick Park” to see a Giants baseball game, “mission fairs, banquets, western days, and ministry fairs” (Christian Standard [25 August 19911, p. 13).
10. Operating a “kingdom circus” as the Kingsway Christian Church in Avon, IN recently did.
11, Raising funds through some manner other than the first day of the week contribution (such as the “kingdom circus”).
12. Using church funds to build gymnasiums, fellowship halls (eating places), etc. (see Christian Standard [10 November 1991], p. 19).
13. Taking a charismatic position on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (see Christian Standard [4 August 1991), pp. 14-16, for an article appealing for tongue-speaking not being made a test of fellowship). Spiritual worship comes to be identified with hand clapping, hand raising, and swaying to the music.
14. Conducting “children’s church” so the parents can worship “undisturbed.”
15. A national convention for Independent Christian Churches (NACC).
16. Willing to extend fellowship to those in the Churches of God (Anderson, IN). See Christian Standard [15 September, 1991), p. 13; [28 July 1991), pp. 4-6).).
17.Willing to extend fellowship to Disciples of Christ identified as “Disciple Churches in Renewal” (Christian Standard [15 September 1991], p. 13).
18.Taking the Lord’s supper on days other than the first day of the week (see Christian Standard [25 August 1991], p. 15).
Despite these apostasies from the truth, a sizable element among the liberal churches of Christ is ready to extend the right hands of fellowship to the independent Christian Churches.
The liberal churches of Christ followed in the footsteps of the Christian Church by departing from the revealed word of God in changing the organization of the church in the sponsoring church arrangement (such as is currently practiced in the “One Nation Under God” campaign), church support of human institutions (colleges, orphan homes, old folks homes, etc.), and church sponsored recreation. As the apostasy continued, some churches moved further and further into the social gospel. Denny Boultinghouse encourages churches to be “active in feeding the poor and caring for those in prison,” “to serve the less fortunate during the holidays” rather than seeing the holiday season as an opportunity to publish bulletin articles “stressing that December 25 is not the birthday of Jesus” (Image [Jan./Feb. 1992] 30). Churches are building “family life centers” so that they can minister to the whole man. The ministering takes the form of gymnasiums for basketball and volleyball, aerobic classes, drives for blood donations, and other social gospel ministries. Despite these apostasies, some brethren are ready to extend the right hands of fellowship to the liberals.
The rapidly growing divorce and remarriage apostasy marks a turning away from the revealed word of God by some among us. Brethren are openly advocating that the guilty party in a divorce for fornication has the right to remarriage, that the teaching of Matthew 19:9 does not apply to marriages contracted before baptism, and that one need only repent of “adultery” (which is redefined to mean the act of “divorcing”) and then continue living with his second (or third, fourth) mate. Another group of brethren among us is writing articles and preaching that we should accept these brethren who are publishing their books and conducting their debates defending these false doctrines. They hold meetings at churches which practice what they themselves label as false doctrine on divorce and remarriage but never preach on what the Lord taught about divorce and remarriage during the meetings. Those who publicly teach the false doctrines of divorce and remarriage are encouraged by these brethren. If we can understand that we cannot join with those who pervert the work and worship of the church, we certainly should be able to see that we cannot join with those who destroy the moral purity of the saints!
Paul saw the Lord’s church in a life and death struggle with false religion. He demanded that Christians separate themselves from false religion. We cannot improve on the divine instructions God gave regarding our conduct toward those who have separated from the truth.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 7, pp. 194, 214-216
April 2, 1992