“Mark Dever Doesn’t Practice Separation”?
Really? Some have said this. But, I must confess that this comes as a surprise to me. I think defining marks of my time at CHBC have been involved with separation. So at our members’ meeting in May of 1996 we separated ourselves from most of our church’s members (256 disciplined for non-attendance!). Also, I remember the tears many of us shed over a marriage broken up in those early years, and the first of a number of excommunications we’ve decided (the latest being for a member who joined the Roman Catholic Church). These are sad duties, but we must separate ourselves from those who are openly disobedient to God’s command in His Word, whether that be to not forsake the regular assembling of ourselves, the command to marital faithfulness, to adhere to the Gospel, etc. For all of these matters, corrective church discipline which issues in separation (until the sinning party repents) is what is called for, and our elders have tried to lead our church into faithfulness in this area. And we have known not only the sadness of separation, but rejoicing in repentance. Regardless of what we experience, we see God’s Word is clear on this separation in the local church, and we intend to practice it.
Not only so, but I have advocated this in public teaching and writing. In fact, I have been caricatured and misrepresented for doing so. “OK,” my fundamentalist critic may respond, “but only in your local church.” Well, that is certainly my primary responsibility. And the Lord’s teaching through Matt. 18 and I Cor. 5 is certainly given with the local church primarily in view.
Having said that, I have tried to have a wider ministry of encouraging godly cooperation and discouraging ungodly associations. This is one of the sources of my being unpopular and even unwelcome in some circles. So we declined an invitation to give leadership in DC to a Graham-like crusade. Furthermore, we worked to get the Southern Baptist Convention to de-fund the local DC Baptist Convention, because (among other reasons) the convention’s organ, the Capital Baptist, had mocked those who believed that faith in Jesus was the only way to be forgiven for our sins, or who believed that Mormons need to be evangelized. I could go on. In fact, our own giving to the Southern Baptist Convention is targeted—it is focused on the International Mission Board, in order to help us fulfill the Great Commission. I regularly decline to speak at conferences because of who else is speaking there. On the 9marks website we critically review books. In our Together for the Gospel statement of faith, we deliberately had Affirmations AND DENIALS. In personal and private conversations I seek correction from others, and try to faithfully and lovingly rebuke others. Indeed, my recent conversations with Mark Minnick have been, in part, attempts to encourage us to do this with each other, so that we may both follow the commands of God in Scripture more faithfully.
In fact, such willingness to correct and be corrected is fundamental to leading a Christian congregation. So each Sunday evening, the CHBC staff reviews the day’s services and public teachings. In doing this, we hope to model giving and receiving godly criticism and encouragement. Soliciting critical, correcting feedback and responding to it is a large part of the burden that I am trying to faithfully model and encourage in other, younger pastors.
So, in light of all this, do I really not practice separation?
I think what my loving critics mean is “Mark doesn’t practice separation as well as we do.” Which may be true. When it is clear whom I should separate from, I mean to separate. But I have not yet come to understand the consistency in the “fundamentalist” practice of separation. That’s what some of you heard me searching for in my interview with Mark Minnick (a dear man, and clearly a brother in Christ with a commitment to God’s Word). To make my point, I share with you three simple questions:
1. Is ______ a sin?
2. Is this sin (mentioned in #1) a sin we should separate over?
3. If so, what should this separation consist of? What should it include and what should it allow?
My question to fundamentalists is this: is there liberty between Christians of good will and basic orthodoxy on the Gospel to disagree over any or all of these three questions? I have not yet perceived how in a fallen world there can always be complete consistency of practice on these matters between churches. I think some allowance must be made for differences with our brothers on such issues. And such differences should not necessarily bar us from fellowshipping and associating with each other. I think of Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” Of course, there are some issues that seem to me both so important and clear that disagreement on them will affect, and perhaps even end my fellowship with someone who disagrees. But there will also be other issues which though important are not so clear, OR that are very clear to me in Scripture, but not quite so important. In these issues, I long to fellowship with and to work with as many of those for whom Christ died as I can.
Pray for me, and work together with me to lead the bride of Christ to be pure—purely faithful and purely attractive for the God we represent.
To sum it up, I want my separation from the world to be more pronounced than my separation from other Christians. Does this make sense?