THE STRUGGLE FOR A PURE CHURCH - SUMMARY AND CRITIQUE

Updated: Nov 25, 2021


Pickering, Ernest. Biblical Separation: The Struggle For A Pure Church. Schaumberg, Illinois. Regular Baptist Press, 1982.



The doctrine of separation has come under intense fire in our day. Many preachers and teachers are afraid to even touch the subject.


This book, written in 1982, was designed to address some of the then current issues surrounding this topic but also to throw a spotlight on the future to alert the body of Christ concerning what was coming!



The book cited above discusses biblical separation, but specifically applies the concept to ecclesiastic separation (10). In various places throughout the work, it is understood that ecclesiastical separation is an outgrowth of personal separation (48). The author basically seeks to establish the historical / biblical case for separatism (i.e., the establishment and maintenance of ecclesiastic purity in doctrine and practice as set forth in the New Testament.) He attempts to achieve this goal with a very logical, clearheaded, and balanced approach.


He seeks to establish this thesis (Separatism) on the foundation of two pillars:


First


Historical precedent - Beginning, principally, with Donatism vs. Catholicism and traveling through to the present era, Pickering lays out a clear case that there has always been a people concerned about contaminating influences which seek to corrupt the church from its purity and simplicity, and


Second, from


Scripture itself - The scriptural foundations (principles as well as precepts) of ecclesiastical separation are also evaluated. Although this section could be more thorough in its depth and detail, it is adequate to establish a foundation which can be built upon. The basis of separatism is discovered to be:


1. The Holiness of God (p. 163);


2. The OT principles of Separation (169);


3. The specific teaching of the New Testament (pp. 173-182; and the Apostolic emphasis upon sound doctrine (182-188).

Pickering does an admirable job laying the foundation for his discussion of separatism by revealing the early separatist tendencies of various persons / groups (e.g. Novatus, Montanus, and Donatus). He is very careful, in this context to focus on the topic of discussion (separatism) refusing to be sidetracked by other matters (46). He carefully navigates through history showing the principle of ecclesiastical separation while acknowledging, at times, that all separatists are not to be admired and emulated in every respect (29, 115). There is a gradual progression in this book, showing more and more evidently, the historical need for separatists by clarifying and revealing the causes for it in each successive generation (11-155, 195).


One structural weakness in this book involves what is presented as the major foundation for separation, which is apostasy. Even though apostasy is given as the grounds for separation, it is not clearly, nor specifically defined. Instead words like, “doctrines of the historic Christian faith” (10), “verities” (163), “essential doctrine” (163), and “the faith” (158) are used.


As the book progresses, one sees a narrowing of focus in the subject matter. The issue of separatism begins with


  • church related separatism (e.g., Roman Catholicism vs. various other religious bodies) to

  • organizational separatism (e.g., Baptist union / Downgrade Controversy - intra-denomination) and then even

  • philosophical separatism (e.g., Modernist / Fundamentalist Controversy, Evangelical / New Evangelical / Young Evangelical and ecumenical evangelism - i.e. inter-denominational).

There is a divisive imbalance among some today over this matter of separation. Pickering acknowledges this and advises caution not to become a hyper-separatist (9, 119). He also gives an interesting historical note about why some modern separatists are rather negative and pessimistic, drawing reference from Darby, Scofield and eschatological dispensationalism (p. 115).


At the conclusion of the book, there are some very practical guidelines given for how to counter the anti-separatist arguments which are prevalent. There are also given some very simple suggestions for how to lead oneself and one’s church to a more biblically oriented position in this matter of ecclesiastical separation.


It should also be noted that this closing section of the book reveals a subtle, but revealing reason why separation has become an area of intense interest and disagreement in the church. The wording toward the end of this book lends itself to the idea that separatism is a cause to be advanced (229) and a title to be worn (230) rather than a natural expression of a bibliocentric life. When separation becomes a “cause” to be championed rather than an effect of a Christ-centered life, one is setting up an unbiblical framework / motivating principle from which to live their life.