Should we isolate ourselves from the world completely, dress differently, etc.?
If not, how should we he separate?
These questions were presented to the
undersigned along with the request for an article for Beacon Lights on the Meaning of Being a Separate People.
The subject is one worthy of our attention not only because of the instruction that may be obtained by a consideration of it, but also because it affords opportunity to declare our position over against those who have accused and still do accuse us of an anabaptistic world-flight.
There are many texts in Scripture which teach us that God’s people are a separate people. The Church was a separate people from the very beginning of the history of the human race. In a geographic sense, even, this was true of the Church from the early pages of Holy Writ. Adam and Eve and Seth with their descendants lived geographically as a separate people. This was not due to any command of God specifically to separate from the ungodly. It was rather due to the fact that Cain separated as a fugitive and a vagabond and built a city in Nod. And the Church lived, we may believe, as close to Paradise as she could and found no interest in moving away. For that garden still symbolized God’s presence even though man might not and could not walk the way to the midst of the garden anymore.
Israel was definitely and clearly told by God to live geographically distinct from the heathen nations; and He also prepared a place for Israel to live in such physical isolation. We may read in Numbers 23:9b, “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” In Deuteronomy 33:28 we read, “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone…”
But in the New Testament times this is not the case nor should it be the case. The believers scattered at the time of persecution and were not forbidden to do so at all. Peter writes to them and never once admonishes them to gather in the land of Palestine as the only place where they can properly serve God. He writes, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythinia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you and peace be multiplied,” I Peter 1:1, 2. He writes to scattered strangers. But he does not mean that they are strangers because they are scattered. Though these to whom he writes are scattered far and wide into these nations, we may believe that they were known to their neighbours and that in all these places there were those who were known also to Peter. One does not sit down and write a letter to strangers in the literal, physical sense of the word. This letter must have been sent by Peter to definite individuals. Even our modem postal departments could not send a letter that was simply labeled, “To the strangers scattered in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington and California.” No, Peter speaks of those who are spiritual strangers, for he speaks of those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God through sanctification. That election and sanctification makes them to be spiritual strangers.
Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “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 ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you. And I will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” II Corinthians 6:14-18. Here we find the definite command of God to be a separate people. But there we also find, as well as in I Peter 1:1, 2, that this separation is a spiritual one.
Physical separation from sin is impossible. Where we go we take the old man of sin
along. Whether we go into the monastery or to some deserted island, we will not flee the world. Our flesh belongs to the world, and we take it along wherever we go. Besides, Israel’s geographic and physical isolation did not keep sin out of Israel. The Church that continued to live by the way to Paradise did not constitute a people that was free from sin. There is no value in world flight. Our calling is world-fight. Spiritually we must oppose the world. Spiritually we must separate from the world.
Does that mean that there is no physical separation at all? Does that mean that there is no physical leaving alone and behind anything of the world? Not at all! The very question submitted as to whether we should dress differently than the world indicates a consciousness that there may be some realms where physical isolation or separation is necessary. In some instances, yes, we must dress differently. For when dress or let us say the scantiness of it and sometimes the style and fashion of it expresses and is meant to express an ethical, spiritual thought or suggestion that is corrupt, it has no agreement with the temple of God, our bodies. And in the age wherein we live when clothing fashions are designed by and are in the hands of carnally minded men whose only purpose is to appeal to and satisfy the adulterous lust of mankind, we are sure that you will agree that in the matter of dress there is a physical distinctiveness and separation that is demanded of us. There are certain things in dress from which we must be physically separated in the sense that we may not wear them and so walk not with the world in this wickedness. Otherwise color, material or the like in which there is no ethical content do not distinguish one as a child of God. We need not be garbed in black and wear only the very cheapest of fabrics. If we must choose a color befitting a child of God – and we do not need to, for the color and material of the clothing do not express dedication and love to God – then let it not be black, the color of death, but by all means let it be white, the color of victory. Can I serve and glorify God in a certain garb? then I may wear it. If I serve the base desires and lusts of men with it, then my calling is to separate from it and cast it far from me. Righteousness has no fellowship with unrighteousness.
In the few lines alloted us for this article, we have no room to go into detail and give a list of what we may use and possess and what we should cast from us and from which we should live a separate life. Nor is this necessary. We can simply put down the principle, and you can apply it to all in your own life: Whatsoever is not of faith is sin, Romans 14:23h. Indeed it is not an act of faith to put on a pair of shoes, to eat a bag of peanuts or any such act, and yet these need not be sin. We say “need not” realizing in the unbeliever these always are. But if we deny our faith by these deeds, if doing them militates against our faith, we do sin in them. Some things, such as movie attendance, can never he anything but sin, can never be an act of faith. But in those things which in themselves have no ethical content, we do sin when the performance of them militates against our faith. When we put those shoes on in order to get ready for the movie, in order to perform any act that denies and militates against faith in God, it is sin.
Let that principle guide us when we seek entertainment and let it tell us from what we must separate ourselves. Let it be clearly before our minds when we seek a profession or employment. With the world we surely may and must often work. But professions which demand of us that we deny our faith and which can he performed only by lying, deceit and by profession of unbelief, and toil that may he gotten only by membership in organizations with corrupt principles certainly are areas wherein we may not be found; and a physical separation from these is required. Another thing, no child of believing parents ought to be found in the classroom of the world for instruction. We certainly have a calling there to have separate schools, Christian schools. Our children must physically separate from the world to go to separate schools to be taught in the way of God’s precepts. And many other such instances can he cited. These are sufficient; and if we live close to the Word of God we will know when to separate physically and when to abstain from the things of the world.
But there is a positive side, which, when carried out, will solve many of our problems of separation from the world. Confess Christ, reveal your faith in Him, walk spiritually different from the world; and the world will separate from you, will mock, taunt and persecute you. You will not be welcome in their midst. That is why Peter calls the believers, “strangers,” in his first Epistle. Our calling is to separate spiritually and to testify openly of Christ. The world, then, will avoid you. Confess openly by your behaviour, speech and dress; and you will find the problems of a separate life in the physical sense much easier to determine and to endure.
Originally published in:
Vol. 18 No. 2 March 1958