Gospel Centrism's Corruption of Separation Corrupts Unity
The Bible doctrine of separation is born out of the doctrine of sanctification. Both separation and sanctification are intricately connected to the priesthood of all believers. The central emphasis of the both the doctrines of separation and sanctification is purity before God. This emphasis on this purity throughout Scripture is upon two priorities:
1. Purity from worldliness
2. Purity from false doctrine
In the Old Testament, the word sanctify is translated from the Hebrew word qadash (kaw-dash”). The meaning is to morally purify something or someone in order to hallow the thing or person before God. In the New Testament, the word sanctify is translated from the Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-ad'-zo). It too means to morally purify or to make holy before the eyes of God. In the Old Testament, sanctification was essential before anyone could serve God or approach His presence. In the New Testament and within the context of the priesthood of all believers, sanctification is essential to fellowship with God and His blessings upon any aspect of the believer’s ministry. Separation from worldliness and false doctrines are essential to this practicum. Therefore, the doctrine of separation and purity in sanctification is established upon three pillars:
1. Right doctrine (orthodoxy)
2. Right practice (orthopraxy – how right doctrine fleshes itself out)
3. Right attitudes, emotions, and motivations (orthopathy)
These three pillars for biblical sanctification are critical in that they define the “truth” of which the Church is the “pillar and ground” (I Timothy 3:15). The intent of these three pillars for the purity of truth is to establish the foundations for a pure (sanctified) local church. These three pillars for the purity of truth are critical in that they establish the parameters for “fellowship” with God.
These three pillars for the purity of truth are being attacked today by a movement known as Gospel Centrism. Those promoting Gospel Centrism promote varying degrees of theological reductionism. They seek to reduce the parameters of biblical separation regarding doctrinal purity to merely Gospel purity. Their emphasis is upon unity within the ambiguity of a very broad definition of Christianity and the Church. This reductionism is certainly a serious deviation from what the Bible teaches regarding practical sanctification and separation regarding false doctrines.
The two priorities for personal and local church purity, along with practical sanctification, are found in Christ’s high priestly prayer of John chapter seventeen. Clearly the emphasis of Christ, as detailed in John 17:11 is that believers might enjoy and be blessed in their unity with the Godhead through practical sanctification and separation from false doctrine and worldliness.
“11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:11-19).
Jesus is speaking to the Father on behalf of all Church Age believers, represented in His Apostles, in this text. He speaks as the believers’ Shepherd and High Priest. He does so in that all Church Age believers are both His sheep and are His believer-priests. Every believer-priest is under His direct authority and guardianship. In John 17:12, Jesus declares that He kept His Apostles “in thy name.” Therefore, Jesus not only prayed for unity among believers, Jesus’ shepherding ministry of discipleship worked to keep His followers in that unity. Jesus’ work went far beyond the good news of redemption. Jesus’ shepherding ministry of discipleship worked to keep His followers in that unity through multiple levels of doctrinal truths. This ministry of discipleship in keeping believers in unity with the Godhead then defines the under-shepherd’s ministry.
The Name of God embodies all the revelation about God in the books of the Bible. Therefore, keeping the Apostles in the Name of God involved shepherding them in living according to the doctrines (“truth”) of the inspired Words of God. It was through this work of Christ that His Apostles were kept in practical sanctification before God. This was essential if they were ever going to be used of God after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Without this ongoing work of practical sanctification through separation from worldliness and protection from doctrinal corruption, the Church would die because she would be separated from the Vine (John 15:1-17).
Obviously, biblical separation exists on a twofold plane. If the believer fails to separate himself from worldliness and doctrinal corruption, God will separate Himself from the believer in the sense of fellowship and empowering for ministry. This is why Gospel Centrism’s corruption of the doctrine of separation is so dangerous.
This intercessory prayer of Jesus was not limited to the Apostles. Jesus’ intent in this prayer continues down through the centuries of the Church Age to all future believer-priests. Jesus wanted all believers to be blessed and empowered by unity with the Godhead. The Bible has a number of words used to describe this unity with the Godhead – abide, fellowship, unity of the Spirit, and filled with the Spirit. In John 15:1-8, Christ repeatedly uses the word “abide” to describe this unity with the Godhead. In John 15:2-3, Jesus describes the Father’s purging of the branches by comparing the Father’s future ministry to His own ministry with His disciples - “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Clearly the emphasis of the statement is upon maintaining doctrinal purity. Therefore, purging involves maintaining doctrinal purity which also defines separation from worldliness. This is clear from His statements in John 17:20-23.
“20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:20-23).
Christ’s prayer in John 17:22 is remarkable in its scope –“that they may be one, even as we are one.” What is the depth of the unity between the Father and the Son? Since Jesus is the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1 and 14), the Father and Son enjoy perfect unity in doctrine. Jesus is God incarnate the Father and Son share in all the attributes of God – mercy, grace, love, wrath, righteous, etc. Since the Son of God and the Father are eternal in existence, they share the same kind of existence. Therefore, in the tri-unity of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit), they enjoy a perfect unity in the three pillars of unity – orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. When Jesus prayed to the Father for all Christians to have this unity, He was praying for these three pillars of unity. Therefore, if Christians are going to use the word unity, they need to use it in the way Jesus used it in John chapter seventeen. Although the believer will never share the unity in essence that the Godhead enjoys, all others aspect of unity are available to all believers. This unity is defined by the Bible’s teaching on practical sanctification (holiness and spiritual growth), separation from false doctrine, and separation from worldliness.
Perhaps the greatest error of Gospel Centrism is the failure to see that separation is intended to keep local churches pure from false doctrine and worldliness. Instead, Gospel Centrists believe that separation is intended to keep the Gospel pure from adulterations. Although the Gospel should be kept pure from adulterations, this is not the ONLY purpose of separation. In fact the front line defense in the purity of any local church is the careful examination of baptismal candidates in their understanding of the Gospel and a biblical response to the Gospel. The first line of defense for purity of any local church is to carefully insure that all members are “born again” of the Spirit of God and committed to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Anyone failing in a careful examination of their understanding of the Gospel should never be admitted to membership in a local church in the first place.
Granted, the first level of Ecclesiastical separation (refusing to partner in ministry with another local church) should be the same careful examination of their understanding of the Gospel and what defines a biblical response to the Gospel in order to be “born again.” A proper understanding of a biblical response to the Gospel is really the critical dividing line here. Calvinism’s corruption of the doctrine of election and their heresy of Irresistible Grace (Monergism) are radical departures from the teaching of the Word of God and are therefore a corruption of what defines a biblical response to the Gospel. Yet, almost all those promoting Gospel Centrism are Calvinists.
Are there other corruptions of doctrines (false teachings) that the Word of God requires local churches to keep from influencing “born again” believers? Of course there are! The vast majority of the teachings of the epistles are to extricate false doctrine from the local churches to which the epistles are addressed. It is foolishness to think that such instruction was not intent upon separating those teaching false doctrines from influencing local church memberships. When those teaching false doctrine were separated from local churches, they simply took their corrupted converts with them and formed new corrupted local churches. This defines heresy (divisions caused by false doctrine). Are we to conclude then that the local church that separated these heretics from them should continue to fellowship with the corrupted local church formed by the heretics? What foolish nonsense! Gospel Centrism is itself a false doctrine and those purporting it are heretics.
Gospel Centrism promotes theological ambiguity at the expense of the abdication of theological dogmatism in order to promote a pseudo-unity based upon marginalizing doctrine in varying positions of moral relativism and ethical subjectivism. Unity (?) is the objective of Gospel Centrism regardless of doctrinal agreement. Therefore, Gospel Centrism is merely a new name for Consequentialism (the consequences of one’s conduct, i.e. unity, are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness of that conduct). Gospel Centrism equals philosophical drivel!
In I Samuel 4:19-21, we are given the historical account of the death of Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phineas. Eli has allowed his two sons to continue as priest while integrating the licentious practices of paganism with in worship of Jehovah at Shiloh. God could not allow such practices to continue. After Eli’s death, Eli’s daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, names her newly born son Ichabod. She then makes this remarkable statement – “The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.” Make sure your name never follows this kind of “because.” Ichabod is a good name for Gospel Centrism.
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Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist.
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.