Question: "What is Biblical separation?"
Answer: Biblical separation is the acknowledgment that God has called believers out of the world to maintain a personal and corporate purity in the midst of sinful culture. Biblical separation is usually considered in two divisions: personal and ecclesiastical.
Personal separation involves an individual’s commitment to a godly standard of behavior. Daniel practiced personal separatism when he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meats, nor with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). His was a biblical separatism because his standard was based on God’s revelation in the Mosaic law.
A modern example of personal separation could be the decision to decline invitations to parties where alcohol is served. Such a decision might be made to circumvent temptation (Romans 13:14), to avoid the “appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), or simply to be consistent with a personal conviction (Romans 14:5).
The Bible clearly teaches that the child of God is to be separate from the world. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you'” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17; see also 1 Peter 1:14-16).
Ecclesiastical separation involves the decisions of a church concerning its ties to other organizations, based on their theology or practices. Separatism is implied in the very word “church.” The Greek word ekklesia means “a called-out assembly.” In Jesus’ letter to the church of Pergamos, He warned against tolerating those who taught false doctrine (Revelation 2:14-15). The church was to be separate, breaking ties with heresy. A modern example of ecclesiastical separation could be a denomination’s stance against ecumenical alliances to avoid uniting with apostates.
Biblical separation does not require Christians to have no contact with unbelievers. Like Jesus, we should befriend the sinner without partaking of the sin (Luke 7:34). Paul expresses a balanced view of separatism: “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people” yet not altogether . . . “since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). In other words, we are in the world, but not of it.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan provides a wonderful example of this biblical separation: Christian and Faithful travel through Vanity Town, where a sensual fair is held, because “the way to the Celestial City lies just through this Town . . . he that will go to the City, and yet not go through this Town must needs go out of the world.” At the fair, the men of Vanity marvel at the pilgrims’ speech, clothing, and values. The fact that they were “strangers and pilgrims” (Hebrews 11:13) separated them from the worldly crowd.