November 9, 2007

How Do I Address False Teaching From the Brethren?

As we noted above, false teachers come from within the church as well as from without. Some men feel that the Bible does not teach separation from Christian brothers. The Bible does, however, command separation from professing believers:

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. . . . And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother,” (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

You will see in verse 14 that Paul says to “note that man.” To “note” (semeioo) that man is to mark, to distinguish by marking, to mark or note for one's self. The verse goes on to say, “have no company with him.” Dr. Fred Moritz writes,

“An objective study of the New Testament leads first to the conclusion that the New Testament teaches that there are times when local churches and believers must reluctantly take the action of separating themselves from other believers. The purpose of such separation is purity. The local church is to take the extreme action of separation from a disobedient brother when necessary in order to preserve its purity of life and testimony. The second conclusion is that the New Testament also sets clear standards for that separation when it must be made. Those standards include the following . . .The heretical brother--Heresy, or deviant doctrine, that is promoted out of self-willed divisiveness (Titus 3:10).”1
For an excellent and extended treatment of the principle of separation from brethren see Dr. Ernest Pickering's booklet; Should We Ever Separate from Christian Brethren? His answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” Dr. Pickering’s conclusions are based on clear principles found in the Bible. This book is available from Baptist World Mission, Box 2149, Decatur, AL. 35602

To separate from another Christian brother is probably the most unpleasant thing a pastor or any Christian ever has to do. Separation will cost you friends; you may be misjudged and possibly labeled as being divisive. But if you are going to be loyal first to Jesus Christ and the Word of God, you must practice biblical separation from men who take a position that is a deviation from a major doctrine of the Bible. The “Crossless Gospel” is one of those major deviations.

We have no option but to obey the Lord Jesus Christ in the matter of separating from disobedient brethren.

“The situation with which we are dealing…is a time when professing Christians are consistently violating a command on some point. Furthermore, having been confronted about that activity, they refuse to repent. The Scripture offers clear teaching on this point. Even then, the goal of separation is not only the purity of the church but also restoration of the brother. . . . Separation from disobedient brethren can involve personal separation (a brother refusing to forsake some form of worldliness) or ecclesiastical separation (refusing to forsake some form of false teaching or unscriptural practice).”2
If we are going to live for and please God, we must obey Him.

“And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us,” (2 Thess. 3:4-6).

Look back at 2 Thessalonians 3:4 and see that Paul was confident that the believers of the Thessalonian church would do that which they were commanded of him. In verse six Paul makes plain that it is the command of the Lord Jesus Christ to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly,” and he fully expected them to obey this command. Commenting on 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Dr. Leon Morris writes,

“He commands, he does not simply advise. Moreover, he speaks 'in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.' This is at once a reminder of the very real authority that Paul exercised, and of the seriousness of any refusal to obey. Paul was not giving some private ideas of his own when he spoke 'in the name.' The substance of his command is that they 'withdraw' from the erring. In view of verse 15. . . it stands for the withholding of intimate fellowship. The verb has the idea of retreating within oneself (cf. its use of furling sails). Such a line of conduct is meant as would impress on the offenders that they had opened up a gap between themselves and the rest.”3
There are cases in which God commands separation from Christian brethren.

“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother,” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).

In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 Paul not only reiterates the command found in verse six, but he also gives practical instruction on how the command is to be obeyed.
“Do not have fellowship with those who will not listen to the Word of God. Paul is claiming for his epistle that it is the Word of God and to be heeded as a command of God. Have your fellowship with those who are in obedience to the Word of God and who are living according to its standards.”4

“Paul is telling the church members what action they should take, not asking for an opportunity of taking action himself. “Note that man” means more than simply “notice” him. It means “mark him out,”. . . . The treatment of such a person is withdrawal of fellowship. The treatment is primarily intended to bring him back to his rightful position. At the same time it is punishment.

It is noteworthy that Paul puts the injunction not to treat him as an enemy before that to admonish him. He is eager to protect the brother's standing, and to see to it that what is done to him is from the best of motives, and that it secures the desired result.”5

“A brother who causes divisions in the church must also come under discipline. The word heresy meant in New Testament times a division, and the Bible condemns schisms. The local assembly must, therefore, deal with any Christian who by his conduct or teaching disrupts the unity of the church.”6

In 1980 the Bob Jones University (BJU) Bible faculty produced a pamphlet that addressed several facets of separation. Section III dealt with separation from disobedient brothers. The incident that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 is not specifically applicable to our treatment of brothers going off in their doctrine, but the pamphlet includes a helpful principle drawn from the passage.

“The disobedient brother is not to be allowed to continue his downward course but rather is to be admonished and corrected that he may be turned from his ruinous pathway. Until he repents, believers are not to have fellowship with him.”7
In the same pamphlet commenting on 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15, the BJU Bible faculty wrote, “If any brother’s practice or teaching does not agree with the teaching of Scripture, believers are to withdraw from him.” Separation from a Christian brother is difficult to accept, but the Scriptures are clear. Later in the BJU pamphlet an application of this truth is made:

“Believers are not yet all that they should be or will be. In the present everyday life of the church, therefore, it is sometimes necessary to break fellowship with a Christian brother. . . . If a brother becomes enamored with some false teacher of a false doctrine, lends support to him, and gives him Christian recognition, then he is “partaking of his evil deeds” and may thereby deceive and lead astray other Christians. He must, therefore, be dealt
If you know a brother whom you suspect holds to the “Crossless Gospel,” give him the benefit of the doubt, but do make every effort to get a clarification from him personally. If and when you have proof positive from that man that he holds to the “Crossless Gospel,” that he will not receive your instruction, will not repent nor move to an orthodox position, then do what is right.

“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,” (2 Timothy 2:25).

“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers,” (Titus 1:9).

You ought to make a sincere and genuine effort to retrieve an erring brother from doctrinal error. That is your responsibility. If your effort fails, your only recourse is to separate from him lest you be in violation of the biblical principle of separation.

Men are becoming reluctant to address the issue of whether the Bible mandates separation from “every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6). All too often the guiding factor seems to be “what are the ramifications of dealing with the issue,” rather than “what is the Scriptural thing to do?”

One of the recurring themes of the Bible is that God blesses obedience to Him and His Word, but He judges disobedience.

“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day: And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God,” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

“If ye will fear the LORD, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the LORD your God: But if ye will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall the hand of the LORD be against you, as it was against your fathers,” (1 Samuel 12:14-15).

“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it,” (Isaiah. 1:19-20).

Dr. Ernest Pickering in his classic book Biblical Separation wrote:

“When our brethren do things that are wrong--caused by an incomplete knowledge of or deliberate disobedience to some teaching of Scripture--we should not merely continue fellowship with them as those who have done nothing wrong, but we should warn them, remonstrate with them and seek to recover them to a Biblical position. . . . If one should ask, Does 2 Thessalonians 3 teach secondary separation?--then the response would have to be given, It depends on what you mean by secondary separation. . . . It is the principle of refusing to condone, honor or utilize persons who continually and knowingly are following a course of action which is harmful to other believers and to the welfare of the churches.”9
Next we will review how Charles H. Spurgeon addressed standing for doctrinal purity. Please proceed to Part 4 of the series, What About Spurgeon’s Stand for Doctrinal Purity?


1. Fred Moritz, Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation, pp. 82-83.
2. Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation, pp. 55-56.
3. Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 251.
4. John F. Walvoord, The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 156.
5. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 258-259.
6. Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation, p. 63.
7. Biblical Separation, p. 11.
8. Ibid., pp. 13-14.
9. Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, pp. 221-222.

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