October 29, 2018

Separation: Primary vs. Secondary by Dr. John Van Gelderen

Separation is a Bible doctrine. In fact, the word holiness means set apart. The emphasis in Scripture is being set apart to God, and this necessarily demands being set apart from anything that hinders your separation unto God. There is a “separation to that requires a “separation from,” but focusing on “separation from misses the point of being “separated unto.

Dr. John Van Gelderen

Generally, separation falls into two categories: ecclesiastical and personal. Ecclesiastical separation involves organizational cooperation in church and Christian endeavors while the personal element has to do with worldliness (separation from the world). Some matters of separation are absolutes based on the clarity of the written Word. I often liken these to the high ground of a plateau. Other matters are variables dependent on the leading of the Holy Spirit within the plateau of absolutes. This distinction is often overlooked and can easily lead to confusion, offences affecting fellow Christians, and a hindering of the cause of Christ.

In today’s Christian world, what is labeled primary separation is absolute, and secondary separation, I believe, is variable. Typically, both terms apply to ecclesiastical separation, but there is also the matter of what we might term secondary-issue separation.

Primary ecclesiastical separation is the biblical demand to refuse association and cooperation with unbelievers. When an individual or a group promotes “another gospel,” we are not to officially join hands with them and thereby condone the false message—even if our aim would be to leverage the association to gain a greater audience for hearing the true gospel. Rather, the Scripture says of such a one, “let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). This is primary separation, a separation from unbelievers in religious cooperation, a biblical absolute which all believers must obey.

Beyond this, secondary separation engages in separation from those who do not apply primary separation.  Some take it a step further and separate from anyone who doesn’t separate from those who don’t apply primary separation. Others take it yet another step out. Usually, most people stop three or four steps removed from the primary separation issue. Studies reveal that if you go six steps out, you would have to separate from yourself! This indicates the fallacious logic of secondary separation, leaving it without biblical warrant in an absolute sense. Secondary separation is not black and white like primary separation.

There are times when the Spirit may lead you not to associate with a given situation, but it’s not an absolute for all or necessarily for all times. Beyond the primary level, lack of association must be motivated by obedience to the Spirit and not be a matter of fearing man lest you find yourself “kicked out of the synagogue.” When the Spirit leads in a given situation, just obey.

Personal separation from the world is vital for a healthy walk with God. What the Scripture makes absolute must be practiced. As the Spirit leads regarding variable applications within the plateau of absolutes, again, we must respond in obedience.

Then, there is the danger of secondary-issue separation. This involves taking a lesser issue of personal separation (something not unimportant but less important) and elevating it to the level of the fundamentals, thereby making it a matter of separation. Practice this and say “only” where God doesn’t and insist on it being universal for all and you will find the separation that follows unnecessarily splinters the cause of Christ. In the variables of application within the absolutes, each of us must follow the Holy Spirit’s individual leading, and allow others to do the same.

Former generations of Fundamentalists seem to have understood this far better than many today. They unified around the essentials of the faith—the fundamentals—and then fussed about everything else! Afterward, they ate together, fellowshipped, and found no room for angry separation. They were able to distinguish ideas that could be legitimately debated from those that the clarity of Scripture made absolute. Thus, when arguing and supporting respective sides in discussions, they didn’t take matters personally. They understood the issues were not personal and that the debated concepts would rise or fall on their own merits.

We can learn from them. We know from Scripture that primary separation must be embraced by all of God’s people. Beyond that, we must follow the Spirit’s leading—and afford others the opportunity to do the same.

Dr. John Van Gelderen
Blog article- May 30, 2018
Revival Focus

September 7, 2018

BJU’s Subtle Rejection of Ecclesiastical Separation: Is This Northland All Over Again?

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (DBTS), a ministry of Inter-City Baptist Church, will hosts its annual E3 Pastors Conference this October. The guest speakers include two Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors Dr. Richard Caldwell and Dr. Rick Holland, host pastor Dr. David Doran and Bob Jones University (BJU) Executive Vice-President Dr. Sam Horn.

LtR: Doran...Dever, Bauder...
It is not particularly newsworthy that Dr. Dave Doran is sharing his platform with (SBC) preachers. For example in 2011 Dave Doran and Kevin Bauder participated with Dr. Mark Dever at the now defunct Calvary Baptist Seminary’s Advancing the Church conference. On the other hand, Dr. Sam Horn, BJU’s Dean of the School of Religion and the Seminary, sharing a platform with SBC preachers is something new.

Dr. Richard Caldwell is a man whose roots run deep in the SBC. There is, however, a connection between Sam Horn and SBC pastor Rick Holland. Sam Horn got his D.Min. (2007) from John MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary. In April 2010 Northland International University’s Matt Olson, Sam Horn, Les Ollila and Doug McLachlan traveled to the Grace Community Church (GCC) to meet with John MacArthur, Rick Holland and Phil Johnson. It is my understanding that Sam Horn orchestrated this meeting. After a day of discussions the Northland men came away finding no reason not to have fellowship with them. An invitation was extended to GCC’s then executive pastor, Rick Holland, to speak in Northlands chapel.1  This confirmed a new alliance for NIU with the so-called “conservative” evangelicals.

Who is Rick Holland? You can find a brief up-to-date biography at the DBTS site. Rick Holland was Executive Pastor to Dr. John MacArthur and served as the college pastor at Grace Church. He was the director of the doctor of ministries program and a faculty associate in homiletics at The Master’s Seminary. Rick was also the founder and executive director of the controversial Resolved Conference2. He has degrees from The Master’s Seminary (M.Div.), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (D.Min.).

For BJU Sam Horns participation in the E3 Pastors Conference is much more than the University hosting the vocal group Cantus (a male ensemble partially comprised of practicing homosexuals) for an artist series, more than hosting new-evangelical Billy Kim and his Korean Childrens Choir, and more than an ambivalent dress-code change. This is BJUs leader of ministerial training sharing a platform, in joint ministry, with SBC pastors.

Dr. Sam Horn
Dr. Sam Horn operates in an official capacity as BJU’s Executive VP for Enrollment and Ministerial Advancement, Dean of the School of Religion and the Seminary. Sam Horn represents and speaks on behalf of Bob Jones University. If Dr. Horn were only the VP for Enrollment his appearance at DBTS might not be quite so problematic. Dr. Horn, however, has oversight of BJU’s Division of Bible and the Seminary. The Seminary and Bible faculty answer to him. Make no mistake, Dr. Horn’s appearance at the E3 Pastors Conference is a departure from BJU’s legacy as a separatist institution, which raises the stakes of compromise to an unprecedented level with serious implications for BJU’s School of Religion and the Seminary.

Dr. Horns appearance is about the future of BJUs Bible graduates, their theology and practice.  Pastors who have ministerial students at BJU now, or contemplating sending your Bible majors in the future, risk seeing them swept into the broader sphere of a so-called “conservative” evangelicalism.

One might reasonably ask in light of the upcoming joint ministerial fellowship of Sam Horn and Rick Holland at DBTS: How long will it be before BJU president Dr. Steve Pettit invites Rick Holland, Mark Dever, John Piper or Al Mohler4 to BJUs chapel pulpit?

BJU has embarked on a departure from ecclesiastical separation. Since the installation of Dr. Steve Pettit as president followed by Dr. Sam Horn as an executive vice president, BJU becomes increasingly unrecognizable to the purpose and philosophy upon which it was founded. Is this Northland all over again?5

Yours faithfully,


Update (March 2020) The worst fears for BJU have been realized. See-
This is NOT Your Fathers BJU

Has Hope for BJU to Reverse Course Been Dashed?

BJU Lurches Further Into Evangelicalism

Site Publisher Addendum: Is There a Second Definition for “Separation” in Academic Contexts? See the comment thread below for this related discussion.

1) NIU Presents Executive Pastor of GCC to its Student Body

2) The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness by Dr. Peter Masters
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff [Rick Holland], gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, show business atmosphere created by the organisers.)”
3) A Failure to Stay the Course
     Give particular attention to the addendum attached to this important article.

4) What Does Al Mohler and John Piper Share in Common?  Rick Warren!

5) Northland International University Closes: A Continuation of the Pattern of Demise

August 15, 2018

Extremism vs. Balance in Apparel

Dr. John Van Gelderen
As we approach the warm weather months of summer, modest apparel becomes an issue. Discussions of modesty, like many areas of life, would benefit from the safety of saying “only” or “all” where God has said such while avoiding the inherent danger of asserting “only” or “all” where God has not so spoken.

Isn’t it interesting that extremism comes from both ends of the spectrum—the irreligious and the religious? On the one extreme, you find gross immodesty in cultures, whether atheistic or animistic, that do not acknowledge God. This includes the godless European and American lack of apparel as well as the pagan indecency of primitive tribes. On the other extreme, you find overkill modesty in super-religious cultures with the most extreme example being that part of the Islamic world allowing only a woman’s eyes to be uncovered.

We know the immodest extreme is wrong because God slew animals to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve after they sinned. We do not know what animals God slew. It could have been sheep, but because the intention was covering, I don’t think it was squirrels! For women, the New Testament speaks of dressing with “shamefacedness,” a word which conveys having a sense of shame if you are not properly clothed (1 Tim. 2:9).

Conversely, we know the modesty overkill approach is also wrong. Several times, the Bible positively references a woman being fair or beautiful to look upon. This specific phrase indicates there was more to look upon than just the woman’s eyes.

Amazingly, the Bible does not spell out details of extent regarding apparel, but it does provide absolutes regarding the obvious (something that common sense also confirms). To ignore such would be compromise. It really is. It is dangerous to say anything goes when the Bible speaks of proper covering. This is saying “all” is okay where God doesn’t.

Beyond this, each is left to follow the Holy Spirit within the absolutes, and we must allow others to do the same as long as there is a genuine application of the obvious. Understanding that modesty may be conveyed through more than a single style, a demand that others follow the details of applications we’ve come to is saying “only” where God doesn’t.

Without the Spirit, we tend to at least lean toward the extremes. Some become unwise in the direction of immodesty. This worldliness likely hinders themselves and certainly affects those around them. Others become unwise in the direction of overkill in application, especially when making their position universal—a fit for any and all. This legalism doesn’t help, because it moves into the realm of putting man’s conclusions on the level of God’s Word. The overreach of such a position indicates a flesh-dependent position.

As believers we must apply biblical modesty in a biblically balanced fashion. Some maintain good balance, making appropriate applications within the plateau of God’s absolutes, and some, led by the Spirit to apply matters more strictly than others on that plateau, are very gracious to those who differ from them. However, some have an evident imbalance marked by “my way or the highway” thinking and a condescending to those who legitimately differ on non-absolute applications. Still others condescend toward even these very ones, noting that their supposed strict ways fall short of the strictest of standards. Such extremists espouse the belief, “We’re the only ones right.” But knowing that still others can maintain yet tighter controls and loftier standards, such debates can quickly turn humorous, ridiculous, and tedious. Where does it end? Typically, Baptists tend toward conservativism, but some dress more conservatively than others. The Mennonites, however, outdo most Baptists I know. Still, the Amish outdo the Mennonites while arguing varying degrees of strictness within their own ranks. And yet some Muslims outdo all these, with the strictest of them appearing to look down on the rest from the highest rung.

And thus in moving away from the low apparel standards of a worldly extreme, where do we find ourselves? Debating and defending standards in the power of the flesh may clothe one with extremism of the other kind, and extremism in the name of the real thing discredits the real thing. But remember this is true in both the direction of legalism and of worldliness. Let’s obey the Word and the Spirit and let others who have a heart for God do the same.

Dr. John Van Gelderen
Originally Published: May 9, 2018

Revival Focus