The Church’s position on Separation
Anyone in attendance at an ordination service in the Free Presbyterian Church cannot fail to note one pledge required of those entering into office: “Will you maintain with all the strength God shall give you the truly Scriptural separation position of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and vigorously withstand … apostasy … exhorting God’s people to obey the teaching and commandment of 1 Timothy 6:3-5?”
Letterheads on much of our official Church literature cite words found in Romans 1:1, “Separated unto the gospel of God.” A valuable resource on our church website outlines the reasons why we are a separated witness – ‘Separated Unto The Gospel.’
THE POINT OF SEPARATION
On St. Patrick’s Day 1951 the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster was born in the village of Crossgar, County Down, Northern Ireland. When local Presbyterian elders resisted a ban on the use of their church hall for a gospel mission by the Down Presbytery, they were immediately suspended. Those elders decided that they could not return without denying or compromising the gospel, so they decided to leave – to separate.
With the help of Rev. Ian R. K. Paisley, their guest evangelist, and Rev. George Stears, a Presbyterian minister, they proceeded to form the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. Dr. Paisley’s independent congregation quickly joined the Crossgar people. Soon two more congregations sprang up as the result of Dr. Paisley’s evangelism and secessions from the Irish Presbyterian Church. Subsequent growth has brought us to the position we are in today.
This new church was cast in an old mould. It was unashamedly Protestant. It gladly identified with the great Protestant Reformation. Throughout its history it has stood opposed to the ecumenical movement’s efforts to promote union with the Church of Rome, because that church still holds to every dogma that prompted the Reformation in the first place. In theology, the church is reformed: it stands foursquare in the great tradition of Calvin, Knox, the English and American Puritans, and some of the most notable revival preachers in history.
THE PURPOSE OF SEPARATION
For years evangelical Christians remained in denominations that were mostly non-evangelical, even liberal or Anglo-Catholic. They gave expression to their evangelicalism mostly through interdenominational societies and movements, believing that they could distance themselves from the rationalism or Romanism prevalent in their denominations without actually separating from them.
With the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948, it became much more difficult for Christians to justify this position, because by virtue of their membership in the major denominations they were part of the movement to create a one-world church under the leadership of the pope. Included in the membership of the World Council of Churches today are many who deny the virgin birth of Christ and reject His Deity; who scoff at the infallibility of the Bible, dismissing it as a collection of myths; and who denounce the atoning, sacrificial death of Christ.
We are instructed to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). To the Christian, Liberalism, Modernism, Romanism, and false ecumenism are undoubtedly “works of darkness.” The duty of separation is plain. Paul teaches this duty again in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. John speaks of it in 2 John 10-11 – and in Revelation 18:4 he charts the proper course for every Christian with respect to these corrupt affiliations: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” We are not at liberty to use our human wisdom and say, ‘we must remain in it, to win it’, for the Word of God commands us to come out of it!
THE POSITIVES OF SEPARATION
To leave a denomination is regarded in some quarters as negative and defeatist. One runs the risk of being accused of breaking fellowship with brethren. Some go so far as to charge separatists with the sin of schism.
It is undeniable that any secession generates significant ill feeling. However, separation is more than negative reaction. It is thoroughly positive, because it is essentially separation unto Christ and His Gospel: “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).
Fellowship in any organisation that denies Christ, repudiates His Word, or departs from His finished work of atonement and the gospel of justification through faith without works, is a fellowship that leads away from Christ! Our fellowship with Him demands separation from apostasy and fundamental error.
THE PARAMETERS OF SEPARATION
Our separation should not blind us to the Christian duty of expressing love for fellow believers and our spiritual unity in Christ. The Free Presbyterian Church therefore seeks to stand with the faithful around the world, even when they do not endorse our positions on matters that, though important to us, are not fundamental to the gospel. Whitefield was a Calvinist, Wesley an Arminian. Yet Whitefield laboured to ensure that they stood together in the work of the gospel. Spurgeon accepted and promoted Moody, much to the chagrin of some who thought that Moody, a confessed Calvinist, was not Calvinistic enough.
The ecumenical movement has misapplied Christ’s intercessory prayer in John 17 – “that they all may be one” – to join together heretics of every kind. But Christ was referring to unity – a unity among His true people, those who believe the Bible (v6) and who belong to Him (vv 6, 9, 10). We aim to express the fundamental oneness of God’s people in any way we can, without compromising the fundamentals of the faith. We are Biblical separatists, not isolationists.
THE PRACTICE OF SEPARATION
Separation from denominational heresy and apostasy is no longer followed by many evangelicals. Anglicans remain in their deeply corrupt denomination no matter what. The Methodist Church is wholly committed to the ecumenical path, as evidenced by its membership of the World Council of Churches, ‘Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’ and other equally compromised bodies. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, in common with other denominations happily harbours unregenerate elders and ministers within its ranks.
However, the commands to stand clear of false doctrine, immorality and worldliness are still in the Bible, and the warnings of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 stand over us if we persist in disobedience. The loss of separation has already led to a weakened and worldly evangelicalism in our land, and the situation will deteriorate without a recovery of loyalty to Christ and His Word.
May the Lord grant us determination to keep ourselves separate from the Rome-ward bound denominations; courage to bear the malice of those who will decry us; strength and heart to deepen our fellowship with all like-minded evangelicals; and the privilege of bearing much fruit as we stay true to Christ and His Gospel!
Rev. Ian Brown