What is secondary separation?When discussing secondary separation, the key word to understand is "separation," as in separating oneself from something or someone. Additionally, if there is a secondary separation, then there must be a primary separation. Let's untangle what this means.
Primary separation is often called personal separation. This is the call of God on the believer's life to be in the world but not of it (1 John 2:15). We are to separate ourselves from the sinful practices, habits, and lifestyles that we are expressly told by Scripture to not engage in, such as sex outside of marriage or idol worship (Romans 12:1–2, 1 Corinthians 5:9–11). It is also separation from anyone, even those who profess faith, who teaches heresy. So if a pastor starts to teach anything that is not in Scripture or changes key understandings of the gospel, then a Christian must consider separating themselves from that pastor or teacher (Deuteronomy 18:20; Ezekiel 14:9; Matthew 16:11–12; Galatians 1:9; 2 Timothy 4:3–4; 2 Peter 3:14–18). br>
When we accept the free gift of salvation offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are made a new person (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and we begin a new life in Christ that is not based on our sinful nature but based on Christ in us (Romans 6:6–14; Ephesians 4:17–32). This is why we must be separate from the world. It is both an eternal truth about who we are and an ongoing process called sanctification.
Secondary separation is one step beyond this calling on our lives. It is not explicitly biblical, and in some situations might actually go against biblical teachings. Secondary separation means separating oneself from anyone who associates with those from whom we might separate. For example, a family decides to leave a church because they believe the teaching from the pulpit is heretical and not biblical. They take that one step further and refuse to associate, speak with, or be with anyone from that church. This can also be applied to speakers, writers, friends, and family. Some spiritually abusive organizations demand isolation from any who would disagree with their teachings. Others excommunicate and forbid contact with those who leave their organization.
Though a Christian should always consult with the Holy Spirit about being careful with their hearts and minds, we are also called first and foremost to love (1 Peter 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:9). Since God is love and we are to reflect Christ in our lives, we should pray diligently about these decisions. There is no specific command in Scripture about secondary separation. There may be compelling reasons for making this decision based on Scripture, conviction from the Holy Spirit, and wise counsel. But there may be just as many, or more, compelling reasons not to break all contact.
Secondary separation can lead to a host of problems. For example, consider a situation in which Person A separates from Assumed False Teacher B and then secondarily separates from Person C who still associates with Assumed False Teacher B. Person D still associates with Person C. Can Person A associate with Person D? Consider, too, that not every assumed false teacher is actually a false teacher. Could that teacher preach the true gospel yet have a different opinion on an issue of secondary importance, such as eschatology? Also consider that association does not always imply agreement. Perhaps two "Christian" authors have the same publisher and therefore associate at the publisher's events, even though they don't agree with one another on several issues. Another factor to consider is whether a friendship or family relationship will be destroyed over a disagreement on which there is no clear biblical right or wrong. The warnings and counsel of Romans 14 regarding Christian liberty on disputable matters are important to keep in mind. Clearly prayer and discernment are needed (James 1:5).
Christians can and should fortify their own understanding of Scripture to be able to "rightly handle the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15; cf. Hebrews 5:12–14). We are called to know God and His Word ourselves, not simply rely on what others teach about Him. Spending daily time in God's Word, studying it with fellow believers, and being in fellowship regularly with those who seek truth will help us all more quickly recognize and be ready to make decisions we believe are best for us and/or our family. Regular time in God's Word and with Him in prayer will also help us know how to love others with Christ's love and in truth (John 13:34–35; Ephesians 4:15).
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