WHAT IS “SECONDARY SEPARATION?” SHOULD WE BIBLE BELIEVERS PRACTICE IT?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Primary separation is when someone withdrawals from those who teach anything contrary to sound Bible doctrine. Therefore, secondary separation means someone withdrawals from those who keep fellowshipping with those who teach anything contrary to sound Bible doctrine. As we will see, the Scriptures in no uncertain terms command us to practice primary separation. However, some contend that the Bible does not support secondary separation; therefore, they assert secondary separation is inappropriate for us. “Man-pleasing” aside, we delve into this most important topic. “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Dear friend, let us read and consider these five chief passages concerning primary separation. They are largely self-explanatory, so individual commentary will be limited. If we can see the purpose of primary separation, it will assist us in better understanding the goal of secondary separation.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9). This word “accursed” is a teacher thrown out from the assembly, that he or she no longer spread denominational (legalistic) doctrine and distract from the doctrines of grace (Paul’s ministry and message, Romans through Philemon).
“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5). “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
To summarize: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you”(2 Corinthians 6:14,17). “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). “…[F]rom such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:5). “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).“…[F]rom such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5). Why should we resort to such “extremes” when dealing with false teachers or bad doctrine?
In the Scripture, leaven (a leavening agent such as yeast) symbolizes sin or false teaching. For example, Matthew chapter 16: “ Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees….  How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?  Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” The Pharisees were nothing but religious hypocrites—hiding behind rites, rituals, and ceremonies to pretend to be God’s people when they were really working for Satan (see Luke 12:1)! As for the Sadducees, these aristocratic skeptics doubted the supernatural—angels, spirits, and resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8). These two sects of Judaism were some of the Devil’s most efficient tools to distract the nation Israel from Jesus Christ and God’s words to them. Even now, church tradition (like that of the Pharisees) and liberalism/rationalism (like that of the Sadducees) sidetrack us from God’s words to us through the Apostle Paul.
Regarding the confused local churches in the region of Galatia (recall Galatians chapter 1 from earlier), the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul penned these words in chapter 5: “ Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?  This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.  A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.  I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.” All Satan needs to mislead a local assembly is one person who has no interest in maintaining sound Bible doctrine. As a leavening agent spreads to the whole lump of dough to make it rise in its entirety, just a little amount of false teaching will grow and grow and grow and grow. What started as a single “harmless” errant soul is now an entire congregation “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). As soon as one person’s sinful flesh gets to working, everyone’s sinful flesh is pressured to behave likewise. Satan is most wise, and he knows just how to attack God’s people! Yet, friend, if we have God’s wisdom, Satan will not triumph over us.
We examine one last passage before moving to our next section. This is 2 Timothy 2:14-18: “ Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;  Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”
Honestly, if Christians actually believed and followed these verses in 2 Timothy, just about every local church around the world, every “Bible” college and seminary around the world, every “Christian” ministry around the world, would lose most of its funding and membership/enrollment. Denominational systems exist only because people do not “study… rightly dividing the word of truth.” (No wonder denominationalists hate dispensationalism!) If they do not respect the dispensational boundaries God the Holy Spirit placed in His Word, they are not serving the Lord and they are not using His Word His way. They do not recognize Paul is our apostle (Romans 11:13), that the Dispensation of the Grace of God was committed solely to him (Ephesians 3:1-2), that we follow Christ’s heavenly ministry as described in Romans through Philemon. Instead, there is a constant appeal to Christ’s earthly ministry (Matthew to John) and/or the Law of Moses (Ten Commandments) for victorious Christian living. This is not what God is doing today. Paul’s epistles describe the Lord’s current dealings with man. Yet, if we are willingly ignorant of Paul’s special ministry and message (1 Corinthians 14:37-38)—and the majority are—then we will wind up with more and more spiritual darkness. “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:16). These profane (common, unholy) and vain babblings (empty/worthless chatter) are God’s assessment of non-rightly divided Scripture and its resultant groups, sermons, books, and so on!
Let us draw our attention to 2 Timothy 2:17: “And their word will eat as doth a canker:….” The following entry is found for “canker” in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
“γάγγραινα, -ης, ἡ, (γράω or γραίνω to gnaw, eat), a gangrene, a disease by which any part of the body suffering from inflammation becomes so corrupted that, unless a remedy be seasonably applied, the evil continually spreads, attacks other parts, and at last eats away the bones:….”
Dear friend, this is a graphic description of how evil doctrine is communicated from one person to another, one group to another. Imagine a disease that starts off affecting one small part of the body but, if left untreated, infects other areas. Remember, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”—and here, “a little disease diseases the whole body!” Christendom has consistently tolerated false teachers in its midst for centuries, and look at all the error, confusion, and discouragement in more local churches and denominations than we can fathom. It is not God’s fault! He warned us 2,000 years ago that the risk was there and great. Ignoring these admonitions, we have no one but ourselves to blame. As Israel allowed herself to be polluted, so the professing church has followed suit.
We have discussed primary separation enough, so let us move on the controversial practice of secondary separation.
Should we depart from those who refuse to separate from false teachers and others who engage in additional ungodliness? Yes! Not only should we stay away from unbelievers who support and/or teach false doctrine, but also we should part from professing believers and even genuine believers who refuse to separate from them. Why? The fundamental problem is the same in both cases: they all pose a risk to our spiritual health, and the spiritual health of our family and our local church. Again, review the aforementioned statements regarding primary separation. The point is, we should avoid anything and everything that is contrary to sound Bible doctrine—no matter who or what says otherwise.
Any professing believer who is unsure about the necessity of secondary separation is simply advertising Bible ignorance. They are not familiar enough with the Scriptures to make an informed decision that would correspond to Father God’s thoughts. All we have to do is turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 5 and see the Holy Spirit through Paul encouraging secondary separation—even if it involves fellow members of the Body of Christ!
“ It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.  And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
“ Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?  Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?  But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
There was a certain Christian man in Corinth who was actually having sexual relations with his father’s wife (hopefully that was his stepmother and not his biological mother!). Such shameful behavior was common knowledge in the assembly, but no believer was mature enough to address it. The saints were gloating about it, finding pleasure in learning such news! Verse 6: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” Watch verse 11!“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” Now, verse 13. “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
Why is this “brother” (Christian!) to be avoided? If he is allowed to remain in the assembly, Satan will certainly use him as a tool to destroy the spiritual edification of all these saints in Corinth! First Corinthians 5:6: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” That same principle is still in effect today. Do not keep company with an idolater… even a “believer” (verse 11). Idolatry is replacing God with someone or something else; it is also taking God’s words and putting something else in their place; it is also replacing God’s life (Christianity) with some other life (works-religion). As long as we fellowship with anyone dabbling in this, or associate with someone who communes with someone connected to this, we have rendered ourselves vulnerable to Satan’s merciless evil world system. If they have not separated from the world unto sound Bible doctrine, we must get away from them or be liable to falling with them!
One final passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “ 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.” What is this context? Try verses 6-13: “ Now we command [not a suggestion but a commandment!] 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.  For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;  Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:  Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.  For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.  But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
We are to have no company with the person who is disobedient to the Lord’s words issued through Paul (especially the contents of his second epistle to Thessalonica—those who are lazy and refuse to work, those who confuse prophecy and mystery, and so on). We are to separate from those (even Christians!) who do not separate from the world. Secondary separation is Biblical and needful, just as crucial as primary separation.
Christians (genuine or professing) who compromise with the world and its non-Christian beliefs are particularly dangerous to us because:
- They are rebelling against a greater amount of spiritual light than someone who is completely unfamiliar with the Bible or Christianity. It is much more serious than an outspoken unbeliever, for a professing believer is expected to love the Lord and His doctrine. We have all the more reason to part ways with anyone who knows better and yet is not living in accordance with their knowledge. We expect lost people to act sinful, to have no spiritual judgment as to what doctrine is right and what doctrine is wrong. The same should not be said of Christians.
- They have a closer form of godliness than forthright unbelievers, so they will be Satan’s main avenue to influence us. “If this Christian is doing or believing it, so can you! How can it be wrong when Christians support it?” This deceptive mentality is ever so persuasive, and we can be sure the Devil will use anyone and everyone’s flesh—especially our own—to cause us to fall into that spiritual trap.
Also, if we do not isolate ourselves from those who do not separate from false teachers, they will have a larger following than they otherwise would not have had. Multitudes will appear to be in agreement with them, for practically no one will leave them. Then, with all those of their persuasion now in view, the natural man or the carnal believer supposes: “How can so many people be wrong?” Well, whether a thousand or a million, they are wrong! Neither the majority nor the consensus dictate what or what is not truth. Had the error been abandoned, had people left those who had not forsaken the error, far less people would be negatively influencing here.
If we do not separate from those who do not separate from error, then our testimony is compromised and we look cowardly and foolish. “No, I do not agree with them because their doctrine is wrong, but I see no problem with associating with those who commune with them.” Quite frankly, this is a turnoff to anyone who would value your spiritual advice. You are a hypocrite in their eyes and they will see your beliefs as nothing more than another reason why “religion” and “Christianity” are irrelevant and worthless. Lost people may be in darkness, but they are not stupid. They can spot and expose pretenders even when genuine Christians cannot (or refuse to)!
Once, this author was listening to a fundamentalistic (conservative) denominational preacher lament how he was unsatisfied with how another (albeit, liberal) preacher in his theological system was handling compromisers. The liberal man was diminishing the importance of separating from worldly or heretical believers, since he had a mind for defending men instead of doctrine. He was outright against secondary separation because he knew he would fall into disfavor with “scholarly” people, and he would lose funding and support from those who aligned themselves with his ministry and those apostate ministries he could not abandon. Surely, this situation has occurred far more than once in the last 20 centuries of church history.
As an extremely simple illustration of the value of secondary separation, go back to the comment about 2 Timothy 2:17 and “canker” (gangrene). An untreated disease will wreak havoc on other tissue or even bone. Now, let us imagine a certain infectious illness. Would it be proper to say this? “While I will not mingle with those who are sick with it, I, however, do not mind associating with those who have been exposed to it!” That is foolishness, yet that same nonsense is uttered when we refuse to apply secondary separation. People can be carriers of false doctrine just by letting themselves be constantly under it. Without thinking, they will speak or write what they have heard others say. Eventually, we will find ourselves using their language—and possibly sitting next to them in their pew too! Never forget this adage concerning apostasy, a falling away from the truth: “Big change takes longer to happen than you think it would, and then it happens faster than you thought it could.”
Both primary separation and secondary separation are Scriptural and equally vital to spiritually-healthy believers, Christian families, and local churches/ministries. We do not fellowship with those who teach non-grace doctrine (primary separation), and we stay away from those who have not parted with them (secondary separation). To be unconcerned with either separation, to deny one or both as needful, is just Bible ignorance (willful or deliberate is irrelevant). We do not separate primarily and secondarily out of spite or hatred for those with whom we disagree but we separate primarily and secondarily out of respect for God’s words and God’s house (our inner man, in which the Holy Spirit dwells, and the local assembly of Christians). “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We do everything we can to minimize the defilement of God’s dwelling place—that is, if we truly want to honor and serve Him!
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