I touched on the subject of separation some time ago in this post, and I wanted to add a few more thoughts here. I noticed some twitter discussion on separation in the last few days, and earlier today a friend called me wondering why Matthew Henry sounded like such a separationist in his commentary on Psalm one. For instance, Henry begins with this strong statement:
A godly man, that he may avoid the evil, utterly renounces the companionship of evil-doers…
These strong words stem from the psalmist warning in verse one:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
The Bible does provide a healthy picture of separation: a separation from unrighteous communities. Proverbs illustrate this again and again. But does this entail a complete removal from the unrighteous? Certainly not. I do not think this is what Henry had in mind. It would be absurd to think so in light of the many examples of prophets who confronted evil and there is the example of Joseph who lived an upside-down life (to quote Acts 17) and completely changed the Egyptian world view. Naturally, the issue is not as black and white.
In the Scriptures there are warnings to stay away from the rebellious; after all, strange fire is not welcomed fire (Lev. 10). One of the problems with unbelievers and those excommunicated is that they no longer know how to feast; feasting with unbelievers is a bad idea. They always take things too far. We shouldn’t have to smell the strong drink before we get away. As my good friend Jim Jordan has said: “Always drink with saints.”
You may take a seat next to an unbeliever, but when you find yourself highly comfortable with that chair, and the warmth of it has made you quite cozy, you may need to re-consider separation. It is one thing to speak about nature and the things of nature, but it quite another thing to treat nature as a common ground between believers and unbelievers. The scornful is not neutral. He makes a living by expounding on foolishness; he systematizes it and draws colorful charts to make his observations attractive, but they are all– in the end–evil schemes (Psalm 2).
There is a kind of unbeliever that is quite tame. He does not appear to be forceful with his rhetoric and he is quite fine to smoke a cigar and sip on expensive champaign, but ultimately his satisfaction is not in being with you, it is in being with his fine cigar and champaign, and you just happen to make the experience more enjoyable. Be aware of these types of people. They too have an agenda; they just haven’t thought too deeply about it.
Ultimately, separation is good. Be ye separate, but don’t be an escapist. Be mature in all your doings; build and establish relationships with unbelievers, but don’t find comfort in these relationships. Christians set the agenda for the world; we are the trees planted by rivers of living water (Ps. 1); show them our life and show them how to live; don’t allow the roles to be reversed.