Separation. If you think about it, it’s a strong word, yet it’s one we hear and use somewhat regularly. People separate from each other and go their separate ways. We talk about the separation of church and state. And we hear that we as Christians should be separate from the World; “in the World, but not of it,” as the saying goes. But what does it really mean? And what did the writers of the Schleitheim Confession, that small group of Swiss Brethren that met in 1527, mean in their fourth point when they came to an agreement “concerning the separation…”?
A Strong Stand
This fourth point begins:
“IV. We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God, therefore nothing else can or really will grow or spring forth from them than abominable things. Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other.”
In verb form separation, or “to separate”, means “to keep apart or divide, as by an intervening barrier or space” or “to put, bring, or force apart.”
In taking a stand on separation, what exactly were these men desiring to be separate from? While they did mention specific things and activities further on in this fourth point, I believe that we should recognize first of all that their stated intent was not specifically to avoid certain things in order to be separate from the world. Rather they recognized that, having been united with God, they were already separate, and that as a result of this separation they should live set-apart lives.
Before we even get into a discussion of what things to do or not do, we must recognize that there is already a division, an inherent and absolute separation in place if we are indeed children of God who have “entered into the obedience of faith.” We belong to the Light and have come out of the Darkness, and if we are part of one, we cannot have any part in the other. All actions and outward distinctions of separation must flow out of that reality, otherwise what is intended or considered to be a distinction from the world is actually only a variation of it.
Additional Principles from Scripture
“To us, then, the commandment of the Lord is also obvious, whereby He orders us to be and to become separated from the evil one, and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.
Further, He admonishes us therefore to go out from Babylon and from the earthly Egypt, that we may not be partakers in their torment and suffering, which the Lord will bring upon them.”
In these two sections, the writers continued to draw heavily from Scripture; first from 2 Corinthians 6, as they did in the opening paragraph, then from Revelation 18:4.
One thing to note is this: while there is already an inherent distinction for those who are in Christ (as mentioned above), there is still a regular, even daily, decision that must be made to choose what is right. This is the call that is given in 2 Corinthians 6:17-18: “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord God Almighty.”
This decision put into action is brought to light further in the final two paragraphs.
The fourth point of the Schleitheim Confession concludes with these words:
“’From all this we should learn that everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.
Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence–such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies–by virtue of the word of Christ: ‘you shall not resist evil.’”
Having established the basis for separation, the writers laid down a list of things that they agreed should be completely avoided and shunned. But even here they reiterated the idea that the things to be avoided are those things which have not been “united with our God in Christ,” things that are “abominations” to Him. Again, God and our relationship with Him is the focus.
We can see throughout the whole fourth point that these men apparently viewed the issue of separation in stark black and white clarity, not seeing or allowing for fuzzy grey areas. They presented only two options: with God or against God; “there is nothing else.” They considered these options to be completely separated, as though with a knife edge, and unable to be mixed or to have any part with each other.
The bluntness with which these men expressed themselves on this topic is unusual for most Christians today, and probably causes some to cringe as they read. Yet such was the zeal and commitment of these Radical Reformers.
One phrase from this section, “popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, [and] church attendance” is somewhat unfamiliar and confusing. “Popish and repopish” refers to the Catholic and Protestant (Reformation) churches. Thus, these Swiss Brethren were completely rejecting all aspects of these state churches. Because of the unregenerate hearts and unbiblical practices in these churches, these writers saw them as “abominations” like other things of the world that were not “united with our God in Christ.”
Interestingly, the writers also included violence in their list of specific things that should not be present in the life of a follower of Christ, and went on to dedicate the entire sixth point of the Confession to discussing “the sword.” Clearly, this meant more to them than a point of doctrine; it was a result of a relationship with Jesus Christ and an aspect of separation.
For Us Today
Separation from the world is a distinctive point of Anabaptist Christianity. Or at least, we as Anabaptists like to think so. But if we recognize that we must have a separation of the heart from the world before we can truly be separate, where does that put us? Why do we dress the way we do, talk the way we do, work, do church, and live our lives the way we do? Is it in an attempt to make ourselves different from the world, or is it because we are different from the world as a result of a change that Jesus Christ has done in us?
This is not a matter of “doing good enough,” and it’s not a matter of legalism or of passing judgment on others. It’s a matter of the changing power of the Gospel, and a matter of loving and following our Lord Jesus, who is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I think many of us would agree that on some fronts we, as Anabaptists in specific and Christians in general, have lost our distinctiveness from the world. This matter of separation is something that we need to consider today. Although these Swiss Brethren in the 1500’s were much more drastic (or should I say “radical”?) in their stand on these things than a lot of us today, I believe we would do well to take a step back and review our own lives, looking at ourselves in the light of Scripture and out of love for God. We must recognize the fact that we are God’s temple and that we have been called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9). Where does this take us? What choices and steps would God have us make? To make it personal, what choices and steps would God have me and you make?
We should also take a look at the world that we are in, not with a self-righteous and judgmental heart, but with love for people around us – believers and nonbelievers. God has made us to be ministers of a new covenant and of reconciliation (2 Cor. 3:6; 5:18), and we have a responsibility to be faithful in that. May we be willing to echo the call of God, urging others to be reconciled to Him and to live as true followers of Christ!
|Timothy Reitz lives in Virginia, though he feels he also has a second home in northern Mexico, where he has recently spent about 2 1/2 years. He enjoys reading and writing, interacting with his family and others, speaking Spanish, and eating Mexican food, among other things. He has a passion to pursue a deeper walk with Jesus Christ, and to encourage others to the same.
Scripture quotations: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Text of the Schleitheim Confession of Faith: http://www.anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/index.php/Scholeitheim_Confession
Word definitions: http://dictionary.reference.com/
Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History by Harry Loewen and Steven M. Nolt. Copyright 2010 by Herald Press, Scottdale, PA. Print.