A Summary of Rev Dr Jeffrey Khoo’s book on Biblical Separation: Doctrine of Church Purification and Preservation
Nguyen Van Hieu
In these last days, to protect the church’s purity and witness, the doctrine of separation cannot be neglected. This doctrine is likened to the white-blood cells that run throughout the body to destroy that which would harm it. Thus, the doctrine of Biblical Separation is important to the body of Christ. That is why God made sure that the teachings and practice of the doctrine of separation are taught throughout the Scriptures. In his book entitled Biblical Separation: The Doctrine of Church Purification and Preservation, Rev Dr Jeffrey Khoo presents this important doctrine and shows how it is taught in both the Old and New Testaments.
The LORD had, from the beginning, commanded the Israelites to separate themselves from the surrounding nations when they entered the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 7:7–11, God gave clear command that the Israelites must not make any covenant, show mercy and make marriages with the heathens because they were people specially chosen by the LORD to be His witness.
In the Torah (five books of Moses), the LORD gave reasons why the Israelites must uphold this doctrine of separation due to the acknowledgement of who the LORD was and who they were. First of all, the LORD is holy so they ought to be holy by separating themselves from people who would have a bad influence on them (Leviticus 11:44–45, 19:2, 20:7, 26). Moreover, they were called to be a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation of the LORD (Exodus 19:5–6). Each of the terms used points to their mission to the world. To fulfil that mission, they ought to be holy and they ought to separate themselves from the heathen nations. It was a command, and not an option, that God had called the individuals and the nation to obey. To remind them of this doctrine in their every-day life, God had, for instance, prohibited the mixing of different types of seed or animal in their fields. Such agricultural laws are pedagogical and mnemonic in nature to help the Israelites keep His commandment.
In the Nabi’im (Prophets), the author showed how the LORD had used His true prophets to direct and redirect His people to take heed to the doctrine of separation. Despite this, many kings still chose not to obey the voice of His prophets, and formed ungodly alliances in marriages, business and battles with the wicked. Two prominent examples were Solomon and Jehoshaphat, whose failure to practice Biblical Separation led to apostasy in their times (2 Kings 17:6–17). The people followed their kings’ spiritual downfall and were eventually judged by God and given over to the hands of foreign nations.
The author also showed how the Kethubim (Writings) present practical instructions on how God’s people ought to live wisely, and how these books reveal the psychology and philosophy of Christian living. These writings warn and encourage the people to live holy lives by practicing Biblical Separation, and show that the practice of separation must involve both the heart or emotions (psychology) and the mind or wisdom (philosophy) of a believer.
Separation is taught in both the Psalms and the Proverbs. In Psalm 1, for example, the LORD makes a clear distinction between the way of the righteous from the way of the unrighteous. He also calls one to keep himself from the company of the ungodly, and pronounces blessings upon the one who practices separation from the wicked and the ungodly to walk in His way. The book of Proverbs also expresses the same idea in Proverbs 4:14–15 with greater intensity (emphasizing on the following words: “Enter not”, “go not”, “avoid it”, “pass not”, “turn from” and “pass away”).
Separation is also taught in 2 Chronicles and in the book of Ezra. In 2 Chronicles, King Jehoshaphat’s failure to practice Biblical Separation was highlighted for us to take heed. In the book of Ezra, Ezra rebuked the people of their sin of non-separation when they formed ungodly marriage alliances with the heathen, and called them to repentance. Having recalled the consequences of such sin that led to the downfall of Israel and Judah and the sufferings they experienced during the captivity, the Jews did not commit this sin again from that time onwards.
Having established that the Old Testament Scripture teaches the doctrine of separation, the author proceeds to show that the doctrine of separation is also taught in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus Himself taught this doctrine in the Gospel when He likened Christians to the salt of the earth and the light of the world in His Sermon on the Mount, and commanded them not to lose their savour or their light (see Matthew 5:13–14).
Salt was used in ancient times as a preservative, antiseptic, and seasoning, and as Christians, Jesus expects us to live holy lives that come from a correct understanding and application of His Word, and when such lives are lived, we will become holy influences in a sinful world. Christians are also to live as light of the world, to expose the darkness of sin and error as we walk in the light of God’s Truth. If we fail to do so, we will become ineffective witnesses for the LORD.
Jesus also teaches that the Christian must not only separate himself from the world but also from false teachings which He considers as bad leaven (see Matthew 16:6). The “sword” used in Matthew 10:34 has the idea of advocating personal separation, and not armed revolution. It renders the determination of making a clear-cut decision to set apart oneself from sinful activities and deadly temptations. The author also corrects the wrong interpretation that modernists and neo-evangelicals have of John 17:21 when they claim that Jesus, had in this verse, prayed for the unity between the church and the world or the unity between the true church and the false church, even the Roman Catholic Church. What Jesus prayed for, in this verse, was the unity of one mind and one spirit in His disciples to accomplish an exclusive mission that He has commissioned them to do, just as His Father had sent Him to accomplish His work.
Not only was the doctrine of separation taught in the Gospels by Jesus Himself, the author also showed in his book that this doctrine was also taught by Jesus’ Apostles in the Epistles and Revelation. For instance, it was clearly taught in passages such as 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 (which teaches separation from unbelievers) and 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15 (which teaches separation from disobedient Christians). The author gave a detailed exegesis of these two passages to show why Biblical Separation must be practiced, not only with regard to unbelievers, but also disobedient believers who are not walking according to the Word of God. The disciplinary act of separation exercised on a disobedient believer is constructive and not destructive as it seeks to restore him back to the fellowship of the Church. Besides these two passages, the author also provides his readers with an exegesis of ten other Bible passages to exhort the true Church of Christ to separate herself from worldliness and falsehood.
Having presented the doctrine of separation taught in both the Old and the New Testaments, the author proceeds to show how this doctrine has its basis on the doctrine of God. Since God is holy, God’s people must be holy too, and the practice of separation is intrinsic to the doctrine of holiness. The author also shows why this doctrine of separation has to be applied in the visible church in order for her to be purged from all impurities.
After providing his readers Scriptural and theological reasons for the practice of Biblical Separation, the author exhorted them in a correct application of it. He showed them, in the light of God’s Word, what separation is not before explaining what separation is. It is not isolation or infiltration. However, it involves taking disciplinary measures against errant believers or churches (i.e. church discipline on an individual level (excommunication) and on an ecclesiastical level (separation from false churches). It involves identification (i.e. pointing out those who are propagating the error after having attained evidence of it, and with the support of Scripture, and exposing it), and it is an act of love.
The author also shows from ecclesiastical history how Biblical Separation has been practiced, and the need for it to be practiced today as well because of the inroads made by false “isms”—namely, modernism, ecumenism, neo-evangelicalism, and charismatism. There is a need for a 21st century Reformation, and the author exhorts God’s people to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints, and to have the same spirit as the 16th and 20th century Reformers. Bible-Presbyterians, especially, must cherish the godly heritage that has been handed down by their founding fathers, and not forsake their fundamentalist separatist stand.
The author concluded by emphasizing again that Biblical Separation is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, and not merely a denominational distinctive, for the Old and New Testaments are replete with teachings on it. Separation from worldliness, error and falsehoods is a command and not an option, and the failure to obey it will only bring hurt to our churches and dishonor to God’s Name. It is also an aspect of Christian theology that churches today cannot afford to ignore.
[Nguyen Van Hieu is a BTh and MRE graduate of Far Eastern Bible College, a preacher at Hope Presbyterian Church in Ho Chi Minh City, and a lecturer at Saigon Presbyterian Bible Seminary. The above summary was originally published in Shine Forth: Truth BPC’s Missions Journal (2020): 17–20. Rev Dr Jeffrey Khoo’s book can be downloaded freely from www.febc.edu.sg under “Publications”.]
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