The following is originally published by Herescope and is republished here with permission:

 A number of years ago there was a joke circulating that went like this:

Q: How can a man avoid falling hair?
A: Jump out of the way!

This is also a formula for avoiding heresy. One must “jump out of the way” whenever it comes near. The biblical doctrine of separation is founded upon a verse that appears in both the Old and New Testaments: Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord. (2 Cor. 6:14; Is. 52:11)

For the past several hundred years, as the world has become increasingly evil and corrupt, believers from various fundamentalist groups clung to the principles of biblical separation. By the mid-20th century, this focus was sometimes reduced to a list of “don’ts & do’s” – forbidden activities that a good Christian shouldn’t participate in such as gambling, dancing, drinking, going to movies, etc. An emphasis on separation in terms of external appearance and worldly conduct is a worthy one and biblically solid. But there is much more to biblical separation. The Bible also warns about separation from IDEAS– the philosophies, beliefs, teachings and writings of worldly or pagan men.

How the Evangelicals Repudiated Separation
& Adopted Infiltration

Few Christians know the history of the modern evangelical movement. Nor do they realize that the “repudiation” of the biblical doctrine of separation became a central tenet of evangelicalism. The abandonment of separation was a planned exercise by leaders. The historical evidence below shows that this doctrine’s untimely demise created a new era of lax standards and engagement with the world. Dr. Harold John Ockenga (1905-1985) has been called “The Father of New Evangelicalism.”

Dr. Ockenga was a highly esteemed and credentialed Presbyterian minister who served as the first president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He coined the term “neo-evangelical,” which means “new evangelical.” He explained, in the Foreword to Dr. Harold Lindsell’s book The Battle for the Bible (1976), how neoevangelicalism was created

Neo-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. The ringing call for a repudiation of separatism and thesummons to social involvement received a hearty response from many evangelicals…. It differed from fundamentalism in its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon theapplication of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life….Neo-evangelicals emphasized the restatement of Christian theology in accordance with the need of the time, the reengagement in the theological debate, the recapture of denominational leadership, and the reexamination of theological problems such as the antiquity of man, the universality of the flood, God’s method of creation, and others. [emphases added]

In an earlier press release dated December 8, 1957, Dr. Ockenga made the following statement:

The New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration. Instead of static front battles, the new theological war is one of movement. Instead of attack upon error, the New Evangelicals proclaim the great historic doctrines of Christianity…. The strategy of the New Evangelicalism is the positive proclamation of truth in distinction from all errors without delving in personalities which embrace error. [emphasis added]Pastor John E. Ashbrook authored a book critical of neoevangelicalism’s “repudiation of separation.” Entitled New Neutralism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise (Here I Stand Books, 1992), it is a well-documented history of this “repudiation of separation.” His book is also a biblically-based analysis of the ensuing neoevangelical compromises that took place over the next 40-50 years. Pastor Ashbrook based his critique on the following biblical premise:

Separation is God’s prescription for treating the disease of apostasy. It is not ours to repudiate, for it is a divine command, not a human idea. (p. 5) [emphasis added]

In his 1957 press release, Dr. Ockenga described six organizational foundations upon which New Evangelicalism was built. These six foundations form the core pillars upon which almost every other subsequent evangelical organization has been built:

Since I first coined the phrase “The New Evangelicalism” at a convocation address at Fuller Theological Seminary ten years ago, the evangelical forces have been welded into an organizational front. First, there is the National Association of Evangelicals which provides articulation for the movement on the denominational level; second, there is World Evangelical Fellowship which binds together these individual national associations of some twenty-six countries into a world organization; third, there is the new apologetic literature stating this point of view which is now flowing from the presses of the great publishers, including Macmillans and Harpers; fourth, there is the existence of Fuller Theological Seminary and other evangelical seminaries which are fully committed to orthodox Christianity and a resultant social philosophy; fifth, there is the establishment of Christianity Today, a bi-weekly publication, to articulate the convictions of this movement; sixth, there is the appearance of an evangelist, Billy Graham, who on the mass level is the spokesman of the convictions and ideal of the New Evangelicalism.

Modern evangelicals don’t know about this history, nor do they understand how comprehensively organized this movement was from its very inception. The neoevangelical movement has now impacted Christian groups far outside the parameters of the evangelical subculture. This is because neoevangelical leaders focused their attentions on changing Christian attitudes and beliefs through literature, media, colleges, and superstar personalities – in other words, they disseminated new ideas. Pastor Ashbrook took note of Ockenga’s worldly goals for neoevangelicalism:

From its inception new evangelicalism has been determined to impress the world with its intellect. It has craved the respect of academia. It has determined to earn the plaudits at the fountainheads of secular learning. Why should this be a goal for the Christian?…The goal was to be published by publishers that the world respected…. [T]his craving for acceptance shows itself…in the desire to make the gospel more palatable to the natural man…. New evangelicalism made it acceptable to water down the gospel. (p. 8-10)

Today, over fifty years later, we can see the devastating consequences of neo-evangelicalism’s accommodation to the culture. Neo-evangelicalism has thoroughly embraced many worldly philosophies and practices. The recent phenomenon of “post-modern” evangelicalism, which merges neo-paganism with neo-evangelicalism (e.g., the Emergent Church) is an indication of how far this “repudiation of separation” has come. The rapid rise of the Neo-Calvinist movement illustrates the extent to which this “infiltration” will go, as they seek to bridge the divide between church and society, even to the point of Dominionism. The infiltration strategy is also evident in the popular mystical postmodern philosophies of Leonard Sweet, Dallas Willard, Jay Gary, Larry Crabb, Richard Foster and many others. Infiltration as the accepted new status quo in evangelicaldom has rapidly reached into the most remote corners of the Christian world, especially via the neoevangelical mass media.

For a more in-depth history of the rise of the postmodern neoevangelical movement, read Paul Smith’s fascinating and sometimes firsthand historical account in his book New Evangelicalism: The New World Order. See HERE.

The Agenda of Infiltration
It seems quite obvious that a “repudiation of separation” is a clever technique to dislodge the church from its first love. Adopting a strategy of infiltration serves as the first necessary step to break down the church’s ability to function as “salt” and “light” in a dark and lost world. A church that has become integrated with the culture becomes a corrupted mixture. It loses its prophetic ability to stand apart and observe, warn and reprove. Rather, the postmodern church ingratiates itself to the world, desiring respectability and prestige, power and influence. It borrows the manipulative techniques, methods, and strategies of humanistic psychology and sociology in order to further its ability to infiltrate culture. In so doing it loses its unique shining light, the power embedded in the Gospel of Salvation to transform hearts and lives. Rather, it substitutes fools gold, i.e., any shiny substitutes that will make it look like conversion numbers are increasing.

All of this infiltration has now become the modus operendi for the neoevangelical world. It is accepted as normal. However, this is a cultural norm, not a biblical norm. It is the new normative state of the neoevangelical world, but is far removed from what God’s Word actually requires. No matter how fancy the semantic tap-dancing and verbal gymnastics, it does not measure up to the pure unadulterated Scripture.

Biblical separation is much more than the physical act of avoiding or removing oneself from a sinful activity. Believers are also warned in Scripture to separate from ideas. The main entry point for any new heresy is in the realm of ideas and philosophies, concepts and speculations. It is here where people take the bait and begin to embrace something new. (For more information, see article HERE.)
When Dr. Ockenga called for evangelicalism to “engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day” he placed an emphasis on the word “dialogue.” “Dialogue” is the mingling of ideas – a mixing of truth with error – i.e., integration. Pastor Ashbrook commented,

“Notice that it is described as ‘dialogue,’ not debate.
A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position.
A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position.” (p. 7)

What does the Bible actually teach? What follows is a brief study on the biblical view of separation from heresy, and why it was a core tenet of the faith until our postmodern era.

Old Testament Separation from IDEAS 

In the Old Testament, God separated unto Himself Israel, which was to be a holy and righteous nation. There were moral and ceremonial laws pertaining to this separation. The sacrificial system was markedly different from the idolatry of pagan cultures, whose religious systems involved human sacrifice. Even food, clothing and agriculture were to be practiced differently and distinctively by the Hebrews. J.C. Wenger, in his classic book, Separated Unto God(Herald Press, 1951) observed:

All of these ceremonial regulations, whether of food, of clothing, of agriculture, or of sacrifices, were not ends in themselves, possessing intrinsic merit, but were vivid symbols of the fact that Israel was a holy nation, belonging to Jehovah, dedicated to holiness of life, to faith and obedience, and called to exhibit the character of God here on earth. To this truth the prophets of Israel again and again tried to recall the children of Israel.

In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord forewarned His people to separate from false prophets, idolatry and pagan practices. Chapter 13 and 18:9-14 describe the occult practices which are to be avoided. Deuteronomy 28:17-20 warns of those whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations. Notice that the seduction of idolatry begins in the heart.

There are many Old Testament verses that apply to biblical separation, particularly guarding one’s mind and heart, and refraining from taking a worldly path. Two antidotes to worldliness are

  1. Wisdom from instruction in God’s Word
  2. Physically removing oneself from temptation.

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from Thy commandments. Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee. (Psalm 119: 9-11)

My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path; For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. (Prov. 1:15-16)

When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things. (Prov. 2:10-12)

Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. (Prov. 3:7, 31)

Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. (Prov. 4:14-15)

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. . . . Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. . . . Turnnot to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil. (Prov. 4:23, 25, 27)

Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house. (Prov. 5:8)

During Israel’s national time of great apostasy the Lord pleaded with His people through His prophets to return unto Him with their whole heart. In Joel 2:12b-13a, the Lord tells apostate Israel: Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments. 

Psalm 106:34-37 summarizes what happened when God’s people did not obey Him: They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils. This progression into apostasy is a direct result of abandoning holy separation. Note the parallels to modern neo-evangelicalism’s slide into apostasy:

  1. They did not destroy the nations. In the New Testament this is no longer a literal mandate, but rather believers are called to share the Truth of the Gospel with heathen nations. Practicing biblical separation serves as a hedge of protection for missionaries going into such pagan cultures. Without this doctrine, there is no protection. But in its place neoevangelical leaders substituted the doctrine of “contextualization,” which is a dialectic integration of pagan practices with Christianity. Contextualization is the exact opposite of biblical separation. Christianity, according to this heresy, can be merged or comfortably cohabit with another belief system. The Gospel can be watered down, mixed with other thoughts, and it is still called “Christian.” But it isn’t. Which leads to the next point:
  2. But were mingled among the heathen. The Israelites disobeyed God’s commandments and began worshipping idols and intermarrying with heathen women. One need only look at evangelical Christians today to try to find any semblance of distinctive lifestyle that would separate them from the mainstream culture in America to see how far-gone is this “mingling” and co-mingling.
  3. They served their idols. Even King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, when he married heathen women was seduced into serving their idols. If Solomon couldn’t play with fire without getting burned, then how could a modern-day intellectual Christian fare any better? The history of neo-evangelicalism reveals that once the doors were opened to a “reengagement in the theological debate” and a “reexamination of theological problems,” a flood of new heretical doctrines entered in. Rather than being “salt” and “light” to the world, the neoevangelicals permitted the world to come in and corrupt the Church. A paradigm shift of an unholy mixture of doctrines was occurring, and some leaders have had the gall to call this a “new reformation” or “new awakening.”
  4. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils.In the Old Testament, babies were burned as human sacrifices unto the pagan deities. Likewise, Ockenga’s strategy of “infiltration” rather than “separation” has resulted in a noticeable rise in the disparagement of human life. This natural progression into idolatry reaches its zenith in actual participation in pagan rituals — evidence of which can be found in various streams of neoevangelicalism today.

New Testament Separation from IDEAS  
Dr. Ockenga’s strategy of “infiltration” into the culture effectually operated like a public relations campaign. Setting up six “organizational fronts” guaranteed that the new ideas of neoevangelicalism would permeate throughout the world through one “front” or another, particularly changing evangelical culture. One would have had to separate oneself from evangelicalism entirely in order not to be affected by this! Subsequent evangelical movements have also employed this conspiratorial and unbiblical strategy of “infiltration.”

“Infiltration” works both ways. The bad leaven described in the Bible also infiltrates. It introduces a tiny bit of error into the Truth of the Gospel. Galatians 5:7-9a speaks of leaven in the context of false teaching. 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. Note the reference to “not obey the truth.” Exposure to heresy results in lack of obedience to God’s Word. Also note “otherwise minded.” Seduction to heretical ideas begins with dabbling in philosophies and teachings that entice and lure the mind.

New Testament Scriptures contain many warnings to believers to separate from false teachings and false prophets. In 2 John 10 believers are commanded to physically separate from those who carry the leaven of heresy: If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.Tolerance is a popular teaching in neoevangelical circles today, but this Scripture indicates that biblical separation is a grave matter, and that preserving one’s faith must be taken seriously.

Romans 1 vividly portrays the natural progression from worship of the Creator to the idolatry of worshipping the creature: God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient(vs. 28). The carnality of the mind leads directly to the carnality of the flesh. James 1:14-15 reiterates this point: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 

New Testament believers are to flee from idolatry and are warned about mixing paganism with the Gospel: Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils (I Cor. 10:14b, 21a). Paul asks in 2 Corinthians 6:15, And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? In our modern time there has been a revival of ancient paganism called the New Age movement. The occult practices that the Old Testament warned about are now widely popular in American mainstream culture. Believers should beware of the enticing nature of these beliefs and practices. Many pagan doctrines have been dressed up in new garb. They enter in through alternative medicine, meditative prayer practices, spiritual and physical “disciplines,” art and music, mysticism, imagination, science fiction, astrology, yoga, and many other unusual ways.

These pagan doctrines are also coming in via neoevangelicalism’s mainstream, a far more subtle and dangerous method of “infiltration.” Why? Because this comes via respected leaders who count on their stellar reputation to gain entry into your trust. But believers must test everything, including the words of those who claim to be Christian brothers. In this day and age, it is no longer possible to personally know the teachers who influence your thinking. Many of them are exalted leaders, far removed from their media-driven congregations and any structures of accountability. 2 Corinthians 11:3 warns, But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, just a few verses earlier, Paul wrote, Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. 

Believers are particularly vulnerable to the seduction of heresy when it comes from esteemed, respected or well-liked Christian leaders. The New Testament contains many warnings about leaders who teach heresy, including especially those who profess to be apostles: false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ (2 Cor. 10:13). Colossians 2:8 warns: Beware lestany man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after thetradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Today there are many false prophets who have gone out into the world that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (I John 4:1-3). Their Jesus is a mystical entity of nebulous character, someone to be passionate about, but never fully defined according to Scripture. This verse has particular current relevance because there are forms of revived Gnosticism within neoevangelicalism.

Paul also warns Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Col. 2:18). Perhaps 100 years ago this verse seemed strange. But it has new relevance in today’s neoevangelical culture. “Voluntary humility” perfectly describes the neoevangelicalism teaching for “voluntary simplicity” – a radical new lifestyle for global “sustainability” with performance-driven and mystical requirements. And recent false teachings on spiritual warfare excessively emphasize angels and demons.

Ephesians 4 has much to say about biblical separation. Paul warns the Ephesians to henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in thevanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who being past feeling havegiven themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness (vs. 17b-19). Again, note the natural progression downhill. What begins in the mind, ends up manifesting in the flesh. In our flesh-sated world of ungodly media, is it any wonder when the newest “acceptable” sin in the church is fornication? Everyone does it so it must be okay goes the faulty logic. And thus their hearts are blinded, and they have left their first love.

Paul advises the Ephesians to be renewed in the spirit of your mind(vs. 23). He lists positive examples of holy living that should accompany such a conversion. Paul also cautions about seduction by “vain words,” and warns believers to separate from those who would use them: Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them (Eph. 5:6-7).Vain words, such as what is taught in the Word-Faith movement and the false prosperity gospel, are alluring and enticing and seductive. But believers are to not be partakers with them. How compromising!

Many other New Testament Scriptures warn about beguiling with enticing words (Col. 2:4). It is important to recognize that these words are not just the spoken word of popular Christian media personalities (radio/TV) but also the written word in bestselling Christian books. These writings or teachings may appear “Christian” superficially because many Bible words are used. But if believers exercise godly discernment, as Scripture commands, they will be less vulnerable to this subtle type of seduction (I John 2:28). NOTE:postmodern evangelicals specialize in using biblical language. They just redefine the terms. They play the game, use the terms, and weave a web of false doctrine. Often they will not stand on the Bible alone, but skillfully adapt their language to compromise its position. These are indeed treacherous times!

In addition to beguiling words, the Scriptures also warn about a profit motive for false prophets. There are many verses on this topic, including Eph. 4:19; Titus 1:10-16; and Hebrews 13:5. The bluntest warning is from 2 Peter 2:1-3, who makes the dire warning that “their damnation slumbereth not”:

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall befalse teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the Way of Truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they withfeigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not

The Truth: 
Separation is not a passive activity. In these perilous times, believers are called upon more than ever to be on guard against the seductions of heretical teachings and their teachers. It is a defensive posture that requires standing firm on the Word, and continually filtering every teaching through the lens of the whole counsel of Scripture. To avoid heresy requires active resistance on the part of the believer. Sometimes a believer must physically flee from temptation and its circumstances.

At other times the Lord would have believers speak out in defense of the Truth of the Gospel. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Eph. 5: 11) Here Paul says that believers should “reprove them,” because all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light (Eph. 5:13). Jude 3 tells believers to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. The new “tolerance” ethic blunts this directive, and many Christians remain silent.

Separation is an act of the mind and spirit, not just the flesh. In fact, one must first separate mentally, because to linger one’s thoughts upon a temptation is just as serious as committing the sin itself. Adultery is one such example: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after he hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28) Covetousness is another example. Mystical pursuits into the imagination and occult realm are yet another.

This neo-evangelical “repudiation of separation,” and its resultant seduction into heresy, is indicative of the condition of the Church in the last days. Jude 18 warns that there will be mockers in the last time who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. Paul prepared Timothy for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Tim. 3-4). If the reader finds that it is difficult to endure the sound doctrine of the Word, it is time to go back to the basics of the Gospel of Salvation which is about repentance and forgiveness.

The sinful nature of man wants to justify sin, even to the extent of finding false teachers to teach ear-tickling fables. But 1 Peter 1:13 advises believers to gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, andhope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Peter further admonishes that the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer(vs. 4:7).

Adapted and updated from the Jan./Feb. 2006 Discernment Newsletter, where this was titled “The Necessity of Separation from Heresy” and republished. See also: 

The original appears here.

Further reading