THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD
By D. M. PANTON, M.A.
Into his strongest and most persistent appeal for Christian unity Paul suddenly interjects a command, equally his strongest and most persistent, exactly to the opposite effect - separation. The inserted command has no connection whatever with the context before or after. Our catholicity, all-embracing, comprehensive of the whole Church of God, stands, all unconsciously, at the edge of a precipice: if we embrace more than the Church, we ruin it; and so a Divine warning is given that could not be more effectively placed. In the words of Dean Stanley:- It is a severe warning suddenly introduced into a strain of affectionate entreaty, a strong injunction to separation, in the midst of exhortation to union even with the offender who had been guilty of the very sins which he here denounces.
Pauls opening statement, driving a furrow deep and hard and black between the Church and the world, instantly makes all clear: it is, under no circumstances, believers from whom we are to separate. Be not unequally yoked - that is, the yoking of a clean animal with an unclean‑ - WITH UNBELIEVERS (2 Cor. 6: 14). Christian workers, Paul declares, are his true yokefellows (Phil. 4: 3), rightly yoked together: believers are so one in life, so identical in a new nature, as to be (in Gods design) inseparable. Separation from fellow-believers, even when deeply erroneous or unsanctified - Paul names some who actually denied our resurrection (1 Cor, 15: 12), and others so low in their standard of life as to be carnal, walking as men (1 Cor. 3: 3) and yet he gathers them all, together with the holiest believers, into the catholic whole of my beloved brethren (1 Cor. 15: 58) - is the sin of schism, the factions, divisions, parties which exclude from the Kingdom of God (Gal. 5: 21). So any group of believers which enforces its errors or corruptions as terms of communion, or demands more than the vitals which constitute discipleship, is the schismatic; and the guilt of schism attaches to all who make communion with their tenets (short of the saving truths of the Gospel) indispensable to communion with themselves.* Separation from believers guilty of the six ,excommunicating sins (1 Cor. 5: 22) is our sole exception;** and even so, we are sundered from our offending brother, by no impassable or eternal gulf. The church has only one divine definition:- it is the called out in their entirety.
* Nothing in this section should be used, as it often is, to justify or require a separation from those portions of the visible church in which some degree of corruption is found to prevail. Paul would never have sanctioned any separation but that which was involuntary; as, for example, when a church exacts as a term of membership something in faith or practice which cannot be yielded with a good and enlightened conscience. In this latter case, whatever guilt there is belongs to the portion of the church which made such a term of communion (3 John 10) - LANGE.
** It appears (Matt. 18: 17) that, in personal offences, the offending brother who flouts arbitration, and even disregards the considered judgment of the whole assembly on his sin, is also to be separated from, and equally regarded (until repentant) as the Gentile and the publican.
But every truth has its peril: so in the midst of these two
Letters unsurpassed in catholic affection, and which hold the supremest word on
Love ever written, Paul plants an antitoxin. He probes home a danger - namely, our
absorbing the world in our embrace of the Church - with five challenging
questions that reveal the bridgeless gulf God has set between the Church and
the world. On the one hand is righteousness;
on the other, lawlessness: on the one hand, light; on the other, darkness: on
the one hand, Christ; on the other, Satan: on the one hand, a believer; on the
other, an unbeliever: on the one hand, a
So we see what an uncompromising, what a unique thing, the
So we behold our second exodus, in a divine command which we
dare not set aside. The peril of the
Church is exactly that which wrecked
So we now come in sight of what is actually commanded:- TOUCH NO UNCLEAN THING. Touch the smallest germs, and you can contract the greatest diseases. What is forbidden is the close contact of the handclasp,* a yoking together in working for one and the same end. Marriage - who can number the ruined discipleships through marriage with an unbeliever? friendship - if two streams mingle, one muddy and one clear, the muddy does not become clear, but the clear becomes muddy: politics - the attempt to reform the nations, not to regenerate them, only cloaks the Wrath to Come: religious fellowship - as in the congress of faiths when idolaters sit on the platform with Christians: business - commercial partnership, other than mere employment, or such doubtful alliances as employers federations and trade unions: a State Church - an impossible wedding of law and grace: pleasure - balls, dances, theatres, cinemas, football-pools, race-courses: all these agreements are definitely with the world; and it is impossible to mix darkness and light so as to produce anything but twilight. In the wise word of Augustine:- He who allows himself everything that is permitted is very near to that which is forbidden. If there is any uncertainty, we must give God the benefit of the doubt. Touch no unclean thing: not this or that particular pollution, but all (Dean Stanley).
[* Christian Freemasons, and all who might be tempted to join with them in their fellowship, take note. See inside Perils of the Age.]
It is not a little startling that the golden promise which follows is made conditional on our obedience. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Our standing is in simple faith; but our walk with God - I will dwell in them, and walk in them - alliance with the world totally destroys. The Apostle John says likewise:- If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we [God and our souls] have fellowship one with another (1 John 1: 7). Our absorption in the worlds science, the worlds literature, the worlds art, the worlds politics, the worlds commerce, makes a walk with God impossible. So the Apostle states the grand conclusion. Having therefore these promises, beloved - summed up in a walk with God let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement - not this or that moral stain, but all impurity of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness - what a goal! in the fear of God - in an atmosphere of awe under the watching eyes of the Most High.
An earnest soul-winner in his youth, and a regular worshipper all his life, but one whom business absorbed, said on his death-bed:- I am going home to Jesus; I have no doubt about that. His Blood has cleansed me, and His Word is Yea and Amen, but I have no joy in looking forward to His judgment seat, for Ive lost my crown. Others who have lived and suffered for Jesus here, will have a rich reward, but I have lost mine. I loved the world too well, and Ive spent my strength more to make money than to serve God. It cannot be undone, but I warn you not to do as I have done.