Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 16, 2009

Definitions of Ecclesiastical Separation

I’ve been trying to come up with a standard definition of ecclesiastical separation, and have collected the following definitions / descriptions.  I’m compiling them here for the sake of comparison / contrast.

Biblical separation is not grounded in anti-culturalism or anti-intellectualism.  For that matter, it is not grounded in Dispensationalism, gathered-church polity, or even the biblical doctrine of holiness.  It is rooted in a proper understanding of the nature of the church.  That is why it is called ecclesiastical separation–not because it is about separating from churches, but because it is about separation within the bounds of the professing church.

The rule of thumb is that ecclesiastical separation must be applied to all Christian endeavors, but not to the ordinary situations of life.

Kevin Bauder, “Fundamentalists and Scholarship, Part Ten: Scholarship and Separatism,” In the Nick of Time, electronic publication of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (14 March 2008), available online at

Here we are speaking of “ecclesiastical” not “personal” separation. That is, we are dealing with church alliances and support, not with an individual Christian’s personal separation from the things of the world. Ecclesiastical separation consists of a believer or an organized church not joining or helping an apostate church; or, if he or she is in one, they are to come out of it. This also implies that believing churches and organizations will not join, remain in, or assist denominations or groups who are not true to the Christ of the Bible.

Gary Cohen, “The Bible Presbyterian Position on Ecclesiastical Separation,” available online at

Ecclesiastical separation is the exercising of personal separation on an organizational level involving the local church, its membership, and its relationship to other individuals and organizations.  As with personal separation, ecclesiastical separation encompasses the two issues of doctrinal integrity and moral purity.  In other words, the local church and its members are to know, proclaim, and conform to the truths of God’s Word and are to defend these truths against any and all defections, whether in content or conduct.

R. Bruce Compton, “2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 and Second-Degree Separation,” unpublished paper presented at the Mid-America Conference for Preaching, October 18-19, 2001 (Allen Park, MI), 2.

Ecclesiastical separation is the decision by a local church or by an association of local churches not to engage in cooperative ministry endeavors at an organizational level that are deemed as inconsistent in doctrinal position.

General Assocation of Regular Baptist Churches, “Ecclesiastical Separation and Its Associational Applications,” available online at

What of the situation where the Christian is part of a minority within a church congregation or denomination?  Here the believer is unable to have discipline administered, since true and separated Christians are a minority.  What then?  When should the Christian or a congregation separate from a congregation or church fellowship?  Here the issue is one of ecclesiastical separation. [vs. separation in personal deportment and “secondary separation” from “others who are not consistently Christian”]

Millard J. Erickson, “Separation,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 1002-3.

Ecclesiastical separation— the determination to make a definite break in relationship and refuse to work together with those who deny, disobey, and dilute the Scriptures.

Dan Greenfield, “Ecclesiastical Separation,” Ohio Bible Fellowship Visitor (9 May 2007), available online at

Ecclesiastical separation has to do with church separation or being involved in an ecumentical organization that promotes cooperation with unbelievers or backslidden brethren in any form.

E. Robert Jordan, Chief (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2004), 52.

Broadly, ecclesiastical separation is the refusal to collaborate in, or the withdrawal from, a working relationship with an organization or religious leader that does not obey the Word of God in doctrine and practice.

Rolland McCune, “A Heart for Separation,” available online at

Broadly speaking, ecclesiastical separation is the refusal to collaborate with or the withdrawal of a working relationship from an ecclesiastical organization or religious leader that deviates from the standard of Scripture or that does not believe and obey the word of God in doctrine or practice.

Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald, 2004), 138.

Ecclesiastical separation is the refusal to join or collaborate with an organization that deviates from the standards of Scripture. It normally involves such things as local churches, other ecclesiastical institutions or bodies, and religious or quasi-religious endeavors of all kinds.

Biblical ecclesiastical separation means the refusal to collaborate with or the withdrawal of fellowship from those who walk contrary to the Word of God. There are at least two elements that make the doctrine.  First, the Bible is clear that Fundamental, Bible-believers can have no fellowship with those who are unbelievers, apostates, or Bible-deniers. . . . Second, the Bible teaches separation from Christians who are doctrinally careless or who are content to walk with those who deny the faith.

Rolland McCune, “An Inside Look at Ecclesiastical Separation,” available online at

The principle of separation as applied to the nature and associations of the visible churches.  Biblical separation is the implementation of that scriptural teaching which demands repudiation of any conscious or continuing fellowship with those who deny the doctrines of the historic Christian faith, especially as such fellowship finds expression in organized ecclesiastical structures, and which results in the establishment and nurture of local congregations of believers which are free from contaminating alliances.

Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 10.

Ecclesiastical separation is that disciplinary measure exercised by a Christian or church against another Christian or church due to doctrinal impurity or positional compromise.

Charles Seet, “Biblical Separation,” available online at

Ecclesiastical separation is in many ways the application of the principles of personal separation practiced on the level of an assembly of believers.  It involves a refusal to align with false doctrine or unbelief and a rejection of the willful practice of disobedience.  Discipline in the church is a form of ecclesiastical separation.

Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), 175-76.

Ecclesiastical separation is a “group thing” or a “churchly thing” and is about the relationships that pertain between groups; it is not about individuals. Though ecclesiastical separation does obviously affect the lives of individuals, the term ecclesiastical by its very definition, is a term about “churchliness,” churches as groups, not individuals. Ecclesiastical separation happens when churches stand apart from other churches or church groups because of doctrinal differences.

David Warren (Ohio Association of Regular Baptist Churches Representative), “Ecclesiastical Separation — Positioning the Ohio Association of Regular Baptist Churches,” available online at
“[One of the Baptist distinctives is] ecclesiastical separation, or the separation of churches from other institutions which do not conform to the New Testament pattern for a church. It is a common belief that this refers to separation from apostasy. While Christians should certainly separate from apostasy, ecclesiastical separation goes much farther than this.
The terms ‘ecclesiastical’ and ‘ecclesiology’ come from the Greek word ekklesia, which means ‘assembly,’ or ‘congregation.’ This is the word behind the English translation ‘church.’ Thus, this separation refers to separation of one ‘assembly’ from other ‘assemblies’ that do not practice New Testament ecclesiology. This obviously implies separation from apostasy. It further implies separation from those who maintain erroneous doctrine, including ‘assemblies’ which do not scripturally practice the ordinances (i.e. infant baptism).
David A. West, “What is an Historic Baptist?” available online at


  1. You’ll want to briefly peruse Oats’ dissertation from TEDS (I think it is in the CBTS library) on the doctrine of Separation.

  2. Thanks, Chris, I have dipped into Larry Oats’s dissertation (interestingly, he makes only a passing reference to 2 Thess 3, relying much more heavily on 2 Cor 6, as I recall). I probably won’t have access to it anytime soon, but if you come across his definition on ecclesiastical separation, I’d be glad to add it to the mix here. I have bib info for the dissertation, I’d just need a page number along with the quote, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: