Personal separation is a sticky issue in Independent Baptist circles. We live “in the world, but not of the world” (Phil. 2:15; 1 John 2:16). Some social issues are getting less easy to categorize with the encroaching acceptance of social drinking, dancing, going to movie theaters, length of skirts and necklines, even marijuana use. We mock the old adage “I don’t drink, smoke, or chew and I don’t go with girls that do.” We cite our freedom in Christ and so-called grace living, but in the process we’ve participated in just about everything that used to be rejected by Christians leaving us with little that distinguishes us from the world.
We know that we are to separate ourselves from the world (2 Cor. 6:17). We know that. So here is one aspect of the debate that may help with these questions:
It’s not what goes in the ears, or in the stomach, or on the shoulders, or in the veins that defiled a soul, but what comes out of the heart (Matthew 15:10-20).
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for missing the whole point of the Law. The Law was good. It was profitable for its purpose. But the point was to bring hearts to God, to bring souls to God. Likewise, in our Age of Grace, boundaries and outward expressions of holiness are not bad, but good for their purpose. The purpose of standards and separation lines is to keep the heart pointed toward God. Rules don’t purify the heart, but they keep us safe while in the world. That’s a good thing, not a legalistic thing.
Other issues fall into the gray area category. For example, my personal and conservative decisions about music were made not because I feel holier-than-thou, but because I was not holier. (Read my testimony about Music in My Life here.) I can’t say with 100% certainty that all of a certain genre of music is inherently bad, but I can say that it is certain there is music out there that is sinful. So if I do nothing to avoid the sin, what does that say about my heart attitude before God?
You will find that cults like to point to beverages, foods, clothing as the thing that defiles a person. We have a lot of Seventh Day Adventists in our area, and their beliefs about external things defiling the heart are the error I am talking about. On the outside, I might look and act the same as they (conservative overall), so what in the world am I doing? Many in the more progressive camps would actually say I’m totally wrong for being conservative in outward ways because I’m not “gospel living”. I’m not “grace living”. I’m “legalistic.”
Maybe this is another way to look at it. The difference between sipping champagne at New Year’s Eve and taking some cough syrup is not in the ingredients. Taking heavy pain meds is very different from smoking some marijuana, but it is not because of the potency or the risk of dependence. The hazard runs much deeper. Is it promoting holy living? Is it helping or hindering my walk with the Lord or my testimony? Is it good stewardship of my time and resources? Am I glorifying the Lord, or myself? Is it worldy? To participate in a particular activity do I have to be a friend of the world? Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). To violate any of these principles is sin. It really is pure and simple.
The outward expressions of my personal faith are my tools to focus my heart on God and not the world. They are important and essential tools. I can’t express my faith without them any more than I can make a batch of cookies without a bowl and spoon.
So, it is not the music I listen to that defiles me. It’s not the clothes I wear. It’s not the food I eat. It’s not the medicines I take. My heart is defiled and deceitful already before I ever participate in those things. That’s why our words that we say exposes what is in my heart, because words originate in my heart not from outside me. A grape or a tobacco leaf or money or notes on a page are not the issue, they are merely the result of the issue. If I thought that any of these things actually contaminated my heart, then I should never walk out of my house for fear of seeing an immodest person or hearing a cuss word or ungodly music. Brushing up against worldly practices as I walk through this world is one thing, but participating and endorsing it and surrounding myself with it is another.
I separate myself from smoking, drinking, immodest clothing, or gambling, worldly music, or drugs, not because they are inherently evil or corrupt. I separate because there’s something inherently corrupt in me.