It was New Year’s Eve. Two young men of the same neighborhood were proceeding down the street together. As they came abreast a large building where an all-night dancing party was in progress, one of them turned in, the other proceeded down the street until he came to the church which he regularly attended and where divine services were being held that evening. The one chose the pleasures of sin, the other passed it by for the service of his God.
That’s Christian isolationism.
The dictionary defines the verb “to isolate” as meaning, “to set apart.” The word “Christian’ ’in our ‘caption describes the kind of isolation we have in mind. Christian isolation refers to the state and condition of an individual as the result of having been set apart in the Christian sense of the word. Or, it may also refer to that activity of the individual whereby he sets himself apart, in the Christian sense, from others. The first views that isolation from the passive point of view, the latter from the active point of view. The former refers to the work of God whereby He has set the Christian apart, as Christian, from others who are not Christian; the latter refers to the activity of the individual whereby he sees himself apart from others, not as individual but as Christian. As far as the relation is concerned, we may say that the latter is the result of the former. God has isolated the Christian and therefore the Christian has the calling to isolate himself in the midst of this world of sin and darkness.
And Christian isolationism is the doctrine that concerns itself with the above described reality.
Like almost all Christian doctrines, so also this doctrine of Christian isolationism has been misinterpreted and corrupted in its practical application. There have been—and I suppose there still are—extremists who have placed all the emphasis upon the “isolation” to such an extent that the Christian character of it was almost forgotten. They made of it an isolation of Christians and that is entirely different from Christian isolation. As most of us know, the Anabaptist is known for this radical view.
Now the first thing which we shall have to determine in our discussion is whether or not Scripture in any sense teaches a Christian isolation. We are of the opinion that it does.
We may notice, in the first place, that Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, declares it to be a fact that God has set His people apart as His peculiar possession. We find that the history of Israel, the chosen race of the old dispensation, begins with the isolation of Abraham from the land of his nativity, Ur of the Chaldees,. Moreover the whole history of Israel is one that is characterized throughout by constant isolation. Jacob and his family are given the land of Goshen to dwell in when they come to Egypt, ; Israel is cut off from Egypt by the Red Sea and is miraculously preserved in the wilderness and passing through the Jordan it enters the promised land of Canaan. That Israel is a peculiar people, in distinction of all other peoples, God Himself declares in , “This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praises.” And this, we all understand, has bearing also on the church of the new dispensation. This same fact re-occurs in the beautiful prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, , when he declares that God (separated Israel from among all the people of the earth, to be His inheritance, as He Himself spake by the hand of Moses when He brought them out of Egypt. Moses, speaking with the Lord at Sinai, , says, “. . . . so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth”. Turning to the New Testament, we find that it teaches this same truth with a view to the people of God. The Lord Himself declares in , “If ye were of the world, the world love his own; but because ye are not of the world but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” In the Lord repeats this truth. The apostle Peter declares in , that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people and therefore are pilgrims and strangers in the world, vs. 11, Also John supports this truth of isolation, from a negative point of view in , when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us”, while in , he speaks as follows, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness”. The apostle Paul likewise teaches this truth by implication in Rom. 11, by the example of the engrafting of the olive branch.
In the second place, we find that Scripture teaches this same truth by means of various admonitions which come to the child of God. Israel is, for example, constantly admonished against amalgamating with the heathen round about them. Scripture very clearly demands isolation on the part of the child of God in, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? . . .And what concord hath Christ with Belial? . . .And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the Temple of the living God; . . . .Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you.” Notice also if you will the warning in , “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world”. Moreover, every exhortation to holiness implies the necessity of Christian isolation; the basic meaning of holiness is separation. We could, therefore, multiply the Scriptural quotations which plainly prove this fact if the above mentioned were not sufficient.
Finally, Scripture gives us many personal examples of Christian isolation. Moses refuses to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chooses to suffer affliction with the people of God; Ruth forsakes her fatherland, Moab, and desires to be reckoned among the children of God; Rahab is delivered from the destruction of Jericho and is numbered with Israel. In the ”New Testament all the apostles may be quoted as examples; the author to the Hebrews mentions, in chapter 11, that there were many who were cast out “of whom the world was not worthy”, while Christ Himself speaks of the necessity of forsaking father and mother for His sake.
It must be evident to everyone that many more “Scriptural examples could be quoted, however, the above mentioned are sufficient for us to draw our conclusions in respect to the teaching of Scripture on this point. Notice that Scripture teaches:
- That God’s people are throughout all ages a peculiar people which He has separated (isolated) unto Himself as His inheritance. They are, therefore, from a spiritual point of view, a different people. They are in the world but not of the world, chosen out of the world, holy, called out of darkness into light, translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son, etc., etc.
- That this difference, this isolation, finds its deepest cause and basis in God’s election. God has formed them for His praise, He has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, has predestinated them unto the adoption of children by Christ Jesus to Himself, has foreknown them and has predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc., etc.
8. That God realizes this isolation through the way of regeneration calling and faith. They are not by nature children of God, By nature they are, like all others, born dead in trespasses, without God in the world, children of wrath, darkness, servants of sin ‘and the devil, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. By nature, therefore, they cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, cannot see it. But God causes them to be born again, He makes them alive, He begets them through the word of truth, (conversion). Moreover, He calls them unto Himself out of darkness into His marvelous light, for whom He did predestinate, them He also called. He grants them lively faith through the knowledge of Him, engrafts them, into Christ and grants them all things that pertain to life and godliness, and so causes them to walk as children of light, in newness of life, in the midst of this world of darkness and sin.
4. That, finally, this isolation is of a spiritual nature. It is neither natural, earthly nor local. It does not consist, as the Anabaptist contends, in a local separation, in the earthly sense of the word, from the world and the children of darkness. It does not demand an isolated Christian community. That was the case with a view to Israel in the old dispensation cannot, need not be denied, But we must remember that Israel was a type and its history was typical. Its local isolation was demanded by God as means for the bringing forth of the Christ. However, since all types and shadows have been fulfilled through the coming of Christ, and the Kingdom of God has spread itself over all peoples, such a local isolation as well as the necessity of it does not exist. Moreover, we must not forget, that even in the local sense of the word, Israel, in fact, Scripture leaves the impression that this was true of the majority. Scripture affords no basis whatever for the Anabaptistic conception of Christian isolation; to the contrary, it plainly teaches that a local separation is not possible. The Lord says, in, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” The apostle Paul says in , “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.” From the above mentioned passages, as well as many others, it appears that the Scriptural conception of Christian isolation is a thoroughly spiritual one. It consists in a separation from sin; both from the principle of sin, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin;” , as well as from the pollution of sin. It consists in the second- place, in an isolation from wicked men, not in (the earthly, local sense of the word because that is impossible, but in the spiritual sense of the word—as having fellowship with them,
Christian isolationism teaches us, therefore, that because God has made us His peculiar possession, has formed us for Himself, has called us into His fellowship through Jesus Christ our Lord, we must therefore also be to His praise and glory in the midst of this world of sin and darkness; that therefore we must be holy in all our walk, which means, negatively, that we keep ourselves unspotted from the world and positively, that in distinction of all those who deny and dishonor Him, we shall glorify Him in all our life.