The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International is a conservative association of churches known for its strong stance on separation. There is much within this organization worthy of admiration and, despite the general characterization of fundamentalism found within Evangelicalism, the FBFI has demonstrated a genuine desire to be loving, Christ-like, and godly. For example, the very first words one encounters on the FBFI homepage state,
"We must honor our biblical responsibility to use speech that edifies and displays Christ-like love. We must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to humble integrity. Caricatures and personal attacks do not honor the Lord or advance His work. Neither pulpit nor keyboard exempt us from these biblical obligations".The frontpage of the site also specifically mentions the cyclical controversy of Calvinism and Arminianism, noting this should be no reason for separation. It states,
"The FBFI has always included both Calvinists and non-Calvinists because we recognize that godly men can agree with one another on the fundamentals of the faith while disagreeing with one another in this area. In any disagreement, we must represent one another fairly and treat one another charitably. To make this a test of fellowship among fundamentalists has not been the position of the FBFI and will not be our position".The organizations commitment to Christ-like love and its refusal to separate over what it views as "non-essential" are both commendable. This isn't to say that the FBFI has always held my respect. While I agree with many of their positions, I probably disagree with a hefty amount as well. As with all fundamentalist groups, they tend to over-practice separation (for example, see the FBFI's rather silly resolution warning young people about John Piper. The warning wasn't issued because of John Piper's theology, but simply because John Piper wasn't as separatistic as they would like).
However, the tone has changed---if ever so slightly. At this year's national conference, the FBFI issued another resolution on "Limited Participation". It reads as follows:
Positively, the resolution indicates that the FBFI recognizes the difference between out-in-out separation and what they term "limited participation". Simply put, they understand that separation is to be used for serious doctrinal disputes whereas one can choose to limit participation with a true brother in Christ for less serious (though still important) doctrinal matters. This resolution allows an FBFI pastor to "choose not to participate" with another congregation while being able to simultaneously refrain from calling that other congregation "heretical" (which is what separation implies).
Regarding Limited Participation: Whereas the Scripture admonishes believers generally to maintain fellowship with one another in the love of Christ and in the bond of peace,
And whereas the Scripture also commands believers, individually and collectively, to separate themselves from professing believers who persist in disobedience to the clear teachings of the Word of God,
And whereas Christian individuals and ministries that otherwise enjoy fellowship with one another in the Lord may still disagree over sincerely held convictions, over questions of ministry philosophy, and over judgment as to the prudence of various courses of action,
And whereas such disagreements may be significant and may limit the degree to which individuals and ministries may participate together in various aspects of the work of the ministry,
And whereas the Bible establishes the pattern of respect for the soul liberty and responsibility of individuals and local churches as to matters not clearly determined by Scripture,
Now, therefore, the FBFI urges God’s people:
To respect the liberty of Christian individuals and ministries to limit their participation in projects or activities provided that the particular exercise of this liberty does not violate Scripture;
To avoid labeling such limited participation as separation and to avoid giving the impression in its exercise that other believers or ministries are in sin or are spiritually inferior;
To avoid limiting participation based solely on personal or group preferences as opposed to sincerely and reasonably held principles; and
To practice diligently, forcefully, and lovingly the obligation to separate from believers and ministries that persist in disobedience to clear Biblical mandates or precepts.
Negatively, the resolution fails to approach the matter from the correct direction. They are still obsessed with removing themselves from the wayward---wayward heretics and even wayward brethren. Though scripture repeatedly gives command regarding separation, I have failed to see a command or an encouragement in scripture for "limited participation". Sure, Paul and Barnabas practiced "limited participation", but this story is hardly given as a commendable example to follow. The entire tone of the New Testament comes from the direction of engagement and unity.
Thus, while a resolution granting permission to remove oneself from a true brother or sister in Christ may sometimes be necessary, it would have been far more in line with the unity of the Gospel message to have issued one encouraging the use of discerning participation (or even respectful acknowledgement) even with brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.