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I spent my first year of college at a second-degree separatist school that was founded by the Bible Presbyterian Church. The men who founded the college were colleagues of Carl MacIntyre, Allan MacRae, J. Gresham Machen, and Bob Jones Jr. These stalwarts of the faith fought for the fundamentals of the faith against the rising tide of liberalism for a good portion of the twentieth century. My professors had been their students, and I am grateful to God to have been one of theirs. They were thoroughgoing fundamentalists—staunchly committed to the fundamentals of the faith, the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, and the pure preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were willing to separate from anyone who compromised the fundamentals of the faith, and they were willing to separate from anyone else who was unwilling to separate from those who compromised the fundamentals of the faith. As a first-year college student preparing for ministry, I respected these men not only because they contended earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, but because they were some of the most godly, loving, and gracious men I have ever known.

On one occasion, in the midst of wrestling through the implications of second-degree separationism, I went to see one of my professors to gain his counsel about the Southern Baptist church where I served on staff. At one point in our conversation, I asked him, “Sir, at some point don’t we simply need to recognize that within the church there are just different strokes for different folks?” I’ll never forget the way he looked at me with his penetrating eyes and a warm grin: “Yes, just as long as those strokes are biblical.”

For nearly twenty years, I have seriously considered his words and the principles of separation that he instilled within me. Both then and now, I have found that I am more aligned with the principles of separation and association with J. Gresham Machen than anyone else. Dr. Machen pursued right association for the sake of the unity and peace of the church with as much earnestness as he pursued necessary separation for the sake of the purity of the church and the gospel. For there cannot be true peace and unity in the church without purity. God calls us not only to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3) but to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Both are necessary, but it takes wisdom from above to do both in a biblical way that glorifies God.

Like Machen, Francis Schaeffer, who early in his ministry was part of the Bible Presbyterian Church, taught that the church should practice two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of visible community. As we strive for both, God calls us to contend earnestly on our knees in prayer and to stand up and speak the truth in love for the sake of the name of Christ and the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of Christ.

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