Thursday, July 27, 2006
Biblical Separation: A Book Review
Biblical Separation: Doctrine of Church Purification and Preservation.
By Dr Jeffrey Khoo, the Academic Dean of Far Eastern Bible College.
As a Reformed, evangelical Christian who has left the Bible Presbyterian movement, coupled with an ongoing writing project which is, in fact, a critique of the Bible Presbyterian hermeneutical-theological system, one might ask why I would review a book by Dr Jeffrey Khoo. First and foremost, this book by Dr Khoo is an excellent treatise on the subject of biblical separation, and I would definitely commend it to every Christian who cares about the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, Dr Khoo is a godly theologian, and I have the utmost respect for him as a fellow brother-in-Christ. A Bible Presbyterian by training, he holds to the fundamentalist tenet of biblical separation. Although I have left Bible Presbyterianism due to certain doctrinal convictions, I must admit that I continue to see the Bible Presbyterian churches as a devout, Bible-centered movement in Singapore.
The pervasive problem with contemporary Evangelicalism is the overemphasis of ecumenicity, with the exclusion of doctrinal purity and truth (John 17:17). This is true for many professedly evangelical churches in Singapore. Errors are commonly tolerated, and merely referred to as differences in opinions or interpretations. The love for God’s truth is inundated, and frequently substituted, by the greater love for scholarly recognition, filthy lucre and ecumenical relations. I concur with Dr Khoo when he laments that “biblical separation (i.e., the separation of the church and its members from unbelief, apostasy, and compromise) is a much neglected doctrine today. It is disturbing to note that most of the major or popular theology textbooks written in this century fail to discuss it systematically. Those that do discuss it either treat it superficially or view it negatively (p. 11).” This book extends a clarion call to all the existing churches that claim to love the risen Lord and Savior.
In this book, Dr Khoo surveys the Bible as regards the biblical principle of holiness, and the necessity of separation from apostate organizations, false teachers and disobedient brethren. In the first three chapters, Dr Khoo points out that the mandate of separation is found clearly in both the Old and New Testament, and the responsibility of every believer is to obey this injunction of a thrice holy God. He provides ample examples, coupled with detailed discussions, of the requirement of separation in Holy Scripture. From the Torah, the historical books, the prophets, and the epistles of the Apostles, Dr Khoo argues ably that God’s holiness and the doctrine of separation are inseparable. Dr Khoo writes, “The essential element of holiness is that of separation. Separation is intrinsic to the doctrine of holiness. We separate from all forms of unbelief and apostasy because it is God’s nature to separate from such. The God of the Bible is a God who is holy. Being holy, He demands the same from His people. God said in both the OT and NT, “Ye shall be holy, for I the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:1, 1 Pet 1:16).” (pp. 69-70).
Chapter four discusses a crucial aspect of the doctrine of separation: the application of this doctrine within the church. He answers questions such as, “How do we identify error? How should we confront the perpetrators of error? What does the Bible teach regarding the process of excommunication?” These are undoubtedly difficult questions, but there comes a time when faithfulness to God’s Word takes precedence over the unity of the local church. Dr Khoo reminds us that “the practice of separation is an act of love because it seeks not to destroy but to restore. It is also an act of divine chastening. Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:19).” (p. 79)
In this book, Dr Khoo’s maturity as a theologian is revealed in his charity towards other brethren who differ in minor areas of doctrine. Nevertheless, he candidly expresses his disapproval with regard to fundamentalist extremes, “There are fundamentalists who go to an extreme in practising separation. They separate not only from liberal institutions, but also fundamental. The usual remark we hear from these extremists is, “they are not separate enough.” They exist very much on their own. Usually, the separation is due to some minor doctrinal differences like the mode of water baptism; should more or less water be used? We have to be very careful where we draw the line, lest instead of being separatists, we become isolationists.” (p. 72) In reality, Dr Khoo associates himself with certain dispensationalists and fundamental Baptists such as Dr Donald A. Waite. In this regard, we can truly say that he practices what he preaches.
In chapter four, Dr Khoo reserves his harshest criticisms for the New Evangelicals, and he unapologetically castigates their philosophy of ecclesiastical infiltration. Succinctly describing the irenic spirit of New Evangelicalism, he writes, “Neo-evangelicals have no qualms associating and cooperating with modernists, Roman Catholics, and charismatics in evangelistic campaigns. They say that as long as the gospel is preached and people get saved, it is alright to have joint political and religious activities. In other words, the end justifies the means. They do not believe that God’s work must be done God’s way.” (p.72)
Chapter five provides a brief, yet adequate, analysis of the predominant philosophies infecting Christendom today: Modernism, Ecumenism, New Evangelicalism, and Charismatism. Written from a Bible Presbyterian perspective, it is inevitable that most of the historical examples were taken from the annals of Bible Presbyterianism.
In conclusion, Dr Khoo reiterates to his readers that “biblical separation is not an option, but a command. Failure to obey this command will result in our churches being hurt and eventually destroyed. It will also bring dishonour to the name of Christ. Do we love the Lord? When Christ our Saviour is reviled, do we sit down and pretend nothing has happened? It is quite unnatural for a son not to defend or protect his parents when they are attacked. Are we not God’s children? Have we been filial?” (p. 103)
My fundamental disagreement with Dr Khoo in this book is with his endless claim that the Bible Presbyterian churches of Singapore are Reformed. Certain Bible Presbyterian churches may be Calvinistic, but none of them adhere to the theological-hermeneutical system of the Reformers. For example, Reformed theologians would not agree with Dispensationalists that Israel and the Church are distinct. This is the sine qua non of Dispensationalism. Yet, Bible Presbyterian hermeneutics is similar to that of Dispensationalism, that is, it sees a distinction between Israel and the Church. John F. MacArthur, Jr. of Master’s Seminary is likewise Calvinistic, but he is indubitably a dispensationalist.
In summary, Biblical Separation is an excellent book, which provides not only a survey of the doctrine of separation, but also serves as a convincing polemic against the philosophy of ecumenism and religious syncretism.
My Rating: 7/10
Note: This book is also available online.