Against Separatism

“And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”

Luke 4:16

“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”

John 17:11

“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.”

1 Cor. 12:25




Against Separation from Impure Civil Governments



Order of Contents

On the Pressing Urgency for Church Unity
On Saying ‘Amen’

Occasional Hearing
Against Separation from Impure Civil Governments




On the Pressing Urgency for Church Unity

On the Pressing Urgency of Church Unity

Here are classic quotes from Gillespie, Shields, and MacPherson, some of the strictest and most principled men church history has graced us with, on the pressing priority and urgency for Church unity, giving up everything one can for it, except the truth.  Quotes on how to work for such unity are also given.




Articles  (In order of length)

Brown, John, of Wamphray – ‘The Universal Visible Church’  1670  2 pp.

Wood, James – Separation from Corrupt Churches1654, 12 long paragraphs.  Wood was a professor of theology at St. Andrews in Scotland with Samuel Rutherford

Walker, James – The Theology and Theologians of Scotland of the 17th and 18th Centuries, pp. 108 ff.  1888

See especially p. 109-114 on the separatist views of the 1680’s covenanter James Renwick and the reasons for the other covenanter ministers, Shields, Lining and Boyd, entering the 1689 Church.  While one is at it, read all of chapter four on the Doctrine of the Visible Church in 1600′s Scotland.  

Walker was a theologian of the Free Church of Scotland.

Winzer, Matthew – A Review of Greg Barrow’s The Covenanted Reformation Defended2006, 18 paragraphs

The jist of the Still Waters Revival’s claims, according to Dr. Richard Bacon, is that “they maintain that we can treat churches that lack the full well-being of the church just as we would treat a false church. Then they define full well-being as including the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and several other documents that they refer to as ‘terms of communion.’

MacPherson, John – Unity of the Church: The Sin of Schism, 1901, 43 paragraphs,

MacPherson was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland in the late 1800’s who here masterfully surveys the thought on the broadest unity of the church during the second reformation in Scotland (mid-1600’s).  

Boston, Thomas – The Evil, Nature and Danger of Schism: a Sermon, 1 Cor. 1:10, 1708, 54 paragraphs

In the first half of this sermon Boston lays out the principles of unity from the text and defines what schism is.  In the second half Boston argues against those who remained separate from the Church of Scotland in his own day upon pretence of the Solemn League and Covenant and other impurities in the Church of Scotland post-1689.

A’Brakel, Wilhelmus – The Christian’s Reasonable Service  Buy  1700  vol. 2, ch. 25, ‘The Duty to Join the Church and to Remain with Her’

Rutherford, Samuel – Against Separatism, part 1part 2part 3part 4  Part 1 is from Rutherford’s Due Right of Presbytery (1644).  Parts 2-4 are from his A Peacable and Temperate Plea (1642)




Shields, Alexander – An Enquiry into Church-Communion, or, A Treatise Against Separation from the Revolution Settlement of this National Church, as it was settled in 1689  1706  154 pp.

This is the most extensive treatise regarding the Biblical and historical reasons for joining the Revolution Church of Scotland post-1689.  All three of the covenanter ministers to live through the Killing Times joined the Revolution Church; Shields (who co-wrote the Informatory Vindication of 1687 with James Renwick) was one of them.  Another one, Thomas Lining, endorsed his book.  Here are Shields’ arguments that apply scripture to the changed historical situation.  

For background to, and a summary of the arguments of An Enquiry into Church-Communion, see Matthew Vogan’s article in the Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement, and the Unity of the Visible Church.



The Ungodly Joining in Prayer is not a Ground of Separation

Rutherford on Saying ‘Amen’, No Reason for Separation 



Occasional Hearing

Sometimes separatists make much of the doctrine of the evil of occassional hearing.  This refers to it being morally evil to hear the sermons and writings of ministers that have certain corruptions that the particular separatists have separated from.  While there is truth in this principle in certain circumstances, it is often taken way too far.  What is not well known, are the writings and arguments for occasional hearing: that the priority of the unity of Christ’s Church is of more binding weight than whatever corruptions such a minister may be involved in.  Philip Nye, the Westminster divine, was an Independent (Independency is inherently separatistic).  John Robinson was a founding father of Separatism.  And they both argue from Scripture below for Occasional Hearing.

Nye, Phillip – A Case of Great and Present Use whether we may Lawfully hear the now conforming ministers who are re-ordained and have renounced the Covenant and some of them supposed to be scandalous in their lives, considered and affirmatively resolved ToC

Philip Nye was an Independent, and still argues for Occassional Hearing.

Robinson, John – A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Hearing of the Ministers in the Church of England, 1634, 19 pages, in Works, vol. 3, pp. 339-378

John Robinson was one of the founding fathers of Separatism, and he still argues for the lawfulness of occasional hearing.




Wilhelmus A’Brakel  1700

The Christian’s Reasonable Service  Buy  vol. 2, ch. 25, ‘The Duty to Join the Church and to Remain with Her’, p. 61-62 is a dreadful sin to depart from the church for the purpose of establishing one which is better, for the church is one, being the body of Christ.  To separate ourselves from the church is to separate from the people of Christ and thus from His body, thereby withdrawing from the confession of Christ and departing from the fellowship of the saints.  If we indeed deem the church to be what she really is, we shall then cause schism in the body of Christ, grieve the godly, offend others, give cause for the blaspheming of God‟s Name, and cause the common church member to err.  By maintaining that the church is no church, we thereby deny the church of Christ, and therefore are also guilty of the sins just mentioned.  We thereby displease God, who will not leave this unavenged, regardless of how much we please and flatter ourselves.  Such activity the apostle opposes when he refers to such individuals as being carnal in 1 Cor 3:1, 3.  He warns against this when he writes, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor 1:10); “I hear that there be divisions among you” (1 Cor 11:18).

[To see more of what A’Brakel has to say and the context that he was speaking to, see Andrew Myers’ article, ‘The Spirit of Labadism’]


Thomas Boston

The Evil, Nature and Danger of Schism, a Sermon  1708

The first prejudice then is, That those who dissent and separate from us are the strictest party.  In answer to this…

As for strictness of opinions, as to government and church communion, if we measure strictness according to the dictates of men’s own spirits, we will yield to them for strictness; and so would our Lord to the Pharisees, and the apostles to the false teachers.  But if we measure strictness according to the Word of God, we deny they are strictest, but they are indeed widest from the rule.  I will follow Christ to the synagogue of the Jews (I hope some of you at least may understand what I say [who had corruptions in their worship and government]) and in so doing I will be more strict than those that scruple to follow Christ’s example, for fear they be involved in the guilt of the corruptions among them; for the nearer I follow Christ, the more strict I am, if strictness be measured according to the Word of God…




Related Pages

Social Covenanting

The Westminster Divines on Social Covenanting

The Unity of the Church

Independent Churches do not have the Right of Greater Excommunication