Dr. Olson hits the nail on the head–when we speak of separation, we must preach both sides of the coin, with the positive side foremost (i.e. what we are separated UNTO instead of only focusing on what we are separating away from).
So then, what matters most to you? I believe I can tell you. It is what you think about, talk about, write about, and fight about. It is what you spend your time on. It is what you turn the conversation to. It is probably what you will die for, and right now what you are living for. These may or may not be THE fundamentals of the faith, but they certainly are YOUR fundamentals of the faith—this is who you are.
What matters most to God should be at the center of our lives. If we focus on peripherals we won’t see the center clearly and soon will develop a “new center” that is not the biblical center—we will just think it is. What should be at the center of every Christian life and ministry is the person of Christ and His gospel. I am not speaking in superficial or simplistic terms, I am speaking of the the full scope of the gospel. “The gospel is the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ, from eternity to eternity, that finds its center in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.” This is how we come to Christ, how we are justified in Christ, how we grow in Christ, and how we are to someday be like Christ. This is also the gospel we stand to lose when our focus is off.
It really does matter where we begin. If we begin by separating from what is wrong, there is no guarantee that we will get any closer to what is right. If we, however, begin by separating to what is right, we will very naturally separate from all that is wrong. This is the way the Apostle Paul functioned. He began by separating to the gospel (Romans 1:1) and this led him to what he should separate from (Romans 16:17). He is not talking about matters of personal opinion and application. Isn’t it ironic that the people who most often quote Romans 16:17 are the very ones Paul is talking about? He is confronting schismatic and divisive people who don’t get it. They still don’t.
What has happened? As Paul said in Galatians 5:7, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” Many of our gospel-centered, gospel-focused, organizations have been hijacked by people who want to argue and divide over secondary matters. This becomes their new center, their new identity, and their new “fundamentals of the faith.” The fight is on but they are no longer fighting for what matters most—Christ and His gospel, nor are they fighting against anything that would compromise the gospel. They are fighting over their traditions, applications, secondary associations, and opinions. They then go to great lengths to justify their carnal actions with misinterpreted scriptures, logical fallacies, and pragmatic applications. The tragic thing is that these brothers in Christ no longer fight the common enemy but each other. As Les Ollila has said, “The enemy is coming over the hill but the soldiers are fist fighting in the barracks.” My pastor, Bob Crowley, once told me; “They swing their swords and cut themselves to pieces.”
There is nothing wrong with holding to our local church distinctives and personal convictions. These are necessary and good, but they should not be reasons to go to war with other Christians. We can still have unity in the gospel around what matters most while respecting one another’s differences. In the case of a brother or sister being overtaken in a fault, there is a biblical process for dealing with that—loving restoration (Galatians 6:1). That is the spirit of New Testament teaching. They will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another (John 13:35). This should be our primary characteristic (John 17:21).
The political, social, and ecclesiastical landscape has changed, but I am not discouraged. While movements come and go, truth remains. We now have a great opportunity to fill the gap. If we intentionally focus on the gospel through the person and work of Christ as revealed through His Word and by His Spirit, then we will be all about what matters most. We will walk in truth and do what is right. This gospel will once again be what we think about, what we talk about, what we are willing to fight for and die for. We will once again be all about what matters most.