“Guilt by Association” & “Secondary Separation”
Have you ever been accused of doing something you didn’t do? I have. There is everything frustrating about it. To be innocent and forced to vindicate yourself of false charges can be tiresome at best and is usually a nightmare. Perhaps the most frustrating type of accusation is Guilt by association. This is something we have all either heard of or had to deal with personally, but what is it, exactly?
Guilt by association is a logical fallacy that wrongly concludes that because a trait is shared by a person or things, that therefore, all other things that share that trait also share in the other traits or characteristics of that thing or person. It typically looks something like this:
Rick is a felon; Rick has brown hair; therefore, everyone with brown hair is a felon.
Marcy is a thief; Marcy wears sandals; therefore, all thieves wear sandals.
This is guilt by association. It has no moral bearing or implication but is a fallacy of inductive reasoning. One type of “guilt by association” is racial profiling or stereotyping. Just because there seems to be a theme of conduct among people of a certain race or dress code does not mean that therefore everyone who fits that description is guilty of the same trend. Appearance does not precipitate an agreement. Logical progression in empirical truth claims is one thing; moral implications are quite another.
We must first establish, firmly and decisively, what is meant by “association.” In the general sense and in this context, association is something that is out of one’s control. Association is incidental not forced. In our examples above, Rick’s hair color is out of his control; nor does incidental similarity in hair with anyone else mean that they share any other similarities. Likewise, it is not in Marcy’s control who else wears sandals. Those outward character traits do not arouse dispositions or proclivities within them. Nor would any particular thing a felon does necessarily implicate one as a co-felon who happened to do the same thing (unless the thing itself were felonious, of course). Felons and non-felons both need water to survive. This says nothing of their mental conformity. Again; this shared trait is out of their control.
In an age of deceit and deception within the church, when one is exposed for certain errors, especially of “associating” with another person, the first objection is: “That is Guilt by association” or “That is secondary separation.” But is this valid? It all depends on the nature of the association. We must understand the difference between “association” and approval or cooperation. There is a massive difference between sharing hair color or a barber with someone and approving of their code of conduct. Though Rick’s shared hair color with a felon is out of his control, his approval of felonious activities is in his control. We are now dealing with a moral standard, not a mere logical progression; with a deliberate action not an incidental reality.
If Rick shared no outward commonality with the felon, but helped him in all of his crimes he would rightly be charged with “aiding and abetting.” This is not mere “association” but approval and cooperation with the felon and, therefore, makes him a culpable party. But I am not interested in mere worldly judgment, but what is written in the Bible.
This principle is seen throughout the Bible as a moral standard set by God. To help the enemies of the Lord is to become one as well. One needn’t be the principle offender. In 2 Chronicles 19:2 Jehu tells King Jehoshaphat,
“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Therefore the wrath of the LORD is upon you.”
Immediately we see condemnation, not for being the principle culprit but for embracing him. The Bible says that Ahab did more evil in the sight of God than all the kings that were before him (1 Kings 16:30). Knowing this, Jehoshaphat still allied with him, and is rebuked for it. This was not mere association but partnership; approval and cooperation. In Romans 1:32 we read of the condemnation of those who not only practice wickedness but also “approve of those” who practice wickedness. Their approval of wickedness is wickedness in itself. 2 John 1:9-11 says that to even greet someone bringing false doctrine, not in accord with what Christ taught, is to “share” or “partake” in their evil deeds. This is NOT “Guilt by Association” This IS guilt by APPROVAL; participation, and cooperation. The objection about association is meritless in a moral argument from a biblical standpoint. The objection is often raised by people who not only misunderstand basic logical principles and the difference between association in a fallacious argument and approval in a moral context but people who are either ignorant of the counsel of Scripture or who disdain it by their willingness to blatantly disregard it. This is so patently obvious, even to worldlings, that we have laws regarding it.
18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, GIVING THEM AID AND COMFORT within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
To help an enemy of someone is to express approval of what they are doing, as well as cowardice for not doing it yourself. If you saw a man walk by a woman being raped and he gave the rapist a hi-five and continued on his journey, what would you say? This is obvious guilt. There is a prime example of what some, ignorant of reason altogether, would nonsensically refer to as “guilt by association.” Hi-fiving a rapist is not “association” but APPROVAL.
Let’s be clear. The vast majority of the time the objection of “guilt by association” is raised, it is because someone is trying to protect themselves, another or both. They know that if the person they are defending is guilty of this, that they too would be guilty if they refused to repudiate their endorsement of or fellowship with that person. For most, idolatry runs deep and the prospect of foolish irrationality and radical departure from Scripture is more tolerable for them than forsaking their idol.
Let us move now to some of the men of yesteryear to see what they had to say on this theme of “guilt by association” or “secondary separation” (a term invented by men interested in self preservation rather than biblical conformity).
Since most of the individuals who have quivers full of “secondary separation” or “guilt by association” arrows respect and think they are aligned with Charles Spurgeon and the like, let’s call them as witnesses.
“Complicity with error will take from the best of men the power to enter any successful protest against it … Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin … As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my counsel has been ‘Come out from among them.’ I have felt that no protest could be equal to that of distinct separation from known evil … That I might not stultify my testimony I have cut myself clear of those who err from the faith, and even from those who associate with them.” — C.H.Spurgeon., The Sword and the Trowel.–
“”For Christians to be linked in association with ministries who do not preach the gospel of Christ is to incur moral guilt… to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support schism.” — C.H.S., The Forgotten Spurgeon, pp. 164-165.
“To be very plain, we are unable to call these things Christian Unions; they begin to look like Confederacies in Evil … It is our solemn conviction that where there can be no real spiritual communion there should be no pretense of fellowship. Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.” — C.H.S., The Sword and the Trowel, November 1887.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on 2 John 1:9-11 says this:
“II. Here is the reason of such direction, forbidding the support and patronage of the deceiver: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. Favour and affection partake of the sin. We may be sharers in the iniquities of others. How judicious and how cautious should the Christian be! There are many ways of sharing the guilt of other people’s transgressions; it may be done by culpable silence, indolence, unconcernedness, private contribution, public countenance and assistance, inward approbation, open apology and defence. The Lord pardon our guilt of other persons’ sins!”
J Vernon McGee said,
“One who supports a false teacher is a partner in his error. Should not you and I be more careful today?”
John Gill, who preceded Spurgeon in the same pulpit said,
“he has fellowship with him, instead of reproving or shunning him, as he ought; he is an abettor of him in his principles, and so far joins in the propagation of them, and helps to spread them, and gives too much reason to think he is one with him in them.”
A.W. Pink said,
“No excuse whatever is there for failing to understand the terms of this exhortation, and the reason with which it is supported. “Fellowship, communion, concord, part, agreement” are so plain they require no interpreter. All unions, alliances, partnerships, entanglements, with unbelievers are expressly forbidden to the Christian. It is impossible to find within the whole range of Holy Scripture plainer language on any subject than we have here. “Righteousness, unrighteousness; light, darkness; Christ, Belial”—what have they in common? What bond is there between them?”
We see, then, that the notion of “secondary separation” is not only clearly commanded in Scripture, but attested to by well respected men of years gone by. To fail so separate from that which is in error is to partake in the very same error. Hence, there is no such thing as “secondary separation”. If a person is in vital error, such as the Pope, then to embrace him and bid him godspeed in any sense would be to become a partaker in his evil as well. Therefore, it would be incumbent on those who were in previous fellowship with this person to separate from him until or unless he repents of his affirmation and fellowship with an antichrist. Failure to do so is to approve of what he is doing; namely giving credence to an antichrist. Spurgeon also said, “To pursue union at the expense of truth is treason to the Lord Jesus.”
He was absolutely correct. I cannot have fellowship with a treasonous person anymore than the person that was the occasion for their treason. They are both equally guilty and myself as well should I refuse to shun their wickedness, or to separate from them.
Ah, but some will say, “where do we stop? Should I separate up to 7 degrees?” What a foolish question! Will you put a limit on holiness? Should it be necessary to separate from EVERYONE who approves of a false teacher or a wicked man, would you neglect to do it? Do you put a higher price on the fellowship of men rather than the Lord you claim to serve? If your mother were raped, and your best friend told you he had befriended the rapist and planned to maintain a cordial relationship with him, what would you say? What common bond of friendship do you have with a man who pays no mind to the fact that your mother was raped by his new friend? Would you maintain friendship with a man who wholeheartedly embraced your mother’s rapist? If you answer in the affirmative, I should like to speak with your mother and tell her so. How much more ought we to be willing to separate from those who embrace enemies of Christ? This is not a game. The moral magnitude of this is weightier than rape. You are dealing with treasonous behavior toward the King of kings and Lord of lords. Do you not even fear God? What do you think God will say knowing that He sent His ONLY begotten Son to die in your stead, and you willingly embraced enemies of His? What will you tell Him of those whom you opted not to rebuke? Will you say, “Well, I didn’t do it, I just didn’t mind encouraging and fellowshipping with those who did.” This is patently absurd. In fact, that this article is even necessary is a testament to the state of utter destitution we find ourselves in today. Idolatrous cowards seek to form alliances with those who are enemies of Christ at the blatant disregard of the whole counsel of Scripture. Countless objections of “guilt by association” have been levied to assuage or otherwise nullify the culpability of those like “Pope John MacArthur II” and his cohorts.
Never mind the fact that David Platt is in open PARTNERSHIP (not “association”) with
Francis Chan, who embraces and partners in ministry with false teacher Mike Bickle. Apparently, Todd Friel, Phil Johnson and Johnny Mac get a pass per some capricious and idolatrous standard that is conspicuously absent from even the reams of Calvinistic literature and conviction. Spurgeon would have laughed most of these dunces right out of the Metropolitan Tabernacle; hypocritical fools. John Piper actively PARTNERS with DEVILS at the Passion Conference, and is a PARTAKER with them, and yet he and John MacArthur PARTNER together; he and Al Mohler PARTNTER together.
As was thoroughly refuted already, this is not “association” but APPROVAL and cooperation; partnership. Extension of the right hand of fellowship. Yes, to join hands at a conference is to approve of everyone there unless expressly stated. Without rebuke, you have given tacit approval. 2 John 1:11 says that to even “greet” someone who brings false doctrine, that is to wish him success or bid him any encouragement, is to PARTAKE in his evil; to SHARE in it. The inductive fallacy of “guilt by association” has absolutely ZERO bearing on a moral argument such as this. It is a straw-man argument to use it as an objection in these cases as the relationship is clearly not that of “association” but of open PARTNERSHIP and approval.
Spurgeon condemns this; Gill condemns this, Pink condemns this, McGee condemns this; Henry condemns this; Lloyd-Jones condemns this, Dr. Peter Jones saying,
“To prove the point we remember the way in which Dr Lloyd-Jones refused to work with Billy Graham, and this is a significant example of secondary separation. In 1963 the evangelist asked Dr Lloyd-Jones to chair the first World Congress on Evangelism (eventually held in Berlin in 1966; predecessor to Lausanne). Dr Lloyd-Jones told Billy Graham that if he would stop having liberals and Roman Catholics on his platform and drop the invitation system he would support and chair the Congress.”
Christ calls people to Himself. The very notion of repentance is that of turning from whatever is opposed to God; namely sin, and to Christ instead. Failure to do this is to prove to love something other than Christ. As one could in no way partner with or befriend someone who supported the rapist of his own mother, so we cannot support those who support sin in any way, lest we, as Spurgeon said, commit treason against Christ Himself. We cannot aid or comfort enemies of the U.S. without incurring a guilty sentence upon ourselves, much less can we harbor enemies of Christ without incurring the guilt of treason and becoming a partaker in the same evil as they. The word “partaker” must be soberly understood. This makes you just like them. As when AIDS is transferred to someone, they become a partaker in the disease. They are now just as infected as the person who gave it to them, and just as capable of passing it on and infecting others.
Heed the warnings! You will be judged for what you refused to say as well; what Henry called “silent culpability.”
To refuse to separate from someone who refuses to separate from someone is to approve of their disobedience and become disobedient as well. If they are partaking in someone else’s sin by refusing to separate, then you partake in their partaking for refusing to separate from them. The chain must be broken.