I'm not going to draw the circle there. And supposed you disagree with me on that. Now, you're faced with the question: "OK, I'm with John Piper theologically, I'm not with Rick Warren on a bunch of things, John Piper has just chosen to hang out with Rick Warren. What do I do with John Piper?" That's called secondary separation issues. There you are.
I hope, I hope, we can disagree about who we hang out with, ok? Because a lot of traditional fundamentalists have said: "No, if you hang out with somebody that I believe I should separate from, then I'm gonna separate from you." And I want to say: Look. Let's ... Can we disagree about whether he would come to your conference, and you'd still willing to ... eat with me? Talk with me? So I would encourage you to think through that issue of secondary separation.
( - John Piper, 10:20- 11:14 on a clip on the Desiring God blog here)
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 Jn. 1:9-11. Bold added)
Amidst the shock that accompanied Piper's invitation to heretic Rick Warren for the Desiring God conference 2010, Piper's apologetic for such an invitation involved an implicit attack on the doctrine of separation. In light of this, there is a necessity to clarify the doctrine of separation and how it is supposed to work out in this case.
I have previously written an article on the doctrine of separation, which is indeed commanded biblically as per 2 Jn. 9-11. Those who refuse to separate from heretics are reckoned as being partakers of their evil deeds. As I have said on the issue of secondary separation:
Now, since these errant believers are not immoral, nor do they hold on to serious doctrinal error, such separation seemed strange and even sinful. After all, we as the body of Christ ought to be united, since Jesus did prayed for unity among believers, and that this unity is a testimony to the world that they may believe that Jesus is of God (Jn. 17:21). However, unity is not an absolute good, since unity with the world is an anathema before God. We are told in Rom. 12:18 to live peacefully with all, so far as it depends on us; or in other words, as much as we are able to. Unity is good, but unity is not something that we should work for, but something which we are to work towards. Put simply, unity is found in Christ, and we must be united to Christ, THEN united with each other, not the other way around.
The question is to be asked as to the rationale behind second-degree separation from compromisers of the faith. The rationale behind second-degree separation is the same behind that of first degree separation — holiness. Second degree separation is done because of holiness. As much as we should want unity within the body of Christ, unity is not to be purchased by compromising our obedience to God in holiness. When we collaborate with unbelievers in ministry, our witness for God is compromised, and that's why it is wrong to do so. Similarly, when we collaborate with compromisers in ministry instead of reproving them, we are sharing in their sins. Our witness for God is sullied, as we are then associated with the heretics they work with. Furthermore, by not rebuking them for their sins, we actually hate them rather than love these compromisers (Prov. 27:5-6).
Now, there are a few concerns with regards to this doctrine. The first is the example of the present-day group of Fundamentalists, who have embraced the doctrine of separation with an unnatural zeal, to the extant of distortion into separatism What, then is the difference between separation and separatism? Separatism is the promotion of the doctrine of separation to the extant that we are to cut ourselves off and isolate ourselves off from any taint of evil and/or compromise. In other words, for the separatist, the principle stated in Jn. 17: 11-16 should read "Be not of this world nor in this world " instead of "Be not of this world though in the world". Yes, to a certain extent, we should 'isolate' ourselves from the world (Jude 1:20-23), but such isolation is only with regards to holiness, not that we are to 'let the world go to hell'. What is the difference, then? We are to be holy in the sense that we do not compromise our own walk with God nor our witness before God, but we should be actively reaching out to others for God (Mt. 28:18-20; Jude 1:22-23), and the latter makes the difference between the two. Another thing distinctive of separatism is the fact that the doctrine of unity is neglected. Unity is important, and we are told to be united as much as we can (Jn. 17:21 ; Rom. 12:18). The working principle for all Christians is that we should be as united as much as it is possible to be so; not a unity at all costs, but we should desire unity if possible without compromise. Somehow, separatism neglects this and in fact may even promote schism, instead of asking us to preserve the unity of the church where possible.
The second legitimate concern is with regards to its implementation. If second-degree separation is practiced, then wouldn't this cascade into third-degree, fourth-degree, or higher degree separation, and if such, there would be no end and then wouldn't we have to separate ourselves from almost all Christians? This question, however, betrays a misunderstanding of the doctrine of separation in its implementation, which would be addressed here.
Remember earlier that the doctrine of second-degree separation is due to a need for holiness and the need for an unsullied witness before God and the world. Therefore, conversely, if something does not cause one to sully his/her witness for Christ, then there is no need to separate from the other person. How this works out is that we may need not separate from compromising believers in every situation, only in a situation whereby the compromise is made. For example, if a person compromise in the area of working with heretics in i.e. preaching ministry, then we should separate from the person in all forms of public ministry. However, this does not preclude that we could not meet up privately and we should definitely urge the person to repent of his/her behavior. If a person compromise in the area of collaborating with an organization which allows heretics in, then we should separate from the event itself, as joining it would link our witness with it and the compromise that is associated with it. However, that does not mean that we separate from them in other forms of ministry.
In all these things, it must be noted that our primary motive must be the glory of God in our witness for Him. This is what second degree separation is about, not a separation for separation's sake but for the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note also that all these is related to compromising leaders, since they are the ones who are publicly related to the act of compromise. For ordinary followers, since they are not publicly related to the act of compromise, we should not separate from them as there is no need to. If they are in error, following the stand of their errant leaders, we should all the more desire that they also turn away and reject such compromise as a blemish on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and thus teach and correct their errant ways, as obedience to Christ our Lord (Mt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 2:24-26), as an act of love for our brethren (Prov. 27:5-6), and all for the glory of God as His bride is edified and build up (Eph. 4:12-16).
Therefore, the question of third of higher degree separation is a red herring which misses the entire focus of the doctrine of separation We should not focus on how many degrees of separation is correct, but whether by being part of the event or by working together with a compromiser in this particular ministry, that our witness for Christ would be sullied. If so, we should separate; otherwise, we should not. When we embrace such a principle, the name of Christ would be exalted through our actions, and our testimony would not be dragged through the mud by deluded ministers who have an unbiblical view of unity and work for it at all costs.
Being a promoter of the doctrine of separation as biblically defined, we are strive to be biblical are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we would need to insist on this biblical doctrine against the attacks of the New Evangelicals and, as it seems to be the case now, John Piper. On the other hand, the error of separatISM worked out by capital 'F' Fundamentalists is an horror to be avoided at all costs.
First, with regards to the extreme of Fundamentalism, as I have mentioned on this doctrine, the issue of "degrees of separation" is the wrong question to ask. While rightly speaking secondary separation is correct, yet its implementation is to be done in a certain way. The error of separatism lies in its confusion of the doctrine of separation as a means in itself, thus they need refer to the idea of "degrees of separation". Separation is to be done unto holiness, not unto separation.
Therefore, the biblical view of Piper's actions in light of 2 Jn. 9-11 is to view Piper's actions as making him partakers of Warren's evil deeds. In this light, Piper is to be rebuked for this decision of his. Separation from Piper in this light would be along the lines of refusing to participate in the DG2010 conference, and a reticence in promoting Piper as a person of godliness and especially discernment.
Yet as contra Fundamentalism, we do not and should not treat Piper as our enemy. Piper after all is our brother in Christ. As 2 Thess. 3:15 states, we are to treat those who do not follow God's commands on such non-salvific issues as erring brothers who we are to take note of him and make him ashamed, but not treat him as our enemy. We are to grieve for his error and petition the throne of God with tears that our Lord will have mercy and grant to Piper repentance for his error. In this light, we are to continue to be willing to eat and talk with Piper. On this, Piper would have his wish.
Secondly, as contrary New Evangelicalism, "secondary separation" IS biblically mandated. There is simply no way to parse Scripture and spin it to avoid the conclusion of the plain teaching of 2 John 9-11. While we do not treat Piper as an enemy, we are to disengage with him on issues of ministry. Knowing as it is that the DG2010 conference is a Christian conference, NOT an academic forum, such an invitation is tantamount to giving Warren space at the pulpit to preach. The other DG2010 speakers should withdraw from speaking at the conference in this light. I would therefore also second Lane Chaplin's stance that "I cannot, in good conscience, endorse John Piper again". While Piper's books can still be recommended from an academic/ knowledge perspective, the person of John Piper cannot be endorsed after this episode unless he repents.
So, let us come before God in tears and ask him to grant Piper repentance for this terrible decision that he has made. Do not treat him as an enemy but as a brother in sin. Amen.