Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
“I will live in them
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”
(2 Corinthians 6.14-18, NLT)
Lots and lots and lots of Christians like to use the above passage to prove that Christians should not marry people who aren't. This interpretation isn't totally unreasonable, but I have said before and will say again that even if this passage applies to marriage, it isn't about marriage. And neither is this post.
Once upon a long time ago, during the Roman Empire before Constantine, the emperors were persecuting the Christians and even though there were a lot of really noteworthy and amazing Christian martyrs, there were also a bunch of regular people and they ended up recanting their Christian faith until things got a little easier. Then later, when they wanted to go back to church, some of the churches wouldn't let them because they saw them (understandably, I think) as being duplicitous, or weak. They said they wanted a "pure" church. Thing is, they weren't really offering a whole lot of grace.
Then Augustine came along and, citing Jesus' parable about the wheat and the weeds, said that no one should be kept from church fellowship if they had repented and wanted to be reinstated. And from there (going through a number of permutations, naturally), the concept/practice of a "parish church" type of set-up was born. The idea is that anyone can be a part of the faith community, whether they're an actual believer or not, as long as they play by some basic rules. So when a baby was born in a community, he or she would be baptised right away because the family was a part of that parish . . . everyone "belonged" to a church. You didn't have a conversion experience because you were "in."
Once the Protestant reformation hit the scene, ages later, this concept began to be switched up a little bit. The Lutherans and the Calvinists, who believed (in different ways) that church and state should work side by side, maintained the sort of parish/wheat-and-weeds setup. They hung onto infant baptism and But the Anabaptists, who believed that the church would always be a persecuted entity until Christ's return and so must therefore be totally separate from the state, wanted to see a "pure" church, where the only members were people who had a genuine faith in Christ and been baptised as adult believers. Their idea was total separateness.
So here I am, this mix of a Germanic Anabaptist and Swedish Lutheran heritage, who grew up in a Baptist church with Reformed leanings, working at an interdenominational church which baptises any little baby whose parents walk them through the door. And I'm taking another big ol' church history class (could you tell?), so I'm thinking about this "what is the church" thing a lot lately.
I will always be a Baptist on the issue of . . . baptism. But I kind of go back and forth as to whether Augustine was right or whether the Anabaptists were, as far as the whole "separateness" thing goes. The passage above seems to indicate fairly unequivocally that a Christian separation from the world is required. Keeping apart from "the world" makes it a lot easier not to "touch their filthy things." I myself have seen and heard of churches and other organisations who have "teamed up with unbelievers" toward a good common cause, and then the Christ-centered aspect of the cause for the believers gets watered down and washed out, and sometimes the entire enterprise tanks. Compromise is maybe inevitable, and, if these verses are anything to go by, it is unacceptable.
On the other hand, I have a really hard time seeing that Jesus did this. I do believe that all Scripture is inspired by God, and so therefore the above verses are something God wanted said, and so therefore Jesus must somehow have abided by them, but however He did it, it didn't look anything like the way I've ever seen those verses interpreted. He is, after all, the guy who got accused all the time of associating with "tax collectors and sinners." If He was exclusionary of anyone, it was the religious folk, the ones who would probably cite verses like the above, if they had been written yet. And I keep thinking about when I was in Gospel Choir in college, and how our drummer who toured with us wasn't a Christian, but how after touring with us for a while and seeing God answer some prayers, he became one. And I think . . . I'm still confused. What is this 2 Corinthians passage really telling us to do. Because how do we make sure the church keeps its necessary distinctives? But how else are people who don't know Jesus going to meet Him unless they're in our lives?