Review of The Separated Life by Johannes G. Vos

The Bible Doctrine of the Separated Life, A Study of Basic Principles by Johannes G. Vos, Philadelphia: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, no date, 35 pages.
Reading this pamphlet just after finishing Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key makes for an interesting comparison. But the “Separated Life” of Vos is not antithetical to the hospitality of Butterfield. They are, in fact, complementary doctrines.
Vos does not argue for a separation of Christians from the world such as monks in monasteries or the Amish in their enclaves. Rather his “separation” is of another kind, entirely compatible with Christian hospitality, evangelism, and involvement in civic affairs. He argues that the Bible teaches (1) separation from sin, (2) separation from the temptation to sin, and (3) separation from participation in the sins of the world. What this looks like in the life of the believer varies person-by-person as each is tempted by different things. It is “impossible to formulate specific rules.” (p. 8)
Vos makes a distinction between things or acts that are sinful in themselves (like adultery) and things or acts that are sinful only under some circumstances (like playing the piano would be sinful if it is done by a child in disobedience of his parents). He comments that “there can be little doubt that certain groups among American Fundamentalists have to a considerable extent revived the ancient Gnostic doctrine that material things can be sinful in themselves.” (p. 11) Christians are to have liberty in “things indifferent” and not to judge others in those things. (p. 14) But Christians must also take care not to cause others to stumble. (p. 15) The Bible alone is to be our guide for what is indifferent. (p. 17-21) No church or denomination should make extra-biblical requirements for membership. That is, “the church has no authority to require abstinence from things indifferent.” (p. 25) Yet it is sometimes legitimate for civil governments to make such laws. (p. 32)
The key teaching is “the seat of sin is the corrupt heart of man; the use of no material thing can be sinful in itself.” (p. 33) This opposes the teaching of some Fundamentalists that “sin is inherent in the use of certain material things.”
This is a worthwhile essay to read. While it might be hard to find a copy of the pamphlet, the essay itself is available free online in a number of places.