Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Changing Face of Ecclesiastical Separation

Bob Jones University recently achieved candidate status with TRACS, a national accrediting body for Christian colleges and schools. Other fundamentalist schools are also candidate institutions or are fully accredited already. The official BJU statement as well as a recent Collegian article are both available.

What is not surprising is that TRACS has seen fit to extend candidate status to BJU. There can be no doubt that the academic reputation of BJU will actually increase TRACS' own credibility rather than vice versa, which would seem to be a more conventional objective of academic accreditation. At least two knowledgeable sources said that TRACS lobbied BJU to pursue membership in the 1980s, but BJU was not interested. What is so surprising is the fact that BJU pursuing accreditation at all. This development presents the opportunity to consider accreditation as a case study in the changing face of ecclesiastical separation.

Gerry Carlson's recent article, "Accreditation: Testimony of Integrity or Accommodation to Compromise?", alluded to this issue. In the 1980s, Dr. Carlson was the Executive Director for the American Association of Christian Schools. One of his responsibilities was "to secure recognition for the accreditation programs of the AACS and the American Association of Christian Colleges," now known as the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries. He writes concerning his historical perspective:
Great changes have transpired in fundamentalist thinking about accreditation over the past 25 years. This writer thinks these changes have primarily been a good development. During those years, there has been a shift toward the idea that accreditation is more about testimony, integrity and accountability, rather than about government control or external intrusion into God’s ministry.
And later:
The question of involvement with secular or Christian agencies likewise can be problematic. My experience in the late ‘80s with TRACS and several other agencies underscored the potential conflict. During 1986 and 1987 I developed and proposed a consortium concept that would have allowed the fundamentalist accrediting agencies to be recognized by the federal government alongside of TRACS and a charismatic group. The concept proposed was to keep the agencies apart for ecclesiastical separation purposes, but to mutually affirm similar basic standards that could be recognized by the Department of Education. The idea failed to gain a majority vote of the AACS state leaders and was shelved.

In other words, the fundamentalists of the ‘80s felt that even a disconnected relationship with non-fundamentalists was a breach of the ecclesiastical separation principle. The consortium concept was developed around the idea of religious freedom, not organizational cooperation and intermingling. It was explored because the AAEU staff made it clear that their firm policy precluded recognizing a proliferation of Christian accrediting groups. The AAEU staff was willing to embrace the consortium concept, if the separate accrediting bodies were willing to affirm mutual standards for non-theological matters. However, the majority in AACS saw that as a first step toward the slippery slope. That development opened the way for TRACS to be recognized as the sole accrediting voice for Christian education, aside from the Bible College accrediting body.
Carlson's insights into the thinking of fundamentalist leaders is further documented by an article by Dr. Bob Jones III and apparently co-authored or at least endorsed by a number of other men. This article, "The Accreditation Trap," was written and initially published in the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to a BJU administrator. TRACS came into existence about that same time, in 1979. The article was published again in 1988 as the last chapter in A Fresh Look at Christian Education by James Deuink of the BJU administration. The above link to the full text of the article connects to a Google cache created in September, 2004, of the Gospel Fellowship Association web site. The GFA is an affiliated ministry of BJU, and although the article is no longer available at the GFA site, Google maintains the cache, which is essentially a "snapshot" of the page as it once existed.

The article makes some valid points. It also makes some points that seem to be inconsistent with BJU's current pursuit of TRACS accreditation. Below is the most clear example:
Inter-Religious Accreditation

Accreditation, even by religious agencies, that weakens the historical and biblical practice of separation from unbelief and compromise always results in the removal of Heaven's blessing in exchange for earthly prestige and approval. The loss of God's blessing from any wrong alliance, whether secular or religiously ecumenical, is the price which will be paid for the short-term economic survival which often motivates these unholy relationships.

Seeking approval from a religious organization of any kind has historically resulted in hierarchical control and heinous tyranny. A cursory knowledge of Christian history will reveal that this is always a step away from the religious freedom we value so highly, however sincerely motivated this idea or purpose may be. [emphasis added]
Dr. Carlson and Dr. Jones' articles illustrate a strikingly different attitude toward religious accreditation that existed in the late 1970s and continued at least until the publication of Dr. Deuink's book in the late 1980s. At that point, TRACS had been in existence for almost a decade. The conclusion seems unavoidable that some substantial shift has taken place between then and now. Has TRACS somehow changed its philosophical underpinnings since that time? No one is suggesting that. Its membership is quite diverse, including everything from evangelical Lutherans to Liberty University to charismatic Jack Hayford's King's College and Seminary.

It is doubtful that BJU has escaped criticism for this change. My expectation, which arises from my attempts to obtain answers to some of these questions, is that BJU will explain their reasoning at some point, but it is the administration and board's responsibility to choose the expedient time and manner. It would be easy for critics of BJU to level charges of hypocrisy, but anyone who has written a theological paper in his or her early semesters of grad school only to read the paper again years or even (for me) months later will agree that circumstances, reasoning, and opinions change. People ought to have the right to grow in understanding and to change their minds on non-essentials. I believe that BJU ought to be extended charity for reconsidering their strong opposition to accreditation and be permitted to explain their reasons for a difficult choice.

But critiquing or defending this choice is really outside my purpose. What I really want to know is this: What is different between the way fundamentalists view ecclesiastical separation now and the way they understood it 20-25 years ago? Let's face it. Association with Jack Hayford and Jerry Falwell in any form would have been unthinkable back then. Accreditation involves a significant level of a cooperation, since it consists of mutual endorsement that member ministries are accomplishing their missional objectives. This is not solely my conclusion, because it was also the opinion of fundamentalist leaders in the 1980s as documented by Dr. Carlson's article.

I believe this shift and the questions it begs reach far beyond BJU. This example is simply one documentable example of these new perspectives on separation. I am convinced that some kind of paradigm shift has taken place very quietly over the years without any public explanation. Not surprisingly, fundamentalists seem quite reticent to admit openly when real change has taken place. Fundamentalists like certainty, and certainty does not mesh well with change. I find this tendency to deny change unhealthy at best.

I will be the first to admit that I do not have the answers to when, how, and why this paradigm shift occurred. My speculative thoughts would likely be just as unhealthy as the silence of others when change occurs. Nevertheless, I am convinced that some readers share my questions, and other readers have the answers, or at least some more educated speculations. No doubt, more thorny questions will arise in the future, and generations that are now in positions of learning, not leadership, will have to confront them. As one of those who is learning, I would like to have a better understanding of our past before those new questions challenge me.


For more details on accreditation at BJU, the Collegian published an informative article in September, 2004.


Anonymous said...

I think it is obvious that BJU has changed its position here. You mention looking back at a term paper and finding your opinions have changed, but that is far different than what BJU has done. They lambasted schools for seeking accreditation and labeled them as compromisers. A little humilty coming out of Greenville would be nice. Same with the interracial matter. Why not just admit that we were wrong and we are sorry.

I really think that BJU ought to go after regional accreditation. TRACS seems to be on shaky grounds to me--just look at the schools they have approved. Most appear to be little more than diploma mills

Anonymous said...

TRACS may be shaky, but it is enough for a school to qualify for federal financial this will totally change the face of BJU. Apparently, BJU students will for the first time qualify to draw down federal funds. This will place them on somewhat equal footing on this issue with competitive colleges like Clearwater Christian, and Maranatha Baptist Bible.

Anonymous said...

Paleo, has BJU acknowledged this shift in their stance? To your knowledge have they explained this and sought to reconcile the tension? Have others called them on this seeking for an explanation? It seems so obvious that they would have to make some sort of a statement.

Darrell Post said...

Of course BJU has been approved for state teacher certification for years, and that entanglement is far more intrusive for the institution than accreditation. So really, their current stance of embracing accreditation is really an elimination of past hypocrisy. They preached against accreditation while maintaining state teacher certification. So now all they have left to do is apologize for past preaching against accreditation. Maybe they can say that past preaching against accreditation was only meant to apply to students who were involved in inter-racial dating.

Ben said...

Anonymous #2 said:
"Apparently, BJU students will for the first time qualify to draw down federal funds."

The BJU administrator I talked to said that this has not yet been determined. BJU will have to go through another application process in order for students to have access to federal funds. This is also true of tax credits. TRACS accreditation gives them the grounds to apply, but apparently it's not an automatic thing.

Anonymous #3 said:
"Paleo, has BJU acknowledged this shift in their stance?"

I sent a pretty extensive list of questions to the administrator with whom I had contact. This person was very helpful in providing some background, but did not feel qualified to answer all of them, since this person was not the author. I have not yet sent my questions to Dr. Jones.

Try reading the Collegian article linked at the bottom of my post. It might shed some additional light on the BJU perspective communicated to date.

Ben said...

P.S. Anonymity is bred by many motivations. I realize that this topic could foster a desire for anonymity. If you must remain anonymous, please try at least to make up a funny name so I can get a chuckle and so I can tell the difference between y'all.

Many thanks,
thgirW neB

Shannon Brown said...

Is the emphasized issue of this blog accreditation or separation?

What jumps off the screen at me is not a shift in BJ's position on accreditation (although that is interesting in itself) but a shift in their position on separation.

How does this example stand up to the defense of "secondary" separation in light of the abundant discussion over the past few months? Many have said on past posts regarding this issue that it's apples and oranges. Apparently these people disagree with the signers of this document.

How can an institution, which stood so dogmatically back in the late 70s/early 80s, now take the opposite position? The language in this article is quite strong and does not seem to imply that this was a preference issue for them. Is it now? How can this be? They said this was grounds for losing God's blessing. Do they not maintain this fear?

Ben said...

This quote from a Greenville News article about accreditation at BJU is a blockbuster. I believe it further supports my point that a change has taken place.

"[TRACS accreditation] is primarily for faith-based institutions, so we have an affinity for their mission and the kinds of colleges that they're working with," said Dr. Phil Smith, BJU chief academic officer and provost.

full text

fightnfundie said...

Sorry for the ananymous (The one who asked you all the questions). I just clicked on it out of convience as I am still trying to figure out these blog thing

Thanks Darrell for your insight

Ben said...


I'll grant you full absolution this time on the condition that you truly ARE a fighting fundy. After all, humor and sarcasm are never permitted on this blog.


Anonymous said...

So the question for BJU with reference to the Smith quote "so we have an affinity for their mission and the kinds of colleges that they're working with," is which is worse? Cooperation with an agency that approves schools that hold to doctrinally heretical positions? Or cooperation with a completely secular accrediting agency like North Central (vis-a-vis Maranatha) where accreditation has NO context of orthodox doctrine. I would say the latter is actually less controversial. Christian colleges are already chartered by a secular state government, they accept transfer credits from secular universities and community colleges, they hire faculty that were trained at secular colleges, they hire secular companies to build their buildings, buy their supplies from secular suppliers, etc, etc.

Chick Daniels said...

that last post was supposed to say "Chick Daniels said..."

david said...

Two cents

While I hesitate to enter the conversation, I am also interested by it. "Interesting" is that classic enigmatic response that yields no real indication of a favorable or unfavorable perspective. It is particularly apropos here because of the nature of Bob Jones and its relation to Fundamentalism at large.

The relation of BJ to Fundamentalism seems crucial to the discussion because it seems that a change on the University's part is being perceived as a shift within Fundamentalism. (it seems no debate that there has been a change. how much weight should be given to that change may be up for a bit more discussion) So even if there is a change in "ecclesiastical separation" on the part of BJ in this one area, what does that mean to Fundamentalism?

While that relation can be debated, the nature of BJ is far more certain. Specifically, BJ is not a church. I wonder if BJ's reversal on accredidation can be any reflection about ecclesiastical separation. BJ can't ecclesiastically separate because it's not an ecclesiastical body. It's a man-made institution, as differentiated from the God-ordained institution of the Church.

I struggled at times with my perspective of BJ while there, but one reality greatly eased some of those struggles. That reality is the centrality of the local church. BJ isn't--it isn't under the same structure, the same biblical mandate, the same biblical approval, or the same weight.

It's a school, an institution, but it's not the pillar and ground of the truth. It's not the place where God-given shepherds tend the flock of God, building it up to the full mature stature of its Head, Christ.

It's not under the control of a local church, either. BJ is not a model to churches within Fundamentalism for the simple reason that it's not a church.

I say all that to lead to a few thoughts.

1. While we may comment on what appears to be reality at BJ, we cannot hold it in any way accountable.

2. BJ has all the public exposure of a church without the paramaters of eldership and leadership a church has.

3. BJ ought not be looked at as the trend-setter of Fundamentalism. It's a training ground of godly people educating members of church bodies from all over the place, but it's no church.

4. If BJ can "ecclesiastically separate," we murky the waters of "ecclesiastical separation" even further than they already are. Can an individual "ecclesiastically separate?" Can we look to non-churches to model what "ecclesiastical separation" looks like?

So there's my two cents. I hope I don't regret spending them.

Anonymous said...

I think BJ was comfortable pursuing accreditation because NBBC had recently done so. BJU and NBBC are so similar and appeal to such a similar constituency, that their go at accreditation was a test case of sorts for BJ.

I realize I am only talking about the circumstances that promoted the change and nothing philosophical.

Ben said...


Great to hear from you again. I thought you had dropped off the face of the earth. You raise some interesting (to use David's word) questions. Although they're worthy of discussion, they're outside the scope of the specific issue I'm addressing, so I'll stay out of those issues myself. I don't think we're in danger of getting overwhelmed with posts on that issue at this point, so feel free to carry on.


You raise excellent points. I wondered if they would come up.

The observation I would make in response is that I've had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for probably a half dozen other discussions about separational issues related to para-church ministries over the past 3-5 years. That number also includes discussion of one individual fundamentalist who participated in ministry with a theologically bankrupt para-church ministry. I've also been more directly involved in a recent discussion of separation regarding a connection between a para-church ministry and an individual outside the "fundamentalist movement."

Very seldom in any of those discussions did anyone offer an out to the ministry under scrutiny because it was not a church. The general tenor of the conversation was always that ministries were responsible to uphold the same standard of separation as churches.

So I doubt that a general consensus has developed that BJU has liberty to engage in these alliances because it is not a church. That in itself would be another major change worth discussing, that is, if it is really happening. Even if it is, that would appear to me to be a double standard based on the other discussions I've observed where such liberty was not granted.

In fact, my opinion is that para-church ministries ought to be under more intense scrutiny from churches than other churches should be. Unless we truly are denominational, what right does one church have to exercise authority over another church? But para-church ministries often claim to be ministering to churches. It seems more reasonable for local churches to provide leadership to them than for the ministries to lead the churches.

I realize that very conclusion is part of your point. BJU ought not be looked to as the leader of fundamentalism. If any entity ought to provide leadership to a movement, it ought to be local churches. But we both know that is not the reality of the situation. I don't blame BJU for that, but rather the local churches that have abdicated their autonomy or at least their place of leadership to others.

You've made me think about another important point, though. Maybe the real issue is not the change at BJU, even though it is unmistakable. It just might be that the real issue is that so many local churches seem to accept this change as nothing major. If churches that had agreed with BJU's stance in the 1980s and all the local church pastors who co-signed "The Accreditation Trap" now see no problem with TRACS accreditation, that really is a major change in the churches. Either way, we're seeing the changing face of ecclesiastical separation.

Anonymous said...

I think BJU is hypocritical about this and so many other things. BJII and his followers would not speak at most of the schools accredited by TRACS. They would label them new evangelical or worse. Yet they are joined together with them in what they used to call an "unequal yoke."

I think the reason why BJ went with TRACS instead of RA is because they know they would have a hard time getting approved unless they changed the following:

1) Autocratic rule (with the torch being passed down through the family).

2) In-bred faculty (esp. in Religion dept.)

3) Extremely low pay for faculty memebers.

For the record, I have two degrees from BJU including a Ph.D. and I taught at a Bible college that sought and received TRACS accreditation 10 years ago. That school also had an autocratic head (who was also Pastor of the church). The solution? The VP of the school became the President and the President became the Chairman of the Board. The change was only a change of form not substance. The autocratic leader still ran the school although with a different title. TRACS seems open to these kinds of shennagians but I am not sure if RA agencies are.

Ben said...

Most recent Anonymous,

Although your charges are speculative and unverifiable, they are on-topic. I simply ask that we exercise caution in speculation and stick to the facts. It seems that there is enough documentable evidence to prove that some change has occured.

I'm not interested in this thread devolving into an anti-BJU gripe session. "Griping is not tolerated." ;-) My suspicion is that speculative criticism will diminish the already sparse likelihood that anyone will offer real answers.

dramaturge said...

Food for thought: 20 years ago when "The Accreditation Trap" was authored, accreditation was fairly novel in the private institution world. A student could graduate without an accredited degree and rarely did anyone blink an eye. That is no longer the case. While it is still uncommon for a graduate to be barred from a profession for an unaccredited degree (except in my home state of Louisiana. yuck), it is increasingly difficult to get the paperwork squared away. Accreditation has become a default requirement anymore, and I have a feeling that BJU's position shift has more to do with that than any "doctrinal" shift. They have found an organization that will not infringe on their philosophy and so they can now better accomodate their students, etc. by making a policy change.

Ben said...


I don't think accreditation was that uncommon in 1988 when this article was published by BJU Press in Dr. Deuink's book. I can't speak as well to its original writing in the late 70s or early 80s, but it seems likely that it was the norm, or Jones wouldn't have had any reason to explain why BJU was unwilling to pursue accreditation.

Your point may have some elements of truth, but it's not entirely plausible to me because this was never an issue of preference to BJU. If you read "The Accreditation Trap" article that I linked carefully, you'll see some pretty overt vitriol to the concept. The line of argument Jones used didn't leave room for BJU to claim, "It wasn't good for us then. Now it is." No, this was a black/white issue in the 1980s. (No intended reference to race, there.) It's clearly not that now. That's a good change, but it is a substantial change

Anonymous said...

Dalhouse in his book "An Island in the Lake of Fire" addresses the accreditation issue. He quotes a 1950 article (pp.147-38) in which Bob, Sr. said the University did not apply for membership with SACS because "we do not wish to take any chance of having our administrative policies controlled or even influenced by any educational association." Specifically, according to Dalhouse, Jones mentioned his unusual method of compensating faculty. At that time, faculty were paid based on their need (the larger the family the more they made). Dalhouse also mentions a letter from Carl Amerding of Gordon College (circa 1950) who maintained that BJU could not receive accreditation even if they wanted it. He mentioned the high faculty to student ratio (30:1), the heavy faculty teaching loads, and the small number of Ph.D.'s on campus.

On the separation element, there is no doubt that BJU justified its unaccredited status on the basis of biblical separation. Dalhouse quotes a 1983 article in Balance, March 1983 in which BJIII said to seek accreditation would mean "an unequal yoking with unbelievers, which is scripturally forbidden." In the same article, BJIII said: "no institution can be a member of a national or regional educational association without sacrificing scriptural conviction." (p. 139).

Its interesting that now they say they are only opposed to regional accreditation.

I would think in many ways, one could argue, that TRACS accreditation is more problematic than regional because now you are "yoked together" with all types of evangelicals, most of which would be condemned or have been condemned by BJU as compromisers or worse. TRACS is a religous institution with a doctrinal statement.

If anyone goes back and reads the statements of BJU in the past regarding accreditation, there can be no doubt that a change in their view of separation has taken place (granted it may be more pragmatic than ideological).

Mike Sproul said...


You commented to me over at SharperIron concerning this post when I mentioned that the issue of accreditation had been discussed at several fundamentalist gatherings. I listed Frank Bumpus in Memphis several years ago and also Les Ollila in Detroit a few years ago.

I was also present at the National Leadership Conference a few years ago in Lansdale and Ollila (Northland) and Bob III were on one side of the discussion and Youstra (Clearwater) and Weniger (Maranatha) were on the other.

You asked me a couple other questions, but I was running out the door with my wife for a week of vacation (we are great together on vacation, she sleeps and I read:)) and I didn't have time to write.

After reading over several comments let me throw out my two cents (sense)?:)

In the 80s there was not a Christian accrediting organization available. (You can go to the TRACS web site and read their history.) Just as my experience in the chaplaincy has shown, I think there has been a fundamentalist "sensitizing" movement within accreditation. It certainly has happened toward fundamental and evangelical chaplains over the last 20 years. We are not discriminated against anything like the previous generations by more liberal senior leaders.

I do see a difference between accreditation and secondary separation. (I speak as the Chairman of the Board of a TRACS accredited Bible college. {No we aren't a degree mill. In fact, I think an argument can be made that with our faculty, 65,000 volume library, and local church emphasis as well as student to teacher/pastor ratio, we are much closer to I Timothy 2:2 than most college that train ministers.})

We made the decision many years ago that our view about separation were areas of cooperation that could confuse justification or sanctification (Galatians 2) as being acts of God by faith and repentance. Association can confuse justification and sanctification. Surely Peter's association or lack of it with the Gentiles caused quite a stir concerning justification. Eating meat could also cause confusion regarding justification or sanctification depending on the associations placed with the meat. We cherish "faith alone" both in justification and sanctification and we never want to confuse anyone on those issues.

We don't think accreditation compromises or causes confusion regarding justification or sanctification. We never have. I am not going to attempt to defend anyone or explain to anyone any statements by others within fundamentalism. We never thought accreditation confused sanctification or justification, but we were very concerned about government control. Now that is a separate issue.

If the govt ever tries to control our hiring, curriculum, firing, etc., our Board has had long talks, we walk away from accreditation as centuries of Separtists have when asked to compromise convictions.

I am on the Board of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA that is seeking accreditation from Middle States.

Central is seeking from TRACS as is Northland. Tennessee Temple, Trinity, Liberty, Christian Heritage, etc. are already with TRACS, hardly degree mills, any of them. Pillsbury is going with AABC.

Anyway, thanks for a great site. I enjoy it. I now remember, what you asked. You asked if the presentations from Olilla and Bumpus were pro or con on accreditation. They were both con.

In fact after the meeting in Detroit, I chatted with Sam Horn from Northland, who is a very dear friend. I told him that I thought, as much as I appreciate Dr. Ollila, that he didn't understand what he was talking about. I shared with Sam at that time the positive results for our college in strengthening our program and ministry, all from TRACS input.

Your friend,
Mike Sproul, D.Min.