“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (KJV). Who can argue with that limpid question? I do not know if I have ever heard an exposition of this verse in its context. What I have heard is a call for separation from believers in Christ based on a lack of agreement in some area not remotely connected with the prophet’s concerns.
Amos 3:3 has been abused to reinforce an idea of separation which cannot be supported by the text of Scripture. The argument often runs along these lines: “You and I disagree and therefore we cannot walk together. We might agree on the fundamentals of the faith, but we disagree on music styles, Bible versions, standards of modesty, church polity, etc. and the application of degrees of separation.” A priori to this line of reasoning is that in essence one of the two has reached the “right” position and agreement is required in order to walk together (i.e., fellowship). Amos 3:3 raises a number of questions about the interpretive integrity of its use to support questionable applications of biblical separation.
The first question deals with the context. Amos 3:3, like all Scripture, was given for our profit. However, the use of this 8th century B.C.E. question as a valid support for 21st century applications of separation should be viewed with suspicion when the context is ignored and with our present situation so far removed from the author’s original intent. Amos addresses the people of God and primarily the Northern Kingdom of Israel with a call in verse 1: “Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you.” Verse 2 demonstrates that God had chosen Israel for His special purposes and that Israel was deserving of judgment due to her departure from the living God. The seven questions found in verses 3-8 set forth a cause and effect relationship which evidences the divine right for God to judge His people. We must exercise great exegetical care to not simply tack on the Word of God to our preconceived notions of separation.
The second question deals with the translation. The KJV as noted above appears to lend itself to the application that there can be no walking together without agreement. Divorced from its context and read from a separatist perspective one can easily understand how the verse might be applied in this way. However, we should consider some other translations. The ESV translates this verse – “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” The NASB translates: “Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?” Here the emphasis shifts from pre-walk agreement in order to walk together (KJV) to agreement to meet in order to walk together.
The third question deals with the meaning of the Hebrew word “agree.” The root word means “to appoint.” In its Niphal form it “may also designate making an appointment.” Keil-Delitzsch notes the following: “nō’ad, to betake one’s self to a place, to meet together at an appointed place or an appointed time; not merely to agree together.” When we force our 21st century definition of “agreement” into the text we do a disservice to the inspired Word.
The fourth and final question deals with the validity of using Amos 3:3 to support current notions of biblical separation in light of the aforementioned. One might ask, “Who are the ‘two’ in question?” Does this refer to Jehovah and Israel, to an individual Israelite and idols, to Israel and false gods, to the prophets and the Spirit who inspires them, to God and Amos or to God and man generally? Whatever the correct identification may be, the emphasis is not on being in agreement in order to walk together, but meeting or agreeing to meet in order to walk together. If someone already has their mind made up on “agreement” separation then Amos 3:3 fits nicely, but the verse does not support separation from brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree.
If Amos supports anything remotely connected to present-day relationships, it would be the necessity of agreeing to meet with other believers to walk with them or at least meet with believers to determine if walking together will be possible after the meeting. We do not have to agree in order to walk together even though as Christians we will agree on much and certainly we must agree on the authority of Scripture to take us further in our understanding of God’s truth. We need to be in agreement with God and moving in that direction without imagining that we have arrived at a point where we can demand agreement from others with us on all points. We may not agree on some things which are peripheral to maintaining and manifesting the biblical unity which exists in Christ. We may disagree in areas of application of biblical principles. Yet we must understand that a disagreeing believer should not automatically be equated with a disobedient believer. It is far too facile to label disagreement as disobedience. A believer’s disagreement may be real but it may be with you or me and not with God and His Word. And if someone thinks that anyone who disagrees with him disagrees with God, then clearly ignorance is exceeded
only by arrogance.
Can we agree to disagree and yet agree to walk together in some measure in the work of God and in the enjoyment of brotherly fellowship and rejoice at what God is doing in the lives and ministries of others without becoming their critics? One true measure of our understanding of biblical separation may not be how quickly and how often and from how many we will separate, but with how many we will agree to walk together in true obedience and genuine fellowship in spite of our disagreements. Demand agreement and you will find yourself exceedingly lonely and defensive. Seek obedience and fellowship in biblical unity and your circle of faithful co-laborers in the gospel may increase. At Grace Church we will practice biblical separation when it is clearly a question of unbelief or disobedience to Scripture. Yet we desire to enjoy unity and fellowship with those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and are following him.