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Help restore those who wander from faith, Phil Roberts urges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–President Philip Roberts called for a spirit of repentance, restoration and reconciliation in the church during his spring chapel message at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

Roberts told of a 1989 British Broadcasting Corporation series which re-enacted various news events from 50 years earlier; among them was an incident in London at the beginning of World War II when the Nazis were about to bomb the city. Children were put on trains and sent to the country in hopes that their lives might be spared. As the children arrived at their destination, they were met by total strangers who accepted them as their own.

“This is how we as the church of Christ should act towards one another, with total acceptance,” Roberts said in his Feb. 3 message. “We are to reach out in love. We have an enemy whose very goal is to derail our mission of spiritual unity.”

Noting the instruction in the Book of James, written by the brother of Jesus, Roberts said, “James writes in the last two verses of his epistle, ‘Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins’ (James 5:19-20).”

In this brief passage are several truths, Roberts said, noting that in verse 19 James points out the problem — those wandering from the truth.

In the Greek translation, the word “wander” is a term used to describe sheep, Roberts said. Sheep don’t suddenly get lost, he said. They don’t look for greener pastures; they just nibble into their lostness, gradually straying from the flock. If not tended to, the sheep will get lost.

Roberts compared this with drug and/or alcohol abuse. A person caught up in drug addiction probably did not do so overnight; it was a progression. Likewise alcoholics probably started with beer and spiraled downward, Roberts said.

Such is the case for spiritual wandering, Roberts said. A person does not become a heretic overnight. First, a seed of doubt is planted. He becomes skeptical about spiritual reliability, becoming doubtful that the miracles in the Bible ever took place. This may lead to total denial of Christ’s miraculous virgin birth, His sinless life, His atoning death and His resurrection.

“It’s a process that begins with a small compromise,” Roberts said.

So, what should be done if a brother or sister is in the process of wandering from his or her faith?

Believers “are to reconcile him or her to the faith,” Roberts said.

Many interpret the “someone [who] turns him back” in verse 19 as someone on the ministerial staff, Roberts said. They call the pastor, tell them that Brother Jones is not as committed as he once was and asks that the pastor pay him a visit or bring him before the deacons.

Further investigation into the two verses, however, shows that church leadership is not mentioned, Roberts said, whereas earlier in the chapter church leaders are called upon, such as in James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

“In verses 19-20, the ‘someone’ James is referring to is each of us — Christian brothers and sisters,” Roberts said. “We have a responsibility before the Lord to be spiritually accountable one to another. We are the priesthood of believers.”

Roberts explained two dimensions of the priesthood of believers, the first being the vertical dimension. “Everyone has a priest in Jesus Christ who is ever in intercession for us,” he said. “We cannot get to God in our own righteousness but only through Jesus Christ.”

The second dimension of the priesthood of believers is horizontal. “We are priests one to another,” Roberts said. “[The Apostle] Peter writes in his first epistle that believers are ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.’ We are responsible one to another.”

If a Christian knows of someone who is in the process of wandering from God, Roberts said, he or she should graciously seek to restore the lost brother or sister. Ask yourself, “What would Jesus have me do?” The answer: “Restore the sinner to a right relationship with God.”

There are at least two principles of restoration, Roberts said. “We must first approach our brother or sister in humility. Do not fall into the trap of self-righteousness.”

The Apostle Paul addresses this in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

In Ephesians 4:2, Paul writes, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.”

“The result of turning back a fellow believer, we are told, is that we ‘will save a soul from death’ [James 5:20],” Roberts said.

“We are to treat our backslidden brother or sister as if his or her soul depended on it,” he continued. “The worst thing we can do as believers is to be complacent toward sin and indifferent toward our brother or sister in trouble.”

While believers cannot lose their salvation, Roberts said there is a danger of God’s temporal judgment (1 John 5:16).

“While we may not experience physical death, [a backslidden lifestyle] kills us of our joy, our ministry, our testimony and our peace,” Roberts said.

In confronting a brother or sister out of love to “cover a multitude of sin,” Roberts noted that the term “cover” actually means to cover without a trace, never again finding fault.

Roberts ended his message by challenging the chapel audience to be the “someone” in the life of one currently in the process of wandering, fervently praying that he or she may be restored to fellowship with God.

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  • Susan E. Reed