Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press

Chapter 5


... Restoring a Fallen Christian

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him
gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." -- Galatians 6:1 (NIV)

Suppose someone has taken a spiritual tumble in your church. They have fallen into sin and many know about it. A little group gathers off to the side to discuss the tragedy. One opens the conversation with, "Isn't it just terrible? Of all people, who would ever have suspected him?" Another replies, "He should have known better, it was just plain stupid." A third adds, "We've got to hold the whole family up in prayer during this time; you know this was not the first time."

So go the unspiritual, fleshly responses to a believer's fall into sin. We have a difficult time dealing with a brother's spiritual failure in the Christian community. If a leader or minister falls, the difficulty is doubled. What's a congregation to do when one of its own falls?

What if one of our unmarried teen girls gets pregnant? Or how should we respond when one of the board members is being charged with tax evasion in his business? Or how about a fine fellow in our choir who is being charged by his former wife with molesting his children? What do we do when one of our adult Sunday school teachers separates from his wife and files for a no-fault divorce? What would you do if you caught another Christian secretly meeting someone who is not his or her spouse?

Sometimes Christians fall into sin. It is not the norm, and it should not be expected, but it happens. Christians sometime stumble and fall. Temptation, like a mighty gust of wind, can sweep a believer off his feet and send him tumbling. When this happens, what should the rest of us do?

We are to restore the fallen brother. We are to help him back on his feet again. This discipline is both personal and corporate...the individual has a responsibility as does the entire church. We are commanded to help the brother up. This is restoration.

What NOT to Do When a Brother Falls

Restoring another Christian is a demanding responsibility; it's a touchy task. How will the person respond? Will they blow up at me? Is the whole thing merely a rumor that I should ignore? It's none of our business anyway, is it? It is indeed our responsibility. God wants to restore the fallen one, and he chooses to use us as his helpers/restorers. The responsibility for restoration lies squarely on the shoulders of other Christians. Yet because of misunderstanding, fear, and lack of training, we often sidestep this command. Instead we bypass the whole issue when faced with another's sin. We must avoid these popular "cop outs."

1. We must not whitewash sin.

Excusing sin as normal or ordinary doesn't help. "After all, he's only human," we say, apparently believing it is simply natural for Christians to fall into sin. Some churches have used the guise of "loving the sinner" to completely ignore the commands of the Scripture. Yes, we must love the sinner, even when he is a fallen brother, but we are not to dismiss his sin with a trivial remark about humanity, treating sin as inconsequential. Jesus told one sinner "Neither do I condemn you," but He quickly added "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11).

Like leaven, sin spreads its influence. Sin is contagious. It spreads from one to another. We are called to restore our fallen brother, not merely excuse him. Whitewashing sin by excusing it as human error bypasses the whole issue, ignores God's command to restore the fallen brother, and gives the would-be restorer an "easy out" from a tough task.

2. However we must avoid witch-hunting.

The trouble with this Christian discipline of restoring a brother is that those least likely to do it are the best for the job. Conversely, those most likely to greet gleefully the idea of restoring another are the worst ones to do it. In most churches there are a few people who would love the idea of signing up for "search and destroy" missions to uncover and correct the sins of others. They are experts at exposing and condemning sin. These "headhunters" love nothing better than the juicy discovery of some member's wrongdoing. They have what John Calvin called the "spirit of accusation." Like the Pharisees, they are always anxious to cast the first stone. If given their way, they'd return to the days of Salem Massachusetts and sensational church trials, placing offenders in stocks or hanging them as witches. Obviously, this kind of a "witch hunting" atmosphere is not what the discipline of restoration is all about.

3. We must not ignore sin.

While most churches may have a witch-hunter or two, most of us are in little danger of such excesses. But we are just as guilty. In our attempt to avoid the excesses we may do worse -- simply ignore the whole business altogether, hoping it will go away. We attribute the sin to an exaggerated rumor saying, "It's probably not true anyway." We remain coldly aloof from the sin and the fallen brother, figuring it will evaporate with time. "It's none of our business anyway," we say, hoping that the fallen brother will heal himself, or fade away, or something!

If you had an ugly festering wound on your leg, with obvious red lines creeping up toward your heart, would you ignore it? No. When one of the members in the body of Christ is infected with sin, the rest of us must take action to bring healing, not stand casually by in indifference. Ignoring sin won't make it go away. We are to get involved, take a risk, help out. That's what being a Christian is all about. The local church is a hospital for sinners, not a musty museum for perfect saints.

4. We must not hastily expel the stumbling saint.

While we should not overlook sin, we must guard ourselves from rapidly booting the brother or sister out of our fellowship. Some churches pride themselves in their "purity." One pastor bragged to a neighboring pastor with a condescending tone, "We keep a tight reign on our families; not a single one of our people are divorced or separated." The neighboring pastor replied, "Right, when they get divorced, you kick 'em out, and they come over to us."

We don't like to fix our own messes. Sometimes we send them down the street. But that is what restoration is all about -- fixing messes. Kicking a person out is a radical remedy like amputating an infected leg. It is not to be used until all other attempts at restoration fail.

This does not mean that we must never expel people from the fellowship of the church. We must differentiate between the Christian who stumbles and falls into sin, and the one with a deep-seated rebellion who refuses to accept correction. The second live in open rebellion continuing in sin with an obstinate contempt for God. This latter kind -- a willful and rebellious sinner living in open disobedience and offering alibis for his defiance -- should indeed be expelled. For this situation Paul said, "Expel the wicked man from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:13) But, the one who trips and falls, slipping off the straight and narrow road of obedience must be restored, not expelled.

5. "Shunning" is itself a shameful practice.

In many churches an offending member is neither restored nor expelled -- he is simply given the cold shoulder. He is not officially ignored or rejected; he is just treated with icy politeness. And there is a dark thing happening -- a brother or sister, while still present, is being quietly excluded from true fellowship. All interchange is mechanical and automatic. This ostracism is very much like the "shunning" practiced by the Amish and other strict sects. We are no better. The person guilty of moral failure never hears his sin spoken of. He is politely greeted and treated civilly. But he is never again included in anything. It is a social excommunication.

Most persons who experience this kind of psychological torture eventually drop out of the church or switch to another fellowship which seems more open and accepting. In fact, in almost every community there are churches who, like the cities of refuge in Israel, are known to provide loving relief and asylum for hurting people. The word gets around. Is your church such a "community of the compassionate?"

How to Restore a Brother

The Bible is so intensely practical. It is more than a book full of theological ideas we are asked to believe. Rather, it is a guidebook for everyday life. The Book tells us specifically what to do when our brother stumbles into sin. We are to "restore" him. The word is the same as used for "mending nets" or for a surgeon "setting a dislocated bone." Restoration means becoming my brother's "repairman." We are to get involved in helping the Christian to his feet again, putting him back where he belongs. Here's how:

1. Someone must face the offender.

Restoration is face-to-face work. It should not be done by letter, or with the telephone. The Bible tells us this is work for the spiritual ones among our congregation. It's work for mature Christians. Novices and carnal Christians need not apply. The restorer must pick a time and place to face the brother with the intention of restoring him. Many churches leave this work to the pastor. The Scriptures don't. It's a Christian discipline which all who are spiritual should bear.

Restoration is delicate work. You are attempting to correct the trajectory of a brother or sister who has wandered off. It is not to be done without much prayer and thought. Perhaps this is why so few do it. But if we take the Bible seriously, we who are spiritual, mature, guided by the Spirit, are to set up a meeting face-to-face with the brother who has fallen in order to restore him.

2. Your spirit must be right.

The restorer must approach the brother or sister in a spirit of meekness, vividly remembering that he too has feet of clay. He must avoid gossip, and keep his talking and advice to the minimum. Restoring is not lecture-giving. The godly restorer puts the best construction on the actions and motives of the fallen brother. He is not looking for an opportunity to give harsh, heavy-handed condemnation or to illustrate his own spiritual superiority. He is not accusatory nor does he have a holier-than-thou attitude. He is sympathetic and tactful, carefully selecting his words and body language.

Most of all he is humble. Restoration is not the work for those with a spiritual superiority complex. The godly restorer comes, not as one stooping down to raise another up to his level. Rather, he comes alongside as a friend to help a brother back to his feet. Restorers are meek people -- a blend of strength and tenderness -- strong enough to set the broken bone, yet gentle enough to avoid hurting the patient more than necessary as they do it.

There are precious few folk who meet these criteria. In fact, merely reading the description causes most of us to give up. "Obviously this is not the kind of work for me," we say to ourselves. "I'll pray while others do this restoring business." But we are too hasty in dismissing the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Do you want to be this way? Is it your hunger? Can you see a glimmer of hope that you might some day become this sort of a restorer? If so, then let God work in you. If He lays it on your heart to help some slipping (or slipped) saint, then do so without delay. You may discover hidden, untapped characteristics for being just this kind of person. Anyway, how will you know if you never try?

3. The goal is recovery.

Restoring is about discipline, not punishment. Punishment looks backward to the offense and seeks to inflict pain. Discipline looks forward towards recovery. Restoring is discipline. Restoring puts a fellow back on course and gets him moving in the right direction again. You do not visit your brother to see him cower in pain and guilt. You want to get the confession out of the way as quickly as possible, so you can get on with bringing the cure.

4. Determine your approach.

Before you go, determine what your approach will be. Are you offering simple words to admonish, a more definite correction, or clear-cut rebuke? Each person and each situation, may require a different approach. In most cases, we will be giving gentle admonition saying something like this:

"What I want to talk to you about is _________. I don't know for sure, and I could be wrong, but I want to offer a gentle nudge to you as my friend about _________. If I'm wrong, forget it and forgive my intrusion. If I'm partly right, then think about it...kick it around a bit and see if God is saying the same thing."

There is seldom a need to be more harsh than this. In some instances a more direct correction or outright rebuke is required, but a gentle admonition given earlier is often adequate.

5. The means to recovery is repentance.

When a Christian falls there is only one way back -- repentance. Repentance is sorrow, brokenness, heartache for sin. It begins with a confession, but leads to a desire to abandon the sin. When a real Christian falls, he experiences plenty of guilt and remorse. He is usually ready to repent. He may have even already repented privately.

That is why it is so important to approach carefully at the most appropriate time. Recently the Lord prompted me to offer correction to a friend about his treatment of a certain individual. I called on Monday and made arrangements for lunch. At lunch that Wednesday, after I had offered the admonition he said, "I knew the moment you called two days ago why you wanted to see me and I've thought about it these last two days." God had already prepared his heart to receive the word of correction. Restorers never arrive first. The Holy Spirit gets there first.

Occasionally, however, a person will not receive the correction at all. Sometimes the individual will deny everything, even attack you. He may dismiss it as a minor offense, tell you it has been exaggerated, or offer excuses for the behavior. Sometimes this happens even after you have done everything right. If it does, simply offer an apology for offending the person and change the subject. Dismiss the issue, and treat the person tenderly and carefully. Remember, a fallen Christian has a serious spiritual wound. Sometimes when you offer therapy, it causes greater pain than the wound itself. In these cases, simply withdraw and let the Holy Spirit continue His work.

Immediate rejection may, however, be only a temporary delay. Sometimes your admonition is rejected, only to become an embryo for eventual obedience. The following excerpts from a letter illustrate just such a response.

"I've always had a good marriage, or at least I thought so. But last year at camp I made the acquaintance of a woman serving on staff with me. My wife was home with our little kids, and this woman and I struck up a friendship. We shared lots of interests and liked to talk with each other. Her friendly response to me was a powerful ego stimulant, and we were seen together frequently. "Two of my friends noticed, and worried about the direction this friendship was taking. They cared enough to talk to me directly about it. "I was furious! How could they suspect anything? What kind of friends were these? They were the ones with the dirty minds, not me. And I told them so. "But inwardly the Holy Spirit convicted me immediately. We hadn't done anything wrong, but I was captivated by this girl, and the relationship was headed the wrong way. "I argued with God, insisting that He was wrong. I swore that if it ever went further I'd break it off. I even spoke to the woman about it. "Anyway, after a long period of very deep conviction, I abandoned that relationship which was headed for trouble. I began pouring my energies into my own marriage. As I did, I was astounded at the dry rot in my own marriage. It wasn't as secure as I'd thought. "Anyway, to make a long story short, I am now finally able to look back over the past year with joy. Our life together has never been better. I see real growth in myself, my marriage, and our church. "I just want to give credit to those two guys, who took such a big risk that day...if they hadn't offered that correction, who knows where that relationship might have led? I think I know. And I thank them for the correction."

Restoration is risky. But, where there is no risk, there is no gain. Likewise, where the risk is high, the gains are correspondingly high.

6. Full restoration must come.

The whole purpose of restoration is to get the person back to where he was -- and often that even means leadership roles. Why is it that the church will take a infamous sinner who has been saved out of the raw and propel him to leadership, while a fallen Christian forever forfeits any claim to leadership? It's a kind of Protestant penance, only worse -- it never ends. Eventually a fallen Christian who clearly repents and reforms should be restored completely, even to leadership.

That doesn't mean such restoration should be immediate, and it doesn't mean that following a hasty repentance, the fallen Christian keeps all his responsibilities in the church as if nothing ever happened. On the contrary, a Christian who falls into obvious public sin should relinquish all leadership positions in the Church. But this should only be for a set time. He should be placed under a loving, spiritual mentor for accountability and growth. When a reasonable time has passed, he should be free to be appointed or elected to any post in the church. Restoration to fellowship is the fallen Christian's immediate need, not his restoration to leadership.

Now what about you, my friend?

Have you ever slipped off the straight and narrow path of obedience? Did Satan ever sneak up on your blind side and trip you up, sending you headlong into sin? Was there a time when you found yourself entangled in a habit, thought pattern, or attitude which you couldn't seem to shake? Were you ever knocked over and swept away in an act of disobedience?

How did you want to be treated? With searing judgement and condemnation? Would you have been happy to have been simply ignored and "let be" to work it out yourself? Perhaps this is exactly what happened. Wouldn't it have been better if someone who loved you deeply had come to you with a tender and compassionate heart and carefully helped you back on track?

Did someone ever restore you? Certainly God has. We have all been restored by the gentle, strong arm of God. Most of us, many times. Now we who are restored, are to become restorers. Nice touch. We who have known disobedience ourselves now become God's instruments to restore other fellow travelers. It's the Christian way.

Bible Study

  1. Galatians 6:1-2.

    -- What is the descriptive word given to those equipped to be restorers?

    -- In what ways should a restorer watch out for temptation himself?

    -- How can a restorer "carry another's burden"?

    2. Luke 22:54-62.

    -- What sin(s) did Peter commit in this incident?

    -- How serious was Peter's sin? (see 1 John 2:23)

    3. John 21:15-17. Reviewing Peter's restoration, observe what Jesus did and didn't do in restoring him:

    -- Jesus DIDN'T...

    -- Jesus DID...

    4. 1 John 5:16-17.

    -- Even if we don't get directly involved in restoring a fallen Christian, how are we supposed to pray?

    -- What is the exception to this instruction to pray?

    -- Many intrepretations exist for the "sin that leads to death," in your opinion what could this mean?

    5. 1 Corinthians 5: 1-13. What was the brother's sin in this case and what are the Christians told to do? Restore him? Why does Paul say this?

    6. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.

    -- What does Paul now tell the congregation to do regarding their infamous sinner?

    -- What do you think may have changed in the intervening time?

    7. 1 Corinthians 4:21.

    -- What are the two general methods of discipline mentioned here?

    -- Which method works best with you?

    -- Which method are you generally more inclined toward personally?

    -- Which do you think is the preferred method for restoring Christians?

    8. James 5:19-20.

    -- To whom is the writer talking...Christians?

    -- What is it possible a brother may do?

    -- What should someone else then do?

    -- When this restoration is completed, what may the restorer have done?

    9. Was I ever restored? If anyone ever offered correction or restoration to you, tell about it here. Did they do it wisely? Poorly? Did it work?

    10. Where are our restorers? Those who are spiritual are the best equipped to do restoring. Who are the people in your local church who you think would be ideal restorers?

    11. Is there someone I should restore? Using some sort of personal code or observations no one else would understand, list one or more persons for whom you might be a restorer.

    12. Personal Reflection. What is one single thing you could do in response to the truths of this chapter?

    -- An action to take:

    -- A promise to make:

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
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 To contribute to the thinking on this issue or to contact the writer e-mail Tuesday@indwes.edu