James 5:19-20 (ESV)
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Connection, active fellowship, with believers in a local church is an important part of the Christian life. God has placed his people together on purpose. Such purposes include encouragement, comfort, and even testimony—Jesus said the world would see us as his disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). Sadly, many Christians miss out on one of the key purposes for the local church to exist that is listed in the verses above: correction.
James writes to his readers that, should one of us go astray in our thinking, wandering from the truth, and if somebody in the church brings him back, it is a really big deal. God intends that part of the life of the church is that we work with each other to keep each other in the truth of the word of God.
Most Christians, I think, would affirm that statement. Most would say that they agree that we are to help each other out here. But, I wonder how many of u have the privilege of being a part of a church where such action actually takes place?
In order to be a part of a church where what James just wrote would happen, some characteristics have to be a part of your church. One is that your church has to care about doctrine. If your local church hides from doctrinal teaching for the sake of supposed unity, or even for the sake of outreach—a very good thing—the church will lack the strength and courage to correct you unless it is on something quite obvious and egregious. Truthfully, if the church does not teach doctrinally, it is likely that, even when one falls into egregious error, the most likely outcome is for the leaders to send the errant person off to another church rather than trying to correct and restore a wayward thinker. Church discipline is generally out of the question.
Speaking of church discipline, this too must be a characteristic feature of a church that would see happen what James here affirms. I am by no means arguing for a church to be aggressive and harsh in discipline. If you read through passages like Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1-2, there is no hint of harshness or cruelty. There is honestly little hint of formality until things get deep into the process. No, church discipline is simply one believer approaching another and lovingly helping an errant brother to turn around. This should mark our lives and our churches. But, if your church will only enact discipline if a person is going to jail, it will probably lack in the kind of God-honoring restoration James wants for us.
Now, before anybody suggests that the things I just said in the last two paragraphs are reasons not to be a part of a local church, let me affirm that God wants believers to be connected to the local church. Find the best one you can. Do not make the excuse that, because your local church is imperfect that you cannot have any church to be committed to. God wants you under the care of elders in a local church body. God wants you to be served by or to serve as a deacon, a servant, caring for needs in a local church body. God wants you to sing together with saints, to hear the word read and preached, and to love and be loved by others.
The truth is, God wants us to have relationships in which we speak into each other’s lives and we challenge each other’s thinking. God wants us to talk theology. God wants us to get into each other’s business for each other’s good. Please, for the good of others and the glory of God, do not be only partly connected to others in the church. Find a church that teaches the word of God, that emphasizes doctrine, that is willing to discipline, and that will not compromise on the Scriptures. Find believers who are willing to be challenged when someone raises a point with grace and kindness. Find a place where the believers will challenge you. Open your life to others who love you and love God’s word even more.