So, where am I going with this little series? I lead off with Ray Ortlund’s exhortation to love people of other theological traditions. And then I got all specific on you last week by pointing out that some of the heroes of the faith are not really in your theological tradition – assuming, of course, that you’re a TeamPyro reader and of a roughly-reformed tradition (which may span from Presbyterianism to independent Congregationalist). We love Augustine for refuting Pelagius, for example, but we don’t talk much about the fact that his theology of the Eucharist is essentially the theology which yields what the WCF calls the “the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, … most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.”
We want our heroes to be just like us, and our perceived enemies to be completely unlike us, with nothing in common as if we are not all of Adam’s race, and as if the sin which cannot be forgiven is only possible in someone else’s ballywick.
That’s the elephant in the room, btw: the way we toss people out of our circle of church with complete regard for their faults and no regard for their merit in Christ.
Let’s face it: we say we believe this --
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Rom 5]I mean: that’s straight up-the-middle Book of Romans. It’s the Reformed Home Court. This is the promise those who have faith and have repented, and if you’re really ready to go for the gusto, those who have been baptized for the sake of faith and repentance, ought to all share.
Paul says in this we ought to rejoice -- so all the smart remarks about the Apostle John and John the Baptist being a real gas at parties and whatnot ought to take its snark to Paul and see what he has to say about that.
But this is still the PyroManiacs blog, y’all. Phil has just spent a good bit of time telling us about the BioLogos affront to orthodoxy – am I jumping ship here to say that Phil’s wrong to shake a finger at people who are bent on dismantling the faith for the sake of elevating science, implying that at least some of them are not Christian at all? Dan has recently chastised those who leave church because of the dreaded “Reason X”, implying that these people are, by and large, not operating in good faith and probably not in faith at all. Am I parting company with my good and godly friend over his reproach of the unfaithful?
In a word? No.
See: for all the assurance we can derive from Rom 5, and all the exhortations of Paul to be unified under Christ and to let Christ be the basis for unity and fellowship – which, it seems to me, is Pastor Ortlund’s point – we also have James telling us this explicitly:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 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. [James 5]One simple sentence, but I think we lose the force of it often. Here’s what I think we should read when we see this:
Some people – like you -- will from time to time wander away into sin.
This premise, btw, is how you tell serious people from hobbyists in the Christian life: the personal recognition that all Christians turn away from the truth from time to time. They all sin and fall short of the Glory of God. Including you personally, and including me personally.
That’s not a license to stay that way or not wage war on sin: but it is the license to treat others the way you have been graciously treated – which is with forgiveness and sacrificial love.
Because you get grace, you can give grace. You in fact ought to give grace. It’s a great place to start.
Wandering people who have turned away from the truth can be turned back.
This is the one thing I think we lose track of: that we mostly aren’t supposed to rebuke people in order to spin them off from the life of faith, the fellowship of the church, and the good graces of God. We are supposed to turn wandering people back from their lostness and toward Christ, toward the church, toward the only hope they have. They can be turned back.
When these people turn back, they turn from death to life.
And in fact the must turn back. If they don’t, they’re going to die not just in this life, but they will be under the judgment of the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell. That’s the danger they are in.
Other people are the instruments of turning the wanderers back to Christ.
Not only can they be turned back, but they can be turned back by us. We can ourselves turn them back – but I suggest that we can’t do that when we only use whips and hand-grenades. We have to turn them back the way James himself would turn them back.
James has the audacity to call both the wanderers and those who turn them back "My brothers".
Isn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that point us exactly to the same place Paul points us to – which is a refuge in Christ when we are confronting people who we believe are turned away from Christ and toward sin? James says that our approach to them, and our reproaches to them, ought to be as brothers and not as toward lawless men or people who are not in our own family.
You could do it, folks. If you are in Christ, you can do it. You can start by being with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house.