Vol.XVI No.VI Pg.3
August 1979

Erring Toward The Erring

Dan S. Shipley

Erring brethren seem to have been a persistent problem in the Lord's church almost from its beginning. And, if that were not bad enough, the problem has been compounded by the way in which many have erred toward these erring brethren.

In the first place, some have erred toward them by treating their sins too lightly. The plight of erring brethren and our responsibility toward them is clearly set forth in Jas. 5:19, 20: "My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." Notice how God depicts the condition of the erring. First, they have left the truth. Secondly, they need converting (lit., "turning around"). Thirdly, God sees such a one as a sinner in "the error of his way". Not that he has merely stumbled in doing wrong, but that he practices sin. And, finally, God sees this sinner as a soul in the way of spiritual death. To convert him is to "save a soul from death". This is how God sees the unfaithful and it is the way in which we too must see them. In fact, to view them otherwise is to their hurt as well as our own. To play down the sins of brethren is to play into the hand of Satan. Paul's letter to the church at Corinth clearly shows that such sins cannot be ignored by faithful brethren (1 Cor. 5). For the sinner's sake and for the church's sake, sin must be acknowledged, faced up to and dealt with. Failure to do so now makes it more difficult later, and, worse, invites more of the same.

But, some have gone to the other extreme and have erred toward erring brethren by over-reaction. Accordingly, some have found themselves snubbed, avoided and practically ostracized without being visited, admonished or even encouraged to repent. The cause of truth is no better served in this way than in ignoring their sins altogether. God shows what our attitude should be when He says, "And yet, count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thss. 3:15). Here is what must be done with the erring and how. Admonish him — and do it "as a brother". Personal hostility has no place in such soul-saving efforts.

One other thing may be appropriate in this connection and it is this. No form of "congregational reprisal" can become a substitute for dealing with the erring brother and his sin. It may be wise not to use these unfaithful brethren in our worship services, but we err in making that the extent of dealing with the problem. The word of God knows of no such limited and partial withdrawing of fellowship.

Finally, any Christian errs who does not see a personal responsibility toward his erring brother. One reason why we do not restore more of the unfaithful is because many among the "faithful" do not relate themselves to such work. God looks to the "spiritual" (all of them) to make the effort of restoring (Gal. 6:1). It is obvious that God is concerned about our attitudes and efforts concerning those who err from the truth. May God and the erring brother know that we are concerned too.