How Do I Know the Difference Between “Them”?
Devotional THought of the Day:
19 My brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let that person know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 (CSBBible)
20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
2 Corinthians 5:20 (NLT2)
To the church in the proper sense of the term belongs no wicked person, no hypocrite, no unregenerate, no heretic.
Thus writes St. Paul (Rom. 8:9): “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Whoever does not belong to Christ is not a member of the true church, which is His spiritual body.
So also writes John in 1 John 2:19 of the hypocrites who finally also left the fellowship of the church outwardly: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
Again our Lord says (John 15:6): “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered.”
Walther groups together a bunch of passages, passages I have often heard used to ostracie people, to justy why the church gave up on “them.” Especially when “they” are on the other end of a spectrum in regard this this disagreement, or that one. They are the one’s that are not His, they are not with us, so we should cast them out…
And yet James calls us to retore our brothers and sisters who are straying, are these not the same people? Paul gives us the example of pleading with people to come back to God….
So how do I know who to write off, and who who to plead with? Who I should just shake the dust off my feet and walk away from, and who to invest time in prayer, and in working with them, so that they can see God’s mercy.
How do I know the difference? How do I make the choice?
How do I apply Walther’s Theological Treatise in a pastoral manner, and teach my people to do the same, as we together try to imitate Christ Jesus. How is my pastoral practice accurate theologically?
Or do I just make it simple and write everyone off, as is tempting some day!? (just kidding – what I meant was write everyone off but you, dear reader!)
I think that Walther’s point is not pragmatic for the moment. It is a general overarching comment that looks at things eternally, as God judges people on Judgement Day. Until that point, God is patient with them, not wanting even one of them to perish. We have to leave the doors open for them, we need to keep praying for God’s mercy for them, we need to be there, and to let them know we will be there, when they need, to point them back to Jesus.
It isn’t our call to determine who is part of the true church and who will never be. Our challenge is much simpler – to cry out to everyone, Be reconciled to God.
Remember you dwell in God’s peace as you are there for them… and they for you!
C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry: Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry, electronic ed. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 34.