Evangelism of the “So called” Brother
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. James 5:19-20 (ESV)
Beloved, perhaps you recall our study on the fifth chapter of the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in which the concept of the “so-called brother” was introduced. (1 Cor 5:11) This passage deals with the very difficult and sensitive topic of church discipline. In the course of studying this text you may also remember that one of Paul’s reasons for encouraging the congregation to discipline the man who was caught in a heinous sin was for the purpose of his “salvation.” Specifically, Paul writes, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. [1 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB)] This man was a member of the congregation in Corinth and a professing believer, but Paul called him a “so called brother.”
One might ask, “What exactly does the “so called” brother issue have to do with evangelism?” My gentle response would be “everything?” Often we think of evangelism only in terms of winning the souls of those who have never professed faith in Christ Jesus. But what do we do about professing Christians who have wandered from the faith and are living lives inconsistent with that descriptive of new creatures who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit? (2 Cor 5:17) We are aware that the very Apostle who stated, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life,” [1 John 5:13 (ESV)] is the very same Apostle in the very same letter who also wrote regarding children of God, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous . . . No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” 1 John 3:7-9 (ESV) It was our Lord who communicated that there are many who initially respond positively to the proclaimed Word but eventually fall away because of persecution or the cares of the world. (Matt 13:18-22) Further, we can identify with the deep sorrow that Paul must have felt when he wrote, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica . . .” 2 Timothy 4:10 (ESV)
It is true as one could respond, “We cannot see the heart of professing believers who are behaving inconsistently with the characteristics of a Christian,” to which, I would whole heartedly agree. However, I would also counter respond that we cannot definitively claim that there is the type of “assurance” for salvation to which the author of Hebrews alludes for such individuals. (Heb 6:11) We must leave open the possibility that these individuals may never have been saved to begin with. (1 John 2:19) This is why our Lord told us to treat a church member who has been disciplined as “a Gentile and a tax collector,” (Matt 18:17) because he or she is perceived as outside the covenant community and in need of being evangelized.
To return to my initial idea, this is why Paul calls the man being disciplined in the fifth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians a “so called brother.” Leon Morris states that this individual “denies his profession by the way he lives.” (Tyndale Commentaries - Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – 1 Corinthians.) We simply do not know conclusively the status of this man’s heart condition. Was he a Christian brother or was he not?
Therefore, the central point of this article is to encourage fellow believers who are walking steadfastly with the Lord to continue to reach out to these “so called” brothers and sisters at work, at family events, in the community, and wherever we might find them for the purpose of reconciling these wandering souls to God and His church. However, communicating either directly or inferentially that professing believers who have strayed from the faith have “assurance” in their salvation could be detrimental to the well being of their souls and the souls of others around them.
Until next time, this is Pastor Daniel writing, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”