My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20
These verses bring James’ letter to an end. They are very different from the ending of many New Testament letters, which are often full of warm greetings and prayers for the recipients. James’ letter was utterly practical and, in these final verses, he confronted the fact that, sadly, there are those who wander away from the Christian faith.
The verb “to wander” is absolutely correct in my pastoral experience. I have been aware of very few people who depart from the Christian faith because they suddenly decide that it is all wrong. Most of the time, people get busy with other things and simply drift away from the Church. This very often happens when people move to a new area. They visit a few local churches but never really feel at home – and so they stop attending and, eventually, wander away from their faith.
James wanted his readers to know the importance of restoring someone who has wandered away. They were effectively saving them from death. Restoration needs to be on the active agenda of every church. Of course, everyone has a right to decide not to attend church, and even to change religion if they wish. But a loving church will surely show concern for those who wander away, and offer the opportunity to return. Nothing can or should be forced, but it would be tragic if anyone were allowed to wander away from a church without some action being taken.
The parable of the lost sheep is clearly relevant here. The shepherd could have decided to let the one lost sheep go, knowing that 99 per cent of his flock was secure. But love drove the shepherd out into the wilderness in search of the sheep. And when he found it and brought it home, there were great celebrations (Luke 15:1-7). Everyone matters to Jesus, and we need to ensure that’s how we live today.
What action does your church take when someone wanders away?
Loving God, thank you that every single person matters to you. Help me to be wise and loving towards those who wander away from your truth. Amen