09. Learning to Minister to the Fallen

What Is Restoration?

During the past couple of years I have read everything I could find on the subject of restoration.  I was curious to discover what was being taught on the subject.  I was also very anxious to learn everything I could for my own benefit.  Much of what I read was exciting and encouraging, but something troubled me greatly as I read these things.  Much of what was taught was dogmatic in an area where the Bible is very unspecific.  I found myself at times comparing my restoration to what others said about it and wondering if maybe I missed the boat.  Let me explain.

Several of the articles and books on restoration described the need for restoration committees which were established by the church, yet I found no Scriptural backing for this teaching.  I read many things that talked about guidelines and timetables which again were not based on Biblical references.  In fact, much of what I read on this subject taught processes of restoration which are structured with ideas found no where in the Bible.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not criticizing any of these restoration efforts.  I admire them for their efforts.  I am however concerned about the attitude that somehow these writings are teaching the Scriptural approach to this important ministry.  In some cases I detected hints of humanism and modern psychological philosophies in these programs.  Most of what I read was written by individuals who are attached rather closely to the counseling philosophy that has pervaded many churches throughout this country.  Also much of it was written by individuals who are somewhat hostile towards fallen Christians.

For a time I was concerned that maybe my restoration was not thorough enough because I had no such committee or because my restoration did not follow these other prescribed guidelines.  This discouraged me greatly.  In fact, it even intimidated me in some ways.  One day I realized that these were man-made plans, and therefore were not THE only way an individual could be restored.

First, I decided that I would try and define what restoration is according to the Bible.  To do so I first had to admit that the Bible does not say much about the subject, yet the Bible is filled with stories of individuals who were restored.  It is very interesting to me that little is said about how these individuals were restored.  Let me make some general observations about things I discovered in the Bible.

  • No one in the Bible was restored by a committee.
  • Peter, who denied the Lord and even curse and swore, was restored and began preaching almost immediately after his failing and restoration.
  • The Bible gives no time-table for restoration.
  • Nothing is mentioned in the Bible about special counseling being given to those who were being restored.
  • No special limitations or requirements were given to those who were being restored.
  • Every restored individual in the Bible was shown to be back serving the Lord after their restoration.
  • The fault mentioned in restoration was not defined.  We do not know specific sins which were intended to be included.
  • Nothing was mentioned in the Bible about the call of God on the individuals life being rescinded.

These are just a few of my observations of Biblical examples of restoration, but they will suffice for now to prove some very important points concerning this subject.  My concern and reason for writing this chapter is that Christians need to be careful that they do not accept the teachings of others on this subject, but that they follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  The one thing we know is that we are commanded to restore those who have been overtaken in a fault.

Let me begin with one very important example of where I believe much of the teaching on this subject has been in error.  Most Christians believe in the importance of pastoral leadership.  For that reason it is my personal belief that restoration needs to be under the authority of a pastor.  My pastor needs to have the authority over my life.  I must allow him to take the wheel and drive, so that I have his rule over me in my life.

A pastor may decide to seek counsel from his deacons or pastoral staff on the restoration of an individual, but the final decisions should be in his hands.  On this same note I think that whatever that pastor decides for the individual being restored should not be judged or questioned by others.  He is accountable to God for what he does with that individual and does not need the scrutiny of others as to how he deals with the person being restored.  Sometimes pastors are criticized by other pastors for their methods of restoration.  That is tragic because it is not the job of pastors to judge things where they do not have all of the facts.

My dad has been criticized for the way he restores people, yet he has been used of God to restore more Christians than any preacher (or psychologist) in America.  His critics do not realize how many lives he has restored because he does not go public with most of them, but eternity will reveal that much of his ministry has been involved in restoration. Restoration brings with it the inherent danger of having some who abuse your grace and go back into sin. Are we to take Galatians 6:1 out of the Bible just to protect ourselves from such possibilities.

There is no possible way that I could be answerable to every pastor in the country who thinks he has a better idea of how I should be restored.  They all have different ideas.  I would end up spending the rest of my life trying to satisfy all of their demands and still never end up being restored.  I need a pastor to tell me what I need to do to get things right and to keep from being overtaken again.

This is one example of the way restoration has been handled which is dangerous.  There are others.  Rather than prescribing the exact plan for restoration, let me try to give some ideas on the spirit of restoration that needs to exist in our local churches.

  1.  Restoration is an attitude. Because the Bible does not prescribe a definitive plan for restoration, I believe that restoration is more of an attitude that needs to pervade a church.  How do attitudes develop in churches?  Preaching.  Every church I have seen that was active in restoring Christians was a church where the preacher preached often on reclaiming broken lives.

Every church should address the issue of restoration before the actual need has ever arisen, so that the people already have the right attitude when the actual situations arise.  Obviously when the fallen individual is a high profile person it makes the situation even more difficult, but I do believe that a church with a history of restoration will be able to deal better with any situation which arises.

When a person is overtaken with a fault, the automatic response needs to be to restore that individual.  In fact that ought to be assumed.  The quicker the church responds in that way the better the chance will be of truly restoring the individual.  Most of the deepest scars left are the ones that are inflicted early in the response to the persons failings.

Scandal is the unspiritual response to a spiritual problem.  Where there is a spiritual attitude there will be no scandal.  By the way, there are often scandals in churches where the failure did not even happen, while the affected church went on without such a scandal.  The affected church had an attitude of restoration and tried to lift up the fallen, and the other church was filled with people who talked about the failure in their gossip groups.  The safest thing a pastor can do is to create the restorative attitude in the people of his church.

  1.  Restoration is an atmosphere.  Do you know why churches have scandals every time one of the members has a major failing of sin in their life?  It is because they consider the church to be something other than a spiritual hospital.  It would almost be like a hospital that had a scandal every time a critically ill person came to be treated.  If the fallen cannot come to the church to BE restored where are they supposed to go?

I visited a church one Sunday night where I thought I would be welcomed.  When the pastor saw me, before the service, he came to me and asked me to leave because he did not want “my type” in his church.  I tried to be gracious, but I asked him what type he meant.  He told me that he did not want unrepentant perverts in his church.  I asked him that if I could not come to the church to get right where could I go.  He told me anywhere but there.

I left hurt, but more determined than ever that the church has to be the place for a person to be restored.  Many Christians seem to think that their church is like a club where you earn the right to attend.  I am not suggesting that I should have been welcomed into that church as a member immediately, but I should have been welcomed as someone who could possibly be restored and helped.  Before I joined my church I went to the pastor and asked his permission to join the church and offered him the chance to ask any question he wanted to ask me and told him that as my pastor he would have authority over me.  I felt I owed that to him, but anyone who is broken ought to be welcome into any church in order to be fixed.  I have often said teasingly that I would not join any church that would allow me to be a member.  In truth that is exactly the atmosphere which persists in many churches.

There have been some churches I have attended where from the very moment I walked in the door I felt the love of God in the hearts of the people.  They reached out to me with a love and concern that convicted me of my sins, and gave me a hunger to be right with God and with that body of people.

A church with a restoration atmosphere will attract honesty and repentance.  Nothing made me more honest about the work God was doing in my life than the realization that the people in the church loved me for what and who I am, and wanted to do everything they could to encourage and strengthen me to make it back to where I ought to be.  God used that in my life.

  1.  Restoration is an abstract. This is a strange statement, but one I feel is very important.  When I say abstract I mean that sin is such a battle in our lives that restoration is a never ending ongoing process that much of the time produces no scandal or visible repercussions.  The greatest restoration in the world is that which restores an individual from a sin that has not yet reached into the depths of their life, and pulls them back to where they ought to be before tragedy strikes.  Bible preaching against sin is meant to be an invitation for repentance not an indictment to be used against people.

Restoration committees often are ineffective because some of the most important elements in restoration is the realization that everyone in the church is reaching out to you in love, not just those who have been chosen.  Some of the most important moments of my recovery were moments when some saint wrapped their heart around me and let me know they cared.  They were not on a committee assigned to watch over me.  They just loved me in the Lord.

I remember the day a senior saint walked up to me in church and simply said,  “God is not through with you.  I am praying for you every day that the Lord will strengthen you to be all He wants you to be so that you can do all he wants you to do.”  My spirits were lifted even as my heart was convicted by the holiness in the life of this precious one.

  1.  Restoration is accountability. One of the things I do agree with most with others who have written about restoration is the fact that a person who has fallen ought to be accountable.  I differ in that I think they ought to be directly accountable to the pastor and indirectly accountable to the entire church.

I believe that the pastor is the overseer of the church.  Because of that, I feel it is important for a person to submit to their pastor and be accountable to him.  Let me share another reason for this.  It will prevent conflict and confusion.

Restoration ideas vary.  If I am accountable to someone other than my pastor, I may choose someone with whom I feel most comfortable, or whose ideas of restoration most appeal to me.  Believe me, people’s ideas vary greatly in this respect.  There are some people who would have encouraged me to begin preaching quickly, while there are others who would have discouraged me from ever preaching again.  Some of these would be on the same pastoral staff or deacon board.

The safest thing for me is to submit to the authority of my pastor to lead me along in my recovery.  By being accountable to him, I am in the safest position to do what is best for me in light of the entire church.  I am accountable to the entire church in that they are the ones who will be watching my life to see to it that I maintain a good testimony in my daily walk.  They do not have authority over me, but they do exert a great amount of influence.

  1.  Restoration is acceptance.  Not much needs to be said here, but the church which accepts the broken will restore the broken.  I am not talking about accepting their sin, but accepting them as a person needing to be restored.  For restoration to work, those who need to be restored must be made to know that they are being accepted by the church.
  2.  Restoration is anointing.  This is very important.  Who is to be the one who restores the one who has been overtaken? The Bible says those who are spiritual are to do so.  Spiritual people are not necessarily those who know the most Bible, or who hold the highest offices in the church.  They are the ones who are walking in the Spirit.  Let me share a word of testimony with you here.

Most of the people who have helped me the most never considered themselves as my restorers.  I was neither an assignment nor a project.  The Holy Spirit burdened them for me and they followed that burden with love and friendship.  Little did they know that they were being called of God to minister to me.  Some were used to minister to me only once, but they profoundly affected me.  Others ministered to me many times, yet never realized fully they were being used to restore me.

The Holy Spirit knew what I needed to be restored much better than some committee.  Committees often cause others to feel like they cannot get involved because they have not been asked.  The people who have influenced me the most in the restoration process would never have been put together on a committee.  Many of them would have been too humble to interfere had I been put under the authority of a committee.

I am not saying that people cannot be restored by committees.  Some have been and I am thankful for that fact, but I am not convinced that this is the best way.  I am not criticizing or fighting restoration committees, but advocating that it is not as good a plan as allowing the Holy Spirit in a church to work in the hearts of the people to do so.  In fact committees work best in churches where the general attitude of the church is not one of restoration.

  1.  Restoration is assurance.  Why do we disciple converts?  It is so that they can grow in their walk in the Lord and become more effective in their usefulness and service for the Lord.  The Christian being restored needs to be given the assurance that the same is true about the restoration process.

A Christian who has failed the Lord needs to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Believe me going through restoration can seem like a tunnel at times because the future is so dark.  One thing Christians can do for that one being restored is to encourage them of the fact that there will come a day when all of this will be history.

My pastor tells me often that the day will come when I will be accepted for what I am now, and that what I did will be mostly forgotten.  That encourages me because sometimes I think it will never go away.  The assurance that God will work everything out is greatly encouraging to me.

  1.  Restoration is awareness.  This is the final point of the definition for restoration.  The process of restoration is a risky one.  It is filled with ups and downs, and with successes as well disappointments.  Restoration is not perfect.  In fact, a very large percentage of those who show an initial desire to be restored will eventually fall by the wayside.  Some will slip from time to time before finally being restored.  That is how powerful sin can be.

To be involved in restoration we must be aware of those risks.  A doctor who performs surgery on those who have serious heart diseases must be aware of the fact that many of his patients will not survive his efforts.  Does that mean he is not to try?  No.  In fact, he must go into every surgery believing that he can save their lives.

The same attitude must exist in those who are involved in restoring others.  You must believe that they can make it and that you are going to stick with them until the very end.  Without that attitude from some individuals, I would never have made it.

It would have been nice if we had a list of guidelines in the Bible to tell us how to deal with the fallen Christian, but we do not.  We must simply apply the principles of the Christian life to the way we treat them.  This is the way God chose it to be.  There are two dangers that exist anytime there is a principle without a plan.

  1.  We ignore the principle instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in following the principle.
  2.  We make up a plan for the principle and make the plan the authority.

Do not be intimidated or confused by those who claim authority in their restoration methods.  While they may have some good ideas, they only have one true Biblical guideline and that is that we are to restore the fallen.  What I have tried to do is present some general ideas that I hope will help our churches to become more involved in the ministry of restoration.

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