The Bible seems to say that once someone has fallen away, he or she can never be brought back (Hebrews 6). And yet in our church we practice "restoration," or bringing back someone who has quit. What exactly is Hebrews 6 referring to? What about James 5:19-20, that if one wanders away from the truth we should bring him back? -- Bridgette Kubeka (Johannesburg)

"Restoration" has become a technical term for persuading someone who has left the fold to return. In the Bible the term appears several times, though not necessarily with the same meaning. Let's consider two well-known passages:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake (Psalms 23:1-3).

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

As we see in Psalm 23, we all need restoring from time to time, don't we? And in Galatians 6, we see that restoration involves helping out a brother or sister who has become "stuck," having lost perspective, and perhaps with it the faith, hope, and drive to see recovery.

I would suggest that we speak of "bringing someone back," that is, someone who has drifted away. That's because restoration (a sort of "spiritual recovery") is what we normally do to those who have not left the fold. Furthermore, if someone has truly fallen away, there is nothing anyone can do to bring him or her back into the fold!

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