How does your church provide counsel for its fellowship? That’s a critical question for the body of Christ. The answer ought to be “God’s way.” Yet for more than half a century, due primarily to the influence of so-called Christian psychology, the church, with rare exceptions, has been counseling man’s way in one form or another. The consequence has been that many believers have little more success in overcoming sins that are related to problems of living than do unbelievers. Indeed, even when the flesh is well-meaning—it profits nothing. Jesus declared, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John:10:10), but this lack of success would seem to deny His words. Furthermore, looking to worldly sources for help in sin-related mental, emotional, and behavioral problems is a rejection of the authority and the sufficiency of God’s Word.
The Bible is absolutely clear regarding its authority and sufficiency for every believer. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy:3:16-17). “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” ( 2 Peter:1:2-4).
In addition to the instructions the Scriptures supply for every believer, God’s Word also supplies power for every believer who obeys its instructions: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Colossians:1:10-11). “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews:4:12).
So, the body of Christ has at its disposal the teachings of God’s Word, the empowerment of the Word itself, and the enablement of the Holy Spirit to carry out its instructions. Why then would believers turn elsewhere? That’s what every Christian, especially every church leader, those who shepherd the sheep, must consider. More often than not, even among fellowships that consider themselves to be biblical, the counseling techniques they use have little to do with scriptural teachings; instead they favor the methods with which the psychologized world has been mesmerized.
My hope in this article is that believers in Christ, especially those in leadership, will evaluate biblically how they and their fellowship are fulfilling the scriptural mandate to “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians:6:2). I want to present a list of practices that deviate from the biblical way and have been implemented as an aid to facilitate in counseling. Some miss the mark by miles, while others introduce subtle errors that nevertheless can contribute to serious problems. My list is hardly exhaustive and simply represents what I have observed personally, what I know biblically, as well as the extensive studies from psychological researchers supplied by Dr. Martin and Deidre Bobgan in their many volumes addressing the biblical way versus psychotherapeutic concepts and methods.
The most obvious counseling error is for a church to refer a believer to a professional counselor, be it a clinical psychologist, marriage and family counselor, or a psychiatrist who practices psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, if you are not aware, does not deal with medical issues; rather it is “talk” therapy drawn from some of the more than 500 concepts that professional counselors employ. We, and others, have written extensively about the anti-biblical theories and the pseudoscience of psychological counseling, which can be found in our website resource materials and in the book and DVD Psychology and the Church: Critical Questions, Crucial Answers. Yet here, in brief, are our fundamental problems with referring believers to those trained in psychological counseling: 1) The basic concepts were conjured up by those who were atheists and anti-Christians. Scripture tells us in Psalm 1 that believers are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly. 2) The foundational belief of psychological counseling is that mankind is inherently good. Jeremiah:17:9 states the opposite. 3) It is an intimidating myth that psychological counseling is scientific and that only professionals are equipped to counsel. 4) Since nearly all issues related to counseling are symptoms of sin, psychological counselors have no basis for addressing sin. 5) All Christian psychologists attempt to integrate psychotherapeutic concepts with the teachings of Scripture. 6) Referring believers to professional counselors is a shameful denial of the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word. It is a matter of shepherds turning their flock over to hirelings at best—wolves in disguise at worst.
Some churches that recognize the problems with referring their members out to professional counselors have one or more professional or trained counselors on staff. That approach solves nothing. It simply brings the inherent problems of psychological counseling under the roof of the church. The fellowship is still being subjected to professionals trained in psychological counseling and who counsel psychologically or attempt to integrate their professional training with biblical teaching, which always corrupts God’s Word. The method of setting up an individual as the counselor (e.g., an academically degreed professional or a certificated biblical counselor) for a fellowship is foreign to New Testament ministry. Moreover, it undermines body ministry within a fellowship as a function of the members rather than a particular individual. Too often it mimics methodologies of professional counseling that feature procedures that are contrary to what the Bible teaches.
What then does the Bible teach about how believers in a fellowship are to go about ministering to one another? How are believers to deal with everyday issues that adversely affect their walk with the Lord and consequently their relationship with others? First of all, ministry is required of all the believers in a fellowship. Scripture does not say that only a select individual is to “bear another’s burdens.” It says “ye,” a plural form of “you,” meaning all are to be involved in ministering to fellow believers. Every true believer is indwelt with Jesus, who is our Counselor, and the Holy Spirit, who is our comforter and teacher.
Even as a babe in Christ, a believer can be used in ministering. Furthermore, every believer has a gift or gifts of the Holy Spirit that he is to utilize for the building up and edification of the body of Christ. These gifts are essential to effective ministry. Since the gifts are a function of the Holy Spirit as He wills, their implementation is not dependent upon the maturity of the believer. Nevertheless, when it comes to someone who has walked with the Lord for many years, who has experienced His deliverance through trials and tribulations, who knows and has obeyed the instructions of His Word, the Holy Spirit certainly has much to draw upon in using that person to minister to other believers.
Halting a specific sin issue in a fellow-believer’s life should not be the primary goal of those who minister. Sin is nearly always symptomatic of a believer’s having distanced himself from Christ. All ministering must therefore begin with where a believer is in his relationship with Jesus—and a recognition of where he needs to be. That includes one’s submission to our Lord, reading His Word, obedience to what it says, time in prayer, fellowship with other believers, and one’s service in fellowship. As should be apparent, such things are the substance of being steadfast in the faith and resisting iniquity: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans:6:12-13).
There is no sin that cannot be prevented when a believer is walking in obedience to God’s Word. Moreover, the increased spiritual growth of the believer is the ultimate prevention program to resist sin and advance fruitfulness: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians:1:10). “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John:8:31-32).
Although many Bible-believing fellowships would agree with what is stated above, rarely does their approval mean that they have put those principles into practice. Too often, very little discernment is used in biblically evaluating their approach to counseling. Most would claim that they provide “biblical counseling”—meaning they disdain professional psychotherapy in favor of counseling from the Word of God. Yet a worldly leaven is too often introduced as churches reject psychotherapeutic concepts but fall prey to “the way the professionals do it.” In the spirit of 2 Corinthians:13:5 and 1 Thessalonians:5:21 (“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”), we would encourage fellowships that desire to be faithful to the Scriptures to consider these biblically contrary practices:
1) If counseling in a church becomes the function of an individual or a select few, that procedure rejects the biblical instruction that all should be involved in ministering to one another. It also puts a tremendous burden on the counselor (pastor or trained biblical counselor), and it erroneously sets that individual up as the one to go to in order to have life’s problems solved.
2) If an individual has been selected as a church’s “biblical counselor,” does he or she betray the biblical way in practice? Does what takes place involve any of the following:
a) Counseling by hourly appointments over an extended period of time
b) Charging a fee or soliciting donations for services rendered
c) Avoiding fellowship with counselees outside of the counseling sessions
d) A male counselor counseling a female, or a female counselor counseling a male
e) Searching a counselee’s past to “discover” supposed issues that determine or influence present behavior
f) Allowing counselees to “unload” on spouses or those with whom he or she has a relationship issue
g) Attempting to know the heart of the counselee with regard to the veracity of what is being admitted
h) Encouraging a counselee to be “transparent”
As you may have perceived in this list, all are compatible with professional psychological counseling and are contrary to God’s instructions for believers to minister to one another. They are also rife with problems, according to studies by research psychologists themselves. Counseling by appointments of usually an hourly duration for a fee turns the counselor into a “paid friend.” Friendships “outside the office” between counselor and counselee are considered a breach of professional ethics. Counseling between males and females has often led to sexual involvement. Delving into the past is a Freudian concept known as “psychic determinism,” which has led to the inducing of destructive beliefs, such as the creation of false memories. “Unloading,” or “venting,” has been shown to be more emotionally damaging than holding something within. Denigrating a spouse or someone in a relationship “gone bad” greatly inhibits reconciliation. Transparency is nearly always selective, lacks honesty, and is biased in favor of the counselee. Obviously, if such concepts don’t work for secular counselors, they won’t work for “biblical” counselors. Pragmatism, however, is not the standard for a follower of Christ. Doing things His way is.
How the body of Christ goes about ministering to one another in their fellowships is exceedingly significant beyond the practical considerations, although we can thank the Lord for seeing much fruit borne through our obedience to His instructions. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul writes what I believe is specifically directed at our generation, which even the world has recognized as our psychologized society, the “me” generation. Prophetically, he declares that “in the last days perilous times shall come.” In verses 2 through 5 one could not identify the “perilous” consequences of psychological counseling any more clearly than the results of an epidemic of humanity’s being “lovers of their own selves,” generating those who are “covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
Counseling, when reflecting the way the world does it, indeed has “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Therefore, we, as believers, must heed Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired exhortation that “from such turn away.” Our repentance, our turning away, must be followed by our turning back to God’s way, as we are told in Jeremiah:6:16: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” That is the only antidote to being seduced by the “perilous times” in which we live. Let us, as the church of Christ, not end up like those in the times of Jeremiah who boldly declared “We will not walk therein.”
For more detailed information regarding our concerns as well as biblical input regarding how fellowships go about counseling we recommend the following books by Martin and Deidre Bobgan: Person to Person Ministry, Christ-Centered Ministry, and Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! TBC