T.A. McMahon is president and executive director of The Berean Call ministry, editor-in-chief and contributing writer for The Berean Call newsletter, co-author of The Seduction of Christianity, America: The Sorcerer's New Apprentice, Understand the Times, and author of Showtime for the Sheep? and Temporal Delusion.
Holder of a master's degree in communications, he has researched and written numerous documentaries and scripted several feature films. His writing/producing for Christian videos includes The Cult Explosion, The God Makers, The New Age: Pathway to Paradise? The Evolution Conspiracy, A Woman Rides the Beast, Israel, Islam & Armageddon, and Psychology and the Church.
My name is T A McMahon and I’m the executive director of The Berean Call.
Before I get into my message, I thought I’d comment on the background featured in this production. From time to time what you’ll be seeing are scenes from in and around Bend, Oregon.
Some of you have visited here during past Berean Call conferences so you know what a beautiful place this is.
Although Dave Hunt and I have worked together for 40 years, the last 30 of them were spent here in Bend, where the Lord helped us start The Berean Call.
Dave is now in a far more beautiful place, having gone home to be with the Lord in 2013. Even so we miss him dearly.
We also miss the wonderful fellowship of our conferences, and as the Lord leads that may well be restored. Nevertheless, I’m sure we all would prefer the rapture preempting a next conference or any other future temporal event.
The other thing I need to mention is that much of what you will be hearing in my message is taken from materials presented by my long-time friends Doctor Martin Bobgan and his wife Deidre.
No one has written more on the subject of psychology, particularly psychotherapy, and the distortion of biblical truth related to counseling within the body of Christ.
Their clarion call to believers in Jesus to return to ministering to one another through the Word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit has been a much-needed exhortation for living one’s life in a way that glorifies our Lord and Savior.
Their work has been an encouraging testimony to the sufficiency of Scripture for all things that pertain to life and godliness.
To that we owe them a great deal of thanks, not only for the content of their writing, but also for their perseverance in ministering at a time in which Christendom, tragically most of the evangelical church, has turned to the so-called wisdom of the world to solve its temporal and even eternal problems.
The title of this message is:
COUNSELING IN THE CHURCH: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
The title of this message may seem a bit disconcerting to some, even confusing. Yet it is an accurate description of the state of counseling by professing Christians as well as many true believers today.
Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, and some of it is definitely ugly.
It’s good when it’s true to the Scriptures.
It’s bad when it deviates from God’s instructions in word and practice.
It’s ugly when its methods follow the concepts devised by the godless founders of psychotherapy and their latter-day disciples.
Psychological counseling may well be Satan’s most effective seduction in deceiving the world and the church.
The deception is that it claims to help people by curing their mental, emotional, and behavioral problems.
One critic, who makes no claim to be a biblical Christian, writes of psychology’s influence throughout the world, “Psychological insight is the creed of our time. In the name of enlightenment, experts promise help and faith, knowledge and comfort.
They devise confident formulas for happy living and ambitious plans for dissolving the knots of conflict. Psychology, according to its boosters, possesses worthwhile answers to our most difficult personal questions and practical solutions for our most intractable social problems.
In the late twentieth-century United States, we are likely to believe what psychological experts tell us. They speak with authority to a vast audience…. Their advice is a big business.”
Referring to the ubiquitousness of psychology, she adds, it has “ seeped into virtually every facet of existence. ”
Tragically, it has seeped into the church and has overtaken much of it.
For example, a survey of the 39 largest mission agencies in America reveals that one cannot be accepted for missionary work without a psychological stamp of approval, based on a psychological interview and psychological tests.
The contemporary evangelical church was led into much confusion regarding counseling during the 1960s and 70’s. That time period gave rise to the myth of Christian psychology.
The myth? Yes.
It’s a myth because there is no such thing.
There is no accredited degree in Christian psychology. Nevertheless, those who call themselves Christian psychologists and the belief in such practitioners is spreading exponentially.
In a message at the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, an organization of psychologists who profess Christ, one speaker admitted that there is “ no acceptable Christian psychology that is markedly different from non-Christian psychology, ” that though they are “ Christians who are psychologists, ” they basically do the same things as non-Christian psychologists.
What then constitutes so-called Christian psychology and its practice?
It is centered in the field of psychotherapy, also known as clinical counseling, which is simply talk therapy.
Psychotherapy has no scientific basis.
Its concepts and practices stem mostly from beliefs originated from its influential theorists such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Eric Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, B.F. Skinner and their latter-day disciples.
The myth that psychotherapy is scientific is due to the background of men like Freud and Jung who earned medical degrees as psychiatrists.
Their science degrees, however, had little to no relationship to their practice of psychotherapy.
Most of those who refer to themselves as Christian psychologists have earned degrees in psychology, focusing primarily on psychotherapy. Their training therefore is based upon the opinions and motives devised by the theorists previously noted and others.
The quote unquote “Christian” aspects of their practices come about by attempting to integrate their Christian beliefs with their secular training.
Although that may give the impression of reflecting Christianity, nearly all of the secular psychotherapeutic concepts are diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Bible.
Considering just one of the many teachings of psychotherapy that oppose biblical Christianity, a foundational example is the differing perspectives on self.
The Word of God and the psychological wisdom of men couldn’t be more at odds with one another.
The Bible teaches that self is at the root of humanity’s sin nature and self must be in complete submission to God. Verses abound to that end:
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory [selfish ambition, conceit]; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.(Matthew:16:24; Philippians:2:3-4)
Biblical Christianity teaches that we are to be “other directed.”
Self is the chief focus of psychotherapy, running the gamut from self-love to self-deification.
No teaching in the contemporary church has been more insidious and destructive than the self-love/self-esteem heresies of the twentieth-century.
They are a fulfillment of prophesy that the Holy Spirit had the Apostle Paul warn us about:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves…” (2 Timothy:3:1-2).
Psychotherapists have turned the truth of God’s Word upside down and continue to deceive Christians well into this century.
Before addressing specifics regarding the good, the bad, and the ugly, it’s important that we understand what the Bible teaches foundationallyabout counseling.
Number one, God is the only One who qualifies as Counselor.
The reason should be obvious. God alone (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) knows the heart, mind, thoughts, and motivation of every human being.
Jeremiah:17:10: “I, the LORD, search the heart, I try the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.”
Revelation:2:23 repeats that in which only God is capable: “…I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”
In Isaiah:9:6 Jesus is called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God….” One function of the Holy Spirit is to convict humans of their sins which commence from the heart (John:16:8).
More on these later, but suffice to say these abilities are beyond the capabilities of finite humanity.
Number two, the content of counseling must be true to the Word of God.
Acts:20:27: 27For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Romans:11:34: 34For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Where anything adds to or departs from these fundamental truths, they are psychoheresies, to use a term coined by the Bobgans.
They define the term as “ the integration of secular psychological counseling theories and therapies with the Bible.
Psychoheresy is also the intrusion of such theories into the preaching and practice of Christianity, especially when they contradict or compromise biblical Christianity in terms of the nature of man, how he is to live, and how he changes.”
In our day when the belief in sound biblical doctrine is diminishing: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy:4:3)”
…fewer and fewer Christians are looking to the Scriptures for God’s help and guidance in living out their Christian life.
Furthermore, the universality of psychology with its lack of accountability and its focus on self has great appeal.
Much of its acceptance is also because of an underlying intimidation factor. People have been told and believe that the “professional experts” know better. They don’t.
Their theories are clouded in pseudo-scientific language that gives the impression that they have the answers to life’s problems. They don’t.
To the uninformed, the self-assurance of psychotherapists also has an intimidating quality. Yet, it’s wrapped up in nothing more than psychobabble.
Nevertheless, their false claims are mostly accepted by osmosis rather than searching out the facts, causing many to yield to the self-proclaimed experts.
Here are just a few of their beliefs that are bogus.
Psychotherapy is a scientific endeavor. No.
Psychotherapy (i.e., psychological counseling) has no scientific basis. It’s simply talk.
The counselee talks to the counselor and the counselor listens to the counselee. At times the counselor may ask questions and make suggestions.
Research psychologists who study the effectiveness of clinical counseling are in agreement that psychotherapy is not and cannot be scientific.
Nevertheless, the widely believed myth is that it is a scientific practice.
The content of the talk is drawn from a number of therapies in which the therapist has been trained. There are about 500 basic ones and combinations thereof result in thousands of related therapies.
Psychological theories are often in conflict, even in contradiction with one another. Moreover, the counselee’s issues are revamped to fit within one or more of the counselor’s favored therapy or therapies.
Given the subjective nature of talk therapy, it should come as no surprise that studies have shown that professional counselors are no more successful than non-professionals, that is, every day folks who have never had any training in the field of counseling.
Some researchers point to the similar methods of native medicine men and shamans in “counseling” their tribal people and compare them with today’s psychotherapists.
They note that the success/failure rate of both is comparable with these exceptions: the shamans charge less and release their “counselees” sooner.
Again, we are addressing “talk therapy.”
That’s hardly a practice in which one needs to earn a degree. Furthermore, it’s not the medium of talk that’s the real problem in counseling, it’s the message, i.e., the content of the talk.
The Bobgans remind us, “Christians should know and affirm that such psychology is merely the hunches, opinions, guesses, and particularly the wisdom of men that God rejects (1 Corinthians 2).”
Pastors who refer their church members out to professional counselors have either been duped by the myths of psychotherapy and fallen prey to its intimidation factor … or they simply do not believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word.
Either way, they are not living up to their calling as shepherds of God’s sheep, if indeed they truly have that calling.
For all the errors that are found within psychotherapy’s theories and practices, the one that should have every biblical Christian fleeing psychological counseling is its concept of the nature of mankind.
That man is inherently good is a foundational belief.
What then of his ever-increasing problems of living, his struggles with relationships, his ongoing hostilities?
We’re told that they are learned conditions stemming from factors outside of himself: his upbringing by his parents, his physical and social environment, influences from his peers, educators, media, and so forth.
All such things are said to have shaped, even determined, his mental, emotional, and the behavioral condition of his present state.
The goal, therefore, of psychological counseling, through various means (mostly talk), is to restore him back to his true—inherently good—self.
On the other hand, if mankind is innately evil, as the Bible declares over and over, psychotherapy is out of business.
All the supposed fixing of humans through talk therapy cannot change humanity’s innate evil nature.
We are all like leopards that cannot change their spots. Only God can truly change us…by giving us new life in Christ.
Jeremiah:17:9-10 spells out our inherent nature and tells us why only God is able to fix us:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”
Further biblical insights regarding the heart were written by English theologian Matthew Poole in his A Commentary on the Holy Bible penned in the 1700s:
He says that the deceitful heart is “unsearchable by others, deceitful with reference to ourselves, and abominably wicked so that neither can a man know his own heart, neither can any other know our hearts.”
Poole continues, “Lest these hypocrites should pretend that their hearts were not departed from God, or should say, Who then can judge us if none knoweth the Heart?
Saith God, Though no creature knoweth the heart of another fellow creature, yet I know the hearts of all creatures, I search the secret thoughts and counsels and designs of all my creatures; for I will judge them according to their thoughts and the secret motions and affections of their souls, according to all their ways, and the fruit of their doings….”
That is so far beyond the capability of human counselors that any attempt to step into that role smacks of idolatry!
There’s a saying that underscores what the Scriptures declare continually: The Bible is not a book that men could write if they would…or would write if they could.
Regarding the first part of the saying, finite man obviously lacks the omniscience of our infinite God so he cannot know the hearts and minds of his fellow man. To the latter part, fallen prideful man would hardly be inclined to expose his wickedness as is presented in Matthew:15:18-20 and numerous other places:
“…those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man….”
Clearly the Bible is at odds with psychology’s view of the nature of man.
Moreover, the issue of sin (no small matter!) cannot be named, nor can it be addressed in psychotherapy except to point to the belief in it as part of the many religious teachings that psychological counselors declare are unhelpful in achieving a healthy mental condition.
The numerous other problems with psychological counseling have been presented in the many volumes authored by the Bobgans and a host of others, including books by numerous researchers and academics.
Even so, common sense is often a valued means for discerning what’s wrong with psychotherapy.
For the believer in Jesus Christ and His Word, he or she is without excuse regarding turning to psychological counseling for help related to mental, emotional, and behavioral problems.
For all the claims of believing in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, many, including biblical Christians and pastors, do not hold fast to the sufficiency of the Word of God, which the Bible claims.
“…as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter:3:1).
What in a believer’s lifespan does not pertain to “life and godliness”?
There is also a great deal of dismissing clear statements that speak to the Bible as being sufficient.
For example, Psalm 119:9 declares, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
Psalm:1:1 adds an instruction that certainly relates to psychological counseling: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”
Even a cursory review of the lives of the founders of psychotherapy and their latter-day disciples reveal their blatant ungodliness, let alone their false teachings.
Consider 2 Timothy:3:16-17, “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 complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
What could psychological counseling supply regarding “instruction in righteousness” and the enablement of a counselee to manifest “good works”? Nothing.
The entire field of psychotherapy is spiritually bankrupt, creates confusion and hopelessness, intimidates through its deception and promotions, and keeps people in mental and emotional bondage.
“Many years ago, Dr. O. Hobart Mowrer, a secular psychologist, asked this question: “Has evangelical religion sold its birthright for a mess of psychological pottage?”
Time has shown that the answer is ‘YES!’”
That’s the bad of “the good, the bad, and the ugly” that has influenced counseling in the church.
There is much more that could be said to inform Christians about the unbiblical teachings and practices of psychotherapy. And those things can be readily discerned by simply being a Berean (Acts:17:10-11), those who compared what they were being taught with what the Word of God teaches.
Furthermore, as I said earlier, a biblical Christian has no grounds for turning to psychological counseling.
Yet many would agree and declare with great assurance that they have turned from psychology to biblical counseling programs, those that are a part of the Biblical Counseling Movement.
That would include the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), and the Biblical Counseling Foundation (3).
That may seem to be a good thing but sadly, it’s rarely the case.
What’s the problem?
Although the biblical counseling programs look to the Bible for the most part for its teachings about the curse of sin, the fallen nature of man, the ways and means of how we can be reconciled to God, and receiving the gift of eternal life by putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.
And they are acutely aware that such beliefs are rejected by the psychological approach to counseling.
Nevertheless, they have drifted (maybe even rushed!) into some of the methods of clinical counseling that inevitably are counterproductive regarding the spiritual welfare of those involved, and that includes both the biblical counselor and the counselees.
There are a host of practices performed in Biblical Counseling that have no basis in the Scriptures.
They include searching one’s past to discover the basis for one’s sin issues through personal data inventory (PDI), setting up a position of counselor within a fellowship, females counseling males and vice-versa, charging for counseling services either within the church or external to the church, obtaining licenses from the state in order to counsel, earning degrees and certification in counseling, scheduled fifty-minute counseling sessions, and maintaining an air of professionalism.
None of those things can be found in the Bible related to ministering to brothers and sisters in Christ. They are in fact the modus operandi of psychological counseling that inevitably compromises biblical truth.
As destructive as they are to ministering biblically, and they are really bad; they are not the ugly part—although they are related.
Problem-centered counseling is the chief cause of the ugliness.
The Bobgans underscore the unbiblical facets of problem-centered counseling in their books Christ-centered Ministry versus Problem-centered Counselingand Stop Counseling, Start Ministering.
They begin by making an important point in their distinction between the terms counseling and ministering.
Counseling is a word that carries a lot baggage, often bringing to mind the psychological ways and means when that is never intended.
They chose to distinguish the terms counseling because it is generic enough to cover both psychological and biblical counseling, and ministering because it puts the emphasis on Christ and the teachings of His Word.
So, when does biblical counseling not become biblical ministering?
In two very critical areas. First and foremost, when the counseling becomes problem-centered.
Predictably that leads away from a focus that is Jesus-centered and obedience-to-His-Word oriented.
As the Bobgans point out, “We contend that as long as personal ministry remains problem-centered and therefore person-focused there will be less spiritual growth and more superficial fixing of the flesh.”
Once a problem is supposedly “fixed,” it usually lingers on and comes up in future counseling sessions.
Whether the counselor is secular or biblical he or she becomes the “fixer.” And the approach becomes a revolving door of bringing new problems to the fixer…new problems after problems.
On the other hand, the ministering approach focuses primarily on encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ to strengthen their walk with Him, thereby maturing the believers in the faith and their attaining to godliness.
Remember, godliness is one of the traits gained for believers in the verse telling us of the sufficiency of God’s Word (2 Peter:1:3).
That will not only help reduce life’s troubles without the need for specifically addressing each one, but it will eliminate many future issues from developing and rearing their ugly heads.
Besides that, it does away with dependence upon a fellow human as the “fixer” and shifts one’s reliance to the Holy Spirit, where it should be.
The problem-centered method is common in the Biblical Counseling Movement and that may seem reasonable to some.
Counseling is in the business of resolving problems. Right?
No. Not according to Scripture.
The problem-centered method is not biblical and has created situations that foster sin rather than bring about repentance. And it often gets really ugly.
For example, counseling, as we noted, is talk therapy. It’s conversation. The counselor, in attempting to resolve the conflict between a husband and wife has them air their problems (which is a problem in itself).
That nearly always produces accusations, one against the other, which often results in consequences found and condemned in Ephesians:4:31: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.”
The problem-centered exchange between the counselees often exhibits sins such as slander, self-serving biases, backbiting, blame-shifting, etc.
Rather than a biblical counselor halting the sinful speaking, he or she often fosters it by asking probing questions that supposedly give insights that reveal the heart of the problem.
The methodology of exploring problems in depth in search of solutions related to sin is an act of vanity.
It goes nowhere good and in the process it exacerbates the conflict.
Furthermore, and most importantly, it’s a diversion from what the Bible clearly says which can be understood and obeyed without difficulty by God’s grace.
Problem-centered counseling rarely, if ever, directs the counselees to the heart of the problem, which is their own hearts (Jeremiah:17:9).
Some of the Biblical Counseling organizations have produced videos utilizing their people role playing as counselees. What’s presented in their own productions shows clearly their approach to counseling as I’ve just described.
The Bobgans are not saying Do not talk about problems. “We do listen to problems; but the way we respond and the direction we take differ from those in the biblical counseling movement.”
The goal of the ministering approach is to “turn the attention back to the Lord and His Word and the daily walk as soon as possible and as often as necessary.
Of course, there are exceptions, as when immediate action needs to be taken.
For instance, if gross sin has been committed, such as a crime, physical or sexual abuse, or unfaithfulness in a marriage, there must be evidence and there must be action beyond the conversation of personal ministry.”
What of the good in regard to counseling in the church?
I know of some, although they don’t make the distinctions between the terms “counseling” and “ministering,” they nevertheless do not subscribe to either psychological counseling or the hybrid of that found in the Biblical Counseling Movement.
They do not refer their people out to professional psychotherapists.
They do not set apart individuals as “go to” counselors.
They do not adhere to any methodology of counseling.
They believe that the full counsel of God taught through
verse by verse sermons,
Bible studies with like-minded believers,
much time spent in prayer,
and obedience to the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit…
enables all biblical Christians to be fruitful and productive in their life in Christ.
Those things are completely sufficient in dealing with life’s spiritual problems.
Hopefully, the Lord will use this brief talk to speak to those who have been confused by, even deceived by, practices and experiences they have had either as counselors or counselees and be encouraged to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians:5:21).
I believe the Bobgans have pointed the church back to the old paths that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophet Jeremiah both to restore and to warn his people.
“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye 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” (Jeremiah:6:16).
My prayer is that the church will respond to Jeremiah’s exhortation…and not respond as the Israelites did. “But they said, We will not walk therein.”
I can’t think of a better way to end this message than to quote the conclusion given in the Bobgans’ book Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!
“We urge all believers to grow in grace, in faith, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and to be ready to minister to one another as the Lord provides opportunities and wisdom.
New believers can certainly testify of the Lord’s work in them, which can be a great encouragement to others. As believers talk with one another they will find opportunities to give a word of comfort, encouragement, and exhortation.
They may have opportunities to remind one another of essential truths of Scripture that need to be emphasized. And, they may find themselves sought out for personal ministry by those who are enduring trials and various problems of living.
Those who are trusting the Lord and His Word, are giving themselves as ready vessels for the Holy Spirit to work through them, and have been walking daily with the Lord through both sunny and stormy days are equipped to minister in some of the most difficult situations that fellow believers may be experiencing.
We thank God for those individuals who, without counseling certificates, degrees, manuals, books or programs, are not intimidated by a lack of counseling education and training and who minister to others just as believers were doing prior to the rise of the psychological and biblical counseling movements.
We say to all who have been prepared by the Lord and are dependent on Him rather than on the wisdom of men: Go forth and minister by grace through faith.”