Revelation -the only basis for loving, lifechanging pastoral care (Practical implications 5)

How we choose to counsel and advise people will also depend upon what we believe about God’s Revelation

, allChristians are responsible for counselling. The Bible talks about bearing one another’s burdens and encouraging and correcting one another.   Pastors and elders have a particular responsibility for this.  So there is a danger in simply passing on cases such as marital problems or addictive behaviour because we see these issues as not our responsibility, too difficult or too time consuming.  The first danger is that the people we hand our brothers and sister over to may have qualifications and accreditations, but they are not actually competent to counsel because they don’t understand the spiritual dimension. Heath Lambert comments that:

“Secular psychotherapists ….are very well intentioned but ultimately seek to help people solve their problems while ignoring Christ and his Word. They have rejected the Godward dimension of counselling, moving in the opposite direction to claim that God and his people should have little or no role to play in the counselling task.  Their diagnosing of and their attempts at ‘curing’ people and their problems are man-centred and so will always fall short of offering people true and lasting change to their deepest problems.”[1]

Jay Adams, the founder of the Biblical Counselling movement, was highly sceptical of secular psychotherapy. He argued that:

“Biblically, there is no warrant for acknowledging the existence of a separate and distinct discipline called psychiatry. There are in the Scriptures, only three specified sources of personal problems in living, demonic activity (principally possession), personal sin and organic illness.  These three are interrelated.  All options are covered under these heads, leaving no room for a fourth: non organic mental illness.  There is, therefore, no place in a biblical scheme for the psychiatrist as a seperate practitioner.”[2]

The point is that if we are not dealing with a bona-fide medical issue, then the secular counsellor cannot offer hope. They miss the point that the solution to the person’s problem is a right relationship with the God who made them.  They look instead for alternative explanations and solutions.[3]

The second issue is that we are abdicating our own God given responsibility for our brothers and sisters. Christians are called to bear one another’s burdens and to encourage and challenge one another.  Pastors and elders have a particular responsibility for seeking to proactively care for the spiritual wellbeing of those in their churches.  So after noting the misunderstanding caused by secular psychology, Lambert goes on to rebuke church leaders

“A second group misunderstanding the issue –is ironically- conservative Bible believing, Christ exalting ministers of the Gospel. These conservative ministers fail to grasp that counselling is an essential part of ministry and so disconnect theology from counselling.  They demonstrate the misunderstanding every time they say things like, “Oh I don’t counsel people; I’m a preacher.” Or “Counselling takes too much time away from other ministries,” or ‘I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about this problem; you need to see a professional.’”[4]

Now none of this is to say that we take a narrow, simplistic view of things or we assume arrogantly that we can deal with things on our own. It is helpful at this point to remember two things.  First of all, remember the diagram we started with from the CBT manual.  We remember when we deal with others that we are dealing with the whole person.  So first of all, there is the medical dimension.  Indeed, as we saw earlier, Adams draws the same links, noting that medical, spiritual and behavioural issues are “interrelated” [5]   Often, one of the first things we do when counselling people is to talk through the medical situation.  It is reasonable to insist that before we begin counselling that the person is following medical advice and taking appropriate medication.

Secondly, we have seen that there is both Special and General Revelation and the competent counsellor will not ignore general revelation. Rather, they will see General Revelation as useful in its place, under the authority of Special Revelation and interpreted through the lens of Scripture.  We will want to pay attention to wise, practical advice even if it comes from secular sources.  We will not wish to ignore the learning of others.  In our church, we have a number of medical practioners including those with expertise in neurology and mental health care.  We also have members who work in secular fields such as educational psychology.  One member is currently pursuing a PhD in this field and investigating the relationships between a child’s health and wellbeing and the medical history of the family.  This means that they have access to a wealth of learning about medical science, the human body and brain and also about human behaviour (socially and individually). We would be foolish not to listen to their experience and insights, especially as because they are believers, they submit their learning to the authority of Scripture.  Adams puts it this way:

“I do not wish to disregard science, but rather I welcome it as a useful adjunct for the purposes of illustrating, filling in the generalisations with specifics and challenging wrong human interpretations of Scripture, thereby forcing the student to restudy the Scriptures. However, in the area of psychiatry, science largely has given way to humanistic philosophy and gross speculation.”[6]

So, in summary, Christian counselling is Biblical counselling. In fact, one thing I have learnt is that no matter how harsh and difficult to bear we may perceive the words of Scripture to be, God’s law will always be more loving and gracious than human attempts at mercy.  The purpose of Christian counselling is not to soothe the counselee and help them feel better with warm words of comfort and it is certainly not the place where we merely offer the benefits of our own insights and experience (though good counselling will of course carry the impact of the counsellor’s experience).  Rather, our aim is to help the person see what God’s word has to say about their situation and how they are called to respond in obedience, even when that response may mean further suffering.  The end result will of course be the blessing or happiness that comes to those who delight in God’s Word.

[1] Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement After Adams (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2012, 21-22.

[2] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 1973), 9-10.  Cited in Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 37.

[3] For a classic example of an attempt to construct an alternative to the Gospel see Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, (First Published 1933, London, Routledge Classics, 2001).

[4] Lambet, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 22.

[5] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 1973), 9-10.  Cited in Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 37.

[6] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, xxi.  Cited in Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 39.