From Voice, Sep/Oct 2014. Used by permission.
I am thrilled to be a witness of the rediscovery of biblical counseling! “Now in order to rediscover something, it must have been lost,”1 says David Powlison. Unfortunately, that is true. Powlison explains:
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American Christians basically lost the use of truths and skills they formerly possessed. That is, practical wisdom in the cure of souls waned…. The Church lost that crucial component of pastoral skill that can be called case-wisdom—wisdom that knows people, knows how people change, and knows how to help people change.2
As a result, Christians sprinkled man-centered psychology with a few Bible verses and called it “Christian psychology.” The outcome has been confusion, hopelessness, and the abandonment of biblical faith. John MacArthur is right when he says Christian psychology “has diminished the Church’s confidence in Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and preaching as means through which the Spirit of God works to change lives.”3 It is sad to think that God’s Church could lose something so basic and essential as the skill and conviction to use Scripture to help people work through their problems. Yet that is where the American church is. Those who embrace psychology as the answer are in the majority by far. There is no reason to pretend they are not. But to know that God is, in our lifetime, calling His people back to His Word as a working manual for life is exciting to say the least. This is what is referred to as biblical counseling.
Biblical counseling is built on the premise that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). This was the conviction of the early Christians. They had the godly audacity to believe that man can become complete in Christ without the help of psychologists, psychiatrists, or mood-altering drugs. They believed this because of three basic presuppositions that grew out of their study of the Scriptures. These presuppositions are:
1. God’s word is sufficient to deal with every problem man faces.
In our day pastors are intimidated by the mental health “professionals,” but the early Christians believed there is nothing that man experiences that God does not directly or indirectly address in His Word. They believed that the Scriptures are sufficient to teach us doctrine—Truth with a capital T. They believed that the Word confronts us when we get off the right path and then shows us how to get back on it. And they believed that the Scriptures train us to live godly lives so we mature and become equipped to serve God. In short, they believed that:
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 equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)
2. Man is responsible for his own actions.
Today, blame-shifting has almost become a virtue; everyone is a “victim.” But the early Christians had the courage to lay fault at the right doorstep. We often read of people like the fifty-six-year-old man who sued four major fast food chains because of health problems caused by his obesity. Of course, he is not responsible for putting his hand to his mouth. It is the restaurant’s fault! This man is consoled in our society. However, in biblical times he would have received a sermon on gluttony. How refreshing it is when the light of truth pierces so sharply through the thick cloud of man’s deception! One particular Scripture comes to mind:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:13-16)
3. The Holy Spirit is the “agent of change.”
These days, men pay good money to be told that they are hopelessly victimized by their past or their DNA, but the early Christians freely dispensed the hope found in the Gospel and were confident of the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. As we take our eyes off ourselves and put them on Christ we are changed into His image by the Spirit of God.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
These core beliefs naturally led the early Christians to practice what is referred to as nouthetic counseling. The nouthetic approach to counseling grows out of two New Testament words: noutheses and noutheteo. The words mean “to warn, to admonish, or to exhort.” They imply an aspect of confrontation so as to effect change.
Jay Adams asserts that this approach to helping people contains three basic elements.4 First, it presupposes a need for change, that there is something in the life that God wants changed. Second, problems are solved by verbal means; that is, the stress is placed on “what”—“What is wrong?” and, “What needs to be done about it?” The Word spoken in encouragement, admonishment, or rebuke renews the mind, which leads to transformation of life. Third, the purpose for counseling is always that the counselee benefits by seeking to change that in his life which hurts him. When this kind of ministry is examined in the New Testament, three principles become obvious.
4 .Pastors are required to counsel and equip others to be counselors.
Pastoral ministry involves constant admonition. No matter how hard we may try, pastors cannot get out of counseling people. The Ephesian elders were told to remember “that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Those were not tears of joy, but grief, anguish, and concern. Paul’s corrective letters to the Corinthians were motivated by his love and concern for them (1 Corinthians 4:14). He accepted confrontation and teaching as steps in the process of presenting people to God as “complete” in Christ (NASB, Colossians 1:28) and referred to this kind of ministry as intense “labor” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). The pastor’s responsibility to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12) also includes the task of training fellow believers to counsel biblically.
5. Every believer is expected to be a counselor.
The ministry of counseling is not only for pastors. In fact, every believer is expected to be involved in it to some degree. The Apostle Paul was confident that well-taught believers are “able to counsel one another” (NASB, Romans 15:14). A growing Christian with a love for, and a working knowledge of, Scripture is a far more competent counselor than a trained psychologist with three degrees hanging on his wall and several initials behind his name, whose confidence is in man-centered theories and practices.
Effective counseling is the product of being richly indwelt by the Word of God (Colossians 3:16), not the theories of Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. Far from giving pat answers like, “Take two Bible verses and call me in the morning,” biblical counseling requires wisdom and compassion from God because real people have real needs (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
6. The local church is the intended and ideal place for counseling.
God has also provided the ideal environment where lives may be changed. It is not an accident that the commands to counsel one another are found in letters to local churches. The apostles assumed every believer would be a faithful member of a local body of Christ and the New Testament never even entertains the idea of a Christian not being accountable to a group of fellow believers. The book of Hebrews, written to a local body of Jewish believers, stresses the immense value of this relationship: “and let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
The local church is the ideal place for developing a counseling ministry. It is also the ideal place for you to be trained to counsel others. If you are not already, get involved with a vibrant, Bible teaching church where you can mature in Christ and be equipped to serve others.
(This article is adapted from Delight in the Word by Paul Tautges, used by permission from the author.)
Dr. Paul Tautges served in pastoral ministry for twenty-two years. He is the husband of Karen and father of ten. Paul is also an adjunct professor of biblical counseling, conference speaker, and author of eight books including Counsel One Another, Comfort Those Who Grieve, Discipline of Mercy, and Brass Heavens. He also serves as the series editor for the HELP! discipleship counseling booklet series. Paul is also a teaching fellow with ACBC (formerly NANC).