Atheists Complain of “Spirituality” in Army’s Mental Health Program
“The spiritual statements include: ‘I am a spiritual person;’ ‘My life has lasting meaning;’ and ‘I believe there is a purpose for my life.’”
Men and women, young and old, rich and poor—they all gathered at the square by the water gate. They wanted to hear the Book of the Law read. Ezra was more than willing and read from dawn to noon while everyone stood with rapt attention. Teachers helped translate and explain words grown unfamiliar after decades of neglect.
As they listened, some began to cry. They heard about the life God had offered His people and understood how badly they had failed to keep the terms of the covenant. They saw why they had been taken into captivity and had only recently returned to ruins and chaos and had struggled to rebuild the walls. And they felt deeply why, even now, they were vassals under a mighty empire.
Soon more were crying, then more. Guilt and shame filled hearts and overflowed in tears.
But Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites cut it short. “This is a holy day,” they insisted, “not a time for weeping! Go home and rejoice! Celebrate with good food and drink. Make sure everybody has plenty. This is not a sad day, but a holy day, a time for joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:9-11, author’s paraphrase.) The people were reluctant, but finally did as they were told.
(Read Part 1)
Pastoring is not for the faint-hearted. It is not for those who shrink back from conflict or those who find it hard to confront. Dealing with sexual predators is not easy. Sometimes you feel like you are staring into the eyes of pure evil. Whether the perpetrator is a member of his church or not, the way a pastor deals with him has the potential to alleviate or aggravate the agony of the victim, protect or expose the church to danger, and bring healing or a cover-up to the perpetrator himself.
First, once a pastor confirms a report of sexual abuse by a victim it is important that he act. Most states have laws that require the reporting of abuse by educators, clergy and others within 24 hours. As I said before, don’t expect miracles from the local authorities. Nevertheless, reporting is the first step. This will probably involve giving an official statement, filling out detailed forms and multiple phone calls with authorities.
Recent events have sparked vigorous debate regarding the proper handling of sexual abuse in the church. This essay is not an attempt to directly address a specific incident, but it will certainly intersect well-known incidents at points. While I was pastoring, I dealt with a multitude of sexual abuse cases that occurred both prior to and concurrent with my ministry. The list of tragedies included several rapes of teenagers, gang rape, incest, one entire family of five children molested by the father, and bestiality. While I am certainly not the most experienced person in this regard (not by a long shot), I think I have enough experience to contribute to the conversation.
I feel compelled to write this essay primarily for the younger generation of future pastors. Unless a clear message of what is biblical, right and courageous is sounded, I fear that many of them will enter ministry confused, fearful and uncertain of the proper manner of dealing with sexual abuse. I am afraid that many will swallow the weak excuses for leadership that are often given when pastors fail to properly deal with this terrible phenomenon in the church. Too often believers defend obvious failures of leadership, offer weak excuses, or attempt to bury offenses and hope everybody eventually forgets about them.
During my years of teaching at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (1978-1985), I was asked to teach several courses in the area of counseling. I had never had a counseling course in college or seminary. Where would I begin? What resources were available to help construct meaningful courses in various aspects of counseling?
I had come out of seminary convinced of the doctrine of the sole authority of Scripture. I knew that without such an authority, nothing was worth preaching. I spent the first ten years of my ministry anchored to this important truth. There was no doubt in my mind but that the Bible had all the answers for life and living.
Nevertheless, as I planned my courses I began to question the degree to which the Bible actually spoke to this issue. Distracted by the cacophony of voices coming from the psychological world, I found myself being drawn toward some of the more popular psychological systems—especially that of Maslow. It seemed to me that there was at least some validity to what he and other secular psychologists were saying.
Given my earlier commitments, why was I so easily convinced that another resource would give better answers than the Bible? Why have so many other pastors and theologians been so easily persuaded that the perspectives of psychology actually give true answers to the difficult questions of the soul of man?
Part of what motivated me was a striving to become knowledgeable in my field of study and experience. The academic world pushes intellectual mastery, and to stay “alive,” one has to excel. I saw what happened to those who did not excel intellectually, and I was not interested in that!
It is pretty basic, if you think about it—but all ministry should be Christ-centered. Preaching, ministry to children, students, and adults. Men’s ministry, women’s ministry. It doesn’t matter what aspect of church life we are considering, the defining characteristic of all we do should be that we know and love and serve Jesus Christ. Every sermon, every lesson, and every song should exalt the Savior. After all, we are New Covenant believers. We are Christians.
All of this is true as well when it comes to counseling. When ministering to another believer in the context of counseling, the goal is not mere behavior modification. Neither is the goal some sort of superficial emotional change. In counseling we seek to help someone change and grow to be more like Christ. To state it another way: we do not just present biblical principles to obey—we present a Person to follow.