Fallen Soldiers March®

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Fallen Soldiers March® 501 (c) (3) non-profit

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Fallen Soldiers March®

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A 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit Dedicated to
Providing Biblical Counseling,
Service Dogs, and Veteran Advocacy

True Biblical Counseling Is Church Based

True Biblical Counseling Is Church Based

by Mark W. Mann, Grace Bible Fellowship Pastor, Mt. Juliet, TN

For counseling to be biblical, several components are essential. In this article, we will look at the four main components, the last of which is the most overlooked and will be our focus.

First, biblical counseling is, as the name implies, Bible directed. The Bible, divinely inspired and infallible in all its judgments, is the sole authority in our lives as believers. The Bible is the authority for all cases we deal with as counselors and for those individuals God calls us to help in counseling. That means the Bible is the sole source of interpretation and instruction in counseling. It has been said that all problems are theological problems, and that is certainly true since mankind would not have any problems—physical or spiritual—were it not for the fall (Gen. 3). That means we must be careful to use the Scriptures as the foundational truth in counseling.

Second, biblical counseling is also Christ centered since the purpose and goal of the change process is to make us like none other than Christ himself (Rom. 8:29). And it is through Christ, by faith, that we are reconciled with God; otherwise, no one will understand or accept what the Bible has to say since it is spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

Third, biblical counseling is Holy Spirit empowered. The Holy Spirit must bring the dead spiritual heart to life in order for God to reveal Himself to us in Christ (Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:4–5). Transformation into the image of Christ is a lifelong process that requires renewing the mind according to the Word of God (Rom. 12:2) and changing our behavior in accordance with Scripture (Eph. 4:1–2, 17–31; Col. 3:5–17). This is an internal work of God in the inner man (Phil. 2:13). The apostle Paul explains, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

Fourth, biblical counseling must be church based in order to be biblical in both content and practice. It will not be nearly as effective in the long term if carried out apart from the body that Christ has charged with making His disciples. The role of the church is integral to God’s plan for healing, change, and spiritual growth in Christlikeness. This can present a challenge for parachurch organizations that want to implement true biblical counseling in their ministry but are not the church. Two people can certainly meet just about anywhere with a Bible to pray together, discuss problems, and find help from God’s Word. But that is only part of the overall solution God has in mind for helping His hurting people. Base camp for all comprehensive spiritual help in healing from the ravages of sin is the local church.

One Body in Christ

When we are saved, we are immediately brought into an indissoluble union with Jesus Christ. Together we become one monolithic inseparable body of Christ. Jesus gave His life to unite disparate peoples into a single body (Eph. 2:11–14). The apostle Paul explains it this way: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12; Rom. 12:4–5).

Jesus continues His work in the church by distributing spiritually gifted "pastors and teachers" within local churches "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11–12). It is within the local church that the Word of God is preached and taught to the assembled saints who "are being transformed into the image of Christ" by the Word of God and the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Now filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ, members of the church learn the Word of God and speak the truth in love to one another in order to fulfill their call to "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Eph. 4:15–16). All this takes place within the context of the local church.

Relational by Design

In making his case for the doctrine of the Trinity, Augustine cited the fact that God Himself is a social/relational being. The essence of our triune God is relational. He exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our trinitarian God not only gives us the perfect example of loving persons in relationship, but He also calls us to be the same as His image bearers. Jesus made that clear when He declared the first and second great commandments (Matt. 22:35–40).

The founder of the biblical counseling movement in the church, Jay Adams, saw this connection to God’s design: "Adam was not fashioned for solitary, isolated living. From the beginning his capacity for language, his walks and talks with God in the cool of the day, and God’s expressed concern that he not remain alone (Gen. 2:18) are all explicit evidences of the social side of human nature. . . . Social relationships are necessary, then, for doing the work of the kingdom and for becoming the loving person that Christ requires one to be."[1]

Aside from a few rare occasions when He desired to be alone to rest or pray (even then He was never truly alone), Jesus was always with people. Out of His great love and compassion, Jesus spoke to crowds on several occasions about matters of life, death, and the great things of the faith and of God. Instead of fulfilling His ministry alone, Jesus chose twelve disciples to live and travel with Him during His earthly ministry. Even when Jesus was facing the brutal realities of imminent torture and crucifixion, He didn’t want to be alone, choosing instead to take Peter, James, and John with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane.

God designed us as human beings to function socially in close, intimate communion with one another. How sad it is, then, when Christians live transient lives, moving about from place to place, going from church to church without ever settling down in a permanent church home. Ironically, instead of depending on the church or seeking help from the church, Christians often pull themselves away from the church when they are hurting or in the midst of a life struggle. Pride could account for this, or maybe they are not accustomed to seeking help from the church or do not fully understand God’s plan for helping Christians in the church.

Counterfeit Communities

The problem for those people who have not been born again into a living communal relationship with God is that they spend their lives searching to fill the longing that remains in their heart in ways other than what God prescribed. One very popular but unsatisfying way people search for social acceptance and intimacy is in online social media platforms. One writer vividly describes the socially and intellectually vacuous nature of the faux online "communities": "The language of friendship is hijacked and cheapened by the Internet social networks. We don’t know what friendship is anymore. . . . Relationships play out in the disembodied world of the web. . . . Such are human amoebas. Subsisting in a bazaar non-world that involves no risk to themselves, no giving of themselves to others, no true vulnerability, no commitment, no sacrifice, no real meaning, and no real value."[2]

Moreover, God’s glorious intention for in-person human interaction is entirely missed and replaced with a fake. No wonder teenage depression and even suicides are rising at an alarming rate.[3] They live in an online world that is a self-deluding counterfeit.

"Alienated Christians, then, must be encouraged to strengthen their ties with other members of the body. Counselors have not always seen the great importance of this emphasis; yet it is a constant one in the Bible (simply trace the various beneficial aspects of Christian fellowship in the ‘one-another’ passages). Alienation is a consequence of sin. . . . There are times when counselors must tell Christians so. The ‘lone wolf’ Christian is sinning. He sins against God, the body, the world and himself."[4] "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment" (Prov. 18:1).

The Best Prescription

Christians don’t need self-help books when they are struggling with issues of living in a sin-cursed world. They don’t need prescriptions for problems of the spiritual heart. They don’t need hospitals or professional clinicians. Elisabeth Elliot, no stranger to suffering, rightly understood that suffering doesn’t need "an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God."[5] Because all our problems are theological, the solutions are always relational.

At a conference, a former head of the National Institute for Mental Health—our nation’s top psychiatrist, the man in charge of all research and funding—said this of medication prescribed for depression: "At the best, our drugs offer some symptom alleviation. But we cannot provide what people need most. People need meaning in life and they need relationship." True. Only the gospel and the church provide both.

Frankly, when we’re hurting, we need God and we need each other. God knew all this, of course, so He sent His Son Jesus Christ to provide the means for our reconciliation, restoration, and healing. What all people need is the gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of Truth. The context for all this relational work, both vertical with God and horizontal with people, is cultivated and nurtured in the church.

A Shared Life

When the New Testament Church was born, Spirit-filled believers devoted themselves to a shared life. After the first sermon preached by the apostle Peter, the newborn church committed to four core priorities, all of which involved group activity: "the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers" (Acts 2:42).

The early Christians spent regular time together, serving each other, helping each other, worshipping God, studying the Scriptures, and praying (Acts 2:44–47). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was martyred for his faith during World War II in Nazi Germany, realized the fundamental importance of Christians, especially those with hurting souls, sharing life together in close ecclesiastical community:

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. . . . The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body. . . . The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. . . . But if there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God’s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!. . . . Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. . . . Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. . . . We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.[6]

The apostle John alluded to this community life when he stated the remarkable purpose for which we preach the gospel: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). We preach the gospel so other people can be brought into fellowship with God and with other believers.

Through our salvation experience, we are drawn together into a single body of Christ, the church. It is in this living organism that we receive truth from God’s Word, learn how to love God and others, grow to spiritual maturity, and are nurtured, strengthened, admonished, encouraged, and comforted by God the Holy Spirit. It is in the church that a God-centered worldview is forged. It is in the church that many find relief from personal problems by giving themselves away in service to the needs of others as they fulfill the call to "love one another" (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 5x in 1 John).

Mutual Strengthening

The church supplies the accountability and pastoral oversight all Christians need in the struggle with sin—ours and the sins of others that affect us. Pastors are responsible for the spiritual condition of their flocks (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1–4). The true New Testament church exercises the full ministry of the Word of God in all its uses and occasions. Preaching is the centerpiece of the ministry of the Word from which all other forms of Word ministry in the church flow and are supported (2 Tim. 4:1–4).

A leading British Calvin scholar in the twentieth century described the critically important role the pulpit ministry plays in the task of caring for souls: "The pulpit is ‘the throne of God from where he wills to govern our souls.’ . . . When God sends his messengers to announce his will to us, he at the same time gives such power that the effect is joined with the Word,"[7]—making the public ministry of the Word, preaching, critically important in augmenting the private ministry of the Word, counseling.

Human problems are never tidy. Sin can make our lives a complicated mess so tangled up and deeply habituated that they need more than a single counselor to resolve. Relationships within the church body help to undergird the counseling ministry en masse through mutual prayer, support, accountability, admonition, exhortation, comfort, and encouragement. As members in the church, we are called to "bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).

As a church, we are called to deal with issues of sin as they arise—privately and corporately (Matt. 18:15–17; 1 Thess. 5:14; 1 Cor. 5). We exercise our spiritual gifts in the church in helping one another and relating with each other as individual family members within a single unified body of Christ (1 Cor. 12).

The interpretations, guidance, and instruction we use in counseling come from letters (epistles) that were written to local churches. Embracing church-based counseling is a return to the early church model for addressing people’s problems before the age of referring hurting people to "professionals" outside the church. The pastoral staff and community of believers within the local church offers the most loving, effective, biblically appropriate environment for addressing problems in hurting people and helping them to change in a way that pleases and glorifies God.

Jesus Christ, the manifestation of God in the flesh, promised He would build His church (Matt. 16:18). The Greek word for church, ekklesia, literally means, "assembly, community, or congregation." The church is God’s healing community for all types of spiritual maladies. The church is the place where love flourishes. If counselors fail to address this in counseling, they have failed to seek God’s best for those they counsel.

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24–25).

. . . . .
 
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[1] Jay E. Adams; A Theology of Christian Counseling, 126, 128.

[2] Carl Trueman; professor, theologian, and church historian.

[3] "U.S. teens spend an average of more than seven hours per day on screen media"; CNN; article; Oct. 29, 2019

[4] Adams, 130.

[5] Elisabeth Elliot; Suffering Is Never For Nothing, 12.

[6] Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Life Together, 20, 21.

[7] T.H.L. Parker; Calvin’s Preaching, 26, 28.

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