"I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." - Romans 15:14
A while back, our ministerial staff and a number of our deacons had the privilege to attend an excellent conference in Lafayette, Indiana, on the topic of biblical counseling. The conference was run by the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, and the basic premise is that the Bible is sufficient to give us all the counseling we need for any situation we will face in life. A foundational verse in the approach is listed above, Romans 15:14, from which Jay Adams entitled his trailblazing book Competent to Counsel back in 1970. There, the Apostle Paul stated that the Roman Christians were fully equipped to “instruct” (NIV, ESV, RSV) or “admonish” (KJV, NASB) each other. The Greek word behind these translations is the verb “noutheteo” from which NANC gets the third word in their name. The idea is one of taking biblical truths and applying them directly and powerfully in people’s lives to help them with their problems, especially those problems wrought by sin.
This whole approach to counseling is refreshing, since the world of secular psychology has made such damaging inroads into Christian ministry. The fact is that a lot of the so-called “Christian” counseling available today is merely worldly psychology done by a Christian. The only difference is that the Christian counselor will pray at the beginning and end of the session, and try to use some Christian terms and sympathies to work with the counselee. However, the “meat and potatoes” of their approach will be whatever the world says is good psychological treatment for this or that disorder. However, this whole approach is an insult to the Word of God, which we are told is completely sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. The Apostle Peter told us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:3-4). The words “everything we need for life and godliness” means that any Christian is fully equipped for everything they will face in life. The words “very great and precious promises” points to the Word of God, the Bible, where those promises are kept. Therefore, a Christian who can skillfully (2 Tim. 2:15) wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Eph. 6:17), to help someone learn to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5) is an infinitely better counselor than a secular psychologist who uses the ever-changing edicts of worldly psychology. In fact, psychology is the only field of secular “science” in which there is almost no consensus whatsoever, but rather a constantly changing kaleidoscope of human theories that rise, flourish, wither, and perish like fieldgrass. Psychology literally means “the study of the soul,” and if the biblically trained and the Spirit-filled skilled counselor is not competent for that, who is?
One of the seminar instructors made this statement: “If there were in your community only you (Christian) and a non-Christian counselor with multiple PhDs in psychology, I would choose you as a counselor in a heartbeat.” Christians can get to be intimidated by the high-sounding diagnoses like ADD, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, bi-polar, etc. We can also be daunted from getting involved in people’s real lives, in their thought lives, their private struggles with sin, their marriages and family lives. But our churches and communities are perishing from a lack of biblical counsel, and it is up to us to stand in that gap.
"The words 'everything we need for life and godliness' means that any Christian is fully equipped for everything they will face in life."
Having said all that, however, it became clear to me how essential is good instruction in counseling, and how vital it is that we “study to show ourselves approved unto God, craftsmen who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Christians need to learn how to do this kind of counseling. My desire is to see this kind of ministry develop further at my church, First Baptist Church of Durham, and at your church, a well-thought-out strategy for developing Christian counselors who can address the personal life needs both of Church members and outsiders.
As we grow in skill and practice in applying the Bible to the daily life issues and problems of people, we will see the Kingdom of God advance noticeably in our midst. Let’s pray toward that goal!