Looking back over 30 years in the field of counseling and having seen God transform lives in a very short time which were at the point of hopelessness and helplessness, I believe I have earned the right to make some observations which could be helpful to the church at large and to those counselors who are desirous of ministering to their people in the power of the Spirit.
Though I have not always been faithful to His call in 1967, His faithfulness was never called into question. His calling is without repentance, and His promises without a question have been fulfilled a thousand fold. His calling to a ministry to hurting people was confirmed by Isaiah 58:10-12: “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of the shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations: and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
Since hundreds of ministries in this and other countries have been established, directly and indirectly, as a result of my being called of God to pioneer a counseling/discipleship approach based on our union with Christ, His promise has been fulfilled through the obedience of those who have built on the foundation that was laid in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There were dark days which became as the noonday as my wife and I continued to trust Him and saw his utter faithfulness. Since He led me to pursue a master’s and doctorate, unbelieving and Jewish professors were more helpful than some Christians in my pursuit of education; the result was being able to tailor my programs in state institutions to accomodate a Christ-centered approach to counseling.
Many have come to me over the years stating that if this approach does not work there is no hope. A good percentage of those seeking help had tried the various approaches to psychotherapy and medications with much of the help having been given by very sincere Christians. Of course, most Christians in the helping professions minister to their clients out of a model which was developed by the world system and which has been adapted or adopted for use in a Christian setting. The majority of training in Christian educational institutions has been fashioned in a similar manner. That being the case, the Cross is not central in the majority of approaches to Christian counseling even though they are effective many times in alleviating symptoms experienced by hurting people.
While I appreciate the understandings and efforts put forth by all of those in the fields of Christian counseling and psychology and could learn much from them, I believe that symptoms of psychological conflict and interpersonal difficulties are addressed more often than the ultimate problem. In saying this, I would not minimize the pain that is being endured by their clients nor am I negating what they are doing to help. Since I see the root problem as the flesh, I would appeal to those who would offer a spiritual approach to address this problem prior to attacking the symptoms presented by the individual. In other words, the difficulty a person has in living and negotiating the psychological terrain should be dealt with on the resurrection side of the Cross. Otherwise, the pain may be alleviated; and the person would not be motivated to go on and deal with the primary issue, the flesh.
Since the vast majority of Christians do not understand the Cross experientially, the only other foundation on which to build their lives is the flesh, which is an inadequate undergirding for life and a spirit-filled witness. (1 Cor.3:11)
Let me define my use of the term, “the Cross”, lest I be misunderstood. Evangelicals in the field of counseling would be faithful in sharing with their people the truth of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus at the Cross in the atonement for sin. However, the second aspect of the Cross, the believer’s death, burial and resurrection with Christ is not so commonly taught. In fact, the major writers in the field of Christian counseling and psychology have in common the fact that the Cross in this dimension is absent or does not take a central place in their writings. That being the case, the work that they do with people takes the form of alleviating symptomatology in the thinking, feelings and behavior of those presenting themselves for help. While this can be extremely helpful in alleviating psychological conflict and in improving interpersonal relationships, it can be detrimental to the spiritual growth of the individual in question.
The net effect of psychotherapy is to strengthen the individual so that he will be more effective in living his life in his own strength, if the second aspect of the Cross is not introduced. This being the case, his flesh is strengthened for its inevitable conflict with the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). While the person has been helped from a human standpoint, the spiritual result is a net loss due to the strengthening of the flesh rather than ending its reign, which I have posited as the ultimate problem. If such a believer is to come to the point that the second aspect of the Cross is to become a reality, he may choose to forego the seemingly helpful results of therapy which can delay if not subvert the entire process.
Absent the teaching of the Cross, there is much need for the alleviation of symptoms such as depression, panic attacks, anorexia nervosa, homosexuality, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and the like even among believers. I think it is safe to say that most Christian counseling is not attended by miraculous transformation of lives, though there may be improvement in living and relating. That being the case, the term of counseling is similar to that of non-Christians doing therapy. When the Holy Spirit is the Agent of change, one can routinely expect His miraculous intervention in lives not seen by Christians doing therapy, and in a fraction of the time.
Without the teaching of the Cross, it is necessary that believers who would help others have extensive education in the necessary skills and understanding. With the teaching of the Cross, those with less than a high school education can be mightily used in lives since the Holy Spirit is the One doing the healing. Since this is the case, most of the necessary counseling can be done as spiritual ministry or discipleship in the context of the church. In past centuries, it was called spiritual direction; and God honored it with transformed lives as witness Madame Guyon, et al. However, this truth was taught by isolated believers and did not find its way into the mainstream of the Reformation. Therefore, the prime thrust of the Reformation was justification by faith with sanctification by faith being relegated to the faithful few. Since that was the case, the stage was set for Freud and his ilk and the care and cure of souls was all but forsaken by the church as the field of psychiatry and psychology came into its own. Though psychology was held suspect until the middle of this century, the church raced to embrace Christian psychology which has now become the handmaiden to the church. Some seminaries are now awarding degrees which qualify the recipients for state licensure-this despite the fact that church licensure, not state licensure, has traditionally been considered sufficient for spiritual ministry.
Now, those who would get back to basics and defer to the Holy Spirit to do the healing are out of step with the Christian establishment and find it difficult to get a hearing in the media. Since God’s calling in 1967 and with proven results in hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, we have yet to have an article accepted by a major Christian magazine. Indeed, my first book, Handbook to Happiness, was refused by a major publishing house which has published many books which clearly teach the Cross in the life of the believer, even though it was selling in the market place and is still selling by Tyndale House after 26 years without having been out of print. The major writers in the field are still less than friendly to an approach which dares to depart from the norm in Christian counseling.
Dr. Stephen Olford in his excellent book, Not I but Christ, makes the assertion that this truth has all but dropped out of the teaching of the church today. That being the case, those who would be used in the helping of hurting people do not know, in the main, that the Cross for the believer is an option which can transform their own lives as well as those to whom they would minister. And, it is necessary for the proposed helper to know the Cross as a reality in his/her own life if he or she is to be used of God in leading a hurting believer to the Cross to find release and transformation that can only be given by the Holy Spirit. I can say this from personal experience because I was a believer for more than 18 years before the truth of the Cross became a reality in my own life, which resulted in God’s calling to re-establish a 2,000 years old approach to the care and cure of souls in this century. Given the suffering and failure that are generally required to get a believer’s attention, it is understandable that the field of Christian counseling generally does not respond positively to an approach to counseling that requires the counselor and the client to lose their lives in exchange for His.
Given the shallow teaching in the church at large, believers with major psychological difficulties are routinely referred outside the church for therapy even when their need is so crucial that they are prime candidates for spiritual ministry because of being at the end of themselves. Agreeably, there are those who have physiological/psychiatric difficulties which result in mental/emotional symptoms that must be referred for medical intervention; every church or individual who would be of help to hurting people needs to have a working relationship with the medical profession for this purpose.
However, such a physician must be flexible enough to depart from the usual medical model which, all too often, treats functional and organic ailments alike with medications rather than factoring out those which are non-organic for spiritual treatment. Indeed, such medical intervention is the treatment of choice by insurance companies since it is considered more expeditious to dose the symptoms rather than to resolve the spiritual/psychological conflict. While it is occasionally necessary to refer to psychiatry, my experience over the years is that the vast majority of those now referred could, and should, be ministered to by those in the Body of Christ who are gifted and trained to work with hurting people.
After 30 years of rebuff by the Christian establishment, I am fairly convinced that I am going against the tide and do not expect a major turnaround in the near term. However, there are those who have given up on therapy, both professionals and hurting people, who welcome an answer that is not dependent upon their expertise and human strength and wisdom. A lady in Brussels, Belgium has recently come to this conclusion after spending her entire life in the practice of psychology, clinically and in academic circles; she is now available to participate in the reconciliation of the behavioral sciences with the Word of God, individually and in Christian educational institutions.
The truth of the Cross has been a significant teaching in all of the major awakenings that the world has known. 1 Cor. 1:18 states that “the preaching of the cross … is the power of God”; a return to such teaching and preaching will, without doubt, be accompanied by revival which is so desperately needed in our country and, indeed, the world. By introducing the Cross into their counseling models, those in the helping professions could be instruments of revival as well as being used of God to relieve the pain of hurting people.
Since the ministry to which God called me is largely history due to my semi-retirement, I have nothing to prove; we have seen God set believers free around the world from most of the mental/emotional problems which are normally seen by professionals in the field. Because of this fact, I believe it is incumbent upon me to make the effort to allow others to profit by my experience (both failures and successes) as complemented by numerous others over the years. Since God’s calling in 1967, He has been faithful in transforming lives that are not usually considered candidates for spiritual counseling, this because they have been routinely referred outside the church for “professional help”.
I have found that believers in Third World countries have been much more open to the message of the Cross; lives have been transformed in various languages and cultures through the simple teaching of the Cross as the Holy Spirit applied it to lives, most recently in Zambia. It is simply amazing the things that death will cure! Of course, there is always a resurrection which accompanies co-crucifixion with Christ which results in Christ’s life being lived out in the believer. The answer is at once profoundly simple and simply profound! And the church is the conduit through which this message was intended to be propagated-not just being saved from sin but also being saved from self (flesh) and its ravages in the life.
The world situation militates that the church get back to its moorings and provide an answer that the world does not have. However, if the church is going to give the same answers in helping hurting people, there will not be the miraculous life changes that will command the respect of the watching world. Too many Christians have enough spirituality to make them feel uncomfortable in a bar but not enough to make them feel comfortable in a prayer meeting! In the bar they expect to get mixed drinks; but, with the present state of the church, they are likely to get a mixed message!
While it is wonderful to see the lost saved from their sins, it is just as wonderful to see Christians get saved from themselves; but most believers do not know they have this option. Therefore, when they begin to hurt and have done everything the church has told them, it is small wonder that they turn to professionals for alleviation of the pain they are experiencing. All too many have been taught that they must do in order to be when they should be taught to be in order to do. This being the case in the majority of churches, most Christians do not know who they are and don’t find out until they get to Heaven. While it will be great to have victory in the sweet by and by, so many need it in the nasty now and now!
But, as in salvation, how will they hear unless they have a messenger to tell them? While it is much too late, the church must get back to basics-those truths which were routinely taught in the last century but have all but dropped out of the teaching of the average church today. While there are many involved in church growth, programs, and buildings, there are relatively few who are teaching the real growth of the church which is the nurturing of the Body of Christ and developing disciples who live and teach the message of the Cross. When this happens, it will seldom be necessary to refer believers outside the church for soul care; and this vital area will have been reclaimed as the rightful heritage and domain of the Body of Christ.
The church was sufficient for 20 centuries in the realm of soul care before its capitulation to the relative newcomer, psychology and its adherents; when the church again teaches the message of the Cross in the power of the Spirit, there will be much less need for alleviating symptoms outside the confines of the church. It must be the church triumphant that leads the world out of the maze of employing carnal weapons for the resolution of spiritual problems (2 Cor.10:3-5). Then, the uncertain sounds will be replaced by the certitude of the Scripture which will be honored by the Holy Spirit in transforming lives and bringing revival in the church to the glory of God.
As with the believer so with the church, the death/resurrection message must pervade its teaching and revolutionize its life. The church growth movement must give way to spiritual growth moving through the Body of Christ, the true church, if it is to have a lasting impact on the lives of individual believers and give them ministries empowered by the Holy Spirit-not just in counseling/discipleship but also in intercessory prayer, worldwide evangelism and missions. When this happens, revival will be the norm, not the exception; and when the church catches fire, the world will be caught up in watching; and unbelievers will be drawn into the Body of Christ. May God hasten the day when this is not just rhetoric but a Spirit-given reality!