What is your response when someone bares their soul to you, sharing their emotional or spiritual struggles?
Few things reveal our inadequacy more than listening to someone’s problems and not having a clue what to say. When people use words like “depression,” “anxiety attack,” “addiction,” or “mental illness,” we tend to shrink back. These are words that describe deep problems, likely requiring a combination of medication and professional counseling. Or do they?
During the last century, the church began to drink from the well of psychology. The water promised to be the elixir that would resolve emotional, mental, and even spiritual problems. Psychology cast troubles in a new light, identified new sources for our problems, and proposed new solutions to solve them.
Even with its multitude of contradictory theories and questionable therapies, psychology has successfully altered how the world thinks about and responds to the problems of life. Tragically, setting aside its infinite spiritual resources, the church of Jesus Christ embraced this revolution of humanistic thinking.
A Movement in the Wrong Direction
For centuries the burden of caring for the souls of men and women was gladly borne by the church. With its trust in Scripture, its empowerment by the Spirit, and the all-sufficient grace of Christ, the church could provide comfort in affliction, light in darkness, rebuke in rebellion, help in weakness, and hope in every trial.
Famous preachers of the past are known rightfully for their faithful expositions, powerful evangelism, and insights into Scripture. But many of these men were also exemplary in their care for sinning and suffering saints through their preaching, writing, and counseling.
A supreme example of intense and practical pastoral care is Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory—an extensive work on practical Christian living and handling life’s problems. John Bunyan, Thomas Watson, John Owen, and many other puritan pastors likewise left a legacy of faithful preaching and shepherding souls.
In contrast, many of today’s preachers are known almost exclusively for engaging and culturally relevant sermons that merely scratch the felt needs of their congregations. So what happens when someone seeks help for intense personal struggles? It is common for him or her to be referred to a professional counselor outside the church.
Most churches are no longer centers of soul care. Whatever else they are, they are not the place where sinning and suffering souls can go for help and comfort.
The Wrong Kind of Help
Admittedly, many charismatic churches seek to be places of spiritual healing. Healing Rooms International is a clear attempt by charismatic churches to care for troubled souls. Additionally, books and sermons from charismatic leaders address the struggles of life in an attempt to meet the needs of the suffering.
The problem is their solutions are no better—and perhaps worse—than the humanistic doctrines of psychology. Just like psychology, charismatic soul care comes with its own set of unique terms, diagnoses, and solutions.
Leanne Payne is a leading voice in charismatic soul care. Through her writing and teaching ministry, she has trained thousands in her unique view and style of healing prayer.
In her book, The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul Through Union with Christ, Payne has strong words for those who rely on humanistic theories and practices. She rallies support by saying, “This is why our eclecticism (so prevalent in the Church today, as many non-Christian ideas flood in) will not work. Herein is the (dreadful to some) exclusiveness of the Christian truth and reality that we are to proclaim” (p. 96).
And yet, her book is filled with quotes from evangelicals, Catholics, poets, novelists, and others. Scripture references are rare and scarcely used as the foundation of her ideas. Furthermore, she betrays a clear acceptance of at least some theories from psychology.
At one point Payne provides a case study of a man struggling with homosexuality. She writes:
The strong compulsion he suffered I’ve come to call the ‘cannibal compulsion,’ the twisted way we try to take into ourselves that which we think we lack. In reality, it is that within us which (for whatever reason) is unblessed, unaffirmed... The pedophile, for example, attempts to gain a childhood he never had by ‘swallowing up’ young boys. 
While she coins her own term (“cannibal compulsion”), she essentially parrots the modern psychological dogma that one’s current struggles are the result of deficiencies in his childhood experience. What is clearly lacking in her diagnosis is the concept of sin, and therefore what was lacking in her treatment was repentance. How does Payne propose dealing with such problems? Offer a multi-sensory experience of healing prayer to heal past memories, the “diseased mind,” and most importantly, invoke God’s “healing presence.”
In fact, the very first chapter begins with a step-by-step example of how she sought to heal a man from fear and depression.
First, I applied holy water to his forehead and began the prayer by invoking the Presence of the Lord. In Christ’s name, I then broke and put to flight the demonic force that had been banding, ever more tightly, this young man’s mind. Next, anointing his forehead with the healing oil (making the sign of the Cross as the symbol of present and future protection of his mind), I prayed for God’s healing light and love to enter in and fill his mind and heart, to dispel all fear and torment, and to grant peace and quiet. Going on to gently press his temples, I sensed this cleansing and healing taking place, and continued thus to pray until I could give thanks to God that it was done. 
There is little in that ritual that resembles Christianity, and much akin to witchcraft. The Scripture provides no instructions that would lead one to develop such a practice.
Keep in mind, Leanne Payne is not an isolated practitioner. I was directed to her material by Dr. Michael Brown, a vocal critic of John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire, and a self-proclaimed leader in the charismatic movement.
One could also point to Bethel Redding’s “Prophetic Ministry” as a similarly mystical attempt to exercise the care of souls. Healing Rooms International, where similar practices also occur, has hundreds of locations in the United States, and hundreds more throughout the world. These are not isolated ministries in the dark corners of the church.
Turning to the Source
Thankfully, there is a growing movement to return to the true source of soul care. The Author of Life has not left us to invent coping mechanisms for life’s problems. He has given us abundant and sufficient resources in Scripture to handle struggles with sin and suffering.
That movement is known as the biblical counseling movement, which began in the 1970’s under the guiding light of Jay Adams. To promote biblical soul care and ensure continued fidelity, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (formerly the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) actively equips and certifies counselors through numerous training seminars and conferences. In fact, John MacArthur will be a featured speaker at this year’s national conference addressing the issue “God’s Truth in a Culture of Mental Illness.”
True biblical counseling is not about creating a class of professionals or new schools of thought. It does not have its own lingo, theories, and remedies. Rather, it returns the care of souls to its proper sphere—the church of Jesus Christ. It restores the only meaningful purpose to counseling—making more and better disciples of Christ. And it utilizes the only true power to change—the Word of God energized by the Spirit of God.
True biblical counselors are not professionals. They are Spirit-empowered, Scripture-saturated, compassionate members of the body of Christ. Some, by virtue of their gifting and calling, may be pastors or vocational counselors. But the majority of biblical counselors are simply mature believers skilled in wielding the sword of the Spirit as they care for those with serious emotional or spiritual struggles.
It’s been said, “Everyone is a counselor—you’re either a good one or a bad one.” While we may often feel inadequate in responding to the spiritual needs of others, that feeling is not due to our lack of resources; for “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness . . .” (2 Peter 1:3). I’m persuaded we often feel inadequate because for too long the church has taken its cues from the world and convinced us that, indeed, we are inadequate.
For the next two weeks we will be focusing our blog posts on the insufficiency of psychology and the all-sufficiency of Scripture, the Spirit, and grace. John MacArthur will correct the false advertising of the world’s ideas, drawing our attention back to the rich resources we have in Christ. This is a series you won’t want to miss.
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