Monday, March 30, 2015

Confessional Counseling

I had given some thought to making a series of blog entries where I would take a chapter or two at a time from the Baptist Confession (1689) and connect it to counseling.  Perhaps this could come in the future, but I'll focus here on a more succinct goal.  My goal in the previous posts has been simply to make the case for counselors to give appropriate consideration to the informative use of Confessions (and I think the 1689 is a great one!) in their counseling work.  Bent more towards non-pastor counselors then pastor-counselors, I have sought to make the case that theology matters in counseling and that confessions help in that endeavor.  Of course, we pastors benefit from considering the confessional nature (or lack thereof) of our counsel, but often times, in my experience of "living in both worlds", it is the non-pastor counselors who are sitting in a Christian counseling center somewhere, who give less than needed consideration to their own systematic theological understanding.  Certainly there are chapters or sections in the Baptist Confession that are not directly related to a counseling concern at hand.  Congregational polity, for example,  most usually will not come into play as the issue of bereavement is being discussed.  Mode of baptism will not likely arise as a discussion on depression is occurring.  But many other chapters will be directly related to the theological backdrop of the counselor during those session.  All of us, counselors and non-counselors alike, should consider the benefit of confessions.  But, by way of rounding this series up, a few practical thoughts/questions to consider:

*Do we know theology as people who give counsel?   Can we hear human problems, psychological or otherwise, and interpret them through the pages of Scripture and through the systems of theology found on those pages of Scripture?

*Do Pastors who make referrals to any of you who are counselors outside of the auspices of a local church know what your theological "bent" is?

*Would there be value in your own study of the Confession as it relates to using it in small bites to those who are hurting?

*If you don't already have a Christian Counseling "bent" (Biblical Counseling (AABC or CCEF), Christian Psychology (Eric Johnson), Integration (AACC), or Levels of Explanation), might a systematic study of Scripture utilizing a confession help you to determine how you view the ministry of counseling in general? 

*If you are not accountable to a local church body for the counseling you give, then questions regarding the theology you share most likely will not come your way regularly.  If so, when a problem is theological, what is your theology?  Confessions help.  I know that counselors often focus on the work of the psychological, and learn helping skills, the DSM/psychopathology, and theories of counseling.  But I would argue that many if not all of these things are rooted in theology (for example LBCF 6.2-3 and its implications).

*In addition to the study, reading, and personal affirmation of a confession, regular reflection on how systematic theology informs theology is very beneficial.  Might a confession be a good way to go about it in 2015?


The closing statement of the Baptist Confession (1689) reads: "We the MINISTERS, and MESSENGERS of, and concerned for upwards of, one hundred BAPTIZED CHURCHES, in England and Wales (denying Arminianism), being met together in London, from the third of the seventh month to the eleventh of the same, 1689, to consider of some things that might be for the glory of God, and the good of these congregations, have thought meet (for the satisfaction of all other Christians that differ from us in the point of Baptism) to recommend to their perusal the confession of our faith, which confession we own, as containing the doctrine of our faith and practice, and do desire that the members of our churches respectively do furnish themselves therewith."

Living in a day where theology was all over the air that was breathed, confessing truths about God, His Word, His Work and World was so important.  And so they wrote.   Is it any less important to us  some 300+ years later?  Hurting people need to be heard, cared for genuinely, and assisted as they seek to understand suffering, ailments, traumas and dysfunctions in this broken world which through Christ is being redeemed.  I don't suggest reading them a Confession, but I do wholeheartedly recommend knowing theology well, and wielding it well in the loving care of people.  God's revelation of Himself in His Scriptures is not just for Christians who are on mountaintops, but for Christians who are in valleys are well...confessional care and counsel is a helpful enterprise as it provides curbs for us on the road.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Counseling & Chapters 14-20

Most people have a concept of what counseling is, but what is this reference to "Chapters 14-20"?  We have been discussing aspects of counseling and theology, mainly using the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.  Thus far, my aim has been to show that a). theology matters in counseling (yes, the use of the Scriptures in counseling, but even beyond that, a systematic understanding of doctrine/theology as well) & b). confessions help accomplish that goal.

One of the main privileges of my counseling work is to be able to share the gospel, apply the gospel, and connect the gospel to the problems, issues, hurts and pains that counselees have.  However, in our day, the word "gospel" is fraught with a plethora of definitions.  I pastor a local Reformed Baptist Church.  I counsel within this body as a pastor. However, in a very part time capacity, I still counsel at a local Christian counseling center.  In this location, I counsel believers and non-believers alike.  Usually it is persons who claim Christ that I end up counseling.   However, I have found that when I use the Word gospel (*how the gospel serves as a model in marriage, *how the gospel drives our freedom from guilt and shame, *how the gospel fuels our parenting of children, *how the gospel provides hope in the midst of depression that doesn't seem to go away, *how the gospel is a sure foundation even in the midst of experiencing delusional thoughts, or sometimes, psychosis, *how the gospel defeats our bitterness...etc.), I have to "re-teach" it.  This I do not mind doing.  However, for so many who come in for counseling, the gospel means something like "praying a prayer and asking Jesus to come into your heart", or "God, through Jesus allowing us to clean our lives up".  While elements of these two definitions are offshoots of the gospel, they are NOT the gospel.

I have found that I need to teach about God's just wrath for sin, His holiness, and his perfect justice.  I need to teach about Jesus taking the wrath of God on behalf of all those who would ever trust in Jesus.  I need to teach in simple words what propitiation means.  I also need to talk about Christ's perfect record of righteousness being imputed to us...about Christians being seen through the righteousness of Christ.  I need to teach about how we are not saved by keeping the law, but rather, the moral law is now something with which we are free to glorify God.  Often, at the end of a counseling discussion which has encompassed these truths, the reaction on the part of the counselee is both shock and comfort.  Shock in that they say they "had never heard it that way before."  Comfort in that, perhaps for the first time, the gospel has become a message that was about more than religion or heaven when they die, but about continued standing before God. 

Chapters 14-20 of the Baptist Confession (LBCF 1689) are so helpful in getting believers, pastors, scholars...and counselors into the "nitty-gritty" of the gospel.  Written as theology, there are also soul-counseling components.  Just look, and rejoice in some of these theological truths:

"This faith, although it be different in degrees, and may be weak or strong, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, as is all other saving grace, from the faith and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith."-LBCF 14.3

"Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary."- LBCF 15.5

"Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity."- LBCF 17.1

"This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it...yet are they never destitute of the seed of God and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are preserved from utter despair. "- LBCF 18.3-4

LBCF-19 -God's moral law is not a burden, but a safeguard, a freeing delight, and a means of rejoicing in the gospel.

"The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. " LBCF 20.1

Truth of theology, and yet very practical application to the believer's life.  Counselors, we will not always discuss theology directly.  We may not even have the opportunity to use the word "gospel", but when we do, let us be reminded and remind our counselees as well,  that theology ushers forth praise, and comfort comes in rightly understanding what God has done in the gospel, and we dare not think that a deep understanding of the gospel is not profitable.  God's people are so hungry for the food of God's Word...and Confessions help in the eating.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Counseling & Justification vs. Sanctification

Invariably it happens: That moment in a counseling relationship with someone where I realize that a large part of that person's current struggle is that of having confused Justification and Sanctification.  A large factor in this is the poor teaching that exists in so many churches today.  However, even with good preaching week by week, many counselees have gotten to the place in their lives where they confuse these two doctrines, and this has left them not only bereft of comfort in the gospel, but often, it has caused a wealth of depressive and/or anxious thoughts.

Many times a person will come to me because of an issue seemingly unrelated to theology or their spiritual journey, but when we begin to process what is bothering them, often, at least one component in the believer's life that is amiss is that somehow they have confused Justification (God's one time declaration of right standing regarding the believer based solely on the merits of Christ) with Sanctification (God's continual work of growing a believer into the likeness of Christ--the believer's slow growth in godliness and holiness).  This confusion can be disastrous for a Christian.  If a child of God is anxious, it could be connected to a variety of external circumstances, life issues, sometimes biological components mixed in as well.   But often, at the root of that believer's life, there can be the functional view that God's favor toward them is based in their own performance (or lack thereof) for a day, a week, or a month, and what results is the view that God is no longer approachable in a reverential fear that causes the worshiper to draw near in grace (Heb 4 & 10), but rather He is a God Who cannot be sought...a God in Whom there cannot be true rest.  Of course, most believers would agree if asked, that Jesus Saves and not our works, however, functionally, through sin, absence from the means of grace, exposure to less than accurate teaching, etc., the counselee has come to experience a hopelessness and an anxiety based in a felt insecurity before God.  Oh how theology matters!  I do not mean to insinuate that every case of depression or anxiety stems from a confusion of these two doctrines, but in my decade plus of counseling, I have seen this connection in so many people. 

Can right theological understanding really affect the average believer's life including their cognitions, mood and personality?  Absolutely!  And theology and theological study is not devoid of soul-nourishing, psychological benefit.  The authors of the Baptist Confession (1689) knew this all so well.  Not only did they write accurate, theologically rich statements that systematized the doctrines of Scripture, but they often showed the effects of those doctrines in their expressions:

LBCF 11.1& 3 "Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ's active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God." 
"Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in their behalf; yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners."
 -Christ is the focus, and our standing before God is wholly in Him.

LBCF. 13.2 "This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."
 -Continued struggle with sin in the life of the believer is a given, and is not a "deal-breaker".

As in previous posts, again I will say: counseling very rarely if ever involves me quoting the Confession to counselees.  However, I can no longer count the number of times I have actually used the theological words, and "re-taught" the difference between the two doctrines to a counselee struggling with sin, doubt, grief and despair.  Often the response I get (particularly in counseling done outside of my particular local church context) is: "Wow, I've never thought of it that way before."  Are there clinical cases of anxiety and depression that are not based on theological deficiency?  I do indeed believe so.  However, many times the wrong understanding of these two doctrines has left a counselee in despair...a despair which is avoidable.  Theology matters, and confessions are so helpful.

Counselors, let us be skillful not just in detecting sin, relationship dynamics and/or medical issues in the lives of those we counsel, but let us also look for areas of theological misunderstanding, and let us with joy, skill, grace and listening ears, share the good news of the Scriptures.  My sanctification will come out of God's justifying work in my life, and sanctification will be present in every true believer, but its slow progress will not undo God's justifying declaration in my life...what a message we have for those in guilt and despair!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Counseling & God's Decree

"Did God know this was going to happen!?"  The question comes often in counseling in the midst of some very difficult trials, griefs and pains.  And yet, the Scripture affirms God's total sovereignty and providential hand in all things.  The Baptist Confession (LBCF 1689) 3.1 words it very well:

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.
( Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3-5 )

It is tempting to offer a less than accurate view of God when we seek to comfort hurting people.  However, rightly shared (with gentleness, truth, love and listening ears), the understanding that God decrees "all things, whatsoever comes to pass" is not only true and theologically accurate, it offers hope.  I continue to marvel at how those early Reformed Baptists were able to so succinctly, and with theological accuracy, write out confessional statements that are so rich, and yet helpful.  God's decree, as mentioned above, comes with God's perfect counsel, His wisdom, His power and it also comes without making God the author of sin, or morally culpable for evil.  This truth I have shared with many hurting people who have experience hurts, particularly hurts that involve evil at the hands of other persons.  God is absolutely sovereign, and He ordains all the comes to pass, but He does not delight in evil, nor is He a perpetrator of harm bent in evil.  God's decree comes with God's perfect wisdom.  Again, I don't read a Confession to someone in counseling sessions.  And sometimes (and some readers may disagree with me here), it takes months before this theological truth may be discussed.  But, there is hope in the truth of God's Word.  The Word matters when we speak about God, His World, His People, His grace and His plan--and Confessions help.   

We must be careful that we don't miss out on truly listening and hearing a person...of weeping with those who weep.  But slowly, as we process things with them (as Pastors, Counselors, or Fellow Believers in Community) we can speak of God in accurate ways that point to His sovereignty, and blend that with His perfect wisdom, justice and goodness toward His people.  I don't recommend quoting "All things work together for good" to someone right after the suffering of a tragedy.  No no.  However, I do recommend, in the months that follow, a gentle and careful approach to presenting God for Who He truly is.  Believers worship a God Who is in control when bad things...tragic things happen, not a God that is unaware, or worse, willfully absent.  The Doctrine of God's Decree is not at odds with counseling ministry...let us wield doctrine well (sometimes a scalpel vs. a sword), but the best thing for each of us is learning about the God that reveals Himself in His Word...and this, in Christ is not against us...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Counseling & How We Speak About God

Christian Counselors (both pastors and vocational counselors) meet people on the road of suffering.  As often is the case, counselors speak about God.  They may quote actual Scripture passages, connect a point of theology, mention a Scriptural principle, or sometimes, they may give their opinion on what God is: like, thinking, feeling, wants...etc.  Of course, we must affirm that suffering people need to look at their God; they must gaze at Him and how He has revealed Himself in His Word.  But how we speak about God, particularly in counseling situations, is crucial.  What is crucial in this endeavor is to speak about God in ways that are accurate to His own description of Himself in His inerrant Word.  Veering off course can be disastrous, and it is particularly tempting in counseling situations to rest on personal feeling and emotion rather than on accurate Scriptural truth.  Open theism becomes tempting when someone has suffered a tragedy ("God just didn't know...").  Prosperity "gospel" is particularly tempting to suggest to someone who is considering divorce ("God just wants you to be happy...").  The idea of Divine mutability is tempting to dole out when we are sitting with someone wrestling with sexual sin ("That was the God of the Old Testament...").  Denying Divine Impassibility is tempting when it seems more palatable to present God simply as happy and sad rather than to get into God's "otherness" from creation for fear that God will appear stoic.  And on and on it goes.  How we speak about God is always important, and it is always important to ground how we speak about God in what He speaks about Himself.  Historic Confessions help.

The Baptist Confession (LBCF 1689) 2.1 reads: "The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty."

Do we speak about God in counseling sessions like this, albeit with appropriate grace and acumen?  Imagine the believing Counselor who has training in attending to people, who has experience in sitting with hurting, troubled and struggling people, who also has a clear understanding of interpreting Scripture and an understanding of historic systematic theology as laid out in Confessions coming out of the Reformation. By no means would he or she be perfect, or always right, but clearly informed in how God speaks about God, and how that changes everything--even in the midst of human pain, suffering and sin.  Or, do we want a counselor to learn theology "at church", but represent God any old way during the week in counseling sessions?  We need to hear about God as He desires to be spoken of.  Of course, we do not simply quote historic confessions in counseling moments, but those confessions can be a training ground for how we speak about God in the midst of counseling ministry. Working to weave in theologically accurate truths into counseling conversations is ultimately to speak of God aright. 

Practical Examples abound.  What about the adult who loses a believing loved one suddenly in death?  The question often comes in hurt, disbelief and anger: "where was God when this happened?!"  Imaging God as absent, or unable to control what occurred, or picturing Him as slightly paralyzed just won't due...and ultimately, it doesn't aid a person's grief and fears.  However, what if the Lord, specifically Jesus, was portrayed as "holding all things together"...as "upholding all things by the Word of His power" as Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 describe--speaking to His sovereign hand ordering each detail in the sudden death of a loved one.  This would not be spoken as "Jesus did this"(coldly) but rather, for example: "The Lord was completely sovereign every single second that your loved one was dying, and there was not one single second where the body and soul of your loved one was outside the providence of the Lord Christ."  What helps more?  A paralyzed, anxious picture of God?  Or, a demonstration of the God who was so in control at the moment of a loved one's death, that no feeling, emotion, body cell, heartbeat, or flat-line was outside His precise, and perfect control.  Of course, the latter...and the latter is the biblically accurate portrayal.  So we counsel by: Slowly inserting comforting words--Listening carefully--Being present--And... speaking of God aright. And we speak gently, and slowly, not needing to rush every sentence into theological topics, but by seeking to speak of God accurately, every time we do speak of Him.

Counselors, let us speak about God the way He speaks about Himself...this is not at odds with comfort and care...to the contrary, it is very much the center of it...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Counseling & Scripture Interprets Scripture

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly."-The Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF 1689) 1.9

How often in life, on greeting cards, on marquee signs and in church hallway conversations, verses of Scripture are used in a way that misrepresent the truth of those Scriptures.  In Christian Counseling circles, this is no less the case.  Counseling involves the Word applied to hurts, sin and struggle, and is a useful enterprise.  However, it must be undertaken with great care.  In one sense, every Christian is a counselor.  We all speak the Word (or we should) to those with whom we are in community.  In another sense, counseling often is done regularly by counselors and/or pastors--and those counselors should consider how they use Scripture.  Of course, many Christian counselors do not use Scriptural text or Scriptural principle, but so many Christian Counselors do, and often the heart intent is good, but the result is counterproductive.  We must be careful how we use specific verses when we speak about God, ourselves, His people and His plan.

Scripture interpreting Scripture is such a necessary truth to consider in counseling.  Do we randomly quote a verse as justification for something, or as comfort in something, when we have not considered what the entirety of the Bible says on that "something"?  The confessional passage above speaks to challenging passages needing to be interpreted throughout the rest of Scripture.  However, by way of implication, another lesson is taught: all passages of Scripture are included in this.  Jabez's prayer is not a singular verse to give a man considering an affair.  One verse out of Jesus' mouth on divorce and the "except for marital unfaithfulness" clause is not a full treatment of the biblical counsel we should give when counseling someone considering whether to reconcile with an unfaithful spouse.  Quoting verses out of context, or quoting verses in context without considering how that verse fits with larger systematic theology may be dangerous.  Quoting "God is love" from 1 John 4:8 without considering the context of brotherly love from the very same verse is incomplete.  Systematic theology alongside good exegetical theology can aid us in our practical theology, particularly when we have an informed understanding of historical theology. 

A few practical thoughts:

1).  Counselors, let us grow in hermeneutics.  Let our understanding of interpreting Scripture be maturing.  If your counseling training did not involve training in hermeneutics, consider making that your next continuing education focus.

2).  Counselors, let us know systematic theology.  We speak Words about God to hurting people...but are they the Words He speaks of Himself...?  Here is where being confessional as counselors is so helpful. While not the Bible, the Confessions of Faith of the Reformation such as the London Baptist Confession of Faith help us to develop a systematic and more comprehensive way of thinking about God, man, the world, the church and the human condition. 

3).  Counselors, let us be growing in our reading and self-saturation in the Scriptures.  A handful of verses in our quote arsenal is not enough...Let us develop fuller understanding on what the bible teaches about marriage, sex, sin, salvation, the body of Christ, temptation, lust....let us not throw crumbs at the hungry, but invite them to the banquet...but we'll need to know what is on the menu ourselves in order to do so...

4).  Counselors, refresh your own counseling ministry to the ordinary means of grace the Lord is using in your life.  Let the Word preached, prayer, and the ordinances feed you as you seek to help others. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Counseling & The Means of Grace

Counseling has been a significant part of my life, both in study and in doing, as a pastor, and as a counselor who has been in private practice/counseling ministry.   There is a wonderful wealth of counseling training materials for Christians seeking to counsel.  Of course, there are a variety of theories on counseling, from 'Nouthetic' to 'Theories of Explanation' paradigms, and all manner of approaches in between.  I lean very strongly to a Word-informed, Word-saturated approach in counseling.  I have sat with hurting people for countless hours seeking to apply the truths of God's Word to their situations, thoughts, experiences and sinful patterns, and yet over the years I have come to realize that counseling, while often a very helpful component to the ministry of the church, is to complement the means of grace.  By means of grace, I mean those ordinary means that the Lord Christ has given His bride to feed their faith until they are with Him face to face (not the basis of our justification, but the ordinary, God-ordained mechanisms through which His people are fed by the grace wrought by the merits and work of Christ).  There are a variety of helpful resources on these, both old and new, that I encourage the reader to utilize such as this lecture series here: [Click Here]

The Baptist Confession (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith) 14.1 says:

"The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened. ( 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32 )"

While counseling, rightly performed, is an offshoot of the ministry of the Word, it is not a replacement for the ordinary means of grace.  Counseling is the ministry of the Word applied to the pain caused by the fallen world, but also applied in discipleship to the growth of the Christian.  However, how many of us, pastors and "professional" counselors alike, forget the means of grace in the process?  How often have we labored with individuals in listening, speaking, shedding tears, and encouraging and yet have forgotten to commend the ordinary means of grace to individuals?.  Many of us counsel those within the local church that we pastor, and so this may be a less prevalent reality, albeit it a necessary reminder as we continue to counsel.  Others have spent time outside the local church counseling persons (elsewhere we could have the necessary discussion of the appropriate way to go about counseling outside the auspices of a particular local body--connection to the local church is so necessary and must be a continued goal for counseling in my opinion), and we have failed to even consider the role that the means of grace (and their absence in the life of the individual) play in their journey.  What if a depressed individual is not regularly coming to the table of the Lord, and is looking for our "wisdom" alone to get them through?  What if a person struggling with grief is talking to us, but not currently sitting under the preaching of the Word, or assembling regularly in communion through the Supper?  Or, how about the individual who is struggling with the sin of drunkenness, and is seeking to talk it out with us, but is not currently praying regularly according to the biblical pattern that the Lord has given?   Our counsel, if the Lord wills, can be of great comfort, and perhaps spiritual benefit, but it cannot replace the ordinary means of grace that the Lord has ordained for His people until they are home. 

Please do not misunderstand me.  I know many of the deep deep hurts and struggles that believers have experienced, and I do not mean to insinuate for example that the woman who was ritually abused by her father and is now in the throws of pain over it needs to forsake counseling, and "just take the Lord's Supper".   The means of grace are not a magic pill for all depression, anxiety, trauma recovery, etc.  However, they should not be neglected in the lives of those individuals who are working through these issues.  Many readers will be thinking, "Well of course!  I would never expect a counselee to not be involved in the means."  Yet do we regularly encourage them as part of the overall picture of a person?  Wouldn't it be a better approach to see counseling as a necessary and yet secondary complement to the Lord's work in feeding faith through the ordinary means?

Oh how important is the phrase "ordinarily wrought" in the confessional paragraph above.  When a brother or sister or "counselee" sits in my office, my first question will not likely be "when was the last time you took the Lord's Supper?"  However, the Word preached, the sacraments, and prayer should be a consideration as the counseling unfolds.  We may talk through problems and sins and pain, but it is most useful as a complement to the Lord's given means of feeding His people in His grace. 

The means of grace are the banquet.  Counseling ministry is a needed help, but it alone will not satisfy the spiritual appetite...