It is my educated opinion that many Christians have much too narrow of a view of the role of the church. They are comfortable with the church proclaiming the Gospel, what one must do for salvation, how the church is to be organized, and how it is to worship. They are comfortable with the church educating and edifying by teaching the Bible, typically in a public Bible class setting (“We offer Bible classes”). However, when people are struggling, they don’t want to get too close. More than once, I have heard the line, “They church simply isn’t equipped to deal with that.” Yet a brother or sister really needed help.
Here are some real-life examples of what I am speaking. (1) A sister went to the elders of the church claiming that she was being physically abused by her husband. They did not want to get involved. They said that they were not marriage counselors, and suggested that she find one. (2) A brother went to the elders of the church asking for help with his drinking problem. They said that they were not A.A., and suggested that he go to A.A. meetings. The man knew they were not A.A.. However, he did think that they could become more involved in his life and help him deal with his temptation and help hold him accountable. He told me that the church was not much help when he really needed it. (3) A brother suffers from depression. He turned to a Christian friend for help. The answer was “just snap out of it.” (4) A brother wanted to present some lessons on PTSD. The attitude of some was that he could do that in another setting. This was not a subject for the church to address. (5) A sister has mental issues. She reached out for help. Not knowing exactly how to help, someone replied, “the church simply isn’t equipped to deal with that.” That is the easy answer. Let’s wash our hands and move on. Here are my thoughts…
1. We are a family. We are born into a family, the family of God (Galatians 3:26-28). We are to treat other members of the church as family members (1 Timothy 5:1). “Brotherly kindness” should characterize us (2 Peter 1:7). Remember that “a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). We are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Paul instructs, “Warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
2. We need to have the heart of a servant. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples (John 13:3-17). Paul instructs “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Some years ago, I was teaching in James. James 5:14 reads, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” I set forth my view that this was teaching that elders are to: (a) depend upon God (pray for the person); (b) Serve [anoint with oil, which I understand to either be done to refresh or for medical purpose (see B.H. article Pray/Sing/Call)]. Someone spoke up and said, so the elders are to be medical experts? My response was no, but they are to be servants (I believe that this point is true, whether one agrees with my understanding about anointing oil, or not).
3. It is my belief that many of the issues of life, even many mental health issues (not all, but many) have a spiritual dimension. Some are overwhelmed with grief, guilt, shame, fear, worry or anger. Some have an improper view of self. Some have an improper view of God.
Steven Lloyd has come to the same conclusions. Consider these excerpts from his book, Coping: A Biblical Approach- (a) “Martin and Deidre Bobgan, in their book How to Counsel from Scripture, quote research psychiatrist, E. Fuller Torrey, who argues that about 75 percent of the problems psychiatrists address are problems of living, 5 percent are organic brain disorders, and 20 percent ‘will require closer examination to make a final judgment.’ The Bobgans conclude: ‘Therefore, most people seeking help need the kind of counsel in which the Bible excels: how to live, how to relate to others, how to find meaning in life, how to know God, and how to become the kind of person God wants.”’ (p. 42).
(b) “It is amazing how many people hinder God by believing that he deals only with those things they believe relate to their initial salvation and ‘spiritual’ matters… and yet… God’s word addresses even the practical matters of life (that is, friendships, marriage, family matters, finances, addiction, unbelief, communication problems, etc.) (p. 45).
(c) “It has been my experience that those who claim the Bible was insufficient to help them either did not search the scriptures for their answers or they did not search them enough.
“After one man told me he could not find help in the scriptures for his problem, but that he found help through a secular support group, I asked him to look back at what he had learned, to reflect on his knowledge of the word, and to tell me what he could not have found in the Bible. After reflecting on the question, he admitted that there was nothing he learned that he could not have found in the Bible, if he had only thought through it more completely. He has become a great advocate for the sufficiency of God’s word. He came to realize that the only thing the support group supplied for him was other people who could commiserate with his experience as a child of an alcoholic” (pp. 49-50).
(d) “I would have to say that most of the counseling I have ever been a part of centered around helping a person change the way they think. It has involved correcting some wrong or false notion about God or it has involved correcting someone’s thinking about the very nature of man. Consequently, most counseling sessions become Bible studies. Once I have listened to the case and have asked whatever questions I felt were necessary to get at the heart of the problem, I would then direct our attention to the light of the scripture.” (p. 63).
Let us remember this, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
4. It is my belief that we can do better. We should be able to confess our trespasses to one another, and pray or one another (James 5:16).
Steven Lloyd writes, “Because some Christians think that the church does not deal with their kind of problem they have sought help from support groups outside the fellowship of other Christians. I have asked some of them, ‘What is it that your support group offers you that you did not find in the church?’ They tell me that they found ‘openness’ and someone to talk to who has been where they have been. You see, people are not going to open up unless they think they are in a ‘safe’ environment” (pp. 144-145).
Jimmy Jividen gives these thoughts in his book Koinonia – (a) “The need for such openness in relationships is well documented by the rise of counseling professionals. People desire to open their souls to someone who really cares and understands. Psychologists and counselors are more and more filling the void which has been created by the neglect of this important part of Christian fellowship. These people – helping professionals certainly have their place, but they are only a counterfeit of what God intended Christian fellowship to be” (p. 118).
(b) “An unknown author has penned these words which fit so well what fellowship in Christ should be.
‘If this is not a place where tears are understood, where do I go to cry?
I this is not a place where my spirit can wing, where do I go to fly?
If this is not a place where my questions can be asked, where do I go to seek?
If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard, where do I go to speak?
If this is not a place where you’ll accept me as I am, where do I go to be me?
If this is not a place where I can try and fail and learn and grow,
Where can I be – just me?’”
(c) “Fellowship in Christ provides a forum of caring Christians with whom he is able to share his real self. He is able to take the risk of being vulnerable with others… He has a community in which he can let down his guard and still find acceptance. His concern is not ‘What if people really find out about me?’ It is rather: ‘How can I be more open and honest about my needs?’ In this fellowship there is forgiveness, openness, acceptance, and caring confrontation” (p. 118). May it be.