God’s Ordained Instrument for Sanctification
It is time for Christians to regain a biblical understanding of the important role that an assembly of believers should have in their lives. The sooner we learn that we are not called to be consumers on the hunt for the best buy, but worshippers in pursuit of a closer walk of obedience to our holy God, the better off we will be. Perhaps one of the more subtle ways Christians forsake the church is by succumbing to, or promoting, the professionalization of counseling. These believers don’t necessarily leave their churches physically, but they do so emotionally through divided loyalty. Worse yet, they often adopt the mindset that no one in their churches, including their pastors, can possibly understand the deep struggles of their souls and their quests for “inner healing.” As a result, they often keep their distance from the very people within the church to whom they are biblically accountable, and instead become transparently honest with the professional counselors outside the church whose answers are rarely questioned due to the psychological degrees hanging on their office walls. This simply is not God’s plan for discipleship, as David Powlison of CCEF says so well in his book Speaking Truth in Love:
Soul care and soul cure—sustaining sufferers and transforming sinners—is a vital part of the ministry of the church according to the Bible, however poorly we may be doing the job … Extramural Christian works need to remember that they are “barely legitimate” in the sense that they ought to exist only when they genuinely and intentionally serve the interests of the communities whose mature functioning will put them out of business. For example, para-church ministry becomes illegitimate when it competes with or uses local churches to its own ends … I believe that to organize counseling according to the mental health professional model is fundamentally, even disastrously, wrong. At the same time, truly wise church-oriented counseling ministry is decades away for the church as a whole … We must each labor to dismantle autonomous professionalism rather than reinforce it. We must each labor to make our loyalty to the church a significant reality rather than a mere statement of good intentions.
In other words, every para-church business or ministry that may provide assistance in the discipleship process (e.g. Bible colleges, seminaries, counseling training centers, publishing houses, etc.) finds legitimacy for its existence only in its connection to, and support of, the ministry of reproductive churches.
In spite of all its flaws and less-than-perfect members and pastors, churches remain God’s ordained communities of the faith and centers for biblical counseling. I am intentionally using the descriptive phrase “community of the faith,” along with “local church” in this chapter to emphasize the priority of Christ-centered relationships grounded in biblical doctrine. Other New Testament pictures of the church include that of “the bride of Christ” (Eph. 5:25; Rev. 21:2), which highlights the believer’s relationship with Jesus; and “a called-out assembly” (James 2:2), which accentuates the believer’s relationship to the world; but “community” is an essential picture as well, since it stresses the need for believers to live together spiritually, united by truth, and in a close association of mutual care, rather than independently, as “spiritual Lone Rangers” (coined by Kent Hughes). These spiritual communities are God’s ordained instruments for carrying out the Great Command, and will continue to be so until Jesus returns. Therefore, we must lead followers of Christ toward a stronger commitment to their local assemblies where they can grow in the grace and knowledge of their Savior Jesus Christ and practice biblical love by learning to serve others.
[Read this related post: 6 Reasons to be a Faithful Member of a Local Church]