In our last article we saw that the church has the duty to counsel her members—both counseling provided by pastors as well as personal counseling provided from one disciple of Jesus to another. Now we turn to the reminder that this is true because God says so. He gives His church the authority to counsel and provide for the mental and spiritual health of her members.
This issue of “authority” matters more than we might first think. It has rightly been argued that the Christian pastor is competent to counsel. Yet there is more to Biblical counseling. Sometimes people have focused so much on “competency” that they think they can compare the “competent” pastor to the “competent” psychologist and then choose whichever they want to help them in their time of need. The line of thinking I have heard Christians express is that as long as a pastor has some good training and is “up to date” with current counseling trends, then he might be “just as good” as the “experts.” Yet the Bible tells us that what happens in counseling depends on far more than “competency.” What happens when people are truly helped is that they grow into better disciples of Jesus. Who knows better about what that means? Further, who is given the duty and the authorization from God about training better disciples of Jesus in how we treat our feelings of anxiety, anger, depression, hopelessness, addiction, and so on?
The answer to these questions is found when we consider the Great Commission that Jesus gives to us as His Church. Jesus starts by reminding us Who He really is: the King of Kings with all authority in heaven and on earth. That authority is then exercised when we “make disciples of all nations” by going to them, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all that He has commanded. Jesus, the authoritative King, adds that He will sustain His Church with His abiding presence, even unto the end of the age (see Matthew 28:18-20). What does it mean to make a “disciple”? According to Luke 6:40, a disciple is someone who is like his teacher. This is why we often say being a disciple means being like Jesus. This is further defined in John 8:31-32 where Jesus says that “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” This means that a disciple is someone who intentionally attaches himself to Jesus. A disciple does not try to make Jesus his Lord through a lifelong struggle. Christ is already Lord, and he must learn to obey Him in all of his life, for all of his life.
The Church is given the command to make these sorts of people out of her members. The process of making disciples is called “discipleship.” We make people become more like Christ, growing in their life of sanctification. When a person is first a disciple, they have a lot to learn. Jesus says we have to learn to observe all that He has commanded and start observing and obeying it. That will take change. That will take someone who knows what is going on, and who comes to us to remind us, “Hi Joe. Remember you were baptized into the Triune God. Why are you failing to worship Him regularly and instead spending your summer weekends on the fishing boat? Your life must change now, as a Christian. Your fishing is a fine activity, but it must not take priority over your love for the Lord Jesus, your King and Savior.” This is the sort of discipleship conversation that Joe needs to hear from his pastor or elder. It is the sort of counseling conversation Jesus authorizes the church officers to have. It is the sort of authorized discipleship which will cause both Joe and his wife and family to become more like Christ as Joe starts to observe the words of Jesus more consistently.
When a person needs counseling, it can be very difficult and uncomfortable for them. However, it can also be very difficult and uncomfortable for the one giving the counseling. Who is a pastor or elder to be able to understand God’s Word and the specific sufferings and challenges and maybe even sins in another person’s life in order to help him or her become more like Christ? The fact that Jesus gives His divine authority behind this disciple-making process is very encouraging to the counselor as he prepares to help others. It is also encouraging to the person needing counsel. He or she ought not to feel threatened by the fact that Jesus authorizes the counselor. The counselor may still make mistakes and is not absolutely perfect in everything he might say. However, Jesus has said that He knows how to help us, and He has authorized people to be in our lives to show us His ways.
So, the authority that exists in a counselor-counselee relationship is a delegated authority. Jesus has original authority, and then gives the Church the Great Commission to go make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20). Furthermore, this authority to be disciple-makers is essential because of the gospel itself. We read in 1 John 3:23, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” Faith in Jesus shows itself in love for our neighbor. This means that the pastor presents Biblical solutions to sinners, not Biblical options. The counsel that a person gets as they walk out of the study of a godly pastor is not merely a ‘competent’ action plan. It must be the Bible’s solution to the needs of my soul in my particular situation. Here is how I put faith in Christ, ask His forgiveness (where relevant), and grow in my love for Him and for others.
Understanding that the counsel that a Christian receives from the church has the authority of Jesus behind it is also essential because of the devil. He is out there working against us. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10) Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to help people change? The devil cannot steal the salvation of God’s elect. But he can sabotage our sanctification. So, we need the authority of the only Person in the Universe Who has demonstrated He is stronger than Satan—our Lord Jesus. And we have that authority as we lean upon Him and His Word in our disciple-making.
In the name of Jesus, we come to the church member in need and say with the Apostle Paul, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1). You can have confidence that you will be able to keep this lifelong command to discipleship because Jesus assures us that hope is possible. Hope is real. Hope is not based on our performance, but on His authority to keep His promise in your life. Abide in Him, and He sends His Holy Spirit to you and in fact the Father, the Son, and the Spirit will come and make His home in you, His chosen disciple (see John 14:15-18, 23). This is hope for the person who needs hope for his or her counseling challenge.