Bible Question:

Is it biblical for a pastor to counsel a couple considering divorce?

Bible Answer:

The question addressed in this article is, “Should pastors be counseling a couple that is considering divorce?” What follows is the the teaching of Scripture.

Biblical For A Pastor To Counsel About Divorce

Biblical Counseling Is Superior

Few professional psychologists will admit that lay counseling is as effective as their counseling in almost every situation. Research has demonstrated that the majority of studies conclude that there is little difference in the effectiveness between professional counselors and lay counselors. Here is statement by Tan and Scalise.

. . .the results of these more recent studies that seem to favor professional experience, the majority of outcome studies comparing the comparing the professional therapist to lay counselors have found that lay counselors are generally as effective as professional therapists for most common problems experienced by clients, according to more recent reviews and reports or studies.[1]

Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld, some years ago, in a significant, but somewhat controversial book, asserted that people would solve most problems better by talking to friends, spouses, relatives, or anyone who appears to be doing well what the people believe they themselves are doing poorly! . . . His views and conclusions reflect the growing emphasis in the secular literature on the benefits of using lay counselors, as well as the growing disillusionment with professional counseling, since there is still no agreement or consensus concerning its effectiveness . . .[2]

Dr. Bruce Narramore, head of the Rosemont School of Psychology, has stated that lay counseling is typically more effective than so-called professional counseling. That is, professional secular counseling offers no significant advantage over lay counseling.

Professional, secular counseling is inferior to biblically based counseling since it operates with a defective worldview and assumption that the human nature is inherently good. In sharp contrast, God states that from the moment of birth we are sinners (Psalm 51:5) and no one is truly good (Romans 3:10-12). Every act of goodwill is tainted (Romans 3:12). Thirty-one times in the New Testament we are described as sinners. We are not inherently good people. In sharp contrast, secular counselors believe that men and women are inherently good but are corrupted by the environment and culture around them and need a positive self-image. In reality, the root problem is pride. We love ourselves more than anyone else – including God. Scripture teaches that pride or self-love is the root cause of every sin.

It should be noted that there is no such thing as Christian psychology. Such counseling is not Christian and is not truly psychology. The word psychology means “the study of the soul.” Psychology has no insight into the soul unless it is based on the teachings of Scripture. Counseling that is not based on Scripture does not offer any insight into the soul of man. The Bible has the correct solution to man’s problems because 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God has granted to every Christian everything that pertains to life and godliness.

. . . seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3  (NASB)

That is, the Bible has the answers to every personal problem in this life. This means that any counseling that is not based on biblical principles is inferior.

God Uses Guilt; Secular Counselors Suppress It

As one example, many professional or secular counselors oppose the teachings of Scripture. While they recognize that guilt is a real emotion, they do not have the solution to guilt. Often  they recommend suppressing it. In sharp contrast Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit was sent to convict us of sin. The Holy Spirit wants to sensitize us to sin and not suppress it in order for us to see our need to be forgiven by God. In the following passage Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit and tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin.

And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. John 16:8-11 (NASB)

As a result of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, people will feel guilty so that non-Christians will be drawn to Christ and Christians will stop sinning.  The biblical solution to guilt is to confess our sinful behaviors to God (Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9) and then to flee sin. Suppression is not the solution. Suppression results in a worse condition which is either a hard heart (Matthew 19:8; Ephesians 4:18) or increasing the punishment they will experience some day (Romans 2:5-7). 2 Corinthians 7:10 reveals that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin to motivate us to come to Christ and be saved. If a person becomes a believer in Christ, their sins are forgiven, the guilt is removed, and that person has peace with God (Romans 5:1). This simple example reveals that biblically-based counseling is superior because it understands the true spiritual condition of people.

Church Leaders Are Directed To Counsel

We have discovered that Christian pastors and counselors who use biblically-based counseling are superior to secular professional counselors because they understand the true spiritual condition of men and women and God’s solution for human problems That is why God commands Christian pastors, leaders and others to counsel fellow believers. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 fellow believers are told to counsel others.

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NASB)

The Greek word that is translated as “admonish” is noutheteo, which means “to admonish, warn, or reprimand or instruct.” It refers to what every counselor does. Other examples can be found in Romans 15:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and Hebrews 3:13. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is an important verse since it reveals that when Scripture is seriously obeyed it results in spiritual growth and every good work.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)

These two verses reveal that Scripture is the guide to living righteously.

Therefore, who is best able to counsel a couple considering divorce? A Christian pastor who has a solid understanding of what the Bible teaches and applies God’s principles to a destructive marriage relationship in order to bring harmony and peace. When couples understand God’s design for marriage, how to walk in the Spirit, and apply the biblical principles to their relationship, the serious, destructive problems can be corrected and disappear.

Conclusion

In Philippians 4:2-3 the apostle Paul urged some women to live in harmony. He also urged someone to help them.

 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3 (NASB)

Apparently, these two women were unable or unwilling to follow the apostle’s advice and needed help to resolve their disagreements. But were they willing to receive the help? We do not know. The message is simple. Bible-based counselors  can attempt to motivate both spouses to attend counseling sessions, but they cannot force them to attend. In fact, family members and friends may need to encourage them to seek help.

Every participant must be willing to attend; otherwise, progress may not occur.  It is important to remember that Bible-based counselors cannot make anyone follow biblical counsel. There is nothing magic about the counseling session, except that a spirit led and controlled counselor will give accurate, biblical principles for the counselees to follow. If the counselees refuse to follow the counseling, there is nothing the pastor or counselor can do. The counselee’s problems will not be solved. But that does not mean the biblically-based counseling was not the correct solution. A typical problem occurs when some counselees do not follow the biblical advice.

 

References:

1. Tan, S., & Scalise, E. Lay Counseling: Equipping Christians for a Helping Ministry. Zondervan. 2016. p. 70. The quote is supported by a footnote citing 27. See B. S. Ali, M. H. Rahbar, S. Naeem, and A. Gul, “The Effectiveness of Counseling on Anxiety and Depression by Minimally Trained Counselors: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” American Journal of Psychotherapy 57 (2003): 324-36; F. Neuner et al., “Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Trained Lay Counselors in an African Refugee Settlement: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 76 (2008): 686-94; S. Dewing et al., “Lay Counselors’ Ability to Deliver Counseling for Behavior Change,”journal of Consulting and Psychology 87 (2014): 19-29.
2. Tan, S., & Scalise, E. Lay Counseling: Equipping Christians for a Helping Ministry. Zondervan. 2016. p. 70-71. The reference to Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld is cited from “The Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change (Boston: Little, Brown), 1983).

Suggested Links:

God’s Counseling Technique with Jonah
Marriage & Conflict
Divorce & Remarriage