Two of the many criticisms we have of the biblical counseling movement is the charging of fees and the separation of counseling from the biblically ordained ministries of the church, especially to the extent of ones geographically separated from the church.
Charging fees is totally unbiblical and those biblical counselors who do so should be taken to task. Any such predators on Christians who are suffering problems of living and crying out for help should be put out of business. And, that’s what it is! A ministry turned business to produce an income for the counselor at the expense and disadvantage of the person being counseled.
The fastest way to put a stop to this outrage against Scripture and biblical church practice is for church leaders to speak out against such money extracting practices. For how many more years will church leaders hear so-called biblical counselors close in prayer and ask, “Will you pay by cash, check, or credit card?” before utterly condemning such a 20th century, never-heard-of-before church practice?
We explain in our book Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible that there is no justifiable reason to charge for such counsel. We say categorically that any biblical counseling ministry that charges a price is unbiblical. Yes, “the labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7), and “the labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18). Paul even argued that as he had sown spiritual things, should he not also reap carnal things (1 Corinthians 9:11). Nevertheless, he also said: “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:18). Peter wrote to the elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2).
Whether one agrees with biblical counseling or not, it is a ministry. It is designed to minister the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit by one who knows Christ to one who will receive it. It is unbiblical to require a direct charge for such a ministry. There is no example in Scripture that justifies charging a fee for ministering the Word of God by the grace of God to a brother or sister in Christ. Someone might protest that a minister is paid a salary. But that is a false analogy. The true analogy would be charging someone a fee to attend church. We hope no one would even think of doing that!
This pay for service makes any biblical counseling grossly unbiblical. Imagine someone going to a biblical counseling center for ministry concerning a life issue? Let’s say that the conversation and direction are biblical. Can you imagine at the end a prayer, an Amen, and then a bill for services? Would Paul or the disciples have done such a thing? Absolutely not!
A simoniac is “a person who practices simony,” and simony is “the buying or selling of sacred or spiritual things.” Charging fees for counseling is one example of charging for a church ministry. Another example of simony is the sale of indulgences in the Roman Catholic church. The Catholic church was selling and people thought they were buying their way to heaven.
Filthy lucre (1 Peter 5:2) is the great financial fuel that drives both the psychological and biblical counseling movements. Without the charging of fees or the hope of receiving payments in the future for those being trained, the biblical counseling movement would be decimated. If every biblical counselor stopped directly charging and receiving fees, it would literally cripple the movement as it currently exists.
The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) receives about $500,000 annually for counseling fees. No one knows how much is received annually by all the so-called biblical counselors in or out of churches across America. It is obviously a huge sum of money. The direct charging and receiving of money for ministry is just one of many factors in which biblical counselors parrot psychological counselors. It is a disgrace and a shame for the church to sit silently and permit such a blight to exist in her midst.
The content and controlling factor of Christian counseling should be the sacred Word of God:
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:3,4).
True biblical counsel involves the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, sometimes directly to a person, but sometimes through another who knows Christ as Savior, ministered to one who receives it for deliverance and change.
In his book A History of the Cure of Souls, John T. McNeill says: “The cure of souls is, then, the sustaining and curative treatment of persons in those matters that reach beyond the requirements of animal life.”1 This “cure of souls” began early in the church with various writings on such aspects of the Christian life as grief, consolation, repentance, discipline, guidance, and growth. True Christian counseling or the cure of souls is a sacred, spiritual work done by God, not man. It is a ministry to give; not to sell!
Consider men and women whose lives are affected by fears, anxieties, depression, marital conflicts, family conflicts, or any one of a number of other traumas of life, some by virtue of their own sins and others by virtue of the sins of others, to be ministered the wisdom and grace of God and then to be told that they must pay for such ministry! Can you imagine Jesus or His disciples praying for souls in such jeopardy and then saying, “Cash, check or credit card”? It boggles the imagination!
We say to those many so-called biblical counselors who extract fees or even suggest donations for such ministry: Repent of this unbiblical wickedness and ask God for forgiveness! And, we exhort those organizations that train individuals to counsel to speak out strongly against such an evil practice.
“Biblical” counseling that is separated from the biblically ordained ministries in or out of the church are unbiblical. Particularly reprehensible are those that exist outside the church. Two examples of such unbiblical centers are the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) and Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries in Lafayette, Indiana. The leadership at both centers would agree that “Counseling is fundamentally a pastoral activity and must be church-based,” as David Powlison declares but does not practice.2
Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette is not only the home of Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries, but it is also the home of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). The director of NANC, Dr. William Goode, is also the pastor of Faith Baptist Church.
Dr. Bob Smith, the head of Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries, is a member of Faith Baptist Church and a member of the boards of both CCEF and NANC. If one looks at the Boards of both CCEF and NANC, one will see some duplication of members and an obvious liaison between the two.
NANC Director Goode has said:
The basic position of NANC is that the ideal in Biblical counseling model is one where troubled people receive counseling from their pastor and or church family. We would not tout Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries or CCEF to be ‘the ultimate Church sponsored model.’ They are training centers. A church where pastor and people are involved in counseling is the ultimate model.3
The definition of Pharisaic is: “1. of the Pharisees; 2. emphasizing or observing the letter but not the spirit of religious law; 3. pretending to be highly moral and virtuous without actually being so; hypocritical.” Does Goode’s remark sound Pharisaic?
NANC and CCEF would say, “We’re not ‘the ultimate church sponsored model,’ but it’s okay because we ‘are training centers.’” But, can’t any “biblical counseling” center separated from the church be a training center and thereby justify its existence? Both NANC and CCEF approve of charging fees for counseling. Maybe the fee is also justified by virtue of being a “training center.”
Whether one is dying in the hospital or “dying” from the sins and heartaches of life, there is absolutely no biblical reason to charge for ministering to one another in the Body of Christ. Goode would not dare directly charge the members of his church for worship services or for private pastoral consultation or for hospital visitation. He wouldn’t dare even suggest or hint at “cash, check, or credit card” for ministry in his church. Nor would he dare attempt to justify charging for worship services and pastoral care by making his church a “training center.” Then why dare charge for ministry given at Faith Baptist Counseling Ministries? Why do both CCEF and NANC not only approve but encourage such practices?
Because both NANC and CCEF participate in and support the extracting of money and the degrading of the biblically ordained ministries of the church, we recommend against both organizations. We think both organizations have drifted too far for too long and are too intertwined to be salvageable. The principles and practices of these two organizations weaken the position of the church, the role of pastors, the role of church leaders, and even the ability of lay people to minister to one another. Though NANC and CCEF contain some good, the church of Jesus Christ is worse off because of the seriousness of these practices.
1 John T. McNeill. A History of The Cure of Souls. New York; Harper & Row, Publishers, 1951, p. vii.
2 David Powlison in Introduction to Biblical Counseling by John MacArthur and Wayne Mack.
3 Letter on file.
PAL V3N1 (January-February 1995)