Even though biblical counseling looks much better than psychological counseling, we wonder if the biblical counseling movement should be shut down. We have given reasons for our concern in our book Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible.
We have even said that the movement might cease to exist if its unbiblical props were removed. The first prop holding up the movement is the grossly unbiblical practice of charging fees. 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 the way biblical counseling is conducted or not, it is nevertheless 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 for attending church or for being visited in the hospital. We hope no one would even think of doing that!
Pay for Service
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.
While many of the organizations and individuals in the biblical counseling movement will give lip service to the fact that charging fees for such a ministry as counseling is unbiblical, we know of none that makes a serious issue of it, probably in order not to offend the many leaders in the movement who charge or encourage contributions.
The second prop of the biblical counseling movement is the separated-from-the-church counseling centers, some of which exist in church buildings. Here again, most in the movement will agree that a separated-from-the-church biblical counseling center is unbiblical. Yet, none will make this an issue of separation. And, as a matter of fact, some of the most visible leaders in the movement have such separated-from-the-church centers.
The third prop of the movement is the vocabulary. The three main vocabulary words of the movement are counselee, counselor, and counseling or some variation of each. In our book Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible, we review the use of the words counsel, counselor, and counselee in both the Old and New Testaments.
Obviously the Bible usages of the words translated as counsel, counsellor, and counsels do have shades of meaning. However, in no instance does the use of those words justify what is currently practiced in the biblical counseling movement.
We are not saying that these are the only words and examples associated with counseling in the Old and New Testaments. What we are saying is that there is no counseling found in the Bible as it is presently conducted by most of those who call themselves biblical counselors. One cannot use the definition of the above words to defend the common practice of contemporary biblical counseling.
Neither the Old nor the New Testament has an equivalent word for counselee. In fact, the English word counselee did not show up in a dictionary until 1934. The definition of counselee in the Oxford English Dictionary is “One who receives professional counselling (esp. in Psychol).” No wonder it is nowhere in the Bible. Psychological counseling created the need for a word to designate those receiving “professional counseling.” Yet biblical counselors faithfully call their recipients “counselees.” Those who charge fees should be honest enough to call them “customers.”
Our society places great value on the position of counselor, probably even higher than that of pastor, evangelist, or teacher. If the common name for a psychotherapist were “advisor” and the activity were called “advising,” those would probably be the very words adopted by the church. Instead of “biblical counselors,” there would be “biblical advisors” doing “biblical advising.” If those terms sound dull and flat, it’s because the powerful status symbol is counselor, not advisor.
While those who call themselves “biblical counselors” may be operating according to Scripture to some degree, they do so not within a position delineated in Scripture, because the Bible does not present the position of the contemporary counselor. If they do minister biblically to another believer, they do so simply as a fellow believer or within ordained ministries presented in Scripture, such as an evangelist, pastor, teacher, elder, or deacon.
It is sad that such a well-intentioned movement with many biblically astute leaders would hesitate to make a serious issue about the charging of fees and separated-from-the-church counseling centers—worse yet, to be unwilling to rebuke leaders in the movement who are in violation of such clear biblical doctrines.
Moreover, it is grievous that few in the movement recognize that in the main the biblical counseling movement is merely a reflection of the psychological counseling movement. When will the leaders who know better at least cry a halt to the unbiblical practice of charging fees? And, how can those who know better biblically justify their silence?
For too long now, we have heard the cries of those who have been financially pillaged by those who practice biblical counseling as a profession instead of a ministry. We can understand why those on the take will not do anything about stopping their personal income, but those who know better and do not make a serious issue of it are also to be held accountable. Those who seek such ministry are the ones who suffer most. They suffer first and foremost because of their situations, but the suffering is compounded and amplified by the charging of fees. The one who ministers becomes worse than a paid friend by reducing relationship in the Body of Christ to a commercial transaction.
Imagine what it would be like if pastors, elders, and other fellow members of the Body of Christ were to charge fees for ministering God’s grace to one another just like the fee-for-service biblical counselors. There would be fee-for-service worship services, fee-for-service Bible class and Sunday school, fee-for-service hospital visitations, fee-for-service prayer, fee-for-service funerals, baptisms, marriages, etc. Before or after providing each service, the provider would ask, “Will you pay by cash, check or credit card?”
Would anyone in his right mind do such a thing? Never! If it were not for the fact that fee-for-service biblical counseling is merely a reflection of professional psychological counseling, it would never have happened in the first place.
While there is biblical justification for pastors to be paid a salary by the local church, there is no biblical justification for fee-for-ministry arrangements. Yet, shepherds of the sheep not only give their approval by silence, but many also send their sheep out to fee-for-service counselors. Many have reneged on their calling to care for the sheep and to equip members of the Body of Christ to minister God’s grace to one another, and they approve directly or indirectly the financial fleecing of their sheep.
Perhaps it is time for those who have been charged fees for biblical counseling to follow Matthew 18 and confront those who sinned against them by charging money for ministry. While restitution may not be possible, there should at least be confession, repentance, and forgiveness.
How dare those so-called biblical counselors extract fees from those whose lives are already torn up? How dare they reduce mutual care in the Body of Christ to a paid relationship? And, how can those who know better stand by as hirelings fleece the sheep? All of them, those who charge and those leaders who are quiet about it, are guilty for exploiting poor souls who reach out for help. Those who stand guilty include the entire faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where CCEF is connected. To our knowledge, not even one professor there has protested this despicable practice.
Challenge to NANC
The 1997 Annual Conference of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) will be held at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana on October 6-8. Listed as “Plenary Session Speakers” are Jay Adams, Rich Ganz, Bill Goode, Wayne Mack, Lance Quinn, and Ken Sande. NANC conference material emphasizes the Bible and ethics. NANC claims to be “on the leading edge of holding up the Word of God as not only inerrant but also sufficient.”
Most or all of the plenary speakers would agree that it is unbiblical to charge fees for counseling and that a separated-from-the-church counseling center is unbiblical. We know that confronting both of these serious biblical contradictions of the Bible at one meeting would be too big a task. Therefore, we ask that one of them be confronted. We ask that at this NANC conference it be made absolutely clear that the organization condemns the unbiblical practice of charging fees for counseling God’s Word and names those individuals and organizations that are in violation. Jay Adams has pointed out that believers have an obligation to name names, just as the Apostle Paul did. Here is an opportunity for NANC to do so.
To our knowledge, no such action has ever been officially taken by any of the biblical counseling organizations—to their shame. The NANC conference is an opportunity to correct such malpractice so that hurting individuals will not be further hurt by those who are supposed to draw alongside and help bear their burdens instead of adding to them.
God will certainly be glorified in such a corrective action. If NANC believes in what they say, it should be easy enough to accomplish this policy, which should, of course, include the naming of names.
The replacement for psychological counseling is not biblical counseling. It is ministering the Word of God to each other in love, patience, and forbearance. It is believers being equipped through the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Moreover, the Lord Himself eliminates the need for a psychologist or biblical counselor. He has given His Word, His Son, and His Spirit to both create and nourish the Body of Christ and the individuals members thereof. The care of souls belongs in the church as a natural function of the Body of Christ as believers are equipped with the Word, walk in the Spirit, and communicate love and truth to one another in all matters of life. The biblical counseling movement may need to cease in order to enhance these possibilities.