In our last newsletter we spoke about the possible demise of the biblical counseling movement. We mentioned three unbiblical props holding up the movement, without which the current movement may not be able to exist. The first prop is charging fees; the second prop is separated-from-the-church counseling centers; and the third prop is the unbiblical use and practice of the words counselee, counselor and counseling.
In our previous article we briefly mentioned the words simony and simoniac. In this article we will expand on the understanding of these two terms and suggest that the biblical counseling movement is mired in the sin of simony. Additionally the leaders in the movement are reluctant to condemn the practice of charging and to name organizations and individuals involved.
We want to make it clear once more that, according to I Cor 9:7-14 and other verses, the person who ministers can be supported, but the person who ministers cannot charge. The support for one who ministers is produced by those who voluntarily contribute and should never be mandated for biblical counseling.
There is no biblical precedent for the one who ministers to charge for ministry. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul or any other disciple in the Bible charging? Is there anywhere in the entire Bible that would condone such a practice?
Those who support the charging of fees for biblical counseling must by analogy be in favor of charging fees for communion, prayers, funerals, graveside services, hospital and home visits, marriage ceremonies, baptisms, worship services, Bible classes and other ministries. In fact, those who favor fee-for-service biblical counseling no doubt favor a “menu” approach to church ministries with the fees for such services listed. If the fee-for-service biblical counselors would object to such a fee-for-service “menu,” how can they justify charging for biblical counseling?
The term simony is derived from Acts 8 and refers to Simon the sorcerer, who tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit he saw working through the Apostles (Acts 8:14-20). The New Catholic Encyclopedia states:
Modern authors usually adopt the definition of Thomas Aquinas: “A deliberate design of selling or buying something spiritual or annexed to the spiritual.”
The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia defines it as follows: “Simony, in CANON LAW, buying or selling of any spiritual benefit for a temporal consideration.” Part of the definition from Baker’s Dictionary of Theology is “the charging of fees for benefits which may be received through the administration of word and sacrament.”
Because Simon offered to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles some have said that simony involves only the buying of something spiritual and does not involve the selling of it.
In response to this, Thomas Aquinas has said:
Simon Magus wished to buy a spiritual power in order to sell it afterwards. Gratian writes, Simon the magician wished to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that he might make money by selling the signs that were to be wrought through him. So those who sell spiritual things are like him in intention, while those who buy them are like him in deed. Those who sell are in deed also like Giezi the disciple of Eliseus, of whom we read, that he received money from the leper who was made clean. And so the sellers of spiritual things may be called not only simoniacs but also ‘Giezites.’ [2 Kings 5:20ff.]
Some early ecclesiastical writers distinguished between simony as buying and giezia as selling. However, the various dictionaries and encyclopedias we consulted included both buying and selling in their definitions of simony.
In defending his own definition of simony, Aquinas said:
Now a spiritual thing is not the matter for buying and selling, and for three reasons. First, because a spiritual thing cannot be appraised at any earthly price, as is written concerning wisdom, She is more precious than corals, and none of your choice possessions can compare with her. Peter went to the root of Simon’s wickedness, Thy money go to destruction with thee, because thou has thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money.
Secondly, a thing is not for sale if the seller is not the owner, as is clear from the authority cited. Ecclesiastical superiors are not owners, but the guardians of spiritual matters, according to St Paul, Let a man so account us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Thirdly, sale strikes at the source of spiritual matters, since they flow from the freely-giving will of God. Our Lord tells us, Freely you have received, freely give.
And so, by buying or selling a spiritual thing a man treats God and divine matters with irreverence, and consequently commits a sin of irreligion.
John Wyclif in his work On Simony mentions another writer (William of Peraldus, bishop of Lyons) who called simony spiritual sodomy. Wyclif said:
For just as in carnal sodomy contrary to nature the seed is lost by which an individual human being would be formed, so in this sodomy the seed of God’s word is cast aside with which a spiritual generation in Christ Jesus would be created. And just as sodomy in the time of the law of nature was one of the most serious sins against nature, so simony in the time of the law of grace is one of the most serious sins against grace.
Wyclif also said:
Where God says in Matthew 10:8: “Freely you have received, freely give,” the simoniac defends the opposite: that he should not grant a spiritual gift from God except for a tangible return or compensation; and thus are committed blasphemy, apostasy, and all kinds of vices, and these are directly contrary to the root of virtues. Without a doubt, therefore, simony as contrary to such a virtuous principle destroys even more members of the church. Thus Peter in Acts 8 says significantly: “Thy money go to destruction with you.”
In concluding one of his sections on simony, Wyclif said:
For when someone in exchange for money performs a service or ministers in an office in which the Holy Spirit is conferred, he not only makes money his god but sacrifices both persons to the idol that he adores.
Some of the early writers on simony emphasized that both the buyer and seller are guilty of simony. It may be that those who pay for biblical counseling are as guilty of simony as those who charge.
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. In our last newsletter we presented a challenge to NANC. We repeat that challenge here as follows: 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.
We raise the question: How guilty are those in the biblical counseling movement who know better and oppose the charging of fees but do not speak out about this unbiblical practice? There are a number who will be at NANC who privately oppose the charging of fees, but will they take this opportunity to go public?
The answers to the following two questions are critical:
1. Is charging fees for ministry (biblical counseling or any other ministry) the sin of simony?
2. Is charging fees for ministry (biblical counseling or any other ministry) unbiblical?
Our answer to both questions is yes. We realize that some will disagree with our calling charging fees for ministry simony, but hopefully all those who truly know the Bible will agree that charging for ministry is clearly unbiblical.
We look forward to a response from NANC and any other biblical counseling organization that is willing to take a stand for the Bible and against the charging of fees for counseling and to expose by name individuals and organizations that do. Is there any biblical counseling organization that is courageous enough to meet this challenge?