In upcoming issues, I hope to present to The Outlook’s valued readership some introductory-level instruction in biblical counseling philosophy and methodology. The instruction that will be provided is based on the training model we use at The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling (IRBC). A great deal of the material that will be shared in upcoming articles is adapted from IRBC publications and is copyright. We trust that you will be faithful in observing the eighth commandment as it pertains to your handling of the content that will be published in this series of articles. Before we get into the meat of our counseling instruction, it is important that you are given some insight into the ministry of IRBC, for without it you will likely fail to grasp fully the significance of the instruction you will receive. You will, likewise, fail to see the need for a ministry such as IRBC in these spiritually deprived and dangerous days in which we live.
The goal of the introductory articles in this series is to provide you with some insights on how the ministry of IRBC began. We will then briefly touch upon what we do (our mission) and where we are going (our vision). Following the introduction we will give our attention to various biblical principles that will be effective in giving you a counseling framework that is distinctly Reformed in nature. We will close the series by exploring the process of biblical counseling. Practical, easy-to-employ steps that you can utilize as you informally counsel others will be presented as we round out our instruction on counseling via this series.
How IRBC Began
The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling was initiated as a result of two elders of our overseeing congregation expressing a concern that they were underequipped when it came to dealing with issues they were encountering in their elder districts. This concern was magnified as they thought about how corrupted moral elements of American culture are increasingly finding their way into the visible church, and the accompanying need which exists today to bring Scripture to bear in the lives of congregants who have been influenced by these malignant elements. After much prayer and meeting with the Cornerstone United Reformed Church consistory (of Hudsonville, Michigan) on several occasions, a proposal for the ministry of IRBC was brought forth and approved unanimously. The consistory then enthusiastically recommended IRBC to the council, where it received unanimous approval. The congregation gave the proposal a strong affirmation via an overwhelming majority vote at one of its annual congregational meetings. And thus began the ministry of The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling.
The Concerns of IRBC’s Founding Elders Should Be Reflective of Our Own as They Pertain to the Corrupted Elements of Culture
The concerns of IRBC’s founding fathers should be reflective of our own. There are many things in American culture that should warrant concern for Christians. The increasing lack of respect for God’s name, His moral standard, and the basic institutions He ordained for order in society (i.e., the family, church, and state) are among the broad strokes of a contemporary cultural backdrop that should disquiet our souls.
If this dark backdrop was represented pictorially via a work of art and one added to it various figures and symbols depicting the countless millions acts of blasphemy, slander, gossip, sexual immorality, and murder (to name a few) that occur daily in our society at large, the portrait would indeed be dark and hideous.
Lack of Respect for God’s Name
This period in the overall history of America is the most overtly morally dark time we have ever known. One probe we can use to get an idea of our nation’s deteriorating moral condition is by giving consideration to the manner in which God’s name is used in American society at large.
God’s name was held in high esteem in America in our earlier years. Gunning Bedford, a signer of the Constitution who served as a member of the Continental Congress, a military officer, and a federal judge, once pronounced the following benediction, “To the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—be ascribed all honor and dominion, forevermore—Amen.”1 James Knox Polk, our eleventh president, made the following statement in his inaugural address on March 4, 1845: “I fervently invoke the aid of that Almighty Ruler of the universe in whose hands are the destinies of nations and of men to guard this Heaven-favored land against the mischiefs which without His guidance might arise from an unwise public policy” and “[w]ith a firm reliance upon the wisdom of Omnipotence to sustain and direct me.” He concluded by “again humbly supplicating that Divine Being who has watched over and protected our beloved country from its infancy to the present hour to continue His gracious benedictions upon us, that we may continue to be a prosperous and happy people.” It is hard to imagine a president in our time publicly expressing such reliance upon and respect for God. America’s respect for God has, indeed, plummeted since her earlier years. Now His name is openly and regularly misused by citizens who hold office and those who do not. His name is constantly blasphemed via television and radio programs that captivate the minds of countless millions of citizens of all ages in even some of our smallest and most remote communities. OM__ is now among the most popular Internet slang terms.
God is not neutral when it comes to the use of His name. Under the Old Covenant the misuse of God’s name provided grounds for death: “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death.
. . . The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:16 ESV). Strangers, as well as native Israelites, were enjoined to revere the name of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and failing to do so resulted in the severest of penalties.
The Ten Commandments, which contain the most fundamental principles of moral life, bridge the Old Covenant with the New. Without these divinely inspired principles the very existence of human society becomes impossible. Unbelievers as well as believers possess a conscience which functions in connection with the Ten Commandments. Because God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccles. 3:11) and has built within each person the moral compass of the conscience, all people at all times know down deep inside that there is a God. They also know that this high and exalted Being is entitled to receive from them the honor that is due His name.
When they fail to render Him this honor, they experience divinely prescribed guilt in connection with the third commandment, which says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” When countless thousands of people abuse God’s name in a nation which identifies itself as “one nation under God” and prints upon every piece of its currency “In God We Trust” without experiencing pangs of guilt, it says something about the state of its citizenry’s consciences.
Are you concerned about the way God’s name is abused in America? If so, what are you doing about it?
Spend some time with your family or others discussing ways that you can be used by God to restore honor to His name within our country. You might wish to include the following historic Reformed confessions in your discussion: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 36; Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 103–106; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 45–48. (Be sure to look up proof texts.) Be sure to discuss the importance of praying for a national revival. Share practical, non-intrusive ways you can communicate the gospel in the places wherein you regularly interact with others (i.e., the workplace, school campus, grocery stores, and your neighborhood).
A Lack of Respect for God’s Moral Standard
Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. (Prov. 14:34 KJV)
These words of Scripture are adorned in the work of art that lies front and center in the historic Old Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, a place I visited on a number of occasions while living in that vicinity. The righteousness spoken about in this and other passages is behavior that is measured against God’s moral standard, and that standard is the Ten Commandments. Sound American leaders throughout history have recognized the importance of our country’s citizens living in accordance with God’s moral standard. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, our second vice president, and our third president, once said, “The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain.”2 John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and our second president, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
These and similar words uttered by leaders throughout the history of America gave rise to what appears on the carved stone frieze on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building: Moses seated with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments on either side of him. Even though a number of our nation’s earlier key leaders may have been deists3 and there have been times throughout history when the light of the conscience has been severely eclipsed in different regions of our land, God’s moral law has served as the foundation of public government and law. As little as twenty-five years ago, most people knew some if not all of the Ten Commandments and recognized them as the basis for our system of law.
Today, the majority of Americans (including many professing Christians) likely agree that the government should not legislate morality. What they fail to see is that ceasing to legislate morality makes immorality the standard. Why are murder, theft, and sexually deviant behavior such as child pornography against the law in the United States? Because America’s law system is rooted in God’s timeless moral code, the Ten Commandments. Throughout America’s history, citizens from almost every religious stripe (including the religions of agnosticism and atheism) have recognized the essentiality of a moral code to govern public behavior. Why are an increasing number of Americans ignorant of the timeless moral code which functions in connection with the human conscience to restrain unlawful behavior? To be sure, there are a number of contributing factors. There are two, however, that have affected America’s moral foundation more than any other. One occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the other in 1980. Both of the malignant factors of which I speak were directed to the young in society and continue to function as stones of antithesis usurping the Ten Commandments.
One of the stones was the introduction of values clarification into the America’s public school system in the 1960s and 1970s. Values clarification teaches that (moral) behavior should be the result of free, uninfluenced, autonomous choice, based on each individual’s analysis of a given situation. The stone which served as the capstone was laid by the Supreme Court in 1980 when it ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in a school classroom violated the Constitution of the United States. These two stones of antithesis have damaged and continue to damage the consciences of countless millions of our precious children and youth. We now have several generations of Americans who literally have no conception of what is right and wrong.
God’s law is now openly neglected if not rejected in many of our local, state, and federal courtroom proceedings. It is treated similarly in meetings conducted by those occupying positions in the executive and legislative spheres of government. Across our country God’s law is regularly being mocked, rejected, and/or neglected by American citizens at the grassroots as well as every level of government. The result: Lawlessness in every sector of society, which not only robs God of the glory due Him but also places every citizen in great danger. “For nothing is more dangerous than to live where the public license of crime prevails; yea, there is no pestilence so destructive, as that corruption of morals, which is opposed neither by laws nor judgments, nor any other remedies.”4
Are you concerned about the manner in which God’s law is treated in our country today? Spend some time discussing God’s law. You may wish to include the following historic Reformed confessions5 in your discussion: Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 3, 4, 92, 93; Belgic Confession, Art. 25; Canons of Dort, Heads 3, 4, Art. 5; Westminster Confession, Chap. 19; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 91–122; Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 39–44. (Be sure to look up proof texts.)
1. What is the purpose of God’s moral law (i.e., the Ten Commandments)?
2. Is God’s law still important for purposes associated with national governance? If yes, what role is God’s law to have in government?
3. You have probably encountered the statement, “You can’t legislate morality.” Is this statement accurate? If yes, why? If not, why not?
4. Should Christians or the federal government ever force American citizens to subscribe to Christianity as their religion? Why? Why not?
5. How does the gospel work in connection with God’s law? How does public law rooted in divine law facilitate the proclamation of the gospel, an act which has a bearing on the eternal destiny of America’s citizenry?
6. Although obeying the laws of the land which reflect God’s law is important for the maintenance of an orderly society, does living in accordance with God’s law save a person? Why? Why not?
7. What happens when the church makes the law its focus instead of proclaiming the gospel or obeying the Great Commission?
To be continued in next issue!
Dr. Jeff L. Doll is director at The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling, director at The Shepherd’s Way Biblical Counseling Center in Holland, MI, and pastor of Biblical Counseling at Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.