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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Functions Of The Mind From a Theological Perspective

Introduction[i]

“The majority of people in our communities turn to a pastor or priest when they have a crisis or counseling need.”[ii] — Pastor Wade Goodall, D.Min.
First of all, some foundational points—counseling is inevitable; but not always well performed. Our duty as pastors and Christian lay workers is to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.

In doing so, however, we must keep in mind that not all counseling deals with nefarious behavior. Psychological needs are of sorted origins, some avoidable, some not. One thing is for sure, however, it can be easily assumed that right now, sitting somewhere in a pew in your church is a potential suicide, or a struggling homosexual, or a couple with their marriage on the rocks, or someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer, or simply a well mannered college kid that desperately needs career advice.

So, that being the case—and I believe that it is—the truth is, whether you are prepared for counseling or not, you will in all likelihood be call on for guidance. And, rightly so. Because as pastor and psychologists Robert Morgan, Ph.D., has observed:
“Pastoral counseling is best done by a pastor–not a professional counselor or psychotherapist.”[iii]
That is not to say, however, that professional counselors are not needed. Indeed, sometimes they are, since there are counseling situations that are for too medically complicated for the average counselor to treat. And, in such cases Morgan is correct in stating that:
“Good professional biblical counselors certainly play an important role when the complexities of mental illness are involved, but they are allies of the pastor, not substitutes for him.”[iv]
Morgan feels that pastors have several positive counseling advantages. Among the advantages are:
  • Friendship. Pastors are considered friends, not professional.
  • Prior relationship. There is usually an ongoing relationship between the pastor and the counselee. Generally, the pastors knows the family’s history, the counselee’s spiritual maturity, and past experiences.
  • Preaching. The pulpit offers a great opportunity to include biblical counseling advice. Use this opportunity as often as you can; but don’t use this ministry opportunity to hammer the congregation over the head.
  • Biblical advice. The Bible is still the best manual for counselors. Read it with an eye open for applicable Biblical truth that will minister to hurting people in the congregation.
  • Availability. Pastors are usually more accessible to their parishioners, or at least they should be. Make sure your congregation know that, and feels free to come to you for advice. Availability does not mean that you can or should handle every case. At times, part of the care we offer people is helping them find a competent Christian mental health professional. [v]
With these particulars in mind we can easily see that it is vitally important that we sharpen our skills as a counselor.

Fundamental to that sharpening process are 10 key principles suggested by Christian counselor Dr. Larry Crabb, Ph.D.:
1. The Scripture is always right. The Bible covers a myriad of problems, difficulties, and issues that people face every day. We can know how God feels about divorce, adultery, substance abuse, dishonesty, and numerous other harmful behaviors. Scripture is clear about God’s desire to set people free, forgive them of their sins, and restore their lives. The Bible is our blueprint for living and should be every pastor’s counseling manual.

2. The counselee is always responsible to do what is right. None of us can blame others for our personal choices in life. It is the counselee’s choice whether to make the right or wrong decision. You can pray for and encourage those who come for counseling, but in the end it is their choice.

3. There is always a biblical, Christ-honoring response that the counselee is capable of choosing. What is the right thing to do when a person has wronged you? Every issue a person faces in life has a Christ-honoring response. It might be confrontation, a gentle rebuke, or forgiveness.

4. Listen carefully. What is said and what is meant may be different. Often people will hint at their situation but never clearly spell it out. As you listen to people, try to hear what they are really saying and ask them questions such as: “Am I hearing you say…?” or “Is there something else you want to talk about.” This type of question often prompts the person to bring out the real issues.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask about willful sin. If you suspect sinful behavior, ask about it at the appropriate time. You could say: “Have you been seeing someone else?” or “What behaviors have you been involved in that you know God would not approve of?”

6. The counselee is a person of worth, made in the image of God. No matter what people have done, they are important to God and should be important to us. God can cleanse, redeem, and restore anyone who comes to Him for help.

7. Counseling advice should be specific and doable. When you give people advice about how to overcome their problems, be specific about how to do it. Write out a “road map” for them. Just saying to counselees that they need to stop a certain behavior is not good enough. They often know they need to stop, but they don’t know how. You can help them find the “how.”

8. Remain hopeful, but realize there are no instant cures to life’s problems. The habit that has lasted years will often take months or years to overcome. A bad marriage doesn’t become a good marriage overnight. Those who have grown up in an abusive home could have similar challenges with their family. Be patient with people, and remain hopeful. Be an encourager to counselees that God will get them through.

9. Know that God can use you. Take charge. There are a variety of people and problems you will face in ministry. Help, in some way, those who cross your path. It might be through counseling, or it could be through referral to a Christian mental health professional or medical doctor. God will help you work with the people He has placed under your care.

10. You are a person talking to a person. Counseling is a relationship. Let people know that God has helped you with your difficulties and challenges. This gives people hope and lets them know that you are also working out your salvation with “fear and trembling”.[vi]
The wise pastor, therefore, keeps these 10 recommendations clearly in focus, because, as Dr. Goodall has pointed out,

“Counseling is a part of every pastor’s life. We counsel after a tragedy, at a funeral, during a marriage difficulty, or in a pre-marital counseling session. We counsel in the church foyer, during visitation, or before a critical surgery.”[vii]
Now that we have established that counseling is inevitable and ways in which we should approach our role in the counseling process.

The Premise is Simple

Biblical counseling presupposes that man was made in the image of God, and as such was perfectly equipped to deal with life. Mental illness was unknown before sin enter into the human race.

So, to properly understand man, and to heal mental illness or bring life into proper equilibrium with our created purpose we must understand the purpose for which man was created, as well as the nature of man in general.

Theological anthropology is, therefore, a proper starting point.

The Psalmist wrote,

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

My personal conviction is that man is a tripartite being. He consist of a fleshly body, and immaterial soul, and a spirit that was infused by God at creation.

Those who believe that man is tripartite being, as I do, often quote 1 Thessalonians 5:23

“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Some, however, argue that since Mark records that Jesus separates the mind from the soul as evidenced by Mark 12:30, where he is quoted as saying that we should:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”[viii]

However, Jesus in my opinion is only alluding to the mind as a functional principle of the soul.

So, let us look at some of these functions of the mind.

Functions Of The Mind From a Theological Perspective

The functions of the mind are closely tied in with the physical functions of the flesh and directed by the will that is influence by the conscience for moral insight and decisions.
Intellect is the general term that refers to the mind’s capacity to learn.

The mind is in many ways a trinity in action, with a capacity of:
  • Imagination—through which ideas are formed.
  • Memory—where thoughts are formed and retained, and
  • Judgment—where ideas and thoughts are acted upon.
Some people have vivid imagination and good judgment but faulty memories; therefore, many ideas of value are lost. Of, course, a perfect mind would possess all 3 of these.

A person may be carnally minded, or have the mind of Christ.
Romans 8:6 says, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
The carnally minded are:
1 Corinthians 2: 14 — But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Romans 8: 6 — Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
The spiritually minded are:
1 Corinthians 2: 14 16— For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.
Our destiny as Christians is to have the mind of Christ for God’s purpose is to make us into the image of His Son. Romans 8 covers the essentials in understanding God’s purposes for us.

Romans 8: 26-30, says,

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[k] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
And, of course, we know that “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)


  
Attitude Is Important


The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the mind plays an important role in who were are and how we are to cope with life.

“For, to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Moreover, Scripture teaches us that—

“[T]he natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Romans 8: 6 
And,
“[T]o be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8:6
Why?

 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7

 Whereas, on the other hand, the spiritually minded have the mind of Christ and can be instructed along the path of peace and personal contentment.[ix]

  
What’s more, our destiny as Christians is to have the mind of Christ. According to Romans 8: 26-30, we learn that we are not alone in our struggles either, for we read:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  
Therefore, all pastoral counseling has one goal in mind—that is to disciple each counselee into mature Christians that reflect the image of Christ. For we know that a mentally healthy Christian is one that has completely surrendered to the Lordship of Christ in both thought and action.

Pastoral counseling is not difficult to understand. It does require, however, that the counselor to be firmly grounded in God’s word and thoroughly convinced that the Bible is His answer to the troubled soul that is searching for mental and emotional stability.

The Apostle James understood this principle long ago. He succinctly outlined the causes for most of our problems today, mentally and otherwise, when he wrote:

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires.

 “As the Scriptures say [He continues] ‘God opposes the proud, but favors the humble.’ “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

 “Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

 “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4: 1-17; NLT)
Now, there are several points that I wish to bring to your attention concerning these verses, since you will see that throughout my counseling paradigm they will be present.

  • Firstly — James acknowledges the source of most of our struggles. That, of course, is our selfish and sinful nature.
  • Secondly — He uses Scripture as a counseling tool.
  • Thirdly — He demands action in the form of repentance. He says, “ … humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil … Come close to God … Wash your hands you sinners … purify your hearts … Let there be tears for what you have done … Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord … Don’t speak evil against each other … your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. Do not judge your neighbor …”.
  • Fourthly — He tells us to live in the present. Now, is the only sure time that we have. Yesterday is past, tomorrow is not here, all we have is right now.
Truly, Christ is the answer for the past, present and future. We need nothing else for a completely satisfying life. I know that that sounds simplistic, but it is not. If we allow him to take care of the inside, he will also take care of the outside.

This is not to say, however, that Pastoral counseling is a substitute for clinical psychology or psychiatry—it is, however, a valuable ally.

Increasingly, however, secular psychiatrist and clinical psychologist have ignored pastoral counselors as a valuable collaborator and have intruded into the field of religion and offered imprudent counsel in areas of morals and spirituality that has encouraged and sanctioned a Godless immorality.

For example, in 1973 homosexuality was re-classified from a mental disorder to a lifestyle choice in The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), thereby confusing the creative purpose of male and female genders for responsible conjugal and societal functions. [x]

As a result, surgical gender reassignment has mutilated otherwise perfect bodies to ‘make’ a transgender counselee to look like the opposite sex just because they ‘feel’ like they were ‘meant’ to be the opposite sex.

It should be noted, however, that the debate is far from over. More recently the DSM has inserted a revision, classifying homosexuality as simply a lifestyle choice to that of an ego-dystonic[xi] malfunction—which when properly understood is just simply saying that homosexuality is a choice if one is comfortable with that lifestyle. If not, then psychiatry is there to help bring about a mutually acceptable therapy based on the counselee’s cultural or personal preference.[xii],[xiii]

So, we see that once again science has diagnosed the problem, but failed to provide the cure.

The sin of homosexuality is just one example. There are others that are just as potent.

Consider for example, the sin of a medically induced abortion. This horrific act has been condoned and encouraged by many as a means to experience more personal freedom and to provide greater opportunity to pursue a career. Why? Because one’s culture or lifestyle requires greater freedom, and that choice overrides the sanctity of life.

So, in the process consciences have been seared. The sins of greed, and envy, covetousness and the like have been hidden under the ruse of science and excused away as just part of human nature.

No wonder our national psyche is confused, and our pews empty. People are searching for truth, and they are not finding it on the psychiatrist’s couch or in our “user friendly churches” where pastors refuse to mention the word ‘sin’ for fear they may offend a potential member.

As a counseling pastor, I have found the truth of the Gospel to be a very effective tool to bring about healing. Jesus never backed off from calling evil sin; nor should we as pastoral counselors.

That is not to say that we must be insensitive, or use Scripture as a big hammer to subdue a wayward soul; but as Paul admonished the Ephesians’ church, we can and must “speak the truth in love.”[xiv]

And, although the purpose of this book is not to argue the obvious, I must point out that a significant number in the counseling pulpit have by-in-large ignored sin as cancerous blight that has eaten the very soul out of much of America, including the church. My contention, though, is that for the counseling profession to mislabel sin as simply a choice or a character flaw is harmful to us as a nation.

It is encouraging, however, to see that slowly a number of secular psychiatrist and clinical psychologists have arrived at similar conclusions, and are willing to label sin as sin.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 [i] Much of this introductory material was gleaned from Pastoral Counseling: 10 Key Principles by Wayde I. Goodall. Wayde I. Goodall, D.Min., former executive editor of Enrichment and coordinator of the Ministerial Enrichment Office, Springfield, Missouri. Enrichment Journal, 1445 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802/Email: enrichmentjournal@ag.org/Phone: 417-862-2781, ext. 4095

 [ii] http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/199803/096_key_principles.cfm

 [iii] Robert Morgan, “Why Pastors Make Great Counselors,” Leadership, Spring 1997, 29-31

 [iv] Robert Morgan, “Why Pastors Make Great Counselors,” Leadership, Spring 1997, 29-31

 [v] Robert Morgan, “Why Pastors Make Great Counselors,” Leadership, Spring 1997, 29-31

 [vi] Larry Crabb has used a variation of these points in his books and counseling seminars.

 [vii] http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/199803/096_key_principles.cfm

 [viii] Mark 12:30 [See also Deut. 6:4,5]

 [ix] For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2: 14 16)

 [x] “In 1973 homosexuality per se was removed from the DSM-II classification of mental disorders and replaced by the category Sexual Orientation Disturbance. This represented a compromise between the view that preferential homosexuality is invariably a mental disorder and the view that it is merely a normal sexual variant. While the 1973 DSM-II controversy was highly public, more recently a related but less public controversy involved what became the DSM-III category of Ego-dystonic Homosexuality. The author presents the DSM-III controversy and a reformulation of the issues involved in the diagnostic status of homosexuality. He argues that what is at issue is a value judgment about heterosexuality, rather than a factual dispute about homosexuality.”Source: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/138/2/210

[xi] ego-dystonic [e″go-dis-ton´ik]—denoting aspects of a person's thoughts, impulses, attitudes, and behavior that are felt to be repugnant, distressing, unacceptable, or inconsistent with the rest of the personality. Source: Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved. Compare: Ego-syntonic—Consistent with one's sense of self, as opposed to ego-alien or dystonic (foreign to one's sense of self). Ego-syntonic traits typify patients with personality disorders.

Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

[xii] DSM-IV specifies that these dysfunctional patterns must be regarded as nonconforming or deviant by the person's culture, and cause significant emotional pain and/or difficulties in relationships and occupational performance. In addition, the patient usually sees the disorder as being consistent with his or her self-image (ego-syntonic) and may blame others for his or her social, educational, or work-related problems. Reference source: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Personality+Disorders

[xiii] 1 Timothy 4:2 mentions a “seared conscience,” showing the possibility of such; however, hermeneutically, this reference is particularized.

[xiv] Ephesians 4:15. The entire chapter is an excellent recipe for a balanced life and provides a gold mind of sermon opportunities for the preaching pulpit.