The Healing Power of the Local Church
I am of the age where I can look back over many years of active church life and give some assessment of the many fads, the flourishes and the fruitful endeavours of the Church at large. As I look over the ecclesiastical and theological landscape of the past three decades I am encouraged by the progressive reformation that has been occurring in large portions of the Church. The return to systematic exposition of Scripture has been a wonderful boon to a multitude of local churches. There has simultaneously been a clearer grasping of the doctrine of justification by faith, along with an accompanying renewed zeal for missions.
Another major emphasis has been a clearer appreciation of the ‘priesthood of the believer,’ that biblical doctrine which teaches that every member of the Body of Christ is gifted by Christ to serve the church. The result has been a greater commitment on the part of church leadership to equip its membership to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11, 12). One of these areas has been that of biblical counselling.
Romans 15:14 exhorts us that every believer has the potential to constructively ‘admonish’ other believers to obey the Lord. The word Paul uses is one which could literally be translated ‘to counsel.’ Men such as Jay Adams, Robert Smith, Wayne Mack and a host of others have been used of the Lord to challenge and equip the local church to repent of using secular psychology in counselling and to return to the all sufficient Scripture as the source of authority to disciple believers into obedient and thus fruitful living. Many blessings have accompanied this return to the conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture for counselling. The Church is healthier because of it.
But as with all good things, accompanying this resurgence of biblical counselling have also been some problems. One in particular has been the professionalization of the counselling ministry with its tendency to minimize the importance of local church body life. Sadly, for some, the local church is ignored as being essential to the health and the healing of those who are ‘trapped’ in sin (Galatians 6:1, 2). Rather than honouring our Lord’s mandate in Matthew 18 concerning helping believers to fruitfully deal with their sin, many have erroneously and (rebelliously?) adopted the ‘expert’ mindset which has, at least for some, resulted in a deprecating of the authority and thus accountability of the local church. Not only this, but there are also those in the counselling ‘movement’ who have arrogantly questioned the ability of ‘mere pastors’ to deal with the really ‘serious’ sin issues faced by some in the local church. The result has been the ‘sneer’ towards the capability of the local church to handle problems without the aid of the ‘experts.’
What some of these ‘counsellors’ don’t understand is that the local church is God’s ordained means for spiritual healing of the believer. I maintain that a ‘mediocre’ counsellor who at the same time holds the ‘counselee’ (terrible term!) accountable to the local church, achieves more over the long haul than an excellent counsellor who does not stress the local church. You see, you just can’t improve on God’s method.
You may recall when Terry Waite, the Anglican envoy to the Middle East, was kidnapped and held captive for 5 years by radicals in Lebanon in the 1980’s. While imprisoned this believer became very ill with a chest infection. His captors would not give him access to medical treatment with the result that he became increasingly ill. His intense coughing became a source of annoyance to the other hostages not only because it was disturbing, but because it threatened to spread the infection. But not every hostage responded like this. Author Bryan Chappell relates this account: “Only one hostage was not put off by the coughing” — Terry Anderson (a reporter, who is a believer, with AP News services). Waite said later, “I was near the point of death, and though he could do nothing for me medically, Terry Anderson sat by my bedside for endless hours. I learned then the amazing power of a caring presence. I believe he saved my life simply because he would not leave me.”
Chappell then applies this conclusion, “Do not underestimate the power of a determined healing presence. When we know the worst about others and still resolve to ‘be there’ for them, become agents of eternal life” (The Wonder Of It All, p. 48). And so it is to be in the local church.
As the church gathers we do so with all of our various infections of sin. Each of us needs help. Each of us needs the ministry of the body with its ‘determined healing presence.’ There is no substitute for God’s ordained means of spiritual maturity — the local church ministering to each other. Such a ‘caring presence’ has wonderful effects on those who need not only admonition, but loving accountability as well. With the latter the ‘patient’ will not fully ‘recover.’
You might ask why an individual believer, disconnected (from the local church), could not also be an effective ‘agent of eternal life’. The answer is that we need many ‘cells’ to surround the disease and to help to defeat its destructive encroachment. The lo or can trump. A collective force of love exercised by the church, a providential ordering of the interactions call church body brings an authority (of Christ) that no ‘professional’ counsel of the various ‘body parts’ is ordained by God to minister to the ‘infected’ believer. In a sense, when a believer is rightly connected to the local church then he/she is surrounded by so many spiritual antibodies that it is hard to escape the healing!
My appeal is that as members of BBC we grow in our appreciation of the spiritual health that is available to those who will maintain covenantal faithfulness with the Body. May God continue to equip us to ‘admonish one another’ that together we will consistently grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:13-16). Thank God for the local church!