A Few Thoughts on Christian Counseling and Marriage Ministries.

tug-of-warCounseling is the Christian equivalent of a therapy, it is often a synthesis of Bible teaching with modern psychology.  Marriage counseling in particular has become a growth industry for both the secularist and the Christian in part because of the dismal state of marriage in North America.   It is common to hear well-meaning Christians and especially family ministries recommend Christian counseling.  The New Testament knows nothing of a professional counselor; the Old Testament refers to counselors, but probably not like the counseling center at the local mega-church.  The Old Testament and especially the book of Proverbs refers to counsel or counselors, not as a profession but in advocating that a mark of being a wise man is that he is humble enough to receive advice from others.  Advice is helpful if the advice is helpful; much advice given today is not helpful, but harmful.  My position is that advice is only helpful if it is in harmony with the infallible and inerrant Word of God.

Willard Harley, the author of the best seller “his needs her needs” once lamented that his practice had the same divorce rate as couples that did not attend his counseling.  We further writes:

In my effort to overcome failure, I made a crucial discovery: I wasn’t the only one failing to help couples. Almost everyone else working with me in the clinic was failing as well! My supervisor was failing, the director of the clinic was failing, and so were the other marriage counselors that worked with me.

And then I made the most astonishing discovery of all: Most of the marital experts in America were also failing. It was very difficult to find anyone willing to admit their failure, but when I had access to actual cases, I couldn’t find any therapist who could prove their own success or train others to be successful in saving marriages.

In fact, I learned that marital therapy had the lowest success rate of any form of therapy – in one study, I read that less than 25% of those surveyed felt that marriage counseling had helped. A higher percentage felt that counseling had done more harm than good.”

One of the many objections I have with the methods of “Christian Marriage counseling” is the disregard of the household jurisdiction and the order of authority and responsibility with in the household.  When a couple shows up for counseling the counselor becomes the arbitrator of conflict and uses his position to referee the session.  A counselor becomes the head of the marriage, even if temporarily, usurping the God ordained covenant head of the family. Christ does not command wives to be subject to counselors, nor does he command elders to rule the home. It is a jurisdictional encroachment that supplants rightful authority.  I frankly doubt that most “Christian counselors” actually respect the Biblical doctrine of authority and many even demean it.  The egalitarian cancer has metastasized and infected all parts of the body of Christ.

Most men are raised to respect chivalry and have an inherent and holy instinct to protect the less able to protect themselves.  The instinct often manifests itself in the counselor, when he has a predisposition to protect the weaker vessel; thus he/she has a bias against men as a potential threat to women. This impulse lodges a bias of women as victims, not because of any circumstance other than she is weaker.  The predisposition dismisses the possibility that she, as the weaker one, might be guilty of wrongful actions against the stronger including neglect or fraud. The treatment is full blown prejudice against the male, who is presumed as an abuser to some degree and negligent to the “needs” of the weaker vessel. Thus a husband is presumed to be either ignorant of how to love his wife or malevolent toward her. The prejudice is antithetical to the idea that the husband has authority over the wife and is to sanctify her by the washing and watering of the Word, that is if he uses the Word according to the uses in 1 Tim 3:16, for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  For many counselors who have been affected by the Duluth model, a husband using the scriptures in this manner is to manipulate (repentance and sanctification are manipulation according to these white-knights) and to Lord it over the wife.  It is, according to them, not servant leadership to use the Word for correction, simply because she doesn’t like it, therefore she does not feel loved, therefore it must not be loving.    If it were loving she would feel all tingly and not rebel; so she cannot be corrected from rebellion, because to lead her to repentance only provokes bad feeling in her which is unloving and manipulative.  This reasoning confounds love as a committed action to the provocation of feelings.

A source of the prejudice proceeds from the erroneous notion that women are only responders and men are initiators.  If a woman is responding poorly it is because her husband is initiating incorrectly.  A consequence of this view is that women lack moral agency or at least not as much as men.  In practice this works out such that the husband is responsible for his own sin and those of his wife.  But if he is responsible he is certainly not allowed to correct her, that is abuse whether emotional, spiritual, or intellectual abuse.  The deck is stacked against the expression of Biblical marriage.  Because the relationship of husband and wife and Christ and the church are strong parallels according to Eph 5:31-32, the prejudicial view would also accuse Christ of being unloving in His correction and discipline of the church.   To be consistent, one would also have to assert that the reason more people do not respond to the call of the Gospel is that God as the initiator is doing it wrong.  I for one do not want to charge Christ with not being loving or not initiating in the correct manner; it would be far wiser to recognize His authority, fear Him and keep His commandments.

If the counselor desires to uphold the scriptures then the counselor should have a strong inclination to see to that a woman fears her husband (Eph 5:33), that she be subject to him in all things, (Col 3:18, Titus 2:5), that she refrain from complaining (1 Peter 3:1-4) and that the husband also be in subject to elders who rule in the ecclesial jurisdiction. That in husbands submitting to elders over matters of the church and wives submitting to husbands in matters of the family, both are subjecting themselves to Christ (Heb 12:9).

When a couple walks into counseling for “relationship issues” the counselor’s first line of questioning is to elicit why are they here?  Some of the likely possibilities include:

1) A husband’s complaint.  The wife is not cheerfully submitting to her husband.  The remedy: admonish her to submit to her husband in all things even as church is in submission to Christ and as Christ our example is in submission to His father (Eph 5:22-24).

2) A wife’s complaint.  The wife has a complaint against her husband’s treatment of her.  The remedy: admonish her to win him over without a word and act in such a manner that he will observe her behavior characterized by respect and purity. (1 Pe 3:1-2)  The counselor should under no circumstances become an arbiter of a conflict or representative of the wife’s complaint, it is not his home, his job is to reestablish Biblical order.  The temptation is to convict the husband of not loving the wife as Christ loved the Church, but Church’s feeling are not the gage for the love of Christ.

3) Sexual sin in the relationship – remedy first forgive as Christ has forgiven you, then stop defrauding and step up your game in bed so that the other will not burn in lust but enraptured with the love of the other. (Matt 18:21-35, 1 Cor 7:5, Prov 5:19)  “Accountability” is all the rage in Christian spheres, while it may be wise for one to have some safety fences is certainly not commanded and it is most unwise to give power of a wife over her husband.  Counselors need to tread lightly here and act cautiously lest they make law where God has not.

4) Bona fide medical complications that require prayer and perhaps fasting. Remedy: pray with them, suggest a fast to the Lord, and work with the deacons to help them in various difficulties.  There may be any number of complications and a couple may just need a friend so that they do not bear the burden alone.  Some circumstances may require some additional education so they know what to expect.

In no instance should a counselor cast doubt or aspersions on the manner in which the husband runs his house. That is between God and him, even if the counselor thinks he is ham-handed in his approach he must not hint at such in the presence of the wife as this will only feed her discontent.  A wife’s discontent is one of the great drivers of divorce in America, it is a sin and should neither be countenanced nor provoked.  The counselor must not receive an accusation against the husband except for cases of proven adultery or verified physical abuse that required medical treatment. Any such discussion where a husband’s obvious sin is not present, the counselor must tread lightly with all humility knowing that there is always more to the picture than meets the eye. While it is good to encourage men to improve themselves including how to manage their households, it is wrongheaded to assume a best practice for all situations and it is foolhardy to confound love (actions) with feelings that are provoked. After all God is love, but he still disciplines His own.

Hebrews 12:6-11 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Ironically it is the husband who submits to his wife, who serves her feelings that, is the most likely candidate to find himself receiving papers from his wife’s divorce attorney.  Between 70 and 80 percent of all divorces are filled by women, and most of them for no other reason that she is unhappy.  A man fails when he makes the decision to make his wife happiness the controlling concern in his leadership, thereby transferring his leadership to her emotional state.  This is a paradox, that when a husband does what God commands and what he knows is best for the good of the family, the wife respects him more; when he listens to his wife and not God he gets her contempt.  In the end she is happier when he does not focus on her happiness, but on her holiness.  Adam listened to his wife and not God, men should be encouraged to learn from Adam’s failure and obey God and not their wife. The counsel that turns men into supplicating wimps is an abomination and a cancer to the family, yet is the most common approach for marriage ministries and Christian counselors.

In short the counselor’s task is not to make the marriage happy, their task is to make it holy.  To lead the couple toward the goal of holiness, the counselor needs to reorder the marriage according to scripture.  The women complain and men comply approach must be disposed for a Biblical model of the home.

Men ought to be encouraged to lovingly lead: to take the reins and sanctify their wives with the washing and watering of the Word, including teaching, rebuking and admonishing them.  The counselor should speak to the husband, while not in the presence of the wife, to examine his motives to make sure that his leadership is for the Kingdom and not his own.  Resources to areas that the man might need some guidance might also be given, but again not in the presence of his wife, nor should such discussion ever be revealed to her.  To breach this principle is to undercut the husband’s position in the home and validate a wife’s discontent by creating an expectation in the wife that she and the counselor are ganging up on him to change.

The wife should be admonished to subject herself to her husband in all things and the only exception is if he is requiring her to clearly violate the law of God.   If he asks her to make sammiches and does so coarsely, she is to not voice her objection, but by her meek and quite spirit persuade him to love as Christ loves us.  Both must freely and passionately give and enjoy regular intimate activities.  How often is regularly? The answer is as often as either one desires, your body is not your own.  The counselor should resist the temptation validate her feelings.  If he engages her with questions of her feelings it should be only to help discover areas where she is resisting to submit or giving in to her anxiety and fear.

Unfortunately counseling like I describe would most likely fail, because wives would avoid such Biblical correction and they would object to losing the shift of power and control that they have come to expect from making their hubby go to counseling.  With no divorce threat, no advocate to force him to change she might lose her status as the victim of patriarchy.  Those that listened to the Biblical advice would not need to keep coming back and so the counselor would lose revenue from their return customers.  Those who disliked what the Bible has to say would find some other “expert” that would help the wife make her husband submit to her and give justification for the role reversal by labeling it love.



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