Let me begin by saying I love logic, reason, and R.F. Capon. The following is not an attack on any of these things. But I have a nit to pick with an aspect of premarital counseling and unfortunately the good reverend provides an excellent example of the problem before my eyes.
Now pushing aside my general suspicion of the profession of Christian Counselors, and my observing that premarital counseling as it is currently executed is wildly ineffective. I would like to camp on the tendency of counselors and pastors to, in counseling, not believe the Bible.
I do not mean that I think apostates are running wild in our pulpits.* But I do think that there is and has been for sometime creeping failure to stand upon the granite in favor of a soapstone. The softer and porous nature makes things easier to receive and I suspect we think it makes hard truths easier to digest.
Allow me to Illustrate (at some length)
“A couple of years back there was a cartoon that showed two clams sitting at the bottom of the ocean. One of them says to the other, “But you wouldn’t buy a new car without first driving it, would you?” My pre-marital couple doesn’t crack a smile. Not an eye blinks. Nobody’s punch lines fall flatter than a priests in marriage instructions. As far as they are concerned I am only supposed to be a “minister of religion.” Like in the movies. The predictable vicar who thinks life is about afternoon teas and long walks. No matter, I press on. I raise the subject of premarital chastity as such. It is not old-fashioned, I tell them, or if it is, it has yet to go out of date as far as the facts are concerned. What do you think you have to practice for marriage? They watch me blankly, but they are watching. Well, you don’t have to practice going to bed together. And you don’t have to, because you can’t. Premarital intercourse is not the same thing as the marriage bed. of course there is something unique about the first time whenever it comes, but if it comes before, there is inevitably attached to it the flip of the forbidden. It doesn’t matter how enlightened people are, or how blasé the society is; our mores, honored in breach or observance, are our mores, and were stuck with them. We might as well try to change out air. Do it now, I tell them and doing it later will have the edge taken off so say the least. People think of the flesh as as a mighty monster straining at the leash, bursting with health and unquenchable vigor What they don’t know is that poor flesh takes an awful drubbing. It;s not all in the head, but a good bit of it is…
Licit sex usually runs a poor second to illicit; don’t make any more comparisons than you can help. What you really need to practice is keeping promises Right now of course you wouldn’t go to bed with anybody else, but later on, it’s not always that clear, and then these little exercised in fidelity will be worth something in terms of chastity and trust. So, I say, if you have so far been chaste, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. And if you haven’t been, well try and cut out the compromises. Even a tardy dose of principals is better than none.
Well that usually produces something of a steady silence.” R.F. Capon Bed & Board; Chapter II
This is one of the most succinct and best bits of reasoning on why unmarried couples barring down on the wedding should avoid sex before the “I do”s.” The problem is that it is a piece of reasoning. Capon was a priest at the time. A very Biblically literate man. And yet the problem I have with this is the same I have with most “Christian Counseling” it makes sense but there is no authority behind it.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” – Joshua 1:8
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” – 2 Timothy 3:16
“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 Section 4
“The exceptional character of the influence of Scripture lies in two things: 1. Its power to penetrate into the spirit of man… 2. Its ability to bind the conscience, that is, to constrain it before God either to excuse or accuse us of sin.” – William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying
My point here is a simple one. I fear we have exchanged authority for pragmatics. Calling people to simple obedience to Scripture seems cold and rote. We fear people won’t understand the reasons behind the commands. Perhaps we think we are being condescending or behind the times. Therefore, we look to explain and make sense. Which in itself is a good thing. But over time it appears to me that Scripture took a back seat. It get’s lip service but that is in the form of a preface before the real work begins. A command is not presented as a command but just a reasonable point.
A Rebellious Age
Authority is what is needed, and in our culture it is despised. Not to lay the blame at the foot of the internet, but it has certainly been an enabler in this enterprise. Everyone is in a position to be an intellectual jack of all trades yet master of none. A few years ago Mitchell and Webb created the character The Evil Vicar who perfectly, if foully, sums up what most pastors feel they are up against.
“Aren’t you all ‘entitled’ to your half-arsed musings on the divine? You’ve thought about eternity for 25 minutes and think you’ve come to some interesting conclusions. Well, let me tell you – I stand with two thousand years of darkness and bafflement and hunger behind me, my kind have harvested the souls of a million peasants and I couldn’t give a ha’penny jizz for your internet-assembled philosophy!” – David Mitchell
But deeper than the arrogance instant Google searches can grant is the real problem: Sin. Plain and simple, sin is indeed the problem. It is alluring, and easier. Like sirens it calls us to destruction, damnation. To admit to sin is a hurdle on it’s own. To repent… Well that is the trick isn’t it?
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:6
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23
And possibly most damning, yet clarifying…
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-4
I have been teaching Scripture for over twenty years now and in that time I have never had a person come to me and say, “Thank you! thank you for showing me I am the most repulsive vile sinner.” No one wants to think they are that bad. We all want to play the Pharisee game of finding the guy who is worse than us and making them our standard of righteousness. Why else is Hitler the most popular person to compare any opposition to? If you can make anyone, “literally Hitler” then you are golden. No one wants to truly admit to how depraved they really are, how evil their hearts are. And they are quick to jump on pastors who pull the curtin back revealing the decrepit little imp inside. Pastors have for years been condemned as judgmental, hurtful, condemning, not meeting me where I am. And I call bull. It is all a smokescreen to keep the sinful man hidden.
Sadly I fear many pastors and counselors have capitulated to this temper tantrum. They found the words, felt needs, and ran with them. Cushioning the blow, pulling the punches. Trying to comfort the sinner and coax them out of their hovel, as if they were a spooked stoat. soft words and softer hands beckoned sinners from one sin to the next, from from open fornication to lying about salvation. This is how pillars of the church are made.
And authority is forfeited.
Authority flows to those who take responsibility. The man of God does not sit on a sofa empathizing a sinning couple into hell. He ascends to the sacred desk and brings to them the word of the Lord. He speaks to them as a dying man to dying men. He proclaims like Bunyan Good News to the Vilest Sinner. And he does this for the glory of Christ. God is a jealous God, he will endure no rivals, no matter how small. The red lizards carried by men must be put to death.
“Oh to behold the Glory of Christ! Here in would I live, Here in would I die, here on would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections” ~ John Owen
The Subject has not changed
Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. From this verse all counsel must flow. Even when that counsel is not understood. Pastors can, and should have requirements of those who they shepherd. In this they are unique. They are not a hired gun, or a lawyer. When a pastor engages in counsel reason and logic are not to be neglected but they are to be an integral part of the declaration of truth. And if the person coming for counsel can not understand the hard command remains. It is the way, it is the truth, it is the life.
Because these sayings are hard, uncomfortable, and force sinners to either be held by their profession, repent and be converted, or depart into the outer darkness. They are softened. People come to pastors or counselors assuming they are automatically on their side. This is false. They are on the side of truth. Or at least they are supposed to be.
At the end of the day I fear most counselors and pastors do not really believe the Bible. This is why they lean hard on reasoning someone out of bad decisions rather than simply say, Scripture says. At best they invert, leading with reason and backing up with Scripture. Either way it shows a functional atheism. They do not actually believe Scripture to be living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, separating bone and marrow. And because for years counselors and pastors have failed to really believe Scripture, it should come as no surprise that those seeking counsel don’t either.
To paraphrase an illustration from Voddie Baucham. If you were a knight preparing for a fight, and your rival shouts to you, “I dost not believe in thine sword!” What do you do? You hit him, with the sword.
*Let me narrow this down by saying I mean in our solidly reformed, weapons grade calvinistic pulpits. There are plenty of loony toons out there playing church and the obviously don’t believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture even if they say some nice things about it on their, “What we Believe” page.