Idolatry by Another Name Part 2

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John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

Slavery

Slavery

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases” it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved by; not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13 Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart.

Breaking free from that which enslaves.

Breaking free from that which enslaves.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard-hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (see James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

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Idolatry by Another Name Part 1

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After I posted Are Addictions Diseases and received some feedback, I was curious as to how many bad habits are listed as addictions and therefore diseases if you follow the popular medical model of addictions.

I found a website (http://www.addictionz.com/addictions.htm) out of British Columbia that listed addictions. I was stunned by the number listed and even more stunned when I read on the website that the list was only partial.

The list is organized alphabetically and within it you can find the usual addictions we’ve become accustomed to, like alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping, tobacco and caffeine.

The list is so broad you can also find coin collecting because according to the website coin collecting is; usually a nice hobby but any hobby can become a compulsion in the hands of a multiple addict.

Here are some more samples from the website that I bet most people never thought of:

  • Art
    • Getting high to produce better art is common. Also the lifestyle of an impoverished artist can be addictive.
    • Collecting art one cannot afford may create adrenalin like compulsive shopping or gambling.
  • Imagination
    • A good characteristic in most cases, but a luxury for an early recovering addict … and a self-destructive minefield for a practicing addict.
    • Living in “your head” is common amongst all addicts
    • One statistic is that addicts do approximately 80,000 words of self-talk per day – so this addicted ‘ head ‘ is a very busy place
    • One saying in 12 step programs is that the head is like ‘a dangerous neighborhood, do not go there alone’
    • The lack of reliable structure in today’s daily life leaves a lot of room for imaginative research
  • Religion
    • It is wise to examine ones attitudes in all areas.

Clearly the authors of the website are willing to list everything and anything as being addictive or compulsive.

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The use of the word compulsive (under the subtitle of Art above) is revealing because the word compulsive means “compelling” as if the person has little or no choice. Furthermore, the word compulsive leads us to a minor distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Compulsive this way:

1. Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes: “compulsive eating”

Synonyms: irresistible · uncontrollable · compelling · overwhelming · urgent · obsessive · obsessive · obsessional · addictive · uncontrollable

2. Irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling: “this play is compulsive viewing”

Synonyms: fascinating · compelling · gripping · riveting · engrossing · enthralling · captivating

Both definitions use the word “irresistible” while the first definition uses the synonym “uncontrollable.” Both words are self-explanatory and imply that a person has no choice.

Now let’s look at WIKI’s definition of compulsive behavior:

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure. [1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away. [2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way. [1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control. [3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). [2][4] The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to. [1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Now let’s compare the WIKI definition of compulsive behavior with the WIKI article on addiction derived from the DSM-V:

Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences;[6] it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.[1][7] The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are (positively) reinforcing (i.e., they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., they activate the brain’s “reward pathways”, and are therefore perceived as being something positive or desirable).[1][2][5] ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.[8][9][10]

alcoholism

And…

Potential addictions can include, but are not limited to, exercise addiction, food addiction, drug addiction, computer addiction, sex addiction and gambling addiction. Currently, only substance addictions and gambling addiction are recognized by the DSM-5, which uses physical dependence and the associated withdrawal syndrome to identify an addictive state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction)

And…

The official list of addictions can be found in the DSM-5, psychology’s Bible (http://www.myaddiction.com/addiction_categories.html) where the following are addiction classified as medical disorders:

Alcohol Addiction, Ambien Addiction, Amphetamine Addiction, Benzodiazepine Addiction, Caffeine Addiction, Cocaine Addiction, Crack Addiction, Eating Disorders, Ecstasy Addiction, Gambling Addiction, Heroin Addiction, Hydrocodone Addiction, Internet Addiction, Marijuana Addiction, Meth Addiction, Nicotine Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Percocet Addiction, Oxycontin Addiction, Pornography Addiction, Prescription Drug Addiction, Ritalin Addiction, Sex Addiction, Shopping Addiction, Smoking Addiction, Sugar Addiction, Teens and Addiction, Video Game Addiction, Work Addiction, Xanax Addiction

From these definitions one can deduce the psychology community and the vast majority of Americans believe there are addictions (compulsions) that are behavioral and addictions that are chemical (addicted to drugs or alcohol) and result in physical dependence. The commonality is the perceived “reward system.” In other words we do these things habitually because there is a pleasant pay off even if the consequences can be quite negative.

(In a 1990 survey 87% of Americans believed the disease model of addictions.)

We can also observe there is some level of debate between those who believe certain behaviors are genuine addictions and others who categorize the same things as compulsive behaviors and would therefore fall under the heading of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder rather than a genuine addiction.

The DSM-V is the latest edition of the DSM and in each upgrade the list of disorders and addictions has multiplied. This accounts for the assumption of what is called the medical model of addictions and compulsive behaviors. What that means is if I have a behavioral addiction or a chemical addiction the critical component is: ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.

In other words, addictions and compulsive behaviors are connected to DNA via gene transcription factors.

I should point out that even within the psychological community there is some level of disagreement between those who emphasize choice (minority) and those that emphasize the disease model.

What is the Bible-believing Christian to make of this trend that classifies everything as an addiction or compulsive behavior and is treated as a disease? I’ll discuss that issue in Part 2.

Are Addictions Diseases?

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The other day I was half paying attention to what was on television when I heard someone refer to a drug addiction as a disease.

It immediately reminded me of what one of my biblically counseling teachers said when he noted, “ if it’s a disease then it’s the only disease you can catch voluntarily.”

Whether the issue is porn, spending, overeating, video games, a lot of time on the internet, modern America is quick to call these behaviors “diseases” as if they are something we catch, like cancer.

If they are diseases then my instructor was quite right is saying they are the only diseases we catch voluntarily.

The disease model of addictions first gained notice with AA.

The folks that started AA made the observation that the symptoms of alcohol abuse and addiction looked like a disease and thus implied that the user was under attack by something beyond his or her control. It was assumed that because it looked like a disease it must be so.

Today the disease model is accepted as “truth” and applied to everything that looks like addictive, compulsive or habitual (I’m addicted to chocolate) behavior.

There are many downsides in accepting the disease model as truth but perhaps the most obvious is the implication that the abuser can’t help it. In other words you can’t hold someone responsible for catching a disease. The disease model makes the abuser a victim rather than someone who has been irresponsible and makes poor choices.

The disease model is controversial in secular circles. This link to The Disease Model of Addiction at Addiction Research explains.

The disease model is a far cry from the biblical model where an addict is an idolater who is a slave to his or her lusts and really only concerned with serving self. Addicts of all sorts are pleasure seekers and the pleasure they seek has come to dominate them or in biblical language is a slave to. The slavery to the idol of pleasure is what the world calls a “disease.”

Addictions1

It should not surprise us that the world has adopted non-biblical terminology to describe problems common to man. It should surprise when the church of Jesus Christ does.

To help the church think biblically about addictions Mark Shaw has written a book titled The Heart of Addiction, a Biblical Perspective where he takes the disease model to task and provides scriptural solutions for addictive behavior. Although the book deals primarily with drug and alcohol abuse there is wide application to other behaviors like porn and anything else labeled additive or compulsive.

Mr. Shaw has a little extra credibility to write such a book because is a certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional (MLAP) with the Alabama Association of Drug and Alcohol Addiction. He is also a member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors the same organization I am part of.

The book is divided into four parts following the 2 Timothy 3:16-17 model:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

Section 1: Teaching

Section 2: Reproof

Section 3: Correction

Section 4: Training in Righteousness

Eleven appendices follow 214 section pages to bring the total number of pages to 253.

The book is comprehensive and unlike popular books like Celebrating Recovery The Heart of Addiction Mr. Shaw’s book  is all Bible unlike Celebrate Recovery which takes an “admixture approach.” (admixture means psychology plus Bible)

I highly recommend the book as a “Bible only” counseling resource. A workbook can also be purchased.

Amazon is selling the book for $12.50 and the workbook for $8.95.

For more insight by Mr. Shaw follow this link, Is “Addiction” Rooted in a Disease, Demon or Decision at the Grace and Truth Blog. The comments following the article are worth the time to read.

Although this link, Do Christians Overhype Porn Addiction  deals with “porn addiction” it’s well worth the read because it deals with same controversy of the disease or (medical) model versus Scripture.

The “Roughage” of Life

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I wanted to write a follow-up to my blog titled How Counseling is Discipleship_Personal Experience.

In that blog I made reference to an article by psychologist Mark Tyrrell titled, How to avoid the damage caused by psychological labelling. Here is the lengthily quote I want to deal with.

…although modern society has made some attempts to de-stigmatise conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety, in a way these conditions have actually become more daunting for sufferers through being ‘medicalized’ – they are seen as pathological chemical disorders rather than what Milton Erickson described as ‘the normal roughage of life’.

Having a ‘disorder’ can seem a lot more of a problem than ‘feeling depressed’. So

  • ‘feeling blue’ has become ‘clinical depression’
  • ‘having cold feet’ about undertaking something difficult is now ‘avoidant personality disorder’

and, as a psychologist friend of mine likes to joke:

  • ‘normal childhood’ is now called ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’

I’m not suggesting that these diagnostic labels have no relevance or value, and for some people having a so-called ‘proper diagnosis’ can be reassuring in an “Ahhh! Now at least I know what is wrong with me!” kind of way. And I respect that when I am treating people who have been diagnosed in these ways.

But the danger is that if we come to believe we have a ‘disease’ or a ‘genetic condition’ when in fact we are just experiencing part of life’s rich pattern, then we may:

  • feel we’ve lost control over our lives, leading to a deepening of depression and a worsening of anxiety or addiction (after all, if my problems are a ‘disease’, the best I can do is live with it – it isn’t something I can resolve)
  • start to feel we are fundamentally different and weird, instead of just a regular human being struggling with life.

How to avoid the damage caused by psychological labeling

Tyrrell recognizes a number of things common in his profession.

He points to fact that just about everything that ails us has been “medicalized” (he invented the word, not me) and that medicalization has led to the disease model of just about everything that troubles human beings.

Prior to the virtual take over of the culture by psychology a disease was a pathological condition that affected our bodies. The pathology was measurable via medical testing and therefore had an objective basis for attaching a label to a disease.

This is not so with many of the psychological labels handed out now. Today many labels are handed out not on an objective basis but on a subjective basis based on how a person feels and what symptoms they exhibit or report to their doctor. Blood tests and other medical testing that do not show tissue damage do not prevent the handing out of a label suggesting a disease hence the medicalizing of the subjective.

Dr. Charles D. Hodges, M.D. and a certified biblical counselor reports in his excellent book, Good Mood Bad Mood-Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder that he helped a young woman who had the label of Bipolar Disorder. The doctors treating the young woman based the diagnosis on the “chemical imbalance theory” an idea that basically says one or more chemicals in the brain is out of whack thus causing a chemical imbalance and in the young woman’s case Bipolar Disorder. The young woman was treated with various meds to no effect in an effort to correct the supposed imbalance.

The problem is no one knows what a normal balance would look like so they end up experimenting with various drugs none of which worked with the young woman. Hodges turned to the gospel for solutions and helped the young woman see that she was reacting to life’s circumstances in habitual ways that led to bouts of good moods, bad moods. He helped her see her “disease” through the lens of Scripture to the point she recognized she didn’t have a disease at all. She now leads a normal life.

This is the type of thing Tyrrell is talking about without the solution of a gospel orientation to life.

Tyrrell illustrates the point in a humorous way by pointing out that “having cold feet” is now having the “disease” of avoidant personality disorder and that “normal childhood” is a prescription for ADHD.

Tyrrell turns a bit serious when he notes that if our problems are all diseases the best we can do is live with it.. In other words if all we can do is “live with it does not offer much hope and as Tyrrell notes may lead to further depression.

I want to commend Tyrrell for recognizing the problem and while I may disagree as to how he would offer hope I certainly appreciate his willingness to try to slow down the idiotic trend to treat everything that ails us as if it were a genuine disease.

Tyrrell cites Milton Erickson who describes some of the problems common to man as the normal “roughage of life.” That’s a great phrase that translated biblically means life in a fallen world-life in a fallen world that is rough at times.

Later Tyrrell notes most of us are not “weird” meaning we have some “weird disease” but are instead normal human beings struggling with the normal ups and downs of life.

I think it is great that secular people helpers are starting to see the danger of medicalizing all the problems that are common to man. They may not have the best solution but at least some see the danger of labeling things as diseases that are really just part of normal life.

 

How Counseling is Discipleship_Personal Experience

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Is it true that if you “feel blue” you must be sick?

Allow me to explain.

I recently had  knee replacement surgery and will have to have at some point the other knee replaced.

The surgery involved a two-day hospital stay and follow-up visits to the surgeon’s office. In each case I’ve been asked questions regarding my mental health.

“Are you depressed?”

“Do you feel threatened in any way at home?”

“Are you having trouble sleeping?” (a question that usually relates to anxiety)

“How is your stress level?”

The questions are certainly well-meaning since one’s mental state can have an effect on the healing process. The question regarding depression is especially revealing.

If I were to answer in the affirmative that I was depressed the chances are the surgeon would have prescribed an anti-depressant to go along with my handful of post-op meds.

I knew what they were trying to do (help me) so I answered that I was fine which is not true; yet not a lie.

When medical people ask if you are depressed they tend to equate “feeling blue” with clinical depression.  In other words, if you exhibit or confess to “x” number of symptoms you are awarded a depression label.

What I have experienced is what I’ll call “normal discouragement.”

And what would I be discouraged about?

The therapy associated with knee replacement surgery is painful-real painful. The patient, for his or her own good is forced to bend and extend muscles that are in rebellion to the process. When forced, they scream out in pain and I confess to being brought to tears on more than one occasion.

The cycle of therapy and rest is repeated each and every day more than once per day and each day you feel like you are starting over. That is discouraging since progress seems slow.

What else is discouraging is that my wife has to help me dress. It’s minor but never-the-less discouraging to need help in such a simple task.

I’m also useless around the house. My wife works full-time so the division of labor between us has always been fair and not holding up my end discourages me.

The same is true regarding my ministry. Between therapy and doses of pain killers one is not inclined to produce anything useful much less coherent. Hopefully this blog is the exception!

The total of these circumstances and more, result in feelings of discouragement since I am anxious to recover and get back to normal.

I believe that my reaction of discouragement is a “normal” response to the circumstance of major surgery. I further believe to call normal discouragement “depression” medicalizes something that does not need a prescription to cope with. Yet, that is exactly where the process could have ended up had I confessed to depression.

Since I am a Bible-believing Christian, my prescription for my discouragement is different.

There is a battle for my mind going on. One side of the battle says lay in bed, take my pain pills, avoid the more hurtful therapy, and if push comes to shove, settle for a disability.

The other side of the battle says follow the doctor’s therapeutic instructions, press on regardless of the pain because in the long run it will help, and do whatever I can to help around the house as I recover.

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Biblically speaking, in my current state, my job is recovery and the side of the battle that says “these are the things you can do to do your job, do them as onto the Lord (Col. 3:23).

This is not always easy but battles rarely are.

Furthermore, there is prayer. There are a great many people who remember me in prayer. My small group leader asked me Sunday how I was doing with discouragement. He used the right word and so my small group prays not only for healing which is important but  more importantly that I remain faithful to the battle for my mind and that I grow in Christ through the trial of recovery.

Third, there is the recognition that my wife wishes to serve me. and As she helps me struggle we make jokes and walk down this path together as we’ve had for the past 40 years through thick and thin. Her assists help me with my pride because there simply are times we need help.

And finally there is an attitude of gratitude that I must fight for.

My church is incredibly supportive including my friend and Sr. Pastor. There is no pressure, just encouragement to press on in recovery.

There is gratitude for having the insurance for the surgery. There is gratitude for having a top-notch surgeon and hospital staff.

There is gratitude that our sovereign God has providentially arranged all these things for my good (Rom. 8:28-29).

In other words, I do not need meds or psychological counseling; I need discipleship. I need to use biblical tools to fight “normal discouragement” as I recover.

What I’ve said here is nothing new to biblical counselors.

It is interesting to see that even secular psychologists and therapists are recognizing the danger in medicalizing normal responses to unpleasant circumstances.

The below link to How to Avoid the Damage caused by Psychological Labeling by Mark Tyrrell is helpful. While I do not agree with every point, it is refreshing to see therapists and psychologists saying something about the over medicalizing of the downers that occur in all of our lives.

It isn’t true that if you “feel blue” then you must be sick.

http://www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk/articles/uncommon-hypnosis/avoid-damage-caused-by-psychological-labelling.html

Last Post for Church, Faith, State and Culture

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This is the last post for my blog titled Church, State, Faith and Culture. After the first of the year the blog will have a new title and new emphasis.

I am an Associate Pastor at Mission Dei Fellowship in Kenosha, Wisconsin. My ministry training is in biblical counseling and I am a certified counselor with the ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors).

The reasons for the change are many but the main reason is I wish to write more narrowly in my area of training to support the biblical counseling movement and my church’s ministry to our area.

I appreciate those of you who have followed Church, State, Faith and Culture and do invite you to follow the new blog which is called Discipleship Counseling.

Beyond Redemption_P4 What do the Scriptures say?

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A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A number of years ago I counseled a man in the church I was serving in.

The man had a burden for his father who was dying in a VA Hospital. The son’s burden was that the father would respond to the gospel even as he lay dying.

The dying man was a World War 2 veteran and had lived a life apart from Christ. According to the son the son’s childhood had been a living hell with frequent beatings, drunkenness and spousal abuse. The father had few friends and had alienated all of his family. Now, he lay dying from cancer.

The father was hated by nearly everyone who knew him and when he finally passed away only six people showed up at the funeral which was held in a VA Chapel. One of the people who came didn’t even know the deceased and just wanted to honor a veteran in some way. The other person who did not know the deceased was me and my job was to give a short message to a very small crowd of five.

The father, in some sense was a war criminal, guilty not necessarily of war crimes but guilty of some pretty horrible crimes against his family and many others. He was not a nice man without any perceived redeeming qualities what-so-ever.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

When I counseled the son (prior to the father’s passing) my text was the same as the one that resonated with Pastor Gerecke when he was asked to minister to the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43 ESV)

As we can see from the text Jesus was crucified between two criminals usually identified as thieves or robbers. Robbery suggests murder and capital punishment as opposed to petty thievery that would not require the death penalty.

Most of the Nuremberg defendants believed they would be hung while the two thieves knew for a fact they would die because they were already on the gallows so-to-speak as represented by the crosses they already hung on.

The parallel between the two sets of condemned men is obvious.

Are men facing death for their crimes capable of genuine repentance and the forgiveness of their sins?

Let’s examine the text to see if there is any evidence that the thief’s conversion was genuine.

The first observation we can make from the text is that Jesus assured the thief that on the very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise. That is compelling textual evidence that the thief was truly converted but there is more.

The parallel text in Matthew indicates that at first both thieves mocked Christ (Matt. 27:44).

At some point the second robber stopped mocking Jesus and instead asked for salvation. If you were to read the rest of the story you would see that certain signs and wonders would follow this incident.

The second robber made his request for salvation before any of the signs and wonders took place thus indicating something else convinced him to repent.

We can also note that the text records that everyone around the crosses were mocking Jesus; the crowd, the soldiers, the robbers, the scribes and Pharisees, everyone. To repent and ask Jesus for salvation would mean the robber had to swim against the tide of popular opinion and the mockery of the Savior.

The second robber also rebuked the first for not fearing God. The second robber clearly recognized Jesus’ innocence and it suggests a recognition of Jesus’ deity. The rebuke of the first robber was for being irreverent. In other words the second robber went from being a mocker himself to someone defending Jesus in a very short time. What could explain this apart from a genuine change of heart?

Remember what Pastor Gerecke had said about his former SS Lt. Colonel who played the organ at the worship services. He said of the man, “the simple Gospel of the Cross had changed his heart.” So it was with the second robber.

This is a key point. For any of the Nuremberg defendants to be genuine about repentance they would, like the robber, have to realize that Jesus was innocent of everything and that he was indeed God who was dying for the genuine crimes of others!

The second robber asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom thus recognizing that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus grants him the request; the guilty dying for the innocent and the innocent paying for the guilty party’s sins.

As the first robber and others mocked Jesus by telling Jesus to come off the cross and thus do a miracle (he saved others and cannot save himself) the second robber recognized Jesus did not have to come off the cross to save anyone because Jesus simply had the authority to save.

Furthermore, the second robber noted his own guilt and the fact he deserved death. He asked Jesus for salvation on the basis of mercy and grace with nothing to offer in return. No good works, no self-justification, no excuses. He just relied upon Jesus mercy and grace which is all we have to appeal to in salvation.

Luke does not say what changed the second robber’s mind at that late hour. In order to discover that answer we have to look elsewhere in the Bible.

In John Chapter Three Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit-the results are evident, but the process is unseen. The second robber showed evidence of a changed heart. I think all would agree, but what changed his heart?

In Acts 16 Luke writes of the conversion of a woman named Lydia. Luke writes, “the Lord opened her heart to believe.”

And so it is with all who believe, you, me, a robber on a cross, a Nazi about to be hung. Salvation belongs to the Lord declared the prophet Jonah (Jonah 2:9) meaning that salvation is a sovereign work of God from start to finish just as it is the secret work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men that we can only see the results of.

We judge people by the scope and magnitude of their sins and thus minimize our own by comparison.

I’m not as bad as that father who beat his wife and children.

I’m not as bad as the drunk next door.

I’m not as bad as the pornographer, the robber or murderer and certainly not as bad as any Nazi.

All of those statements may be true from a human, self-righteous point of view with the person making the statements never realizing that they have within themselves the capacity for every one of those heinous sins.

The old statement, that there by the grace of God go I rings true.

The words of James come to mind:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
(James 2:10 ESV)

While we may differ in the scope and extent of sin Scripture in an individual’s life is quite clear that all far short of the glory of God.

 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
[13] “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
[14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
[15] “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
[16] in their paths are ruin and misery,
[17] and the way of peace they have not known.”
[18] “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

There simply isn’t any wiggle room. All are guilty and all without Christ will perish according to God’s Word (Rom. 6:23)

Consider the apostle’s Peter’s first sermon:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

Peter is informing those hearing the sermon that they are guilty, either implicitly or complicity in killing the Son of God even though they had ample proof of his deity.

The Holy Spirit is active in the hearts of the crowd and they respond:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39 ESV)

Jesus died on the Cross for sinners like you and me as well as the worst of the worst. Even the apostle Paul thought himself as the worst of sinners before he received Christ:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

Paul considered himself the foremost among sinners because he persecuted the church and was complicit in the murder of Stephen.

He goes on:

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV)

Paul was an example of God’s mercy and grace. Once a hard-hearted Pharisee that persecuted the church in the hopes that people would not believe; now the apostle to the Gentiles (anyone not a Jew) preaching the good news that anyone no matter what they have done can be saved.

Paul himself is blown away by what he is saying and he exclaims the wonder of it all like this:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV)

Pastor Gerecke recognized these truths. Once more he recognized that these truths could apply to even the worst of the Nazi war criminals and so he agreed to work with them.

On a human level it’s nearly incomprehensible that some of these men could be forgiven by God for their crimes but we forget that God forgave the apostle Paul and the crowd that repented at Peter’s first sermon. God’s ways are not our ways and we should rejoice in that for it should give us, the foremost of sinners hope that we have a Savior who can and does save even the worst of the worst.

This side of heaven we will never know who among the Nazis at Nuremberg was genuinely repentant. All we have is Pastor Gerecke’s testimony and what he believed about men who believed they were about to die.

And that perhaps is the greatest take-away from Pastor Gerecke’s mission to the Nazis, all die, all had an opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness; some did, some maybe and others clearly did not.

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

The question then becomes what do we do with our sin because we too will die.

Thank God for his mercy and grace to all those who truly repent and believe upon Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

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