Christians have been counseling one another from Scripture since the early church of the 1st Century CE. The modern technical term for using the Bible as the basis for Christian counseling is “nouthetic counseling.” The Institute for Nouthetic Studies explains: “Nouthetic counseling consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires.” Bible-based or nouthetic counselors operate from a set of common presuppositions regarding the authority of God’s Word and the desired outcome of the counseling.
Bible-based counseling rests on the bedrock foundation of the authority of the Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God, sufficient to meet every need. 2 Timothy 3:16 relates: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Therefore, the nouthetic counselor relies not on his own ideas but “gives counsel from the Scriptures that directs believers to not only see things that need changing in their lives (admonish) but also how they are to change (teach),” according to Compassionate Counselors, Inc., a Biblical counseling service in Phoenix, Ariz.
1 Thessalonians 4 explains: “This is the will of God, your sanctification…God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” Sanctification means transformation of the heart to match up more fully with Jesus’ character and thereby bring Him glory through the visible change in the counselee’s life. Nouthetic counselors guide a person to stop relying on her own strength to change and to accept God’s help and healing through His Word. Bible-based counseling does not sugarcoat a person’s issues but uses Bible terminology to describe the problems so that it is clear how sin has led the counselee to the difficulties she is facing. However, the counselor doesn’t leave it there, but gently directs the counselee to address her problems head-on with applicable Scriptures. The First Baptist Church of Mont Belvieu, Texas, puts it like this: “Nouthetic counseling seeks to replace the lies we believe with the truth of God’s Word, which is able to transform our hearts — something God alone can do.”
In secular counseling, counselors are taught to keep a certain professional and emotional distance between themselves and the counselee. But in accordance with Jesus’ command to love one another in John 13:34, nouthetic counseling philosophy strongly encourages counselors to develop a strong bond of friendship with their clients as true brothers and sisters in faith. The Bible-based Christian counselor views himself as a fellow traveler through the difficulties of life with the God-given responsibility to help others weather the difficulties that stand in the way of their spiritual growth. Compassionate Counselors notes, however, that it must be a tough love, not afraid to call for change where a person is clearly out of sync with God’s Word.
Nouthetic counselors recognize that not all counseling takes place in a formal setting and seeks to equip all believers to counsel biblically as situations present themselves in daily life. Just as Paul told the Roman church in Romans 15:14: “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another,” so do Bible-based counselors seek to share the work with the larger body of Christ, encouraging them to become involved in one another’s lives with the care and compassion of a family member. As a parent would guide and instruct a child in what is good and right, so believers are to guide and teach one another, pointing always to God’s Word for answers and Jesus Christ as the hope for meaningful change.
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