Meanwhile, I had already during that year returned to interpret the Psalter anew. I had confidence in the fact that I was more skilful, after I had lectured in the university on St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the one to the Hebrews. I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.
Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.
Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.
This excerpt is adapted from Stephen Nichols’ contribution to The Legacy of Luther.
WAGNER’S LIE: “THE NAR…..HAS NO LEADER.”
The above quote from C. Peter Wagner was in an article he wrote titled ‘The New Apostolic Reformation Is Not a Cult‘. His attempt to distance himself as being the head of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) needs to be noted.
“The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader.
I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case.“
This is a half truth, which means Wagner was lying. The truth is that he became the leader of the NAR because of what he observed developing over time through the New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR) movement’s Charismatic Renewal Movement (CRM). He observed, and documented, the rise of this apostolic phenomena and even named it. His research and defense of Charismatic Apostles and Prophets eventually led him…
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The New Calvinism has become a worldwide movement of Christians who are looking to the past to recover and live out the precious truths of Reformed theology. Having introduced the movement and having identified some ways in which we see evidences of God’s grace in and through it, I am now suggesting some weaknesses it may do well to address. Here’s that video in Facebook and YouTube formats, followed by a transcript for those who prefer to read.
Eric Davis of The Cripplegate looks at ten doctrines which render Rome outside of Christ. After reading his exposé you’ll understand the reasons Protestants believe that the RCC stands in stark opposition to biblical Christianity, thus it is apostate.
Sadly, a vast number of Roman Catholics cannot be considered authentic Christians. In other words, Catholics aren’t born again (regenerate) believers. And because our Catholic friends are unsaved, we must share the true Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
Pastor Davis concludes with this reminder:
The Reformers were forced to depart from Roman Catholicism in order to unite with Christ. Five hundred years later, evangelicals still cannot come together with Catholics. Those who desire true salvation in Jesus Christ must break from Roman Catholicism. This 500th anniversary, may we pray to that end.
Now to his excellent exposé:
It’s that time of year again when we remember the Protestant Reformation. But this year, it’s really something special: 500 years have passed since the greatest movement of God in church history next to the birth of the church at Pentecost.
But was the Reformation really necessary? Were the Reformers merely a pack of spiritual naysayers looking to rain on Rome’s innocent parade? Were they not looking to take their ball and mitt to start their own game?
The Reformers were not moved by preferences to seek and start another denomination. They were moved by Scripture to break from something that could not be considered Christian. Five centuries have not improved Rome’s doctrine. The need for her reform could not be greater.
Tragically, several reasons remain why Roman Catholicism still is not Christian. At this 500th year anniversary, it’s worth taking a thorough look at ten doctrines which render Rome outside of Christ. Many of these are sufficient on their own.
New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) false prophet Bill Johnson is the senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Jesus Culture (JC) bills itself as not “just a band, but…a ministry of Bethel Church.” JC has had a huge impact on Christian youth who flock to their international conferences. Holly Pevic of Spirit of Error offers her advice to those who wonder if it’s okay to sing JC’s so-called worship songs in a church service:
A frequent question I hear has to do with the music being made by groups coming out of Bethel Redding and other churches that have New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) beliefs. The question is, is it OK to sing their songs as long as the lyrics don’t contain any error?
By way of background, Bethel Music, a popular record label, is known for producing high quality music, and their songs are sung in churches across America on Sunday mornings–not just in NAR churches, but even in many mainstream evangelical and non-denominational churches. And the truth is that many of the people in these churches sing along, having no idea that these songs come from a leading church in an aberrant movement. I, myself, have sung along with songs in church or on the radio, only later to discover that those songs came from Bethel Music.
The Beginning of the Reformation
This week we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (1483-1546) posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act led to a tumultuous time for Luther, ultimately appearing before Charles V on behalf of Pope Leo X at the Diet of Worms where he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Sheltered by Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, Luther went into hiding at Wartburg Castle from May 1521 to March 1522, where he translated the New Testament from Greek into German.
At this time in history, the Catholic Church sold indulgences to people in order to gain merit with God with hope of going to heaven. Essentially, Catholic dogma requires people to earn their way to heaven through good works. However, the Church taught that it was impossible to do it on your own works. So the Church offered indulgences for purchase.
An indulgence was basically a receipt that said you had purchased good works from a past saint through the Church. Catholics taught that various saints had done a super-abundance of good works when alive, which created a treasury of merits and graces that could be drawn from when purchased. People would purchase indulgences for self-gain in order to pay for their own past sins, for loved ones who had died, and even for their own future sins.
“I bewail the gross misunderstanding among the people which comes from these preachers and which they spread everywhere among common men. Evidently the poor souls believe that when they have bought indulgence letters they are then assured of their salvation.”
The Reformer then directly addresses the Cardinal, “0 great God! The souls committed to your care, excellent Father, are thus directed to death. For all these souls you have the heaviest and a constantly increasing responsibility. Therefore, I can no longer be silent on this subject.”
Luther objected to the practice of selling indulgences because he understood the crooked practice was for financial gain to the Catholic Church and did nothing to get someone to heaven. There are two errors here. First, no one can gain heaven through good works. Second, the Church was robbing the people while giving them false hope of eternity.
Luther correctly understood what the Bible teaches regarding going to heaven. The Bible unequivocally denies any person the option of earning his or her way into heaven.
Jesus made it clear that the only way to heaven was through Him, not through personal merit or good works. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:7). It is Jesus’ work on the cross that enables us to go to heaven, not our work on earth.
Paul also taught this same truth. It is impossible to earn your way to heaven. He wrote, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Here Paul teaches that God only saves people through faith. There is no amount of good works that can save a person. Heaven is only possible through God’s grace, unearned favor from God to man.
Paul explained that the just (those who are saved and on their way to heaven) shall live by faith (Galatians 3:11), not by works. There were those teaching that through works a person could go to heaven. Paul called this type of teaching foolish. In reference to those who try to work their way to heaven, he declares those individuals cursed (Galatians 3:10).
Likewise, Paul shared his own personal testimony in Philippians 3. Here he rehearsed all the good works that he had done – works that, if possible, would earn him heaven. He declared all his good works as useless. Describing his relationship with God, he wrote, “…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). In other words, righteousness is only possible through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross where God poured His wrath upon Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. 1 John 2:2).
Luther’s Invitation: How do you get to Heaven then?
Clearly the answer begins with this simple truth: nothing that you can do or can be done for you through a church can earn you a relationship with God or a way into heaven.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He have His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It requires belief in the person and sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross. In other words, you must trust Jesus’ work to get you to heaven and not your own merit or the church’s.
In Romans, Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified (declared righteous) by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:8-9).
He further clarified, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:9-10, 13).
Luther’s Personal Responsibility
Luther was driven by the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He lamented that the Catholic Church perverted the Gospel and that the Church taught what could only send people to hell not heaven. He understood his personal responsibility in light of the forgiveness of sin.
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
Luther faithfully proclaimed this truth 500 years ago.
I faithfully proclaim this truth to you today.
Be reconciled to God.
Turn to God, recognizing your sin and the fact that you deserve hell.
Ask Him for forgiveness of your sin based upon the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
God promises to forgive your sins and to begin a new relationship with you.
 Kellemen, p. 6.
Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey
(Jerusalem, Israel) — Over the last few months, my Joshua Fund colleagues and I have been working on a new report concerning the “State of the Epicenter 2017.” Working with pastors, ministry leaders and experts in the region, we carefully examined the question of how many followers of Jesus Christ currently reside in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and in the five Arab neighbors around Israel.
It was the first time since my wife, Lynn, and I founded The Joshua Fund in 2006 that our team has drilled down into the data — and the trend lines — to assess the health and growth (or decline) or the church, country by country.
Personally, I found the research fascinating, and the results encouraging. At the recent Epicenter Conference held in Orange County, California, I shared those results with the attendees. Now I’d like to share the results with you
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On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In doing so, Luther was launching a reformation in how the church understood the gospel of Christ’s grace for salvation.
In 2010, over three dozen biblical counseling leaders gathered together to launch theBiblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). Over the next nine months, they crafted ten drafts of what became the BCC’s Confessional Statement. In doing so, they were seeking to capture in summary form how the church understands the gospel of Christ’s grace for sanctification and one-another ministry—applying the gospel to daily Christian living.
In September 2017, New Growth Press released my book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life. As I explain in the book:
“Martin Luther not only reformed theology; his understanding of the gospel reformed daily Christian living, biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, one-another ministry, and soul care.”
So, it seems only natural for me to combine my appreciation for Luther’s pastoral counseling and my involvement in facilitating the BCC’s Confessional Statement into this document: 95 Affirmations for Gospel-Centered Counseling.
In this document, I’ve taken the BCC’s Confessional Statement and divided it into 95 positive affirmations or thesis statements. My prayer is that you might find these summaries to be a helpful presentation of what it means to apply Christ’s grace to daily living through the personal ministry of the Word—gospel-centered biblical counseling.
Note: One of my fellow BCC Council Board Members, Dr. Heath Lambert, recently released his 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling. I’d encourage you to read Dr. Lambert’s work.
Preamble: Speaking Gospel Truth in Love—A Vision for the Entire Church
Introduction: In Christ Alone
Confessional Statement # 1: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Anchored in Scripture
You can continue reading the rest of these 95 Affirmations and download the entire document here: 95 Affirmations for Gospel Centered Counseling.
If you would like to share the link to the PDF with others, you can use this shortened link: http://bit.ly/95Affirmations
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Today, September 11, 2017, is the official release date by New Growth Press of my latest book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.
Martin Luther not only reformed theology; his understanding of the gospel reformed daily Christian living, biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, one-another ministry, and soul care.
Through Counseling Under the Cross, learn how Luther richly, relevantly, robustly, and relationally applied the gospel to suffering, sin, sanctification, and our search for peace with God.
Through lively vignettes, real-life stories, and direct quotes from Luther, you will be equipped to apply the gospel to yourself and others—finding hope and help in Christ alone.
Counseling Under the Cross guides pastors, counselors, lay leaders, and friends toward a rich understanding of the gospel that will directly impact their personal ministry to others.
14 Free Resources for Counseling Under the Cross
Enjoy Your Autographed Copy at 25% Off
You can purchase an autographed copy of Counseling Under the Cross on sale at 25% off for just $14.99 at the RPM Bookstore.
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My friend, David Murray, wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition in 2012 that was re-posted this past week: How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling? In it, David shares the following analogy about what makes “biblical preaching” “biblical.”
Take, for example, “biblical preaching.” “Biblical” here does not mean we only use the Bible in sermons. Biblical preaching expounds the Bible, but it also draws from non-biblical sources—some of them authored by unbelievers—such as syntactical, grammatical, lexical, and textual guides and commentaries. We often incorporate historical, geographical, sociological, and cultural research. We regularly draw from current scientific findings and the modern media to teach, explain, or illustrate a point. Even the form and communication style of most modern sermons has been derived largely from ancient and modern philosophical and political speech forms. However, although some of the content and form of biblical preaching is drawn from outside the Bible, we believe that God has provided a Bible that is up to the task of filtering out the false and admitting the truth of God that he has graciously placed in the world.
Related to this analogy, David writes:
For some in our family, “biblical” means “Bible only.” For them, biblical counseling could be more accurately renamed “Bible counseling.” In principle, it means they use only the Bible in counseling people; nothing else is helpful, and anything else is compromise.
The Ministry of the Word
In the spirit of friendly dialogue, I’d like to follow-up on David’s analogy. I don’t believe his analogy captures the concerns of biblical counselors. Before I make that analogy, consider a comparison: both biblical counseling and biblical preaching are ministries of the Word.
When the pastor preaches from the pulpit, he focuses on relating God’s truth to life. When the pastor shares in interactive, conversational ways in the pastoral counseling office, he focuses on relating God’s truth to life.
The question I want us to consider is, “Should extra-biblical worldviews have a role in biblical preaching or biblical counseling?”
Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the Content, Foundation, and Worldview Are 95% Secular?
Here’s the first analogy that biblical counselors would use. Some counselors say they are doing Christian counseling when they open and close in prayer and perhaps sprinkle in one verse during the 60-minute meeting. To use the preaching analogy, is it biblical preaching if the content, foundation, and communication of the message is composed of 95% secular worldview with an opening and closing prayer and one verse mentioned but never developed? If 95% of the message contains the viewpoints of 20th Century atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell, and Gandhi, and liberal theologians, is it biblical preaching?
This is the concern of biblical counselors: is the authority basis for the Christian life built upon biblical theology? Or, is the authority basis for the Christian life built upon the theories of secular philosophy, secular psychology, and secular sociology? The key word here is theories—worldview, the source of understanding of people, problems, and solutions.
Now, some may say, “You’re using an outlier, Bob. No Christian counselor would be 95% secular.” I recently read a major Christian Integrative Counseling text. The index of sources was multiple pages—with the majority of those sources being secular. The Scripture index consisted of 3 verses—covering over 750 pages of text. I love my Christian Integrative Counseling friends, but I would humbly encourage them to consider if sometimes there is a lack of theological richness and biblical robustness.
Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the World’s Authority and Wisdom Are Placed Over the Word’s Authority and Wisdom?
But let’s assume the first analogy is an outlier. Here’s a second question: “Is it biblical preaching if the secular worldview holds sway over the Bible’s worldview?” Both are quoted in a sermon (the world’s wisdom and the Word’s wisdom), but when there’s a discrepancy, the world’s wisdom trumps the Word’s wisdom. How many of us would attend a church where an entire 12-week series placed the world’s authority over the Word’s authority?
And yet, some models of integrative counseling do that. This is where biblical counselors are concerned. The analogy is not about syntax, but about worldview and the source of authoritative wisdom for life.
Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the World’s Authority and Wisdom Are Seen as Equal to the Word’s Authority and Wisdom?
Again, David or others may say, “But the committed, well-trained Christian Integrative Counselor is not going to place the world over the Word.” So, let’s ask another question. “Is it biblical preaching if the world’s authority and wisdom are seen as equal to the Word’s authority and wisdom?” Both are quoted an equal amount. Both are seen to have areas or spheres of authority. Bertrand Russell’s secular worldview is given equal credence in matters of faith and practice as Peter, Paul, James, John, or Jesus.
How many of us would listen to sermons for 12 weeks when worldly wisdom for living is given equal footing with the wisdom of the Word? How many of us should attend 12 counseling sessions where the counselor gives worldly wisdom for living equal footing with the Word’s wisdom for living?
Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the Word’s Authority and Wisdom Are Seen As Superior to the World’s Authority and Wisdom, Yet the World’s Wisdom for Living Is Still a Major Foundation and Component of the Preaching?
Again, David and others may say, “Wait, Bob. The Christian Integrative Counselor uses God’s Word as the grid by which anything from the world is evaluated.” I would respond, “Remember, we’re not talking about syntax. We’re talking about worldview. We’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain people—humanity, anthropology, who we are, and how we are designed in our souls in relationship to God.”
I’d continue, “And we’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain sin—the fall, hamartiology, what went wrong, how our souls are in rebellion before God and lack shalom.”
And I’d keep going, “We’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain solutions—salvation, reconciliation, sanctification, recovery from suffering, victory over sin, who God is, who Christ is, what the gospel is and how it makes a daily difference.”
So, yes, a preacher might quote from a movie—but illustratively to help describe a biblical principle. But if that preacher, even if he talks about the authority of the Word over the world, builds the thesis of his sermon from the movie, or builds major points of his sermon from a liberal theologian’s understanding of life, or builds components of his sermon from a secular philosopher’s worldview—for 12 weeks in a row—how many of us would keep attending that church?
This moves us to the heart of the issue. Do we have confidence that God’s Word has robust, rich, relevant, relational, profound wisdom and insight for the soul issues we face every day? Or, do we believe that the fallen world, in rebellion against God, has robust, rich, relevant, relational, profound wisdom and insight for the soul issues we face every day?
Biblical Counselors and Biblical Worldviews
Biblical counselors are concerned about a biblical worldview—about building our understanding of people, problems, and solutions from a rich, robust, Christo-centric, gospel-centered, God-glorifying foundation. We are “Bible only counselors” when it comes to biblical worldviews about people, problems, and solutions—living whole, healthy, and holy lives in a fallen and broken world.
Biblical counselors are not “Bible only counselors” when it comes to understanding medical science, neurological research, or descriptive psychological research. (For a robust presentation of the biblical counseling view, see the Biblical Counseling Coalition book Scripture and Counseling, and for a summary statement see the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement). A couple of examples might help—first, neuroscience. Dr. Charles Hodges, an MD and a biblical counselor, wrote the book, Good Mood Bad Mood where he quotes many neuroscience articles. They were all placed under a biblical grid. Neuroscience, when it “stays in its lane” of doing neurological research, is not a “worldview.” There’s a worldview behind it (often an evolutionary one) that must always be considered. But neither Dr. Hodges nor I would have a problem with a legitimate neurological finding being shared with a counselee. That may be more like the syntax analogy that David Murray uses.
What about psychological research? Again, even worldview perspectives creep into how one does research. Yet, biblical counselors have expressed openness to descriptive psychology—a description of what happens, not a diagnosis of why and not a prescription of what to do. When descriptive psychology “stays in its lane,” I could potentially use a finding under the authority of Scripture. For example, in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I briefly introduce one descriptive model of the grief process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s one way of describing how people stereotypically respond to loss in a fallen world. It is not prescriptive. In the rest of God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I explore what the Bible’s wisdom communicates to us about a Christ-centered way of moving through grief—prescriptive, theoretical, theological biblical counseling. The description comes from research. The diagnosis and prescription comes from the Word.
Biblical counselors do not want to integrate a biblical worldview with a secular worldview. Neither does a biblical preacher. That’s the central analogy. That’s the central message of Colossians 2:8:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
Biblical counselors do not want to integrate biblical counseling theory with secular counseling theory—ideas about people, problems, and solutions—because those are fundamentally theological issues—yes, biblical issues. In theory-building (theology-building), yes, biblical counselors are “Bible only” without apology. Just like preachers who build their messages on the exegesis of the text of Scripture and on a comprehensive biblical worldview are “Bible only” preachers—without apology.
Join the Conversation
So, what do you think—what makes biblical preaching and biblical counseling biblical?
Note: As my post was going “live,” I noticed that David also has a more recent post on this topic: Do We Need More Than the Bible for Biblical Counseling? I think his argument in this more recent post is similar to the analogy David used in his 2012 TGC post.
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Talking with a Counselee
But what about the practice of pastoral counseling? When I’m sitting across from a hurting person who is struggling either with an issue of suffering in a fallen world, or with an issue of sin and sanctification, what is the relative role of Scripture in our conversation? Does Scripture only control my thinking about understanding the person, diagnosing the problem, and interacting about wisdom-based solutions?
Or, can and should God’s Word play a central role in our actual conversation? Am I confident as a pastoral counselor in the power of God’s Word in the counseling conversation? Am I competent as a pastoral counselor in using God’s Word to comfort and encourage the hurting and to reconcile and guide the person struggling against sin?
In light of this practical issue, I thought it might be instructive to consider Martin Luther’s practice of pastoral counseling. What did sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—look like as Martin Luther interacted with parishioners?
Luther and The 14 Consolations
One of Luther’s benefactors and protectors, the Elector Frederick the Wise, was seriously ill. Frederick’s chaplain asked Luther to write Frederick some words of consolation. They have come down to us as The 14 Consolations. In the superstition of the day, a shepherd had claimed to see a vision of 14 saints. As a result, sick Christians began praying to these 14 saints.
Luther took the motif of the number 14, and moved it from superstition and saints to Scripture and the Savior. He presented the Elector Frederick the Wise with 14 scriptural images—7 images of Christ crucified and 7 images of Christ resurrected.
Luther kept Jesus on every page of his counseling.
The English version of The 14 Consolations is 45-pages long. In those 45 pages, Luther quotes 169 passages. The average small book today is about 5 times that size. So, had Luther written Frederick a small counseling manual today, he would have quoted, developed, and discussed nearly 850 passages!
This is not to say that Luther’s focus on Scripture means he would have ignored science—see below on that. It is simply to say that sola Scriptura and sufficiency of Scripture played a central role in Luther’s actual practice of pastoral counseling.
Luther’s words of pastoral counsel were Word-saturated.
Luther was confident in the power of God’s Word. Luther always pointed people to the Word of God as their ultimate hope and primary help in suffering, sin, and sanctification. The Scriptures, for Luther, were sufficient to comfort the hurting, confront the sinning, and cheer the saint.
Luther and the Sufficiency of Scripture for Comforting the Suffering
Consider just a few examples from Luther’s various writings, where he highlights the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling the hurting.
“You have the Apostle Paul who shows to you a garden, or paradise, which is full of comfort, when he says: ‘Whatever was written, was written for our instruction, so that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). Here he attributes to Holy Scripture the function of comforting. Who may dare to seek or ask for comfort anywhere else?”[I]
“Comfort yourself with the Word of God, the pre-eminent consolation.”[ii]
“It is thus very true that we shall find consolation only through the Scriptures, which in the days of evil call us to the contemplation of our blessings, either present or to come.”[iii]
“I have learned by experience how one should act under temptation, namely, when any one is afflicted with sadness…. Let him first lay hold of the comfort of the divine Word.”[iv]
“Christ heals people by means of his precious Word, as he also declares in the 50th chapter of Isaiah (verse 4): ‘The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary.’ St. Paul also teaches likewise, in Romans xv 14, that we should obtain and strengthen hope from the comfort of the Holy Scriptures, which the devil endeavors to tear out of people’s hearts in times of temptations. Accordingly, as there is no better nor more powerful remedy in temptations than to diligently read and heed the Word of God.”[v]
“Those who are tempted by doubt and despair I should console in this fashion. First, by warning them to beware of solitude and to converse constantly with others about the Psalms and Scriptures.”[vi]
Luther and the Sufficiency of Scripture for Overcoming Sin and Temptation
Consider just a few examples from Luther’s various writings, where he highlights the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling people dealing with sin and temptation.
“Nothing helps more powerfully against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than occupying oneself with God’s Word, having conversations about it, and contemplating it.”[vii]
“Therefore, whenever any one is assailed by temptation of any sort whatever, the very best that he can do in the case is either to read something in the Holy Scriptures, or think about the Word of God, and apply it to his heart.”[viii]
“If you now attempt, in this spiritual conflict, to protect yourself by the help of man without the Word of God, you simply enter upon the conflict with that mighty spirit, the devil, naked and unprotected.” Such an endeavor would be worse than David against Goliath—without God’s supernatural power helping David. You may, therefore, if you so please, oppose your power to the might of the devil. It will then be very easily seen what an utterly unequal conflict it is, if one does not have at hand in the beginning the Word of God.”[ix]
“Let us learn, therefore, in great and horrible terrors, when our conscience feels nothing but sin and judges that God is angry with us, and that Christ has turned His face from us, not to follow the sense and feeling of our own heart, but to stick to the Word of God.”[x]
“No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will.”[xi]
“For one has to instruct consciences that the comfort of the gospel is directed to each individual particularly; therefore, as you people who understand these matters know, the gospel has to be applied through the Word to each individual particularly, so that each individual in his conscience is tossed about by the questions whether this great grace, which Christ offers to all men, belongs to him too.”[xii]
“So we also labor by the Word of God that we may set at liberty those that are entangled, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there.”[xiii]
Scripture for the Soul, Medicine for the Body
Luther’s doctrine of sufficiency was robust enough to make room for the appropriate use of medication.
“Accordingly a physician is our Lord God’s mender of the body, as we theologians are his healers of the spirit; we are to restore what the devil has damaged. So a physician administers theriaca (an antidote for poison) when Satan gives poison. Healing comes from the application of nature to the creature . . . . It’s our Lord God who created all things, and they are good. Wherefore it’s permissible to use medicine, for it is a creature of God. Thus I replied to Hohndorf, who inquired of me when he heard from Karlstadt that it’s not permissible to make use of medicine. I said to him, ‘Do you eat when you’re hungry?’”[xiv]
On the other hand, when convinced that an issue was spiritual in nature, Luther did not hesitate to call for spiritual, rather than medicinal cures. Scripture is God’s prescription, God’s choice medicine, for soul sickness. Luther writes to his friend John Agricola concerning John’s wife:
“Her illness is, as you see, rather of the mind than of the body. I am comforting her as much as I can, with my knowledge. In a word, her disease is not for the apothecaries (as they call them), nor is it to be treated with the salves of Hippocrates, but by constantly applying plasters of Scripture and the Word of God. For what has conscience to do with Hippocrates? Therefore, I would dissuade you from the use of medicine and advise the power of God’s Word.”[xv]
Note: The preceding quotes from Luther came from my recently-released book,Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.
[i]Luther, LW, Vol. 49, p. 16.
[ii]Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 63, emphasis added.
[iii]Luther, LW, Vol. 42, p. 124.
[iv]Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, pp. 175-176.
[v]Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, p. 179.
[vi]Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 117.
[vii]Luther, The Large Catechism, p. 187, in Krey, Luther’s Spirituality.
[viii]Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, p. 178.
[ix]Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 179-180.
[x]Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 333, 126.
[xi] Luther, LW, Vol. 54, p. 78.
[xii]Luther, LW, Vol. 50, p. 77.
[xiii]Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 333, 126.
[xiv]Luther, LW, Vol. 54, pp. 53-54.
[xv]Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, p. 402.
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A Word from Bob: It is vital that we minister with love and wisdom in all situations related to mental illness and the church. For an expanded look at this issue, please download my free resource Mental Illness and the Church. This resource explores how God calls us to compassionate, comprehensive care for those struggling with deeply distressing and chronic emotional and mental health concerns.
The Gospel and Mental Health
In my previous post, we examined Martin Luther, Pastoral Counseling, Sola Scriptura, and the Sufficiency of Scripture. We might think:
“Well, sure Luther could use Scripture for the easy, spiritual stuff. He didn’t have to deal with modern issues that we would now label mental illness. Had he done that, then he would not have found gospel-centered counseling to be sufficient.”
Let’s take a look at the historic facts…
Luther’s Compassionate, Competent, and Comprehensive Pastoral Counseling
Winfried Schleiner examined 500 years of the treatment of schizophrenia, psychosis, and melancholy from the Renaissance through the Reformation. Schleiner concluded that “medical writers of the period rarely show any sympathy for such delusive conditions.”[I]
Renaissance doctors delighted in mocking psychotics (persons thinking themselves other than they were—a clay jar, a cock with flapping wings). They were considered comic fools. “The sense of ridicule overcomes pity. Of course the pain and inhumanity resulting from unsympathetic attitudes towards psychotics have mostly gone unrecorded.”[ii]
Schleiner set as his task finding some source whose treatment and healing methodology might be more compassionate.
If, then, a certain kind of psychotic case tended to attract medical ridicule and …did not lead to serious consideration of therapy, we may have to look elsewhere in the Renaissance for a glimpse of what has become so strikingly obvious in our times: that a knowledge of the patients’ histories, empathy with their condition, and endeavors to understand their particular thought processes are important in the treatment of psychotics, whose suffering and pain are beginning to be fully recognized.[iii]
According to Schleiner, “one must look to theologians…to find sympathetic treatments of the condition” (of schizophrenia).[iv] Only in Luther did he find someone manifesting “an encompassing sympathy for the psychotic.”[v]
Schleiner’s work bears examination because it highlights what was so important to Luther—personal encounter or cure by redemptive relationships. He called Luther’s cure, the cure by charity and company—“societas.” Schleiner summarizes his findings by noting that compassionate care was a major part of the cure in Luther:
“Indeed it can be said that this sense of caring becomes a vehicle of therapy.”[vi]
And Schleiner notes that “clearly human company is the essential ingredient in the cure of the melancholic.”[vii]
3 Difficult Cases
What sort of strugglers does Luther interact with? One was a “melancholic who refused to eat and drink and hides in a cellar. He rebuffs any charitable helpers with the words ‘Don’t you see that I am a corpse and have died? How can I eat?’”[viii] Here is a person who is both depressed and psychotic—thinking he is dead.
In a second case, Luther dealt with an individual who thought he was a rooster “with a red comb on his head, a long beak, and a crowing voice.”[ix]
What was Luther’s care and cure for these two individuals? Schleiner says the two elements common in every one of Luther’s cases were “the consideration of the psychotic’s past and the role of societas (company, relationship) in re-integrating such a person into the community.”[x]
Reintegrating the soul through compassionate relationships was an essential element in Luther’s soul care. He used his personal relationship as a way of encountering another person on behalf of God so that the other person’s image of God and relationship to God could be altered in ways which brought integration to their personality. In fact, Schleiner even labeled Luther’s approach “compassionate reintegration.”[xi]
In his conclusion, Schleiner writes:
Luther shows none of the dehumanizing amusement that often animates even learned physicians when they report certain kinds of cases. The “cure” is brought about not by trickery but by friendly persuasion, by appeal to common humanity, by company. The entire story is informed by a strong sense of sympathy for a patient who becomes stigmatized by society.[xii]
Luther believed that spiritual wholeness or integration was achieved through personal encounter. This was true in his ministry to others and in his openness to being ministered to by others. After reading 1,000s of pages of first-hand accounts of Luther’s interactions, August Nebe said of Luther, “He never regarded himself as all-sufficient, nor as highly lifted up above all others; humbly and urgently he besought help in hours of trial.”[xiii]
Schleiner discussed a third case that Luther addressed. This person was labeled a “voluntary retentive”—someone who refused to urinate. In most Renaissance cases like this, no history was taken or given. Not so with Luther. In talking with this person, Luther traced the beginning of this disorder to a sermon this person heard about works-righteousness. The person came to believe that if he could perfectly control his body and soul, that he would be accepted by God.[xiv]
Having gleaned this history, Luther then gives an etiology or cause as he calls this person a “iustitiarius”—someone attempting to justify himself by works rather than by faith.”[xv] His cure was redemptive/gospel-centered—pointing the person away from works of righteousness to the righteousness of Christ. His interactions with the voluntary retentive person helped him to see that his behavior was rooted in the pride of self-sufficiency. Luther also helped this man see that he must put on renewed images of God in Christ as a God of grace.
This vignette is one of many examples of how Luther encouraged his followers to reinterpret life by exegeting it from a gospel perspective. He cared for souls by promoting the curative attitude of spiritual insight into the redemptive meaning behind events and experiences: cure through looking at life through the lens of the cross of Christ.
Note: I excerpted the preceding material from Chapter 7 of my recently-released book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.
[i]Schleiner, “Renaissance Exempla of Schizophrenia: The Cure by Charity in Luther and Cervantes,” 157-176.
[v]Ibid., 163, 165.
[x]Ibid., 172 .
[xiii]Nebe, Luther as Spiritual Advisor, 13.
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119:114 The Lord is our hiding place when we are pursued and our shield when we are being directly attacked. Those who hope in His promise will never be disappointed because He cannot deceive or be deceived.
119:114 my hiding place and my shield Common images of protection in the Psalms (compare Ps 91:1–4). This description connects with the psalmist’s requests in vv. 116–117 (see note on vv. 116–117).
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 744). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 119:114). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.