The following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson. This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.
Dr. Peterson died in 2018.
Author of many books, and his great translation of the Bible, titled “The Message” is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the English language.
Additionally, he has recently focused on the pastor, and on the many issues, a pastor might face. He understands being a servant of the Gospel and the Church.
I encourage you to read his stuff.
“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that. Insiders see it much differently.”
“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.”
“Many people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It is similar with sinners outside the church.”
Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
“When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. “
“When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
“American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
Within our personal issues of vulnerability, there are usually troubling problems. These are bruised and painful areas, things that result in terrible devastation in our lives and loved ones. Here are just a few of them:
alcoholism and drug abuse
sex addictions, internet porn
religious deception, cults
on and on…
This isn’t a definitive list by no means. (Although each are substantial issues of pain and conflict.) But it’s strange, as defeated strugglers we often feel intimidated by leadership in the Church. We feel frustrated, and very much alone. This is a problem.
It seems all we can see is their authority, and we are afraid.
Typically, in our fellowships, our pastors and elders are men. And that alone can sometimes create issues in hearts looking for a tenderness that will heal. We need to make room for our sisters to help us out. (Just a thought.)
Often rather than opening our brokenness up to our shepherds, we fabricate illusions of self-sufficiency and invulnerability. But we are still afraid deep down, and our weaknesses effect us profoundly. We are afraid of disclosure. We fear that some will find out who we really are inside. It seems everyone is hiding something; especially us.
Because we’re strugglers filled with great deal of pain and confusion, we feel lost. And no one will help us.
We can easily label ourselves as “hopeless” and very lost. Some of us secretly believe that they have committed the unpardonable sin. (But this is a lie, as God forgives every sin but one.)
Some have heard (or misheard) that they are going to hell no matter what they do, and that they are truly lost and irrevocably separated from God. They need to know this is a lie, because when “we confess our sins, the blood of Jesus covers them ALL and cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9).
Many of us who struggle have an ugly and a twisted sense of our leaders in the Church. We get really strange whenever we meet them– a sort of a deep change comes over us when we shake hands with them after the service. Deep inside we can be afraid of the ‘man of God,’ and think he is going to ‘see’ the sin and weaknesses in our lives, and shame us publicly (see Joshua 7).
Pastor, you should understand that some of us feel pretty much lost all the time, and afraid when we meet you.
Typically, we pretend or even avoid those who are sent to pastor us. As a result of our flaws and weaknesses we want to separate ourselves from the Church. This reality is we feel like we don’t belong. We may feel like a hypocrite just coming to the service. We end up going out of duty or habit. That is a warning light of trouble.
Often we try to live a life insulated from any outside intervention. We avoid people who could really help us. We are terribly sick, and need a pastor or elder to help us work through these things. Certainly that there is often a need for scriptural correction, but always in love– and even then with some tears.
There is a spiritual war that encompasses us. The torrents of hell are released on us and we discover Satan working in various ways. Admitting you’re under attack is not weakness. (If you knew what you are really facing you’d be terrified.) But Jesus Christ stands to intervene for us. He stands and intercedes for our souls–all the time
We must pray for our pastors. Sometimes their title and gift is hard to carry. Their gifting is often limited by extraneous things, and yet Jesus, the Good Pastor comes alongside to help them. Pray hard for your pastor. Cover them and bless them.
Recently I read a news story about pastors who have been led into atheism. These are all evangelical men, some with more than 20 years of experience in the pulpit. They’ve turned to a belief that God does not exist. Here is part of the article:
There is among us a prevalent manipulation that is relentlessly reaching out for us in order to destroy our faith. This force has an ally; and this ally is resident in us. My flesh becomes the connection that Satan needs to link with– to make it work. The Bible calls this residing connection, ‘the old man’.
Some of the ‘brothers’ who now walk in apostasy to the Faith still remain in ministry. Even though they don’t believe anymore, they continue to preach and counsel their congregations. Many will only speak out under the condition of anonymity.
One in particular said it was somewhat difficult to continue to work in the ministry. “But I just look at it as a job and do what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it for years.”
This pastor said, that when speaking to parishioners, he tried to stick to the sections of the Bible that he still believed in — the parts about being a good person. Many pastors say that they would like to leave their jobs but they can’t afford to.
Please someone, and correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Bible speak of shepherds and hired men? Some who are called by God, and others who do it for money? Does this disturb anyone but me?
“He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
These ‘pastors’ and their issues of faith are all on the heart of God. He loves these men. His Son died for them. They are precious. But they make an effort to conceal themselves, in order that they will continue to receive the wages/benefits they’ve become accustomed to.
When I was ordained into the ministry, it came with the provision that if I could not remain faithful that I was obligated to ‘step down’. If I ever become conflicted, I would voluntarily remove myself from the ministry. It was part of the ‘package’ and it came with that understanding. Ordination for me was as much a decision to be faithful as it was for empowerment from above.
There is so much confusion, but that is characteristic of the times in which we live. Our shepherds are an increasingly influential part of our lives in these last days. They guide and preach the Word to us. We owe much to our pastors.
Perhaps we have not prayed for them like we should? (!)
As a result they’ve become casualties. (Pray for your pastor).
There is a desperate need for us to take the darkness seriously. It has a pulling power to reach out and latch upon us. It opens its mouth to swallow us into a never-ending night. Everything that strays ends up in its claws. The thing that saves us is the presence of Jesus. His hand on our lives removes us out of Satan’s claim.
But the darkness has an incredibly sweet allure. It’s a power that is beyond our comprehension. It seems at first to want to enhance us. Satan causes us to think that we are immune or superior to all that God has commanded. Darkness is at work in our minds and we will begin to walk into even more foolishness. Our deception only deepens as we start to diminish the very tenets of discipleship.
Truth does not come to those who are trading their salvation for even more darkness.
Duplicity is just another form of hypocrisy and deception, you can’t sugarcoat poop and make it good to eat. A lie is still a lie no matter who is speaking it.
” But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”