Psychology in the Church
Without doubt, the
American church is weak, if not impotent! Our culture and
government continues into the moral abyss, in spite of millions
of Bible-believing Christians. Perhaps, the most obvious sign of
this slide is that there is no great appeal to Almighty God for
forgiveness, for “judgment to begin at the household of God,”
and for His leading to change what needs to be changed (that is,
true repentance) in order to be a godly culture and nation.
former President of Columbia International University (Columbia
Bible College) says:
When a new ethical
(worldview) problem arises in society, such as euthanasia or
homosexuality, newspaper reporters frequently consult a
local professor of psychology. It would make
just as much sense -- if not more -- to consult the local
bartender. Psychology is descriptive and can only tell
us, with greater or lesser precision, what the average
person does and what may result if averages hold. It
lacks any authority to speak of what human behavior ought
to be. Since it lacks this authority, and since it
should hold tentatively any conclusions it reaches, it is
properly relativistic in its approach.
however, impose relativity outside their sphere in the field
of ethics (worldview) and reject all norms. For
example, psychology may help us understand what produces
conflict, but whether we use their information to produce
conflict or to allay it will depend on our values. As
a matter of historic fact, psychological insights are used
by some to create conflict. And this is an ethical
(worldview) problem, not a psychological one. Psychology
helps people understand why they do what the do and how they
may change; ethics (worldview) tells them what they ought
to do." (Introduction to Biblical Ethics, (Tyndale,
(Too Often) Led by our Emotions, Not by our Thinking (The
The psychology of man
has often been a theme of theologians for centuries. But, modern
psychology has infiltrated this understanding. This much is
clear. One cannot understand oneself, others, or how God
works in our lives without understanding Biblical
psychology. As John Calvin begins his Institutes, the
knowledge of man begins with the knowledge of God.
Curiously, emotions are
rarely defined, but the etymology of the word is helpful. From
Webster’s Dictionary of 1828, emotion is “a moving of the
mind or soul; hence, any agitation of mind or excitement of
sensibility.” Emotion is a disturbance in our soul that is
heightened by its effect on the physical body.
Let me illustrate. You
are at home with several children. Things have gone beserk. On
child is trying to take another’s toy. He is yelling, she is
crying. A pot is boiling over on the stove. The dog is barking
at the children. You are at you wit’s end, yelling at the kids
while you deal with the overflowing pot. The phone rings…
You answer, “Hello” (in
a more or less calm voice). “This is Susie (your neighbor whom
you dislike and to whom you would never want to admit distress),
how are you?” “I’m fine…”
What have you just
done? You have moved from a distressing emotional state of
considerable frustration (a form of anger) to a calm answer to
someone on the phone! You have instantaneously calmed yourself
from a storm of emotions. Wow!
Now, what is the
strongest control in this situation? Your thoughts of your
appearance before you neighbor!
Now, men, this could
easily be you at work. Your secretary has just bungled a task.
The phone keeps ringing while you are working on an important
project. Your computer just crashed! And, the boss calls. You
will answer, as the housewife did, in a calm manner, as though
nothing is wrong.
illustrate that we have great control over our emotions when
we have a strong motivation. We have greater control than we
might think on only a brief reflection.
“I am comfortable with
After a debate, sometimes vigorous, how many times have you come
to a conclusion, and the leader said, “Now, are we all
comfortable with this decision?”
When we are engaged in
conversation with others, we often ask or are asked, “How to you
feel about…?” It may be about politics, child-rearing, the price
of gasoline, or any other subject of conversation.
To be sure, one
definition of “to feel” is “to think.” But, in our choice of
words, it would be more accurate to ask, “What do you think,”
rather than “What do you feel.” The words that we use reinforce
how we think and act.
Often, we express how
we are with emotions. “I feel depressed.” “I feel inadequate.” A
child may say, “I feel stupid,” when trying to learn something
new. These are conclusions about oneself that are expressed as
We have come to judge
decisions and our states of being by our feelings. This
situation comes from modern psychologists who ask their clients,
“How do you feel about…?” Their focus in on feelings. But, we
must ask the question, are feelings or thoughts more important?
Should we be led by our emotions or our thoughts?
Are thoughts or
emotions more dominant?
As you sit there, reading this epistle, I want you to be sad. Be
real sad. Be in-a-funk sad. ---- Now, be happy. Be giddy, happy.
---- Now, be angry. Be angry to the extent that you are ready to
hit or throw something.
Were you successful in
changing your emotional states? Readily, on your own command?
Now, let’s try
something different. Think of the most wonderful vacation that
you hav ever had with your family. ---- Think of what you
consider to be your greatest achievement in life. ---- Think of
the saddest moment of your life.
I suspect that you were
more successful in this exercise, than you were in trying to
achieve a certain emotional state. Why? Did you notice that as
you thought of these situations, you began to feel
the emotions associated with the situations? Did you notice how
much more easy it was to think certain thoughts than to
cause yourself to feel a certain way?
In the latter exercise,
you have illustrated Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren,
whatever things are true, whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just, whatever things are
pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are
of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is
anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Right
thinking is the way to right feelings, not the opposite.
Are you aware that
modern, humanistic psychology dominates many areas of
theology in the church today?
How many times have you heard a Christian, say, “I have peace
about ____________” (some decision). What they are saying is
that “I feel good about ____________” (that decision). “I don’t
have any disturbing thoughts about ____________” (that
Do a word study on
“peace” in the Bible. You will find that peace is used to
describe the peace of the regenerated person where formerly
enmity with God existed (Romans 5:1), peace among people (Acts
24:2), and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22, probably
related to both former meanings). It is rarely, if ever, used as
a criterion of decision-making.
The use of “peace” in
decision-making comes from psychology that “being comfortable”
or “finding peace” is a criterion for right decisions.
Decisions by Christians
should be based upon God’s prescriptions. For example, “Do not
let the sun do down on your anger” and “if you bring your gift
to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your
way.” These commands do anything but evoke “peace” in their
doing (but they do bring peace between God and man when they are
carried out properly).
“I just don’t love her (or him) any more” is a common complaint
of married couples in counseling or “psychotherapy.” Frequently,
what they then want to hear from the counselor or therapist is,
“Well, there is only one solution, divorce.”
Studies of divorcees
have found that only the death of a spouse carries more stress
than divorce. So, modern psychology would end a marriage that 1)
began with promises “in sickness and in health, for richer and
for poorer… until death do us part” and 2) thereby, place the
second highest stress upon individuals (not to mention children)
because “love” no longer exists? And, this result does not even
being to consider the morality of this counsel or honoring God
by way of covenant in marriage.
We all know the two
great commandments, “Love God with all our heart, soul, mind,
and strength… and our neighbor, as ourselves.” A pagan
psychologist would say, “Love is a feeling, it cannot be
commanded. Love is either there or it isn’t. You can’t
manufacture love.” Thus, the recommendation for divorce.
And, we find the same
in our culture, perhaps represented best by Hollywood, as “love
at first sight.” “Love Story” and “Titanic” are two examples.
Love just happens. Love is “chemistry” between two people. Love
is some ephemeral thing that comes from somewhere, virtually
beyond and outside of people’s control.
When Jesus gave the
second of his two great commandments, He was asked, “Who is my
neighbor.” His answer was illustrated by a Samaritan, whom the
Jews hated. And, it was directed towards helping a wayside
victim at great cost and physical risk by the one who responded.
It also showed the hypocrisy of people (a priest and an Levite)
who are committed to being “religious” towards God, but not
their fellow man when he has great needs.
Thus, love has objects,
and love is helping others. Love can be commanded, even when
our emotions involve hatred and great risk to ourselves.
Psychologists know nothing of this love. But, God goes further,
“Love is the
fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10), and “For all the law is
fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14).
Not only can love be
commanded, it has specific content: all that God has written as
instructions for mankind, especially for believers -- namely the
law. (See Psalm 119 for synonyms of the law: statutes, precepts,
testimonies, ways, etc.)
So, love is commanded
by God, and has detailed instructions. (Don’t confuse following
the law with legalism.)
So, let’s get back to
our example of man-woman love and marriage. As we have seen,
love can be commanded and has specific instructions. Love cannot
exist at first sight, because no commitments have taken place.
Now, love can begin to develop from that initial attraction.
Such love would include getting to know each other, giving each
other gifts, doing things together, and eventually committing to
But, even, the process
of love is guided by biblical directives (law). You must avoid
lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:28), lustful actions (Seventh
Commandment), sobriety (Ephesians 5:18), continue individual
spiritual growth (church, Bible study, prayer, etc.).
ultimately, you actually covenant together formally,
spiritually, and legally. Covenant agreed and adhered to over
the period of the covenant is the highest form of love.
So, if you say, I love
my church. Have you covenanted with her? With covenant, goes
specific agreements: to tithe, attend, contribute your spiritual
gifts, be faithful to the means of grace, etc.).
includes “building them up in the nurture and admonition of the
Lord,” instructing them constantly of God’s ways (Deuteronomy
6), “not provoking them to anger.
Do you begin to see the
serious commitment that love is? Do you see that love has
specific content, that of Biblical law? Do you see the
importance of the catechisms devoting almost 50 percent of their
attention to law, and therefore, love? Do you see the importance
of the entire Bible, as God’s law, to know how to “love” in
whatever context God has called us? Do you see that you must
know that law to be able to follow it? Do you see that that
takes considerable study, first to know what to do, and second,
to follow though and do it. The Scribes were diligent students
of the law, but not doers of it. “Love your neighbor, as
yourself,” cannot be separated from “love God with all your
being.” It is both knowledge and application.
May God bless us in
For more on this
Pietism Deceives Christians.