Counseling Confessionally

The Westminster documents in relationship to counseling.

How is it that people really change? Or, What does sanctification look like worked out in the life of a counselee? In the course of a counseling case, a counselor may need to not only teach a counselee how to be sanctified, but, even more basically, help the counselee understand what sanctification is or how it works!

 

A wave of pastoral suicides in many corners of Christ’s Church has renewed the call for the appropriate care of those with mental health issues in the Church. For the average pastor, this call can be both comforting, giving hope that they themselves might receive some much-needed care, and terrifying as they are confronted with a lack of understanding in how to care for others with intensive inner-man struggles. This call for mental healthcare is always a dividing line for the Church: will we care for those in the throes of spiritual struggle from a basis of God’s revealed truth about people, or the world’s developed understanding of them? For those of us who reside in the Confessional camp of Christianity adhering to agreed upon formulations that summarize what Scripture teaches, we might see a disparity between what we believe and teach (the Confessions & Catechisms) and how we care for the broken. In other words, we might be challenged to answer the question: Does the glorifying and enjoying of God (which is our chief purpose revealed in Scripture—Shorter Catechism Q. 1) entail matters of mental health, or is that for someone else to handle? Or, what good are the Confession and Catechisms when it comes to practical ministry to those struggling with mental health? My desire is to spend my time on “A Standard for Living” exploring the application of the Confession and Catechisms in the practice of counseling.

For this first article, I want to present a basic framework of understanding for how to consider the Westminster documents in relationship to counseling. In other words, there will be no mind or heart-blowing matters handled here, just a pair of glasses to slip on to begin thinking “counselingly” about the Confession and Catechisms. Crown & Covenant Publications recently reissued a new typeset of a standalone volume of the Larger Catechism. In his helpful and encouraging introduction, Nathan Eshelman, pastor of the RPCNA in Los Angeles, reminds us that the Shorter Catechism was for children and the Larger Catechism was for “those more advanced in the faith.” Obviously, the times, reading levels, and abilities to memorize have changed. But, we can still retool and use the Westminster documents fruitfully in the moments we are given to help believers to verbally confront the sin in, at, or around themselves, for their good and change.

To lay out the aforementioned framework, let’s look generally at the topic of sanctification. This past summer, I had the pleasure of teaching “Dynamics of Biblical Change” in the Philippines to a class of twenty pastors, counselors, academic administrators, and seminarians. The core of this class is unpacking the question: How is it that people really change? Or, What does sanctification look like worked out in the life of a counselee? In the course of a counseling case, a counselor may need to not only teach a counselee how to be sanctified, but, even more basically, help the counselee understand what sanctification is or how it works! How might each of the 3 Westminster Documents aid in this teaching and counseling moment? They do so in the following three phases.

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