In Chapter 1, “The Birth of the Biblical Counseling Movement,” Lambert traces first the decline of pastoral counseling and the revitalization of counseling which took place with Jay Adams. However, before he traces the history of decline and revival, Lambert establishes the fact that counseling is a primary activity of Christian ministry, “The fact is that counseling is ministry, and ministry is counseling.”
It is still a common position that counseling is not an integral part of the church’s work. I have received referrals by pastors of other congregations because they “don’t counsel”. Typically, counseling is set off apart from preaching. A note by J.C. Ryle in his book Christians Leaders of the Last Century, 1869 concerning William Romaine oddly exhibits the falsity of the distinction between preaching and counsel:
He was not perhaps what would be called now-a-days a “genial” man. He was “naturally close and reserved,” says Cadogan, “irritable to a certain degree, short and quick in his replies, and frequently mistaken as being rude and morose where he meant nothing of the kind. Had he paid more attention than he did to the various distresses of soul and body which were brought before him, he would have had no time left for reading, meditation, and prayer, and, in short, for what every man must attend to in private who would be useful in public. It was not uncommon for him to tell those who came to him with cases of conscience and questions of spiritual concern that he said all he had to say in the pulpit. Thus people might be hurt for the moment by such a dismissal, but they had only to attend to preaching, and they soon found that their difficulties had impressed as well as themselves; that they had been submitted to God, and that they had been the subject of his serious and affectionate consideration.”
Page 169 of the edition on Google books. This quotation may seem to give solace to those who will not counsel, but it actually does the opposite. While Romaine did not take many (if any) into private meeting, he did counsel public. The sermon and the private counsel are both one and the same: Both are elements of the same discipleship:
I realized that there was no arbitrary distinction between the public ministry of the Word in preaching and the personal ministry of the Word in counseling. I realized that being a faithful pastor and preacher meant also being a faithful counselor.
Biblical Counseling Movement, 24.
If this is true, then how did pastoral counseling fall into decline? Lambert lays out nine historical events and trends which conspired to finally squash most pastors out of counseling. Read the book to get the entire history.
One element which I wish to underscore was revivalism. I have nothing but good to say concerning the Holy Spirit bringing many to salvation and many to an increase in sanctification. Moreover, one of my great heroes, Jonathan Edwards, was a great champion of revivals. How then could a revival adversely affect pastoral ministry?
Revival, historically seen to be a unilateral work of God, had given way to revivalism, which was seen as based on the engineering of people.
Biblical Counseling Movement, 29. Lambert identifies two significant elements of revivalism: drawing a crowd and obtaining “conversions.” While nothing is wrong with either element, per se, the effects upo the church have been negative.
In addition to the elements discussed by Lambert, I wish to add the following consideration. The emotional appeal and the dictated “sinner’s prayer” both have the effect of making “conversion” an instantaneous, emotionally driven event which requires little thought or commitment. In such an environment, the dedicated involvement of both counselor and counselee (I don’t really like the word “counselee” because it fails to emphasize the familial nature of counseling, we are brothers and sisters), seems foreign.
I remember meeting with a man who was suffering from the effects of another’s sin. He was in the circumstance of needing to forgive someone who had grossly betrayed him. He asked me, When you are telling people about Jesus, do you tell them it is going to be this difficult to be a Christian? Jesus himself said to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33).
At the outset, revivalism can easily convey the idea that conversion makes one’s life easier and safer. Counseling deals with the fact that life is filled with “fiery trials”. Revivalism offers instant ease (all too often).
Moreover, ministry effectiveness becomes measured by size and “conversions”. While conversion is necessary it is merely the first step of discipleship. Indeed, when one “converts” as the result of a band playing an emotional song and a preacher making an emotional plea and the friend tugging at the sleeve, has there been a conversion at all?
A point by Keith Green is appropriate here (read the whole thing):
The Sinner’s Prayer. Can you also try and imagine this scene where Jesus is leading some new “disciples” in the “sinner’s prayer”?
“Wow! There are so many that came forward for salvation tonight!” (The multitude applauds.) “Now, it is very simple. You just repeat this little prayer after Me, and then you’re a Christian! Now it doesn’t really matter whether you fully understand the prayer . . . it works just the same. Now ready? Repeat after Me… ‘Dear Jesus… Come into my heart…'”and so on …
As you can see, when we try to picture Jesus Himself using our modern methods of evangelism, it seems completely foolish. I think this is a very good test for any method. “Could I see Jesus doing this?” or “Could I see Jesus preaching or teaching this?” Since the Bible tells us, “Walk in the manner that He walked” (I John 2:6), we should always try to compare our actions and message to the Master’s.
It is obvious that there is no “set” sinner’s prayer. There are many variations, with different lengths, different wordings, different endings, etc., but the contents are usually the same. The prayer usually includes phrases like, “Dear Jesus,” “Come into my heart,” “I admit I have sinned” (at least the better ones contain this last statement – there are some who do not even like to mention sin in their “sinner’s prayer”), “Fill me with Your Spirit,” “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Extremely harmless . . . nothing wrong with a prayer like that, right? Wrong! It isn’t the wording that’s important, it’s the state of heart of the one saying it.
I believe that a true “sinner’s prayer” will gush out of anyone who is truly seeking God and is tired of being enslaved to sin. (Matt. 5:6) The very act of “leading someone in a prayer” is utterly ridiculous. You will find nothing even remotely like it in the Bible, or among the writings and biographies of those in Church history. It completely savors of crowd and peer pressure tactics, and (please forgive me) brainwashing techniques. I do not believe that Jesus wants to have His disciples “repeat after Me,” I believe He wants them to follow after Him!
“What’s Wrong With the Gospel?” http://www.revival-library.org/leadership/sp_green_whats.php