A Close Look at “Sola Scriptura” (Part4)

September 11, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are reviewing the important lessons the Lord has taught us a church for the past 9 years. Among them are the five gospel truths that were rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century: Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, and Glory to God alone.   We are right now focusing on the phrase Scripture alone which in Luther’s time was called sola Scriptura. It means that the Bible is absolute authority. It is the sole binding rule of faith and practice for all Christians. During the time of Martin Luther and up till today, Roman Catholicism continues to reject the sola Scriptura principle. One Bible teacher says,   Catholicism flatly rejects that principle, adding a host of traditions and Church teachings and declaring them binding on all true believers—with the threat of eternal damnation to those who hold contradictory opinions. In Roman Catholicism, “the Word of God” encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church’s authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope’s ex cathedra pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing. Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than Scripture.   Sola Scriptura does not only declare that the Bible absolute authority, it also states that Scriptures are sufficient; the Bible is an adequate guide for all matters of faith and conduct. Scripture gives us every truth we need in order to be saved, sanctified, and live for God’s glory. While Roman Catholics reject the Bible as absolute authority, many Evangelicals today, reject the sufficiency of Scriptures. This too is a denial of the sola Scriptura principle.   We have been looking at several areas, particularly in the practices of Protestant Evangelicals, where the sola Scriptura principle has not been applied. If I may use the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, when he was addressing the sin of the Corinthians regarding the Lord’s supper: That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.   That is exactly the state of many churches today who fail to apply he principle of sola Scriptura in their ministries and their lives; many are weak and sick and a number have already died.   Today, I would like to look at one more area where the principle of sola Scriptura, particularly, the sufficiency of Scripture, has been largely abandoned—in counseling.   In the book Introduction to Biblical Counseling, John MacArthur writes this:   Ever since apostolic times, counseling has occurred in the Church as a natural function of corporate spiritual life. After all, the New Testament itself commands believers to “admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14); “encourage one another” (Heb. 3:13, kjv); “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18); “encourage one another, and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11); “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16)… All those instructions apply to rank-and-file church members—not only to some priestly caste of experts. Counseling—particularly counseling that skillfully employs and applies God’s Word—is a necessary duty of Christian life and fellowship… In recent years, however, there has been a strong and very influential movement within the Church attempting to replace biblical counseling in the church body with “Christian psychology”—techniques and wisdom gleaned from secular therapies and dispensed primarily by paid professionals. Those who have championed this movement often sound vaguely biblical. That is, they quote Scripture and often blend theological ideas with the teachings of Freud, Rogers, Jung, or whatever school of secular psychology they follow. But the movement itself is certainly not taking the Church in a biblical direction. It has conditioned Christians to think of counseling as something best left to trained experts. It has opened the door to a whole range of extrabiblical theories and therapies. Indeed, it has left many with the feeling that God’s Word is incomplete, insufficient, unsophisticated, and unable to offer help for people’s deepest emotional and spiritual problems. It has directed millions of Christians seeking spiritual help away from their pastors and fellow believers and into psychological clinics. It has given many the impression that adapting secular methods such as twelve-step recovery plans can be more helpful than spiritual means in weaning people from their sins. In short, it has diminished the Church’s confidence in Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and preaching as means through which the Spirit of God works to change lives.[1]   In the Introduction section of the same book, MacArthur writes:   One textbook on pastoral psychology written in the 1950s summed up the professional therapists’ attitude to pastoral counsel: It is [the pastor’s] duty not to try to enact the role of the psychiatrist, but as quickly as possible, he must refer the sick person to the professional man. Oftentimes he must secure the judgment of the psychiatrist regarding the symptoms which a petitioner displays. Moreover, the clergyman, in such instances, must place himself under the direction of the psychiatrist, in the event that the latter believes his assistance as a religionist is helpful. Psychotherapy and religio-therapy demand consistent, patient treatment, over long periods of time, and the clergyman rarely finds the hours to furnish this. Therefore he must have a specialist as a member of the staff of his church or synagogue, to whom he can refer cases… Too often distressed persons come to the clergyman when they have been unsuccessful in their consultations with the psychiatrist, but it is an astute pastor who immediately turns them back to their psychiatrist. … the psychiatrist must be the mentor and the director of the treatment.4 Too many pastors capitulated to such thinking, and over the past forty year or so, counseling has steadily moved out of the Church and into the clinics.   Let us not forget that the reason for this trend has primarily been the lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. As I read a while ago, many feel “that God’s Word is incomplete, insufficient, unsophisticated, and unable to offer help for people’s deepest emotional and spiritual problems.”  

What is wrong with Psychology?

Christians should regard psychology with caution especially when it begins to authoritatively diagnose and prescribe solutions that undermine the authority of the Bible to address moral and spiritual problems.   MacArthur Introduction to Biblical Counseling From pages 8 and 9   The word psychology literally means “the study of the soul.” True soul study cannot be done by unbelievers. After all, only Christians have the resources for comprehending the nature of the human soul and understanding how it can be transformed. The secular discipline of psychology is based on godless assumptions and evolutionary foundations and is capable of dealing with people only superficially and only on the temporal level. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, was an unbelieving humanist who devised psychology as a substitute for religion. Before Freud, the study of the soul was thought of as a spiritual discipline. In other words, it was inherently associated with religion. Freud’s chief contribution was to define the human soul and the study of human behavior in wholly secular terms. He utterly divorced anthropology (the study of human beings) from the spiritual realm and thus made way for atheistic, humanistic, and rationalistic theories about human behavior. Those fundamentally antibiblical theories became the basis of all modern psychology. Of course, today’s psychologists use hundreds of counseling models and techniques based on a myriad of conflicting theories, so it is impossible to speak of psychotherapy as if it were a unified and consistent science. But the basis of modern psychology can be summarized in several commonly-held ideas that have their roots in early Freudian humanism…
  • Human nature is basically good.
  • People have the answers to their problems inside them.
  • The key to understanding and correcting a person’s attitudes and actions lies somewhere in that person’s past.
  • Individuals’ problems are the result of what someone else has done to them.
  • Human problems can be purely psychological in nature—unrelated to any spiritual or psychological condition.
  • Deep-seated problems can be solved only by professional counselors using therapy.
  • Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit are inadequate and simplistic resources for solving certain types of problems.
  I do not pretend to be an authority on psychology. I am just a high school graduate. But I don’t think that after reading this article from the Microsoft Encarta Digital Encyclopedia that it will take a college level student to be able to make that decision not to put too much trust in psychology. Allow me to read portions from the article on Psychotherapy.   This article was contributed by Peter Aitken, who has impressive credentials which seems quite obvious because of the many letters that come after his name--M.B.Ch. B., M.R.C.G.P., M.R.C. Psych., D.C.H., D.R.C.O.G., Lecturer in Psychosomatic and Liaison Medicine, St. George’s Hospital Medical School.  




Psychotherapy, process of interaction between a therapist and patient aimed at dispelling distress arising through disorders of emotion, thinking, and behaviour.  


Sigmund Freud is generally regarded as the founder of psychotherapy… Freud… first used hypnosis as the means of gaining access to the unconscious [to uncover painful and forgotten memories in his neurotic patients.] By this technique, he not only attempted to help his patients but also collected the data from which he formulated psychoanalytic theory.]   He soon abandoned the technique, however, in favor of free association [method]… Later he placed great value on what could be learnt from transference [method].   Some of Freud’s most gifted followers disagreed with him on important aspects of theory and therapeutic technique and subsequently founded schools of their own.   In the 1950s another group of theorists, later known as behaviourists, became known in the field. They had become disenchanted with the lack of scientific fact and methodological rigour in the research supporting psychoanalytic theory…   The 1960s saw the development of a further therapeutic discipline known as cognitive therapy….   In the late 1960s and the 1970s, a large number of new psychotherapeutic methods were devised and promoted. Many, like the earlier humanistic therapies, were born out of dissatisfaction with psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy…  


Broadly, there are four main groups of psychotherapy widely practiced in the United Kingdom.
  1. Counseling or Supportive Psychotherapy
  2. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
  3. Behavior Therapy
  4. Cognitive Therapy
In addition to individual therapies, the principles of psychotherapy can be applied to groups.
  1. Group Therapy
  2. Family Therapies
  The variety of psychotherapies available and currently practiced is testimony to the uncertainties surrounding exactly how it works, and to the clear need for distressed people to have a means of talking about their problems built into their treatment. (Note: Don’t forget who wrote this: Peter Aitken, a Lecturer in Psychosomatic and Liaison Medicine, St. George’s Hospital Medical School.)   This unreliability of psychotherapeutic methods is confirmed by an interesting incident mentioned in the book, Introduction to Biblical Counseling (pp. 14,15): [Several years ago,] a conference in Phoenix, Arizona brought together the world’s leading experts on psychotherapy for what was billed as the largest meeting ever on the subject. The conference, called “The Evolution of Psychotherapy,” drew seven thousand mental-health experts from all over the world. It was the largest such gathering in history, billed by its organizer as the Woodstock of psychotherapy… One truth came out clearly in the conference: among therapists there is little agreement. There is no unified science of psychotherapy; only a cacophony {unpleasant noise} of clashing theories and therapies. Dr. Joseph Wolpe, a leading pioneer of behavioral therapy, characterized the Phoenix conference as “a Babel of conflicting voices.” [2]   I cannot help but agree with John MacArthur’s conclusion regarding psychology:   Psychology is not a uniform body of scientific knowledge like thermodynamics or organic chemistry. When we speak of psychology, we refer to a complex menagerie of ideas and theories, many of which are contradictory. Psychology has not even proved capable of dealing effectively with the human mind and with mental and emotional processes. Thus it can hardly be regarded as a science… Most advocates of psychology assume that psychology is a true science. But it is not. It is a pseudo-science—the most recent of several human inventions designed to explain, diagnose, and treat behavioral problems without dealing with moral and spiritual issues.  

A Clarification

John MacArthur Are Psychological Techniques Ever Advisable? in Rediscovering Biblical Counseling, pp. 9,10   Does that mean the modern behavioral sciences offer nothing of value in treating emotional or behavioral problems? Don’t medication, shock therapy, group therapy, and other techniques help in some cases? Aren't’ some soul-sicknesses actually medical problems that should be treated by skilled psychiatrists? Certainly, it is reasonable for people to seek medical help for medical problems. We would send someone to the doctor for a broken leg, dysfunctional kidney, tooth cavity, or other physical malady. And it is true that certain kinds of depression actually have physical causes requiring medial treatment. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, best known for his powerful expository preaching ministry, was actually trained as a physician. He pointed out that depression and certain mental illnesses often have causes that are physical rather than spiritual. Pernicious anemia, arteriosclerosis, porphyria, and even gout are examples Lloyd-Jones suggest of physical diseases that can cause dementia or produce depression. It is entirely appropriate—even advisable—for the counselor to advise the counselee suffering from such symptoms to seek medical advice or get a thorough physical examination to rule out such causes. It is also sensible for someone who is alcoholic, drug addicted, learning disabled, traumatized by rape, incest, or severe battering, to seek help in tying to cope with their trauma. Some kinds of therapy or medical treatment can serve to lessen trauma or dependency. In extreme situations medication might be needed to stabilize an otherwise dangerous person. It must be noted that these are relatively rare problems, however, and should not be used as examples to justify the indiscriminate use of secular psychological techniques for essentially spiritual problems. Dealing with the psychological and emotional issues of life in such ways is not sanctification. That is why such techniques are equally effective in modifying behavior in both Christians and non-Christians.  

The Sufficiency of Scripture in Counseling

  John MacArthur (pp. 11,9):   It is sad to note that today, many belittle the traditional solutions that Christian counselors have pointed people to such as Scripture, the Holy Spirit, Christ, prayer and grace. They say that these are pat answers or incomplete solutions for someone struggling with [mental disorders]. In fact, many would have us believe that secular psychology be can help people more effectively than the counselor armed only with spiritual weapons. Scripture is the only reliable manual for true soul-study. It is so comprehensive in the diagnosis and treatment of every spiritual matter that, energized by the Holy Spirit in the believer, it leads to making one like Jesus Christ. This is the process of biblical sanctification. It is the goal of biblical counseling.   What does Scripture claim for itself? It “claim[s] to be the only reliable resource to which we can turn to solve our spiritual problems.” Consider these passages:
  • Ps 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
  • Ps 119:24 Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.
  • Ps 119:98-100 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. 100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.
  • 2Ti 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

An Application

John Babler A Biblical Critique of the DSM IV (The Journal of Biblical Counseling • 1999)   The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, 1994. – more commonly known as DSM-IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association—is the definitive sourcebook for making psychiatric diagnoses. The DSM IV presents diagnostic categories and assessment procedures by which those categories can be accurately assigned. For example, if you are terrified of being abandoned, if your relationships alternate between intense idolatry and intense disappointment, if you throw temper tantrums and behave impulsively, then you “are” a 301.83. You “have” a “borderline personality disorder”; you “are” a “borderline personality.” If you exhibit, say, six or more typical behaviors, emotions, and mental processes over a six-month period, you qualify to receive one big diagnostic label. The label identifies the “disorder” that you have or embody.   What I want to do is to show that what many diagnose as mental disorders, Scripture diagnoses as spiritual disorders. These so-called behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders are directly addressed by the Word of God without attaching a pseudoscientific label. Scripture does not speak about “obsessive compulsive disorder” as a diagnosis, but the Lord does relevantly and directly counsel someone who exhibits each of the behaviors that qualify one for such a label. Each problem has to do with the relationship of a person to God and to other human beings.   John Babler addresses, for example, the so-called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), problem.   Children who tend to be inattentive, distractible, and fidgety have increasingly been given the label ADHD (or the short version, ADD). The DSM IV supplies a list of symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity, and says that six or more of them must have persisted for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level, if ADHD is to be the diagnosis. These symptoms include:
  • failing to pay close attention at school or work
  • having difficulty sustaining attention
  • not listening when spoken to directly
  • not following through on instructions
  • failing to finish schoolwork or duties in the workplace
  • having difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • avoiding or disliking tasks that require sustained mental effort
  • losing things necessary for tasks or activities
  • being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • acting as if driven by a motor
  • talking excessively or impulsively blurting out answers
  • having difficulty waiting one’s turn
  When I hear these “symptoms,” I think of young boys—even of myself! I am very easily distracted when my lawn needs mowing! Almost all these “diagnostic criteria” simply characterize fallen human beings, who need God’s grace to become more attentive, considerate, diligent, loving, and faithful.   A friend of mine received a phone call one day from his son’s second grade teacher. The teacher said the child needed to be evaluated for ADHD, and then enumerated his behaviors. My friend responded, “He’s just a little boy. I’m not excusing his behavior; he needs to be disciplined. But he does not need drugs.” My friend was able to deal with his son’s problem in that way, by being a good, loving parent. Yet the DSM IV encourages people to make diagnoses based on symptoms or behavior, without a foundational basis, and then to prescribe medication based on the fact the medication works to calm people down and focus them. Just because a drug has an effect does not mean it is appropriate—or biblical.   Behavioral sciences and medication can offer a degree of relief or symptom alteration. But true change and healing come only through God and His Word. With just a little work, the counselor can easily find Scripture that deals with each of the above behaviors of ADHD and be an instrument of God’s healing, rather than a purveyor of temporary relief.     Biblical Solutions to so-called mental disorders:  
  1. Understand the nature of man:
  • Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood…”
  • Pr 22:15a “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…”
  failing to pay close attention at school or work having difficulty sustaining attention not listening when spoken to directly not following through on instructions avoiding or disliking tasks that require sustained mental effort being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli talking excessively or impulsively blurting out answers having difficulty waiting one’s turn  
  1. Lovingly and wisely apply the rod of discipline.
  • Pr 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.
  • Pr 29:15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom,   but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.
  1. Regeneration is the lasting solution.
  • Ro 1:16
  • Titus 2:11-14
  • Titus 3:3-6
  1. Father’s discipline
    • Ps 78:3-8
    • Eph 6:4
  1. Prayer
  • Col 1:9-12
  • Col 4:12
  1. Word of God
  • Col 1:28
  • Ps 19:7-11
  1. Abide in Christ
  • John 15:5
  1. Be filled with the Spirit
  • Eph 5:18f
  • Gal 5:16,25
  9 Count yourselves dead to sin
  • Ro 6:11-13
  1. Pastoral ministry (1Th 2:10-12)
[1]MacArthur, J., F., Jr, Mack, W. A., & Master's College, Introduction to Biblical Counseling (Dallas, TX: Word Pub, 1994), page 3. 4 4. Vergilius Ferm, A Dictionary of Pastoral Psychology (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), 208 (emphasis added). [2]MacArthur, J., F., Jr, Mack, W. A., & Master's College. (1997, c1994). Introduction to biblical counseling : Basic guide to the principles and practice of counseling (Electronic ed.) (Page 14). Dallas, TX: Word Pub.