Thanks for your recent articles on elders.
Knowledge of Scripture is essential, but without wisdom and love it could be ineffective, harmful, or even dangerous.
Unless a man loves God, loves the people of God, and has a heart to serve them, he will never be a good elder. He must serve in love (Gal 5:13). He must, with all of us, have what Paul desired for the Ephesians: “strength in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts.” An elder should be gentle and kind, humble and learning, trustworthy, friendly, a man of prayer. Read I Corinthians 13 with the words “If I [as an elder]…have all faith…but have not love….”
In your second article you said you would not “trust…anyone who was not (knowledgeable in Scripture and Reformed creeds)” and in your first article you used the tired term ‘worldly psychologist.’ If an elder had to counsel a female rape victim or one of incest or marital abuse, I would think his primary goal would be to mourn with her and comfort her from Scripture, helping her seek justice. A good Christian psychologist, Reformed or not, will work within her faith framework to help her heal, and understand and process trauma. A good elder is not trained in this area of counsel, nor need he be. Thankfully, we do have excellent resources in Christian counselors; wisdom is knowing when to employ people with the compassionate, God-given skills of Christian counseling. Elders don’t have the time to do this kind of counseling. Their job is to convey what God says to His people about truth, about love, and to uphold them spiritually.
Love is the main qualification of an elder. An elder without love is like a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal—an unprofitable, jangling noise.
Mrs. Noorman’s letter makes some important points, but is not really a response to my articles, which were on the training of elders. Her interest is to remind us that elders must love God and love the people of God. Indeed, without love, an elder cannot and may not serve Christ. Elders must pray for loving hearts; the people of God must elect men who manifest love. But the editorials were speaking of those areas in which elders can receive training. Primarily, this is in the knowledge of the Reformed faith, of Reformed church government, and of counseling.
A few other things should be said about the letter, though. First, it is not true that elders are not trained, nor called, nor have the time, to help wounded women “heal” or “process trauma.” They are, and do. Elders may not have skills to help her in all the ways she needs; in which case, the elders look for others (preferably Reformed Christians) with specialized skills in these areas. But an elder is called, trained, and must take the time, to help wounded women heal and process trauma. This is exactly what Scripture mandates elders and pastors to do. It will be a grievous day when Protestant Reformed elders simply give over their wounded women to counselors outside the church, with the explanation that they have neither time, skills, nor calling to it. That will be the loss of love.
Second, Mrs. Noorman may be thankful if there are “excellent resources in Christian counselors” where she lives. Pastors in her area would benefit from a list of the names. If it is true for her, can the same be said in Belfast and Limerick, Alberta and Ontario, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Washington, etc.?
Third, the experience of many Reformed pastors with alleged “Christian resources” often is very disappointing. I know of women who testify that counseling from the “Christian” counselors was in fact contrary to Scripture. One said that she did not even realize it until some years later, damage having been already done by bad counsel. Over 35 years a minister in West Michigan, I have had more than enough experience with Christian counselors to know that some of them give very poor advice. Using “Christian resources” must be done with greatest caution, one of which (after you have found one based on good referrals) is to have the elder or pastor know just what counsel is being given, so that it can be tested with Scripture. And supplemented with Scripture, for many do not explain Scripture and pray.
Fourth, the phrase “worldly psychologists” is criticized as a “tired term.” Reformed Christians should tire of that term at the same time they weary of referring to Arminians as false teachers. There is as much damage done by worldly psychologists as by Arminian preachers. In the extreme case in which elders, pastor, or parent would recommend one of God’s sheep to use a non-Christian counselor for a serious emotional or mental problem, he should stay as close as possible to that sheep, to filter out the chaff that will be mixed in the kernels of good advice that may be given. This has always been my counsel to God’s troubled people, and it is my earnest counsel to elders today who ask.
In the end, may God give to the churches qualified elders who love the sheep, are wise, and are trained in all the areas they can be. Also in the calling to “be assistant with their good counsel and advice to the ministers of the Word, yea, also to serve all Christians with advice and consolation” (Form for Ordination of Elders).
Prof. B. Gritters