An examination of a Biblical counseling program at an Evangelical Free Church in Reseda, California. This looks at their program and the issues with its “confidentiality” form and asks the question; why would a person choose to go to a non-licensed counselor? This post is about a questionable counseling program in the Los Angeles area.
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.
John 10:14-15 NLT
An introduction of Biblical Counseling at The Bridge Bible Fellowship in September 2011
In EFCA Today magazine in 2011 they discussed the most risky procedures that exist. Could risky counseling practice lead to a lawsuit? We saw that in Matt Boedy’s story in a South Carolina Evangelical Free/Acts 29 church. The second risk listed is unclear policies and procedures for pastoral counseling. In that magazine article it says the following:
Policies vary from state to state regarding “clergy-penitent privilege”—the legal term for the right of a pastor to not disclose confidential information in a court proceeding. The lines can be equally fuzzy as to when someone is required to report child abuse. And do your student-ministry volunteers know what to do when a young person confides about abuse or even suicidal thoughts? Don’t take chances with this; ask an attorney.
In addition, church leaders are wise to put accountability procedures in place—such as counseling rooms with a window—for when a man and a woman are in counseling situations alone, advises Russ McCune, business administrator at The Orchard EFC in Arlington Heights, Ill. Insurance providers are a good resource for developing procedures.
Todays post further illustrates those risks and how they can happen in The Bridge Bible Fellowship in the Los Angeles area of California. Specifically this church is in Reseda and under the influence of John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. But before I get any further lets quickly review the history of this church and leadership of this Evangelical Free Church in the EFCA West District.
The History and Leadership of Bridge Bible Fellowship
The Bridge Bible Fellowship has its roots in two churches that were in the San Fernando Valley. The first church was called First Baptist Reseda, which was also known as the Heart of the Valley Community Church. It was founded in 1942 at the location where The Bridge Bible Fellowship resides. The second church was called Shepherd’s Community Church and was founded in 1984 in Woodland Hills. Shepherd’s Community Church was affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Paul Brown started to serve as the Senior Pastor at Shepherd’s Community Church in 1990. What happened next was very unique and not something I have heard of frequently. In May of 2007 Shepherd’s Community Church was looking for larger property as the church was expanding. Meanwhile Heart of the Valley Community Church was looking for pastoral staff. The leadership of both churches began to meet and considered merging both congregations. In the fall of 2007 the two churches agreed to become one and the first joint worship service was held in the Reseda location (today The Bridge Bible Fellowship) on December 2, 2007. A new name was selected and The Bridge Bible Fellowship affiliated itself with the Evangelical Free Church of America. You can read about the merger in the Los Angeles Daily News here.
The Senior Pastor of The Bridge Bible Fellowship is Paul Brown. Paul graduated from Logos Bible School. He also has a B.A. in History from Southern Oregon State College, and Talbot School of Theology where he obtained a Masters of Divinity. Paul has served in multiple ministry positions over the years to include being the Youth Pastor at Ashland Bible Church, the Campus Pastor at Grace Community Church and Associate Pastor at Heartland Community Church. He then became the Senior Pastor of Shepherd’s Community Church and led the church until the merger of the two churches. In addition Paul also leads Shepherding the Nations which is an international missions agency that is deeply involved in India and Nepal.
John MacArthur, John McNally and Grace Community Church Counseling situation in 1979
John MacArthur has long been a vocal critic of psychology. You can read more about John MacArthur’s views on psychology in an old post Julie Ann Smith wrote called, “Can High-Controlling Pastors Lead Their Members into Depression and Even Suicide?“ In the case of John MacArthur you also have to remember there is a reason to be concerned. Back in 1979 at Grace Community Church outside Los Angeles a pastor who was incompetent and not trained advised a man who was suicidal in house. He was discouraged from seeking outside mental health treatment and that men eventually committed suicide. The parents of Kenneth Nally field a lawsuit that went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. The legal battle between this family and Grace Community Church lasted a decade. You can read more about it in this New York Times article and this Los Angeles Times article.
Biblical Counsel and Consent Form
Lets look at this counseling form below at The Bridge Bible Fellowship. I am going to list a few problems and then I am going to encourage you to read this and comment below. Look at what I say, and challenge me also. These are some of the issues that jumped out at me.
Not Licensed in the State of California
Up front the counselor states that he is not licensed in California. Can I just ask up front…why would a person go to someone who is not licensed? I mean consider… if you had a brain tumor would you want a neurosurgeon who is not licensed to do the surgery? If your car needs to pass a smog test in the State of California would you take it to a place that is not licensed? Would you go to a restaurant for dinner and trust your family to be fed if it is not licensed for operation in the state? So if the issue of licensing is so crucial why would you then go to someone who is not licensed? For me that just makes no sense at all.
Pastor Accompanying Each Session?
For me this raises major red flags in my mind. It screams control and questionable shepherding. I am sure if he could C.J. Mahaney would be smiling over the influence of the shepherding movement which he will be forever linked. What troubles me about this is that a pastor would have that kind of intimate control over your life. If your pastor agrees to that type of counseling you are in a deeply troubled organization. Why would you surrender so much of your life to such a man? If Jesus came to set you free why would you want to become a slave to The Bridge Bible Fellowship? Plus I would also contend that its questionable and sinful for a person to have that much control. People should never have that much control over anything at all, especially since those with authority can’t handle it properly.
Now here is something I want you to catch. “Information disclosed in counseling sessions will be held confidential only as I believe the Bible or the State requires.” Its my understanding that Sovereign Grace Ministries had something similar in their counseling statements. They would state that the information is confidential and to be held in such a fashion. It is a fancy and clever way to give the appearance of confidentiality when it doesn’t even exist. There was no confidentiality in the counseling sessions in Sovereign Grace. The pastor would often use that information and share it and what was shared in confidence would come back around to bite someone. The Bridge Bible Fellowship has a similar program to Sovereign Grace I would suggest. But then consider what else is also mentioned in this consent form. You are also being threatened with church discipline as well but you are being made aware that will happen if you persist in your “sin.” I would like to know what that “sin” is actually in this setting. Is depression a sin? What about anxiety? Is obsessive compulsive disorder a sin? What if you are suicidal and a similar situation develops at The Bridge Bible Fellowship that happened at Grace Community Church in 1979. Can a person be tipped or pushed towards committing suicide when they are struggling with something and then in the “counseling sessions” they are threatened with church discipline? Do you see how dangerous and reckless this “counseling program” actually is?
Does the Bible Have all Knowledge for Life?
I want to be careful in saying this because I love and respect the Bible but I feel strongly that the following question needs to be asked. Does the Bible have all the knowledge and information for life? I would say no. To believe that everything you ever need to know comes from the Bible only not only shows how the Bible has been made an idol, but its going to set you up for disappointment. Finally I would say it reveals that people lack faith when the Bible is made an idol. Here is why I believe that…according to scripture we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God gave us a brain and thinking skills I believe for us to use in life. We downplay that gift of critical thinking skills when he make the Bible an idol. But the Bible is about our sinful nature, fall and redemption. The Bible does not address a lot of issues. The Bible will not tell you what career to pursue. It will not say in 1 Corinthians that you should pursue construction management, law or education. Likewise the Bible will not tell you which school to go to for college. It doesn’t say you should choose the University of California San Diego over the University of Southern California. The Bible does not say how you should expand or remodel your home. Quite simply the Bible is not the end all be all to everything in life. That is the point I am trying to make. Yes it talks about sin. Yes it discusses greed and so many other things, but there is a lot that the Bible does not get into at all. How can it when you think of the time it was written and the culture in which it was created?
Consider These Testimonies on the Counseling Program
The first testimony is from John who writes of his Biblical counseling testimony. I have a few things to say after the testimony but lets look at what John said in march of 2012.
Whenever we had a disagreement of any kind—even an apparently minor issue—anger would almost immediately flare, making resolution almost impossible. So we ignored the issue hoping it would disappear with time. Wishful thinking. Unfortunately, this anger was bilateral and we didn’t know how to deal with it.
When we first saw David, we expected him to start asking us questions about our relationship and our problems. To our great surprise, he seemed uninterested, at least for the entire first session. Didn’t ask us a single question about the topic. Strange indeed! No; he was much more interested in knowing what we thought of the bible and whether we believed its content and its completeness. David’s purpose soon became clear: If you are dealing with a doctor who has complete—and perfect—knowledge of all sicknesses and deceases and knows all the cures that are guaranteed to work, why would you not trust him with your illness? Made perfect sense to both of us, so we were prepared to listen to the solutions and “take the prescription”.
Biblical counseling is not just a rehash of all the psychobabble we had already experienced a few times before through “Christian Counseling”. There were no search into our distant past to discover any possible “cause” to our problems; (right off the bat, we saved maybe one or two years worth of wasted counseling time, traveling through irrelevancy).
We were immediately made aware of the fact that we are adults, and, therefore responsible for our own behaviors (so this is not entirely my mom’s fault?). David led us to specific bible verses that clearly showed the sins in our lives, and other verses that exposed God’s solutions to those sins. As a man, I realized that I was not loving my wife the way God wants me to. This was causing resentment on her part (well deserved, I might add). We were asked to memorize certain verses that were constant reminders of God’s role in our lives and His solutions to our problems. Who can argue with God?
We were also to read a book that dealt with our specific dilemma from a biblical viewpoint. The solutions to our conflicts were not to be found in finding fault with my wife but in my own responsibility towards her, regardless of her response. In other words, behave in a godly manner, regardless of the short term lack of “results”, just because God commands it. God says it, I believe it, that settles it!!
By golly, God really does know what He is doing; wouldn’t you know it? It works; it works! Pretty soon, results start appearing, and we start to notice we have fewer disagreements; and the ones we still have are quickly resolved, plus we both feel closer to each other and there is more love in our house. And all this within a few short weeks, not years worth of expensive and fruitless counseling.
We are both very thankful to the Lord and to David Lee for all the help we have received, and look forward to still growing in our much improved relationship. We highly recommend this counseling to anyone blessed enough to receive it.
John March 2012
So here is what troubles me in this testimony. First of all look at this following two sentences:
If you are dealing with a doctor who has complete—and perfect—knowledge of all sicknesses and deceases and knows all the cures that are guaranteed to work, why would you not trust him with your illness? Made perfect sense to both of us, so we were prepared to listen to the solutions and “take the prescription”.
Is that always the case? If God has knowledge on all illnesses and situations is the source always found in the Bible? What if John had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly thereafter? Should he just have surrendered to God and forsake medical care? Should John have not seen an oncologist? Correct me if I am wrong but how is this different from Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science movement? If John trusted God with his thyroid cancer and he prayed and the cancer spread did that mean John lacks faith in God? That John’s faith in God is not deep or that it cannot “move mountains?” I find statements like above deeply troubling. Now can you imagine if a victim of child sex abuse comes in? She was sexually penetrated by someone much older then herself, she was the victim of the crime and one of the first things the head of this Biblical counseling program asks her is “What sin do you have to confess?” Did the sexual abuse victim bring on her own sexual abuse as a result of sin? Guys, this is sick and twisted material and its deeply troubling that it exists. Now let’s look at the next counseling testimony on The Bridge’s website from Pam in July of 2015.
How are you? Hope all is well with you and Eryn
I have been thinking about writing you a BIG thank you for weeks now. Where to start?… I will tell you my life is good and I am good for what feels like the 1st time in my life. When I started working with you last year I remember you asked to rate my ’life satisfaction’ from 1-10. I think it was a 1… Today I can say I’m consistently about an 8 and it’s not due to my ‘outer life (though that has improved as well) but rather my inner life and by God miraculously changing my heart and renewing my mind.
Consistent being a key word…. Before working with you my life had been filled with MANY lows and a few highs now and then but I was queasy from riding that roller coaster after 40+ years. I had just completed 3 months of intensive outpatient treatment in the ‘mental health sector’ which still lacked what I needed to heal. I needed Jesus and had searched all over in people, places, things and especially false religions and cults.
It feels like I had a surgical procedure that changed the lenses in my eyes and the wiring in my brain and heart. My focus went from ME and seeking self-fulfillment which is what the world and ‘self-help’ tells us to do to walking with Jesus which is when we receive genuine blessings. It doesn’t make sense intellectually and I am quite a thinker.
Somehow you lead me to the Truth, light and freedom from bondage. Today I am still single, currently have a broken foot, live alone in a 2 story which would have thrown me into a deep depression in the past since being on crutches requires me crawling, grunting and a lot of sweat just getting myself ready for work. With a renewed mind and heart I am filled with gratitude that it’s my left foot so I can drive, is a bone so will heal faster and pray God uses this for His glory.
I have a job I enjoy without the chronic stress I had always been under. I used your decision making worksheet to discern the 4 job offers I had. The others ‘seemed’ good on paper but I felt god leading me to this one which didn’t seem logically the best fit. You taught me to trust and make all decisions based on His rule book (Bible) not the worlds…It works and while I don’t intellectually know why I feel immensely blessed. I could go on and on but will close by shouting “Thank you David!!!!!”
May you be deeply blessed as you have blessed me.
So Pam used the Bible in how to make decisions let me ask the following questions.
Does the Bible give advice on deciding to buy a 2015 Honda Accord vs. a 2015 Nissan Altima? Does the Bible tell a person they should attend California State University Northridge over the University of Southern California? Does the Bible tell a person that they should become an accountant for a profession or a public school teacher? Does the Bible explain which contractor you should go with if you are going to remodel your house? The short answer is that it does not do that at all. I find this interesting because Pam talks about how she searched all religions and cults and then consider the program that she got into. I don’t mean to be cruel or difficult but could one say that Pam still is struggling with discernment and critical thinking skills? Plus look at the derogatory way in which she describes the mental health sector. It makes me want to ask the question…do diseases like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc… even exist in her mindset?
As a Christian I believe that the counseling program at The Bridge Bible Fellowship is downright dangerous. This is nothing but fundamentalism, and a program pure and simple under the influence of John MacArthur. I honestly wonder if there have been mental health crisis that have been created or exacerbated because of such a program. Could that help fulfill what the EFCA magazine reveals when it warns about risky situations that exist? Its approach to many serious mental health topics should cause great caution and people should be warned. When the answer is “You’re a sinner…” is that what a rape victim dealing with PTSD or a child who has been abused needs to hear? Does a child’s sin bring about their abuse? Absolutely not and its time we have some hard discussions about this mindset which is questionable. It also makes me wonder if in such a program if people play the two witness rule. As if a child is molested with tow people who can witness it. Sorry but abusers are craft, manipulative and they do not operate in the guidelines that some people like to imagine they do. Lastly this program and church shows the wide diversity in the Evangelical Free Church of America. This reveals the fundamentalist side of the organization. Well that is it for today. As always feel free to leave comments below and let me know what you think. Take care and know that I love you! Since we are talking a little bit about mental health issues and dysfunction I will leave you with a Kelly Clarkson song.