Marital Abandonment

Dr. Ab AbercrombiePensive Woman

Don had been married thirty years to the wife of his youth. Together they raised three children, built two careers, and seemed headed for late-life contentment. Suddenly Don’s wife announced, “I don’t love you. This marriage has been a mistake from the beginning. I want a divorce.”

Janice had been married 19 years when her husband left her without explanation. Within weeks, he abandoned his job, relocated, and refuses to speak to his wife and children. As a stay-at-home mother, she is without financial support and terrified for her future. Her husband has “left the grid” and refuses to respond.

Both couples profess Christ and previously demonstrated evidence of salvation and fruit within their respective homes. Regrettably these stories are far too common within God’s Church, and the Body is facing an onslaught of spousal abandonment. There is increasing need for biblical counsel on this topic and we must examine God’s Word on the matter.

As a biblical counselor I have repeatedly heard that  “abandonment” is biblical grounds for divorce. I have heard it from pastors, leaders, and individuals who have been deserted. But does Scripture support this claim. Jesus said:

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt 5:31-32).

Jesus never wavered on this point. No other reference to an acceptable divorce appears in Scripture. And even the matter of sexual immorality is to first be addressed under the biblical themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and obedience to the admonition that God hates divorce (Mal  2:16).

Often the victim of abandonment will have no choice. The spouse who leaves may initiate a divorce and refuse reconciliation. On this point, the rejected spouse has little recourse. Yet too frequently, the abandonment results in a prolonged separation, with the absent spouse taking no steps toward a permanent ending. What then should be our counsel?

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Me…An Evangelist?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieWoman dazed

Most Biblical Counselors do not define their work as evangelism. We are more familiar, and perhaps more comfortable, with the biblical roles of teaching, encouragement, discipleship, and restoration. We often assume that because a counselee has selected a counselor with a biblical orientation, he/she is already a believer. But beginning with that supposition can lead to ineffective treatment results that carry great eternal ramifications.

While it is certain that none of us can fully know the true spiritual condition of another person’s heart, we must be receptive to what the Holy Spirit reveals when we begin a counseling process. A thorough and ongoing spiritual assessment must be at the foundation of everything a counselor does.

Typically a counselor is consulted at a point of great distress and brokenness. God can, and will use this vulnerability to open the client’s heart to the gospel message. The fact that a non-believer has selected a biblical counselor may be evidence that God is working in that client’s life. Jesus said:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Jn 6:44a).

When broken and tender, the heart of the client is searching for truth and peace that can only come through a personal relationship with Jesus. The Lord uses that pain and suffering to draw us into a situation where the truth can be spoken and received. Since there are no errors or accidents in the timing of God, the counseling session can be His appointed moment. Paul wrote:

…for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION ” (2 Cor 6:2).

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Counseling Unbelievers…

Sad Man Half Face

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

The Bible is fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any method the world has to offer…for believers. But is the same claim applicable to unbelievers? Many in the biblical counseling field think not. For example, Jay Adams and many within the Nouthetic arena contend that unbelievers require “pre-counseling evangelism” before biblical counseling can ensue. (Newheiser, 2006).

But often counseling is initiated before the counselor can assess the spiritual status of the counselee. Other times an individual enters counseling convinced of his/her salvation, yet lacking the capacity to hear and respond to Scripture, due to an unregenerate heart. In situations like these, should the counselor place the counseling on pause to initiate evangelism?

Rather I suggest there are biblical mandates to both restore the fallen (Gal 6:1-2) and evangelize the lost (Matt 28:19-20) which dictate the counselor’s response and no distinction between the two activities exists. In fact, the course and nature of the counseling can only be determined within the counseling setting, where the Word and the Spirit direct the counselor’s assessment of spiritual need.

Without this assessment, the counselor is left to trust the counselee’s representation of spiritual status without biblical examination. This is dangerous because many within the Church bear a false security reinforced by human markers of salvation (i.e. church membership, baptism, confirmation, or experience). Others may be genuinely born-again yet now doubt or discount their salvation due to the presence of sin and its destructive impact in their lives.

Because of this, the first step of effective biblical counseling is the analysis of the assignment: Is the task evangelistic or restorative? Counseling must begin in order to discern this critical truth. Some steps for making this assessment follow:

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A Bitter Heart: The Newest Psychiatric Disorder

Depressed Man

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has once again provided explanation and relief for the ailing psyche. In the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Volume V) the APA has introduced a new psychiatric diagnosis sure to bring justification and absolution to everyone who feels he/she has been unfairly wronged: Post-traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED).

German Psychiatrist Michael Linden, describes PTED as “an emotion encompassing persistent feelings of being let down, insulted, or being a loser, and of being revengeful but helpless” (Quoted in Sensky, 2010). This embitterment is said to arise from “a single exceptional negative life event” (Sensky, 2010).

Please understand Linden is not speaking of veterans of war, abuse victims, or individuals who were severely injured in industrial or auto accidents. No one could debate such matters as traumatic and having impact in a person’s life.

But instead Linden is writing about the unexpected disappointments of life; situations perceived as unfair, unjust, and personally offensive. In other words, the “negative life event” would not universally be considered traumatic…but if the event is perceived as traumatic, the impact is considered the same.

Therefore reality is determined by the emotion and experience of the embittered person. In this determination comes reason and justification to continue in unresolved emotion that corrupts the heart and eventually one’s perspective of life and relationships.

The Bible warns that bitterness, wrath, malice, and unforgiveness are problematic conditions. These matters are much more than emotional states. Given enough time and meditation, they come to defile and distort one’s discernment, conduct, relationships, and conscience. More importantly, they create division from Christ and leave the sufferer with no resource for resolution.

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“It’s Not My Job…”

Dr. Ab Abercrombieshutterstock_137708114

In the Book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote about the importance of sanctification and maturity in the Christian life:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…(Eph 4:14-15).

“As a result” of preaching, teaching, evangelism, and biblical care, the saints are to be unified and equipped with knowledge, maturity, and unity, moving collectively toward the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-13). Therefore the unified, mature, and prepared Body of Christ should be growing in stability, with correct doctrine, not subject to false teaching and deception, and capable of expressing “truth in love” to one another, so that all grow up into the likeness of Christ.

Truth in love is the foundational work of biblical counseling. In its truest application, biblical counseling should occur constantly within the normal day-to-day discourse between believers, as we focus our intent and movement toward the goals of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, this piece of biblical care is typically left to the pastoral staff or trained counselors, and often occurs only when spiritual issues have grown into urgent crises.

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Whatever Became of Sin?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSnake and Apple

In 1973, the world-renowned psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled: Whatever Became of Sin? In his book the doctor projected the day would come when sin would no longer be an element of the human vernacular. He speculated that the explanation of sin and wrongdoing would be replaced by rationalizations excusing individual accountability.

Menninger predicted the term sin would be replaced with words like illness, disorder, dysfunction, syndrome, etc. The human condition would be excused as a product of biochemistry, environment, experience, and trauma. He projected that even crime would go unpunished as criminal activity would be justified and minimized as the result of some medical abnormality for which one could not be held responsible.

According to Menninger’s prognostication, the day was approaching when practically everyone would be considered sick and their conduct pardonable. No longer would there be any liability for human error, choice, and willful conduct. Everyone would be innocent, vindicated through biology, psychiatry, and humanistic reasoning.

Aren’t we just about there? The good doctor was a pretty good prophet!

Humanism has become the dominant theology of our day, embraced increasingly throughout society and regrettably, in the Church. Humanism teaches that everything is relative and there are no absolutes. As a result there can be no sin because there are no fixed guidelines of morality. Under this doctrine, man is considered good and deserving of everything it he wants.

Furthermore, humanism assumes there is no God. Man is his own sovereign ruler; wise, competent, and capable of making decisions that are best for him. Salvation then is the pleasure and gratification of the human experience. Humanism is individually focused without regard to others and it seeks immediate gain without consideration of its long-term or eternal impact.

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Suicide In The Church Part II: Why Do We Believe What We Believe…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieBible 10 Commandments

My first article on suicide in the Church entitled, “A Biblical Response To Mental Illness and Suicide In The Church: What Should We Conclude…” garnered a lot of attention and I am grateful for your response and comments. To say that this is a controversial issue is a great understatement, as readers have expressed very strong opinions on the matter.

Beth wrote:

I agree that lots of mental illness is the result of guilt, unconfessed sin, rebellion, bitterness, anger, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that there are not true physiological reasons behind mental illness. We must be careful not to blanket all mental illness in either one camp or the other. The very reason some Christians have not sought medical help is because of the belief that if they were ‘Christian’ enough, they shouldn’t really have these problems. That is just not true. As I said, there are many factors contributing to mental illness and unless you have personally suffered with it, you cannot understand.

DeDe countered:

We must FIRST seek our help in the Lord! The danger is “explaining away” sin. Again, not all depression is rooted in sin, but often times it is simply falling into discouragement – a heart and mind that has dropped its guard, fallen away from fixing on Truth.” That is a danger.

Denise commented:

I believe that some mental problems can and are Biblical. BUT there IS messed up Chemicals in the brain. I am a strong Christian who knows the Word. I KNOW sometimes I am depressed cause I have disobeyed, but then I repent and am better. BUT there are times when I am so depressed for NO GOOD REASON. AND I get suicidal at times. My medicines have helped me tremendously.

And finally, Brian had this to say:

Thank you for writing so clearly and concisely. I was deeply perturbed when I read the articles you are responding to. I am deeply grieved by the Warren’s devastating loss and then was angry over the ill informed articles I also read and to which you refer to. Men of such influence need to think more biblically before they put pen to paper and not be swayed by pop culture.

Many others answered the article with resounding support and others with harsh criticism. After reviewing the responses I was left with one burning question: Why do we (Christians) believe what we believe?

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Relief in the Midst of Remedy

By: Pastor Larry Creamer I recently spoke at the Lawrence Christian Fellowship on the Lawrence University campus in Appleton, Wisconsin.  The students in the fellowship have a theme of service this year and gave me the assignment of speaking from Exodus 16. The chapter gives the account of the Israelites a month and a half … Read More

Ethics in Ministry and Counseling

By: Dr. David Penley, Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and BCI Faculty Member. The link below will take you to a recent Webinar presented by Dr. Penley on the topic of Ministerial Ethics. It is a presentation relevant to all areas of ministry and specifically to the ministry of biblical counseling. … Read More

The Greater Offense

By: Ab Abercrombie, Ph.D.Stormy skys

Mirriam-Webster defines an offense as: “An act of stumbling; a cause or occasion of sin; and/or something that outrages the moral or physical senses.” Most married couples seeking the support of a biblical counselor will report any number of such offenses. Their focus however is horizontal in its orientation. In other words, the husband and wife can readily report when, where, and how they have offended each other; but most fail to recognize the offense they have committed against God. Scripture tells us that this is the greater offense and that we must address ourselves vertically first, if we are to become the husband or wife we are directed to be.

Within the construct of the relational gospel, sin toward God has been largely replaced with the concept of error and failure between people. We are much more focused upon the needs of one another, than we are directed toward sanctification and holy conduct before God. As a result, our relational perspective is one of exchanging behaviors that fulfill our mates, instead of developing a connected and abiding relationship through Christ that builds and sustains godly character, integrity, and consistency under the marital covenant.

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