[image: Faded Glory, 2013, JA Van Devender]
Luke 10:8–9 (NKJV)
8 Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. 9 And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
An interesting article in today's NYT (See HERE)
It is a generally commendatory piece on Pastor Rick Warren's (of Purpose Driven Church fame) efforts to equip and organize churches to deal with mental illness.
Warren says: "We are all a little bit mentally ill." That might be an understatement but it is on the right track. The problem of sin is an issue of the will that has its focus in the mind and heart and we all deal with that. But the reporter in this article, somewhat to her surprise, says that many street folks with mental illness find that the accepting and worshiping community is a more important support to them than the help they receive from psychiatric care. They may, for very practical reasons, not travel to get to medical help but they cling to the church. In a sample of 90 women, she found that only one in four said they "liked psychiatric services" but fully half said they had a church and they went to it at least twice a month. Supporting that she referenced a recent study that offered the very cautious observation that "community care" for schizophrenics produced "modestly better outcomes" than care in a psychiatric facility.
Christians should not be surprised at this observation nor, frankly, should those outside the church. Years ago, a Research Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois concluded that treating people labeled "neurotic, psychoneurotic, and psychotic" as responsible moral human beings who could take responsibility for their lives and participate in human society, especially one with supportive institutions, was key to their recovery. He (a non-Christian humanist) went so far as to publish a book called "The Crisis In Psychiatry and Religion" in which he challenged the entire field of psychiatry and boldly proclaimed that the "medical model" for treating psychiatric problems, especially Freudian approaches, were a "failure." Another man, Jay Adams, studied under Mowrer when he did this work and came to the conclusion that the Church of Jesus Christ was, or should have been, better equipped to deal with much of what passes as "mental illness" and in so doing, should consider itself, "Competent to Counsel" (the name of the book from which the details above are referenced and quoted). Adam's started a movement called "Nouthetic Counseling" which has evolved substantially from his pioneering work and is now more commonly called "Biblical Counseling". Lest anyone should get the wrong idea, this counseling does not consist in showering Biblical platitudes on a person... rather it seeks to awaken in an individual a self-understanding that provides answers and discipline by which a more integrated and responsible life can be built.
There is no question that in the years since Adam's laid the foundation, hundreds and thousands of people have been helped. The Christian Counseling Education Foundation in Philadelphia has trained and equipped counselors and therapists for years. The movement now is far more nuanced and subtle that Adam's originally promoted and some of his admittedly hard-edged observations and rhetoric have been softened. Most Biblical counselors understand that there is a place for medication in the treatment of some mental disorders and do in fact embrace and adopt some of the secular methods (but not the underlying moral and anthropological presuppositions) in the wider field.
But the bottom line of all this is entirely consistent with what Rick Warren is trying to do and what the writer of the NYT's article observed. Jesus established His Church to be a "healing community." It is not only through the Evangelistic message that the Kingdom is advanced. Rather it is through the "good works" done in His name, backed up by the witness of a caring community which furnishes evidence that another life is possible other than that despair found in the wider world, which then forms the forum from which the Evangelistic message is proclaimed.
Yesterday was Good Friday... tomorrow is Easter. Tomorrow we celebrate the man who died on the first Good Friday and rose from the dead on the first Easter. This man is described in Scriptures as "He who comes with healing in His wings..."... healing.... repairs for the human condition... the restoring of nobility to depraved creatures. This is inherent in His message.
Christians ought to be taking the lead in furnishing exactly what this article illustratess. We ought to have (statistically) the reputation of stability, encouragement and hope for people who have fallen prey to the pressures of a dog-eat-dog social order. We ought to be the place where people who don't smell all that great, act a bit strange, and are used to not looking people in the eye, find acceptance, kindness, the offer of friendship, and a disciplined strategy for extending help. The surface issues must always be addressed and many seek only hand-outs. But some, as this article demonstrates, see the hope represented by the church, as the only place they can have a "friend."
That's a place to start... the first step in what is often a very long journey... that can be trying for those who help as well as those who receive it. But in the end, it is what Jesus commands and we dare not hide behind some false idea that the Church exists only to talk about spiritual things and that dealing with physical issues is going beyond its mandate.
That's not how Jesus worked... and neither is it how He expects His people to follow.
I have not always agreed with Rick Warren. My heart goes out to him for the loss of his son. But in this general approach we are in fundamental agreement. I hope that the entire Church of Jesus Christ might take note and learn.