By Fr. W. Joseph Boyd

Roman Catholics have increasingly accepted an unnecessary and hurtful doctrine of papal centrality, primacy, infallibility and anti-conciliarism since the Great Schism. Based on these errors, which were dogmatized at Vatican I’s proclamation of papal infallibility, the Roman Catholics have become trapped with an inaccurate paradigm of God’s grace flowing only through the person of the Pope. This is a problem, and one that I hope we can help people see through exposure to the Ancient Councils, Fathers and Scriptures.

Anglicans, too, have compromised the Apostolic Tradition by allowing the foibles and tendencies of our contemporary political correctness to undermine the rock-solid teachings of the Ancient Church in areas of sexuality, priesthood, divorce and remarriage, and the absolutely essential and non-negotiable dogma of the Sacraments. Some Anglicans have become substantially protestantized, including bishops, and have turned away from faithful teachings because of itching ears and a desire to “be on the right side of history”, compromising God’s unchanging truth for relevancy and status.

Orthodox strive to be doctrinally faithful whilst being politically unfaithful to Christ’s Command for Evangelism and Servanthood. That they have moved to a power paradigm, the princely management style of the Byzantine State, rather than keeping their eyes on pastoral service and the essential capacity of evangelism in the Church as being of equal importance to sound doctrine and right pravtice. They will only do the Great Commission when they have territories carved out, not realizing that cultures only convert and become territories after the Good News of the Apostolic Gospel has been properly, humbly, self-sacrificingly shared.

It is our job to speak to all three of these errors, in Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, and call Apostolic Christians back to the fullness of the Faith, once and for all delivered to the Saints. With right focus on the Fathers and the Early Church, these three groups must return to the order, sacramental unity, doctrinal clarity and prophetic role of the Early Church – they will all, by God’s grace, be reunited in one, orthodox, catholic, apostolic and Holy Church. God will use persecution, postmodernism, dechristianization and secularism as the fire through which our political dross will burn away and we will be melded and molded into a more unified likeness of Christ. We are called to this by Christ Himself, Who is the Head of the Church. He prayed that we might be one, “even as we are one.” This work must never stop, and must only be eclipsed by the pressing needs for worldwide evangelism.

This “ground up” evangelism mentality is the witness of the Early Church and the foundational strata of conversion in every Christian culture and country. Conversion beat the Roman Empire and Constantine became a Christian out of political necessity – Christianity doesn’t work well from “top down.”



By Fr. W. Joseph Boyd

The Theological Meaning of the Pastoral Ministry

But the aim of the (priestly, as opposed to medical) art is to provide the soul with wings to rescue it from the world, and to present it to God. It consists in preserving the image of God in man, if it exists; in strengthening it, if it is in danger; in restoring it, if it has been lost. Its end is to make Christ dwelling the heart through the Spirit, and, in short, to make a god sharing heavenly bliss out of him who belongs to the heavenly hosts.[1]

            The Church is, as a reflection and continuation of the ministry of its Lord, a divine-human institution, meshed as it is between the created and uncreated, exposing man to both the best and the worst of human experience. The whole purpose, then, of this economy is the reception of life, a “modus vivendi” that allows for the survival of the human race, the divine-human faith, and a continued experience of the presence and transformative energies of God – a renewed society that is the reflection of Light of the World, warmed by the presence of God’s life-giving and creating energies. Thus, human flourishing and abundance of life is the characteristic of the Church’s situation. Flourishing requires nurture, and this is what pastoral ministry is – the care of the divine economy of God’s grace, manifest in human society, for the protection, building up and blossoming of the created would in the faith, hope, love and light of the uncreated presence who is which us, God with us, the Incarnate Lord, Our Savior Jesus Christ!

            At the center of the Church’s worldview is the profound realization of the implications of being created. “For the [Catholic], the idea of creation implies a duality of existence: God and creature, who is brought into that existence by a long freedom, pure and absolute, “ex mera libertate”. The unchanging still point which God is, does not mean that He is uninvolved in human lives; nothing could be more unorthodox that such a teaching. After all, He has “pitched His tent among us,” and thus is, at once, always with us, and always coming to us. The still point of this synthesis is God’s nature or essences (ousia), which is in no way man’s nature or essence. What man shares is God’s energy (energia), in which God has given Himself from the moment He breather life into the dust. But there is – and this is crucial for understanding the synthesis of human existence – a difference between God’s essence and energy. It is the energy which is ours to have – and it always comes “ad extra.” Creation has other implications vis-a-vis this synthesis. God calls all creation “out of nothing” (ex ouk onton) to be a new creation, which becomes the bear and carrier of His very image or idea (His icon), and yet without ever being existentially identified with it, the result being precisely a confusion in the order of that synthesis. A human cannot merely say of himself, “I am that I am” – that is, that one exists by some “right of nature.” In short, Eastern theology will say that we do not exist by some sort of intrinsic cause or nature of our own, but solely by the grace of the Causer.”[2]

            The Church is the imprint of the Kingdom in the world, like the impressions of an invisible hand upon the sand. While the Kingdom is within the Church, not everything that calls itself Church is within the Kingdom. Its unity and duality is a mystery, reflected in Christ’s parable of the field, strewn with wheat and tares. The discernment needed for the pastor is to walk in this field, tending it until the harvest, without the apostolic compulsion that received Christ’s rebuke, attempting to “uproot the wheat with the tares”. The Church is not the Kingdom fully realized. The Church is processing into the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is manifesting in the Church, but one is still fallible, changeable, striving, struggling, continuously moving. The other is a heavenly reality, a fully-realized promise, the true state of a universe held up by a ontological connection to its Maker. The Kingdom is Christ’s reign, accomplished through His Work, now hidden, present within believers, and fully revealed at the Second Coming. The problems of canon and law that we will look at later in this paper come from a misperception that equates the Church with the Kingdom – and thus ventures to believe that the Church is already perfect, already static, already fully realized. Those who believe this cannot be pastoral, because the shepherd’s role is to guide the sheep as they move from pasture to pasture, from the fold to the water, and from the water to the green grass. Those who think of the pastor as a guardian in a fortress would have the sheep remain in one place and die without food or water.

            The Church is transformed by the life of Christ in motion, in the obedient practice of that which was given by Christ – this liturgical manifestation of Christ’s commandments conform our bodies, our physical reality, to the patterns of Christ’s energy, expressed through the Holy Spirit. This is the goal of the Church as a “being-restored” Creation, the transformation of the world by God’s Life, expressed through obedience to His ordinances.

            In “The Symbol of the Kingdom”, Fr. Alexander Schmemann shows how these sacraments function as “symbol”, not standing for absence, but bringing an eternal state of heavenly truth together with our temporal space, time and material substance. This view demonstrates how Christ unites eternal reality with our earthly practice in the Life of the Church, which enabling us to unite two realities, and both picture and participate in the Work that Christ has accomplished “Once and For All”.

            His most moving and profound passage states, “…The Kingdom of God is the content of the Christian faith – the goal, the meaning and the content of Christian life. It is the knowledge of God, love for Him, unity with Him, and life in Him. The Kingdom of God is the unity with God as the source of all life, indeed as life itself. It is life eternal: ‘And this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God…’ (John 17:3). It is for this eternal life in the fulness of love, unity, and knowledge that man was created: ‘In Him was life and the life was the light of man’ (John 1:4). But man lost this in the fall, and by man’s sin, evil, suffering, and death came to reign in the world. The ‘prince of this world’ came to reign; the world rejected its God and King. but God did not reject the world. ‘He did not cease to do all things until He had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with His Kingdom which is to come’ (Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

            “And now, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk 1:15). The only begotten Son of God became the Son of Man in order to proclaim and to give to man forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and new life. By his death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead He has come to reign. Christ reigns, and everyone who believes in Him and is born again of water and the Spirit belongs to His Kingdom and has Him within himself. ‘Christ is the Lord.’ This is the most ancient Christian confession of faith, and for three centuries the world, in the form of the Roman Empire, persecuted Christians who spoke these words for their refusal to recognize anyone on earth as Lord except the One Lord and One King.”

            Fr. Alexander brings his thesis home with a final observation. “The Kingdom of Christ is accepted by faith and is hidden ‘within us.’ The King Himself came in the form of a servant and reigned only through the Cross. There are no external signs of this Kingdom on earth. It is the Kingdom of ‘the world to come,’ and thus only in the glory of His Second Coming will all people recognize the true King of the world. But for those who believed in and accepted it, the Kingdom is already here and now, more obvious than any of the ‘realities’ surrounding us. ‘The Lord has come, the Lord is coming, the Lord will come again…’ This triune meaning of the Aramaic exclamation ‘Maranatha!’ contains the whole of the Christian’s victorious faith, against which all persecutions have proven impotent.”[3]

            After Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s evangelistic vision of the enfleshment of the Gospel in the Church, Fr. John Meyendorff undertakes the process, and shows how the element of time in the life of the Church centers on the time of Christ’s Passion, the time commemorated during Holy Week, typified in Holy Saturday and Christ’s victory over death. “The incarnation itself is a story, a continuum, a process. In becoming man, the Son of God does not assume an abstract humanity, but becomes a human individual, Jesus of Nazarath, who was born as a child, “grew in wisdom and statute,” and lived to maturity in human life. Eventually, He met with the hostility of various religious and political groups in the society in which He lived, was crucified and died on the cross, but rose from the dead on the third day. His death and resurrection – the facts that constitute the very foundation of the Christian faith – were events occurring in time.”[4]

The Question of Pastoring and Power

            The morality of violence may seem like a topic outside the consideration of the pastoral ministry – a man of the cloth being a man of peace – but, this is not necessarily true, because violence is a form of coercion, and most pastors are daily faced with the edges of a moral paradox – “How far can I exert influence before it becomes coercive and begins to undermine the autonomy of the individual and the autonomous family unit?” Priests who do not ask themselves this question are almost always manipulative and turn the pastoral ministry of servanthood into the manipulative, self-exulting puppetry of the cult. This is especially easy in Orthodoxy, where the reverence for tradition and the multitude of mysterious and decontextualized forms lends an air of magic and mystery – leading aspiring cult leaders to “serve” the Church like a wizard or magician, instead of like Christ with His loins girt and a towel as His priestly stole.

            In “The Morality of War”, Stanley Harakas offers a complex commentary on the questions that the Church did and did not answer about power. This goes to the heart of the question on the meaning of the Pauline “minister of God for good, not bearing the sword in vain” idea, a paradox at the center of the modalities of the Church’s incarnation in society. There is a good argument for rejecting offensive violence from the Church’s Tradition, but allowing defensive actions for the protection of moral good. St. Nikodemos’ “Rudder” calls for complete abstinence from coercion and power on the part of those ordained to serve the Gospel, but allows for those Christians who serve in the military and the government to fulfill their role as “avengers of wrath upon those who practice evil”, per St. Paul’s admonition in Romans 13. This is a more complex, gradient approach to the realities of the Christian interface with the fallen world than either the “Just War” or the “Christian Pacifism” stance. A logical or consistent answer does not exists – both the Christian civilizationalists and the Christian monastic pacifists have bitter pills to swallow. Because the Church Catholic does not teach the “overly-simplified” Protestant view of “Sola Scriptura” as self-interpretive hermeneutic, we know the answers cannot be textually determined, but must be left as antimonies through which the Holy Spirit freely leads the Church.

            There is, however, the question of what Christians are to do with power once they have it, the “Constantinian Question”, and this leads us into the process of discerning what actions best reflect Christian truth. This is the thought process that must drive the pastor as “father”, the “economos” of the House of God in his place. The iconic analogy of “Church as Economy” was the primary source of theological inspiration in the 3rd century amongst the Cappadocian Fathers’ writing on the pastoral role. The priest was, at his best, a “Chief Spiritual Economic Officer”. In the process of embracing this vision, Plato’s Republic gave way to St. Augustine’s Civitas Dei, and the Catholic Church began to picture the plan of salvation as an economic system in which the Church played a vital, managerial role.

            As both Harakas and Boojamra both show, the Church did not eradicate coercion, slavery or violence and neither did the Holy Scriptures. While acknowledging the brotherhood of all men and the universal likeness of God, the canons of the Church never undermined the unequal social order or upended the Roman caste system. The argument against a Christian taking power or fighting wars, such as made by the Russian monastic “Non-Possessors”, neglects social and moral responsibility in predominantly Christian societies or in situations where the powerful or talented convert in a position of responsibility. These questions and contradictions go to the heart of the incarnational paradigm and are challenging because we can only maintain then antimony, “building a wall around the mystery”, rather than solving the contradiction through the application of Aristotelian principles. The Eastern position, being revealed as it is by an illogical juxtaposition of opposites in a “God-Man”, can never be asked to solve the problem. If one position takes precedents up and against the other, you end up with a completely “divine” and idealistic position of cultural “Monophysitism” or, if denying the ability of social order to channel God’s grace in the midst of imperfections, a position like that of a cultural “Historical Jesus” – a human myth completely devoid of reality. In the end, there must be a personal response that allows for the position of the person in society to fulfill their moral obligations.[5]

The Solution to the Problem of Pastoring

            Problems of pastoral theology must be addressed with an understanding of the dynamic tension that must be maintained between theology and practice, manifested in the motives of apologetics, teaching and practical application of truth to life and the world. Theology serves these pastoral goals, goals that God Himself and established and showed to be His primary concern through the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Practice must not be minimized to clinical categories, to therapy, or to personal experience, but encompass all factors of the Church’s Life – from the worship of the Liturgy to the private counsels of confession. It must encompass all of the theological applications to human life and is built upon discernment and perception of consciousness, the fundamental platform upon which all other sensibilities and thought processes run.[6] This is achieved through “Paradigm Coherence”, a “Truthful Presence” and “Theological Nerve”, which is “the courage to turn human situations into a theological task”.[7] Above all, the pastoral ministry requires integrity, which can only be found in a truthful estimation of one’s own struggles and sinful tendencies. This brutal honesty is a rarity, is difficult to find and maintain, and is the opposite of the “pastoral pathology” of those who wish to be respected through “supernatural means”, undercutting all reasons for pastoral ministry outside of those which Christ’s Incarnation demonstrates – Love, humility and a commitment to serve, “though the more I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Corinthians 12:15)

[1] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, in Philip Schaff’s “Niceane and Post-Nicene Fathers”, Series 2, Vol. VII, Translated by H. A. Wace, pg 209

[2] Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen, “Orthodox Synthesis”, SVS Press, 1981, pgs 13-14

[3] Fr. Dr. Alexander Schmemann in “Orthodox Synthesis”, Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen, Ed., SVS Press, 1981, pgs 39-41

[4] Fr. Dr. John Meyendorff in Ibid, pg 51

[5] Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen, Ed., “Orthodox Synthesis”, SVS Press, 1981, pgs 80-81, 189-209

[6] Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen, Ed., “Orthodox Synthesis”, SVS Press, 1981, pg 100

[7] Ibid, pg 101

Counseling.jpgThoughts after reading Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen’s work on Pastoral Counseling

By Fr. W. Joseph Boyd

         The process of eldership, of Christian Counseling, has been rooted in the tradition of the Church, and is a charismatic blessing as important as the Apostolic Succession (Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen, “Inner Way”, 2000, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, pg xi). It, however, flows directly from the Holy Spirit to those whom follow His calling. Unlike Apostolic Succession, which often becomes compromised through greed, clouded by state politics, or abused through a pharisaical knowledge of canon law, the gift of Pastoring/Eldership is confirmed by good works, healing and spiritual discernment. It is an extension of the Great Commission and is an evangelical endeavor, bringing the message of the Gospel into the hidden corners of the heart. It conforms to the basic human need to know and be known, but with the added purpose of living life towards Christ, by His example, words and actions, as handed to us by the Scriptures and expounded and interpreted in every generation by Christ. The paradigms for spiritual discipleship are found at the core of the human psyche, present in the filial relationships of mother and father with daughter and son. This relationships are central to who we are, how we think, and the process of acquiring language, thoughts, skills and survival in the world around us. It taps into the most basic attributes of our consciousness – to know and be known.

         Unfortunately, most of us do not grow up with saintly family, like the Cappadocian brothers, Sts Basil and Gregory, grew up with St. Macrina the Elder; and so godly habits are not instilled in us from childhood. Thus, spiritual hygiene and good “exercise” require a “coach” later in life to bring us up to par. We require continual adult training in our spiritual sensibilities in order to continue the path of spiritual disciplines that was snuffed out by wrong influence, worldly education and our own inability to resist temptation. As Christ discipled his Apostles, giving them assignments, rebuking, teaching and making them accountable to one another, so the Christian pastors of history have always realized that their special ministry, outside of the sacramental works of Baptism and the Eucharist, are intensely personal and counseling related, helping their followers to understand, internalize, practice and maintain the teachings of Christ. Some are “more called than others”, and this seems to be especially true for the ascetics, who, after years of struggling with the passions and truly coming to understand their own weakness, frailty and dependence upon God for life, were given a special ministry amongst the people as an “Abba”, a spiritual father and physician. It is not true, however, to assume that only ascetics can offer effective counseling, as recent years have confirmed over and over that it was probably the monks’ removal from the life of the village and the assurance of anonymity and integrity that brought the common people to the desserts, mountains and forests of the Staret’s Skete. Instead, we should remember that, Scripturally and historically, as James 5:14 says – “Let [the sick] call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…” so that “Whatever sins you bind upon earth are bound in heaven, and whatever sins you loose on earth are loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) Regardless of its form, the goal has always been, as it was for St. Paul, exercise of spiritual gifts within the Church “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:13 KJV)

         Spiritual direction is dangerous and painful. It quickly “fragments” the directee’s identity and re-orients his relationships. It is, like fasting, a form of “voluntary death” and can never be coerced or even “expected”. It is the call to pick up one’s cross and follow Christ. It is akin to “composting”, through a process of stirring up that which is rotten and discarded, so that God can create the fertile soil of that which is new and usable. (Ibid, pg 61) The process of spiritual direction often creates the conditions for a “break-down”, a failure, a loss, and only in the continued application of good council and right practice can the individual become something better for God’s use through it. As this break-down occurs, the biggest challenge will be to keep an open heart and a resolute mind in the face of the suffering that such a situation causes. Here, Job is a perfect example, because he was willing to suffer, even as God was trying him and making him into a better vessel for his glory. (Ibid, pg 63) Here it is important to persevere and not to lose heart, because this death to self and disappointment is absolutely necessary for the transformation of new life only comes through embracing these difficulties. To be able to push through this barrier, there must be an understanding of what our covenant with God is all about.

         The spiritual director is a “story mirror”, helping the story-teller, the directee, to contextualize and re-tell the story in a way that is spiritually beneficial. The goal of spiritual counsel is wholly and fully to be our best selves, to find our “τέλος”, to be complete, “full-furnished” and able to do the work of the ministry. The root of “Wholeness” and “Holiness” is the Greek word, “ὅλος”, which means unity, togetherness, communion. Spiritual “blocks” (Scripture calls them “stumbling blocks”, or canonically “impediments”) arise from within and without: the “Inner” due to inner error, negativity, anger and reaction, hidden sin, unrevealed thoughts; the “outer” due to abuse, broken relationships, lack of education, etc. To remove these blocks is to restore the original health, the natural knowledge of the conscience. (Ibid, pg 9)

         To enable communication and understand where the problems lie, one must be able to “appropriate”, to change to fit the situation, and understand where people are in their spiritual life. This is the incarnational principle. (Ibid, pg 11) There are three modes through which the ordained clergy minister reconciliation and growth to their people –

  1. Liturgy – Acting “In Persona Christi” within the congregation, gives the pastor the social leadership and credibility necessary to initiate the painful work of counseling. By “re-presenting” Christ to the people, he can establish a relationship individually with those around him that reflect the same Presence of Christ.
  2. Preaching – The application of God’s Word to our contemporary cultural context and our personal lives is absolutely necessary to convict of sin and initiate the work of repentance. In Scripture we see that the preaching of the “Law”, the revelation of God’s holiness and of His call to all men to repent and come to a knowledge of the Truth, was the prerogative of Prophets and Apostles, and is the preaching ministry that pastors are called to administer in the “Liturgy of the Word.”
  3. Direction – A relationship in which the pastor witnesses God’s love and goodness, while the pastored confesses their struggles and sins, witnessing of their love for God and their desire to be healed. They both “confess” together, each baring witness to God’s grace in the other. This is called the “Prophetic Office” (Ibid, pg 13) and is a service, a diaconate, and requires that it be completely submitted to God’s will. “The universal must be made specific, This is a very hard task today, but most crucial to success…” (Ibid, pg 13) Because it is a form of voluntary slavery, the diaconate of confession within the Church is very taxing work, and is not to be taken up lightly.

         There is a “Non-Sacramental” work of repentance, which is being conscious of sin, feeling grief over sin and desiring a restored relationship with God… the turning to God in repentance. Turning from self to God, who has always been right there, waiting for me to turn back to Him. Then there is the “Sacramental Act of Absolution”: this is confessing, saying out, humbling oneself, putting oneself down and placing oneself low, so that he or she can receive the vocal blessing of their priest/bishop, of those who are called to help them as a agent of God’s grace and a representative of the whole Church. Absolution is a spoken confirmation of God’s promise of forgiveness and Christ’s gift of binding and loosing to the Apostles. The pastor who counsels through the repentance phase does not have to be the same as the pastor who hears the aural confession and who recites the formula of absolution – in fact, they have often been separated, especially when the ordained churchmen who ceremonially absolve sin are themselves compromised in sin and affairs of the world. It can be said that they do well apart, and their elision is not necessary. “Repentance binds the fruits” (Ibid, pg 19) of what happens on both sides of the process.

         Spiritual direction requires the disclosure of thoughts to the director, since he is trying to discern the operating structure of the directee’s psyche. The mental images, fantasies, nagging desires and flitting thoughts that the Fathers called “λογίσμοι”, spring up from the deep well of brokenness, the abyss of our consciousness, where both good and evil dwell, and where God is always present, apophatically as our Creator. “We fight this constant stream of passions and evil through disclosure.” The Elder’s Praxis, historically, was to work towards bringing light into the motivations and behaviors of his direct, thereby rendering them open to God’s grace. “A wound hidden will fester, but opened, cleaned, and salved will heal of the Body’s own created nature.”

         The whole process is present by Fr. Joseph in the quotation, “Thoughts – ‘Logismoi’ in the classic vocabulary – designated not merely the mental activities which we associate with the English word, but ‘images, sensible phantasms, which, when dwelt upon, make one draw toward the object existing outside the individual.’ These outside provocations were termed ‘probole’. The ‘work’ of repentance – best done in the context of spiritual direction – was literally to fight these multitudes and force them out of one’s life through disclosure. This was the way to gain one’s freedom from the terrible state of ‘pre-conditioning’ or ‘pre-possession’, which manifests itself in ‘prolypsis’ (force of habit), that residue of memory which can strike anyone to a certain degree. Such prolepses interfere with a person’s ability to interpret new phenomena in his or her life without reference to the past pattern – thus rendering him or her impulsively prejudiced Furthermore, they may also grow into continual phantasies and fixations of various sorts, and if so, they can become so pervasive that they begin to shape the person’s entire perception and behavior. One a person reaches this state, he or she can easily be led into ‘πλάνη’ (delusion or illusion). Only intensive and time-consuming work over and above the sacrament of confession/absolution could help those who have regressed this far. (Ibid, pgs 20-21)

         The difficulty occurs when the inner world of a directee is revealed, allowing for the process of fragmentation of the false identity of the directee, based as it was upon false projections of pride and self-justification. Once this fragmentation begins, it can feel as if “everything is falling apart”, stressing relationships, causing misunderstanding and creating a deep-seated fear of loss. Only by maintaining the direction and persevering through this death, allowing for a “stirring of the compost” can a new, fertile ground for God’s work be created.

         The spiritual experience that one has through this process of surrender, death and the “harrowing of hell”, through maintaining devotion, prayer, spiritual obedience, is the stuff from which the new identity, based on God’s love and the reality of His work, is formed. The important function of a spiritual director during this phase is to act as a “literary critic”, probing, asking and re-contextualizing the story as it unfolds, waiting for the “realization” of this new identity on the part of the directee. This phase cannot be rushed, taking place with complete freedom, without manipulation or compulsion. For some this process is longer and for others shorter, but once the process is finished by the Holy Spirit, a new life springs into being. Sometime, spiritual maturity is not reached at any point of this negative phase, and then it is up to the spiritual director to ask questions of faith, of salvation, or why the directee lacks the power of the Spirit and victory over sin.

         At this stage, it is important to remember “Human persons are grounded in Another who initiates personhood and who stays bound to persons in loyal ways for their well-being.” (Walter Brueggemann, “Covenanting as Human Vocation”, Ibid, pg 65) In laying aside the false self, a new identity begins to form, a “realization on who we are in Christ” begins to take hold. “If covenant index means that a person is grounded and finds his or her true identity in that ‘Other’, who is God, then the proper question of ‘identity’ for us to ask is not only ‘Who am I?’ but ‘To Whom do I belong?’ It is no easy task today for the spiritual director to transmit this truth to his direct; there is a temptation in modern society to follow the way, not of ‘God-groundedness’, but of ‘self-groundedness.’” (Ibid, pg 65) “Only be accepting the truth of covenant will we recognize that, because human life is grounded in a relationship with God, we are bound to take certain initiatives in life.” (Ibid, pg 66) “While Eastern Christian theology has traditionally labeled the human response-to-God as ‘synergy’, it could just as well be termed a covenantal relationship. The reality is the same.” (Ibid, pg 66) Realizing this covenant is the whole point of spiritual direction, working it out practically in the relationships, choices and work of the direct. Once someone realizes the nature and practical application of this “Synergy”, he is well on his way to spiritual health.

         Once a new birth is experienced, a resurrection for the ashes of fragmentation occurs, accompanied by a new identity that is not based on the insecurities, inherited problems, the reactions to the past or dreams of the future. This new identity lives in the present, in a relationship with the Presence of God, living in the power of the Spirit to act and move in this world, submitted to God’s will and plan in life.

         This process can cycle through, reaching a high state and then tumbling back due to sin or pride. For those who are morally successful at maintaining an outwardly spiritual life, the challenge becomes to act against the coldness, deadness and lack of humility that such maintenance creates. For these faithful disciples, God’s calling becomes deeper, more active, more pastoral – it becomes a call to heal the spiritual brokenness in others, taking on their burdens, their inner filth, and snatching souls out of the fire, even while despising the garments stained by sin (Jude 1:23). Several parts of the stages can occur at the same time, just as multiple wounds on a body heal at different rates, and some require more attention than others. The goal is spiritual health, to be able to clearly see the affairs of the soul and the response of the God-given conscience. The soul that is open, that does not hide, that receives the Light of the Holy Spirit, and that responds in repentance, sorrow over sins, seeking His Presence and joy at receiving God’s love and grace, is a soul that is growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of our lives, that for which we were created, and is the pathway to wholeness, community, and our union with God in eternity.


  • Metropolitan +Philip Saliba and Fr. Dr. Joseph Allen, “And He Leads Them: The Mind and Heart of Philip Saliba”, Conciliar Press, 2001
  • Alexander Elchaninov, “The Diary of a Russian Priest”, 1967, SVS Press
  • Metropolitan Hierotheos Nafpaktos, translated by Esther Williams, “Life After Death”, 1995, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery Press
  • Metropolitan Hierotheos Nafpaktos, translated by Effie Mavromichali, “Illness and the Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition”, 1993, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery Press
  • Metropolitan Hierotheos Nafpaktos, translated by Effie Mavromichali, “Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction”, 2008, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery Press
  • Dr. Joseph Allen, “Inner Way”, 2000, Holy Cross Orthodox Press


Bible in Counseling.jpgBy Fr. W. Joseph Boyd, PhD

The application, use, submission to and meditation on Holy Scripture are the core values and methods of Christian counseling.

Introduction: The Authority of Scripture in Counseling

Scripture is central to Christian discipleship and pastoral discipline, which are the factors at work in any counseling context. Pastor Randy Thompson of Lancaster, California, Valley Bible Church Biblical Counseling Ministry, writes, “The Bible has been given to us by God in order for His people to become what He has designed them to be, fully able to serve Him faithfully (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is with this in mind that we advocate the following convictions: God’s Word should be the counseling authority of Christians helping people with broken lives.” Indeed, all Christian reality must be firmly rooted in God’s revelation in Scripture, without which there is no firm grounding in God’s plan for human life and no “worshipful anthropology” that gives our lives meaning.

Man’s problem is simple, a diagnosis from the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. We are fallen, sinful and separated from the life of God. Pastor Thompson continues, “The basic problem of mankind is sin (Romans 3:9-18; Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3). This sin problem includes our immaturity, our disobedience, our lack of knowledge and weaknesses (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It also includes the sin problem of others, which may affect us as well. The only way we can address sin and its wages, death, in our lives is through the application of Biblical Truth. He goes on to say, “The solution found to the problem of man is found in God’s Word. The Word of God reveals the gospel message of freedom from sin and how we can be set apart from the power of sin (Psalm 119:9-11). Also, the Word of God reveals how we should respond to sin in the lives of others (Matthew 18:15-18; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:31-32; 1 Peter 4:8). As we can see from both practical experience and biblical wisdom, the Word of God is central to the process of counseling.

In order to apply Scripture, the Bible must have a life-changing authority enabled to make demands on individuals and be followed through with obedience. “God’s Word must be the sole authority in ministering to the needs of people because God’s word is truth (John 17:17) and man’s ideas are inadequate (Isaiah 55:8-9; Proverbs 14:12; 1 Corinthians 1:25; Colossians 2:8-10).” God gave us Scripture to instruct, rebuke, correct and lead us into all righteousness. “By His Word, God molds us into the kind of people He intends us to be. In this way He equips us to function as He intended us to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17).”

Obedience is the hardest response on the part of our sinful and fallen mind and emotions. We must first have faith that what the Scripture says is true, and then obey it and incorporate it into our lives, before we see the fruit of such obedience in biblical success. “God is glorified when we trust Him and respond in obedience. When we ignore God’s instructions and seek the solutions of men, not only will it not work, but far more importantly, we have replaced God with man, which is the essence of idolatry.” Idolatry is the beginning and ending of our troubles – because it substitutes the solution, God, with everything else, and in this position as a false substitute, literally anything can become a problem.

Pastor Thompson insightfully continues – “The Word is God’s chosen tool to facilitate change in His children. God equips believers for every good work through His Word (2 Timothy 3.16-17). Therefore, we should use the Bible as our source of truth to facilitate change in the lives of counselees (James 1.25). The effective biblical counseling case results in a believer who has come to understand his or her problem in biblical terms, has seen what the Word says about the problem and the solution, and who has, by the grace of God, become obedient to the Word in that area. There is great joy for counselee and counselor as each has observed God doing what only He can (1 John 5.3-5).”

The Proper Use of Scripture in Counseling

The Bible is the only blessed source of wisdom for dealing with our heart’s idolatry and rooting our out problems. “The Word of God judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4.12). What information could be more useful than that in determining the nature of a problem? (We read Scripture together and ask questions about it. If the counselee answers openly, we have the opportunity to hear first-hand his or her interactions with the living and active truths of God.)” Only Scripture enables the complete transformation of our lives into the paradigm that Christ provided through His perfect life. “The Word enables real change (1 Peter 2.1-3). Change is the goal of any counseling, but the specific change sought in biblical counseling is sanctification, change toward holiness and change toward being an effective doer of the Word. When this occurs not only is the problem solved, but the counselee has a closer walk with God than before (2 Corinthians 12.9-10).” In this way, we can be remade in the image and likeness of Christ, through the Truth that leads us to repentance.

When compared with all other, worldly forms of counseling, it is clear why we must appropriate the Scriptures as Christians. Only Scripture gives us wisdom, enables us to see life through God’s eyes, and supernaturally empowers us to see change through by the energy of Christ’s life in us by faith. “The truths of theology oppose other counseling models. The Bible teaches man is a sinner in need of forgiveness (Romans 3.10-26), yet many psychology models seek to find truth to cause change within the person (John 17.17). In most psychology models the source of strength to change is also from within (1 Corinthians 15.10). The trend in psychiatry these days is to label many things the Bible regards as sin “disease” (lack of self control in children, uncontrolled anger, even life dominating lust or overeating). The method of change is prescription medicine. If there were no God, no Bible and no Holy Spirit perhaps these options would seem logical. However, these counseling models are taught not only in secular venues but by some calling themselves “Christian counselors” as well. Find out what counselors believe and teach about God, man, change and sin. Choose counselors who believe what you think the Bible says about these topics.” If a double-minded man is unstable, and two cannot walk together unless they are agreed, how much more so a counselor and counselee, who must be united in basic purpose to achieve any permanent, positive change in the life of the one receiving help?[1]

The Misuse of the Scriptures in Counseling

Famous Christian Psychologist, Dr. Philip G. Monroe, wisely says in his “Using Scripture in Christian Counseling” – “In my mind, Christian psychology’s value comes from being able to develop a solid foundation and praxis of Christian care of souls-something that grows out of careful biblical/theological work as well as the study of human behavior.” It isn’t a “magic bullet” that helps without a wise and pastoral application. “Those of us who have been talking about and doing Christian counseling for some time must admit that much of what passes as Christian counseling is either superficial Christianity (verses pasted on a theory that exists just fine without the verses) or superficial psychology (a model based on some tidbit of pop psychology research and then morphed in an exquisite but completely fictional science).”

Dr. Monroe continues, “Instead of Sunday school applications (where Jesus is the answer to every question) counselors need solid examples of how to engage the Scriptures in therapeutic settings… We’re wary of the Band-Aid use of verses, the bible bullets, the superficial applications.” It is important to be discerning in a counseling context, not settling on the easiest or most forthcoming answer. The human heart is desperately wicked, and in the counseling context, many good hearted pastors are misled and fooled because they take the bait of desiring quick and convenient solutions, rather than pushing for more and waiting to see true life change before signing off on a “miraculous turn-around.”[2]

Joyce Gerald, an inner-city women’s ministry counselor also offers an invaluable perspective. “Whereas these arguments validate the use of scripture and its rightful place in Christian counseling and the psychology of science they are not presented as therapeutic…When people come to me for advice it is usually after having been beaten over the head with the fact that “sin lies at their door” and that is why they are depressed; sometimes it is because of sin, it could also be a chemical imbalance. That statement is usually followed by a litany of scriptures used to prove the point that they are in conflict, depressed, or have feelings of guilt, anxiety, etc., because of sin.” So, conversely, pastors also have the responsibility NOT to beat their counselees over the head and disbelieve what they are being told about life transformation and restored relationships, but fully enabling their charges to embrace the change that Christ has offered them in their new life. The key is balance, and as we all know, balance is the hardest thing to achieve. [3]

What the Scriptures Should Achieve in Counseling

Biblical Counselors should employ Scripture realistically and no limits should be placed on the power of the Holy Spirit or what can be accomplished in the lives of those who truly repent and turn to God in humility and faith. The key to this is constantly meditating, accepting and affirming Biblical truth and “bringing every thought into captivity” with the reality of what Christ has accomplished in our lives. As Adam Pulaski says, “The Word of God must abide in a person for a person to know God in a personal way. To ‘abide’ means that the word of God must not only be allowed to come into a person’s mind and heart, it must be grasped and clung to. ‘Abiding’ means the Word of God is…

  • Living, moving, ruling, and reigning in a person’s life and heart.
  • Stirring and convicting, and challenging a person.
  • Leading to confession, repentance, growth, maturity.
  • Teaching love, compassion, forgiveness, goodness, and just behavior.
  • Causing one to believe and trust God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as his Savior and Lord.” [4]

This list is helpfully balanced by another one, provided by the influential Christian counselor, Dr. Eric Johnson, who makes eight basic arguments for the use of Scripture in counseling. They are…

  • First, the Bible plays an experiential role in our lives, providing a rich resource for wisdom and personal maturity.
  • Second, Scripture plays a foundational role, providing a common starting point for understanding our basic assumptions and beliefs.
  • Third, it plays a contextual role that allows us to understand human nature, meaning, and purpose in life.
  • Fourth, Scripture plays an axiological role, giving us standards for what should be.
  • Fifth, the Bible plays an anthropological role, providing us an awareness of the historical narrative of human sin and divine redemption.
  • Sixth, it plays a canonical role, providing an unchanging standard of truth.
  • Seventh, Scripture plays a dialogical role, providing rich resources for discussion and comparison between psychological knowledge and special 
  • Eighth, the Bible plays a creative role, allowing us to consider and explore 
concepts and ideas that might not be considered from a purely psychological worldview. These eight roles that Johnson outlines suggest that Christian counselors have only begun to examine the potential of integrating the Bible and psychology.[5]

Scripture the Foundation for an Integrative Christian Counseling Context

Finally, there are four important therapeutic uses of Scripture in Christian Counseling.[6] First, certain counseling strategies may draw directly from Scripture such as cognitive therapy. Other examples may include direction for dealing with guilt, resentment, and greed. Second, Scripture may support certain forms of counseling in principle such as religious imagery. Additional examples may include support for dream analysis, retreats, and small groups. Another use of Scripture would be to help identify when counseling does not contradict Scripture. An example would include the powerful technique of role-playing. Finally, it is critical to know when Scripture contradicts certain forms of counseling such as “adultery as a treatment for midlife depression.”[7]

Dr. Mark McMinn, another famous Christian Counselor urges for wisdom and spiritual maturity in the use of Scripture when applied to psychological issues. “…[We] must assess the utilization of Scripture in counseling by answering whether it will help establish a healthy sense of self, need, or healing relationship. Furthermore, the utilization of Scripture may be beneficial to promote Biblical explanations for problems, references for meditation, standards of morality, and a foundation for truth. Finally, utilizing Scripture in the spiritual formation of the counselor may be the most important indirect use of Scripture in counseling.”


  1. Solomon, Charles R., “Handbook for Christ-Centered Counseling: The Dynamics of Spirituotherapy,” Sevierville, Tennessee: Solomon Publications, 1993
  2. McMinn, M. R., “Psychology, theology, and spirituality in Christian counseling,” Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1996.
  3. The Bible in Christian counseling [Video presentation]. Retrieved from
  4. Adam Pulaski, “Biblical Counseling Manual,” Self Published, 2004
  5. Philip G. Monroe, “Using Scripture in Christian Counseling,” Forest, Virginia: Society for Christian Psychology, February 21st, 2010
  6. Joyce EM Gerald, “Therapeutic uses of scripture in counseling,” blog post, February 29th, 2016,

[1] Pastor Randy Thompson, Valley Bible Church Counseling Ministry,, last accessed June 14, 2018

[2] Philip G. Monroe, “Using Scripture in Christian Counseling,” Forest, Virginia: Society for Christian Psychology, February 21st, 2010, pg. 1, available at, last accessed on April 12, 2018

[3] Joyce EM Gerald, “Therapeutic uses of scripture in counseling,” blog post, February 29th, 2016,, last accessed June 14, 2018

[4] Quoted by Adam Pulaski, “Biblical Counseling Manual,” Self Published, 2004, pg. 16, from [Leader1] The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible. Leadership Ministries Worldwide

[5] Joyce EM Gerald, “Therapeutic uses of scripture in counseling,” blog post, February 29th, 2016,

[6] Mark McMinn (1996) references Stanton Jones’ work that conceptualizes four important therapeutic uses of Scripture in counseling, 2011, Kindle Location 1938

[7] Mark McMinn, “Using Scripture in Christian Counseling,” 2011, pg. 109

play therapy.jpg

By Rev. W. Joseph Boyd, PhD


Play is absolutely essential to all children, and especially necessary to traumatized and abused young people, where play functions as a form of therapy while they try to make sense of their world. In the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development, Dr. Cindy Dell Clark says, “Lay adults often view play as a medium of happy fun unrelated to troubles. The professionals who carry out play therapy have shown that play also extends to troublesome aspects of existence, including the stresses, trauma, family dysfunction, illness and other dilemmas that abound in the real experience of children.” She goes on to describe play therapy in which children are encouraged to act out their feelings and dilemmas through play and fantasy. She insists that it “draws on the power of play to give palpable expression to children’s concerns.” Use of therapeutic play allows children to “play out problems” outside of the clinical setting and allows children to naturally come to closure and positive conclusions about negative past experiences. “In play therapy the propensity for children to express dilemmas through play is channeled as a clinical intervention, supported by an adult therapist who catalyzes, but does not explicitly direct, a child’s therapeutic play.” (Entry from Dr. Cindy Dell Clark, Play Therapy, The Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development”, Rutgers University, USA, June 2013)

Play as Therapy

The “Father of Play Therapy”, Dr. Charles E. Schaefer, PhD, describes what play therapy can do in his innovative seminars in seven points. 1) Play therapy has healing potential for abused child clients; 2) Structured and unstructured play therapy differs in form and content and can be used differently – structured for establishing right patterns of thought and unstructured for observing inner workings of a child’s psychological profile; 3) Play therapy can allow the practitioner to give accurate diagnosis and prognosis; 4) Play therapy gives a practical platform upon which an observer can see the developmental stages natural unfold as roles within a self-narrated drama; 5) Play therapy allows for a psychological development of symbolic expression, emotional expression and mutual affirmation and cultural values; 6) Play therapy allows the practitioner to ascertain how various child populations respond their environments; and
7) Play therapy allows for the creation of “free and protected” mental spaces that move with the child through space and time, allowing a sense of personal agency, inward control, and the potential for maturity and growth. (Dr. Charles E. Schaefer, The Therapeutic Value of Play, Published by
Jason Aronson, Inc., 1977, available at, last accessed on October 3, 2017) With its background of nearly universally applauded success in the psychology and counseling communities since the late 1970’s, it is important to understand how to employ play therapy to serve COA’s and their special needs.

As observed in “Working with Children of Alcoholics”, therapeutic counseling with children “[Connects] the head and the heart through humor and play [and] can be just as healing as the work we do with anger, misery, and anxiety.” (Bryan E. Robinson and J. Lyn Rhoden’s “Working with Children of Alcoholics: The Practitioner’s Handbook.” London, England: Sage Publication, 1998, pg 161) It is therefore essential that practitioners and counselors do not overlook the value of play, and that they incorporate play, interaction and observation into their clinical practice. “Adolescents from alcoholic homes generally like group games, too, because many of them missed these activities when they were younger.” (IBID, pg 162) Play, therefore, allows children and adolescents to “catch up” when time has been squandered by unloving parents or unforgiving circumstances.

Play as Relationship

Interactive play allows COA’s learn to “work out mutual problems and to internalize rule and roles of society’s norms.” Through the roles played in games and make-believe, COA’s learn to work with others, negotiate desired outcomes and interact with one another on an equal footing. These are all of the skills that children do not naturally acquire in an abusive, alcoholic environment where it is “the parent up and the kids down.” Robinson and Rhoden both agree that “All COA’s need to be taught to play and to have fun as part of their treatment program, it is through play that the free child emerges and kids learn to deal with their feelings.”

Much of socialization is learning how to “play the game” and so learning to play by rules and within given roles helps children learn how to fit in and get a long with others and also prepare them to be adults. “Feelings or cooperation and competition are developed through play, and concepts such as justice and injustice, prejudice and equality, leading and following, and loyalty and disloyalty begin to take on real and personal meaning. Play also provides kids with sheer fun and diversion in an otherwise serious and traumatic life. Many types of play strategies can be integrated into treatment interventions.” (IBID, pg 161)

Play, Game and Socialization

Children that lack nurturing parents and protective environments need play to “catch up” on normal childhood development and learn the rules of normative social engagement. “Some young children…who were deprived of play at earlier ages may need to be taken through the stages of play that they missed. The goal may be to move the child into parallel play and then gradually into associative and eventually into cooperative play with other children.” (IBID, pg 162) “Group games such as hopscotch, blindman’s bluff, chasing games, hide-and-seek and red rover are popular games among school-age children. These games allow children to let off steam and pent-up energy as well as develop physical-motor capacities and build social skills. Programs that stress competition and open comparison of children are setting kids up for failure and inadvertently sabotaging their recovery program. An alternative approach is to emphasize noncompetitive games that kids enjoy playing where nobody wins and, more importantly, nobody loses. It is important to avoid any games in which the self-worth of the child is at stake, because one of the points of COA programs is to build self-worth that has already been shattered. Games in which some children are chosen and others left out should also be avoided. Being excluded can only add to some children’s personal history of isolation and rejection from the group. Many of us can remember the fear and humiliation of being the last one chosen for a team sport. Practitioners can prearrange teams for balance of abilities or can organize them around a numbering system. Children can count off by ones, twos, or threes, or they can choose a number of which two group leaders are thinking. The closest to the numbers are on the respective sides.” (IBID, pgs 162-163)

Abused Teens and “Catch-Up” Play

Contrary to what might be commonly assumed, the adolescent children of alcoholics often like and need play just as much as smaller children. “One of the most effective techniques used with adolescents is letting them play out their feelings associated with alcoholism. Adolescents can be asked to think about a specific instance when their parent was drinking and how they felt during that situation. Having cards that name specific feelings help them identify their own emotions. Once an emotion is identified, one of the group leaders or another group member can be enlisted to act out the scenario.” Robinson and Rhoden then go on to warn that clinicians and practitioners must be ready for the sudden emotional flare-ups that such play causes, as hidden issues and unresolved problems bubble to the surface. “The role play often taps emotions of group members on the periphery who need a chance to share their reactions. It is advisable to have two group leaders with a small number of adolescents (a maximum of ten), so that one leader is always free to attend to emotional flare-ups.” (IBID, pg 163)

The Value of Play Therapy as a Tool

Play therapy allows for resolution of problems in the imagination in a safe and non-threatening environment. “…Dramatic play can be a vehicle for observing inner feelings and frustrations related to alcoholism, especially among preschool children who act out domestic scenes… By joining a domestic quarrel, for example, a practitioner can model successful ways of handling interpersonal conflict or dealing with fears by acting out a situation.” (IBID, pg 161) As such, observing play is a clinician’s window into the abused or neglected child’s soul and often reveals the deep psychological issues that would otherwise go unaddressed. Play therapy is a vital tool for all pastoral counselors, practitioners, and psychological clinicians dealing with COA’s.


1) Clark, Dr. Cindy Dell, Play Therapy, The Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development. Rutgers University, USA, 2013

2) Schaefer, Dr. Charles E., The Therapeutic Value of Play. Published by Jason Aronson, Inc., 1977

3) Robinson, Bryan E. and Rhoden, J. Lyn, Working with Children of Alcoholics: The Practitioner’s Handbook. London, England: Sage Publication, 1998


By Rev. Dr. Will Boyd, PhD

Definition of False Self as a Projected Role for Survival in an Unregulated, Stressful or Abusive Environment

False roles projected and accepted as a part of a child’s true self are constructed during times of family instability, emotional abandonment, mental isolation, social hiding/lying, and the loss of parental involvement and positive childhood experiences that accompanies the alcoholic family’s development. As “Working with Children of Alcoholics” puts it: “The four survival roles are often called “false selves” (Wood, 1982, 1987). They represent an unconscious attempt by children to deal with their parents’ failure to parent and to conceal and protect important aspects of inner reality. The false selves of superiority (hero), aggression (scapegoat), withdrawal (lost child), and wit (mascot) overtly contradict and deny the real covert feelings of vulnerability, need, and damaged self-esteem. The survival roles that Children of Alcoholic’s (COA’s) play become a rigid part of their personalities and serve as roadblocks to their recovery. Ironically, the roles serve two competing purposes. They provide a means through which children can survive the disease of alcoholism, while simultaneously camouflaging the disease from those in helping positions.” (Working with Children of Alcoholics, pgs 44-45) One of the predominant factors in understanding and identifying these roles is to see to what extent do they maximize the person’s consciousness – are they factors in a well-developed personal psyche, rich with healthy relationships, love and healthy habits, or do they “take over” and become identified with the totality of the person, all the time? If they are defining features, you are looking at a mask of the true self, not the self as defined in its spiritual and biological reality. The self is imparted in the family, so a problem with personality is a problem with socialization, which are ultimately problems of the relationships within the family and the attention of the parents.

Understanding Why People Project Roles and Accept Them as Their Self-Definition

The creation of a false self is ultimately an attempt to minimize pain. Accepting the false role as a personal definition of personality comes through habit. The false self is first projected in a combination of pretense and lies, and then the rest of the personality “settles in” behind it, strengthening its backstories, making better use of mannerism, creating believability. When the role is firmly established, the individual no longer questions it, takes shelter in it as a source of identity separated from the pain of their lives, and forgets (sometimes through intentional self-talk and lying to self) that this role is not part of the original self. Like method actors who get submerged in their role and struggle to remember who they were before, children may get lost in these roles and never return to their original selves without help. “COA’s are masters at camouflaging their heartache. Noted authority Claudia Black (1982) has said that children of alcoholic parents offer three unwritten rules very early: Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel…The hurt and pain are buried so deep inside that it is difficult for them to reach it, and the barriers are hard for counselors to penetrate. So often, practitioners deal with anger, defiance, indifference, or laughter and smiles that camouflage a festering sore. Once they recognize the various roles, however, practitioners can help COA’s remove false selves that stand in the way of recovery and help them face who they really are.” (45) This process of recognition and therapeutic reconstruction is not easy, but it becomes possible if the practitioner is himself not operating under the influence of a false self and knows how to identify the projected defenses and can “talk to the person underneath.”

Finding the False Self in One’s Own Life Before Attempting to Remove Them from Others

As Christ instructed, we should first remove the beam in our own eyes before we attempt to remove the splinter from others. While the explicit role of a counselor is not found in Christ’s ministry, the role of an exorcist is, and in many ways, removing a false self is the same as removing an evil spirit. We must first fast and pray, exercising great discernment to “try the spirits”, before we can see the deception of these false selves and have the wisdom in how to approach, address and cast out these demons of wrong beliefs, internalized hurt and victimization. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12), and the familiar spirits that the Scripture warns us against are manifest in these very generational patterns that we see clinically described in the text of “Working with Children of Alcoholics”. These realities need to remind us that we first must be free from sin and our own projected, false selves, before we can undertake the liberation of others. Only the free can break the chains for others, and this is why Christ told us to mortify the flesh and its fruits before we could undertake the healing and salvation of others. This aspect is the hardest, and as such, the least attended to in the list of requirements for Christian counselors, who often attempt to adopt the means and attitudes of secular counseling as a “science”, rather than a spiritual gift of discernment and wisdom.

The Confession of Need, Told By the Self-Justifying and Hiding Self, a Mask of True Need and the False Front

As “Working with Children of Alcoholics” makes explicitly clear, the only kind of diagnosis that is 100% effective is self-diagnosis. This is, in essence, confession of need. Only after counselee freely admits his or her need for help can the counselor intervene and devise a strategy for addressing the problem. Often, this takes the form of creatively showing the problems in other people’s lives, and then turning the focus around to self and the possibility of hidden troubles and unconfessed needs. While uncomfortable and requiring a fair amount of discernment on the counselor’s part, the truth of the child or young adult’s situation ultimately must come from his or her own lips. Only when this need is acknowledged can the process of diagnosis and recovery occur, directed by the counselor and energized by the counselee’s self-knowledge and cooperation.

Preparing the Counselee to Encounter Their False Self through Discernment, “Trying the Spirits” and Observing Reactions, Contradictions and Suppression

“Working with Children of Alcoholics” gives a clear checklist of tendencies often present in the lives of children struggling with survival in a substance-abusing home. It is important to recognize the role that these false selves play in covering up the typical symptoms of physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Of the four roles, there is only one role that manifests in a negative light, that of the “Scapegoat”. The other roles manifest as highly achieving, reserved/distant and humorous aspects of young people’s personality, which tend to be pleasant or even desirable characteristics. Thus, one must get past the tendency to like well-behaved or intelligent children, or the tendency to be charmed by a witty child who knows how to use humor to manipulate emotional environments, and must focus on the child’s needs, which are hidden behind these favorable facades. The inability to do this, the desire to continue the charade and maintain successful facades may be the very reason that over 95% of children in alcoholic homes are never diagnosed as COA’s. We desire to believe these functional roles are their true selves. Life is much simpler and easier to deal with when we can simply believe the good image that people present to us.

When dealing with the “Hero” role, those who try to protect themselves through superiority, it is important that we remember this false self equates productivity or signs of success with being in an emotionally good place.    This equation makes the Hero performance oriented and convinces them that work projects or accolades will fulfill their emotional needs for love and approval. “Helping family heroes balance their lives between work and play is a worthy and realistic goal. Insist that these kids do not sacrifice or forgo potential benefits derived from activities, experiences or interactions because they are too busy putting others’ needs before their own… Help them avoid taking on too much. Let them know that it is okay to relax and do nothing. Reassure them that they do not always have to be producing to please someone else and that it is acceptable to please themselves, which may include doing nothing. (45-46)” The “hero” must learn the value of being, not of projecting a sophisticated or superior image, not of degrees, titles, projects, work or productions. This is done through education, affirmation, and by instilling a theological perspective where one’s worth is found in a relationship with God in Christ, where we have ontological worth because of the Love of God and the image that we bare, reflecting the glory of God by its mere existence. We can do nothing to make God love us more, and therefore, if we can see ourselves as God sees us, we can come to know our true worth, minus the many things we try to do to lay claim to greatness.

The second role is a difficult one to work with, the role of the “Rebel” or “Scapegoat”. Often the one who takes on this demeanor has been subjected to so much pain that they believe nothing worse can be done to them. This is the child who grows hard and bitter in difficult circumstances and decides that he will exact revenge on the world, making others pay for his pain by causing more pain in turn. Often these young people are in a state of constant pain and learn to deal with this pain by taking pathological joy in making others share there pain. There hell is relieved when they can share it with others. We are reminded in our text to “Consider the scapegoat’s behavior a cry for help and not a personal threat against you. Avoid writing them off, as there is a tendency to do. These kids tend to be the least liked of the four roles because their sometimes violent, unlawful, and personality-threatening behaviors frequently arouse fear and anger in the adult. Plus, they take the most energy. Avoid being overly strict or punitive, and communicate the boundaries well. Let the child know when they have transgressed and when you are angry, but always try to have a positive approach by telling children what they should do, rather than what they shouldn’t do. Use praise, even if it is for something insignificant, to direct the child in positive ways.” (46-48) Often times, those who refuse to sink into pain and despair when a child is wrecking havoc on their lives, and who picks out the one positive thing that no one else could see, are the pathway to salvation for embroiled Scapegoats. That one complement or good word can become the one things that shines light into an otherwise darkened heart and eventual leads the child’s psyche out of its closure and hard-heartedness into the light and fellowship of God and a functioning Christian community.

Lost children are those who pull away from people and environments that can cause pain. They would rather not interact and limit their own involvement with the world and their own freedoms, rather than subject themselves to the pain and stress of dealing with emotional and physical abuse. This often comes from a place of profound powerlessness and weakness, and tends to occur in the lives of small children who are in abusive situations, though it can ultimately by the psychological posture of any child, old or young. Once a child turns inward and detaches from the outside, it can be very difficult to get them to “come out of their shell”. “Helping lost children may just be in giving them a sense of belonging and making sure that they know that they have an important place in the classroom and that they fit in. Capitalize on times when lost children can be integrated into the larger social group. Avoid pressuring the child to be socially gregarious, however, because all kids need some time to be alone.” (48-49) Socially awkward and reserved individuals may never become social butterflies and they often need years in socially accepting situations, such as in loving church families, to learn new habits and come out of their inward exile.

This last group of false selves is relatively rare. They are the category of children who become “class clowns” and “family comedians” in order to deal with the stress of a bad family situation. They are rare because of how sophisticated a child must be to discover and successfully use this projected self. Often times this happens with children who have had relatively normal early childhoods, but who are subjected to abuse by a substance-addicted parent later on, or who go through a divorce at the ages of 8-12 years old. “Give mascots lots of individual attention and get to know the child on a one-to-one basis. Let the child know that it is OK to be the real person inside and that people will like the child even when he or she is not telling jokes. Help mascots open up by winning their trust. Although they may appear happy-go-lucky, they need a lot of nurturing if they are to trust you enough to drop the mask and expose the true self. (49)”

Removing the False Self

The practitioner’s goal is to disassociate the false self from the will, intellect and spirit of the child. This is most often done in the role of the storyteller, helping free the child’s imagination and pointing the way to fullness and maturity by embracing our role as beloved creatures of an Almighty Creator. Practitioners appeal to the conscience of a child, teach them the principles of a true personality, grounded in virtues, and have them acknowledge that the false self is something negative for their long-term development and needs to be addressed. Then, based on these realizations, they teach the counselee to observe the function of the false self through questions such as “what was my action? What did I intend to happen? Did my intentions and actions match with the Truth of God’s love for me, His plan and the purpose of my life?” This can be extremely helpful in the process of dismantling and discarding the falsely projected role, especially once a child can have a great enough perspective to know that they need to be a change. Once this occurs, watching one’s own actions can often be enough to break down and discard the false self while reinforcing the “true person” and the “God-given conscience” within the child’s soul. Once the false self starts to crumble, there will be a period of negative emotion and “lostness” that accompanies the child not know who he or she really is. This is a difficult phase, because it is not one of immediate freedom and joy. Rather, the new identity, framed in a theologically correct view of self in relationship with God through Christ, must be reinforced by believing, thinking upon and meditating in biblical truth. It is during this time of re-definition that the false self, which has been comforting as a form of camouflage, a chrysalis in which the immature person has been trapped while awaiting transformation, is stripped away and the true personality emerges, full of imperfections, anger, hurt feelings and rebellion. This is the discomfort of a new personality that must stretch its wings in the light of the sun, as it emerges from hibernation and fills out a new self-definition. While intensely uncomfortable, the rewards of becoming one’s true self are truly great, and the counselor needs to relentlessly encourage and stick by the counselee as they go through this process. Once the dormant form of the true personality has been released, has taken form, and has been formed by the light, the new personality can truly soar and do all that it was meant to do. The role of the counselor, the pastor and the Church should be to provide positive, encouraging, truthful affirmation and feedback of the emerging virtues and character of the individual, helping to focus the newly discovered person into the world as a recognized and appreciated entity, a force for good, and a beloved child of God! 


  1. Robinson, Bryan E. and Rhoden, J. Lyn, Working with Children of Alcoholics: The Practitioner’s Handbook. London, England: Sage Publication, 1998
  2. The Holy Bible, King James Version
  3. Leman, Kevin, The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell/Baker Books, 2004



By Rev. Dr. Will Boyd, PhD

A Neutral Object Turned Moral by Human Use, Not an “Either/Or” but a “Both/And”

The Scriptures present us with a dynamic tension in which “Wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1), but also, “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” (Psalm 104:10), making a simple analysis more difficult than a simple judgment or moral or physical disease. American Evangelicals often mistake the neutrality of a physical object as the neutrality of moral action in the use of that object. Such a stance is poorly thought through and must be reevaluated. Pornography is most definitely a moral problem, violating the commandments against adultery and fornication, along with Christ’s commandments against looking at a woman to lust after her in one’s heart (Matthew 5:28), but the colors with which a pornographic image is painted or printed are neutral. Letters of the alphabet are often used in blasphemy and evil speech, and yet they are also used to spell out the Good News of the Gospel. The active ingredients of many psychotropic plants are highly damaging to mental function and to families of those addicted to them, but they can also be made into valuable medicines that help people in unique ways. Sexuality is a very difficult issue to address, since much immorality and negative life decisions are the result of misuse or mismanagement, and yet, sexuality is the dynamic engine of healthy family life and the absolutely necessary ingredient for the creation and maintenance of Christian families.

Many technological developments contributed to the scourge of alcoholism within Western culture, the greatest being the availability of cheap hard liquor in the middle of the 17th century, created by the abundant sugar plantations in the New World under English, Spanish and French colonizers. This market drove the distillation of spirits as a way to preserve and export cane sugar in the form of rum and brandy and demanded the human sacrifice of African slavery on a massive scale. Since the Methodist proscription of alcohol at the very beginning of the Second Great Awakening, and the proliferation of spiritual sects that prohibited alcoholic consumption during the era of Great Revivals and National Prohibition, the neutral nature of alcohol was contested and for good reason the chemical itself was labeled as a moral evil. We tend to forget the brutal relationship between liquor and slavery and its destruction of the poor in the 18th-20th centuries as the anesthetizing drug of choice.

Holy Scripture on the Good and Bad of Wine

In scripture there are good and bad uses of wine. There are multiple references of wine as an offering to the Lord (Lev 23:13), a blessing, a healing balm, a sign of God’s favor, a part of the Hebrew diet, an expression of joy and a medicine (Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 31:6, Luke 10:34). No Passover would be complete in an Orthodox Jewish home without the shared cup of sweet wine. There are many scriptures that describe wine and its abuse as a curse, the decision of fools, a disqualification for leadership, and the sign of a sluggard and glutton (Proverbs 20:1, 23:20, 29-35, I Corinthians 6:19-20, Galatians 5:21, I Timothy 3:8). Obviously, if there is such a wide range of ideas associated with wine, there are also biblical commandments for its proper use. Such is absolutely the case and we have many exhortations not to desire it, along with fine “dainties” (Proverbs 23:3), and that wine should be avoided outside of a very limited context. This is a neutral biblical philosophy of alcohol, but a biblical philosophy of alcoholism is completely negative.

The Lord’s Supper of Wine and Bread

The Lord’s Supper presents Christians with the finished work of the Cross and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and is the ultimate good that we can experience in this life, and up until the invention of Welch’s Grape Juice in the late 1800’s, the Church had always celebrated the Lord’s Supper with wine, as Christ himself did. The early Lutheran, Calvinist and Baptist confessions all make mention of wine as a requirement for the memorial. Christ’s first miracle in Canaan was also the creation of wine from water and the blessing of a marriage feast (John 2:1-12), which, despite protest and explanation of “new wine”, was certainly alcoholic, simply because science shows that the fermentation process starts immediately after the expression of grape juice and that the lack of refrigeration in the ancient world made it impossible to have completely non-alcoholic juice used in any social context. Thus, a blanket statement against wine is an unwise generality. What is needed is a biblical teaching that makes a clear distinction between the good, created resource and its abuse, which is use outside of the boundary of God’s will for our lives.

All Things in Accordance to God’s Will

Therefore, our views must always be mediated by the facts of God’s creation, His moral law, and our obligation to the world to live in it in accordance with God’s purposes. Thought of in this way, almost all things (including alcohol) are good, but all things must be managed in a spirit of humility, love and submission, appropriately, under right spiritual authority, for the glory of God and the edification of those around us (Romans 14:1-12 and I Corinthians 6:12).

Alcohol as a Cultural Gauge of Shared Virtue

A nuanced view of alcohol comes with a danger, since it allows for the use of wine in limited medical or social settings. However, once the decision to drink has been made, the process of knowing where to stop becomes a delegated, communal task, since the incentive to stop drinking decreases with the intake of alcohol and judgment can be impaired within just a small amount of alcoholic consumption. Therefore, the decision to drink is a tricky one and cannot be left up to “individual choice.” Abuse often comes as a result of social setting and of not having clearly defined rules beforehand, or within the context of private drinking, where one cannot regulate their own intake. This is where the text of “Working with Children of Alcoholics” shows the effect of culture on the use of alcohol (page 27).

Cultural Control Vs. Personal Conviction

Cultures that allow for stringent control of alcohol, such as the historical Puritans, the Jews or the religious orders of Roman Catholicism, have checks and balances placed within the culture that allows for the moderate use of alcohol, but a strong moral judgment against drunkenness. By eliminating these checks and balances by overly reactionary and un-biblical church teachings, which has stressed the importance of the individual and his or her convictions up and against the teachings of the church and the experience of culture, each individual must chose where to stop on their own, and this is impossible. By stressing the agency of the individual, contemporary Protestants have made social regulation impossible. If there is not a joint sense of what is appropriate, or if the rules are left to the individuals to decide, by the time someone’s judgment is inhibited, they cannot make the decision to stop drinking. Therefore, a society’s morality can easily be gauged by their approach to social drinking. If there are no rules of moderation or abstinence, it is very unlikely that the culture has been civilized by the Gospel and its message of mortification of the flesh and self-control as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, which teaches against being filled with wine, and instead instructs believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Colossians 3:5, Romans 8:13, and Galatians 5:22-23). It is absolutely essential for those who lack a culture where behavior is strictly controlled by group rituals and mutual-enforcement of Christian values to avoid alcohol completely.

A Moral Evil Becoming a Physical Sickness

With the biblical commandments to avoid alcoholic abuse and addiction, and with the cultural precedents for a positive, virtuous limitation of alcohol contrasted with the negative, ugly, and life-destroying effects of individualized consumption, the process of becoming an alcoholic appears to be founded in moral decision and the virtue and vices of surrounding relationships. These moral decisions, once regularized, create a cycle of dopamine and serotonin that produce organic dependence and addiction. This organic dependency is a physical symptom of these decisions and manifest as malfunctions of the bodily system – a physical sickness. This physical sickness requires physical medicine to deal with it properly, but these healing therapies are useless if the underlying moral problems are not dealt with and resolved. 

Repentance and Life Change as the Answer to Alcoholism

As with all moral problems, thought processes and habits much changed, based on the individuals experience with the truth, resulting in repentance, change, social reorientation and the moral and physical transformation. Theologically, this is called “sanctification” and is a long and purposeful experience, based upon the unmerited grace given to us by God in Christ, accessed through initial faith and the “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2), which is empowered by the continuous life in Christ that God makes available in those works that He has called us to do. This moral and physical reform, based upon these experiences, becomes the baseline of the Christian experience. The Apostle Paul clearly states this when he lists those who “will not enter the kingdom of heaven”, mentioning drunkenness in the same breath as homosexuality and adultery, going on to say “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) This is a powerful commentary on the transformative work of the Holy Spirit manifested in the lives of believers, who, while not perfect, are transformed and made righteous by the grace of God. It is this simple truth of Christian sanctification upon which the “Twelve Step” movement was based, which is still the best known and most successful psychological treatment for alcoholism practiced in both secular and religious circles, and continues to be one of the only treatments to transform the lives of spiritually defeated, chemically addicted and physically sick individuals. Humans, created as we are for the realization of God’s power, our need for others, and the inability to live morally as an isolated individual, must contextualize all things within this framework in order to have meaning and mental health. Therefore, the moral problem of alcoholism, when contextualized with a right view of self within a religious community, start to find their effectual cure – life in God and the love of a community doing authentic life together.


  1. Robinson, Bryan E. and Rhoden, J. Lyn, Working with Children of Alcoholics: The Practitioner’s Handbook. London, England: Sage Publication, 1998
  2. The Holy Bible, King James Version
  3. Brund, Frank J., Psychology: A Self-Teaching Guide. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2002
  4. Wilson, William G., Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. Chicago, Illinois: MacMillan and Sons Publishing House, 1939