“Each time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” — Maya Angelou
Update 1/27/21: Thanks to Jerome- a TWW reader who knows far more than I do.
The church was never part of the SBC. It was part of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.
The church was GARBC from its founding in 1971:“…began Emmanuel Baptist Church, Appleton, Wisconsin, in October 1971”until it left GARBC in 2012:scroll down for churches that withdrew from GARBC in 2012: “…Emmanuel Baptist Church (Appleton, Wis.)”
This will be a two-part story, focusing on what I continue to perceive as the inadequacies and dangers of ACBC counseling aka *biblical counseling. It is the story of one woman, Julie Zepnick, who endured an abusive marriage and received said counseling from her church. However, it gets more in-depth because Julie decided to go through the ACBC counseling training to become certified (of course within the ACBC system) herself. In the midst of her own story, she counseled a family who would be arrested for child abuse. Julie’s story will be helpful (albeit deeply sad and disturbing) in putting a face on several posts I have written on the problems with ACBC counseling. Today is Part One and will deal with Julie’s abuse and her introduction to ACBC.
What is ACBC?
The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors can be found at this link. I believe that this name was coined due to the well-deserved, negative reputation of nouthetic counseling. However, in my opinion (see below) there is no difference between the two except for superficial changes like a glitzy website. Go deeper and one might quickly discover what I believe to be the appalling lack of training for so-called licensure. I call those who receive this training *weekend warriors.* It takes very little to become certified through this group.
As you will see, these counselors quickly find themselves in situations in which they have no business counseling. This is dangerous for the clients, and as you will see, it is dangerous for the counselor since they receive no training and get *blamed* when things go awry.
Warning: these counselors are not licensed through any professional organization. They are NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, true counselors. They do not have any professional training as recognized by any accrediting organization. So the word *certified* (some even use “licensed*) is only recognized in their own little circle (and it is a very small circle, indeed.)
Here are my previous posts in case you missed them.
- Part 1: The Biblical Counseling Movement and Timberlake Baptist Church and Counseling Center
- What is the Difference Between Nouthetic and Biblical Counseling? Just the Spelling.
- Biblical Counseling Training: Inadequate Education, Problematic Resources and Questionably Educated Leaders
- Heath Lambert Channels Martin Luther (As If) and Writes the 95 Theses of Biblical Counseling
- Heath Lambert’s 95 Theses of Biblical Counseling Reminds Me of Bob’s Advice in Stranger Things 2: It’s All Easy Peasy.
- John Piper and Heath Lambert of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Views of the Mind Demonstrate Why We Have a Problem With the Biblical Counseling Movement
- Biblical Counseling: Anyone Can Do It, Sin Is the Focus, Confidentiality Is Not Guaranteed and Women Should Beware
- Another Reason to Avoid Biblical Counseling: Confidentiality Is Not Guaranteed When Sin™ Is Involved
Julie’s story begins.
Julie and her husband started their marriage in 2006 as nonChristians. This was the second marriage for both and they each had two children from previous marriages/relationships. They went on to have one daughter within their marriage. They began attending a nondenominational church and became Christians. But things were not well between them. Julie began to seek out *biblical* counseling to discover what might be lacking in their marriage. At this time, she had no idea what biblical counseling looked like but she knew they needed spiritual input.
Cross Walk Church in Appleton, Wisconsin
Cross Walk Church is an independent Reformed Baptist Church. It is not a member of the SBC but apparently is a former member. Julie was attracted to this church because it had *biblical* counseling. On the church home page, it is clear they emphasize their commitment to biblical counseling.
We are an Independent Reformed Baptist Church committed to the gospel of Christ by teaching the doctrines of grace and the Solas of the Reformation. We have certified biblical counselors who are committed to the sufficiency and authority of scripture.
On their counseling page, they refer to *biblical counseling as nouthetic counseling, proving my point that ACBC is merely nouthetic counseling in disguise.
While the name is new, the sort of counseling done by nouthetic counselors is not. From biblical times onward, God’s people have counseled nouthetically. The word itself is biblical. The New Testament was written in Greek, from which the noun nouthesia (verb: noutheteo) comes. It is a term used largely by the apostle Paul which is sometimes translated “admonish, correct or instruct.”
They also believe that the Bible actually describes nouthetic counseling. This should be a warning to those seeking such counseling. The Bible is being ill-used as a *prooftext* and that can be dangerous.
Romans 15:14. In that passage, the apostle was encouraging members of the Roman church to do informal, mutual counseling, something that all Christians today should learn, as well. On the other hand, the leaders of a congregation are to counsel nouthetically in a formal manner as a part of their ministry: “Now we ask you, brothers, to recognize those who labor among you, and manage you in the Lord, and counsel you.”
I would imagine you have heard the following which has been attributed to a bunch of people.
“A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext”
The church uses three *proof texts* from the Bible to outline three areas of nouthetic counseling.
- Confrontation: One Christian personally gives counsel to another from the Scriptures. He does not confront him with his own ideas or the ideas of others. He limits his counsel strictly to that which may be found in the Bible, believing that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction and for disciplined training in righteousness in order to fit and fully equip the man from God for every good task.”2 Timothy 3:16-17) The nouthetic counselor believes that all that is needed to help another person love God and his neighbor as he should, as the verse above indicates, may be found in the Bible.
- Concern: Counseling is always done for the benefit of the counselee. His welfare is always in view in biblical counseling. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to counsel you as my dear children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14) Plainly, the familial nature of the word noutheteo appears in this verse. There is always a warm, family note to biblical counseling which is done among the saints of God who seek to help one another become more like Christ. Christians consider their counseling to be a part of the sanctification process whereby one Christian helps another get through some difficulty that is hindering him from moving forward in his spiritual growth.
- Change: Counseling is done because there is something in another Christian’s life that fails to meet the biblical requirements and that, therefore, keeps him from honoring God. All counseling — biblical or otherwise– attempts change. Only biblical counselors know what a counselee should become as the result of counseling: he should look more like Christ. He is the Standard. Biblical counseling is done by Christians who are convinced that God is able to make the changes that are necessary as His Word is ministered in the power of the Spirit. It is their hope to help every interested church develop a nouthetic counseling program that will be a blessing to all of the members of that congregation. The importance of such counseling in churches is underscored by the words of Paul as he described his ministry in Ephesus: “Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years, night and day, I didn’t stop counseling each one of you with tears.” (Acts 20:31) The regularity and intense nature of Paul’s counsel during his three-year ministry at Ephesus is emphasized by these words. If Paul found it necessary to counsel nouthetically for that entire period, as he said, surely our churches need it, too.How may one learn to counsel nouthetically? There are books and training programs all over the country. Moreover, there is an accrediting organization. The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), can give you more information and help.
Although the church’s website doesn’t say it is a *certified* training center (meaning ACBC likes them and nothing more,) it is listed on the ACBC website as such. Here is how ACBC describes said centers.
Certified Training Centers serve as the frontline for the biblical counseling movement. Housed in counseling centers, seminaries, and local churches, these vetted and approved institutions are accredited by ACBC and are made up of godly men and women who are experienced, compassionate, and wise biblical counselors. They not only counsel faithfully, but provide quality training leading to ACBC certification.
Julie and her husband began counseling sometime around 2014 at Cross Walk and joined the church.
Julie was excited about counseling. She had experienced problems with her husband almost from the beginning of the marriage. She found he was mean and unhelpful during her pregnancy but had high hopes that *biblical counseling* would lead to a change in their marriage. The church had *certified* ACBC counselors. Eventually, Cross Walk became an ACBC *certified * training center. Julie walked into this process with total trust.
As time went on, not much changed. There were several incidents of violence that caused Julie to call the police. After one of these incidents, Julie found a handprint bruise on her arm. She did not remember exactly what had happened. Her husband said *It must have been your boyfriend who did it.* Julie didn’t have a boyfriend and there was no reason for her husband to make such a comment. She was in Pastor Pat’s office with her husband and showed the handprint to Pastor Pat. He said, “Yep, that looks like a handprint.” Her husband denied it and Pastor Pat said *Let’s deal with what we know.” Julie was later reprimanded by the pastors, in front of her husband, and told to handle these *incidents* in-house.
Let’s stop here for a moment. It is not uncommon for a victim to have a dissociative episode when being abused. I asked her if the *biblically certified* ACBC counselor, Pastor Pat brought up this possibility. She said he did not. Instead, she was blown off, once again. Any person who experiences a dissociative episode is in danger. Such individuals may have an inability to respond to abuse which leaves them open to even more serious harm by an abusive partner.
This episode is demonstrative of why I consistently speak out about what I perceive to be the deep-seated problems of ACBC biblical counseling.
Her husband was arrested in 2016
One day, there had been some arguments. Julie decided to take her daughter and do some errands, hoping to diffuse the situation. Her husband closed the garage door behind her started car, and unplugged the garage door opener so they couldn’t leave the garage.
This frightened their daughter who reported what had happened to her Sunday school teacher. At this point, the pastor did not block the report to the police, presumably because others knew of the problem. He received 18 months probation, 30 days of jail time, stayed, and a no-contact order. It is my opinion that the police do a better job dealing with a domestic violence situation than do pastors.
Her ACBC *certified* pastors had them in for counsel 2x week and Julie separated from him for 11 weeks. During that time, Julie was reprimanded by the pastors, in front of her husband, and told to handle these *incidents* in-house. Pastor Pat also told Julie something to the effect of “Even if he hits you upside the head, don’t go to the police, come to us.” Julie asked, “What if my conscience doesn’t allow me to not report it?” Pastor Pat said, “Then you need to submit your conscience to us.”
However, at this point, they said that he claimed he was *sorry* and that Julie had no option but to forgive him. Julie really didn’t want a divorce and decided to accept the pastor’s *counsel.* Around this same time, Julie asked for clarification via email. Pastor Tim told her that there is no need to go to authorities to report such incidents. Instead, he said all sin was to be dealt with within the church.
It appears obvious to me that the church wanted to keep this sort of abuse in-house. It’s also indicative that Julie’s well-being was not their priority.
Julie stayed with him for another 3 long years.
During this time, he often lied to her and was sexually coercive. One night, he lied where he was. When he came home, she asked him if he had been at a bar. In what appears to be typical gaslighting fashion, because Julie was upset and crying, he asked her, “Did you OD on something? Do I need to call 911?” She has no history of misusing medications. He reportedly said in front of the pastor, “I was really concerned about you. I thought you were having a seizure.”
Separation, divorce, reported sexual abuse of daughter, and strange behavior.
She decided to separate in 2019. The pastors were not supportive of this action. They asked her to wait in making a decision while they intensively counseled her husband for 2 weeks. When she refused, they asked to wait for one week while they intensively counseled him. She agreed but told them that she believed that it would be useless. It was. She, along with her daughter, left him and the church. When she said that she did not believe that counseling would help, one of the pastors told her “Stubbornness is as the sin of witchcraft.” Talk about weird…
In January of 2020, her daughter, who was 12 when they separated, told her mother that her dad touched and rubbed her inappropriately. One night, when the parents were still in the same house, they were all laying down in the bed. The daughter was between them. The father reportedly began rubbing her bottom and upper thigh. She was frightened and didn’t know what to do so she pretended she was asleep. This was reported. to the authorities. The father claimed it was a mistake. He claimed he thought that his daughter was his wife. The daughter has reported feeling suicidal and she is receiving appropriate help at this time.
At one point Julie contacted a local domestic violence shelter. The shelter informed her they could not help because there was a conflict of interest as her husband had contacted them for help. He appeared to claim he was a victim despite evidence of his abuse including a criminal conviction. Finally, in May 2020, the divorce was finalized.
This is not the end of the story: Part 2 on Monday
As the reader might have perceived, the advice of the pastors was highly questionable and somewhat disturbing. We know that they embrace the precepts of nouthetic counseling, and are aided and abetted by ACBC. There is a great deal of stress placed on the authority of leaders in these groups. Yet, when push comes to shove, it appears they will dump on the little guy to get out of trouble. On Monday, you will read about the abuse of a child and the arrest of the parents. It has been in the news. Would it surprise you to know that they were members of this church and that certain incidents were allegedly not reported to the authorities? Julie was counseling the mother and she did not get the support she needed. I bet the reader will see why this entire counseling system is weak and lacking and that ACBC should be ashamed of themselves. We will show you why.