What Is the Church to Do with Misconduct?


This is a review of an article in the Gospel Advocate that maintains some sinful behavior is mental illness and that the church should not discipline these people

By Don Ruhl

The Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Oregon) of May 22, 2002 (page 12), carried an article titled: “Kip Kinkel sentence appealed.”

EUGENE (AP)—Advocacy groups for the mentally ill have joined an appeal on behalf of Kip Kinkel, the Thurston High School student who killed his parents and two students in a shooting rampage four years ago.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Oregon have filed a friend of the court brief, joining the state public defender’s appeal of the nearly 112-year sentence. The groups argue that Kinkel’s schizophrenia can be treated, he can be reformed and he should be allowed to return to society when he is no longer considered a threat.

What do you think of this? Let us say they are successful in getting him released and, because it might be dangerous to release him in his hometown of Springfield, Oregon they release him in your town on your block. If you believe that he did not commit sin worthy of punishment, and thus does not need repentance, but treatment for an illness, you should have no problem accepting him into your neighborhood. In fact you should be glad for the opportunity to show compassion to someone who is sick.

What caused Kip Kinkel to get this so-called “mental illness”? One hundred years ago teenager did not get their father’s guns, go to school and shoot their fellow students, like Kip Kinkel did. What is different today? How did he get infected with this “mental illness”?

Calling sin by other names has been common in the world. What is new is that some in the church are advocating this. They believe that some people commit acts that are otherwise known as sin in the Bible, because they are “mentally ill.” Thus, the church should not practice church discipline if the individuals persist in the behavior, but they should be treated.

An article in the Gospel Advocate (October 2001, pp. 28, 29) asserts that we need to discern between misconduct and mental illness.

Why Is the Bible Silent?

If some “misconduct” is the product of mental illness, why does the New Testament not make us aware of this? Is our authority The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the Scriptures? Powell advocates that we use the DSM to figure out what is sin and what is mental illness. He does not suggest that we use the Scriptures to learn how to discern between misconduct and “mental illness.” Nor does he offer any Scriptural advice and guidelines!

Only once does he cite a passage, and he misapplies it. He uses Job 14:1 to say that man is full of trouble, but Job meant that trouble happens to people, whereas Powell argues in his article on behalf of people who cause trouble.

There is a sidebar article by Robert Sturgeon, “Finding the Proper Resources,” and interestingly, the proper resources do not consider consulting the Manual of the Counselor, because there is absolutely no Bible in Sturgeon’s recommendations, but only man-made works.

If these two men had recommended denominational creeds, there would have been a loud cry in the church. However, when we are told that we should consult the works of men in regard to human behavior, and that those works should guide us in how we treat people who commit what would normally be sinful behavior, there is little, if any, objection!

How would the DSM describe a man who engaged in behavior that was highly unusual for him? First, this man committed adultery. He had never said or done anything in the past to indicate that he might commit adultery. His writings show extreme emotional highs and lows. When he was down, he would cry endlessly. When he was up, he could conquer any problem. In his writings he would express confusion as to why he was so down.

He would be diagnosed with a “mental illness,” perhaps bipolar disorder or manic-depression. You know the man of whom I speak. His name was David. Interestingly, the Lord did not “diagnose” David with any kind of “mental illness,” but with sin when he committed adultery!

Or analyze the life of Samson using both the DSM and the Scriptures. In fact, four medical doctors from the University of California, San Diego, already did this. They concluded that Samson had Antisocial Personality Disorder. Their “proof” was the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior (ref. Judges 15:6; 16:1).
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying (ref. Judges14:9).
  3. Impulsivity (ref. Judges 15:5).
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness (ref. his various physical fights).
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others (ref. Judges 15:15; 16:17).
  6. Lack of remorse (ref. Judges 15:16).

Was the Holy Spirit unaware of this medical evidence? Why is He silent about these matters, if indeed they are true and accurate for picturing Samson’s behavior?

If this manual had never been put together, would the church be able to function properly toward members who commit adultery and other forms of “misconduct”? Since things are changing constantly in this manual, which is why new editions come out, what if we take the wrong action today based upon new research that might come out tomorrow? Is it possible that the manual could be wrong in its diagnosis? If so, the church could be wrong in its action or lack of action because it followed this manual. How would the church answer God in the Day of Judgment? Could this scenario ever happen if the church follows the Scriptures alone?

The Bible is the perfect guide for the church in dealing with wrong behavior because it was given by inspiration of God, intended to make us thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). This is true because God’s divine power has delivered to us through the full knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ everything that we need for life and godliness, enabling us to escape any corruption of the world (2 Pet. 1:2–4).

Think about this: Why does the DSM need to be updated? Why do the Scriptures not need to be updated?

How Is “Mental Illness” Determined? 

Another question is who is “mentally ill”? Homosexuality went from being a mental disorder to normal, unless the person has problems accepting his homosexuality. This change was brought about not through hard scientific evidence, but through the pressure of the homosexual community. It is now politically correct and has been accepted by psychological thinkers.

Here is a crucial distinction when dealing with “mental illness”: The brain and the mind are not the same. Evolution has influenced virtually every field of knowledge. When Christians study in these areas, they have to be rooted deeply in the word of God. Otherwise, they will be influenced to think as the world of evolution does. The brain can be infected with a disease, which will prevent us from functioning normally, but how does the mind become infected with a disease?

Continuing the medical metaphor, the mind can be “infected” with falsehood, which in turn prevents us from functioning righteously. So how is that “treated”? With truth! That the brain and the mind are different can be seen when you consider a faithful Christian who has died. Let us assume that a Christian has had some kind of brain or other bodily organ disease that caused the Christian to do some odd, though not sinful, things. That the mind was not really affected is seen when we ask about that person’s mental state after death? Will he still be doing odd things in heaven? No, because that odd behavior was a thing of the body. There is no question that bodily things can keep the mind from expressing itself properly, but it is also true that our minds can affect our bodies, as the following testifies:

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression,
But a good word makes it glad.
(Prov. 12:25).

A sound heart is life to the body,
But envy is rottenness to the bones.
(Prov. 14:30).

A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance,
But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
(Prov. 15:13).

A merry heart does good, like medicine,
But a broken spirit dries the bones.
(Prov. 17:22).

The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit?
(Prov. 18:14).

A Serious Indictment Against the Church

David Powell makes a serious indictment against the church, which is actually an indictment against the Holy Spirit who furnished us with the Scriptures, which are a perfect guideline for dealing with people who sin. Why did the Lord leave out the discernment information that Powell argues we need? He speaks of ignorant church leaders, who may be simply following the Scriptures.

Does the Bible give exceptions to sinful behavior? For example, in First Corinthians 5 the Spirit commands us not to keep company, not even to eat with and to put away from among us, a member of the church who is fornicating. I am using adultery or fornication because that is an example that Powell gives in his article. Yet, in First Corinthians 5 there are no exceptions. We are not told to look first for “mental illness.” Therefore, Powell’s critique of modern church leaders is a critique of Paul, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit and appointed by Jesus Christ to represent Him.

If the Bible has left out this valuable truth (truth about a person’s behavior to whom we might do serious damage), can we trust the Bible on other matters? What if there is something else on which the Bible has not given us sufficient information, causing us to act inappropriately, perhaps harming someone else and a new field of research comes up in 50 years that reveals we had actually been acting irresponsibly? Do you realize that brother Powell is implying we have been committing horrible acts simply because we have been following the Bible? If Powell believes what he proposes is in harmony with the Bible, he needs to explain First Corinthians 5; Second Thessalonians 3 and other passages that command us to withdraw from members who do not repent of their “misconduct.” What does this say about the church in ages past before the invention of modern psychology?

Powell constantly mixes up bizarre behavior and sinful behavior. If someone has done strange, but not sinful things, that is different than adultery, murder and other sins.

Why does the Bible not advise us to learn to distinguish between sinful behavior and a medically related behavioral problem? Has modern psychology discovered something about the nature of man that God failed to reveal in the Scriptures?

Strong Recommendations to Seek Virtually any Professional Psychologist

There is a wide-open recommendation to seek secular organizations for mental help. Nothing is said about seeking someone with strong biblical beliefs. Nor is there any warning about the shifting sands of what “professional help” defines as “mental illness.” Consider homosexuality again. The church used to consider the psychiatric field an ally because it classified homosexuality as a sickness or abnormal behavior. I have always spoken against this, saying that homosexuality is not a sickness. You should have seen the looks I have received over the years for this statement. People thought that I was saying homosexuality is not wrong, that it is normal. I quickly informed people that homosexuality is sin! Therefore, it is not a sickness that needs treatment, but a sin that needs repentance and forgiveness!

The Bible does address the issue of one’s mental state

Interestingly, Powell and Sturgeon never once quoted or even alluded to one of these passages! Their reliance upon a work of man is frightening, because it has caused them to fail to consult the Creator of the human mind.

“The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart” (Deut. 28:28).

“So you shall be driven mad because of the sight which your eyes see” (Deut. 28:34).

So he changed his behavior before them, feigned madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard Then Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” (1 Sam. 21:13–15).

Can you fake cancer? Many school children have attempted to pretend they were sick to avoid going to school. Often the parents knew that something was up. A visit to a doctor can reveal the truth. However, many people have faked insanity, successfully fooling experts. While the two passages from Deuteronomy above show the reality of madness, Powell failed to consult these and to discover what the context reveals is the root of madness, at least in those cases. Moreover, David’s experience shows that “mental illness” can be faked.

Then Jehu came out to the servants of his master, and one said to him, “Is all well? Why did this madman come to you?” And he said to them, “You know the man and his babble” (2 Ki. 9:11).

And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind (Ecc. 1:17).

Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, Is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “I was only joking!” (Prov. 26:18, 19).

I said of laughter—“Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” (Ecc. 2:2).

Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly; For what can the man do who succeeds the king?—Only what he has already done (Ecc. 2:12).

I applied my heart to know, To search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, To know the wickedness of folly, Even of foolishness and madness (Ecc. 7:25).

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead (Ecc. 9:3).

The words of his mouth begin with foolishness, And the end of his talk is raving madness (Ecc. 10:13).

Who frustrates the signs of the babblers, And drives diviners mad; Who turns wise men backward, And makes their knowledge foolishness (Isa. 44:25).

“And they will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them” (Jer. 25:16).

A drought is against her waters, and they will be dried up. For it is the land of carved images, And they are insane with their idols (Jer 50:38).

The days of punishment have come; The days of recompense have come. Israel knows! The prophet is a fool, The spiritual man is insane, Because of the greatness of your iniquity and great enmity (Hos. 9:7).

“In that day,” says the LORD, “I will strike every horse with confusion, and its rider with madness; I will open My eyes on the house of Judah, and will strike every horse of the peoples with blindness (Zech. 12:4).

Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind” (Mk. 3:20, 21).

And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (Jn. 10:20).

But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel” (Acts 12:15).

The passages above show both the reality of madness and the possibility of misdiagnosis. If someone claims to see things or hear things that are not there, we know that something is wrong with him. He may have a brain malfunction, but he has not been committing what the Bible labels sin. If medicine truly brings him back to normal, it shows there was a body abnormality. However, the medicine route is resorted to far too frequently.

Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason” (Acts 26:24, 25).

For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you (2 Cor. 5:13).

…but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet (2 Pet. 2:16).

Here is an insightful comment. Peter was calling Balaam’s greed madness! It was not only madness or sin, but also madness because he was running with sin. Sin is madness because it is abnormal; it is different than what we are supposed to be doing. Madness is described in Scripture as being beside yourself. When we live in sin or let it run our lives, as Balaam was doing at that point in the Book of Numbers, we are acting beside ourselves. We were created to glorify God and to do righteousness. Thus, running in sin is acting beside those intended purposes. Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15? He left home to live a sinful life. Things got bad. Verses 14–16 show just how low he was willing to go. Now listen thoughtfully to what Jesus said when He introduced how the young man started to think:

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants”’” (Lk. 15:17–19).

During his sin he was not himself, but when he was ready, he came out of it and came to himself again.

Matthew 9:35 says that Jesus went about healing every kind of disease. Did this include the things David Powell writes about? If so, why does the Bible not mention it? Or are we missing something?

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