On Sunday, February 18, the youth pastor at the church I was attending engaged in false teaching as he discussed mental illness. How do I know? I have a high regard for Scripture, and I am a mental health therapist.
The youth pastor presented Christ Jesus in the youth pastor’s own image as one who was depressed and anxious. The youth pastor cited Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as the instance of Christ evidencing depression and anxiety. This is heresy and represents a grotesque misunderstanding of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan for humanity.
Titus 1:9 (NIV) states, that an elder of the church “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. “ Furthermore, Acts 20:28-30 (NIV) states, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” When sound doctrine is not being taught in the church, it is the responsibility of those in charge to provide correction to and refute the false teacher.
When one has a low view of God and a high view of man, they will examine things from their own man-centered perspective. This is what occurred in the sermon entitled “Mental Illness & Christianity” wherein the youth pastor claimed Christ had depression and anxiety “just like us.” In essence, a man-centered psychology was presented as though it were the truth of Scripture.
First of all, Christ could not have been in a state of anxiety, or He would not have been God. Philippians 4:6 (NIV) states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In Matthew 6, Christ Himself warned His followers that anxiety was putting one’s self first and not God first. Anxiety was not trusting God. Christ also rebuked the disciples for their anxiety about a storm that had overtaken them in their boat (cf. Matthew 8:23-27). If Christ were indeed anxious, He would be disobeying His own word as God thereby sinning against himself. In other words, He would not be the perfect lamb of God taking on the sins of the world (cf. I Peter 1:19).
Secondly, the youth pastor was discussing “mental illness” as his topic, interchanging this concept with depression and anxiety disorders. For that reason, it can only be assumed that he was referring to depression as an extended state of sadness and despondency which includes feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness as he did not make a distinction. Some mental health professionals have called depression “anger turned inward” where a person has become so self-focused that that individual is basically taking life out on themselves. Depression is a “woe is me” attitude that lasts for an extended period of time. It is an ongoing state of “stinking thinking” (which is why it responds to well to cognitive therapies). In essence, one has given up on God during times of extended despondence. Anyone who has been truly depressed will attest to these feelings. This was not Christ’s mental state when He was in Gethsemane.
Christ was evidencing grief and sorrow over the sins of the world and facing rejection by His Father. Sorrow and anguish is not depression. Sadness and grief are not depression. These are temporary feelings not typically referred to as the mental illness or depressive disorder to which the youth pastor continually referred throughout his sermon. Christ’s sorrow was a holy sorrow over our sinfulness and His sinlessness. Christ was not feeling sorry for Himself. He was not hopeless. He knew what was going to happen. He was about the face the full cup of God’s fury over sin (cf. Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). His perfect, sinless heart grieved for the sins of the world. Yet, through all this, He trusted the Father. He was not despondent about his plight in life. In fact, just prior to going to the garden, Christ prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1 NIV), and He prayed for those who would believe in Him…He prayed for us!
Christ was God incarnate. To say that Christ was depressed and anxious when preaching a sermon on mental illness goes against the nature of God. To say that Christ was depressed and anxious recreates Christ in man’s own image. It makes Christ fallible and sinful just like any other man which would make Him not God. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22-23 ESV).
To make matters worse, the youth pastor ridiculed those who would seek to bring comfort to those struggling with depression and anxiety by sharing with them the healing balm of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In addition, Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) states, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” In fact, we are told to renew our minds on Scripture so that we will not be conformed to this world (cf. Romans 12:1-2). The pastor used Jeremiah as an example of one who was depressed in Scripture. Jeremiah himself said, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty” (Jeremiah 15:16 NIV). One could go on and on with Scriptures about the importance of God’s Word in the life of a believer: Joshua 1:8 (we are to meditate on it); Psalm 1:2 (it is to be what we meditate on), 19:7-8 (revives the soul), 107:20 (it is our healing), 119:105 (it is a lamp and a light); Isaiah 55:11 (it will accomplish God’s will); and Matthew 4:4 (we are to live by it). The list could go on.
To ridicule those who would seek to utilize Scripture to bring hope and healing to another is to deny the power of the Word of God working in those people’s lives (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5). In fact, Galatians 5:17 (NIV) states, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. “ In addition, I Corinthians 2:14 (NIV) states, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” These passages again only emphasize the nature of the false teaching when one considers how ridiculous the things of God were stated by the youth pastor to be when helping someone who is depressed or anxious! “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18 NIV). No wonder the use of God’s Word was made fun of by a false teacher!
The church exists in the world to be the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Exposing the church to error will have disastrous effects. If the church abandons truth, then it is no longer the church of Jesus Christ.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason…I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” Martin Luther