We believe that counseling is a theological discipline that must be informed by the truths of the faith once for all delivered to the saints in the pages of Holy Scripture.
An Announcement from ACBC’s Executive Director
On a New Standards of Doctrine
Theology is central to our work at ACBC. We believe that counseling is a theological discipline that must be informed by the truths of the faith once for all delivered to the saints in the pages of Holy Scripture. That reality means that ACBC is an association of counselors founded on theological principles. It is crucial, therefore, that our organization have a very careful articulation of our guiding theological convictions in order to clearly communicate our doctrinal beliefs.
For years the leadership of our organization has believed that our current Statement of Faith has not adequately communicated the theological distinctions that we believe most characterize counseling faithfulness. Last year the board agreed to address this long-standing problem, appointing a committee to draft a new Standards of Doctrine that would be presented to our members for approval at the 2015 annual conference in Louisville, KY. That committee consisted of me, Lance Quinn, George Scipione, and Robert Somerville. We announced this development last year at our annual conference and have been working on the new document since then.
In what follows I want to explain to you how our committee has done its work, and also explain what is required of our membership as we seek approval for this document, which I pray will become the new doctrinal standard for our organization.
Late last year, our committee began a series of meetings to discuss what should be the nature of our new Standards of Doctrine. We were in agreement that the document must be a robust statement of doctrine that is relevant for counseling, but which appreciates the good multi-demoninationalism of ACBC. In other words, we want to communicate faithful theology without compromise, but we also want to make room in our organization for the many different church traditions such as Baptist, Presbyterian, and others. Our committee is convinced that we have been able to accomplish this, and we hope you will agree.
Another element of our early meetings was to establish a process for drafting the Standards of Doctrine. We have followed that process carefully, and believe it has served us well so far. Our committee met regularly from November to March to draft the document. We referred to the document we created as the Fellow’s Draft because we sent that document out to all of the Fellows in our organization for their review. We collected a great deal of helpful feedback, which we used to make several helpful revisions. We referred to the document at that stage of development as the Board Draft because that is what the board ultimately considered. After a month of review the ACBC Board made several helpful revisions. That led to the document we currently possess, which we are calling the Membership Draft. This Membership Draft is now available, below, for you to consider for approval at this year’s annual conference.
It is important for our members to understand what their responsibility is moving forward. The board of ACBC unanimously agrees that this should be our guiding theological document going into the future. Making this happen will require a change to the constitution and, therefore, a vote of our membership. That means we need your help.
First, we need you to carefully review the Membership Draft of the Standards of Doctrine, below. After carefully reviewing the document we are interested in your feedback. Where do you notice things that need to be stated more clearly? Are there missing elements that should be included? We are inviting all members to send their feedback to us firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be receiving feedback from our members until September 4th. That gives you three months to review this document and let us know what you think. The feedback of our members will be sent to our entire board for their consideration at their annual meeting on October 2-3. They will make any necessary changes and recommend a final draft which our membership will either approve or reject at our annual member’s meeting on October 6. If this vote passes then the Standards of Doctrine will become the document which outlines the doctrinal commitments of our association.
I want to underscore how important your feedback is and how important it is that we receive it this summer. We really want your input on this document. We are an association of counselors and we want this document to reflect the very best of who we are. It will, however, be impossible to edit this document on the floor of our member’s meeting at the annual conference. It would create a potentially endless line of suggested amendments. That is why our board will send the final draft to our members to be approved or rejected in its entirety. So I am inviting you to interact now.
I want you to know of my personal enthusiasm about this draft of the ACBC Standards of Doctrine. I think it is a faithful articulation of biblical truth and will serve our organization well going into the future.
I look forward to hearing your input as we proceed.
Blessings in Christ,
Dr. Heath Lambert.
Standards of Doctrine
The Preamble. We are an association of Christians who have been called together by God to help the Church of Jesus Christ excel in the ministry of biblical counseling. We do this with the firm resolve that counseling is a fundamentally theological task. The work of understanding the problems which require counseling and of helping people with those problems is theological work requiring theological faithfulness in order to accomplish that effectiveness which honors the triune God. Because theological faithfulness is a necessity in counseling, it is required of this association to articulate our convictions in this regard. We lay down this summary of Christian doctrine, which we believe represents the biblical standards of doctrine that biblical counselors must embrace to do their work faithfully.
I. The Doctrine of Scripture. The 66 books of the Bible in the Old and New Testaments constitute the completed and inscripturated Word of God. God the Holy Spirit carried along the human authors of Scripture so that they wrote the exact words that he desired them to write. The words in Scripture penned by human authors are thus the very words of God himself. As inspired by God the Bible is completely free from error, and serves as the inerrant, infallible, and final rule for life and faith. The Bible speaks with complete authority about every matter it addresses. The words of Scripture concern issues of life and faith before God, and because counseling issues are matters of life and faith, the Bible is a sufficient resource to inform counseling ministry.
Acts 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:1-17; 2 Peter 1:3-21; 2 Peter 3:15-16
II. The Doctrine of God. God is eternal and infinite in all of his perfections. This one God exists eternally in three distinct fully divine persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is creator of all that exists. He made the heavens and the earth out of nothing. He exerts comprehensive sovereignty over all of his creation. He possesses exhaustive and perfect knowledge of all events past, present, and future. He is present everywhere at all times. He is infinitely good with no shadow of sin in any part of his being.
Genesis 1-3; Psalm 139:1-16; Isaiah 46:8-11; Acts 5:1-4; Romans 9:5 Ephesians 1:11
III. The Doctrine of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, the second member of the Trinity. He exists as one person with two distinct natures, fully divine, and fully human without any mixture of the two. He was born of a virgin. He lived his entire life on earth without transgressing the law of God, thus earning righteousness for his people. He suffered a violent death on the cross to pay for the sins of his people. He rose miraculously from the grave on the third day as Lord and Savior, demonstrating his victory over sin, death, and the devil. He ascended bodily into heaven where he reigns over all creation, and actively upholds and intercedes for his people as his bride, the church, awaits his glorious return.
Matthew 1:18-25; John 17:6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Ephesians 1:21-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-15; Hebrews 4:14-15; 7:25
IV. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the eternal third member of the Trinity. He is the person who convicts of sin and who indwells Christians. He regenerates believers and empowers them to live the Christian life, to understand the Scriptures, and to worship Jesus Christ. He is thus essential to the change sought in biblical counseling. He is the sovereign God who equips believers with gifts of service to do ministry in the church.
John 16:4-15; Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Ephesians 1:13-18
V. The Doctrine of Divine Grace. Salvation is thoroughly a work of divine grace from beginning to end. Before the foundation of the world the Father elected to save a people who would compose the church. Jesus Christ purchased the salvation of those individuals through his life, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to all who believe, creating the gift of faith in their hearts, and he keeps them in that faith forever.
Romans 3:21-23; Ephesians 1:3-14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 1:6
VI. The Doctrine of Man. God created man out of the dust and breathed life into him so that he became a living person. Human beings are made in the image of God and were created by him to be the pinnacle of creation. God made mankind in two complementary genders of male and female who are equal in dignity and worth. Men are called to roles of spiritual leadership particularly in the home and in the church. Women are called to respond to and affirm godly servant leadership particularly in the church and home. God created the human person with a physical body and an immaterial soul, each possessing equal honor and essential to humanity. The Bible depicts the soul as that which motivates the physical body to action. These constituent aspects are separable only at death. The great hope of Christians is the restoration of body and soul in a glorified existence in the new heavens and new earth. Man is by design a dependent creature standing in need of divine counsel to serve God and to be conformed into the image of Christ.
Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7; Proverbs 4:23; Roman 8:29; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; Ephesians 5:22-33; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
VII. The Doctrine of Sin. God created mankind in a state of sinless perfection, but the human race fell from this state when Adam willfully chose to rebel against God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since that time every human being has been born in sin and separated from God. Every element of human nature is inherently corrupted by sin so that mankind stands in desperate need of the grace of God to be cleansed from sin by the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Sin creates the need for all counseling as people seek ministry to resolve problems in living caused by their own sin, the sin of others, and the consequences of sin in the world.
Genesis 3:1-7; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:1-21; 5:12-21
VIII. The Doctrine of the Church. The church is the bride of Christ called to proclaim the Word of God, administer baptism and the Lord’s supper, and exercise church discipline. The church is the organism through which God accomplishes his mission in the world. It is the main agent for all ministry of the Word, including the ministry of counseling and discipleship.
Matthew 16:18-20; Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 15:14; 1 Peter 2:1-12; Revelation 19:6-10
IX. The Doctrine of Regeneration. Regeneration is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit where he transforms the hardened heart of a sinner into the soft heart of a believer, who loves God and obeys his Word. It is what makes the new life in Christ possible. Regeneration, along with the God-given gifts of repentance and faith, is granted solely by grace, resulting in all the attendant evidences of our great salvation in Christ.
Ezekiel 36:25-27; Acts 20:21 John 3:1-9; Titus 3:4-6; James 1:18
X. The Doctrine of Justification. Justification is the sovereign declaration of God that the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed to those who have trusted in his sinless obedience and his work on the cross for their salvation. When God justifies a person, he no longer treats him as a sinner but reckons him to possess that righteousness which Jesus Christ earned on his behalf. The declaration of justification does not come through any past, present, or future merit in the sinner. Justification is based exclusively on the merits of Jesus Christ and is received through faith alone.
Luke 18:9-14; Romans 4:1-12; Philippians 3:1-11
XI. The Doctrine of Sanctification. Sanctification is a joint work between God and man, where God supplies grace for Christians to grow in obedience to Christ. While Christians are made holy in a definitive sense at conversion, it still remains for them to grow in holiness. This work of grace requires believers to utilize, by faith, the normal means of grace such as Bible reading, prayer, thought renewal, and fellowship in the context of the local church. Christians will experience real progress in growing more like Christ, yet this work will be incomplete in this life. The work of counseling is fundamentally the work of helping Christians to grow in this grace of sanctification.
Acts 26:17-18; Romans 6:1-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:1-17
XII. The Doctrine of Revelation. God discloses himself to humanity in two ways. Special revelation is God’s disclosure of himself to his covenant community in the pages of Scripture. General revelation is God’s disclosure of himself to the entirety of humanity in the things that have been made. General revelation and special revelation each come from God and so are of equivalent authority, though they differ in content. Special revelation discloses detailed information about the character of God and the path to salvation. General revelation is a disclosure of the beauty and power of God, which leads to judgment. The subject matter of general revelation is the character of God, and not mere facts about the created order.
Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-23
XIII. The Doctrine of Common Grace. God extends his goodness to all people by making provision for their physical needs and granting them intellectual gifts. This goodness, also known as common grace, is what grants unbelievers the ability to apprehend facts in science, for example, and is why believers can affirm the true information that unbelievers come to understand. The chief manifestation of God’s grace is his salvation of sinners by the blood of Jesus Christ to all who believe. Common grace cannot overcome the corrosive effects of sin upon human thinking without this special, saving grace of Jesus. This reality guarantees that, though unbelievers can know many facts, they will misunderstand information that is most central to human life, which includes information about God, the human problem, and its solution in Christ. Because the central elements of counseling include God, the nature of the human problem, and God’s solution in Christ, the counseling methods of secular people are at odds with a uniquely biblical approach to counseling.
Matthew 5:44-45; John 1:9; Romans 1:18-23; Colossians 1:21
XIV. The Doctrine of The Great Commission. Jesus Christ commissioned his church to go into the world with the two-fold task of evangelism and discipleship. In giving this commission, Jesus requires his people to use their conversations to draw people to Christ in evangelism, and to build people up in Christ in discipleship. The Great Commission necessitates that all faithful counseling conversations must have Jesus Christ as their ultimate goal. Our Lord and Savior does not give believers the option to avoid counseling conversations, or to avoid directing those conversations toward Jesus. The commitment of Christians to the Great Commission and to faithful biblical counseling is therefore one and the same.
Matthew 28:16-20; Romans 10:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Colossians 1:24-29
XV. The Doctrine of Last Things. Jesus Christ will return for his church at a moment known only to God. At Jesus’ coming, he will sit in judgment on the entirety of the human race. At the conclusion of this judgment, he will usher all humanity into the eternal state. All those who have spent their lives persisting in unbelief will go away into everlasting torment. The righteous in Christ will go away into everlasting joy in the presence of Jesus Christ. Christians can therefore have hope that all wrongs will be punished, that all righteous acts will be rewarded, and that God’s people will ultimately abide with him forever. The hope of the new creation is the foundation of all counseling.
Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:6-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21
“For many years our ACBC board has recognized the need to update our Standards of Doctrine. Because theological integrity is at the very heart of our mission, I am glad this project has now been successfully completed. The new standards strike the appropriate balance between a firm stand for conservative evangelical thought but with enough room for respectful disagreement on matters that are not essential to counseling theory and practice.”
– Dr. Steve Viars, Senior Pastor at Faith Church, Director of the Faith Legacy Foundation
“I am in full support of the Standards of Doctrine being proposed. I believe it brings much needed clarity to doctrinal positions.”
– Dr. Robert B. Somerville, Professor of Biblical Counseling, The Master’s College
“One of the great strengths of ACBC (formerly NANC) has been the emphasis upon sound doctrine as the foundation for counseling. This priority has been reflected in the process of certification which requires the careful study of theology and the completion of a theological examination. The ACBC Standards of Doctrine do a wonderful job of setting forth our affirmation of sound doctrine in the reformed tradition while pointing out the particular ways that doctrine shapes our counseling. I heartily endorse this statement which I believe will be a standard for many in the broader biblical counseling community.”
– Dr. Jim Newheiser, Executive Director of IBCD
“What God says in Scripture should mold and motivate what we do in practice, because what we practice manifests what we believe to be true. These standards of doctrine constitute the foundation for our ministry of the Word. How we practice our counseling ministry must be anchored to Scripture. With these standards we shape how we conduct ministry and we use them to constantly scrutinize our practice for the glory of God. The standards of doctrine will serve ACBC well in our pursuit of excellence in biblical counseling.”
– Andrew Rogers, Pastor of Soul Care at College Park Church
“For many years it has been one of the chief goals of the ACBC Board of Trustees to “beef-up” our doctrinal statement for the purpose of holiness and clarity in setting a standard of excellence in biblical counseling. After many months of careful and prayerful discussion and review, the new “Standards of Doctrine” represent the final fruit of that labor. I want to enthusiastically recommend this to you because it represents a high view of God, His Son, His holy Word, His gospel and the significant role the church plays in counseling. We are a certification organization that is fully committed to not only the sufficiency of the Word of God, but its superiority over all other man-made psychotherapeutic theories. I believe this “Standards of Doctrine” will be as much an encouragement to you as it has been to me.”
– Dr. John Street, Masters College
“Having served on the sub-committee which initially drafted the Standards of Doctrine, I am pleased to now commend them to our full ACBC membership. Contained, I trust, in these ‘Standards’ are brief statements of doctrine, yet faithful synopses of Holy Scripture. While each section doesn’t–by any means or measure–exhaust all that God’s Word has to say on the subject it addresses, it nevertheless seeks to capture the sum and core of biblical truth, to be used by both counselors and counselees alike. May this attempt at capturing the essence of divine truth in miniature be of great value to you as you disciple others in our most holy faith.”
– Lance Quinn, Pastor at Thousand Oaks Bible Church
“ACBC is serious about God, His grace and His Word. We are making our doctrinal statement more Biblical than before. We are biblical and hope to become even more biblical in the future. May this statement be a blessing and a challenge to the Church and be used of God in a great reformation of biblical theology and counseling.”
– Dr. George C Scipione, Director of the Biblical Counseling Institue, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
“I’m very encouraged and supportive concerning the revisions to our Standards in Doctrine for the ACBC. There is often apprehension when any revision to an institution’s doctrinal statement is undertaken. I can assure you these amendments are profitable ones. The careful study, thought and unity amongst the ACBC Board has resulted in these minor but needed revisions you have before you. I believe you as an ACBC member will appreciate the clarity and be more able to teach these needed truths easily to others. In the words of the theologian John Frame, “Theology is application [of doctrine]. If it doesn’t edify, it is worthless. It is not information for information’s sake. It should never be a vehicle of intellectual pride.” May these wonderful truths from God’s Word here in our doctrinal statement have an edifying and sanctifying effect in our lives as we humbly believe them, walk in them and counsel others in light of them.”
– Dr. Stuart Scott, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Masters College
“Biblical Counseling cannot be separated from strong theological commitments which are laid down for us in the Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (formerly NANC) began with few counselors, sharing similar training and commitments. At that time a simple doctrinal statement sufficed. Over the years, it was our hope that our doctrinal statement would be strengthened in response to the need of our ministry. This is the next step in that progress. While it is certainly more robust, it is still a simple statement. Nevertheless it reflects the commitment of the Board to hold as essential for our counselors, only those things with a direct impact upon our counseling. These are commitments that have a practical implication upon our work. They tell counselees seeking our help, what they can expect when they see one of our certified counselors. I’m thankful for the work of our committee.”
– Dr. Kevin M. Backus, Western Reformed Seminary
“As a member of ACBC (formerly NANC) from the very beginning, I am aware that originally the Doctrinal Statement was the brief and standard statement of many evangelical organizations at that time. Even though the doctrinal statement met the need at the inception of NANC, it was not sufficient and did not clearly express its Standards of Doctrine. For that reason, I endorse this Draft of the Standards of Doctrine being presented to the membership for acceptance as the official Standard of Doctrine for ACBC. I respect and have confidence in the members of the committee who developed these standards. They are members of the ACBC Board of Directors who spent much time in discussion and decision-making to be able to present to us this Draft. They are men of doctrinal integrity, in whose thinking and convictions I have the utmost confidence.”
– Dr. Ron Allchin, Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Center
“I have been a part of ACBC (previously NANC) since its very beginning and am enthusiastically devoted to the advancement of biblical counseling as proposed by this fine organization under the leadership of Heath Lambert and the members of the board. In fact I am so committed to what ACBC stands for and is doing that, having moved to South Africa at the end of 2005, we have established an African ACBC and are thrilled to be an extension of ACBC in the United States. Our doctrinal convictions and counseling approach and philosophy is in line with what our parent organization (ACBC) stands for. We are grateful for the way the Lord has used ACBC to further the cause of Christ in the United States and also around the world and especially in South Africa.”
– Dr. Wayne Mack, ACBC Member of the Academy, Strengthening Ministries Training Institute, Pastor/elder of Lynnwood Baptist Church in Pregtoria, South Africa
“What we believe is central to all that we do. Many of life’s problems can be exacerbated (if not caused) by bad theology. Because sound doctrine is vital to sanctified living, those who counsel from the Bible must have sound doctrine themselves. For, in the world of counseling, the time has “come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” The Standards for Doctrine of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors demonstrate ACBC’s commitment to promoting and defending the integrity of God’s Word. I give it my enthusiastic endorsement.”
– Lou Priolo, Valleydale Baptist Church
“As I read ACBC’s new Standards of Doctrine, I was deeply encouraged. The new Standards of Doctrine is written in a clear, concise, and accurate manner. I think this is great direction for us as an organization. I hope all other members would read and support this document. This document is one I feel comfortable supporting.”
– Dr. Nicolas Ellen, Community of Faith Bible Church
“While the old Standard of Doctrine statement was adequate to meet the need, I really appreciate the detail in the proposed new Standard of Doctrine. The new document provides scripture references to help the reader to understand exactly what we mean on every point. I am happy to endorse the revision.”
– Charles D Hodges Jr., MD,
“There is nothing more important in the work of the biblical counselor than the interaction between the heart of the counselee and the Word of God. We are theological conduits, carrying the truth of regeneration and sanctification to hurting souls. Therefore, a doctrinal statement that accurately reflects God, man, and the cross work of Christ is critically important to our organization/ministry. Our leadership has crafted a statement that accurately defines our doctrinal positions, and for this reason I fully support and endorse the ACBC’s Standards of Doctrine.”
– Julie Ganschow, Reigning Grace Counseling Center
“For it to be deeply abiding and impactful, counseling must, at its core, be theological in nature. As such, a clear and accurate explanation of the core truths of the Christian faith are necessary to the work of an organization like ACBC. I am excited about ACBC’s new Standards of Doctrine and believe that they serve as an excellent representation of the core beliefs we share together as biblical counselors. As such, they have my full endorsement.”
– Dr. Scott Mehl, Cornerstone Church
“There is no question about it: Theological presuppositions (and understandings) determine soul care philosophy. Or, said differently, we have to get theology right to get our practice as counselors right. The ACBC Standards of Doctrine help us with that foundational task. I’m so grateful that our board has undertaken the arduous task of creating this statement. It will help all of us who seek to glorify God through the strengthening of His church around the world.”
– Dr. Wayne A. Vanderwier, Exec. Dir., Overseas Instruction in Counseling
“Biblical Counseling is fundamentally a theological pursuit of ministering the Scriptures in the power of Christ to struggling people for the glory of God. As a pioneer organization of the biblical counseling movement, ACBC has always emphasized the absolute necessity of theological and doctrinal precision. Theology shapes and drives counseling at every level, which makes carefulness in doctrine absolutely crucial for counseling to truly be called “biblical.” That’s why I am thankful to endorse ACBC’s updated Standards of Doctrine. The update does not reflect any changes in theological position, but it does offer needed clarification and additional articulation to ensure biblical fidelity both now and in the years to come.”
– Dr. Keith Palmer, Director of Granbury Biblical Counseling
“I have always appreciated ACBC keeping the primary focus on the sufficiency of Scripture for the counseling task while maintaining orthodox theological commitments. I believe the proposed Standards of Doctrine continue this tradition and also provide an even stronger statement of theological convictions for the organization and her members.”
– Dr. John Babler, Southwestern Theological Seminary
“I have been a faithful supporter of ACBC – formerly NANC – since 1994. The ACBC board is to be commended for their careful attention to the rewrite of the Standards of Doctrine for our association. I endorse what has been clearly written, leaving no area where one should have to doubt what our association believes. It is this sound doctrine that holds us together and helps us to continue in a direction that brings glory to our Great God.”
– Dr. Tom Zempel, Shepherds Theological Seminary, Colonial Baptist Church
“I commend the ACBC team and board for their diligence in developing this new Standards of Doctrine. In an inclusive world where doctrine is often mitigated for various purposes, these standards provide both a clear and thoughtful statement regarding our beliefs as an organization. I endorse and recommend these standards for acceptance by our members at large.”
– Dr. Kevin Carson, Sonrise Baptist Church, Baptist Bible Theological Seminary
“ACBC from its beginning almost 40 years ago has been primarily a certifying organization of individual biblical counselors and training centers. Certifying organizations must set clear standards, identify best practices and then maintain them. I enthusiastically support the adoption of the proposed Standards of Doctrine. This is a great step forward in ACBC communicating in a much more robust manner what we believe doctrinally and how it relates to counseling. Thanks to Executive Director Heath Lambert and the Board of Trustees for this excellent document!”
– Randy Patten, ACBC Director of Training and Advancement
“I heartily endorse the new ACBC Standards of Doctrine. My thanks to Heath Lambert and the Board for putting together this vital document of doctrine, which accurately represents the beautiful truths of theology found in God’s Word.”
– Wayne Johnston, Director of Training Center Certification, President of BCDASoCal
“The proposed ACBC doctrinal statement has been well thought out and clearly written. I appreciate all the work that went into this project and can see why the board as a whole is behind it. I like how it reads and I plan to vote for passage at the October meeting.”
– Martha Peace, Author of the Excellent Wife