Adultery and Counseling in the Local Church

June 4, 2013

Local Church Series - Adultery and Counseling in the Local Church

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Jonathan Holmes

Local Church Series - Adultery and Counseling in the Local Church

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part Five in a multi-part series by the BCC’s Grace & Truth bloggers on Biblical Counseling in the Local Church. In addition to today’s post by Jonathan Holmes, you can read Part One by Pastor Steve Viars: Biblical Counseling and Community Outreach, Part Two by Keri Seavey: Keeping Equipping Simple in the Local Church, Part Three by Kevin Carson: The Local Church: The Place for Help, and Part Four by Andrew Rogers: Conviction: Vital for Biblical Counseling in the Local Church. You will also read future posts by Eliza Jane Huie and Pastor Deepak Reju.

Adultery and Marital Infidelity

There is probably not a heartache and counseling scenario that you dread hearing more than that of adultery and marital infidelity. The initial shock of revelation, the subsequent stages of grief, disbelief, surprise, and anger coupled with the continuing on of day-to-day life presents what humanly appears to be a nearly impossible situation.

What is the role of the local church, and specifically the role of counselors in the church to help in such a situation? Is the church a place and a people where the adulterer and victim of adultery can find hope and healing for their marriage? I’d like to discuss some of the benefits of counseling within the local church following the revelation of marital infidelity.

Benefits of Counseling within the Local Church Post-Infidelity

  1. The biblical counselor comes into the counseling context bringing not just a set of methodological principles, but also the living and written Word of God. This means a holistic understanding of each of the people involved, who they were created to be, why they do what they do, and who ultimately is the only one who can bring hope to the situation.
  1. Equipped with a biblical understanding of the heart, the counselor comes into this situation of adultery and is able to see that adultery is always the culmination of something much greater that has been brewing under the surface. Christ himself alluded to this dynamic in Matthew 5:27-28 when he told the listening audience that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The counselor then is prepared, able, and equipped to enter into the couple’s world to discuss much more than just adultery with the adulterer, but to also pursue the why, not just the what of the adultery.[1]

  1. Christ and the Scriptures offer much hope to both spouses. To the adulterer, the hope and joy which true repentance can bring. King David, an adulterer himself, cries out to God in Psalm 51:12 for the restoration of joy in his life. Another way of saying it might be that the church offers a message that the adulterer’s identity for life is not a scarlet letter of Adultery, but rather a restored and redeemed child of the King.

To the victim of adultery, the hope that God sees and knows their situation. He will not leave them alone to figure this out, but that He Himself knows the agony and disappointment of adultery. He understands the experience of being forsaken for someone and something else. The prophet Jeremiah proclaims in Jeremiah 2:13, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” And not only does He understand the agony of adultery, He calls you to Himself to speak out your suffering and pain to Him each and every time.

  1. Counseling within the local church affords the couple many practical benefits as well:
    • Offers a neutral, but familiar place for the actual location of marriage counseling
    • Offers the ability to receive marriage counseling most likely at zero or little cost
    • Offers a counselor, who most likely has at least some type of relationship and knowledge of the couple as opposed to a secular clinician who would have no context or relationship with the couple
    • Offers a hierarchy of care which can often include bringing in other couples to help care and pray with the hurting couple, pastors/elders, deacons all in addition to the counselor himself [2]
    • Offers multiple points of interaction (Sunday morning worship, mid-week activities, Bible studies, etc.) where the adulterer can have opportunity to bear the godly fruit of repentance
  1. Pursuing marriage counseling within the church also provides biblical recourse if the adulterer remains unrepentant in his sin. The process of church discipline and restoration in Matthew 18:15-17 helps guide the counselor and the church leadership in pursuing the adulterer’s highest welfare in Christ by holding him accountable, enlisting the body of Christ, and entrusting him into the hands of a God who sees all and judges justly.
  1. It goes without saying, but counseling within the local church brings the prayers of God’s people to bear on the situation.  Whatever the level of disclosure of the adultery, the counselor and the church leadership can consistently bring this couple before God in prayer.  I should not be surprised, but the many times we’ve seen God bring healing into the marriage after adultery can only be attributed to the faithful prayers of those praying for the couple in crisis.

With all those benefits at hand, if you know of a couple struggling through the pains and heartaches of infidelity, would you consider encouraging them to pursue help from their local church? So often we see couples in crisis come to the church as a last resort, instead of seeing their church as a safe and hopeful place where not only their marriage can be restored, but that a vision of redemption and healing can be fully realized and seen!

Join the Conversation

What are additional strengths the local care offers when counseling in cases of adultery?

[1]Discussing the why of adultery in counseling with both spouses is something which needs to be thought through very carefully. Oftentimes, individual sessions at this juncture might prove to be more helpful. Winston Smith offers a helpful article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling, 27.1 on “When NOT to Do Marriage Counseling.”

[2]Confidentiality with cases involving adultery is crucial and important; however, over time it would be helpful for the couple (especially the victim of adultery) to be able to have biblical friends and relationships whom he/she can turn and speak with and pray with.