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Mental Illness and the Christian Church

As humans, we have the proclivity to speak authoritatively on subjects in which we know very little.

“I seriously don’t think Donald Trump will make it past the primaries.” – J. Teis, June 16, 2015.

“Disney purchased Star Wars?  They’ll probably destroy it!” – J. Teis, October 30, 2012.

“I can say with certainty, that this whole Facebook thing is a fad.” – J. Teis, July 2008.

As Christians, we add a sense of spirituality to our authoritative ignorance.  And because we are the children of God we feel the right to speak for Him even when He remains silent.  The presumptuous child will see God’s reticence on a subject as an open invitation to form unbending opinions, detailed arguments, and unsanctioned laws meant to prop up his ill-conceived belief.

I am guilty!

On multiple occasions, I have personally spoken for The Father where He had not spoken and demanded conformity where He allowed for diversity.  This was certainly the case regarding mental illness.  Once I taught from the pulpit, nearly a decade ago, that those who relied upon medication for mental stability and emotional health were dishonoring God.  I even invited them to show faith in God by destroying their physician-prescribed medication.  Thankfully our church was very small and the congregants often wiser than their young pastor.  Yet the most heartbreaking memory I have is sitting in my office with a beautiful young couple who were facing a terrible giant.  They came to me for counsel.  They came to me for help.

She had been diagnosed with clinical depression.  She was sad.  He was confused.  I was certain.  “You simply need to read the Bible more and spend time in prayer.”  “But pastor” she replied, “I spend over an hour every day in devotional time with God and I still am in such pain.”  This was difficult to believe because I didn’t spend that much quiet time with God, and I’m the pastor.  “God didn’t make you to be sad.  He made you to be happy.  Sadness is a consequence of sin.  Either you have sin that must be confessed and then you’ll be happy, or you are simply sad for no reason and that is a sin.”  I was certain of it!  Kinda certain!  “Pastor, are you telling me that my depression is a sin?”  And without a moment of contemplation, I retorted, “YES!”

I’m so thankful that a godly deacon pulled me aside one day and challenged my preconceived ideas of mental illness and emotional health.  This deeply spiritual man helped me to see the error of my ways by showing me patience, pointing me to Scripture, and walking me through the medical realities of which I was unaware.  He happened to be a surgeon for the Air Force and knew of what he spoke.

Robert and Jenny Bakss also know of what they speak.  Though they speak from an experiential rather than medical perspective.  Jenny has been suffering from bipolar disorder for nearly twenty-five years.  And Robert has been her faithful companion along each step of this treacherous journey.  They have gifted the world with a brand new book called, Poles Apart: A Christian Couple Gives Bipolar a Voice.

You must get and read this book for 4 Reasons:

1. The Book Destroys the Silence and the Stigma surrounding Mental Illness

Go ahead.  Join a new small group and tell them that you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar, depression, or schizophrenia.  Post it on Facebook and watch the response, or lack thereof.  Sharing a mental diagnosis can be a little different than sharing a physical one.  Admission of pancreatic cancer will rightfully be rewarded with compassion, love, and prayer.  Admission of bipolar will likely be rewarded with confusion at best, criticism at worst, or silence often.  One forgets that just as the pancreas can have problems producing insulin, the brain can have chemical imbalances too.

2. The Book Demonstrates a Great Marriage with Honesty and Humor

One of the unexpected (and I suspect unintended) blessings of this book was a glimpse into a wonderful marriage.  Jenny is clearly the hero of this story but her husband Robert demonstrates to the reader how a patient spouse is to live, act, respond, and care for a lover when going through tragedy.  In a world filled with selfish relationships, it is refreshing to see a truly compassionate couple.

There is also an element of honesty that is rarely seen today.  Very quickly the reader has a sense of full disclosure as you are ushered into a marriage that is not always easy.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of photo-shopping – for Robert and Jenny are more preoccupied with sharing their story than protecting their image.

At times you hurt with Jenny as she suffers through a moment of debilitating depression but suddenly you find yourself laughing with Jenny as she rushes headlong into a moment of manic accomplishment.  Like the time she gets it into her head to bring a surprise, impromptu, birthday party to her teenage son’s school – 8 MONTHS BEFORE HIS BIRTHDAY!  It really is a great read because this couple doesn’t take themselves too seriously even though they are dealing with serious subject matter.  This book, at times, can be very funny.

3. The Book Delivers Practical Help

You or someone you know may be living with mental illness and could use the practical advice found in these pages.  Is it wrong to take medication?  How can I correct my thinking when truth is difficult to discern?  Is it possible to beat the blues?  How does the Scripture help?  What can a spouse do to help?

Robert and Jenny teach that regardless of diagnosis a positive attitude is always possible.  As quoted by Victor Frankl (Holocaust Survivor), “Everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

4. The Book is Biblical

I opened up this post by talking about the predilection of Christians to speak authoritatively where the Bible is silent.  I believe that Christians do have the right to speak authoritatively on subjects the Word of God clearly addresses but we do not have the right to do so on subjects that go unaddressed.  This is one of the reasons why I love this book.  In many places, we are not pointed to the opinion of Bakss but the Word of God.

As a Christian, I am so very thankful that Robert and Jenny added so much scripture to their writing.  Questions that I had prior to reading this book were answered, often by a passage given and explained.  Over and over the reader is pointed back to the perfect Word of God.

For example, the book doesn’t allow someone with mental illness to use the diagnosis as an excuse to sin.  Brilliantly Jenny notes, “If those with bipolar disorder were exempt (from personal responsibility), we would all be exempt because none of us has a perfectly functioning brain.”  And quotes James 1:14!

Robert and Jenny are not the first Christians to speak out about mental illness and emotional health.  John Bunyan wrote of the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Humiliation, and being cast into the dungeon by the Giant Despair.  Charles Spurgeon is well known for his long bouts with depression.  However, they are the first I’ve seen in the modern era to do so with such humility, grace, and knowledge.

I want to highly recommend this book to each of you!  Pick up a copy today online at:

For the paperback copy of the book – order at www.robertbakss.com

For the Amazon Kindle version – order at www.amazon.com.

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Melonie Schang
    January 18, 2017 at 2:20 am

    Thank you for speaking up and out about this highly misunderstood disease. Being someone who has personally struggled with this for many many years without the support of family, friends and worst..my church family and mentors has only made my fight to get well or even want to seek help,…. to climb out of some of the darkest places some people can never imagine one day and then being on top of the world the.next…very difficult to impossible. I can’t even begin to tell you how it feels to have people tell you that you don’t have enough faith in God because you struggle with mental illness…all I have to get out of bed and keep living some days is MY FAITH IN GOD and thank fully He placed the most perfect man in my life, my husband, who fights harder for my life than I do some times😇❤🙏 Without God, faith, my husband, my doctor, and MY MEDICATION….which I will probably have to stay on for the duration of my life to balance the chemicals in my brain…I would not be alive today. I appreciate strong men of fAith that I have always looked up too to guide me in my Bible traching taking the time to learn, understand and finally take the ugly stigmas out of an illness we did not chose to be born with…and wouldn’t wish on our wish in anyone! We fight everyday just to get out of bed and to take our medicines people think we shouldn’t be taking!

    • Reply
      Simmons Opinions
      January 18, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Mental illness is legit. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise…church family or not.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 20, 2017 at 2:22 am

      Yes Melanie. Thank you for being so brace . We sure love u.

  • Reply
    A guy
    January 18, 2017 at 2:20 am

    Thank you so much for this.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 20, 2017 at 2:22 am

      You’re welcome guy. 😄

  • Reply
    Randy Justus
    January 18, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Josh, Thanks for humbling yourself and admitting wrong. So many well-meaning Christians have said so many un-Biblical things to so many hurting people. When I’ve encountered such strongly opinionated ministry leaders speaking foolishness about depression and other forms of mental illness, I’ve often wanted to ask them why their Bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines did give THEM enough faith to go without glasses, blood pressure medicine, doctor appointments, or emergency room visits. Sometimes mental illnesses are caused by spiritual needs, but they can also have physical, social, and emotional causes, too. Josh, welcome to this journey of truly helping people grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,” as well-balanced Beleivers. Love you, Brother!

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 20, 2017 at 2:23 am

      Love u too brother. Thanks for the feedback

  • Reply
    Kenny
    January 18, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    WOW! I’m really impressed with this article. As a bipolar recipient along with other diagnosis relating to mental health, I’ve tried sharing this for years. It’s like living a secret life to some extent. It’s hard to share and when you do people tend to shy away because they think the worse without having much knowledge of this mental illness (violent, angry etc) I ‘ve lost friends because of bipolar, but do understand why people tend to turn away from it. I know I must’ve mentioned “Celebrate Recovery” a million times and will continue to do so, because it’s a place where I can go and express my feelings of anger, death, suicide, sadness, paranoia etc, and rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts that happen throught out the week. I believe all churches should have a similar program. It’s done wonders for me and those I surround myself with. There’s a point in your life that when your head clears and life becomes more manageable that God allows us to share our experiences (TESTIMONY) with others. This is what my wife and I do. You can hear our testimonies, both from my side as a man, husband and father and my wife who’s seen and felt and adjusted somewhat to be with me while living with someone like me..!

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 20, 2017 at 2:25 am

      We are very proud of you Kenny and the progress you’ve made by the leading of the Lord . Amazed!

  • Reply
    Alan Ladd
    January 18, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    You know when one looks back on ones life one can see many mistakes, being wrong. being doubtful about we do. even when I was a privet PD in Indiana helping to take down the Grand Dragon of the KKK, and helping County PD bust a drug sealing officer I always though of my self as a Barney phis. are a fish out of the water. seems like my who life I have stumbled through trying to do right but it was by others that really made my way, especially God. I really can not give my self to much credit for anything. I have a great wife that really tries to help me but now I know it heard on her to deal with my being handicap. but she hangs in there for me. but I thank what will heart me more then loosing the ability to walk is standing before God with enmity hands. I am trying my best to not to take pain pills because I do not like my mind messed upped. but with all of that I still make mistakes. My wife wonts me to go to another church when I can, to be with her. I am praying about it. maybe it is time in my life to let her lead the way and make things better for both of us. I just wanted you to know I thank the world of you and SH-Baptist church. sorry that things worked out this way. God is good and I can see He loves you and SH-Baptist Church very much . always be thankful.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 20, 2017 at 2:28 am

      We love you Alan! When you are with your lovely wife at the church that she loves we know that u are supporting her and her faith in the Lord. Don’t ever feel bad about that. We love you both and will always consider you part of shbc regardless of whether you are able to be with us in person every week.

  • Reply
    Richard Moses
    January 18, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Tim Zachariah from Connecticut gave an amazing session in Pensacola about this topic. He also has some amazing insight. – good article pastor Josh.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 19, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      I love Tim! He’s a great pastor

  • Reply
    Simmons Opinions
    January 18, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    We Christians (especially pastors and counselors) need to be especially careful when discussing mental illness when diagnosing someone’s behavior. “Abnormal” behavior is often due to a combination of physical (i.e. chemical imbalances, brain damage), mental (psychological trauma, socialization), and spiritual impairments.

    While I appreciate your advocacy for medicine, I believe (and research shows) that Americans are too quick to prescribe medication. There may be a time where a person is situationally depressed and merely needs some counseling. However, a doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant. This creates the problem of “labeling” the person as mentally ill that can often lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having now been “officially diagnosed,” a person with a temporary bout of sadness brought on by a specific situation may live the rest of their lives being clinically “depressed,” because according to a professional, they are.

    Other research shows that a medicated person is not their true “self”, as they are now a medicated self. This causes other issues of identity and self-esteem as they are confronted with a “reality” that they are incomplete without medication. Besides, there is ample evidence that anti-depressants actually do very little to fix the problem.

    There are other times when someone may be under spiritual attack and get misdiagnosed by someone who does not value the realities of spiritual warfare. This, again, may lead to the issue of labeling.

    Conversely, as you mentioned above, a person may have a legitimate physical problem with the brain that needs to be treated through prescription medication. However, Christians may eagerly dismiss this as a spiritual issue and skeptics of the mental health industry may believe prescriptions are unwarranted.

    I think humility and awareness of these various forms of co-equal behavioral stimulus by pastors, psychiatrists, and counselors needs to happen more often. Although each is an expert in their particular field, each must acknowledge the legitimacy of the others.

    As far as treatment goes, I would suggest starting with counsel, but I think a C/T scan and/or cognitive tests need to be run before prescriptions are written.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 19, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Great thoughts Alex! I think you’re going to like this book for they bring up many of the same arguments. Wonderful!

  • Reply
    Emily Gravatt
    January 19, 2017 at 1:11 am

    Thank you, Pastor Teis. It is refreshing to hear this from a pastor. I know mental illnesses are legitimate diseases. But it’s hard to explain it to others who believe the diseases are just faith problems. But if they knew my dad, they’d have a hard time excusing his suicide away as a faith problem. I’ve had many discussions and conversations with people about mental illnesses who have not experienced one themselves or had someone they love struggle with one. And it’s incredibly frustrating and hurtful when they dismiss mental illnesses as faith problems. I just wanted to thank you for sharing this article. It does make a difference.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 19, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      I’m glad to know that this post was a help to you Emily. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  • Reply
    Bruce Clingaman
    January 19, 2017 at 2:09 am

    In regards to medication I highly recommend a book: “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America” by Robert Whitacre.
    P.S. Never ever recommend someone stop taking antipsychotic medication abruptly. This could cause a psychotic break or worse. Antipsychotics must be reduced over a very long period of time. Depending on the dosage it could take a year. I was on half the recommended dose and it took me 4 months and it was torture.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      Thank you for the recommendation Bruce

  • Reply
    Randy Chriscoe
    January 19, 2017 at 3:01 am

    Excellent article.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      January 19, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Randy

  • Reply
    tyler Cofty
    January 20, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    Pastor Josh.. You’re a genius writer.

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