Where Conformity is King

Having just spent his last two trips with people who are freshly coming out of extremely legalistic groups, Wayne takes on the Scriptures that were used to justify those environments and to bully people with fear and shame so they will follow the dictates of those who claim to be leaders. These Scriptures were meant to speak of relational realities that set us free to live in him, but when they are applied inside conformity-based systems they are easily twisted and bring great confusion and devastation. So Wayne takes a look at how Hebrews 13:17, Hebrews 10:25, Matthew 16:24, Romans 16:17, and I Corinthians 5:1-7 are misapplied to cause great harm while completely ignoring the Scriptures that would mitigate against this damage--Mark 10:42-43, Ephesians 4:11-12, Colossians 2:16-18, Mark 7:6-7, 14-15. Whenever we decide it is our mandate from God to make other people act the way we think they should act, we become partners with evil.

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  1. In 2008 God was working on my heart, opening my eyes to His unconditional love and by 2010 I was ready to walk away from a group who only approved of you if you conformed to their set of rules. I prayed and prayed for my husband to see how the ‘group’ was destroying our lives, but his eyes were blinded at the time. He was a 3rd generation child of the group. I was so miserable that I volunteered to walk away from my husband and children so that they could continue in their religious group because I could not any longer. My husband didn’t know what to do with that so he called the minister over to talk with me. The first thing the minister asked me was if I even believed in God anymore. I was so highly offended I refused to really talk at all after that. I was told that if I choose to leave that I would lose my children and would miss out on grandchildren. As damaging and controlling as that was it sent me straight into my Father’s arms and I prayed hard for my family. A little over 2 years later God did a mighty work in my husband and our children and we as a family were able to walk away and we’ve never looked back. Our Father has provided for our needs so completely, but the journey is not easy. We all struggle with the misapplication of scripture that became so embedded in our hearts and minds. My constant prayer is for God to erase all the things in my mind that are lies about him and for him to make his truth very clear to me. I see, looking back how he has lovingly taken care of me since the time I was born. (I grow up in a different cult) I trust His love for me and feel it, but it doesn’t take away the pain and the hurt from years of religious abuse. I’m confident that over time there will be less pain and so thankful that I can live day by day in His love.

    Thanks again for sharing truth!

  2. Perhaps similar to tragic events, we always think it just happens to others, and it won’t happen to me. I still am stupefied that I have experienced the fallout effects of leaving the type of organization that Wayne discussed today. Although the “sign on the front” was generally associated with “a true church”, it exhibited many of the markers of cultic dynamics.

    The most prominent of these characteristics was a highly intelligent (as in clever, not wise) and charismatic (not the sign gifts kind, but more a smooth deceiver type) individual combined with a shunning dynamic based on the “have nothing to do with them” justification. The so-called pastor’s MO was to hold himself out to the women as the ideal man/husband while denigrating their “failure husbands to the women. It was/is the most cowardly of “adulterous activity” where other wives are used to stroke a man’s ego (but it doesn’t become physically sexual). It is my view that acting out of lust always begins between the ears, not below the belt. (Actually it is sourced in the heart, but takes form through the mind).

    I used to wonder what we were to do if it involved family members. When I left the church, I fully expected my wife would leave as well. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the relationship between her and the pastor had developed. Long story short, over time, he convinced her that divorcing me was justified and one cannot resist this type of action in a “no fault legal paradigm”. Perhaps the most telling comment I encountered was “you left the people that loved you the most”. I suspect it is obvious that love was framed in the past tense.

    It is a long story and a long journey, but in my brokenness (having come to an end of my self efforts) I found the “real God” (sorry to all those tempted to point out that he found me…smile). The pain I experience is as a result of sin, not as a result of “God’s tough love”. This journey has been so similar to a developing love affair with one who loves me unconditionally. That kind of freedom takes some getting used to. Part of the process involves the detoxification from my well meaning legalistic conditioning, whose tentacles run twistingly deep. God alone can, and is, unravelling them, or perhaps more accurately, cutting them off.

    Oh the joy of the growing and deepening knowing of him, when all along I thought I knew so much about him. I had been taught to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus” which had been interpreted get more grace and learn more about Jesus as you try to act more like him. When the Holy Spirit led me to “Jesus is full of grace and truth” and a journey of abiding IN Christ, that verse took on the meaning of growing inside the fullness of grace, taking notice of what grace is delivering, and growing inside the knowing of Jesus as our relationship deepens.

    One last thing about legalism (life by the flesh – my own self efforts)…. I am often reminded of the line Al Pacino delivers in one of the Godfather movies ‘ Just when I think I’m out (free), it pulls me back in”. I am thankful for God’s continuing guidance that include alerts to being drawn back into the subtle *and sometimes not so subtle) temptations to take back, or assert, the tools of control rather than resting in the freedoms of grace.

    I don’t know what the future holds but I know the one I trust. Jesus knows me, this I love….. (borrowed from somewhere else…). Thanks Wayne for your willingness to share your journey. Early on it was tempting to install you as “am under shepherd” (one of those temptations to be avoided). Now I just enjoy walking with someone I don’t even know “materially” and yet share in and through the commonality of the one we are in. Oh the church. It is a beautiful reality!

  3. Wayne, I totally get it!! I participated with the group in Ft. Worth that you referred to in this pod cast for over 35 years. Legalism had infected that group and therefore it had infected me as well. It’s been three years (outside the group that is) and my understanding of all that took place has taken shape more clearly as the chains of guilt have slowly lost their strength and inability to deceive me. I see now how this happens and even better how the red flags were there all along and as I went along, God was so faithful. This journey isn’t taken without Jesus …some turns are gradual and some are sharp..I rolled through some stop signs but came to see that I must come to a full stop, lean in and listen…stand still and watch how God works his loving will. I am so thankful that as time passes I can see behind me….the fog has been lifting much longer than three years! God is so sweet in his way of peeling back those layers so that I can heal and see there is joy in all things He does. The anger I felt about the system has slowly been overtaken by a forceful compassion akin to what I hear in your voice as you describe the heartache religious systems ( like the ones you mentioned) always inflict on even the most sincere. I want to be “a” voice of reason and encourage others to ask God for the healing, comfort and love he has promised. I do believe he was there all the time!!!

  4. Hi All,
    This podcast clarified a lot for me…It makes sense that the passage in Hebrews 10 is written in the context of persecution. However I still felt you’d be hard pressed to say that people did not meet intentionally to worship. A conundrum for many, especially since living outside the institution means that you cannot necessarily guarantee times of fellowship with other believers. After asking Jesus about this I feel that the words written in the previous few verses are reassuring: “Therefore brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance that faith brings..” (Hebrews 10: 19-22).
    I guess I find this reassuring because it overturns any sense of guilt and shame about NOT going to church….ironic that it is in the same passage. I know that this vague sense of guilt I feel is not from our Father, but it’s a hard feeling to switch off. In my head I understand that the institutional church is for the most part a Christianised version of Judaism.
    I have just realised I am not as far along as I thought. I know that come Tuesday when I go to work (at the school connected to the church) someone will say “missed you at church Sunday” , and then I will feel compelled to make some excuse and there will be an unspoken sense that I am rejecting them and/or I am backslidden or stubborn.
    Truth is I am so worn out. Come the weekends I feel so tired it is ridiculous. I think I need to say “no” to just about everything at the moment.

  5. These comments are so sad. My heart goes out to everyone who has experienced church abuse. I so wish I had a time machine or a nuclear weapon of some kind (relax, I’m too lazy/busy/chicken to go to those lengths).

    Oh Tom, that’s just awful!! I wish people like that so-called-pastor could be sued for fraud. Fortunately, I was single during my ‘church’ years but it did puzzle me somewhat that the pastors always wanted to approve of the people that the singles dated. Can you believe it? People aged 25+ needing to get the pastor’s permission to get to know someone of the opposite sex? And seriously, I never really knew many of the pastors, I just had to trust that their ‘wisdom’ wouldn’t lead me astray regarding courtship. I am very thankful that I didn’t meet my husband in the church as I would have probably ended up with someone that I liked because he was accepted by the ‘right’ people, not because my heart knew that that it was right. The church certainly makes people doubt their own ability to make good choices because at the end of the day, the ‘heart is deceitful’ (another verse too often mis-quoted). Fortunately, my husband and I have a unique relationship that excludes us from a lot of different circles because of our significant age-gap and the vast differences in our employment that leaves people scratching their heads and asking, ‘what on earth do they have in common?’ Anyway, my whole point was actually to try to encourage you…the wonderful thing about being a fringe dweller is that you begin to attract other fringe dwellers. Friendships are much more solid right from the start because you and your new friends know what it means to be rejected and consequently we bond over a mutual grace and love of diversity. I know that God will honour your decision to follow him above all else. I’m glad that you’re feeling closer to God and trust that a more joyful season will continue to emerge in your life. I know I don’t know you but I cannot imagine a more difficult situation to live through regarding marriage. Bless you for your courage. May his face shine upon you and bring peace and a full measure of healing to your heart.

    Alyssa, I too worked in Christian schools for many years whereby everyone knew everyone’s business (and called it accountability). In the end, I had to move to a different school system because I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy and yes, people did believe that I was rejecting them and backslidden. I finally got out of teaching altogether (even though I loved it for well over a decade) because I started to resent all institutions and needed a less structured environment. I also had to move house because I was earning much less than when I taught so, leaving church meant that everything changed for me. I’m poorer now but at the same time better off. I’m certainly not implying that you should do what I did and I understand that the American job market is really tight.

    I fully get your dilemma. If I could do it all again, I probably wouldn’t tell people at work anything. Given that my personality likens itself to a bull-in-a-china-shop, I made the mistake of challenging them regarding the definition of ‘church’. That was a huge mistake as most of them were entirely committed to the traditions of man. Nowadays, if I meet an inflexible, hard-core churchie (in an environment like work whereby lifestyle can impact on your job) I just tell them that I went to church with a friend. This actually means that I spoke to another Christian on the phone and had fellowship. Could even mean responding to a comment online or sending a text message. I don’t think it is dishonest to say such a thing, because it’s true. It just seems dishonest to them because it isn’t conforming to their definition of church. Personally, I don’t think that ‘honesty’ should mean ‘full-disclosure’ when dealing with people who could undermine or abuse your heart and expression of faith. I’m sorry if I came across as preachy, I just thought I’d put my thoughts out there because I went through pretty much the same thing but I handled it in a way that just exacerbated all the painful stuff.

  6. That was a great podcast Wayne, particularly because you used a lot of scripture. Having been ‘battered’ with Bible verses both inside the institution and also by well meaning friends since I’ve been out of it, it’s good to have the reasurance of another view.

    Just to add to what others have commented above, I’d like to say that ‘worship’ isn’t merely the singing of songs. It may include that, but it’s the humble response of our heart to encountering God.

    Those who miss that corporate encountering of God and that subsequent response of worship (like I do sometimes) need to realize there are many other expressions of worship, like forgiving those who are rejecting you, and praying for various institutions on a sunday morning. Acts of kindness towards other believers and non-believers (especially unseen ones) can be done ‘unto the Lord’ , and even actually breaking the carnal habit of going to Church is worship if it’s a response to the Spirit (and it is, or the enemy wouldn’t be giving you such a hard time over it!)

    I hope that’s useful to someone. Thinking ‘out of the box’ is a far richer experience of God as we have to get it straight fro God rather than second-hand from a hired mediator (pastor), and although corporate worship may be rare for some of us, we can be assured that the real heart responses of worship that we do offer the Lord are definitely received by Him (whetever form they take) and every tear you’ve shed is precious to Him.

    Choosing a life against the tide is painful and I think far more of an act of worship than singing songs with the crowd might be. Your’e probably more blessed than you might feel right now…

  7. Oh dear and oh WOW! It staggers me that you are on the other side of the world and we have never met and yet you describe our experience so accuratley! This really must be a spiritual battle and not a flesh and blood one. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and encouragement Wayne. The invitiation is to KNOW Him – yes!!!!! I want to know him more. What a great journey we are on.

  8. Thanks so much Christie for what you shared..it’s so great to know that others have been in similar shoes. I love what you said, tell them you went to church with a friend!! And you’re right, it’s not at all lying.
    I am in Australia, but our ed system is similar to yours…as a first year out teacher I feel out of my depth on so many levels. All I can think is that God will open the doors he wants to open, and to see the positives, I have had the privilege of working with lots of needy and difficult kids early in my career.

    I think people know I don’t gel with institutions that well, we have homeschooled our children at different times- and at different times dropped out of church culture for the sake of sanity.
    Recently, I made a tough call pulling my youngest out of the school because his teacher was fired (under so much stress through lack of support- she was also an early-career teacher). There is a lot of bullying in the school & the kids swear, have at times thrown chairs and even a table at teachers…I just didn’t want my son in that environment. So I guess I feel like things are getting said about me…I’ve also been pretty vocal about treatment of staff and behaviour management policies. At times I feel like I have landed in the Rabbit Hole!!!

    Robin I really liked what you said. It IS harder to walk against the tide, and one thing is for sure I know that I need to stay super connected with Jesus, if I am to pursue the richness that he offers in moving and living each day as the spirit leads. It’s so easy to slip into the guilt and shame cycle.

  9. Something I loved about this podcast is the phrase Wayne used “new creation way of thinking”, or something like that. I am very keen to dialogue more about this because it is something God has been working in my own heart. I have been reading a book by N.T. Wright called “Surprised by Hope” which put’s meat on those bones. I have enjoyed a season of just learning to receive God’s love and bask in that and now it seems Father is taking me on an adventure of learning to live as part of the new creation in the midst of this old creation. What excites me is this is not “doing things for God” but rather it is living life from a new source of life.

  10. P.S @ Robin: “Choosing a life against the tide is painful and I think far more of an act of worship than singing songs with the crowd might be. Your’e probably more blessed than you might feel right now…” Wow these words have just hit me- never thought of it that way, THANKYOU!!!!!

  11. Hi Alyssa,

    I too am in Australia. Happy to connect beyond the comments page if you would like to sometime but there’s no obligation at all to do so. Nice to know that there are others out there who ‘get it’.
    Ps: Not long now till Christmas holidays!

  12. Wow how exciting, Christie, fancy being a disgruntled teacher/God Journey follower/Australian to boot?? And yes, yay for end of term approaching :)..I am in Perth (Kwinana) I would love to be in contact outside TGJ. I’m taking a break from fb at the moment, but my e-mail is artgarden23@hotmail.com.

  13. Glad my comment lifted a couple of people up – that means a lot! Some of us have experienced more real heart-touching, thought provoking, wound healing ‘church’ through this website than in many years previously.

    Some, I know are listening/watching this site with interest but are still wondering if it can be real. To proceed with caution is wise. Wayne doesn’t want anyone to tke his word for it. We each need go to Jesus. He alone is our shepherd. He will personally lead us step by step.

    I haven’t got a clue what the future holds.
    I’m a Brit (wingeing Pomm), in China. Got married to a Chinese lady last week. Will return to UK after Christmas, mainly to look after my aged parents. I will leave my bride here. She hopefully will visit next year, but nothing is certain.

    Should anyone out there read this and want to contact me or just to pray, please go for it. My problem is that I’ve got used to being alone and to questioning everything. There’s a time to question, but there’s also a time to accept other believers as Bro/Sis and just love on them, whatever their doctinal preferance.

    I can get defencive and often my defence is perceived as attack. That doesn’t make for good fellowship!


  14. What a beautiful gift Father is giving each of us!

    Through circumstances similar to yours, we, too, are learning to better understand and embrace the depth of God’s love for us. Nearly three years, and we continue to experience Father’s unveiling of Himself. He is a beautiful Creator – more loving than we ever imagined.

    Through uncertainty, pain, heartache, and confusion, Father has not been absent. He has also traveled alongside us during this wonderful season of discovery and adventure!

    Keep pressing forward and don’t hesitate to open each gift bestowed upon you.

  15. Thank you for this pod cast.

    This shed so much light for my journey.

    I chose freedom to walk with a Father Who loves who I am and never leaves me.

    I pray others find this glorious freedom to serve Him.

    Religious bullying, shunning and marking sets up an environment for death.

    There is a belief that there are those in the church who are better than others.

    But Father’s love and embraces us, protects us and guides us into places of safety.

    Thank you for publishing your thoughts. They bring me life.

    May you reap life for encouraging the weak.

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