Subtle Religious Guilt
by Michelle Amirault
I thought I had outgrown my ability to be moved by guilt. But recently, I found myself in a situation where it was the very force which brought so much confusion, that it was severely hindering me from flowing in God's plan for me. I thought I could usually discern when guilt was intentionally being given to cause me to conform to someone else's wishes. But I was not aware of how I put guilt on myself by subtly coming under the influence of a human pastor. Let me try to explain.
For quite some time I had not been attending any particular assembly on a regular basis. But due to a word from someone I respect and clear confirmation from other sources, I began seeking a place of worship. It was very difficult for me to get up on Sunday mornings and decide where I was to go. After attending a few places, I eventually felt I had found the right place and began to rest in regularly going there, trying to find what God wanted to teach me. It was difficult at first to abide in the vine and love past the traditions. As I was (am) learning to see each person with God's eyes of love, and accepting them each where they are, I soon found myself becoming partial to that local assembly. Since the mid-week meeting topic interested me, I found myself attending this assembly twice a week on pretty much a regular basis, which really made me feel like a part of that church. It is only natural to begin to develop caring relationships and feel attached. But I found myself beginning to refer to the local pastor as "Pastor So and So" and that local body as "my church." Although to me this was acceptable, it began to bug Gary and so he would often correct me. I would make excuses, saying it was easier to talk that way, and that he should know that my heart was right and that I knew I was part of the whole Body of Christ. I thought he was nit-picking. You might feel that way too, but please bear with me.
When I began to "come under" this church's pastor, I found myself losing my own intimate awareness of the Presence and direction of God for me. You see, one of the main things I like about this pastor is that he has a real heart after God. He is attempting to teach those that come to the Bible study about the types and shadows of the pieces in the Tabernacle, so we can each apply them and come into the Presence of the Lord and stay sensitive to Him throughout the service, no matter who else comes in. I think this is an excellent idea. But I also see that he is trying to guide us there, the way he thinks God is leading him to, and wants us to follow what he thinks God is doing with this particular body. Perhaps this is the way carnally-minded Christians must be treated, but if we are all yielding to the Holy Spirit, with pure heartedness, then we must all trust the Holy Spirit to lead us as a group. I think this happens when as we individually stay directly plugged into God, while at the same time communicating openly and lovingly what we sense God is showing us. At these mid-week meetings, the pastor pretty much runs the show. This goes for the Sunday service as well. Under this system, although I wasn't aware of it, I found I was really trying to flow with the pastor instead of flow in the Spirit. My trust was being switched to the pastor's leading, rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit. Something inside me resisted this, and guilt told me, 'You don't want to submit.' But I know that I do want very much to submit to the Holy Spirit. But the pastor and many of us still have quite a mixture of the Holy Spirit and pride, religion, control, confusion etc.
Each type of denomination or movement in Christianity has a hierarchy of authority figures. In the Pentecostal/Charismatic circles we are familiar with, there is the teaching of coming under submission to what is commonly called the five-fold ministry or the "Hand of God." Many of us have probably been told that we are to submit ourselves to a local body and come under the authority of their apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. They have been anointed by God to give the proper doctrines, etc. to keep an assembly in proper order. Refusal to obey them may mean disfellowship or being charged with heresy, rebellion, witchcraft, bringing confusion and deception and a host of other things. Ephesians 4:11-16 is the Scripture which speaks of these offices. I realize many denominations only allow two or three of these offices in their hierarchy, but let us look at the Scripture without applying the scissors to conform the Scriptures with our theology. We won't cut out the apostle, and prophet. Let us look closely at this Scripture.
Eph. 4:11-16 says, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
I purposely italicized some words to point out that this is a body where every part has a purpose to edify the whole. This should keep us all in an open and humble state of constantly relating to one another. In a typical local church, the pastor is usually the one appointing the people in the church to which the rest of the body is to submit. This practice is not Scriptural and certainly gives the pastor too much control. The very desires the pastors have to get their people to flow in the Holy Spirit and minister and bring in the sheep, they themselves often block by teaching the people to submit to their head-ship. It is a vicious circle. It is also an example of how the "traditions of men" keep the Word of God from having ruler-ship in our lives. "Church life" today pretty much centers around the pastor and the building, both of which are not the plan of Christ for His body. He is to be the head, not one of many heads. No wonder we are confused and double-minded. The word "pastor" appears in the New Testament King James Translation one time. This is very significant! This position has been twisted over the centuries to a position of power and authority an early church pastor never possessed. No wonder we have so many denominations and divisions. We have been gently forced to follow man and not learned to really trust Christ in us.
What brought me to this awareness? Well, recently, on a Sunday, I had the strong feeling that I was not to go to "my" church. Without realizing it, I had made attending "my" church a routine, a ritual, a tradition, if you will. This made it very difficult for me to flow with the Spirit when on that Sunday I felt a tug to go to a different place. At first, I did not recognize the subtle guilt which was at work in me. But after a rather difficult wrestling match, I decided to attend a different church that morning. A precious young friend of mine wanted to go to church with me that particular morning, but she was not too enthused about going to "my" church. She was much more comfortable at a place where the dress was not as formal as the church I had been regularly attending. I had taken her to this other place to worship once before I got into my routine and she really was touched there. Furthermore, her husband would probably also be less comfortable at "my" church. He wore jeans at his wedding. A tie did not suit him very well.
Attending this other assembly was clearly the right thing to do that particular morning. Yet I was experiencing such guilt for being disloyal to "my" church. I had already forgotten that I was to be conformed to be a part of the Body of Christ, not just the local group I was currently attending. It also amazed me how hard it was to break the routine with which I had just become comfortable. I found myself thinking, "What will the pastor think if I'm not there for a while? Will they mistrust me? How will I explain where I was?" All this guilt blocked my ability to hear what the Spirit was saying. Does this make sense to anybody? Also, I know what pastors say about what they call the wanderers or church-hoppers. 'They don't want to be accountable. They are unsubmissive or rebellious and/or lazy." And that can be true for any of us, but many are just experiencing their liberty in Christ and many are trying to find Him.
So then, leadership can arrange the structure of the church and our relationship to those leading in such a way as to cause us to feel obligated to revolve our life in God around that churches activities, outreaches, etc. Or they can cause us to feel rebellious and unsubmissive if we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather than their words, instructions, plans, routines or hints.
Surely, some of us are more mature and can help others to learn to fix their eyes on Jesus, to trust Him, to find Him and to rest in Him. But we should not allow any to follow us. In fact, that is probably a good test. We must honestly ask ourselves if we are dependent on any person or are we growing in our dependence on Jesus? Does the Holy Spirit teach us, sometimes using people? Or do we ever so subtly allow individuals to usurp the position which only the Holy Spirit should fill? Although we each need to grow more like God, we each must directly plug into the Vine Himself. I have seen babes in Christ sense the Presence of Christ, and discern truth as well as those who are older in the Lord. The Holy Spirit really does come and teach each of us what we each need, and meets each of us where we are. Very often people are used in this process, but they are to simply model and be instruments that, like the written word of God, just point those sensitive to the Holy Spirit toward Christ, Who points us to the Father. So we can celebrate FATHER'S DAY EVERYDAY!!! Be aware of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit within, and don't allow guilt to rob you. Guilt and fear can be the doors to religious bondage.
Joyfully being stretched,