This is a description of how a warped doctrine of holiness left the sheep battered, bruised and cowering in fear. While we prided ourselves on not being outwardly legalistic, traditional or religious this 'inward' legalism served to keep us firmly in our place and the pastor very much in control.
For many years, our church taught and practised grace; the grace that accepts us as we are and provides what is needed for our growth. Eventually such teaching became twisted into this performance orientated, shaming message.
A Twisted Concept of Holiness
Holiness is never defined, but is presented as something unattainable and we are berated for not achieving it.
Our present emphasis on 'holiness' has not made us any more holy. Instead it has bred fear, exhaustion and mistrust, the opposite of how we were described as a church years ago. Gracious love and honour for one another has been replaced by bullying, contempt and motivation through shame. Newcomers are made to feel guilty if they do not conform to the worship expectation demanded of them. The majority of the church do not take part in the worship but, by the nature of it, are excluded. They have no option but to stand at a distance and wait till a select few have finished their private, loud devotion. Narrow (and often unjustified) interpretations of Scripture are used to enforce a stifling concept of what it means to worship God.
There is a ‘one size fits all’ expectation for how we are supposed to behave in meetings and those with more introvert personalities are unjustly accused when they cannot conform to extrovert expressions of worship. They are bullied into changing when they cannot. This is often done using the Scriptures which, incorrectly interpreted, imply we are all gifted to do everything, so there is no excuse for failure.
Members are tarred with same brush so that sins which may affect one person deeply are assumed to apply in equal measure to all. This leads to false accusations and misjudgements.
We are exhorted to focus on our sins and to ask God to rip them out of us. We are not taught how to make positive progress and to let the life of Christ in us bear fruit. Confession of sin is coerced. While there is pressure to identify and specify personal sins, the pastor's contribution remains vague, albeit impressive in its rhetoric. There is no emphasis that God has reconciled us to Himself utterly and eternally through the Blood of Jesus and that He treats us accordingly.
We are chastised for our unbelief rather than encouraged in our weakness. The emphasis on this twisted view of holiness breeds a mentality that is neither sound nor sober. Just as we can think too highly of ourselves, we can also think too lowly, attributing sins to ourselves that are not on God’s mind. Hence we are always in deliberate rebellious unbelief, rather than in our weakness, struggling with our doubts.
The knowledge that we have God’s ability to help us, rather than being an encouragement, becomes a whip with which to beat us in our never-ending self improvement campaign. Preaching that we have this ability, but we are not using it, makes us doubly guilty and condemned.
Condemnations are made against other churches and public figures who are known to us only through the media. Other local pastors are spoken of with a sense of disdain.There is a sense of spiritual superiority over other denominations and groups of believers. They are dismissed as being religious, while we are made to conform to our own unique brand of stifling traditions. It is difficult to see what good fruit comes from the rituals we have established.
There is much talk of brothers deceiving the leadership, of criticism, gossip, manipulation of the meeting and rebellion. Together with reference to Jesus/Peter and Miriam this comes across as deep paranoia. Members are forbidden to express concerns to one another for fear of accusations of rebellion and are trapped into obedience to the excessive dictates of the leadership.
There is a misrepresentation that God will only bless us when we achieve holiness and that he will not ‘put up with our nonsense’ Indeed this phrase is never explained and leads to a fear which God does not impose. The gifts and blessings of God--all of them--are through his Grace, not our own merit and they are accessed by faith alone, which is itself a gift of God. It is demanded that we confess sins which are already forgiven. Faith in the Grace of God is replaced by begging and pleading for the Judge to have mercy. It is as if we had been summoned in to the court of a monstrous tyrant.
Old Testament concepts of God’s relationship with us replace New Testament perspectives. Scriptures which illustrate God’s anger with his old testament servants are used to whip his New Covenant 'sons'.
The suffering of Jesus is used, not to instil a sense of thanksgiving for God’s generosity despite us, but rather to generate fear and to shame us into doing better.