Do I Have To Do Everything My Church Leaders Say?

Morning friends,

I hope you had a great Labor Day Weekend. My grandkids were visiting and it’s always so fun to have them here. We watched the movie, Marry Poppins Returns and enjoyed it a lot. If you haven’t seen it and have kids or grandkids, be sure to watch it together.  There is a bad guy who masquerades as a good guy, and that makes for an interesting discussion with children.  

Today’s Question: I want to thank you for all that you do. For having the courage to stand and speak about emotional abuse in the marriage and its affects. You have been my beacon and I know now that I'm not crazy. It took me 20 years to realize my marriage was not a healthy marriage and that I couldn't do anything to change my ex-husband. 

As a Pastor's wife I was taught he was the head of the house and I had to submit to all his needs. My needs weren't important, my duty was to serve him as a loving wife. There is a lot more to my story that would probably shock some people if they heard it. 

I have a Pentecostal background and everything is sin in their eyes. I can't have non- Christian friends. I can't go to family weddings if they’re not Christians. I can't go anywhere if the place has secular music or doesn't relate to Christian activity. Is that right? I'm not going to go to a bar or a strip club. 

I was taught not to listen to secular music so if it's not a Christian artist and I listen to it, I’ve been taught that God is offended. I can't wear shorts, jean's, jewelry, and so on. Can you please help me understand what the Bible says about all this?

I have been separated from my spouse for 8 months now and I want to move on with my life but want to do it the right way in Gods eyes. I don't have any Christian friends since he was the Pastor and I am the one with the problem as far as they're concerned. I do have some non-Christian friends that have supported me throughout this time.

Answer: Your question is tricky because people have differing convictions on what they see the Bible teaches as right and wrong, sinful and permissible. I don’t believe it’s my place to tell you what your beliefs or convictions should be regarding what’s allowed or not allowed unless the Bible is crystal clear like it is with adultery, abuse, deceit, hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, revenge, the misuse of power, and harming others.  

However, things like hair length for men or women, whether a person should wear pants or shorts or jewelry or makeup, or attend movies, or listen to secular music isn’t as definitively spelled out in the Bible.

In addition, some instructions that applied in Biblical culture, might not apply in the same way today. For example, Paul tells slave owners to treat their slaves with dignity and respect but does that mean that Paul and the Bible endorse the practice of slavery? Or was Paul specifically speaking into a culture where slavery was acceptable but with a radically new perspective? God knew that cultural paradigms don’t change overnight, yet Paul’s words about how to treat slaves was a 180-degree departure from the cultural norms of his day (See Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1).

Believers in Biblical times also had similar questions on what was acceptable and not acceptable to do. For example, they wondered should they hang out with unbelievers? Or asked Paul if eating meat offered to idols is acceptable? And argued whether or not non-Jewish converts to Christianity should also get circumcised as proscribed by Jewish law.

You’re already beginning to question what you have learned in your particular denomination about your role as a godly wife. You indicate that you were taught that your primary function was to meet all of your husband’s needs/wants without concern for your own well-being. You seem to think differently now since you are separated and say you are no longer willing to quietly and willingly play that role.

What would it take for you to reexamine some of the other beliefs that you have been taught? Beliefs about not hanging out with non-Christians, or what you wear, or what’s right in God’s eyes or what’s not right in God’s eyes?

You asked me if I could help you understand what the Bible says about all of this but let me ask you a question. Have you read through the Bible yourself to examine what the Bible says about all of this? For example, here are some passages that speak about who we are to associate with. Does the Bible really say that you can’t attend a wedding that is non-Christian? Read for example 1 Corinthians 5. However, the Bible is also clear that the company you keep influences you. See for example, 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, Romans 16:17, 2 John 1:10-11, Proverbs 13:20-21; Proverbs 24:1-2, Proverbs, 26:4-5. Now, what do you hear God saying to you about who you regularly hang out with?

Sometimes I find people, especially Christian women have become overly dependent on others to do their thinking for them instead of them learning to think for themselves.  I’m not going to do that here for you.

Before the Bible became readily available to the average person to read for herself, religious leaders could make it say whatever they wanted it to say and we would be none the wiser. We trusted what they said about what the Bible said was true, even if it was twisted, distorted or plain untrue.  

Friend, God has given you a mind and the freedom to read through the Scriptures for yourself. He’s also given you the Holy Spirit who promises to guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Click To Tweet

It seems like in the past you’ve been seen God as a cosmic policeman and that your favor with him rests on you making sure you follow the right rules and regulations. That reminds me of the legalism of the Pharisees that Jesus spoke so strongly against.

The Bible is not a rule book or even instruction book but rather a story of who God is and how he has reached out to his broken creation through the love of Christ redeeming a fallen world. If we could have kept the law, there would have been no need for Christ to die on the cross (Galatians 2:21). 

If you don’t correctly grasp who God is, then the Bible quickly deteriorates into a legalistic power struggle defining who’s in and who’s out, who’s good and who’s bad, who’s right and who’s wrong.  

So, friend, you’ve grown up in a very controlling, authoritative church that has not allowed you the freedom to think through the application of the Biblical narrative and how to apply God’s wisdom in your life. You’ve already seen the trouble it got you into in your marriage and I believe God is inviting you to get to know him in a new way. Try taking this next year to read the Bible slowly. Get to know who God is and talk with him about how he calls you to live your life so that you might do the most good and give him the most glory in these next steps forward.  

When we listen to Jesus’ words about what’s most important, it’s not the legalistic rules the religious leaders taught, but something entirely new. That’s why Jesus said that the good news could not be contained in the old wineskins (Matthew 9:16,17).  

I won’t tell you what to think or believe about these areas of personal conviction, but I do invite you to read the Bible for yourself, talk to God as his beloved daughter and obey what the Holy Spirit puts on your heart to do. Take action steps that reflect the person you believe God’s calling you to be and he will make your path straight (Psalm 32:8).

Friends, if you grew up or attended a church that has a lot of “rules” to obey in order to stay in good standing with God, how did you learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and think for yourself?

12 Comments

  1. Nancy on September 4, 2019 at 9:38 am

    What popped into my head is the command to go out and make disciples. How are we to do that if we don’t make relationships with those who do not yet know The Lord? Do we do that by force, ambushing people and dunking heads under water? (LOL) Or do we rely on The Lord to bring people knocking on our door, with a clear understanding of who they now are in Christ, asking to be baptized?

    We recently left a church that although not legalistic, was a bit too concerned with itself. In many ways it was like a country club. The Body is a place to heal, refuel and come together regularly. We are to “do life together”, yes, but THEN we are to scatter together, in order to spread the kingdom of God. I believe that these are some marks of a healthy church body.

    • Kate Zaldivar on September 11, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      I pray she finds her freedom in Christ and she gets put of that harsh, domineering, legalistic group.

  2. JoAnn on September 4, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Leslie, you made some very strong points. I’m reminded of 1 John 2:27 that says, “And as for you, the anointing that you have received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone teach you; but as His anointing teaches you concerning all things and is true and is not a lie, and even as it has taught you, abide in Him.” The anointing referred to here is the Holy Spirit operating within us. This is what it is to be free from the law and to live Christ….Galatians 2:20. And in Romans 8:2,14. Praise the Lord, He has freed us from the law of sin and of death!
    It will not be easy for the writer to get free from all the laws she has been under, but spending time reading the Bible with a prayerful attitude, one step at a time, as the lord enlightens her she can break free from her “old” religion.

  3. Ann on September 4, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    I grew up in a very similar background to the writer. Holy Spirit challenged me to look past the surface interpretation of scriptures I had been taught and go to the original language. It truly opened my eyes!! There are a number of places where verses, that are used to subjugate women, mean something completely different in the original. I agree with Leslie. With Holy Spirit, go through the Word and let Him give you His perspective!

  4. Connie on September 4, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    I grew up Mennonite, and then when I had my own family, we followed the Gothard movement for a time. I learned a lot about how “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he”. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. 2 Cor. 3:4-6. We were told that dressed were more modest than pants, besides, women are not to dress in men’s clothing. Then we moved to a town where there was a polygamist mormon community, and people thought we were part of it because we dressed similarly. Around the same time, I noticed that my h would lie on the floor (resting!) during family Bible reading times, and try to look up his daughters’ dresses. Also, a friend asked why we wore dresses and I said it was modesty. She asked her husband if men preferred women to wear dresses. He said, ‘Sure, easy access’. After than we still sometimes dressed up, but pants were quite ok. Just one example. I bet Amish girls and boys are quite capable of flirting no matter how they are dressed, if their heart is in that place to do so.

    Has anyone noticed that in these groups, the women always have to look weird and the men get to blend into society? And they make the rules?

    I agree with Leslie, to read and pray, and you will know. With alcohol, the Bible doesn’t condemn it entirely, but if someone is an alcoholic, I think God would ask them to stay totally away from it. So making hard and fast rules is often a temptation to find a loophole. As Mennonites, we were not to drink, smoke, play cards, dance, go to movies, watch TV, or read comics. I bet you can already think of stuff worse than that that doesn’t fit under those categories. I even remember a preacher telling the congregation that he was at the lake watching to see if any of our girls had risky swimsuits on. Is that what he was really watching? Hm.

    There is a joke that Mennonites don’t believe in sex because it could lead to dancing. 🙂

    • JoAnn on September 4, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      @Connie, LOL….

  5. Barbara B on September 4, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    My big turnaround came from Precept Bible studies. The study teaches you to carefully follow three steps. First, just look at what the Bible passage says. Read it for yourself and try to see it with fresh eyes without assuming it means what you’ve been taught it means. Second, study the Bible passage carefully looking for things like the meaning of original words, cultural context, and comparing with other Bible passages. Third, ask the Holy Spirit to tell you how to apply it to yourself. The Precept teachers say that steps one and two are the places where there should be agreement in the church, but step three should look different for different people. For example, everyone can agree that the Bible wants us to dress modestly. But I have to decide as an individual what that looks like in my town with my people. If I lived in a Muslim country it would look different than in a big city in the US and it might look different yet in a rural setting.

    Now when I hear a sermon that tells me what to wear, what to do, or how to act as a wife, I ask myself: Does the Bible specifically say this, or is this one person’s idea of how to apply what the Bible says?

    • Nancy on September 6, 2019 at 6:08 pm

      This is a great point, Barbara. Even on bigger issues that are interpreted differently across denominations: mode of baptism, gender and leadership (complimentarianism verses egalitarianism) etc…. we always need to be mindful that these are ‘open handed issues’ or ‘disputable matters’ as Paul calls them in Romans. We need to find out where we stand on these things, but we need to do so in a way that acknowledges that we may not be ‘right’. We’ll find out in heaven.

      Things such as who Jesus is, well, there should be no dispute in the church on that. When we focus on the essentials of the faith, and hold the lesser things more loosely, that’s where Grace is felt, I believe, and unity is kept.

      “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things charity (love)”

      Said Augustine

  6. Annie G. on September 4, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    I have also struggled with the questions and concerns that were asked in this post. After years of struggling to please both God and man, I finally, learned to do what Leslie pointed out in her response. It has been a slow journey. But it has been a fruitful journey in overcoming the bondage of legalism and learning more about discerning God’s will and his ways by the study of his word.

    I just finished a wonderful book that has given me even more to think about and be thankful for. It is titled: The Good and Beautiful God; Falling in Love With The God Jesus Knows, by James Bryan Smith. I discovered this book after many hours of personal bible study and prayer. It summed up much of what I had learned through studying my Bible and the opening of the Word by the Holy Spirit.

    What a gracious and loving Lord we serve. And how wonderful it is to get to know him better, for ourselves, so that we can know how to live our lives to His glory, and how to answer, in love, those who put stumbling blocks on our pathway.

  7. ruth8318 on September 4, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    Dear Writer, I am pretty sure that the business of men not dressing like ladies and Vice versa is referring to cross dressing. The Bible is against dressing in drag.
    Someone, correct me if I am wrong.
    I know the folks you have come out of. They come in a continuum of strictness. Some have loosened up over the years. I have a good friend who grew up in that tradition. She amazes me with the stories of her mother’s rules. 🤪
    Rules about alcohol.
    Rules about leisure activity.
    Rules about church attendance.
    Rules about clothing.
    Rules about marriage.
    Rules about divorce.
    Rules about what good girls can do. 🤣🤣
    🔹The most ridiculous was- Girls can’t ride bicycles.
    When my friend told me about this rule, I assumed it was bc her Mom thought riding a bike made a girl into a tomboy. A month or two later, my friend said: “no! Momma said riding a bike could break a girl’s hymen so she would lose her virginity!” 😳😳
    My friend and I laugh about it now, but spiritual abuse is not funny. It is especially horrible it’s applied to a person who has a naturally tender heart. My friend went through a period of total rebellion from EVERYTHING related to God. She had anger towards her mother and their mom’s rules. However, God reached out to my friend and brought her to a church that teaches LOVE and GRACE. She says her deliverance from anger was not an overnight process, but she walks in balance emotionally now.
    Dear writer, i would encourage you to take a sabbatical like many of the faithful of God did in the scriptures to get alone with God.
    Think of Jesus- during His 40 day fast, He didn’t attend church, but He was sure seeking the face of the Father more earnestly than ever!!
    Think of Moses on the Mountain having his encounter with God!

    There’s a time like Hannah did to stay home and take care of business. Remember how she didn’t go with her family to the feasts.

    Maybe you could join Leslie’s conquer group for support.
    Also, going to a therapist or counselor for your own clarity of mind would be GREAT to help you detox from your church’s brainwashing. I mean you shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting you wear sweatpants 🙄☹️.

  8. Tintax on September 7, 2019 at 2:25 am

    You ladies are all awesome, our loving Father’s plan to lift us up from the dungeons we are thrown into.
    Each time I read, my eyes are opened into such insight and i feel so much joy and excitement in me. True, the Word ministers to you in such wonderful ways when you allow the Holy Spirit to unveil and reveal His truth. M so many steps away from the dark place i was with every sharing done here.
    M empowered, strengthened and moving foward, seeking God’s guidance with every decision! I have embraced the truth that i am responsible for my own salvation and geared to serve God more that continue being loyal to men(including my pastor h), i don’t want to look back, lest i become a pillar of salt.
    It’s a journey and very theraupeutic!
    Thank you daughters of the Most High!!

    • Free on September 7, 2019 at 7:05 am

      Thank you for the use of the word dungeon. It is appropriate. Sometimes I think we gloss over the cruel way in which women are treated and convince ourselves that our mistreatment is so how spiritually linked when really it is just exploitation of our submission.

      I am also reflecting upon a conversation I had with a social worker who counsels women in abusive situations. The MSW was so disappointed. After working for years with a Pastor’s wife to help her flee her abusive spouse, she returned to him in a last ditch spiritually fueled mind craze. So many people tried to save her. Years were spent getting to the point of considering freedom and then, with a clear escape in sight, she returned. Returned to far greater abuse and a smug abuser who feels even more powerful and entitled. He fooled her and got his congregation to participate his in dirty work too.

      We have to be careful who we follow. Just because someone says they are a leader or has been to seminary, doesn’t mean the are holy, good or wise. It can just mean they like the attention, they like telling people what to do and they went to seminary to sort out their own screwed up lives and minds. Beware of false prophets. Trust the spirit within you to lead and speak.

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