Shame-Based Religious Systems

I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites.” –Psalm 26:4

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye’, when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” –Luke 6:41-42

Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean…In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” -Matthew 23: 26, 28

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” –2 Corinthians 3: 6

All religious systems except pure Christianity are at least to some extent shame-based, because religion by its nature seeks to earn favor and placate the divine through good works or sacrifice. Only Christianity is grounded entirely in love, in a personal and intimate relationship of grace and unconditional acceptance with the Creator of the Universe through Jesus Christ.

When we have experienced deep broken trust and failure to bond in childhood, we may find ourselves unable to connect with the true loving God. To the extent we are unhealed, we are hindered in the process of finding confident closeness with Father God; with our elder brother and friend the Lord Jesus; and with the presence of God in our hearts–the Holy Spirit.

Like wounded children who desperately crave safety in structure and predictability, many find comfort in buying into a human-based system of rules and ritualized works designed to make them feel acceptable to God. Unfortunately, some Christian churches are organizationally and practically based on these principles. When a new believer comes into such a fellowship, he is encouraged to emulate outward behaviors and adapt to a religious culture, which is carefully controlled to appear righteous.

Because Christian values are diametrically opposed to many popular American cultural beliefs, this paradigm shift can amount to an extremely different outward identity for a new believer. When inner roots of shame are not addressed, however, the individual too often develops a form of righteousness dependent on the approval of the religious system, rather than on the reality of genuine sanctification. True heart change comes only from bonding, in a relationship of childlike trust, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly, a person may know God only peripherally but appear religious, until his image of God’s character is no longer distorted by childhood experiences.

For example, God may be perceived as cruel and capricious, because the person’s father was severely abusive. Or rigid, perfectionist parents may have created an image in the child’s mind of a demanding and unforgiving God. Rejecting and humiliating a child can make God seem selective and unfair; parents who are too busy with their own lives and pursuits to be emotionally or physically involved in the family model a vision of God as distant and unavailable. When alternating inattention and permissiveness reign in the home, God becomes a kind, but rather confused and easily manipulated “sugar daddy.”

All the above characteristics are inaccurate to describe God; as such they keep us from being connected to Him. Furthermore, because of distorted thinking regarding His nature, an individual may be deceived into thinking a demonic imposter is the true Lord Jesus Christ. The person may in fact be dedicating his energies to the service of religious spirits.

Any system overriding the God of the Bible is based on idolatry (Deuteronomy 5: 1-21). We can act this out by playing God for others or looking at others to play God for us. Wounded leaders may use others’ desire to please as a means of behavior modification. The result is a substitution of outward conformity and obedience to rules for a healthy inward response to love. Then the requirement to do “what God says” is experienced as a constant pressure and feels like bondage, not freedom. A controlling religious spirit, overt or subtle, perpetuates idolatry.

In an abusive religious system if persons “burn out” on demands and constant religious activity, expressing the desire to step back and rest, they are often judged as “backsliding” or “doing their own thing”. Frustrated, such individuals sometimes turn away altogether from any church involvement.

Through relationship with Father God, we come to understand that each person’s response to the question of obedience is really based on the degree to which he is able, personally and inwardly, to experience God’s love; not based on how much he “tries” to love God. We find out that conformity to His guidance and leading is for our protection. Likewise we discover that the alternatives to lack of compliance with His direction are destructive both to others and us.