Here is my second very rough installment of the book I'm working on, the first chapter...I've put a tentative title of "The Impossible Weight of the Law" to it...
I met Aaron during my first year of Bible College and we were married a little less than a year later. We entered into marriage not knowing much more than that divorce was not allowed! The first few years were pretty rough, full of fighting and dramatic displays of a wide range of emotions (especially on my part). From the beginning, self-righteousness and condemnation played a big part in our relationship. Whoever was the most 'spiritual' at any given time--that is, whoever was doing the best at keeping the rules of Christianity (Bible reading, prayer, etc..)-- usually won the battle of control for the moment.
During this time God miraculously placed a man in our path who began sending us tapes of himself preaching about grace. We had been driving through Fundy National Park (near our home at the time in Sussex, NB Canada), when I saw a car with a Delaware (U.S.) license plate and told Aaron to pull over . I thought he should stop and say 'hi' since he was from Delaware and it was quite unusual to meet anyone from there this far north! Of course, they turned out to be Christians, Hallelujah- Praise-the-Lord-charismatics to be exact. They had never been to Canada before and were driving up the east coast praying and taking the land for Jesus and had several testimonies of the people they'd met along the way. They laid hands on us and prayed for us, very excited to meet fellow believers and it was obviously a divine appointment. The tapes he sent us were my first exposure to teaching on grace and over the next few years God went to great lengths to start laying a framework for grace in my life. This was my first exposure to teaching on grace, my first taste of freedom!
When Aaron graduated we moved to a 'city' nearby where he was an assistant pastor. It was a church in the legalistic denomination I had grown up in and due to some unbiblical membership requirements I wouldn't join the church formally. All that year God continued to reveal grace, and it was an exciting time in many ways.
We met some people from Church of Christ the King in Brighton UK, a Newfrontiers church and God used them to tear down all our ideas of what church should or could look like, as well as challenge our ideas of who God really was. God used one of these men to speak to Aaron that we should leave the denomination we were with--I was so thankful! We were tasting a little more freedom, and I entered into an amazing time of feeling so alive in the Spirit and had some great life changing experiences in God's manifest presence.
After leaving the denomination and the professional 'ministry' behind, we ended up about 7 months later (through a somewhat complicated series of events) living in Delaware again. We desperately searched for a church but could not find anything that resembled what we felt God was calling us to. Finally we phoned some friends in the UK and asked if they could help us find a church. They gave us some information and we tracked down a church about 1 1/2 hours away from where we were living.
We visited the church we found the next Sunday and loved it. We finally felt at home, even singing some worship songs we knew. And they emphasized grace! We spent the next eight or so years with this group of churches, meeting many wonderful people, and for the first few years I could not find a single fault with our church. I loved the people, the pastors, the leader of the group, and anyone else they introduced to us. Aaron and I were completely in awe of the leaders and felt so thankful to be there. We would have defended any one of them vehemently against the slightest criticism, and many times we did.
We were accepted immediately, and our dreams of church planting in Canada were encouraged. We began ascending the ladder to leadership , passing through training and serving in any way we could. They had a very strict and narrow view on many things, but we wholeheartedly threw ourselves into the teachings and embraced everything. Looking back we easily recognize how legalistic the teaching and structure was, despite teaching some truths of the gospel very well and even often using the word 'grace'.
They (and we) believed themselves to be gospel and cross centered, but they were actually sin, man, and law centered. Guilt was the measure of your humility, and we soon became enchanted with their brand of puritanistic morbid introspection. We were always trying to hunt down sin and stir our flesh up to better works.
Our lives became consumed with trying to be holy, trying to live up to all the standards and principles we were being taught. Teaching and preaching always consisted of detailed instruction of how to identify sin and then detailed instruction on how to change our behaviour and thoughts.
Slowly we began to be sucked into a swirling vortex of conformity as we relentlessly tried to smother everything in ourselves that didn't fit the mold set before us. Aaron worked to conform to 'biblical manhood' and I tried to conform to 'biblical womanhood'.
The man that God supposedly called Aaron to be would be a strong leader who laid down the rules in our home. These rules for being a 'biblical man' were learned through the diligent teaching of our pastors and included things like:
-making sure your wife and children were joyfully submissive to your headship
-reading the Bible everyday (preferably early in the morning)
-prayer (lists are good)
-reading any assigned or recommended books
-serving in the church by committing to a specific ministry team
-tithing and sacrificial giving
-working hard both in a career and at home with little rest
-disciplining (spanking) his children every time they did not obey 'immediately and joyfully'
-being intentionally romantic (however that works!)including regular date nights and sex
-confessing sin often and freely
-correcting sin in your wife (and children) regularly
-helping your wife to organize her duties and make sure she's not wasting any time
-not rescuing your wife when she's overwhelmed (i.e. if you're a biblical man you will have taught your wife to be able to handle all her duties well without ever needing your help)
-teach your wife and children doctrine
-do not lust do not lust do not lust!
I think there were even more rules for the women. These rules came from the pulpit, women's meetings, and recommended books...as well as anything your husband could dream up for you--his word was your command! Here is a sampling of what I believed God required from me as a woman:
-have many children
-homeschool my children
-discipline (spank) my children every time they did not obey 'immediately and joyfully' expecially focusing on the areas my husband wanted me to
-read my Bible everyday, along with any other recommended or assigned reading
-confess my sins regularly to others, especially to my husband
-keep my house clean, according to my husband's preferences
-be organized (detailed schedules, very good) "God is a God of order"
-dress modestly adhering to a detailed list (yes, really)so as not to be responsible for any man's lust
-serve in the church as needed, as well as 'releasing' my husband to serve
-submit to ( or obey) my husband in everything
-never deny my husband sex for any reason (except prayer by mutual consent of course), be very good at it, enjoy it (not sure how you can mandate this!), and be sure to initiate it
-do not rest or eat unless you can get everything else on this list (or anything else your dear husband can dream of) done
If we failed in any of these things, we were in sin, and these lists are not exhaustive by any means. We regularly received teaching on just about any sin you can imagine. Worldliness, pride, gluttony, vanity, immodesty, selfish ambition, insubordination to leaders, slander and gossip (especially against pastors), grumbling and complaining, sloth, discontent, lust, coveting, idolatry, anger, fear of man, and on and on and on. All this we took to heart, and the more we did the more condemnation we lived under.
Day to day life was such a struggle! In the midst of being pregnant (and being very sick while pregnant each time), having babies and trying to do and be everything I was being taught, joy and laughter vanished. Our marriage took on an eery coldness and distance as we became preoccupied with implementing everything we were being taught. We were ever trying to say and do the 'right' thing and eventually lost sight of the real things! We talked about the things we were supposed to talk about, we had sex as often as we felt was enough, we confessed sin to each other and tried to help each other strategize stop sinning, we fought whenever my internal alarms started going off. I knew something was wrong in our marriage, I wasn't satisfied, but I attributed my dissatisfaction to one or both of us not living up to the standards! Or we would look for a new command to follow, something we must have missed somehow, putting all our hope in the one thing we hadn't done yet.
We would fight and accuse and condemn and manipulate to try to motivate each other to do better, but in the end neither of us won these battles. The harder we tried to follow the rules, the more we failed. Over time, we rarely if ever experienced God's loving presence either in church or anywhere else, and every blessing we'd been given--ministry, marriage, children--felt like impossibly heavy loads. We were just trying to survive and we constantly felt weary and overwhelmed. We were living in the wrong part of Galatians!
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these." (Galatians 5:19-21)
Between the two of us, we had most of these sins covered--the harder we worked the more sin we produced! We could not produce, by working in the flesh, the fruits of the Spirit we were being told was our responsibility to 'grow' in. But we were also being taught that we should expect the results we were getting because we were still utterly sinful in every way, that the deepest core of our being was riddled with indwelling sin. The 'good news' of the gospel was that we could go back to the cross every day and beg for a little more mercy to forgive our latest failure, then start over with a clean slate trying to obey God again, trying to maintain our newly clean conscience. It isn't any wonder we were miserable, confused, depressed, and feeling distant from God.
But deep inside of us, put there by God himself, there was a longing for freedom, a longing to walk with God without fear or shame. And God never puts desires in us that he doesn't intend to fulfill! Though we thought freedom and right standing (righteousness) with Him could be won or maintained through obedience to the new-fangled law of the church world, God began to show us that freedom is only ever and always found in Jesus himself, that all our hope and faith is to be put in Him alone. He is the end of the law for all who believe.