Joe Sperling, originally posted this on the Assemblyboard Sept 20, 2007. Another piece on phobias is posted on the Post-Assembly Musings blog.

I really do believe that many that come out of severely legalistic churches have developed a type of "phobic response" to the Bible, meetings, church, etc. They go to open the Bible and "feel" it will condemn them, or that attending church will be a "judgmental" experience, etc. These are "learned responses" that mainly come from the fear associated with the legalistic teaching. The thought patterns are kind of like the grooves in one of those old vinyl records, and one can fall into that "learned" type of negative thinking, and play the same old song over and over again.

Mark C. stated recently on the Assembly bulletin board, "In my own life, I am very sensitive to being corrected and can react in a very defensive manner. " When you analyze that you can see that your reaction is most likely based on an irrational belief--though the feelings definitely come from a REAL experience. The irrational belief is that you will be judged unfairly, and be criticized, and that your defense will be "shot down" by those who do not want to hear.

This most likely came from the many encounters with the "Leading Brother attitude" which took no thought for your feelings in any matter, and relegated the importance of what you had to say or think as meaningless. So, when confronted with this same type of setting in society, your "learned response" is fear, anxiety, and a very defensive posture. At least, this is my take on that kind of reaction to criticism--I'm no psychologist

Most "phobias" are dealt with by facing them. For example, one who is afraid of spiders forces himself to hold a spider and see that they are not ALL dangerous, and most are rather harmless creatures. In many ways the ex-cultic church member has to eventually "face their fears" and realize that they are based on irrational beliefs--on teaching that scared the living daylights out of them, all based on a God who is not really the God of the Bible at all!! By "facing the fear", and opening up the Bible anyway, and seeing what it REALLY teaches, slowly but surely one begins to see the deception one has believed.

Facing the fear of attending "church" and seeing that what they teach there is so much more comforting, and so far different than the legalistic heresy they once learned, they grasp how out of line the group they were once in was---and so far from what Christ really wants for his people. This healing does not come overnight for most, but takes a continued "practice", if I can use that word, of repeating what is REAL and what is TRUE in place of the tendency to believe and dwell on what is unreal and false.

But the most important thing of all is to come to the true God in prayer. Many who come out of such legalistic situations are literally "afraid of God" and afraid to even tell Him how they feel. They think He beholds them as failures, and they literally (in my opinion) have a "phobia" towards God himself! So drawing near to a God whom you think has given up on you or is judging you, is very tough. The Lord says, "Humble yourselves under the Mighty Hand of God, and He will exalt you in due time. Cast ALL YOUR CARES upon Him, because He cares for you "(1 Pet. 5:7).

Getting on your knees and pouring out everything to the Lord is the first step (again, in my opinion) towards real healing. Are you afraid of the Lord? Tell Him about it. Are you angry at the Lord? Tell Him you are. Do you distrust the Lord? Tell him you do, and ask Him to help you to trust again. Do you feel like a total failure? Tell the Lord about it. Are you even afraid, or think it's worthless, to tell the Lord you don't even feel like telling Him about anything? Tell the Lord you feel that way.

Because (again, in my opinion), the greatest piece of misinformation we all learn in a legalistic atmosphere, is that God is aloof and judgmental towards us, and that we somehow need to "earn" his favor to keep his love. The more we go to the Lord and tell Him EVERYTHING (absolutely everything!!!) the more we learn just how very much He truly loves us and cares for us. "Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief" is a valid prayer, and one that Jesus wants to hear. How often we think the Lord is somehow unwilling to help, or that you have to "do something" to "earn" his help or love. And it is so unbiblical. The God of the Bible is a God who is so willing to help and heal us!! He loves us deeply, longs to heal us and embrace us as dear children, and is always thinking of us!!

"While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him" (Luke 5:12).

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