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Man of God or Questionable Leader?
Christians sometimes don't recognize groups as cults. When friendly folk knock on our doors or invite us to "Seminars" or "Neighborhood Bible Studies" we could be taking that first step into a group that could end up controlling our minds, our finances, and even our eternal lives. It is for this reason that Pastors urge folks to stick close to the Church.
Trouble is, the Church itself is often now a hotbed of cult doctrine. Biblical integrity is taking a back seat to emotional experiences. Many Christians know that in some vague way, true Biblical Christianity is being lost in their Church and they want it back! But how? Often they aren't being fed good spiritual food where they are. They are still hungry--and searching.
Into this void steps someone like Bill Gothard, promising that if you follow his seven principles for life, you will be a triumphant Christian--a cut above the rest. You eagerly pay to attend his seminars and buy his products. He is presented as a great man of God. You see others following his lead who are intelligent, educated, devoted Christians. You want in! You want more!
As usual, getting in is much easier than getting out! Perhaps you first encountered Bill Gothard's teachings through The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), which grew out of The Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, There is also The Medical Training Institute (MTIA) and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). If you are an "alumni" or graduate of any of these courses, you were with the same parent organization under the same man, Bill Gothard. At this point many will be asking, what's your problem with Bill Gothard and his teachings?
To begin, we humans have a hard time with the concept of grace, God's unmerited favor to us illustrating His great mercy. It is s-o-o-o hard not to tie our own works to His grace. I've often said the cults have it backwards--they think they have to do good works to earn grace and therefore their salvation. Instead, our good works should be a fruit of having received that great grace. In other words, we don't work to get saved, we do good works because we are saved! (and grateful!). Ephesians 2:8,9, puts it this way:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them".
When early followers of Jesus inquired as to what these "works" were, Jesus made this reply in John 6: 28,29,
"They said therefore to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent".
The works-oriented followers of Jesus really struggled with this concept of "work" and that struggle has continued down to our day. We always feel we must DO something. Teachers like Gothard oblige by giving us something to do!
Space does not permit me to go into a full discussion of how Gothard has meddled with grace, but suffice it to say he teaches many of the same things as Seventh-day Adventists. Boiling it all down, he teaches grace may have been good enough to cover us up to the time of conversion. Once saved, it becomes something we must earn on a daily basis to remain in a condition of salvation. Enter all his rules and regulations (called principles) and his "umbrella of authority".
Once you "buy-in" to Gothard, he becomes your "authority" figure. Reportedly, he has a diagram showing God at the top, himself immediately under God, and then his organization and his authority figures next, all the way down to you, who must obey them all. No questions or doubts allowed.
Jesus called His followers "sheep", for good reason. Sheep don't like to think or act independently. They follow one shepherd. Gothard directs, and all others fall in line. He demands and gets absolute authority over his devoted followers. He, himself, is above the rules, of course. That's how it works in all authoritative, controlling, groups. The tragedy is that the Christian "sheep" willingly allow themselves to be controlled, if it all appears to come from God.
Cults draw heavily from the Old Testament, often finding obscure verses that they can twist to suit their own doctrines. Gothard is good at this. His most damaging doctrine, I believe, is the false teaching of "generational curses". It causes such fear in believers, only because they have not researched into the subject in the Bible! They accept fragments of Scriptures that SEEM to support the teaching, but neglect to read the accounts in their context.
All the generational "curses" reported in the old Testament were directed at the enemies of God, at "...those who hate Me". Lovers of God received only his loving kindness and mercy! We Christians need to wake up and study up in the Word of God, and not allow ourselves to be put under a spirit of fear, by these extreme teachers and so-called prophets! (Details on this teaching are in our booklet on the Vineyard and also our tape on Laughter & Deliverance).
We regret we did not examine Bill Gothard's teachings closely before this, because he was so well accepted within Christian circles. Oh yes, there was a sex scandal in his ministry in the 1980's involving his brother and several young women in his group. We only now realize the extent of that scandal and the shameful cover-up by Bill Gothard.
All became clear when we received a copy of a book called "A Matter of Basic Principles--Bill Gothard & the Christian Life" by Don & Joy Veinot, and Ron Henzel, out of Midwest Christian Outreach. It has put the entire ministry and teachings of Bill Gothard out there, for all to see.
This book does more than outline Bill Gothard's peculiar doctrines, with correction from the Word of God. It does do that in great detail, but it also gives a blow-by-blow account of trying to dialogue with Bill Gothard, to call him to accountability. No doubt thinking himself above correction from concerned Christians, Gothard dodges, avoids, changes dates, tells fibs, breaks promises and generally tap dances around.
When finally confronted, he tries full frontal attacks and tries to control the meetings. When that fails and he is called to account, he sometimes promises to change. He doesn't.
The most heart-breaking part of this book are the first-hand accounts of some of his victims. Families have been broken, and lives of people, both young and old destroyed by this controlling group. The harsh rules applied to them for discipline and conflict resolution were never followed by Gothard personally. They are under his law, but he is above it!
This book would be very useful for anyone trapped in the throes of legalism--from Seventh-day Adventists to former Worldwide Church of God adherents, to overly dogmatic, rules-oriented, Christians. Legalism is discussed and refuted extensively from the Scriptures.
Reading through this book took me back to that dark period of my life when I was controlled by Jehovah's Witnesses. Gothard, too, in similar ways, rules by fear. He, too, forces questionable medical advice on his followers.
In the section of the book on health, I almost thought at times I was reading from Christian Science in some of his views! Gothard, like the JW's, draws most of his doctrines from selected parts of the Old Testament. Like them, he also forces interpretations and applications never meant for today. I concluded he was a dangerous man, much more so than I originally thought.
We are offering this timely book with this issue of our magazine. We hope you find it edifying. It contains good, solid Bible teaching on important topics.
"A Matter of Basic Principles--
Bill Gothard & the Christian Life by Don & Joy Veinot & Ron Henzel
We recommend this book to anyone who has been entrapped in legalism and needs Christian teaching to set them free, once and for all! Not only does this book expose the extreme legalism and wrong doctrines taught by Bill Gothard in his seminars, but corrects these errors with the word of God. This book is also good for Seventh-day Adventists, ex-Worldwide Church of God members, ex-Christian Scientists, and anyone coming out of extreme fundamental legalism.
$ 16 USA; $22 Can. + Postage.
Please see order form in the middle of the magazine.