Rituals, Rules, and Reality

   Back in the 70's, my mother became a believer. So did I.  Not long afterward, we were swept up into the Bill Gothard Institute of Basic Life Principles cult.  Yes, cult.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Bill Gothard went from designing and teaching a course at Wheaton College, given the name Basic Youth Conflicts, into a 30-hour seminar which over 2.5 million people have attended.
   I believe Bill started out on the right foot.  I believe he genuinely cared about the things of Christ and the people of God and had a heart to help.  The problem, as I see it, is that Bill didn't know the difference between a principle and a formula.        Let's take Bible reading, for instance.  Every genuine Christian knows that Bible reading is a good thing.  What follows, then, is that reading your Bible every day is a good thing.  But that isn't good enough for Bill Gothard.  In his seminars, he presses his attendees to make a vow to God that they will read the Bible every day. This is his formula for successful Bible reading.  But is that a good formula? I tell you, "No".  Why not?
   Well, what if we applied that to another scenario.  Let's apply it to marriage.  Would we all agree that a husband and wife need to communicate?  I think most of us would agree that this is a worthy principle for any marriage. What follows, then, is that a husband and wife should communicate every day. So, let's turn that into a formula (a plan or method for doing, making, or achieving something).
   Let's say, every couple should communicate for 30 minutes every day.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  So, I am not in a very good mood.  Stressful things have happened all day.  And, in walks my husband from work.  I look at the time.  The clock is ticking.  He and I are both aware that we need to get in our 30 minutes of communication.  And so it begins.  He has other things he wants and needs to do; things that very well may impact the marriage or family in a positive way, but 30 minutes is required.  And, for the sake of illustrating a point, that 30 minutes has to begin the minute he walks in the door and not a minute later.  We are now communicating because we MUST.  Perhaps we are bored with the subject at hand.  Perhaps we would both just rather sit, unwind from the day, relax, and enjoy each other's company. But, this is not to be allowed.  We must forfeit what would actually work for us as a couple to fulfill the formula.
   Same with God.  Maybe, were the Holy Spirit allowed to guide us, we just might spend some time before the Lord lamenting over the sins of our country. Or, perhaps, we might feel led to spend some time praising God for his many blessings.  Who knows?  Maybe God just wants us to sit in stillness and quietness before him for a while, but never mind, there are "quotas" to keep.  Our checkoff list to do.  Heartless and cold.  Is that what God really wants?  I think not.
   Bill has seminars and formulas for everything.  He will tell you exactly how to have a successful marriage and raise successful children, even though he has absolutely not one shred of personal experience with either.  He has "principles" for financial success, health, and even anger resolution.  There is just no end to his wisdom.
   We have seven children, and I can tell you we didn't use the same formula for all of them.  Why?  Because they are seven different people each having unique personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and desires.  Each one required something a little different from us.  And, do you know what?  God didn't have an identical plan for them, either.  Neither does he have an identical plan for us.
   Do you want to know God's plan?  Then, meet the planner.  Walk with Him and talk with Him.  Search out His word, absolutely, but don't be a prisoner. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  His word is to instruct, prepare, and fashion us into something beautiful for the kingdom of God.  God never intended for us to be enslaved to a plan, a formula, to "principles", if you will.  Throw off those shackles!  We serve the only living God.  Let's treat Him as such, instead of packaging Him into something we can manage.  He is so much bigger than that!
   Bill Gothard has been accused by over 30 women that he sexually harassed them.  I do not glory in that.  There is actually a website called Recovering Grace that addresses the damage his ministry has caused numerous families. I do not glory in that, either.
    I am not here to condemn Bill Gothard. But,we could have gotten in so much deeper than we did.  We bought materials.We had his teachings endorsed at the church we attended.Going to the annual Bill Gothard Seminar was a ritual we followed for a few years.  Somewhere, along the way, it faded into the background, but there are statements he made (not all wrong or false) that I can still recall.  There are times I wonder how much of my foundational Christian beliefs are still influenced by those seminars.  There are still things I question, particularly concerning Biblical submission of wives to their husbands.
    The simple children's song comes to mind, "Oh Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear."We do indeed need to be careful.  "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8).  The operative word is rather. Every man is flawed.  Only Christ is perfect.  Listen to good teachers. Attend seminars.  Read Christian books.  But, ultimately, look to Christ, alone.  He is able to guide you into all of the truth and to keep you from falling until that perfect day when we shall see Him as He is.
   Don't make the mistake of falling prey to a cult.  Let me give you a definition that may help:  a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing. When you see yourself hanging onto every word of a particular preacher, or find yourself saying, "_____________said" versus the Bible says, beware!


  1. Hearing of any Christian leader's sinfulness is disturbing. You have provided an excellent viewpoint with some really good advice.

  2. Thanks, Sandy. What is most disturbing is his lack of repentence;particularly considering what he preached, that very thing!


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