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In the church I pastor a number of the congregation are sold on Bill Gothard’s approach to the Christian life, and I fear it may cause divisions in the church. Do you have any advice?

I think I understand the question. In my opinion there is a problem; I’ve come to call it “the seminar syndrome.” It isn’t just Gothard. The seminar folks roll into town with their specialized package of materials. By the very nature of the situation, they have to “blitz” the audience with information, so that there is very little time to consider it critically, to evaluate it, and to integrate it with other teaching and the Scriptures (most of all). In some cases, its a very mild form of brain washing. These folks drop their package on the audience and move on, but aren’t there to deal with the applicational issues.

For example, years ago Bill Gothard came to Dallas. He taught on submission, among other things, and that’s good. But he either clearly stated or left the impression that a wife should submit to her husband’s instructions/demands “not matter what.” He used Sarah as an example (going along with the story that she was Abraham’s sister, and thus eligible for marriage, and being taken into Pharaoh’s — and later Abimelech’s — harem), and indicated that God protected her (from pregnancy) when she trusted God and submitted to her husband. Well, one of the ladies in our church — a nursery worker — said that her husband had asked her to have sex with his brother, so he wouldn’t go to a prostitute! She felt that Gothard had taught she should obey her husband. We believed otherwise. It was on this very point that Joe Bayly challenged Gothard in print (in Eternity Magazine, as I recall — “Out of My Mind”). Gothard initially took the tack that if Joe had a problem with him he should come to him privately (ala Matthew 18). Bayly said, “No Way! You have taught publicly, so you should clarify publicly. This is not a matter of a personal offense, it is a matter of public teaching.” Gothard relented, as I recall.

Anyway, the seminar syndrome has yet another problem. The seminar expert usually specializes in some specific area of truth (finances, marriage, sex, teens, etc.), and is the resident expert. But all too often their teaching ventures out to other topics, where their expertise (if correct in their specialty) is lacking. We — those who preach and teach in churches week after week, year after year, chapter by chapter — don’t have the luxury of specializing. And we have to deal with all the Scriptures. And we also are there when the application gets sticky.

I guess the long and the short of it is that seminars have some value, but also some inherent weaknesses, no matter who the expert is. I think Gothard has more problems than most. He talks about accountability, but I see very little of it. As one of my seminary profs said many years ago, “Gothard hangs theological elephants by exegetical threads.”

There have obviously been some serious problems with Bill as it relates to his brother some years ago.

Having said all this, I would not accuse Gothard himself of being cultic, and I don’t think you are either. We have seen some folks whose lives have really been turned around by attending his seminars. (It is sort of like the Promise Keepers in this regard — some good, some not so good.)

As I observe Gothard and the Gothardites from a bit of a distance, it would seem that the major issues I see tend to center around the homeschoolers. (My brother and his wife are big on this, as are a number of folks in our church.) There is so much good to be said. These folks take responsibility for rearing and training up their kids — which is right. But there is a kind of separatism as well. A friend of mine is a church consultant, and he told me that in the churches that have embraced homeschooling there is virtually no outreach, because of the desire to remain apart from the world (and “worldly” – non-homeschooled — saints). This can be divisive. In our church some parents keep their kids out of the Sunday School classes or youth group. We’re in the middle of trying to sift through all of this. I do feel that some of their concerns are legitimate (Are kids on a youth group outing making out at the back of the church bus?), and we need to hear and to heed these criticisms. On the other hand, we are not to be totally isolated from the world, either.

One of the things which our Lord said should characterize the saints is their love for one another and their unity. Further, I think the separatism in the early church (Jewish saints from Gentile heathen — ala Galatians 2) was recognized as a serious error, and addressed directly when it was blatant.

I think one thing we’ve done is to insist that our leaders who are homeschoolers acknowledge that homeschooling is a conviction, not a biblical imperative. If this is so, then they are not to debate about it, and not to divide over it (Romans 14, early 15).

I can identify with your concerns and will pray with you, as we seek to do what is right in this area as well.

Related Topics: False Teachers