Freedom and Safety: Does There Have to be a Conflict? (An Urgent Personal Message To Christian Home-schoolers)

(Originally printed in the Winter 2005 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 12)

By Jan Fletcher

Our freedom to home-school is precious to us. Home-schooling parents cherish the freedom home-schooling gives our children to learn and grow in the ways we, as parents, think are best.

Keeping our children safe is also important. Dangers to children abound in our society—everything from school violence and stranger dangers to negative peer pressures and cultural influences that can lead a child into making dangerous choices.

Freedom And Safety Are Both Important

If we have freedom to do as we wish with no moral or physical limits on anything at all, neither we, nor our children, would be safe. But if we have safety with no freedom, we would be slaves to whomever we have voluntarily relinquished our freedom.

There Must And Should Be A Wise Balance Between The Two

Both as an American and a committed Christian, I believe in freedom; and I also care very much about keeping my children safe. Because I care deeply about both the gift of freedom and the responsibility to guard and protect my children – a gift from God – I am compelled to share a personal message with you as one home-schooling parent to another.

We home-schooling parents must constantly defend our freedoms. As we have all learned, freedom comes at a cost and that cost is vigilance. Many well-meaning people, who sincerely believe they are protecting children, want to limit our freedom as parents to home-school our children.

Sometimes, these well-meaning people are moved to report suspected suspected child abuse by what is, in reality, an innocent circumstance. For example: A toddler has escaped for a few moments out the front door sans clothes, and as a result, a person may falsely accuse a home-schooling family of child abuse.

Why does this happen? It happens because some people have a different worldview from home-schoolers. In their worldview, safety is more heavily weighted than intellectual and religious freedom. They believe protecting children is the primary responsibility of government, and that even drastic invasions of a family’s privacy are justified in the name of keeping children safe. Many home-schoolers know this is wrong, and believe that freedom IS important.

Trying to help people (who oppose home-schooling freedoms) to see this truth is difficult. This is because people’s beliefs – their worldview – can color virtually everything that person observes, reads, or hears. Everything they evaluate is filtered through this distorted lens. Understanding a person’s worldview is important when we share information about our personal beliefs.

For example, I was an Atheist until the age of 40. I had already been home-schooling for four years before my husband— Jewish by birth—and I became Christians in 1996. During my years as an Atheistic parent I loved my children very much. I took their safety seriously, just as I do now. The only problem, at that time, was regarding my worldview: I believed there was no God. As a result, I conscientiously taught my children that people who believed in God were confused and well meaning but wrong. I viewed through my “colored glasses” any evidence brought before me for consideration that there was a God who loved me. These “glasses” were designed to see everything through the Theory of Evolution, which provided the foundation for my worldview at that time.

Some Christians Falsely Accuse Others Of Child Abuse

Even Bible-believing Christians can have “colored glasses.” When a Christian’s worldview is not completely based on a sound doctrinal understanding of the Scriptures but is, instead, lopsided in certain areas of their understanding of the nature of God and/or man, it can make them more susceptible to rumors and even societal panics.

A well-known example is the “Satanic Panic,” that sprang up in the 1980s and still influences many Christians today. As a result of this, some Christians believe many people have been victims of satanic ritual abuse. These folks also believe young children who experienced abuse can repress those memories so thoroughly that when they grow up and become 30- and 40- years old, they can be under the illusion that they had a normal childhood; but later, after therapy supposedly recovers these memories, these folks come under a delusion and can believe outrageous things about their pasts. For example, some have believed they were forced to eat aborted babies, and to do all kinds of horrible things under the control of a vast army of satanic cult members. They “remember” all these events as adults when they engage in certain therapies that use recovered-memory-therapy techniques.

Sadly, some of these people become totally convinced that these memories are true, even though many scientists, psychologists, and law enforcement officials have discredited this type of therapy. Believing these recovered memories are true, some of these Christians falsely accuse their parents, and sometimes other Christians of abusing them when they were infants or young children.

Many Christians have been falsely accused by patients of Christian counselors who have a worldview that believes in repressed memories. I am a journalist, and I recently wrote a book about a widely used Christian-counseling technique that is causing people to be very confused about the issue of memory and alleged child abuse. This e-book is Lying Spirits: A Christian Journalist’s Report on Theophostic Ministry.

I wrote this book because I care about people’s freedom. Some of my fellow Christians have fallen under a deception so great that they have falsely accused other people of child abuse. This grieved me terribly. One of the people I interviewed for the book was falsely accused, arrested, and jailed for a crime he never committed. Gratefully, in this case, the local district attorney recognized the charges were based on discredited recovered-memory therapy techniques disguised under the cloak of Christian prayer therapy, and dropped the charges after an extensive investigation. At the same time, the district attorney publicly accused the pastor, who had used this therapy on church members, of spiritual abuse. (For more on this read Lying Spirits.)

If someone’s worldview says that there are secret satanic cults involving local law enforcement, doctors, judges, and even those innocent-looking grandmothers sitting in the pews, even innocuous comments from people can be interpreted as the proof of their guilt as secret Satanists. All it takes is a worldview, a dose of imagination, and encouragement by some “experts”—in this case pastors and therapists who believe in secret satanic cults and repressed memories—and you have someone willing to falsely accuse another person of child abuse without so much as any circumstantial evidence, or to call in an anonymous tip of alleged child abuse based on a recovered memory without any genuine evidence.

It all depends on a person’s worldview – on what they see through “colored glasses” with preconceived notions they may have about God and man that are not valid.

As home-schoolers know, false accusations of child abuse are one of the ways that well meaning people oppose our freedom to home-school our children. These accusations frequently come under the banner of championing safety for children.

Some Christians Oppose Our Freedom In Christ

There are Christians who oppose freedom in the name of safety, too. They may not oppose the freedom to home-school. In fact, they may be champions of home-schooling, but they oppose our spiritual freedom, which can be the most serious danger both our children and we, as Christians, will face. They do this because they have a worldview in which safety is weighted more heavily than freedom. In this worldview, they incorrectly interpret Scriptures in a way that gives a false understanding of what freedom in Christ means. Not only have they willingly given up their freedom in Christ, they seek to enslave others in the same way.

What Does God Say About Safety?

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. [O my soul,] thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness [extendeth] not to thee; … The LORD [is] the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot … thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence [is] fullness of joy; at thy right hand [there are] pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16: 1,2,5, 10b, 11, KJV)

The psalmist David recognized that God is the only one who can truly preserve us and keep us safe. Not only does God provide safety for us as we live in these perishable bodies, but he preserves us from eternal death. He alone has the power to give us eternal life, and He offers this gift freely through His grace.

When I was still an Atheist, sometimes I would be very sad when I thought of the fact that the precious child I cradled in my arms would one day rot in a grave to be no more. I did not have an answer to this problem. I knew, as a parent, that I had no power to preserve my children from death. My worldview of the random existence of the universe, as explained by Atheistic evolutionists, offered me no hope. I frequently pondered the seemingly meaninglessness of life, but such thoughts made me depressed, and so I refused to think about them for long.

On Valentine’s Day in 1996, my attitude changed dramatically when a doctor told me I would die from a cancerous tumor located on my cervix before my 8-week-old fetus could be born seven months later. My only hope, he told me, was to have surgery—surgery that carried a 30-percent risk of killing my unborn child.

This was no longer a philosophical problem of how to keep my children or me safe from death. Now I faced the monster – my biggest fear—up close and personal.

I prayed. For the first time in my adult life, at 39 years old – a mother of four children and one on the way—I prayed a simple prayer of ten words to God: “Please help me. This is more than I can bear.”

As a result of this prayer, God granted me mercy, even after 20 years of rejecting Him. In the subsequent days, I bought a Bible. My Jewish husband, who had been raised by Atheist parents and had never looked inside the pages of this book, picked it up with great interest. “I want to learn about my Jewish brother, Jesus,” he said. On Easter Sunday, just a few weeks later, our family went to church for the first time. We heard the Good News that God Himself raises the dead. Within a few months, we became Christians.

Through God’s grace and mercy, I rejected the doctor’s recommendation for surgery, got a second opinion and a new doctor, and trusted in God to take care of both my unborn child and me. Due to medical incompetence, I came within five minutes of dying from heart failure 15 minutes after my healthy baby was born (Sept. 6, 1996).Yet, God is mighty to save! He spared both my child and me. Eight weeks later, I finally had surgery to remove the tumor. Five days after that, we all rejoiced to hear that it was not cancer.

Through this experience and the resulting trials God has allowed our family to strengthen our faith in Him (just as God allowed the psalmist David to be tested), I have learned the true meaning of safety. True safety is found only in God’s power, not ours.

In Psalm 16:1, the word to keep safe, or to preserve (depending on the translation) in Hebrew is shamar, which means to keep, watch, observe, guard. God himself keeps us safe. Is this always a physical safety?

In my case, God preserved my physical life for a time for His purpose; although, unless I’m raptured, I do expect one day to physically die.

When we look at the story of Job, we see that Job, himself, understood very well that God is worthy of praise both when He gives blessings in this world, and when He takes them away through allowing His children to suffer death and destruction. However, even in the midst of Job’s suffering, he affirmed the true preservative power of God – the power to redeem us from eternal death:

For I know [that] my redeemer liveth, and [that] he shall stand at the latter [day] upon the earth: And [though] after my skin [worms] destroy this [body], yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; [though] my reins be consumed within me. (Job 19:25-27, KJV)

Job was like no one else on earth at that time according to Scripture. God said Job was blameless and upright (Job 1: 8). The tragedy that happened to Job did not occur because Job did anything wrong. (Job 2:3) To the contrary: he was a righteous man who pleased God very much. Yet, in one day, more disasters fell upon him than most of us will ever see. Was he safe? In the physical sense, Job experienced every parent’s nightmare: the death of all his children. But in the spiritual sense, Job knew God, believed God’s promise of eternal life, and knew that he was in very safe hands. His soul was secure from eternal death, and Job knew that true safety in our bodies (and the end of all distress and pain) would only come at that “latter day,” the day of our redemption—when God resurrects our bodies, and we dwell in complete security with God in a new heaven and new earth.

Scripture demonstrates that God never guarantees a safe life physically for us, or our children, although, obviously, God gives us a physical existence for the purpose of knowing Him as our Savior. Yet, He alone controls our physical destiny. He numbers our days according to His will and His purposes. No formula, effort, or works on our part can force God into a contractual obligation to prolong our lives or protect us from disasters.

As parents, we do everything we can, within reason, to protect our children from danger, and we should! God has given us our children, and He expects us to care for them in love and devotion. We have a responsibility to protect them from danger. However, we must also realize the ultimate power to protect our families lies in the hands of God, and sometimes He allows trials to come into our lives. Sadly, in an effort to deny this obvious fact of life, some parents look for formulas, techniques, special prayers, and anything else they can find to ward off disasters like the one that happened to Job. Surely, they reason, they can provide a hedge against pain and suffering. But can they really?

Unfortunately, in the never-ending quest for the sure-fire way to avoid pain and suffering, people haven’t yet found a technique that works every time. Instead, in the process of looking for one, they find themselves venturing into real spiritual danger.

The Danger Of False Teaching In The Church

One of the dangers that almost all home-schoolers can agree upon is the danger of evil influences upon our children. We take our responsibility seriously to guard against negative cultural influences. Some families guard what their children watch or listen to in the media; what associations their children have with other children and families; and other religious teachings they may be exposed to. For Christians, these can include atheism and evolution; Eastern-style religious beliefs, such as reincarnation; and strange cults.

These kinds of strange doctrines and teachings are easy to spot. However, strange teachings have also “crept in unawares,” (Jude 1:4) right into the Church. These strange teachings are brought in by those wearing sheep’s clothing. (If they wore wolves’ clothing they would be very easy to see, wouldn’t they?) False teachings cloaked in garments of righteous-looking behavior, liberally sprinkled with Bible verses, and taught by humble-appearing men can seem like scriptural teaching. It takes a discerning eye and a willingness to search the Scriptures to detect the falsity in some teachings. This is the kind of diligent spiritual safekeeping God expects of Christian parents.

Bill Gothard’s Umbrella Of Protection

As a home-school leader you may have heard of Bill Gothard, who is one of the most popular teachers in the home-schooling movement. He has had a vast influence on how home-schooling families order their lives through his ministries which include the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and the Advanced Training Institute of America (ATIA, his home-schooling arm). He encourages parents to keep their families safe; and his teachings (proliferated through his seminars, books, and home-schooling curriculum) is very appealing, because parents very much want their children to be safe. These parents are wonderfully devoted Christians, and many are home-schooling parents. They have the best interests of their children at heart.

Gothard is a Christian teacher who believes God has promised physical safety as well as spiritual safety to those who follow his rulebook for life. The most important basis for attaining this safety, according to Gothard, is for a home-school family to come under the “umbrella of protection.” This concept of a protective umbrella arises from Gothard’s belief about authority in a Christian’s life combined with his belief in God’s promise of safety for those who follow certain procedures.

… according to Gothard, all human relationships are governed by a chain of command similar to that in the military. It is only when we find our place in God’s chain of command and get under our proper authority that God will be able to protect us. Once we get under proper authority and implement the proper amount and types of mechanical steps and principles that Gothard prescribes, we ensure God’s blessing in our life and family.1

In Gothard’s teaching, as long as everyone follows all the rules Gothard teaches, tragedies like what happened to Job just won’t happen. It’s like a contract with God. “I do this, God; and You’ll do that in return.”

That sounds wonderful doesn’t it? I would like to have an umbrella of protection against pain and suffering in this world, wouldn’t you? How do we get that umbrella? How much does it cost? Is that umbrella really from God?

Remember what I said earlier about people who long to take away the freedom of home-schooling in order to protect the safety of children from child abuse? Such people weigh safety on the scale more heavily than freedom.

There really are unfortunate cases of people who are abusing children using the cover of “home-schooling” – people who are not true home-schoolers. Some believe we could stop all harm to all children at the hands of their families if we established a big enough hedge – a big enough fence. That fence is called a police state. Many millions of people have lived in such police states under totalitarian regimes. The problem with that idea is that the solution is far more severe in its consequences than the problem ever was.

Even so, many people with liberal political viewpoints believe that a privacy-intrusive fence is a great solution and makes a wonderful protective umbrella for innocent children who are silent victims of child abuse. They ascribe to such views not because they want a police state – in fact, they care very much about their own personal freedom and would object very strongly if their freedom was impinged. The sad fact is that these folks do not understand the long-term consequences of the authoritarian protective umbrella they advocate. They do not think it through and envision what the end result will be: a complete loss of freedom for everyone sooner or later. In fact, an “authority-driven” solution for child abuse – an umbrella protection plan – is a much bigger threat than the danger it proposes to solve, because it destroys our freedom.

The same thing can be true of Christians. We can get so focused on being safe from evil, that we give up being free.

The consequences of the authoritarian protective umbrella Bill Gothard and his followers advocate are immensely serious, as such an umbrella robs families of their spiritual freedom, while offering no real protection at all.

What Does God Says About Freedom?

Earlier I explained that true safety only comes from God through His sovereign will in His dealings with His children. We cannot do anything to manipulate God’s sovereign will in order to get a guarantee from tragedies in our physical lives. Now, let’s take a look at what God says about freedom.

In Galatians 5:1, Scripture warns us to:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (KJV) In the New International Version, it’s worded this way: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

What Does God Free Us From?

God’s unmerited grace through Jesus Christ frees us from sin (John 8:34-36). As a result, we are also given freedom from the bondage of the law. The New International Version commentary says, of Galatians 5:1:

Since the Jews of Paul’s time spoke of taking the yoke of the law upon themselves, Paul probably alludes to such an expression here. To the Jews taking up the law’s yoke was the essence of religion; to Paul it was assuming the yoke of slavery. He may also be remembering Jesus’ reference to Christians taking his yoke upon them (Mt 11:29-30), but his yoke was “easy” and “light.”

As home-schoolers know, home-schooling is a “light” yoke. Although we all have experienced the frustration of parenting, home-schooling our children is not a heavy burden because it’s a relationship grounded in love between parent and child. On the other hand, many home-schoolers view government schooling as a burdensome yoke for families because it’s based on law, not love. Many of us chose to home-school because we didn’t want to carry that “yoke” of the law. We know public school teachers will never deal with our children in the same loving way we do, as their parents. We all know the difference, don’t we?

How Does God Set Us Free? 

God gave us our freedom through the sacrificial Lamb of God – Jesus.

[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4, KJV)

What does God say about responding to teaching that encourages us to return to our previous enslavement?

In Matthew 16:12, Jesus warns us:

Then understood they how that he bade [them] not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. (KJV)

These same teachers, Jesus says in Matthew 23:4, tied up “heavy loads” and put them on the backs of the people. These “heavy loads” came in the form of the Jewish Talmud—a collection of oral Jewish traditions first codified during the Babylonian exile and expanded upon until its completion several hundred years after Jesus ascended to Heaven.

Rabbis in Israel today do exactly the same thing. They have created additional fences around the law, because people attempting to follow Judaism now have no way to become “cleansed” should they violate one of the ceremonial laws. They have no grace and have rejected the Messiah who offered them grace.

An example of the difficulty this creates for Orthodox Jews was addressed in an exposé piece in the International Jerusalem Post published Nov. 22, 2002: “Pure but not simple.” This article detailed the mikvah (cleansing bath) requirements that rabbis have expanded by defining a woman’s unclean days in such a way that causes some women to have “Halacha infertility.” Here’s a quote from page 23:

Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE it was no longer possible for a man to atone for accidentally having sexual relations with a menstruating woman. Therefore, the rabbis went to great lengths to prevent this from happening by establishing a ‘fence’ around the law. They ruled that a man may not touch his wife even in the most casual way during the time of her menstruation plus seven days and not until she purifies herself in the mikve. He may not even touch her if she is ill and needs assistance, or from the time she begins labor and until she finishes all bleeding and has waited seven clean days. [Joseph must have violated this law when Jesus was born as he helped Mary off the donkey.]

Another restriction was added for women who may spot during the month. The rabbis became experts on various types of uterine bleeding, and depending on the size and color of the stain, a woman must wait seven “clean” days. Women who because of various medical conditions bleed frequently may find themselves unable to have sexual relations with their husbands at all.

The article detailed the reactions of certain Orthodox women who were objecting to the humiliation of submitting to “underwear police,” and some who were also grieving their infertility. They were unable to conceive, because they had unusually short cycles of ovulation and were, therefore, “unclean” when they were fertile.

A Fence Built On Man’s Opinions Offers No Safety

Don Veinot, Joy Veinot, and Ron Henzel, authors of A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, make the case that Gothard has essentially created an Evangelical Talmud for Christians. Gothard’s fence is constructed deep and wide in an effort to keep Christians safe from temptation, sickness, and poverty. Unfortunately, the pickets of this fence may appear to be constructed from Bible verses, but they are:

… largely Christian oral traditions which, like the opinions and oral traditions of the Pharisees, have been given a level of authority [by Gothard] nearly equal to scripture.2

Gothard Turns Circumcision Into A Sacrament

Take Gothard’s teaching on circumcision, for example, in which he teaches that Christians should circumcise their sons on the eighth day after birth. He even offers printed certificates acknowledging the religious significance of the event with spaces for the signature of a medical attendant and a minister.3

Ultimately, however, Gothard does not seek to justify “Christian Circumcision” on medical grounds but as a matter of biblical “morality.” He [Gothard] writes:

‘Because this is one subject which is so strongly commanded and reinforced in Scripture, there is no question what the decision of Christian parents should be on the matter.

‘It is important to note that circumcision was established before the Law was given. Circumcision goes back to the faith of Abraham. Thus, those who would seek to dismiss circumcision with the Law, have no Scriptural basis to do so.’4

The Apostle Peter said the requirement of circumcision was a yoke his people could not bear. While arguing at the council at Jerusalem over whether Gentile believers should be circumcised, Peter said:

Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (Acts 15:10-11, NIV).

Gothard’s teaching is nothing more than slavery to the law —the very same yoke that Peter so strenuously warned against. Sadly, just as the Jewish people in Israel are bearing the same heavy burdens today that they were when Jesus walked among them 2,000 years ago, Christians, who should walk in freedom, have traded faith in the grace of God for a formula based on works to win God’s favor.

Why Is That Yoke Hard To Bear?

A Baptist pastor, home-schooling father, and list-owner of a Yahoo group devoted to discussing the teachings of Bill Gothard explains why neither the Jews of Peter’s day nor today’s believers can bear this yoke:

The promises for obedience to the law only applied to TOTAL obedience to the law–which no one ever accomplished. This is why the curse of the law always applied–and this is why it makes no sense today to try to preach that WE can gain these so-called “benefits” from picking out some of the laws from here and there and trying to keep them. It didn’t work that way back then –and it certainly doesn’t work that way now.

Paul tells us, in GAL. 5:3, that to allow oneself to be circumcised was to obligate oneself to keep the WHOLE law. The Judaizers had convinced some people to try to keep the law in addition to having faith in Christ—and in the context of the book, it is clear that some had turned to law-keeping AFTER having already been saved by faith. That makes this a sanctification issue, not just a justification issue.

What did Paul mean by what he wrote in GAL. 5:3? When a Gentile wanted to become a Jew—he was required to do two things: undergo circumcision, and make a sacrifice at the temple. This signified his decision to put himself UNDER the Law of Moses—and this placed him INTO that covenant that the Israelites promised, back in EX. 24, to obey completely.

Paul was saying that to undergo circumcision was tantamount to admitting that one had to keep the WHOLE law. But look at what JAMES says about this, in JAMES 2:10. He says that if someone keeps the WHOLE law—EXCEPT for one part of it—he is still GUILTY of breaking the whole law. You see the futility of this approach?

Now remember—the failure to obey the whole law brought the curse of the law. And James says that keeping ALL of it but one part IS breaking the law. This is why Paul says, in GAL. 3:10, that everyone under that law IS—automatically, as it were—under its curse—because the law required absolute, total obedience as the only passing grade.

So what did Jesus do about that? Well—Gothard says that we are saved by grace IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO KEEP THE LAW. Is that what the Bible says? Quite the opposite: Paul—just three verses later in GAL.—in GAL 3:13—says that Christ REDEEMED us from the curse of the law.

To be redeemed is to be bought from slavery. To be UNDER the law was to be under its curse automatically—to be in slavery to it. But Jesus died to redeem us from that curse. Some say—sure, we are free from the CURSE, but not free from the law itself. But that is manifestly absurd; a law without a penalty is a nullity—and to be free from the penalty automatically means we are free from the law that IMPOSED that penalty. And it makes no sense at all to say we are under the AUTHORITY of a command, but not under the PENALTY attached TO that command.

Besides—the Bible says too many times that “we are not UNDER the Law”—and that clearly means “not under its jurisdiction.” And Paul says, in the very next chapter of Galatians, that Jesus came to redeem those who were under the law. That is—to buy their freedom from the bondage of the law.

In 5:1, Paul refers to the law as a “yoke of slavery.” Peter, in ACTS 15, calls the law “a yoke that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear”—and they both opposed the efforts to put Gentiles under that burden. The decision of the council in ACTS 15 was to NOT put the Gentiles under that burden.

Gothard says that obeying those laws brings prosperity and health. The Bible says that NO ONE ever did this – or could do it. Paul and Peter say that going back to that old law is going back to slavery – and Paul tells us to stand firm in our freedom and do NOT let that happen! Whom should we listen to?

The biggest danger to a Christian is not a physical danger like sickness, disease or poverty. All these things are temporary, and besides, no true formula is available to us to prevent tragedies such as Job experienced. Because of Adam’s sin, we have bodies that decay, and we live in a fallen world filled with pain and suffering for all of humanity. That’s a fact. Seeking spiritual formulas is nothing more than idolatry, because we are trying to reach God based on procedures rather than pursuing a relationship with Him based on His love for us and our love for Him. This love comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us the mind of Christ so that we can know what loving God really means.

The Biggest Danger We All Face Is OURSELVES:

  • Our depraved nature;
  • Our tendency to be deceived; and
  • Our efforts to elevate our desire for physical comfort above our relationship to God in Christ Jesus.

It is for these reasons that false teaching can be difficult to spot.

Is It Always Safe To Follow The Leader?

Many Christians may look to experts—nationally known Christian leaders—for help in understanding Scripture. They figure that such leaders surely cannot be deceived. If respected leaders say something is biblical, then there is no need to look further. It must be true.

Is Such Blanket Trust In Church Leaders Warranted?

Scripture gives a warning in the Book of John chapter seven.

As Jesus taught the people during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, “many in the crowd put their faith in him” (John 7:31). The Pharisees, who, in their time, were experts in interpreting the Scriptures, heard the crowd whispering and exclaiming Jesus was the Messiah. As a result, they tried to arrest him. They had already decided Jesus was a false prophet.

Then a funny thing happened. The temple guards came back empty handed. There was no Jesus in handcuffs, just amazed guards.

Why didn’t you bring him in?” the Pharisees asked. (v.45)

No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied (v.46).

Furious, the Pharisees said, “You mean he has deceived you also? Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?” (v.47-48) Then, they proceeded to curse the “mob” that did believe, saying these common folk knew nothing of the law.

Hmm … how interesting they would said that, because standing right there among them was, in fact, a Pharisee who did believe. “One of their own number” (v.50), Nicodemus, thought it wise to quietly ask a question without revealing his allegiance: “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” (v.51) Earlier in v.13, we find no one would publicly say what they thought of Jesus because they feared the Jews.

Here is an important lesson for us today: Putting blind faith in our religious leaders is not a good thing. The Pharisees had not looked at Jesus’ teaching in-depth. They made a shallow appraisal. In fact, they exposed their ignorance when they said they didn’t even know where Jesus had come from.

Instead, we find a strong degree of self-interest at work, as these leaders were more concerned about maintaining the favor of men and their position than accepting God’s truth. (John 11:48, 12:42-43) They thought it more convenient not to investigate fully Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.

In this account, many of the most prominent religious leaders of God’s people were wrong, while some in the “mob”—in Greek the word translated mob can indicate common folk—were more discerning than their leaders and understood the truth.

Just because a famous Christian leader says something is biblical is not enough to assuage all doubts. Instead, we are to be like the Bereans. (Acts 17:11) These people, some of them common folk, were called “noble” by God because they searched the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul preached was true.

Is Bill Gothard teaching the truth? The question is an urgent one for home-schooling families who cherish freedom, because Gothard doesn’t think you are capable of being free without boxing yourself in with his Evangelical Talmud.

Consider the following excerpt from A Matter of Basic Principles:

The Apostle Paul wanted the Christians in Galatia to understand that when it comes to relating to God, there are only two ways. You can try to relate to Him on the basis of law or on the basis of grace. If you try law, you will always fail. You will be a slave and you will never be free. But if you try grace, you will not only succeed in having a relationship with God, but you will be one of His adopted sons! This was amazing stuff back in the first century because Paul made it very clear in Galatians that even women, who were by no means treated as equals in Roman society, would share the same status before God as men did.

Very frequently, one’s starting-point determines one’s ending point, and when it comes to having a close and fruitful relationship with God, everything hinges on one’s understanding of His grace. Starting with a definition of grace that’s based on what is earned, will lead to a never-ending bondage to performance. In his essay “How His Teachings Will Put You Into The Bondage of Legalism” John A Miller observes:

‘Mr. Gothard teaches a definition of the Grace of God that is in complete opposition to what is taught in scripture. His definition of grace is “An active force within us giving us the desire and the power to do things God’s way.” This definition has nothing to do with the complete and unmerited favor of God that I’ve come to know and understand. Consider the following verse: For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — Ephesians 2:8.

‘You can’t read these verses and come away believing anything like what Gothard teaches as a definition of Grace. And if there is heresy at the cornerstone of his belief system, how can you accept anything Mr. Gothard teaches?’

Miller raises a valid point. Bill Gothard is in the business (and a very lucrative business it has been) of telling Christians how they should live. But if his teachings on the very basics of the Christian life are faulty, how much more faulty must they be when he addresses the deeper issues of living out the faith in the real world?

So how does Bill Gothard expect believers to relate to their Heavenly Father? Don Veinot interviewed the father of a family who had been involved with IBLP [Institute in Basic Life Principles] for nearly 30 years. The family left in large part due to seeing how the Institute actually operated “up close and personal.” The family’s daughter had gone to work at the orphanage which IBLP operates in Russia. The father and mother began receiving long distance calls from their daughter who was very distressed by what she was seeing there. They flew to Russia and spent time at the orphanage. What did they experience?

‘… we sat in on a meeting with seven orphanage couples and Bill. We were discussing rules, law, grace, etc. and Bill made the statement, “Christians can’t handle freedom.” The way he said it appeared to us that he was there to set the boundaries for us.’5

Don’t Let Someone Else Build A Wall Between You And Christ

Just as there are many public school advocates who want to set boundaries for home-schooling families, there are also false teachers advocating legalism who want to set boundaries for Christians.

As a home-school leader, you willingly pay the price for maintaining the freedom to home-school. Won’t you also consider the importance of protecting and defending the spiritual freedom God gave you through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ?

God wouldn’t give us something at such a great cost if He did not want us, in fact, long for us, to have that very thing. True freedom in Christ has no real tension with true spiritual safety. The two are in perfect harmony. It is only in our seeking to avoid pain and suffering in this life by legalistic practices that we find there is a conflict between freedom and safety. When we allow the yeast of the Pharisees into our homes, we give up our freedom and gain no real safety, either, because legalism’s fence has no true power to protect us or to wall us off from danger. Instead, it walls us in as we lose both our spiritual freedom and our spiritual safety when we stop depending solely on God, Who alone, can give us the spiritual life we long for. We also gradually become enslaved to the fear that always comes when we approach God through our own efforts of legalistically trying to please Him instead of depending upon His grace to work His sanctifying power in us. We are walled off from the grace of God—“alienated from Christ” (Gal. 5:4, NIV).

There is no power to restrain sin – and no spiritual safety in Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles. His principles are the principles of this world, based on human commands.

It is when we follow the basic principles of this world that we find these principles are in direct opposition to the spiritual truth that comes from Heaven—the truth of freedom that Christ wants us to have. He suffered a sinner’s death on a cross so we could have it!

What does the Bible say about these basic principles?

So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. (Gal. 4:3, NIV)

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ … Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’ These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:8, 20-23, NIV).

Won’t you defend your spiritual freedom for the sake of your children? Won’t you help alert other home-schoolers to this threat to our freedom in Christ? The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians about false brothers who infiltrate the ranks of Christians “… to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Gal. 2:4, NIV). This very thing is happening in home-school groups across our country. Please share this message with others.Ω

Jan Fletcher writes on religious topics, and business issues for several publications and at the time this article was originally printed she authored a weekly column, “Reflections on the Scriptures,” for the Columbia News. She served on the Kentucky Home Education Association board of directors, and her article, “Homeschoolers and Librarians,” appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of The Home School Court Report, a publication of Home School Legal Defense Association.

© 2017, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

  1. Don Veinot, Joy Veinot and Ron Henzel, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., Lombard, Ill. 2003 p. 251-252
  2. Don Veinot, Joy Veinot and Ron Henzel, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., Lombard, Ill. 2003  p. 46
  3. {MTIA} How to Make a Wise Medical Decision on Circumcision (1990; Oak Brook, IL Medical Training Institute of America {IBLP}, rev. 1992). In A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life on page 84, Ron Henzel asserts, in a dialogue with Bill Gothard, that, in one of Gothard’s proposed revisions of materials discussing the topic of circumcision, “circumcision has been elevated to a sacrament of the church!”
  4. Don Veinot, Joy Veinot and Ron Henzel, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., Lombard, Ill. 2003. p. 130-131
  5. Don Veinot, Joy Veinot and Ron Henzel, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., Lombard, Ill. 2003. p. 159-161

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.