The last few weeks have witnessed changes in Bill Gothard’s titles and positions at his various ministries. A few weeks ago when the news hit the Internet, Oak Brook College of Law Distances Itself from Bill Gothard and IBLP many were caught off guard. Within days new headlines read Bill Gothard placed on leave by his board after abuse allegations. This past week Bill Gothard Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Investigation and at least 2 Board members have resigned. The story made the Chicago Sun-Times as well as national media. Many have contacted us to see what we think. I have to admit, I have reservations. Some are surprised initially when I say this. Wasn’t our book A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life written to bring him down? The answer is, no. I am aware that Gothard loyalists are convinced that we have some personal animus against Gothard. We don’t and never did. We were concerned about this teachings which also led to his behavior. The book was written to correct both. Our work included numerous meetings and attempts at correction as well as placing ourselves under review and scrutiny of a number of nationally known leaders, many of whom wrote endorsements for the book. Others, such a Dr. Norman Geisler, acted as a moderator in some of our written material and meetings with Bill Gothard and leaders in IBLP. The message of the Christian faith is about repentance and restoration. The first part of which is obviously, repentance. Including the events surrounding the 1980s sex scandal until today repentance has been absent from Bill Gothard. The women who have come forward are in many ways standing in the place of the Prophet Nathan as they tell their stories. Unlike David who, when Samuel pointed out his sin said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”(2 Samuel 12:13) Gothard has ignored all previous attempts at correction and now claims to want to listen to those who have “ought against him.” As we pointed out in our book, after a very long session with the Board of Directors 12 or 13 hours) over the events in the early 1980s, Bill resigned. That lasted for all of a week or two and he returned. How do we measure the honesty of his claims to want to listen to his accusers? The old cliché, “what you are doing speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying,” comes to mind. He hasn’t listened for over 30 years. I find no compelling reason to think that at 79 years old this will change. So unfortunately, I think this is far from over.
Some have asked how to help those who are thrown into confusion due to the resignations from and plight of IBLP? It is not an easy question to answer. IBLP tends to attract those who are inclined toward legalism. Often the path to legalism stems from a good intention, to live a holy life. Frankly, being a legalist feels safe. Living a life of holiness is important and is an underlying attraction of Gothard’s organization. Having lists to follow, and Gothard provides many of them, gives the impression of being holy by checking marking each rule, step or principle that was diligently followed today. I am reading an interesting book a pastor just sent me for review. Robots or Rebels: The Dangers of Growing Up a Legalist, and Biblical Motivations for True Holiness by Robert P. Pruitt. I haven’t read the whole book yet but in the Preface he writes:
“That this book is intended to warn of legalism that is abounding both in fundamental and evangelical realms will not allow for the specificity that many might like. Some readers might like a list of ministries that I deem to be legalistic. However, is that kind of specificity not one of the problems that accompanies legalism? Legalists want everything listed for them so they do not have to think, but this book is intended to encourage the hard work of thinking, and hopefully of thinking biblically. The legalist naturally loathes ambiguity. Everything must be in black and white, there is never any room for anything gray. Where the Bible is silent the legalist is not satisfied, and is therefore tempted and often falls to the temptation, to add to the Scriptures. The Pharisees, who were so opposed to Jesus, were dissatisfied that exactly what entailed work was not carefully delineated; and so many took it upon themselves to define anything and everything they could think of that might be considered work, so that they would not err on the Sabbath Day. They loved their lists, even those that caused them to break the actual law of God (Mark 7:11-13)
He is correct. In our effort to help those who have been hurt and/or deceived by Gothard, there is a temptation on our part to provide another list to counter or replace the one they have but in the end it is just another list. Having said that in my opinion a few things would help.
First MCOI has addressed the questions of what grace is and is not, what legalism is and given direction toward having an actual relationship with God and the body of believers in our book A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. This needs to be taught clearly and regularly. However, communicating sound doctrine is the easy part. Accepting and living it will be difficult because it takes away the list of do’s and don’ts which, as Paul said of the Law, is against us. What we need to do is explain and model what having a relationship with God and others is like. The problem is, that is messy. Life is messy. People are messy. Relationships are messy.
Joy and I have been married now over 43 years. If someone gave me a list of 10, 12, 50 things to do for a happy marriage I could easily do them, check off each one on the list and never have an actual relationship with Joy. Odd, isn’t it? The list would be safe for me and I could even proudly point to how well I am doing at keeping the list but it would actually prevent me from what I really want and need. A relationship with her. It is messy because she sometimes wants things I may be unwilling to give and vice-versa. At times she changes her mind. On occasion I hear things she didn’t say and don’t hear things she did say. She does things I don’t understand and it irritates me. She is different than I am and that sometimes makes me uncomfortable. But boy do I love her and oh, did I mention that the relationship is messy?
I would say a conference might be considered which should include both sound teaching correcting the essential issues of bad doctrine, (Grace, “Umbrella of Protection,” circumcision, etc) testimonies of former Gothardites who have been able realize that although God and Gothard both begin with “Go” and end in “d” they are not the same and have transitioned into having a relationship with God instead of having a relationship with a set of rules.
Perhaps the biggest question is, how will Chris Hogan (the current leader while IBLP searches for a new president) and the IBLP board react? The problems begin with a false teaching on a so called “Chain of authority” or “Umbrella of Protection.” As Dr. Earl Radmacher said in his 1983 letter ( The letter is posted in its entirety after the transcript):
I have watched the development of the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts from its inception. From the very beginning, I have expressed in my classes grave concerns over the unbiblical nature of the concept of “chain of command”(similar to those expressed to those expressed by Dr. Sam Schultz expressed to the Board of IBYC upon his resignation after 15 years of service). I have shared repeatedly with Bill Gothard that this concept is utterly foreign to the Scripture and exactly the opposite of that which is presented by Jesus Christ in a passage such as Matthew 20:28-30. The concept may fit the “Gentiles” and the military but not Christ’s Church. Early in the history of IBYC, I warned that the “Chain of Command” way of thinking would lead to disaster, which disaster was exposed in 1980.
Chris Hogan and the IBLP Board need to hold Bill accountable to public repentance for his behavior. They work with sound theologians and apologists to correct the bad core teachings and lead those who are committed to IBLP to a true relationship with God instead of with a set of rules, steps and principles. But will they or will they continue the traditions of Bill? Time will tell.
Don, thank you again for your hard work in bringing light to Bill Gothard’s teachings, especially his chain-of-command beliefs. As with the Doug Phillips scenario, I believe these beliefs about hierarchy and women are clearly at the root of these behaviors. Man believes he can do what he wants to with whoever or whatever he owns. The patriocentrists continue to insist that these briefs are sound and as long as they do, these incidents will continue. Look at how long you and others have been crying out for something to be done. Unfortunately, if you trace back some of these same teachings of the chain of command that are everywhere within evangelicalism today, they all started shortly after Gothard’s Basic Seminar became so popular. His influence is felt far and wide. I do hope there will be change.
We recently watched this documentary on the sexual and spiritual abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church. It has been over 15 years since so much about it was made public and yet nothing has really changed and, of course, the system of hierarchy reigns. Until these manmade systems of “authority” change, there will be no change in attitudes or behaviors.
Highly recommend watching this: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/secrets-of-the-vatican/
Thanks for your thoughts, Mr Veinot. I’m curious about your report that ‘at least 2 Board members have resigned’. I haven’t seen that anywhere else, and IBLP hasn’t updated the board of directors page on their website. Is there a public source for this information or were you told privately? Are you at liberty to say which members have resigned?
This was a great post and I thank you for trying to get us all free from bondage….and it is bondage to follow rules and regulations from man. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…of course not to sin…but to live righteously before Him and because of love for Him. Again…we thank you for trying to help. Hopefully this will bear good fruit.
I really appreciate the work you and Recovering Grace are doing to try to bring accountability to Gothard’s organizations. It’s interesting to note that separate groups/individuals are calling out quite a few ministries and leaders for abuse/cover-ups. It makes me wonder if other watchdog ministries might be willing to join with you in the 1 Timothy project. Then the scope and reach of a conference could be expanded to discuss the larger issue of Christian “celebritism”, as well as specific “celebrities”.
This actually seems like a major move of God happening right now, uncovering darkness hiding within ministries that proclaim his Name. If so, He will finish what He begins.
Don I am with you I am skeptical that Bill will change his stripes. I was surprised to know that two of the board members resigned, do you know why they resigned and for what reasons.
I don’t mean to badger you on this point but I can’t see how IBLP/ATI can continue. How can it rise from the ashes when its teachings are clearly erroneous? I know that the organization doesn’t need Bill to survive however the whole structure is built around and based on Gothard’s teachings.
It really does mean stripping the whole thing to its foundation, the problem that I see with this is that the foundation isn’t based in the work of Christ it is based on the beliefs of Bill Gothard.
Bill Gothard had told my husband years ago that when he goes the ministry goes..He hadn’t planned to mentor anyone to take his place.
I had received an email letting me know of 2 board members that had resigned but there has not been any official public statements as yet. As to what will happen if the Institute truly repents, that is anybody’s guess. God has a way of using things in ways we had not anticipated so I think we need to afford every opportunity for repentance and correction and see what God will do in the end. Whatever happens, I suspect there is a rocky road ahead and do not expect Bill will suddenly gain humility and truly repent. We may have to revisit Pastor Richard Fisher’s of BIll Gothard’s 21 Steps of Conflict Resolution (we have it in our book). Maybe next week:D
Don thank you for your continued work on Bill and his damaging teachings and behaviors. You interviewed me for your book many years ago. I appreciate your steadfast voice of reason.
Great article as always. I can always count on you to report the facts with grace and truth.
One thing that I did notice. In your last paragraph you say “They work with sound theologians and apologists to correct the bad core teachings and lead those who are committed to IBLP to a true relationship with God instead of with a set of rules, steps and principles. But will they or will they continue the traditions of Bill? Time will tell.” My question would be where is the church? Where was Bill a member of? Was he ever accountable to a local body under the authority of biblically qualified elders? Or was he, like many others in para-church ministries, not part of a local body?
I say this with concern for other para-church ministries that seem to think of themselves above the local church. More than half the time on websites we don’t even know where they attend church. Who keeps them accountable? If they fall off the tracks, we should not appeal to other theologians and apologists that don’t even know them, but to the local church where he or she is accountable, no?
I think this also is just a symptom of contemporary American Evangelicalism where the local church is not important, and there is no proper view of ecclesiology. Perhaps apologetic ministries, along with teaching sound doctrine, ought to also teach a proper understanding of the church. The bible has laid out what church discipline ought to look like for guys like Gothard and others how stray from the truth. I think a comprehensive understanding of the church’s proper role in these situations and the role of para-church ministries such as MCO, need to be emphasized and taught.
May God continue to bless all you do!
The last time my husband and I attended a seminar was in Nashville. At that seminar Bill decided to leave the schedule of speakers and call each couple or person forward to put his hands on their heads and bless them with a word. It took hours. He finally moved to a smaller room and it was then our turn. We decided not to kneel down as the others had done. We were caught up in the moment. Later I thought that was not Bill’s job…and it was not to be part of the seminar either.
I’m sure he thought God had led him in that direction. But…it shows now that perhaps he was thinking he had more power than he did.
Actually, I didn’t hear anything he said to us when he ‘blessed’ us and had to ask him later.
Pablo, you raise an important point. Bill Gothard was a member of LaGrange Bible Church in LaGrange, IL until about 10 years ago. They did not hold him accountable and the Senior Pastor at the time of the sex scandal in the 1980s signed on to a letter of false accusations against a former Institute staff member. In contacting LaGrange more recently requesting Gothard’s ordination be removed and an official retraction on the part of the church the current pastor and Board of Elders stated that they have “no standing” and cannot help. Many churches are not very good at conflict which is part of the reason apologetics ministries are important. But, they too can become cowboys:D That is one of the reason I think EMNR (Evangelical Ministries to New Religions) is important. A requirement for membership is being accountable to a local church and the organization has a set criteria which members must agree and adhere to. Sadly, many churches have abandoned teaching sound doctrine and replaced it with what seems to be more important marketing strategies to increase the accumulation of nickels and noses. Secondly, para-church ministries are not necessarily separate from “the church” but can and should be an extension of the church, much like missionaries, who are doing a specific aspect of ministry local churches may not be equipped to do but para-church ministries should be serving in concert with and accountable to local churches where they can be known on a personal basis and the Body of Christ as a whole.
Could you please give us chapter and verse that says that a para ministry needs to be accountable to a church? I’m not disagreeing…but I need chapter and verse for that idea.
Gladys Aylward, for example, was forbidden to leave for the mission field by a group. She left anyway. Should she have been accountable to some church? Was she in sin?
We are free to follow the Spirit of the Lord…Well…I’d like to know where this idea came from. I do get tired of the hierachy that we have set up. I know about the council in Jerusalem in Scripture.
Thanks for being patient.
Don and Pablo
I have been part of two Para Church organizations in the past and you both hit the nail on the head. 1) they need to be accountable and 2) many are not.
The Australian model where I am reflects the same trend in America. I find many who become involved with Para Church organizations (PCO) as young people or are “converted” through said PCO’s tend not to function outside them very well if at all. Adherents tend to display the same kind of spiritual narcissism towards the church as has been evident in IBLP. One church I attend invited a PCO to join their community and it appeared to be a good match for a time until the leaders in the PCO started pressuring the church elders and teachers to become more committed to the PCO rather than their congregation. Also now some 24 years down the track the PCO has moved in its doctrine towards the emerging movement with a post modern leaning. Some of its core group do not attend church on Sunday they use that for ministry which is fine but they are not under anyone’s authority and guidence
You ask good question Jeanne. Some issues are explicit in Scripture, such as there is only one true God. Others, like the doctrine of the Trinity are implicit. Yes, there is only one true God but the Father is that one true God, the Son is that one true God and the Holy Spirit is that one true God. There is no chapter and verse that states an individual or para-church ministry should be accountable to a local church. However, Matthew 18 talk about dealing with a brother who has sinned and taking it to the church which implies that he or she is associated with a local body of believers where they are known. Hebrews 10:24 -25 implies one is associated with a local body. There are other passages which lead us to this same conclusion. Personally I don’t like the term “para-church” as it seems to imply something which is separate from the church but The Church is the body of Christ and whatever ministry one does is a ministry of the Church. That being said, at some point we as individuals should be known and our lives open to others in the body, most often that happens at the level of the local church. As far as Gladys Aylward, I am not sure who she is or the circumstances you are talking about but there is a difference between following your calling and sin. Many churches are not in favor of the kind of ministry MCOI is involved with but I have no question that I am called to it. If I am involved in sin, let’s say being inappropriate with a female or teaching heresy, and when confronted I refuse to listen or repent, the local church should be the next body to contact. If they are unable to bring correction than it has to be escalated as we see in 1 Timothy 5 with regard to elders. For a ministry such as MCOI in addition to the local church we have a Board of Directors, a Board of Advisors, and our association with EMNR. The reason is that we impact in very real ways the lives of many that we may not have direct personal contact with. So, our level of accountability must be greater than the average believer. This should be true of Gothard as well but it is sadly not the case.
Thank you for your response. Gladys Aylward was a missionary years ago. Here is a website that gives her biography.
She didn’t meet the expectations of the mission board…Not sure who she was accountable to, then.
The way Christian leaders are falling like flies…I’m wondering if the Lord is trying to point us all to Himself and not be idolaters….We are like the world with their film stars and athletic teams, etc.
We, as church, need to repent.
Thanks for the reply. But this just raises even more concerns when it comes to those who are part of local churches. This may go beyond the scope of this article, but I think it’s relevant. The current pastor and board of elders said they could not do anything to remove his credentials that MCO asked that they do. That’s sad that they didn’t. However the bigger problem again is an ecclesiastical one. Antonymous churches, like many Bible Churches, have no other accountability outside of their walls. In confessional and denominations, this would have been taken up the ranks. In the PCA, which I am a part, this sort of thing would have been brought to a screeching halt asap. If the session (elders) for some reason would not have removed him, the presbytery, which oversees the local churches, would have done so. If not them, the it would go to the General Assembly. There are checks and balances and noone is an island to themselves. It is not the job of para-church ministries to do this, but the church. Don’t get me wrong, I love what you and other ministries do, but this is the job of the local church to deal with. But unfortunately, because of the lack of accountability, and with the prevalence of American Evangelicalism that does not like ecclesiastical authority, it has defaulted to ministries such as yours. Sad but true.
I am glad EMNR requires that all of you guys need to be a member in good standing at a local church under the authority of elders. However, it would be nice to know which churches you all belong to. This would not only let those know what your theological bent is, but also to know that those who are called to shepherd you can keep you accountable as well.
One last thing. This is just a personal opinion. Para-church ministries should exist and they are helpful. But they should be an extension of the local church and working along side it, not against it. That’s all I have to say about that! 🙂
Keep doing what you are doing! I have benefited so much from MCO and will continue to pray for you guys!
Pablo Howard Snyder’s book New wine skins gives a very good summary of the role of the church and Para Church movements. I disagree with some of his conclusions and I agree with you that Para church organizations should be accountable to the local church. Many are but there will always be a few Mavericks.
Thank you for your post Don. The developments with Bill Gothard underscore how invaluable your book has been. Your book raised some red flags that if followed up by all parties concerned might not have led to recent developments. I do, however, like to think that advanced age does not preclude a person from heart-felt repentance, especially when eternity is so near.