If Bill Gothard is Wrong Then What’s Right?

When I posted Is Jesus a Sinner According to Bill Gothard’s Teachings? a few weeks back I could vividly recall Bill Gothard’s question to me the first time I went through the ramifications of his teaching with him. His response was “Are you saying there is no authority over the wife and children?” In his mind rejection of his definitions equals rejecting biblical teaching. He seems unaware or is intentionally obtuse as to the idea that he is reading something into the text that simply doesn’t exist there. One of the comments in response to the blog posting was from a Pastor Ron Aldridge:

Having attended Gothard’s seminars in the early 90′s, I am familiar with these teachings. Although I don’t disallow everything you said (Jesus WAS sinless), I would take exception to your take on authority and what “you” left out. What about Paul’s writings in Ephesians where he stated in 5:22-24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the [ head of the wife ], as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ ought ] to be to their husbands in everything.

Fortunately both Pastor Aldridge and Bill Gothard agree that Jesus was sinless, but that is in clear conflict the definition of authority Gothard provides. I was a little confused on where Pastor Aldridge was taking exception to my “take on authority” since the point of the blog was to evaluate Gothard’s definition and out of context attempt to support his claims and as far as I can tell, Ephesians 5:22-24 doesn’t really impact that question one way of the other. But, Pastor Aldridge does raise an important question. How do we understand such passages? If authority is not some top down “chain of command,” “umbrella of protection” authoritarianism such as there is in the military what is it? I think the context of the passage really helps us understand what the apostle is saying and it is very relational rather than authoritarian. What follows verse 24 helps us to see a more color filled picture of the marital relationship. The Apostle Paul writes in 5:25-32:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Paul devotes much more time developing the attitudes, responsibilities and behaviors of the husband than he does the wife. The reason is obvious. Christ could have exerted Himself as the boss to be feared and obeyed but instead, He served those who followed Him. Instead of being a cattle herder, shouting and commanding the herd He was a shepherd Who was gentle and the sheep followed. As a general statement men tend to be less relational and more task oriented. Keeping the little woman in line is just a task to be completed. Serving her, building into her and encouraging her is much more difficult and time consuming but brings great benefits. A biblical marriage that I think exemplifies this is, oddly enough, in Proverbs 31. Most of us have read books on or heard sermons about the Proverbs 31 woman. I don’t think I have ever really heard anyone discuss the Proverbs 31 man though and there couldn’t have been a Proverbs 31 woman without him. He trusted her (Prov. 31:11) and he prospered. She did good by him and not evil. It seems there was complete trust and no rivalry between them. She was productive (v:13), was an importer (v:14), not only fed her family but served her servants (v:15) was a real estate investor and wine producer and there is no indication she asked permission to make the purchase (v:16) we are not even told if he has a job!

I don’t want to read too much into this but to point out that she respected him and he trusted and encouraged her. How all of that works out will vary from marriage to marriage because different people are involved with different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. After developing his thoughts in Eph. 5:22-32 Paul says:

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

“Love his wife as himself” is a profound and in too many cases an under emphasized aspect of marriage. The responsibility to be a servant is greater on the husband. But there is another aspect within the context and that is verse 21:

submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

As believers we are to be mutually submitted to one another and each working to out serve one another. For believers there is no top down authority structure but a bottom up servant leadership and those who ascend higher in leadership, whether in a family, local church or the wider church at large the more accountable they are to a larger number of people. As a husband is it totally inappropriate, for example, for me to make a major life changing decision without my wife’s input and then ordering her to live with it but, that is how Gothard’s view of authority works. As I reflect on this I don’t think I left anything out but rather that I find biblical servant self-sacrificial leadership is the opposite and perhaps is diametrically opposed to the pagan, militaristic leadership which Gothard promotes.


If Bill Gothard is Wrong Then What’s Right? — 4 Comments

  1. Thank-you, Pastor Aldridge, for your great question and prompting an indepth look at these scriptures.

    Thank-you, Don, for taking the time to prayerfully consider things and taking a look at these verses as a whole, and sharing how God’s Word does not contradict itself. You have shared wise insight on these Scriptures in a way that is very understandable, practical and remains respectful.

    The cherry picking of verses, extrapolations, and twisting of them is at the heart of propagating false teachings…aimed to lead christians from the Truth and grace found in God’s Word. It is heart-breaking to see the large numbers that have been, and still are, misled by Gothards teachings. This foundational teaching of authority in IBLP and ATI that he has created needs to be vigilantly exposed. People need to hear the truth of what scripture says about the marriage relationship. Love, Respect, Serving….one another…. This is a great article on these important scriptures and critical understandings of!

  2. In a true chain of command, it is incumbent upon leaders to command to the same extent as it is incumbent upon subordinates to follow. If a military officer does not give actual commands to his soldiers, he is derelict of his duty. This is the expectation that the military has of its officers: they are commanded to give orders. That’s why it’s called a “chain of command.”

    Likewise, if a boss does not give actual orders to his staff (or “instructions” that amount to orders), he is neglecting his obligation to the company. This is the expectation that the company has of its bosses: they are commanded to give orders. Again, that’s why it’s called a “chain of command.”

    In a true chain of command, you see those put in charge being given orders by those above them, and they in turn pass on orders to their subordinates. In effect, you see the commanders being commanded to command. You see them commanded to “lord it over” (Greek: κυριεύω, kurieuō; cf. Luke 22:25) those set under them—and rewarded if they do it well.

    So, then: if Scripture teaches that a chain of command exists in the church and in the home, where are the biblical instructions to pastors to give orders to their flocks? In a chain of command, this is the leader’s duty. So why does the Bible not tell pastors that? And why is it that Jesus instead says, “But it is not this way with you” (Luke 22:26)? Why is it that Peter instructs church leaders to avoid lording it over their people (1 Peter 5:3)? If pastors are part of a chain of command, why are they explicitly ordered to avoid exercising the type of leadership that is based on issuing commands?

    And if the relationship between husband, wife, and children boils down to a chain of command, why are not husbands at least told to command their wives and children well? Why is it that immediately after telling wives to submit, Paul does not tell husbands to make sure to issue good commands in Ephesians 5:25ff. if, after all, they are to be good commanders of their families? And if we are protected from Satan’s temptations by the chain of command, why does Paul not emphasize how important it is that husbands instruct their wives on the importance of obeying them, but instead emphasizes loving and caring for their wives as they do their own bodies? And why does Peter do virtually the same thing in 1 Peter 3:1-7? If this chain of command idea really protects us, would it not be a good way to care for one’s wife by reminding her to stay in line? So then, why does not Paul tell husbands to do that? To neglect emphasizing something that is supposed to be so crucial for everyone’s protection is to be sinfully negligent, and yet, if the chain of command doctrine is correct, both Paul and Peter certainly failed to give it sufficient attention at key points in their epistles. How can this be?

    The answer to all these questions is simple: the concept of divinely-appointed “chains of command” to which we must submit for our own spiritual protection in the home, in the church, and in the workplace is not to be found anywhere in the text of Scripture. It is nothing but an ill-conceived scare tactic, originally contrived by a control-oriented guru in order to relieve the fears of parents by instilling new fears into their potentially-rebellious children. In the hands of unstable or biblically-ignorant pastors it becomes a recipe for a Diotrephes style of leadership (3 John 9-10). And in the career of Bill Gothard and his Institute it has repeatedly served as a cloak for immorality and abuse over several decades.

  3. Thanks to all for this analysis. I would add that “submit to one another” comes first in Ephesians 5, wives to their own men being a specific application, husbands submitting their lives to the call to serve their wives being the second application, with children and slaves addressed in order.
    I’ve been cogitating on the possibility that headship is not about authority but about union. (The Queen of England is a Head of a Union with no real authority to command.) Might the “sign of authority” be a sign that the husband stands with the wife in her speaking? A police badge is a sign of authority. It does not communicate any subordination of the policeman.
    Consider the implications of Hosea 2:16 with respect to the spousal analogy: “you will no longer call me baali (“lord”), but you will call me ishi”. Adam takes on the identity of Ish at the moment in Genesis 2 when Eve appears as Isha. Co-regency and a full communion of two persons of one substance, meant for oneness, seems to be the testimony of Genesis 2. And Genesis 2 is where Jesus pointed those who asked about dissolubility of marriage. But the rule of the husband is part of the curse in Gen. 3.

  4. Hello,

    I feel, as our family has attended the IBLP basic seminar, and several family conferences, and has been blessed by them, I need to respond to this article to offer my point of view.

    When I read the passage in Luke about 12 year old Jesus, I do not see where the scripture is implying that Jesus rebelled against his parents. (And therefore, according to the point you are trying to make about Gothard’s point of view, that Jesus sinned.) I see that he had engaged with temple teachers, and was fully absorbed in the things of God, not that he was willfully disobeying his parents and rebelling. I think there is a big difference.

    I understand that you are interpreting Bill Gothard’s definition of authority to be chain-of-command, top down. Also, that his definition of “authority” leads those in authority “lording it over” those under the authority. I suppose that human nature might tempt any in “authority” to do this. But I agree with you in that that is not what the bible teaches as proper authority. The bible teaches servant leadership, and as you say, for the “husbands to love their wives as the church.”

    In my experience, many Christian women tend to be more focused on the bible and spiritual things than their husbands. For example, most bible studies have many more women attending than men. What I have often seen happen in these situations where the wife is more concerned with spiritual matters than the husband, is that the wife tends to become the leader in the home when it comes to activities of spiritual significance, such as home devotions, where to go to church, etc. This was the case in my marriage, and several others that I knew about. I think in my situation, I was trying to lead in areas to compensate for my husbands lack of leadership in these areas, but the only result is a further lack of leadership on the part of the husband.

    We have listened to the IBLP’s basic seminar, and attended several of their family conferences. I can say that it has been nothing but a blessing to our family. As a result, I have learned, and am always learning, to step back and allow my husband to lead. As well, my husband has been motivated to be more of a spiritual leader in our home. My husband attended the men’s meetings in the mornings at the family conference. He said he was always encouraged there in his role as a father and husband to be a servant leader, to love his wife, and to take responsibility for his role as spiritual leader. I have never felt my husband has “lorded it over me” as a result of our experiences with IBLP.

    I do not feel that because the bible’s role for a wife is to be her man’s “helper” (Genesis 2:18), that this means that we are second class citizens, or that men are more important. It means that we have a role to fill, and that role is different from the role of the man. Obviously, God made men and women different, and for a reason.

    In the basic seminar, Bill Gothard uses 1 Peter 3:1-6 to teach about the importance of a wifes attitude:

    “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”

    Attitudes were always very important in IBLP. In the basis seminar, those in authority are reminded to check their attitude. Character qualities of genuine love, humility, compassion, gentleness and courage are admonished to all. The basic seminar, under the Principle of Authority, reminds us that we are ALL under authority according to 1 Peter 5:5 which states:

    “…Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.”

    Thanks for the opportunity to share,


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