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My name is Donna. When I was a child, our family became involved with the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC), which was later renamed the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). In 1986, we joined a new branch of IBLP called the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), and embraced the lifestyle that came with it–homeschooling, social separation, etc. Beginning at the age of 16, I attended a variety of seminars and spent time at the Institute Headquarters. At 18, I went to Russia with ATI, and in 1993 I moved to the Indianapolis Training Center, where I served until the summer of 1996 when I came to an impasse.
The older I grew and the more “inside dynamics” I witnessed with the Institute, the more unsettled I became. Instead of looking to God’s Word for the answer to life’s questions, I saw more and more that the answer became “whatever is opposite to the rest of the world or society.” And then Scripture was used to “back it up”. For the most part, I overlooked these issues. They really seemed small at the time. And back then, I even considered that my own reasoning might be a little off-balanced. However, over the past 15 years as I’ve grown older and begun a family of my own, some of those “little issues”, as well as a few glaring ones, have driven me back to square one, so to speak. And during this process, I’ve come to realize that even the aforementioned “little issues” are actually symptoms of greater spiritual distortions.
Before you read any further, I do want to clarify my belief that a majority of the families involved in the IBLP and ATI movement were/are well-meaning, God-desiring families simply looking for answers. Bill Gothard was simply at the right place at the right time…
In many people’s minds, Dr. Spock’s philosophies on child-rearing (e.g. permissive parenting, anti-spanking) were blamed for a pendulum swing bringing up a whole generation of spoiled, narcissistic brats (And, yes, I tend to agree). This caused many parents to seek out a new kind of “expert”: Bill Gothard. Gothard presented himself and his material as the answer to the problem of youth conflicts. So, even though I will strongly point out Gothard’s principles and definitions as extra-Biblical, heretical, and even cultic, I do believe that many of his followers were/are well-meaning Christians who set out to properly protect and spiritually instruct their children. My prayer is that as you read the following, you will not sense bitterness or resentment in my tone, but merely a desire to point out the lies taught by Bill Gothard and IBLP.
Bill Gothard has created a “fence” of unnecessary, extra-biblical laws around Biblical laws. I call this legalism. Legalism has been described as being like paralysis which deadens spiritual nerve endings and softens spiritual muscle. As a result, many IBLP churches and ATI families end up doing less and less out of love for others and requiring more and more from them. Bill has recently stated that accusing IBLP of legalism is illegitimate because the word can’t be found in the Bible! Yet, the concept is clearly there: Matthew 23:4 says, “For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers (They = the Pharisees).” The idea of “the more laws you set up for yourself, the easier it is to keep from sinning” causes hypocritical compliance crushed under the strain of so many do’s and don’ts. Unfortunately, I can attest to this in my life. I’ve been hearing a lot lately that Gothard’s red seminar notebooks are a kind of “Evangelical Talmud.” If you don’t know, the Talmud is the thousands of pages of rules set up by Jewish legalists to keep people safe from sinning (Matthew 11:28-30). I am grateful to be no longer be crushed by this system. I’ve found peace in my freedom in Jesus Christ!
Another problem with Bill’s extra-Biblical principles is that spiritual standards he has chosen for himself have been imposed on others as non-optional. With this system, he has created an “us versus them” mentality among his followers. Another gospel has been created; A gospel of moralism–regulating the morals of others to cure the issues of the world. The problem with moralism is that although it can be alluring, it is incapable of truly dealing with sin. In Romans 2:1-16, Peter points out that moralism neglects to offer a pardon for sin or an answer to the power that sin’s pull has on us. Yes, laws and morals define how we ought to live our lives. But they have no power in assisting us to fulfilling them. Biblical righteousness is motivated by our love for God–not by a tether to the law.
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