I went to my first Basic Seminar when I was 12. My family enrolled in The Advanced Training Institute (ATI) three years later. It was about seven years after that when I began having serious problems with the teachings of Bill Gothard.
Oddly enough, my doubting started because of the Institute’s teaching on circumcision.
I was enrolled in the midwifery program. I knew that circumcision on the eighth day was completely endorsed by ATI. After all, it is supposedly God’s design, commanded in His law and confirmed by the fact that Vitamin K levels (Vitamin K aids in blood clotting) are highest at eight days old.
But I had once read an article about circumcision in a secular publication that pointed out that Christians had not routinely circumcised since the time of the New Testament. That article had challenged my thinking and caused me to reject the idea that circumcision is a New Testament command. So when it came time to study circumcision in the midwifery program, I knew I wouldn’t agree with the Institute’s position.
I clearly remember sitting down with the Basic Care Bulletin on circumcision and my Bible open to the book of Galatians. I was shocked by the misrepresentation of Scripture I found that day.
Page five of the Basic Care Bulletin entitled “How to Make a Wise Decision on Circumcision,” states, “Paul also affirmed the many advantages of circumcision in his letter to the Christians in Rome: ‘What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way’ (Rom. 3:1-2).
I looked the passage up in my Bible. This is what I found, “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Emphasis mine.)
I was surprised that a verse had been cut off in the middle of a sentence to make it say something other than what the context actually said. When I read the whole of verse 2, it was obvious that the reference to circumcision was a reference to being a Jew, not to the physical act of circumcision.
As I continued to read, I was horrified to find that circumcision was being promoted as a way to help boys gain moral freedom. Page six of the Basic Care Bulletin says, “Throughout Scripture, God uses the term uncircumcision to identify immoral men.” It also says, “Many parents of uncircumcised male children have been alarmed at their children’s abnormal focus on their own private parts. In this regard, the pain connected with the procedure of circumcision could have a significant beneficial factor.”
Circumcision is presented as a good thing based on the idea that it reduces sexual pleasure. The implication, though not at all in agreement with what the Bible teaches, is that sexual pleasure is bad and that eliminating some of that pleasure is a good way to help men overcome moral impurity.
I realized that a physical action was being promoted as a way to have victory over sin. What an insult to our Gospel! Galatians 6:12-15 says, “As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Emphasis added.)
My eyes were being opened to the Institute’s propensity for glorying in the flesh, and I was shocked!
But isn’t that what we were taught in many areas? In all the various character curriculum we were given, “character qualities” that are actually fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, self control, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness) were presented as something we could develop if we did the right steps and followed the right projects. The power of the Holy Spirit was promised as a result of passing tests, not as the source of passing those tests. (See “The Power of True Success.”)
The joy of just learning to walk in the Spirit and love Jesus was replaced with commands from the Mosaic law and extra-Biblical principles that, when followed, where guaranteed to make us more like Jesus and more spiritual. If we’d just mediate right, make all the right commitments, learn to see the world through the grid of the 7 Basic Principles, etc., we’d be successful, smart, healthy, and not have to worry about anything.
We were told we were learning to think God’s thoughts, but as I saw in the circumcision teaching, what was being presented as “God’s thoughts” were often just the thoughts of a man or a misapplication of the Mosaic law.
When I think of the way I was taught to walk in my own strength and trust principles and works to keep me from sin, I’m reminded of the admonition in Colossians 2:20-23. “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
Circumcision is not the tool God has given us to win in our fight against the flesh. Romans 6 shows us that we have all we need to live victoriously over sin and the flesh because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Because Charles Swindoll says it so well in The Grace Awakening, I’ll quote him: “Romans 6:11 tells us there is something we must consider: ‘Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ The word ‘consider’ is crucial. It is from a Greek word that means ‘To calculate, to take into account, to figure.’ It is a financial term, an accounting term. Rather than meaning ‘act like it is so,’ it means ‘reckon it true. Enter it in the ledger. Record it in the creases of your brain.’ What exactly are we to calculate? Namely this: We are in Christ, dead to sin’s power. And Christ is in us, releasing God’s new power.”
As I said before, circumcision isn’t the tool God gave us to find victory over sin, but He did provide for it through Calvary. As we “consider” ourselves dead to sin and yield ourselves to God, we have victory over sin and the flesh. As Paul said in I Corinthians 15:57, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”