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On Father’s Day 2012, Bill Gothard made an interesting choice of subject matter for an email to fathers subscribed to his email list (click here to read it). While we recognize that his intent was to encourage fathers, we feel that there were several issues within the email that are greatly troubling. And while we at Recovering Grace don’t actually enjoy responding to these public emails from Bill, we feel that it is important to address some of the unbiblical teachings contained in them.
Bill begins by asserting that Father’s Day is a day to “celebrate a powerful ability that God has given to you!” and admonishes fathers to be diligent to invoke this power daily. This power that he is referring to? The power to pray a “hedge of protection” over one’s family and possessions.
While we do appreciate Gothard’s encouragement on Father’s Day for dads to pray, and we agree wholeheartedly that dads ought to pray for their families, we would like to respond to three significant, mystical (and unbliblical) promises that are implied in this email:
1) That a father’s prayers will always prevent spiritual and natural calamities.
2) That a father’s failure to pray a certain prayer, even one time, will allow Satan to get the better of God in your life.
3) That any unfortunate event that befalls you is your fault.
In the letter, Gothard quotes from the book of Job: “Satan . . . said: Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not Thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.” (Job 1:9–10) However, even a quick look at the passage reveals that the hedge of protection was in place around Job because God put it there, not because Job prayed it there! In fact, nowhere in Scripture do we see anyone pray for a ‘hedge of protection’– it is simply something that God provides at will, and (in Job’s case) removes at will.
While praying for a hedge of protection may not necessarily be wrong in and of itself, it is only found in specific narrative accounts of the Old Testament. It is not ever prescribed (or taught) in Scripture that one must pray a hedge of protection, let alone that it must be a daily ritual, or that without this ritual your family will be exposed to harm. Implying or openly teaching this concept is adding doctrines to Scripture that God did not ordain.
When we look at the passage in Job, we see that God was protecting Job, and that Satan was grumbling about it. In fact, Satan’s complaint to God about this relationship to Job is eerily similar to what Gothard would have us believe is accurate! Notice that Satan implied that Job only honored God because He did good things for him, whereas Gothard implies that God only protects us if we pray a certain prayer daily. It’s a performance based view of God’s love and care.
Gothard supports this teaching with an anecdote about the “one time” his father did not pray this special prayer and his family had an accident. Gothard’s unsaved grandfather made the assertion that the accident was caused by the fact that his father failed that morning to pray…what a load of guilt for Bill’s father!
This is a huge burden to place on fathers! God’s grace and protection are real, and we do well to seek them. But praying a hedge of protection should not be used as a magical omen to guarantee us no harm. We live in a fallen world, and accidents, sickness, and sorrow happen as part of the curse. Not only does Gothard’s theology wrongly teach that we can avoid these things by a daily ritual, but by telling fathers that God has given them a “powerful ability” to pray away hurt, the natural implication is that fathers are at fault when something bad happens to their families.
Job is a perfect example of how evil things can befall a righteous man. Job’s friends certainly saw things the way Gothard does. They essentially said, “Look at all this horrible stuff happening to you. You must have done something really bad.” Of course we know that wasn’t the case with Job (as the Lord clearly said in Job 1:8).
Gothard’s letter reminds us again of his bent toward mysticism and karma in his interpretation of the Bible (Christian Karma explains in more detail how deeply this message is woven into Gothard’s teachings). Our hope is that Bill would stop encouraging fathers to rely on formulaic prayers to protect their families, but rather encourage them to trust in the Lord with all of their hearts. We as followers of Christ must realize that sometimes the Lord gives and sometimes the Lord takes away, and that our loving Father allows good and bad to happen to both the just and the unjust. No matter what our current circumstance, He is in control and He has a plan.