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That’s a verse that many of us learned early in our lives. It’s a special verse that assures us we don’t need someone other than Jesus to be our go-between with the Father. He is our Advocate. He is our Mediator. He is our Priest. But for many of us who grew up in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), this truth was overshadowed by another teaching — the Principle of Authority.
We were taught that God speaks to us through our authorities. I remember being at an ATI regional training seminar and hearing, “Yes, God could speak directly to you as a young person. But because that would make you prideful, He will, instead, lead you through your parents.” I guess hearing God speak to them wouldn’t make parents prideful.
I had been attending Basic Seminars for a few years before my family enrolled in ATI. If there was one area where the authority principle was really, really emphasized, it was in the area of courtship. I knew the lingo. I was “committed to courtship.” If a young man asked for my address, I knew to direct him to my father, because if I started writing to him, my youthful emotions would get involved and then I wouldn’t be able to know God’s will. The assumption was that my parents could always be trusted to hear from God. Their emotions, apparently, would never get in the way.
In all areas of my life, if what I thought was God’s will was in contradiction to what my parents thought, I knew to submit to my parents’ feelings on the matter, because obeying them was obeying God. The teachings granted me room for appeal, although it seemed to me that appeals to authority didn’t usually get me very far.
This teaching stayed with me into my early 20s. But slowly, I began to sift through the filter of Scripture the authority structure that I had always accepted. Wasn’t I accountable to God for my actions? What was I to do if obeying my parents resulted in me violating my conscience before God? I never experienced an actual scenario in which my parents asked me to commit a crime. I was fortunate to have good parents.
But what if? Could a line be drawn? How could Gothard’s principle of authority hold up in a household ruled by horrific injustices? And even in what might be considered gray areas of right or wrong — if I was sure of God’s leading in an area, or uncomfortable with a command I was given — what was I to do? What if my personal convictions were different from those of my parents? What if my parents were requiring something that was violating my conscience? Wasn’t I being disenfranchised from a personal relationship with the God of the Universe? It eventually became a hard line for me to walk.
My adherence to Gothard’s principle of authority under my parents made my marriage feel like a relief. My husband and I became partners in a way that I had never experienced growing up. He didn’t expect to become the conduit between God and me. I could tell him that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do something, and he would respect my convictions. To this day, my husband has never said that he automatically knows what’s best for me. My foggy connection to God was released from its covering of “authority,” and I felt such relief!
“Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.” (I Samuel 3:9)
Several months ago, I read a woman’s courtship story. This story was different than many ATI courtship stories. When a young man approached the father of this woman as a young girl, her parents told her about it and then told her to pray and follow Jesus. They assured her that Jesus would lead her into His will. Further down the road, when she felt that it was right to work at getting to know her suitor without being sure that he was “the one,” her parents didn’t freak out that her emotions would cloud her ability to hear from God. They just kept encouraging her to follow Jesus. Throughout her entire courtship experience, this girl had been pointed to her biblical Mediator rather than being told that, because she was young and a girl and had emotions and all, God wouldn’t be able to get His will through to her.
When I read the way this young woman’s personal relationship was validated by her family, and how she was given the choice and responsibility before God to determine the direction of her own future, I actually felt angry. I realized with sudden clarity that I had been lied to — that God had been misrepresented to me by the teachings I had received about courtship and Gothard’s Principle of Authority.
I realized that the god represented to me by ATI/IBLP was a small god. He was too small to make his will clear to a young person blinded by the false emotions of youth. He needed to work through an extra mediator — earthly authorities — who could better interpret His will. That restricted god was not my God.
I certainly still believe that God can use whatever and whomever He wants to speak to His children. Sometimes He does use parents, pastors, teachers, etc. But He isn’t limited to the structural organizations of man. He can and does speak to an individual, even a child — and he can and does lead me in ways that may confound my natural “authorities.”
It made me angry to realize that I had been taught not to trust that still, small voice inside me; that I had been discouraged from making adult decisions because I might make the wrong one; that I was taught to walk in dependence on fallible people instead of dependence on my infallible God. It made me angry that the goal that my ATI training had given me to strive for was to never make a mistake or wrong decision, rather than to simply grow in my walk with God through the highs and through the lows.
You see, what I realized when I read this woman’s story was that her parents had given her the room to make a mistake, trusting that Jesus Himself would be there to pick her up if she fell. They didn’t place themselves between her and God to “make sure” she did what was right. They left that between her and her Lord and trusted God. And that taught her to trust Him, too.
It makes me sad to think of the growth and intimacy with Jesus that I missed during my years of trying to live the IBLP Principles of Authority and Courtship. I can’t go back and change it. I can only go forward.
Today, I’m trying to learn to trust my instincts, to delight in my relationship with God, to not just follow rigid principles laid out by the dubious wisdom of men, to not look to other people for my security, but to run to and cling to Jesus Himself. He is my Advocate. He is my Priest. He is the One Mediator between God and man.
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