Fellow Fundamentalists Denounced Gothard’s “Chain of Command” (1974)

26 August 2013, 06:00



In the November 1974 issue of “The Projector,” a newsletter for Christian Fundamentalists, editor Dr. Dayton Hobbs challenged Bill Gothard’s “Chain of Command.” You can read the entire issue here: http://www.theprojector.org/projectors/nov1974.pdf

As with most issues of “The Projector,” much attention is given to separation from non-fundamentalist influences. (Dr. Hobbs did not foresee how severely Gothard would eventually separate his followers from the world.) By re-publishing quotes from this article, Recovering Grace is not endorsing the views of the many authors of that publication, including Dr. Hobbs. In fact, we disagree with much of what they publish. But we find it fascinating that fellow fundamentalists hammered Gothard’s view of authority as being non-fundamental and unbiblical, even back in the 1970s. The following are relevant excerpts from the original article:


“The Gothard issue is the most serious issue facing Fundamental Christianity today. It cannot be ignored. Pastors, evangelists, and administrators need to study this situation carefully…. One outstanding fundamentalist remarked to me that he felt the Gothard movement is much more dangerous….because it is so much more deceptive and because so many good men have been taken in by it.”

“I feel that the Gothard movement is going to be a great embarrassment to many fundamentalists before this thing is all said and done. I have nothing personal against this man; I am sure there is a great deal of truth and good that comes out of his seminars to help pastors.”

“Now I want to talk to you about God’s authority structure and the differences between that and Gothard’s “Chain of Command.” Last year a young lady graduated from our academy, and enrolled in a Christian College. Her mother was divorced and had deserted the children. This girl had worked her way through school with some help from her brother and grandmother until the grandmother died. Her mother was living with another man and was opposed to the girl attending the Christian College. The summer the girl graduated a man who had attended Gothard’s seminars counselled [sic] her and told her on the basis of Bill Gothard’s “Chain of Command” she should not go to the Christian College, because her mother wanted her to come live with them. He said she should obey her mother; go and live with her and not go to the Christian College. The girl came to me in tears. I told her, “You just forget everything he told you, because it is wrong. You go on to the Christian College and do a good job and get your training for God.” She went, and now she has finished one year and is in her second year. I happened to be in a situation where I could save that girl from possible ruin. The Lord spared that girl, because if she had gone to live with that atheistic mother in the terrible, awful mess of that situation her life could have been ruined. When this happened, I determined to look into this “Chain of Command” thing a little deeper. For over a year now, I have been studying , thinking, and praying, and searching the scriptures about these things. I have come to the conclusion that there are some very serious problems that can lead Christians astray.

[Dr. Hobbs then gives verses and reasoning supporting a traditional understanding of authority and responsibility.]

I want to point out some falsities with the “Chain of Command.” …First, that the women are to obey their husbands instead of God in matters of conscience. This is false. There is a verse of Scripture that settles this for me. Acts 5:29 – “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

That is a Scriptural principle, it is not just taking care of that particular issue. We ought to obey God rather than man. I don’t care what it is in the authority structure if what he tells us to do is in violation with what God or our moral convictions has told us to do, we are not to obey him, we are to obey God….

If he asks her to do something contrary to what the Scripture teaches then she is to say, “I obey God rather than man.” We are to obey God rather than man, that is the key. Hebrews 10:25 – “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the mass of some is;…” The woman has the responsibility to fulfill this command from the Lord regardless of whether her husband approves or not. Christians are individually responsible to God, and this individual responsibility supercedes any other authority in the authority structure.

Another idea about the chain of command is that children are to obey parents when they know God’s will is something different. We are not talking about babies but those who have grown up. Let us use one of Bill Gothard’s own illustrations. He says: “An eighteen-year-old boy plans to go into the ministry. He prays about what college to attend and finally chooses a top-ranking Bible College. His parents fail to comprehend the importance of either the ministry or the Bible education and they threaten to withhold all college funds unless he attends a near-by university. Their counsel to him is that if he learns another profession first, he can always have something to fall back on if he fails in the ministry. The son’s point is that he doesn’t plan to fail in the ministry and that he needs the Bible training.”

What is the boy to do?

Bill Gothard says, “Attend the university.”

That is unscriptural advice. If the boy at legal age has determined that it is God’s will and knows God has called him into the ministry, he should attend that Bible College and go into the ministry even if he never sees his parents again. He ought to obey God rather than man. Where does the persecution come in that the Bible speaks about? The Scripture teaches that it is going to cost something to serve Jesus Christ. Luke 14:26,27. There is no cost in this kind of chain of command. It takes all the responsibility away from the individual and puts it on some higher authority in the chain. It is one of the most subtle things you can find.

Another of Gothard’s illustrations is as follows:

“A twenty-one-year-old girl who is supporting herself and living away from home firmly believes that it is God’s will to marry a certain young man. This girl’s parents don’t attend church. Both the girl and the one she wants to marry have a strong faith in God. The girl’s parents strongly oppose this marriage, stating only that they don’t think he is the right one for their daughter, and therefore, that the marriage won’t work out. Both the girl and her boyfriend feel that the marriage will work out.”

In the first place I don’t like some of the vague wording of the illustration. He says, “This girl’s parents don’t attend church.” Does he mean they are not born again Christians? Then why not say so?… Gothard’s advice is that they should follow her parents [sic] wishes and not marry. This I do not believe to be sound advice. At what age is a person suppose [sic] to be out on his own. He goes on to show how wonderfully things will work out if they obey the girl’s parents [sic] wishes, but this is all supposition and has not scriptural basis.

This is another area of concern about Gothard’s “Chain of Command.”

“Learning to understand what those in authority are really trying to achieve is essential, especially when we are commanded to do something which violates Scripture or moral conviction.” If the basic intention of one in authority is to have us violate Scripture or moral convictions, we are not to obey. When Peter was told not to present the Gospel to anyone, he replied, “Whether it is right in the eyes of God for us to listen to what you say rather than to what he says, you must decide.” (Acts 4:19).

We are not to violate Scripture or moral convictions no matter if the authority over us has our good in mind or not. The basic intentions of the one over us has nothing to do with it. We are to do right at all times.

…One more thing I want to point out about the chain of command. The man responsible to Christ; that is individual responsibility. The child is responsible to his father in the chain of command as long as the instructions are given in the Lord. When it is not in the Lord the responsibility reverts back to Christ. As long as there is no conflict our responsibility is as it should be in the chain of command, but when instructions are given contrary to the Word of God or our moral convictions, whether it is the government or any other organization of man we are to obey God rather than man. We must keep that principle straight, and it is so simple. I know churches that have all kind of problems over this thing. Women leaving church because they said their husbands didn’t want them to go. He didn’t want her to go to Sunday School and church. Well, if he ties you down and ropes you to the bed, I guess he would have you physically tied. But he would have to tie me every Sunday or every time the house of God was open. Because the Bible says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.” That is a Scriptural command to Christians. That supercedes man. See how simple it is?

This past year I was talking to a school president about a situation in which he had interviewed a young lady to come teach at his school. She was 36 years old and single, but her mother objected. The mother said she wanted her to stay at home rather than go and serve the Lord in this teaching ministry. The lady felt that she should go serve and teach at that school, but because of the teaching she had received at Gothard’s seminars, she felt she must stay home with her mother. That is sad. Thirty-six years old and still tied to mama’s apron strings! If her place of service were there or there were some extenuating circumstances and the mother was seriously ill, then you could understand it. The Bible is clear on this. One time a man came to Jesus. He said: Luke 9:61 – “And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.”…Luke 9:62…”And Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Some persecution, suffering, separation and leaving of loved ones is involved in following the Lord.”

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Chris Symonds August 26, 2013 Reply

    Yep I can relate to this I have had issue with two Gothard followers regarding authority ie the Umbrella of authority. All I can surmise is that the chain of command is a convenient excuse to laud it over others, especially women. the very sad thing is I know some very brilliant young women who should be studying a degree but unless the Lord intervenes will end up becoming subservient baby machines.

  2. Faith August 26, 2013 Reply

    Thank you for this article. This "chain of command" teaching by Gothard may well be one of THE most damaging. Adult children are told they must submit to parental authority and counsel, then written off as "rebellious" when they follow what they believe is God's leading instead. Wives are told they must submit to husband's authority, even when he is unreasonable or damaging the family (this one nearly ruined my marriage, until I was given sound advice that it was time to obey Christ instead of husband). Church members are told they must submit to church leadership, even when their consciences are telling them the leadership is not doing right. Yes, there are authority structures in the world, and they may have good advice (or not), but to put ANYONE above Christ is idolatry. The "chain of command" teaching, as this article says, takes personal responsibility off the individual and implies that individuals cannot hear from Jesus directly.

    • fiddlrts August 27, 2013 Reply

      Very very true. This teaching (specifically regarding adult children) led to me being written off as rebellious, just as you state.

  3. Chris Symonds August 26, 2013 Reply

    I was told by a Gothard follower that even though I am 49 but never married and own my own home I should still be under my parents authority. My parents aren't believers. So according to this logic if they had told me as a teenager that I couldn't go to church, or college etc I had to obey them. Bill Gothard's teaching on this contradicts Psalms 1:1
    Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

    I can only shudder at the thought of what many adult children have suffered under Gothard's heresy.

    • Anonymous August 26, 2013 Reply

      I had similar experiences with Gothard-speak as a young adult. My home life was a mess of domestic violence and substance abuse, and leaving home at 18 for college was the best option. God blessed that option, by the way, and led me into a healthier relationship with my parents as I go older and was able to deal better with their unhealthy lifestyles. God led me to make sound decisions because I was not trapped in the cycle at home. I'm now a "mature" adult, with a fulfilling career and ministry in my local church. Sometimes the best thing is to get away.

    • Anonymous2 August 29, 2013 Reply

      Maybe you should take that up with the Gothard follower.

    • FullOfGrace September 9, 2013 Reply

      "I can only shudder"... you hit the nail on the head. The amount of suffering children/adults alike have gone through is indeed appalling. It's grace, not rules. It's love, not abuse.

  4. GuyS August 27, 2013 Reply

    Hi Rec Grace
    I love this site. I can't tell you what a blessing you all have been to me. Thank you! Thank you!

    I have benefited so much this past year and as a result this has become my favorite site. I am on my computer a lot but this is the first place I go.

    I was a second year ati dad for 5 or 6 years. I called my ex-wife to get an exact year but she could not remember either. That gives you an idea on how things worked out. Ha ha ha ha! I know that humor was really bad, but I either laugh or cry.

    A year ago my brother told me about you from a friend on Facebook. So I read for a few days and could not get you out of my mind. The first discussion was a back and forth with Alfred and others. I could not believe how kind everyone was to Alfred. My second thought was, (and I know this is really stupid) maybe you would also be kind to me if I ever worked up my courage to post. So yeah, it was because of Alfred I became interested at the beginning.

    I encouraged my ex and kids to get on here and perhaps some day tell their story. Who knows how this will all play out?

    I started posting last week without a good place to introduce myself. Sometimes you have to just jump in.

    • BeverlyB August 27, 2013 Reply

      Guy, I love your story! Thanks for being willing to jump in and share it with everyone. RG has been quite a healing place for me, too. So glad you found it. I think a lot of us felt rather alone in our processing of all the junk... it's amazing to know how NOT alone we are. I think my family entered ATI in the third or fourth year, and I was actively involved in Training Centers in the early- to mid-90s. My family stayed involved a lot longer, but they've also been reading RG and realize everything wasn't as it seemed. But all that to say, welcome! Glad you've found this little community. :-)

    • MatthewS August 27, 2013 Reply

      Wow! Thank you. Thank you for saying something. And your thought wasn't stupid at all. Sounds like you have some of those common fears and feelings many of us have had in working our way forward from all this stuff. I speak for myself but I have a number of friends involved and I know that there are many hours and prayers invested. Sometimes tears. It's an honor any time this community can be involved in people's stories. It means the world to hear back that something has been helpful in some way.

      Apologies if the Bible makes you nervous right now - We just talked about 1 Peter 3:8-12 in church Sunday (talks about not repaying insult for insult and about seeking peace and proactively doing the right thing). It struck me how important to remember that we are moving forward, pro- the right thing so much more than anti- the wrong thing.

      My own dad was a second-year dad. Reading your words helps encourage hope for my dad. He's a good man and a work in progress, to say it nicely. Wishing you all the best, looking forward to hearing more of your story as it is appropriate and as you are comfortable.

      And again, thanks! It means the world to hear those kind of stories.

      • GuyS August 28, 2013 Reply

        Matthew, Thank you for the warm welcome.

        "Sometimes tears. "Are you kidding? I expect any day now my that my keyboard will short out. I just don't know how much water it can take :-)

        "helpful in some way" Yes, it is always helpful to hear the truth spoken in love. Lots of both here. So much easier to process junk and madness.

        "we are moving forward" I love this. It is good to hear it.

        "a work in progress" Have hope. It is hard for many of us older men to embrace correction from others or even God himself. One of my favorite verses regarding this is:

        Ecclesiastes 4:13 (KJV) Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

        I am not sure what it all means, but the first part reminds me of the requirement on entering in the Kingdom, "as little children." The old and foolish king could possibly be any old and powerful man. My experience is that the more powerful an old man is, the harder it is for him to be admonished. Even those who call themselves Christians.

        I should add the I still am surprised at how hard it is for me to simply receive correction as a sensitive child might. I tend to over analyze to make sure there is no way out, no escape, no loopholes, no counter arguments, no justification. When God sends someone to me with the message, "Thou art the man." Why is it so hard to admit I am just flat out guilty? I thought it would be much easier by now.

        It happened just recently and I an not going to admit what it was, cause you don't know me that well, and as far as you know, I am a righteous and holy saint:-)

        A few years ago, I read "Stages of a Mans life" by E James Wielder. It has been too long ago for me to quote it just right, (perhaps some on this site can help) but Wielder said something about the biggest problem he has seen with older men is their love of money. (root of all evil) I had never heard that before. I have thought about it a lot since.

        Here is part of a quote by a reviewer at Amazon: "His work is especially well done on the last stage of life, elderhood. Wilder consistently traces how each stage builds on the last stage in terms of psychological strengths. This all rings very true in terms of my thirty years of pastoral experience. Excellent interpretation of scriptural passages. As one learns primarily how to give love and resources rather than manipulating others, one is able to face death with hope rather than despair."

        Matthew, if you could borrow this book, it might be worth your while to read the section on the last stage, elderhood. You know all the teachings and sermons about maintaining a clear conscience with your dad, however it is a lot easier to do (was for me anyway w/my dad) when you read Wilder's laundry list of responsibilities for old men, and why they struggle.

        As you work through this and pray for your dad, you can be sure there will be lots of good sermon material "generated" to minister to others.

        It is hard to do but worth it. My dad passed away a few years ago(89) and I am glad for the sacrifices I made. As the years go by, it surprises me to keep finding more understanding and compassion for what my dad went through in his life. Also, to find out how much I am like him. There were 6 kids in my family. I was one of the middle ones. I had more disagreements and verbal confrontations with my dad than any of the other kids. Not always in love. (what a thing to brag about :( It is what it is.

        I am grateful to be invited to share my story one this site.

        Thanks again for the welcome brother Matt.

        • GuyS August 30, 2013

          Matthew, Would you use some digital white out and erase the 5 inappropriate sentences between "You know all the teachings" to "sacrifices I made."

      • GuyS August 28, 2013 Reply

        Matthew, I just remembered that the quote could have been in another of Wilder's books, "

        The Complete Guide to Living with Men"

        I have several of his books and like them but have no idea where they are.

    • Heather August 28, 2013 Reply

      Guy, you are very welcome here, I'm glad you've found the courage to post. I hope you continue to find healing, and I hope we can help you with that. :)

      • GuyS August 29, 2013 Reply

        Heather, Thanks for the nice welcome.

        May I say that many of your comments make me smile. You certainly know how to express yourself. When I grow up I want to write like you.

        May I also say that sometimes you crack me up. I want to be sensitive and cryptic so let me just say that your comment a month ago about the length of Catherine Bach's wardrobe was irrefutable. hahaha

        • Heather August 30, 2013

          aww, thanks, what a nice compliment! :)

  5. GuyS August 27, 2013 Reply

    BeverlyB, Thank you for the warm welcome. "Rather alone" is putting it mildly for me. Desolate on an arctic mountain with wind howling, hanging on by my fingertips,5,000 feet in the air, no food, no water, no phone (now I've gone too far and having a pity party:)

    I had lots of questions, but did not know what to do about it. For maybe 6 years I volunteered to be an usher at an all day ministers seminar 4 hours away. Lots of sacrifice but the promised payoff never materialized.

    Saying stuff for the first time to people who have first hand experience of the madness who understand. Makes me want to smoke a big cigar and celebrate.

    • BeverlyB August 28, 2013 Reply

      Guy, You may have already found it, but are you part of the Parent Recovery Group? I don't know anything about it or how active it is (I'm in the student one), but you might want to check it out: https://www.recoveringgrace.org/recoverygroups/. Also, I remember Dave O saying he was a former ATI dad, and he hosts a different grace-based website that you might find interesting: http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/. I've loved the articles I've read there and also found them helpful in my recovery.

    • GuyS August 29, 2013 Reply

      Beverly, "may have already found it" Yes I know about it. I have also been to Dave O's site, very good.

      I think this site will keep me as busy as I want to be. I hate to admit how "old school" i am, but I have used my keyboard more these past few days, than the past year. I know, pretty bad. So, one site,(RG) is a stretch. Thanks for thinking of me

  6. Tangent August 29, 2013 Reply

    Welcome Guy,
    I felt the same way when I discovered this website. Amazed at all the ways my life had been warped by this false teaching on authority. We entered ATI in its third year (Made us very proud).An already troubled marriage became more intensely abusive. Gothard's teachings were like gasoline on a fire. My husband was now "justified" in his anger at me. He now "understood" that I was a rebellious woman who just wouldn't "submit". After all, didn't all the other ATI wives submit with no discussion? Didn't they all manage their homes perfectly, discipline their children consistently, and always stick to the Wise Daily Schedule?
    I know the tears of relief in finding that it wasn't me that was so wrong. Reading these testimonies has been so helpful and healing for me. I love this site and read every article.
    Blessings on all of you.

    • GuyS August 29, 2013 Reply

      Tangent, Thanks for the welcome.

      "already troubled" I brought a lot of baggage w/me before I became involved w/bg and the ati. I love your expression "gasoline on a fire." Exactly how I feel. Bless you also.

  7. MatthewS August 29, 2013 Reply

    "I have come to the conclusion that there are some very serious problems that can lead Christians astray."

    On that point, I would have to agree

  8. grateful August 31, 2013 Reply

    I would like to think I put the "fun" in Fundamentalist (of which category I probably fall), however, what made me think more than twice about BG (and this website) was the fact that some fundies are denouncing BG and his teachings. In fact, one in which I have very much respect for flat out called him (BG)a heretic ... pretty strong.

  9. Chris Symonds August 31, 2013 Reply

    Grateful BG is a heretic there is no two ways about it. the moment anyone strays from the basics of salvation and it becomes works and performance based it is no longer true Christianity it simply becomes a pale shadow of the truth that is stripped of any real power

  10. […] only one having a point to prove, and not a passage to understand, would say that the Chain-of-Command applies in all cases to commands from parents whether they are regenerate or not. Gothard says: “Notice that the […]

  11. Tangent September 4, 2013 Reply

    Amen to that, Chris.

  12. GuyS September 7, 2013 Reply

    "The Scripture teaches that it is going to cost something to serve Jesus Christ. Luke 14:26,27."

    Luke 14: 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

    And another good passage along this line:

    Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

    I do not remember hearing these parts of the bible at any seminar. Perhaps I missed it. IMHO w/o theses parts, it is easy to end up w/a teaching or sermon about family authority that might be technically true but false by misdirection.

  13. Daniel September 9, 2013 Reply

    I see a disturbing failure to distinguish between God's subjective and objective leading. God's objective leading trumps all other sources of authority at any stage in life - this is the basic principle behind Sola Scriptura. God's subjective leading, however, is not as concrete. It should not be allowed to abrogate the authority which God's objective leading has placed over you.

    That said, the particular examples mentioned concern adults, not children. They answer to the church, in part, and to God, and thus they should follow God's subjective leading, even if in opposition to their parents' wishes. The umbrella of authority as taught by Gothard is certainly extra-Biblical.

    Gothard is if anything made more dangerous by the fact that he is so often almost right. It is more difficult to point out the flaws in his teaching because, interpreted one way, it's right. Interpreted as he does, however, it is wrong and a bit dangerous.

  14. […] the many things Gothard teaches is that parents are always and forever the authority over their children, even grown children. This stripping away of free agency often results in adults who are reduced to […]

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