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.


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