Back when I was in Bill Gothard’s ATI homeschool program, I remember reading, in one of the Wisdom Booklets, a Latin phrase that they said described democracy: Vox populi, vox Dei—“The voice of the people is the voice of God.” I would like to adapt this phrase to illustrate the destructive component of Bill Gothard’s teachings on authority and the “Chain of Command”: Vox Papa, vox Dei—“The voice of Papa is the voice of God.”
The Bible teaches what could be called a “chain of command”, best seen in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” In addition, God tells us to submit to the government (Romans 13:1-7) and to follow the leading of the church leaders (Hebrews 13:7). He also tells children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1).
However, Bill Gothard added a destructive twist to the teachings of God. He taught that the will of God was revealed by those in authority to those under authority, down the chain of command. For me, I probably learned this most forcefully in his teaching on courtship. The courtship doctrine said that your perfect mate would be confirmed by your authorities, especially your father. If you liked somebody, but your parents disagreed, they were telling you God’s will, and marrying the person would be disobeying God’s will.
In the Basic Seminar, Gothard even taught that non-Christian parents communicated God’s will to their children. If you wanted to go into the ministry, but your unsaved dad wanted you to go to college instead, you should honor his wishes and go to college. At the very least, you should find out why he wanted you to go to college, and if it was because of some character issue, work on that character issue before going into the ministry. There was no real allowance made for the possibility that your dad might not be communicating God’s will to you. (See more at Recovering Grace.)
The logical conclusion of Gothard’s teaching was that the father was the final authority in his children’s lives, instead of God—even when they were adults.
The truth is that God has never said that our authorities are His mouthpiece and will always confirm His will. It is one thing for someone to be my authority. It is quite a different matter for that person to be THE communicator of God’s will to me. If what I believe to be God’s will is not God’s will unless my father agrees, then God is not my final authority any more—my father is. As I said at the beginning, “The voice of Papa is the voice of God.”
Taking this one step further, imagine the perspective that Gothard gave to the fathers when he told their children that their fathers were the source of God’s will! It would have been a sure temptation for a father to view himself as infallible, more spiritual than his family, and almost like a god to his family. I can only imagine how many authoritarian, control-freak dads used it to bolster their position.
Jesus contradicted this falsehood when He said:
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. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. 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. (Matthew 10:35-37)
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. (Luke 14:26)
We know that Jesus didn’t literally mean that we must hate our parents, because he who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). What He is telling us in these passages is that we must follow Him above everyone else. He will play second fiddle to no man. As adults, it is our responsibility to find out God’s will for ourselves—and then do it, regardless of what others may think. If your dad is the one who defines God’s will for you, then you are not following God 100%, because it is impossible to follow God 100% if His leading must be confirmed by a fallible man.
In fact, Jesus says that, unless we “hate” everything other than Him, we cannot be His disciples. Think about that one a moment. What that means is that Gothard, with his “Voice of Papa” doctrine, was preventing us from being disciples of Jesus! The same is true for patriarchy teaching, which prevents young people from growing up and becoming independent adults. Jesus wants us to grow up and become independent—independent to follow Him.
This is not to say that we should ignore other people’s advice. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he who hearkens to counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15). It is foolish to think that we know it all and do not need others’ advice. However, in the end, we must determine God’s will and follow it.
My point here is not that you should ditch your father’s counsel and go do your own thing. The point is that the voice of Papa is not the voice of God. However, your own will and desires are also not necessarily the voice of God. In order to be an adult and make decisions on your own, you will have to take the responsibility to find out what God wants you to do. Then, instead of obeying the voice of Papa, you can obey the voice of God. If you ignore both God and your parents, you may end up even worse off—at least your parents have more life experience and a different viewpoint!
Jesus promised us, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). After being confused by Bill’s teaching, you may find it difficult to hear Jesus’ voice. I certainly have been affected. But don’t give up! God promises us: “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you will search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Keep asking God to teach you to know His voice, and seek to follow Him with your whole heart.
Now, you may never have been influenced by Bill Gothard, you’ve moved away from home and think your parents are fuddy-duddies, and you would never regard your dad’s opinion as God’s will. But wait! Is there anyone else in your life that you are elevating to the place of God?
In Part 2, we’ll look at someone else who often gets elevated to the level of God.