Sadly, real life takes time

Instant freedom

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get instant freedom from fear, anger and depression? That’d be great. Would you commit to attending a week-long seminar if you could get instant freedom from it?

Today I was looking through a booklet titled Ten Reasons for Alumni to Be Encouraged. It was sent out in 1992 to families that had previously attended a Basic Seminar. While working very hard to look like an informational booklet, this mailing was really nothing more than an advertisement meant to bring money in from seminar alumni.

Throughout the booklet there runs a theme of instant solutions to all your problems. The image above is perhaps the most blatant promise of instant solutions, but it is far from the only one. Before we take a look at them in more detail, you can enjoy some non-approved music.

Stop the meeting

Gothard recounts the story of a young man who rushed the stage during a Basic Seminar in Seattle. The man was subdued by security, and taken to a side room while Gothard continued the meeting. During the break, Gothard visited this man and tried to help him. The man said that he had heard a voice claiming to be “the Prince of Seattle” who had told him to stop the seminar. Gothard story

Here we have a man who obviously has some rather serious mental health issues. He is hearing voices with enough clarity and force that he will rush the stage in front of 5,000 people, and has to be forcibly removed. He admits to frequent thoughts of suicide. These are not minor, small issues. This guy needs help.

Now let’s look at the help that Gothard offered. First, we should note that the concept of giving ground to Satan, and reclaiming ground from Satan, is not Biblical. The Bible teaches us that our old man is sinful by nature, and that we are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ. It does not teach a chessboard version of the soul, with Satan as an easily defeat-able opponent if we simply follow Gothard’s three step plan.

Second, note how this promise to free someone of fear, anger and depression comes with major strings of guilt attached; if “depression, fear, anger and other destructive emotions” are the direct result of Satan building a castle on surrendered ground in your soul, then anytime you experience any of those emotions, you can be sure that you have failed. You’ve given ground to Satan, again.

Third, it’s interesting to see how anger and fear are listed as “destructive emotions.” Anger is actually a very healthy emotion under some circumstances (to give a random example; if you heard a story about an elderly religious leader using his position of authority to make unwanted sexual advances on teenage girls…well, that should make you angry.) In many cases, fear is a healthy emotion (again, a totally random example; if you were a teenage girl who was sent to work with an elderly religious leader who gave you money to purchase a push-up bra…well, you should feel fear!)  Negative emotions are not always destructive emotions. This is an important distinction.

So, to continue the story; Gothard had this guy go through the three steps (confess the sin, claim the blood of Christ and ask God to retake the ground from Satan), and “a peace came over him.” But then the story gets even more interesting; the man asks, “What about the beast I see with seven heads?” Gothard asked the man if he had participated in any sexual sin, and the man said yes.

Danger of Multiple Strongholds

Notice how quickly this “freedom” the young man gained is lost!  It seems Gothard himself doesn’t even realize the inherent contradiction in his story; he promises freedom, but only if you take back every single stronghold. How are you to know if you’ve confessed them all? How are you to know if you’ve taken back each piece of ground? Since very natural emotions such as anger or fear are the signposts of ground that has been given to Satan, how are you to ever feel confident that your soul is truly safe?

The most disturbing part of this story comes when this young man tries to ask God to take back the ground, and the words stick in his mouth. We can learn something very scary about Gothard’s entire view of the Christian experience from this; when someone was bound by sin, and needed to turn from it, he had to rely on his on strength to do it. There is no mention of calling on God for strength, or turning to your Christian brothers for support. Nope, you just sit there, bound by Satan and this stronghold that he’s built in your soul, until you find the umph within yourself to speak the magic words.

This is terrifying. Thank God that he does not wait for us to gather the power to defeat Satan!  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1) “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26)



Let’s talk about commitments.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the scenario; you’re wearing blue and white, surrounded by a few, or maybe dozens, or maybe hundreds, or maybe thousands of other people just like you, and Gothard looms over you on a large screen. He’s been talking for hours; yet you’re ears are glued to him. I say ears because your eyes are not glued to the screen; they’re darting between your workbook and the ever changing words on the screen. Gothard never seems hurried, he never seems flustered, but, boy-oh-boy, those words on the overhead just fly!

I’d heard Gothard many times as a child before I attended the basic. I’d even recited the first few verses of Matthew 5 to him when my family visited headquarters, and he gave me a dollar bill in reward. But I’d never been quite as enraptured, never quite so drawn in as I was at the end of a long session in the Basic. I was 13 years old.

If you’ve never listened to Gothard for an extended period of time, it really can be hard to describe the experience. He’s short, and quiet, and he never yells. He tells few jokes, and he pauses from time to time, almost as though he’s struggling with the burden on his heart for the people listening to him. And the whole time he is talking, you are rushing to keep up. Every point, every illustration, every principal comes printed in your red book, with only a few words missing. As each line goes up on the screen, you hurriedly scribble those missing words down. Only when Gothard is telling a story do things slow down.

But when he tells a story, you are drawn in even further. Every story follows the same basic outline; there is a dire problem, and an apparent solution. You know, you just know what the solution should be; it’s so clear. And yet, Bill tells you, that is the wrong choice. He explains the root cause of the problem (who would have thought that was the problem?!), and shows how application of the principle he was just talking about will solve the problem (wow! He’s right!) At the end of the story the main character is either completely free from the problem, or has fallen into horrible sin.

And it all makes so much sense! You can’t argue; Gothard has Scripture verses beside each point (well, he has references to Scripture verses, at any rate), and he explains everything so thoroughly. So when Gothard recaps his points, you find yourself nodding. Aren’t you glad he’s made it clear? Now there’s only one part left in the evening; it’s time to make a commitment.

I hate alter calls. I really do. I hate the music that they play, I hate the way the preacher pulls at your heart strings. I hate the way they try to list every possible scenario that might lead you to the front of the church (“If you’re concerned about your brother’s cousin’s roommate’s dog, come to the alter and give that to Jesus! Don’t wait!”) Maybe the reason I hate it to much is because I’m used to seeing a master at work. If you’re used to Micheal Bay films, then 1960s Star Trek just doesn’t seem so cool (they both still suck, but one is a lot better at sucking). Gothard didn’t use music, and he didn’t pace up and down the stage. He just spoke with that same intensity, he told you how important this was, he emphasized that it was the only way to success, and then he didn’t ask you to make a commitment. Gothard didn’t ask anyone to come to the front and “make a decision.”

Gothard asked for a vow.

A vow, made before God, that you were to hold to for your entire life.

The vow I most clearly remember is a vow to read the Bible for 5 minutes every day. I was 13, and had no clue what I was doing. Predictably, I failed to keep that vow within just a few weeks of finishing the Seminar. And I felt horrible, and I tried to make it up by doing 10 minutes of Bible reading the next day. Over the years, I worried about what God might do to me because of my broken vow.

About three years ago I took another vow. But before I took that vow, we spent 7 months preparing for it. We went to counseling. We talked to pastors. We asked our friends to travel to observe the vow (some of them traveled literally halfway around the world to be there.) We had long and serious discussions with our parents.

There was time to think. There was time to consider what we were doing. There was counsel about how to live that vow out in a daily way. There was no pressure, no expectation of a quick decision. When I vowed to love my wife until death do us part, I understood what I was doing. I was sure of it.

Fortunately, God is loving, and I don’t think he holds an emotionally manipulated 13-year-old Samuel against me. I don’t read my Bible 5 minutes every day; sometimes I don’t read it 5 minutes a week. I’m glad that my relationship with God is based on his love for me, and not on my commitment to following rules.