From time to time some have alleged that Bill Gothard and his ministries, including IBLP and ATI, constitute a “cult”. In 2017 when a young high school student needed a topic for a video he had to produce for a class assignment, he focused on IBLP and entitled his film, “The Cult Next Door”. It received a lot of air time simply because it was a common accusation from those that disliked Bill’s ministry. A number of us watching the film were interested to see how the clips of Bill speaking and others speaking about him highlighted many of the reasons families were drawn to his programs. The focus on a woman being protected under her husband ‘s leadership and children under their parent’s authority, of intense focus on godly standards for living and Bible study to the exclusion of much of what is called “normal” in this day almost seemed like a recruiting piece for the program. Many found these teachings and practices, along with the restrictions, an answer to prayer, balm for the weary soul, anything but a “cult”.
Few would disagree that it is not reasonable to call a group a “cult” simply because the members dress or talk or believe or live differently, or even if the leader is charismatic and convincing and makes many “disciples”. A true cult is dangerous to the individual as well as to society around. So, what allows us to call a movement a “cult”?
We are pleased to feature an article by Dr. John David Lehman, an expert on cult behavior and constitution, to answer this question. We trust it will be enlightening and an encouragement. Use it to examine Bill and IBLP and decide if he qualifies as a “cult leader” or his ministries as “a cult”.
The True Nature of a Cult and IBLP
By Dr. J. David Lehman
Some have accused the Institute of Basic Life Principles of being a Christian Cult and Bill Gothard as being a cult leader. I have attended 46 Basic Seminars, approximately 10 Advanced Seminars, about 6 Anger Resolution Seminars and several Ministers Seminars of the Institute in Basic Life Principles taught by Bill Gothard. I have a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, a Master of Divinity from Grace Theological Seminar, a Ph.D. from Oxford Graduate School, a second Ph.D. from Louisiana Baptist University and have taught cults and world religions for 20 years as staff advisor for Christians for Origins and Religious Research at Purdue University. I studied under Larry Crabb in his Master’s in Biblical Counseling at Grace Seminary for two years as well. I am familiar with the teachings and methods of most major cults and many Christian cults in America and around the world. It is my professional opinion that IBLP as taught by Bill Gothard is the most Biblical approach to Scripture of any organization or denomination I have seen and none of the qualities of a cult.
When “Cult-Accusers” Are A Cult!
It is now common for people to call a group they disagree with A CULT. This label is charged with mental and emotional overtones which bring about an immediate repulsion and rejection of the accused group. The label is being freely used to convict, condemn and ostracize any group that does not embrace the social norms of our day. The accused is instantly guilty with no investigation needed. When this label is used to numb the conscience of those who reject the moral standards that are inscribed in their own hearts, the accuser is himself in a cult!
There are cults and they need to be identified. However, many who have made lists of the characteristics a cult have a problem because most of their characteristics would fit the Apostle Paul. Cults were prevalent in Paul’s day and he defined them with precise accuracy, so we are safe in using his inspired descriptions to identify a cult:
1. The cult leader has a secret or open sexual addiction.
Many “cult-accusers” attract followers by attacking the moral standards of their parents or church as “legalistic” and “repressive”. They are told that they have “liberty in Christ” and are not held to the “outdated restrictions” they have lived under.
Scripture states: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for when a man is overcome, of the same he is brought in bondage” “Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls; a heart they have exercised with covetous practices, cursed children” (II Peter 2:19,14).
2. A cult leader appeals to the sensual desires of his followers.
Those who are secretly involved in sensual activities will be attracted to the arguments of the cult leader. He will appeal to those sensual drives and lead them into further sensual bondage. Each member will find his or her support in the cult and their justification for their open opposition to those who disagree with them.
Scripture states: “When they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh through [pleasures with no restraints], those who [temporarily] escaped from them who live in error” (II Peter 2:18).
3. A cult leader will draw followers away from their families
The faults and failures of parents will be emphasized and condemned along with their refusal to let their sons and daughters make final decisions on worldly activities. The parents will be accused of “controlling” their sons and daughters who are “old enough to make their own decisions.” Pressure will be put on them to reject their parents.
Scripture states: “For of this sort are they which creep into houses and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with a variety of lusts” (II Timothy 3:6).
4. A cult leader will reject God-given authority
A cult leader will convince his followers that government authorities are their enemies and must be avoided and resisted. This is directly opposite to the teaching of Scripture that all governmental authorities receive their power from God and whoever resists them is resisting God (Romans 13:1-10). The cult leader needs an enemy to unite his followers.
Scripture states: “These walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self -willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities” (II Peter 2:10).
5. A cult leader demands total loyalty to himself and his cult
Having removed the authority of parents and all other God-given authorities, the cult leader is now the only authority left. He is unopposed and demands that the loyalty that should be given to parents and other authorities now be given to him. He does not allow any dissent or disloyalty. Anyone who disagrees with him or leaves the cult will be banned from any further fellowship. The cult and its leader speak evil of those who follow God’s moral standards.
Scripture states: Cult leaders “shall bring in damnable heresies…and many shall follow their sensual ways: by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (II Peter 2:2).
6. A cult leader will promote doctrines that are contrary to Scripture
A cult leader will claim that he has a special connection with God and has been given special revelation or understanding of Scripture. This makes him the undisputed leader. His teachings, however, violate basic truths of Scripture and are used to reinforce his twisted interpretation of a godly life. A man’s morality will dictate his theology.
Scripture states: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth…these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (II Timothy3:5,7,8).
7. A cult leader has an ulterior motive of getting personal wealth
Followers of the cult are required to donate their money to the cult along with any money they earn. The leader then controls the money and the followers. He will use the money for items that directly benefit him. He has a love of money which is the root of all evil.
Scripture states: “Through covetousness with feigned [artificial and fictitious] words they shall make merchandise of you…following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (II Peter 2:3,15).