Following the Bible Can Leave You Stuck in a Cult

As I’ve told my story over the last nine years of my journey out of a cult background, there’s one response I’ve heard over and over:

“This is an example of why it’s so important to follow Jesus instead of people.”

It’s a nice catchphrase, but it doesn’t work.

You see, my parents didn’t set out to join a cult or follow people. They wanted to follow God. And in their zeal to follow him, they fell into Bill Gothard’s teachings.

Interestingly, if you ask my dad, he’ll say something very similar to that quote above:

“I didn’t follow Bill Gothard. I heard what he said, and then I went to scripture and researched to see what was true. Then I followed what I learned, not what Bill Gothard taught.”

I know all too well how that played out, though.

Bringing the Cult Along

My dad took our family out of ATI, Gothard’s homeschool cult organization, in 2005. Nearly twenty years later, Gothard’s teachings and thought patterns still permeate his mind. He left the cult behind, but not the mindset.

And that’s because he didn’t follow Bill Gothard. He believed—and still believes, about many things, to this day—that he was following Jesus. That he was taking the narrow road of obedience to Jesus.

So when he left the cult, he kept his Biblical beliefs. At least, that’s what he thought.

And, frustratingly, he will tell you that he never wanted his kids to follow him. He wanted them to follow Jesus.

There’s just one catch. There’s only one way to follow Jesus—Dad’s way. Because, after all, it’s the Biblical way that God has showed him.

And so, if you disagree with his interpretations of scripture, you’re not following Jesus.

Also, since he’s following Jesus instead of people, there’s only one person who can change his mind—Jesus. Anyone else can bug off.

The result is that he’s not open to hearing anyone who disagrees with him or receiving counsel from anyone unless it matches what “God has told him”.

There’s a Big Catch

The truth, of course, is that we need Jesus. We need the Bible. And we need each other.

Also, we need pastors and teachers and preachers and evangelists to help us find the right way to follow God.

But any of those things can be taken to an unhealthy extreme.

We can idolize pastors and teachers and act as though they are the voice of God.

We can follow what our brothers and sisters in Christ say, and never really have firm beliefs of our own.

We can focus on the Bible and end up not knowing the One who inspired the Bible.

And we can focus on following Jesus and tune out anything and everything that contradicts our interpretation of what that means.

The Answer?

This, of course, is where I’m supposed to wrap all this up with a nice bow and tell you how to avoid all the pitfalls and live a perfect Christian life.

I can’t.

I wish I could, but I don’t have that kind of an answer. And I’m skeptical of anyone who says that they do, because I’ve seen many times where they don’t. Just lots of stuff that sounds good.

I do believe that we can follow Jesus.

I don’t believe that we are doomed to endlessly flounder.

And I believe that the answer is actually rather simple and does center around Jesus.

But I’m tired of people giving answers that sound good but don’t really work. And I don’t want to be one of them.

So I keep searching and seeking, knowing that I’m following the one who said:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)


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7 Replies to “Following the Bible Can Leave You Stuck in a Cult”

  1. Hey I have a similar background
    I have more questions than answers I’m stumbling in my own walk to Christ.

    I just wanna say I see you I support you and you’re most definitely not alone

    Keep going
    A fellow truth seeker

  2. Very vague content. If we are following Christ there will be fruit in our life in keeping with repentance. Being a disciple means that we are teachable and humble and open to dealing with our sin, hang-ups and habits. If we do not see this, whether it is in a pastor or in our parents, then that is a red flag. One may be dealing with religious spirits/cults.

    1. It is not vague AT ALL. It is not vague for those of us who have experienced this. It is all of our Bills. And it is even all of our fathers who can’t perfectly represent Our Father.

      It is everything. And it goes so very deep.

  3. I totally see what you are saying. My former spouse led our family with “I follow the Bible” but what he really meant was we all must follow his interpretation of the Bible. And that interpretation allowed for all kinds of abuse that was classified as “Discipline”. I feel like I was in a mini-cult and need to be de-programmed.

  4. I,too, was taken into a cult by my previous spouse. God rescued me out of it by waking me up in the dead of night with scriptures I’d known from my youth that led me back to the truth.
    Contrary to what most Christians believe, I don’t believe anyone needs pastors or “Bible Leaders”. God said he poured out his spirit on us all, just so I can hear him personally. I may go to church to worship and minister to others but NEVER AGAIN will I give my spiritual authority to another but only to Jesus. We must all appear before the judgement seat if Christ, not a leader. I’m done with submission to all that. Only Jesus. Your Dad is lying to himself and others. At some point, he liked what he heard and made it his own. Sorry, man, I know it’s hard to hear but it’s true. You don’t need to submit or be swayed by him anymore. You only need respect your father but never submit to all that crap you came out of.

  5. What’s super great about Bill Gothard is that he has new teaching on his personal website (you know, being charged with lots of sexual crimes got him booted him from IBLP, as if taking the cupcake liners off the arsenic cupcakes renders them safe to eat) about Why So Many Teens Join A Cult. Don’t let your eyeballs get stuck from rolling back too far.

    ALSO, he has new revelation about how we actually have 3 brains according to Jesus’ teaching in Greek. The guy is a total nutcase.

    It didn’t matter though. He’s always been this nutcase, and thousands upon thousands of “christian families” followed him, some buying him hook, line, and sinker, and others, like my parents, would claim that they are just “taking all the best pieces of teachings and implementing them”. They also joined the conservative Mennonite church when I was 6 and “took all the best pieces from there” which was the perfect formula for a home-grown mini household cult.

    I also have no answers. I just know that was wrong. And it should have been obvious in the discrepancies between how Jesus treated women and children, and how Gothardites and Mennonites treated women and children – among many other things. But it wasn’t obvious, apparently. Is it the analogy of ingesting tiny amounts of poison over a period of time resulting in greater tolerance for poison/bull***t teachings?

    I know this is an old post. You’re welcome 😂

    1. Thanks, Robyn! It sounds like your experiences parallel mine. Our family also devolved into a mini-homeschool cult. A one-family cult, if you will. And no, I don’t think that’s too strong of a description.

      I checked out Bill Gothard’s website. Geez, I could puke my guts out over that crap. He’s even more insane than during my ATI days. He’s gotten into the “gut brain” stuff without knowing what he’s talking about. He’s not a doctor and certainly not trained or experienced enough to speak with authority on human anatomy and physiology. And judging by the quality of what he’s churning out, I’d say that he’s basically flying solo at this point.

      And that article about teens entering cults… 🤯🤯🤯

      It’s been almost six years since he re-launched his website after getting kicked out of IBLP. You might find my observations from that time interesting. At that point he was even trying to redefine the Seven Basic Principles.

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