Loving The System
With the recent news of the resignation of Bill Gothard as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles and it's accompanying branches, including the in-depth homeschool program Advanced Training Institute, I've had some reason to read a little about what occurred there and what the flaws in the system have been to produce children who so revile it. (Apparently from what I'm reading, there isn't a large percentage of children raised in the homeschool program who will use it with their own children.)
I've come to a different conclusion about what happened than many people have, probably because I have a slightly different outlook on my own childhood experiences. I don't regret my parents' decision to walk off the "normal" path at all. I'm grateful to them that they did; and in the process, they avoided simply looking for a cleaned-up substitute to what they were leaving.
1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
At first glance, this is a pretty straightforward verse; but there's something a little unusual here that I wouldn't have known about if Ben hadn't been so interested in reading original language of interesting verses. The word "world" here is the Greek word "cosmos", which could more literally translate to English as "system".
The Strong's description of the Greek word "cosmos": "Orderly arrangement [or system]."
So the verse could be said to go like this: "Don't love the system or the things of the system. If anyone loves the system, the love of the Father is not in him."
Humankind has a love-affair with systems. Organizations, rules, guidelines, curriculum, institutions. Systems. We get great comfort from putting our feet on a neat road someone else has already paved and just letting ourselves be carried along. It largely takes the thought and uneasiness of decision-making away and gives us a sense of confidence and peace. Right up until something happens that wasn't supposed to happen according to the billing of our System of Choice.
It's often said that God isn't a God of chaos but of order. And this is true, as I understand God. The Universe functions in an orderly way or else planets would crash into suns. But just because he's a God of Order doesn't mean he's a God of Institutions.
This is the Miriam-Webster definition of the word "institution":
1: an act of instituting : establishment
2 a : a significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture <the institution of marriage>; also : something or someone firmly associated with a place or thing<she has become an institution in the theater>
b : an established organization or corporation (as a bank or university) especially of a public character; also : asylum
Institutions are formally recognized systems or "orderly arrangements".
Ben likes to say God makes stones, not bricks. Institutions are built out of bricks, lots of pieces that are all supposed to look alike and work identically. Systems are built on the assumption that people and situations are all bricks, identical, unremarkable, and all exchangeable for the one next to them. God doesn't work that way. He builds things out of stones, something not uniform in shape or color or strength, each needing to be uniquely placed in order for anything built from them to function properly. Stones are unpredictable. They take a lot of time and thought to assemble into something useful.
Humans do not like unpredictability. Glaringly, humans even took laws God made and formulated them so that they could always be applied the same way instead of recognizing that God himself made the laws simple as they are for a reason, partly so that there is room for things like love and mercy and understanding of actual people rather than seeing people as objects to be weighed by computer and judged accordingly.
This brings me around to why I think the love of systems contributed to the breakdown of Godliness that occurred within the leadership and organization of the Institute in Basic Life Principles: the whole thing was a system. Yes, a system that was meant to help people lived Godly lives, but a system nevertheless. People grew disillusioned with the more normal system of society around them and wanted to leave it because they believed leaving the un-Godly system would help them become more Godly. But instead of taking decisions one step at a time and attempting to build a Godly life based on understanding of God, they looked for an already-established method to switch to that would guarantee them better results in their lives, marriages and families than they were afraid they were going to get.
Bill Gothard formulated such a method and promised guaranteed results, so in great relief hundreds of families signed on and put their families on that road. They often did not stop to assess what was happening on that road, just continued on even in spite of warning signs that this system would not guarantee Godliness either. After all, there was an established answer in this system that had God's name stamped on it for every problem they encountered. Having health difficulties? Follow these three Biblical steps to resolve them. Financial woes? These seven Scripture-based steps would turn things around and bring prosperity to your family.
I'm not saying these things to mock the IBLP teachings, because many of them contain interesting and valuable thoughts. But it is definitely a very, very structured way of looking at things and those who belonged to the ATI organization took on an even more structured organization. Not every family, of course, but far too many. This is not actually Bill Gothard's fault, by the way. He is responsible for his own character flaws and lack of faithfulness to the very principles he taught. But he was allowed to continue uncorrected in this hypocrisy because so many were desperate to have a system to belong to and they were invested in upholding this one new one they'd put their trust in. The system was so good that the flaws of the leader had to be overlooked. They loved the system.
This is how we have many bad things in history that we look back on and say, "How could this have even happened?"
There is no system for living the perfect life. There is no silver bullet to slay all the bad stuff. There are ways to think and ways to make decisions and a view that can give you a foundation of understanding that will help you approach all things, but the truth is that living a good and Godly life is less about getting onto a paved road than it is walking off into the trees. It's about having to scratch your head and figure out how to walk around the things that get in the way of reaching your ultimate goal. There are many wise people who can give advice on how to figure out ways around trees, but you are going to have to do the thinking and the walking. God wrote his ways down so we could have an inkling of what Godly life is like, but you ultimately need to be concerned enough about his thoughts and wishes that you want to live as he intended for those writings to be of any real use to you.
Don't love the system. Because you can't serve two masters and you can't love two gods. Systems take the place of God. If you love a system, you can't love God at the same time. Walk into the trees and have courage knowing there is a way to get where you're going without having to walk on a road someone else built.
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Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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