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Topical  Studies

 

 

A Critical Evaluation

Of the Teachings and Methods of

The International Church of Christ

  

 

Researched and Compiled by


Mark Schweitzer M.Div.

Pastor of College Ministries

ã Shepherd’s Community Church 2000


The ICC Bible Studies:  A Critical Analysis © 1997 Dave AndersonREVEAL and Recovery from the ICC ministries.  Used by permission.

 

This evaluation may be copied without written authorization

As long as it is copied in it’s entirety without change and not for financial gain.

 

 

 

Dedication:

 

          This work is dedicated to the faithful students and leaders that make up Night Watch College Ministries and the Pierce College Christian Bible Club.  It is because of your willingness to stand for the truth of the gospel of Grace that many have been rescued from the International Church of Christ.  Your desire to serve the Master and to be equipped more fully for God’s work has been an encouragement and challenge for me. 

            May God be pleased to equip you with this work so that you might reach still deeper into your places of work and school with the love of Jesus Christ. My prayer for you is the same as that of the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus:

 

“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him {be} the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

(Eph 3:14-21)

   

 

Mark Schweitzer

April, 1999


Table of Contents

Introduction.. 4

What is a Cult?. 5

The Definition of a Cult. 5

Common Teachings of Cults. 6

Common Activities of Cults. 7

The History of the International Churches of Christ.. 10

How do people get involved in the International Churches of Christ?. 12

A Story to Illustrate. 12

Discipleship in the International Church of Christ.. 14

The ICC Bible Studies: A Critical Analysis. 15

The Word of God Study. 15

The Discipleship Study. 17

The Kingdom Study. 19

The Sin and Repentance Study. 20

The Light and Darkness Study. 22

The Cross Study. 23

The Denominationalism and False Doctrines Study. 24

The Holy Spirit Study. 25

The Church Study. 25

The Counting the Cost Study. 26

A Summary of the Bible Studies. 27

SALVATION AND THE INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST.. 31

A Review of the Common Proof Texts with Responses. 31

Mark 16:16. 31

John 3:5. 32

Acts 2:38. 33

Titus 3:5. 33

A Problem passage for the ICC.. 34

1 Corinthians 1:14-17. 34

Conclusions. 35

THE MEDIA’S RESPONSE TO THE INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST.. 36

Boston University. 36

Daily Free Press – 1/22/99. 38

Tommy Magazine – 11/19/98. 39

Philadelphia City Paper – 2/ 25/99. 41

Christian Research Newsletter - Headline News – 11/ 3/92. 49

Pepperdine University Newspaper - 2/18/99. 50

Conclusions. 53

THE INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST: A CULT ON ALL LEVELS.. 55

The Empty Hand of Faith.. 57

Need more information?. 59

About the Author.. 59

Endnotes.. 60


 

Introduction

            Historically the college campus has been a major recruiting ground for cults as impressionable students venture out from under the wings of their parents and begin to interact with the “real world.” Unfortunately these students quickly find that this real world does not play fair.  Students come with pure motives seeking answers to life’s most difficult questions and they find many who are willing to give them answers using language that sounds very familiar but later turns out to be new definitions placed into old terms. 

A very unfortunate example of this is the Heaven’s Gate cult and their leader Marshal Applewhite.  This cult came into prominence when thirty-nine of their members committed suicide in 1997 by drinking a deadly cocktail, reminiscent of the Jonestown suicides of 1978.  Applewhite led these men and women to believe that the Comet Hale-Bopp was the sign that a spaceship of extraterrestrials would arrive and take their souls to the next level of existence, which Applewhite called the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  We look at this story and try to imagine what kind of people could believe such wild things in this day and age.  Unfortunately the haunting answer to this question, which comes from the surviving relatives, reveals that these were men and women just like you and I.  Many grew up in church, leading very “normal” lives, pursuing a college education, and working to make their way in this life.  So what was said to these men and women which ultimately led them to their death?  A Newsweek article written by Kenneth L. Woodward, in April of 1997, relays these frightening quotes:

 

Belief in UFO’s remained part of Do’s (Applewhite’s cult name) evolving gospel—and part of Heaven’s Gates allure.  But what gave his final vision theological ballast—what apparently made it comprehensive and believable to the 1990s youths who joined him in his death pact—were familiar phrases ripped from the larger fabric of the New Testament.  …Do knew the Bible: his father was a Presbyterian minister and Do had been a musician with several churches.  He also knew that he was filling the old wineskin of Christian beliefs with a cocktail of his own devising.[i]

 

Applewhite began with the familiar teachings of Christianity and moved into the kingdom of the cults.  The words, which began with a familiar ring, soon led these people from their families, friends, jobs, and ultimately to their death.

            Should we be surprised at this tactic? The answer is no!  In fact if you were to look at the history of most major religions (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, etc.) you would find that their founders had at least some, if not extensive, experience within the Christian church. We also ought not be surprised because long before there were cults who masqueraded as churches, there was Satan, an angel of darkness, who masqueraded as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). 

        The Heaven’s Gate example I chose was for the purpose of drawing a stark picture in your mind.  Most cults that you find on the campus, or anywhere else for that matter, will most likely not call you to kill yourself.  But what all cults have in common is spiritual death.  For the untruths or lies that they teach, lead people away from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  As the Apostle Paul warns in Acts 20:28-30 (see also Mt. 7:15, 10:16; Lk. 10:3):

 

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

 

The name “cult” has been given to those groups that teach “perverse things” and that draw people away from the church of God, the church which Christ purchased with His own blood.  Let me take a few moments and explain more fully the term cult.

 

What is a Cult?

 

From the beginning of the church we are warned against divisions that would arise from people teaching things contrary to that which was originally given in the Scriptures. Thus we are continually taught not to accept any doctrine that was not originally given by the apostles.  Romans 16:17-18 cautions us as it says “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissension (divisions) and hindrances contrary to the teaching (doctrine) which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting (Parenthesis added).”  Today many aberrations have arisen and given birth to offshoots in the Church.

However, this should not be surprising.   Throughout the Old and New Testament we are continually warned of false teaching and teachers. Here are only a few references:

 

¨      We are warned about false prophets in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:20-22.

¨      Jesus warns of false prophets and teachers in Matthew 7:15-23 and 24:23-24; as well as in Mark13:5-6 and 13:21-22.

¨      We are warned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14, Galatians1:8-9, Colossians 2:8-9,

       2 Thessalonians 2, 1 Tim.1:3- 4 and 4:1-2.

¨      We are warned by Peter in 1 Peter 5:8-9 and 2 Peter 2:1-3.

¨      We are warned by John 1 John 2:18-23 and 1 John 4:1-5.

 

In fact just about every book of the Bible mentions a warning about error and falsehood creeping into Israel or the church that must be guarded against.  

When we hear the word cult we envision people held against their will, confined away from society, working with little or no pay and continually abused by authoritarian leaders. They are unable to think for themselves having been changed into religious robots or zealots. While these descriptions are possible, and have occurred, they are unlikely. The word cult has been thrown around too easily and can be a dangerous labeling if not understood or explained.

 

The Definition of a Cult

 

The original use of the word “cult” comes from the Latin word “Cultus” which means worship.  It was used of any person or group that had an object of worship.  Many dictionaries today keep this generalized focus on the word cult.  For example, according to Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language a cult is “a system of religious worship with a strong admiration of or devotion to, a person or thing.”[ii]   This is far too broad to be helpful.

Today the most common understanding of a cult comes from the sociological definition which takes into account the activities of a group rather than what they teach.  While the criteria is different depending upon which author you are reading many thoughts are common among all. These include employing deceptive recruiting or fundraising techniques; using fear to indoctrinate a member, keeping them in the group ("If you leave, you'll go to hell"); practicing information control and manipulation; and breaking members' ties to family, friends and environment. While dictionary definitions and comparisons to the norm of society are helpful, they are still too broad in scope. For cults almost always come in the name of religion.

 We must turn to a theological definition in addition to our sociological one.  With a theological definition, what is or is not a cult must be based on the standard set up by the Bible itself, as it is interpreted literally by means of a historical, grammatical, cultural, and contextual study, using the Bible’s teaching as the focal point for all beliefs. Thus within a theological framework a cult is a group bound together in an intense devotion to a person, ideal or thing; and which has a system of beliefs that is contrary to Scripture and the Christian faith they claim to represent. Walter Martin, the founder of the Christian Research Institute, described a cult like this: “a group of people gathered about a specific persons interpretation of the Bible... from a theological view point, the cults contain not only a few major deviations from historic Christianity. They paradoxically continue to insist that they are entitled to be classified as Christians.”[iii]

            Thus when we think of a cult we must take into account both the things which they teach (comparing it to historic Christianity through sound Bible interpretation) and the things which they do (comparing it to accepted societal norms).  

 

Common Teachings of Cults

 

The primary way to identify a cult is by what they believe in comparison to Scripture.  While usually a cult fails in many areas, there are eight major doctrines that define what is or is not a cult.  If a teaching fails in any one of these eight areas they are a cult and must be guarded against!

 

1. Deify man -Teaching that man may become God, or is a part of God. Man needs to be a part of a certain group or church to learn a new revelation or knowledge to progress to godhood.

2. Humanize God - Some groups deny that God is eternal. Some believe in many gods, or that all is god (pantheism). Other groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses teach that God's nature or state of being must be understood and reasonable to the human mind to be true. In other words, if finite man cannot understand something about God then it is not true. This technique subtly elevates man's mental ability to that of God.

3. Minimize or eliminate sin - The biblical concept of sin is not taught, or is completely eliminated by some groups.  They teach that man can overcome his sinful nature and that evil is a part of the physical and not the spiritual.  This is seen in Christian Science, Mind Science, Religious Science, and new age groups.

 4. Minimize the importance of the Bible - Most cults use “anointed” information, books, magazines or scriptures. These are believed to be just as or more important than the Bible. These are often times indispensable in understanding the Bible.  Some groups strongly discourage their members from reading the Bible alone; telling them the group is the only one that can rightly interpret the Bible. Others use the Bible with their own unique interpretation unknown ever in church history or align themselves with what was considered heresy in the past. Meanings that are biblical are changed to their own personal interpretations, which support their teaching, rather interpreting through a historical, grammatical, cultural, or contextual approach which reveals the original intent of the author.

5. A different salvation - Many cults teach a "grace plus works" salvation. Many teach that man possesses at least some ability to earn eternal life by their own works or by grace perfected through their works. Salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary is denied. The cross is not sufficient. A system of good works, dictated by the group, helps the members earn eternal life.  Membership in their organization or church is usually a requirement for salvation in most of these cults.

6. A different Jesus - Virtually all cults deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  They teach that Jesus is not the true God manifest in human form but something less, such as a created being, an angel, a prophet, an ascended master or just "a god"(secondary).

 

7. A different Spirit - Most cults teach that the Holy Spirit is not God but an impersonal force or energy that emanates from God to perform certain functions, much like the energy flowing from a battery to start a car.  Some teach that it permeates everything and we can breathe it in rather than the Spirit being a person who is characterized as having a will, and who is able to be grieved and resisted.

 

8. The only true church - The one mark of a cult that is most common is their claim to be the only group or church ordained by God. They alone speak for God on earth today teaching that all others have lost the way and that they are a remnant of the “true church”. God directs only their organization, or church. If anyone comes to you claiming they represent the only true church of Christ or God, and deny anyone else outside himself or herself to be part, you can be sure that they are not from God.  No organization, no matter how structured, has a corner on the truth.

           

Common Activities of Cults

 

While the primary way you can identify a cult is through its teachings there is one other significant way to identify a cult, by evaluating what they require of their members (the sociological definition). This usually relates to the level of authority the leaders have over the lives of the followers.  While there are many examples of control, there are a few that are very common.  When leaders dictate how much time you spend with the group, how much money you give to the group, who you can or can not associate with, or the continual teaching that you should never question their teaching or authority, are all examples.    The following are a few questions that one could ask as they evaluate what is being required of them.  If any of these sound familiar, I encourage you to look deeper at the group, which you belong to.  After closer inspection of their teachings you may decide they are not a cult but might have undue influence over your life (commonly called cultic).

 

¨      Are you told not to question what is being taught because the leaders are honest and want the best for you so you must trust them?

¨      Are you not to ask reasons why anyone left, but rather you are to accept the answers the leaders give you such as: they fell into sin, they didn’t receive correction, they weren’t open or they had a bad heart and didn’t want to be disciples?

¨      If you want to leave are you being told there is no other church that practices truth and that if you leave you will go to hell?

¨      Are you made to feel your failures through excessive guilt and people continually telling you that your performance is not up to par for the Bible’s (actually the groups) standard?

¨      Are you being rebuked for things such as the way you say hello or how you respond to being asked to do something for a leader or disciple? Do they tell you it’s a matter of the heart how one complies?

¨      Are they putting down other churches and building themselves up. Do they sometimes use people as examples of what you are to be doing and others on what you are not to be doing?

¨      Do they bring attention to the good works that they are doing (evangelism, discipleship, commitment levels, etc.) ignoring others that may be doing the same outside their church?

¨      Do they put down others to make themselves look better?

¨      Do they call those who leave the church: "fall aways" and "enemies" or  "dogs returning to their own vomit", using as examples Korah or Judas?

¨      Do they stop you from reading anything negative about themselves calling it spiritual pornography or recommend you not to read it for your own spiritual protection?

¨      Do they demand that you focus all your time toward the people of the group, live with those in the group, spend all your time with the group, or expect you to be at all the group activities, at the expense of other relationships or priorities? And if you choose otherwise do they question your spirituality and willingness to be obedient to God?

¨      Do they defend all that they do even though it can be harmful or wrong?

¨      Do they operate by humility or are they arrogant and demand you to obey if you are considering otherwise. Or is it done subtly by manipulating you into obeying by statements such as “real Christians obey their leaders” or “if you were following Jesus you would see what I’m saying is right”?

¨      Do they require you to attend studies, going through their program before you are allowed to be a Christian?

¨      Do people continually tell you how talented you are saying you can really go places?

¨      Do you find an instant bonding of friendship without your knowing who they are or they really knowing you? Do they immediately act as your best friend or claim that they are your discipler without having any previous contact with them?

¨      When you ask questions about their history are they vague in their answers or avoid answering all together?

¨      Do they emphasize following the church and it's leaders more than following Christ, always setting themselves as the model rather than Christ? Do they teach that one can only be a Christian by joining them and following a process outlined by them?

¨      Do they make you choose between allegiance to the church and family, career, school, or friends?

 

While this is not an exhaustive list of questions, they will be helpful as you evaluate what a cult is or is not.  Again I want to mention that the primary way to identify a cult is through their teachings.  The questions are only given to show an authority structure that could be cultic rather than revealing a cult.  Ultimately doctrine is what seals the fate of those who are involved in a cult.  So when you evaluate you must take into consideration, both the theological and sociological definition of a cult

So what about the International Churches of Christ.  Should they be considered a cult?  Lets look at the evidence.

      


The History of the International Churches of Christ

 

In the early 1970s Kip McKean, the founding evangelist and pastor of the Boston movement, was a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. There he met Chuck Lucas, pastor of the Crossroads Church of Christ. Lucas was active in a campus outreach program for the Churches of Christ, developing "Campus Advance" principles. He recruited McKean and trained him in what was then and is now a radical version of discipleship developed primarily from Robert Coleman's book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. Lucas understood Coleman to teach that Jesus controlled the lives of His apostles and then taught His apostles to disciple others by controlling their lives. Therefore Christians today should use the same process Jesus taught His apostles when bringing people to Christ. Lucas put this teaching into practice in a discipleship process, which he taught to McKean and others.

In 1976 a number of Lucas's trainees, including McKean, were sent out to affiliate with Church of Christ congregations located near college campuses. The plan was that each would start a campus outreach using the local church for a base. McKean went to Heritage Chapel Church of Christ in Charleston, Illinois and initiated a campus outreach at Eastern Illinois University. Though he was successful, it wasn't long before some church members questioned his discipleship process and made charges regarding manipulation and control. In fact, several congregational splits occurred over the new discipling process being implemented on these campuses.

In 1979 McKean moved to the Boston suburb of Lexington where he became involved in the Lexington Church of Christ. Meeting on June 1st with thirty people -- each committing themselves to the Lord and His work -- McKean established an aggressive program of evangelism and discipleship. The result was phenomenal. The church went from 30 to 1,000 members in just a few years and outgrew its facilities. By 1983 the church had to rent the Boston Opera House for its meeting on Sunday and meet in homes ("house churches") for midweek services. Later that year the Lexington Church of Christ changed its name to the Boston Church of Christ.

In 1981 the Boston movement launched an aggressive missions program, sending out teams of people to establish churches throughout America and the world. These churches would be part of the Boston family of churches, under the authority and control of the Boston Church of Christ, and using the same discipling methods as the Boston church. As Jerusalem was the center from which Christianity spread throughout the world, so the Boston movement sees Boston as the modern-day center for "multiplying" worldwide ministry.  Churches were established in many major cities, including London (1981), Chicago (1982), New York City (1983), Toronto and Providence (1985), Johannesburg, Paris, and Stockholm (1986), and Mexico City, Hong Kong, Bombay, and Cairo (1987-88). Each church in the Boston movement places the name of their city in front of "Church of Christ" -- for example, "Los Angeles Church of Christ" -- because they believe churches in the Bible were called by the names of their cities. Today there are churches on every continent (300 at last count in all) with a total membership of 80,000.  While the church continually describes large numbers of baptisms and growing attendance (200,000 according to their estimates) each year the growth rate is actually very small because an equal number of people leave the organization for various reasons (some estimate for every individual converted, two leave). 

Everything seemed to be going well for the Boston movement in regards to it’s worldwide vision of church planting and having a representative church in every major city in the United States by the year 2000. But in 1988 disagreement from within the movement surfaced, including breaks within the ranks. And all of a sudden, charges similar to those heard from outside the movement were now coming from within.

For example, the Crossroads Church of Christ (the Crossroads movement) voted to dissociate itself from the Boston movement. The Boston movement had been at the forefront of the larger Crossroads movement for years. When Lucas left the Crossroads church (and movement) in 1985, McKean assumed leadership of the movement and Boston became its center. Under his leadership, differences in emphasis between the Boston and other Crossroads churches became evident, leading to disagreement and finally dissociation. The differences cited included the following: 1) the usurping of congregational authority; 2) the exercise of excessive control; 3) the undue authority given to leaders; and 4) the teaching that one must obey one's discipler in all matters, even in areas of opinion.

Elders of the Tampa Bay Church of Christ also made a decision to break with the Boston movement over four major doctrinal practices: "1) their unscriptural authority and control; 2) their unscriptural leadership and organization; 3) their unscriptural exclusivity and elitism; and 4) their unscriptural self-approval by their successes." Of particular concern to them was a statement made on May 14, 1988 by McKean that a congregation must obey its evangelist: "The only time you don't obey him is if he violates scripture or violates your conscience. But, other than that, in all opinion areas, you...obey!"

McKean's ministry was accepted by the congregation of the Lexington Church of Christ and he was able to put into practice his improved version of "Crossroadism".  McKean gathered from the Lexington Church of Christ those who would practice his interpretation of Scripture and began another sect. McKean says, "The Lord allowed me to begin the restoration of the New Testament Church from a small group of 30 would-be disciples in the Gampel's living room in June, 1979 in Boston." In 6 months, there were 68 baptisms, many of which were the original group that were re-baptized into a new commitment. In the first year - 170 baptisms; second year - 250 baptisms; third year - 365 baptisms; forth year - 402 baptisms; fifth year - 594 baptisms; sixth year - 703 baptisms; and the seventh year - 818 baptisms. This began what has come to be known as "the shot heard 'round the world" from Boston, according to McKean.

In 1980, McKean introduced Reconstructionism and gave a call of repentance to the mainline Churches of Christ. He advised them to commit to his discipleship program and be re-baptized. In response to this, the Churches of Christ labeled McKean as an apostate (false teacher). It is then that McKean pronounced the Boston Movement to be the family of God, God's true church, and God's only modern-day movement. In 1993, the name International Churches of Christ arose even though individual churches are still called by the name of the city that they are in.[iv]

 


How do people get involved in the International Churches of Christ?

 

Where does one begin when assessing a dynamic new church movement such as the International Church of Christ and it’s affiliates? Perhaps the place should be where one encounters -- or is encountered by -- this movement. From that point we may observe the process by which one becomes involved, is discipled, and eventually is baptized. It is here, that some of the controversial aspects of this movement can be noticed, both in doctrine and practice.

We shall therefore consider the initial encounter and ensuing relationship between Mary, an attractive lady in her mid twenties and a member of the Los Angeles Church of Christ movement, and Lisa, a young lady in her mid twenties who is an evangelical Christian.

 

A Story to Illustrate

 

Lisa is at school, sitting alone one day, eating her lunch and doing some reading for a class. Mary comes along, introduces herself, and asks if she can join her. During the conversation they discover that they have a number of things in common.  They are both of Scandinavian descent and they grew up in the same part of the country.  They also both plan to attend the same college after graduating from the present one; and both claim to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

With a budding friendship initiated, Mary invites Lisa to a "Bible Talk" on Thursday night, one that she is attending. Lisa asks, "Who's teaching it? Who's involved?" Mary laughs and says, "It's just a group of believers meeting together to study the Bible. It's nondenominational." Lisa attends with Mary and there meets many wonderful people. These people are not only friendly but appear to be genuinely loving and caring. Lisa listens carefully to the lesson and finds nothing contrary to her knowledge of the Bible.

In the days following the Bible Talk, the people Lisa met there call her to talk with her and see how she's doing. She really appreciates their interest and concern. As she gets to know them she observes that these are people who really try to live out their faith -- not only on Sunday mornings, but also throughout the week. Encouraged by these people and especially by Mary, she begins to attend their church service and to participate in other activities.

Mary and Lisa (at Mary's suggestion) begin to meet together for a weekly Bible study. Since Lisa already believes the Bible, Mary skips the usual first lesson, The Word Study, and instead focuses on the subject of discipleship. Mary obviously knows more about this subject (having notes and other materials), and so she leads and teaches Lisa. Mary continually challenges Lisa to look back over her past religious experiences and decide whether she thought those who taught her or attended the church she went to were true disciples according to the Bible’s view of what discipleship is (Actually the ICC’s new definition).  And then Mary helps Lisa realize that she was not a true disciple either. (At this point Mary becomes Lisa's spiritual mentor, her discipler.) In addition to studying the Bible, they pray together and confess sins (most of these being Lisa's). Mary calls Lisa every day, showing great interest in Lisa's life. She is always available to give help and always ready to provide some guidance and advice.

Though Lisa is attending this church and enjoying it’s life and fellowship; she has this feeling that she is not really a part of it. Perhaps this resulted from her observation that other women in the group are called "sisters," and she is not. Then one day she hears a Bible Talk on baptism in which the teacher says, "Unless one is baptized as a disciple, one is not saved." He goes on to say that true baptism is a "conscious baptism in which one believes in that baptism for the forgiveness of sins." The wheels in her mind begin to turn. She had been baptized shortly after she put her trust in Jesus Christ, but that was not a "conscious baptism" (as the Bible teacher had described it). Furthermore, she was not a disciple at the time of her baptism, at least as this church defines a disciple. Was her baptism valid? She begins to think that it wasn't. Then the thought crosses her mind: If it wasn't valid, was she really saved?

Lisa immediately calls Mary. Mary comes over as soon as she can and takes her through certain passages in the Bible regarding baptism, verse by verse. Lisa concludes, from all that was shown to her, that her baptism was not a true baptism and she was not saved. She really loves Jesus and wants to serve Him. She wants to be saved, and tells Mary so. That Sunday afternoon she is baptized again and "becomes a Christian." As she comes out of the water, she is ecstatic. Tears of joy stream down Mary's face. All Lisa's new friends from the Bible Talk and the church are there, and so happy for her.

Feeling like a new person after her baptism, Lisa reflects a bit afterwards and starts to realize that if she was not saved prior to her baptism, neither are the people in her former church, nor are her family and friends. They are all lost and on their way to hell. This bothers her and she tells Mary. Encouraged by Mary and other new friends to evangelize these people from her past, Lisa begins to introduce them to her new friends and invite them to the Bible Talk, a church service, or some other special event. When her former pastor, her parents, and former friends try to speak to her about her new beliefs and church, Lisa is advised by Mary not to talk with them. "Instead," Mary says, "give them the telephone number of [her new pastor] and have them call him." (At this point a clear separation is occurring between the old and the new, and Lisa's life will become increasingly wrapped up in her new church.)

One day Lisa, with finals looming decides that she needs to study with other students from her class.  She finds, however, that the night everyone in her class has set aside to study is the same night as the Bible Talk. Needing to study hard to pass her class, she gets very excited about the opportunity she will have to study for this class.  Thrilled by what she thinks is the Lord's provision, she calls Mary to tell her the good news. Unfortunately, all one can hear on Lisa's end is, "Yes. I see that I'm being selfish. I'm putting myself before God. I'm sorry." Thus, Lisa turns down this opportunity to study and attends the Bible Talk.

Sometime later, a young man in Lisa's church (whom she likes very much) calls and asks her out to dinner. With her heart beating rapidly Lisa says “yes”, and then calls Mary to tell her. After the call, Mary calls someone else (Mary's discipler or the pastor) and then calls Lisa back. Mary explains to Lisa that this young man is "not as committed to Christ as he should be." Until he changes, it would not be wise for her to begin a relationship with him. Lisa responds "I see," and then calls the young man to back out of the date.

Soon Lisa finds that her life revolves around that of the discipler.  Without Mary’s permission and complete devotion to the teachings of the church, she would be seen as one who is not worthy and not a true disciple. And the story continues from here….

 

The above scenario is a composite drawn from cases known to the author and is typical of those who have been introduced to and become involved in the International Churches of Christ. While the individuals and their situations are different, the process employed and content taught are basically the same.

From this scenario, at least two disturbing aspects of the movement are noticeable. The first is a doctrine of salvation in which faith in Jesus Christ is not sufficient: a valid baptism in obedience to Jesus is necessary. The second is a practice of discipling in which the personal life of every believer is controlled by a discipler who is over that person. There is a discipler over every discipler, a hierarchy of disciplers working its way up to the top. Through this, the church maintains control of each person.

The movement owes its understanding of the relationship between salvation and baptism to its roots in the Churches of Christ and, as we shall see later, to misinterpretation of certain Bible passages. Its discipling process, however, is a major point of departure from the Churches of Christ, and is considered by the latter group to be a serious problem. Before looking at their doctrine of salvation and some passages alleged to support it, it is important to give some consideration first to the discipling process which comes in the form of a series of bible studies generally called Bible Talks.

 

Discipleship in the International Church of Christ

 

"You take authority out of discipling relationships, and you have nothing. You have a palzy-walzy, non Christian relationship, it's what you have."[v]  In the I.C.C. there is a strong emphasis on authority from their leadership. Those who have left the movement have been very vocal about what it is like inside the church. Members are expected to obey leadership in such ways as, whom they date, where to live, what courses to take in school. And of course it is all done under the sphere of church leadership and discipleship.  Control is exercised to a very personal level in people’s lives. Some were even asked to quit their jobs or change future career plans to do ministry work to show allegiance to God, claiming that this is only advice, not law, by those who are in the position of authority.  However numerous ICC documents have the infamous quote from Kip Mckean  "I have taught and written that unless your leader calls you to violate Scripture or your conscience, obey him in all areas of opinion.”

When confronted with how this movement operates, you will mostly hear the members state, "We are not like that." Conduct may vary from state to state, sector to sector, and leader to leader. Most often the disciples are so ingrained with their movement's teachings and practices, that they don't recognize how they're really being treated

Yet the stories are still being written about the abuses from those who were able to leave on their own volition, or because something occurred which opened their eyes. The subtle manipulation that occurs can certainly be hard to spot when you're on the treadmill of discipling. Until one steps off and has time to slow down, looking at things from non- participant view, it's usually unnoticeable. If there are no big mistakes made by a discipler, they might not ever know the authoritarian side of this movement.

            What follows is a quick survey of a bible study series that every ICC member must go through. Usually it is lead in small groups from 6 to 15 people and constantly affirmed in one on one discipleship meetings with a discipler (usually a more experienced member – sometimes only by months) which is assigned to the student.  The purpose of both the study and discipleship is to lead the student to fully accept the teachings of the ICC and then to turn and find more recruits. 

 

The ICC Bible Studies: A Critical Analysis

 

The Bible study series of the International Churches of Christ (ICC) was examined.[vi]  Each study in the series seeks agreement to a set of concepts or challenges. The individual studies were found to make use of scripture twisting, illogical arguments, and emotional manipulation to gain agreement. As the series progresses, studies were found to seek increasingly significant commitments from the student. The series as a whole was seen to make use of graduated, incremental disclosure. It was concluded that, in spite of any good intentions among ICC study leaders, the study series manipulates the student's capacity for voluntary consent. The series systematically narrows the student's options until their only acceptable choice is to become a member of the group.

Each prospective member of the ICC goes through an intense period of pre-baptismal study. The following analysis will examine the ICC Bible studies, not just as a statement of doctrine, but as a system of indoctrination, which manipulates the commitment of individuals to serve the interests of the group. The focus is to show how the presentation of ICC doctrine is manipulated to achieve the student's adherence to it.

At many junctures in the analysis, doctrinal issues will be expanded upon.  Concerns about ICC teachings are explored along three main avenues: internal inconsistencies within the ICC belief system, illogical development of ICC doctrinal ideas, and contradictions between ICC doctrine and the Biblical model the group claims to be following. The analysis will not attempt to present the entire content of the series, but rather to focus on areas of concern.

Multiple ICC sources are used for the studies; since at various junctures different published materials may be more representative, or more revealing of inner teachings. The “Scriptures Used” appearing at the beginning of each study have also been assembled compositely. The sequence of studies varies somewhat between the different published sources, and in individual practice. Depending on the progress of the student, some of the studies may be skipped or repeated. The sequence presented here is an approximation of how a typical series might proceed. Exact content of an ICC study will vary from member to member. Additionally, the names of some of the studies may differ between local ICC groups, although there is generally an overlap in content.

Throughout the analysis, the ICC member leading each Bible Study will be referred to as the "study leader". The prospective member will be referred to as the "student" or "recruit." All Bible quotations are from the New International Version, or NIV (Life Application Bible, 1991), unless otherwise noted.

 

The Word of God Study

Scriptures Used: II Timothy 3: 16-17, Hebrews 4: 12-13, II Peter 1: 19-21, John 8: 31-32, Mark 7: 1-13, Matthew 15: 12-14, Acts 17: 10-12, John 12: 47-48.

Intended as an initial study, the Word Study's subject matter is relatively non-controversial. The major points of the study center on the authority of the Bible ("God's Word"). However, much of the study paves the way for the student to accept the specific belief system of the ICC.

Many Bible passages will be used during the study series, and the study leader begins with a passage to establish the entire Bible as the source of truth. The "Word Study" begins with II Timothy 3: 16-17 (McKean, 1993): "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." The literal meaning of the passage is that Scripture is inspired by God, and that all Scripture is meant to be applied to people's lives.

Although the passage says, "all Scripture is God-breathed", it is important to note what the passage doesn't say. The passage doesn't say that all interpretations of Scripture are inspired. Similarly, while the passage says that "all Scripture is . . .useful", it does not follow logically that all uses of Scripture are correct. If one believes the entire Bible to be inspired, one must also be aware that Scripture can be read into, misapplied, or quoted out of context. This is important to keep in mind when examining each of the ICC Bible Studies.

In addition to establishing the authority of the Bible, the Word Study also serves to subtly encourage the student's absorption of ICC teachings. For example, one of the conclusions taken from II Peter 1:19-21 ("... no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.") is that “There is no private interpretation (you can not make a different interpretation from the group) of the Bible.’ First of all, this conclusion does not follow logically from the passage; the passage speaks about the origins of Scripture -- the way Scripture was written, not the way it is to be read. Even the staunchest biblical literalist engages in some level of interpretation when reading the Bible. Consider Ecclesiastes 10: 19: "A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything." Most readers will interpret this verse as facetious so as to make it consistent with the Bible's other statements about money.   Secondly, if the student cannot have a "private interpretation" of Scripture, then evidently they will have to accept the literal meaning of each passage as it is presented. The student's belief system can be thereby manipulated by controlling the choice and sequence of Scriptures presented. In lieu of a personal interpretation, the student will be more likely to accept the group's interpretation.

While the study series introduces the ICC belief system, it will simultaneously call the student's pre-existing beliefs into question. The process of dismantling the student’s prior belief system begins with the Word Study. Mark 7:1-13 may be presented (First Principles, n.d.): "...You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down." This Scripture introduces the possibility that the student's religious traditions could be invalid in the eyes of God. The student is discouraged from making their religious traditions their "standard" in life, and encouraged to make "the Word" their standard instead (as the group interprets it).

Following is a list of some conclusions and challenges presented in The Word Study, and possible effects each can have for the student:

 

Conclusion: All Scripture is useful, and is to be applied to our lives. Prepares the student to accept the use of the many Bible passages in the study series.

Conclusion: There is no private interpretation of the Bible. Encourages the student to take the passages presented at their literal meaning. Minimizes the importance of context in understanding the Bible, thereby de-emphasizing critical thinking about the passages as they are applied in the series.

Challenge: "Will you go by the Word of God instead of by your religious traditions?" Encourages the student to question their religious traditions. The student's religious traditions will eventually be replaced by the beliefs/traditions of the group.

Challenge: "Will you go by what the Bible says rather than your feelings?"  Encourages the student to trust the teachings of the study series more than their own feelings about the Bible, the group, or the ongoing recruitment process.

 

Although the student may feel they are being asked to merely "follow the Bible", in reality they are being asked to adopt the entire ICC belief system, one step at a time. The ICC study series does not use the whole Bible, but rather a selective condensation of it: passages chosen represent less than 2% of the Bible's total verses, presented in a pre-determined order. As the study comes to a close, the recruit is challenged to make "the Word" their "standard" (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991). In this way, the Word Study indirectly gains a commitment from the student to accept the group's version of truth. Considering that the study series consists of Scriptures chosen and interpreted by the ICC, it appears that the "standard" being offered is that of the group.

 

The Discipleship Study

Scriptures Used: Acts 11: 19-26, Mark 1: 14-18, Luke 9: 23-26, Luke 9: 57-62, Luke 14: 25-35, Luke 11: 1-4, Matthew 28: 18-20.

The Discipleship Study may be perceived by the student as a well-meaning attempt to encourage them toward a deeper commitment to Christ. However, the study will also attempt to establish that the student has never been a disciple, is not a Christian, and is not "saved." In First Principles, one of the listed purposes of the Discipleship Study is "To help the religious person see that he is not a Christian. (In other words, he may be a Christian as society defines the word, but not as the Bible does.)" Any person outside the group, even "the religious person," is assumed to be in need of salvation. Once it has been determined that the student is not a "disciple", following studies will demonstrate the need for baptism into the ICC.

The study leader may begin by explaining that the word "disciple" appears over 270 times in the New Testament, as compared to only three appearances of the word "Christian" (McKean, 1993, p. 6). Then the student is presented with the following equation: "Disciple = Christian = saved" (Jacoby, 1990, p. 142). This equation is derived from Acts 11: 26, "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." The reasoning is, the earliest believers were called "disciples" before they were ever called "Christians", therefore it is impossible to be a Christian without being a disciple, and one must be a disciple in order to be saved. Taken within the context of the entire 11th chapter of Acts, however, the passage seems to be addressing location rather than salvation. The verse is parenthetically stating that it was at Antioch where the disciples were first given the nickname "Christians." Acts 11:26 may imply that "disciple" and "Christian" are both viable terms which mean the same thing. But Christians are referred to with several different names in the New Testament, including "disciples," "believers," "Christians", "brothers," "sisters," etc. In fact, the word "disciple" (and all its forms) is conspicuously absent from all of the epistles (letters) of the New Testament. The fact that the word "disciple" is not used in 22 of the 27 New Testament books would seem to indicate that adopting the name "disciple" is not integral to Christianity.

One could ask: If discipleship and Christianity are truly synonymous, then what purpose does it serve to shift the student's focus from one term (Christian) to the other (disciple)? By redefining Christian = disciple, this study is effective in getting recruits to redefine their spiritual status. Most students coming into the study will already have an idea of what a Christian is, and whether or not they are one. But by getting students to focus on the concept of discipleship, study leaders are able to define what a disciple is according to the group's interpretation, and ultimately ask the question, "Are you a disciple?" At the end of the study, students may surprise themselves by concluding that they're not Christians, after all.

The Discipleship Study outlines the ICC's view of what a disciple is. To the ICC, the Great Commission (Mt. 28: 18-20) includes a command that all disciples need to be "discipled." (McKean, 1993, p. 7). Being "discipled" means having a "discipler" (also "discipleship partner" or "discipling partner"), a person that each ICC member goes to for spiritual guidance, confession of sins, and approval of any major decisions. The ICC also uses Matthew 28:18-20 to instruct every convert to make other converts for the group. The student will be taught that the Great Commission commanded every disciple to make disciples of all nations.  As a result of this interpretation, the ICC has issued The Evangelization Proclamation (Baird, et al., 1994), stating the movement's intention to establish a church in every major nation by the year 2000, in an apparent attempt to fulfill the Great Commission. A comparison between the NIV and King James translations is useful at this point (Matthew 28:19): KJV "Go ye therefore, and teach all the nations..." (The Holy Bible, 1977). NIV "Go and make disciples of all nations..." (Life Application Bible, 1991).  When taken collectively, these translations and the original Greek indicate the command was to make the nations (people of the world) disciples (learners). Instead, the ICC has interpreted this passage to mean: "Go and make disciples in all nations." The difference between these two interpretations is striking: one reads like the Great Commission, the other like the "Great Quota"! The latter interpretation is useful in focusing members' attention on the ICC's particular plan of world evangelism and organizational growth.

In the late 1980s the movement's leadership extracted a new teaching from the Great Commission: only disciples are candidates for baptism. (McKean, 1987). This teaching is extracted from the word order of Matthew 28: 19 "... make disciples of all nations, baptizing them..." But just because the verb "make" appears before the verb "baptizing", does not necessarily indicate that first you make disciples, and then you baptize them. Word order does not mandate an order of procedure. Rather, the grammar in both English and Greek indicate that baptizing is part of making a disciple. The ICC has built a core doctrine on a false grammatical misunderstanding!

ICC leaders continue to teach, "You cannot be baptized until you become a disciple." (Young, 1992). Sometimes it is phrased that the policy is, "...baptizing only people who have made the decision to be disciples." (McKean, 1992). Bauer (1994) notes that "there are clear and repeating contradictions and inconsistencies on 'the decision to be a disciple' vs. 'being baptized as a disciple'". Both things seem to be taught simultaneously, even though the two teachings would appear to be incompatible. As one observer notes, "If I made the decision to become a doctor, I still am not a doctor." (Ruhland, 1996).

The doctrine of "disciples baptism" produces striking contradictions when compared with other ICC teachings. Consider a quote from the Discipleship Study in First Principles: "Who is a candidate for baptism? Disciples." (McKean, 1993, p. 7). Now, making substitutions from the equation disciple = Christian = saved, it would follow logically to conclude: "Who is a candidate for baptism? Christians", or, "Who is a candidate for baptism? (People who are already) saved."  But these statements conflict with ICC doctrine. According to the same publication, "Baptism is when we become a Christian" (Ibid., p. 26), and "this (baptism) is the point in time a person is saved." (Ibid., p. 13). To expose the same inconsistency from another angle, consider the following ICC teachings:

 

Statement 1. "Baptism is when we become a Christian." (Ibid., p. 26).

Statement 2. "Christian = disciple." (Ibid., p. 6)

Statement 3. "You cannot be baptized until you become a disciple." (Young, 1992).

 

Now note the consequence of putting these three statements together. Once again, making substitutions from the equation disciple = Christian = saved we can derive the following statement: "You cannot be baptized until you become a Christian." This contradicts Statement 1. One could even make further substitutions to produce the following, nonsensical statements: "You cannot be baptized until you get baptized", and "You cannot become a Christian until you become a Christian." These contradictions clearly show that the doctrine of "disciple's baptism" is not internally consistent.

As the Discipleship Study comes to a close, the student will be asked if they are a disciple, if they are a Christian, and if they are saved. Since the student has been presented with an idiosyncratic interpretation of discipleship to which no one outside the ICC subscribes, the only acceptable response to these questions is "no". If the study is successful, no matter who the student is and regardless of their religious background, it will "prove" that the student is in need of salvation as defined by the group.

 

The Kingdom Study

Scriptures Used: Daniel 2:31-45, Isaiah 2:2-3, Matthew 3:1-5, Matthew 4:17, John 3:1-5, Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 23: 50-51, Luke 24: 44-49, Acts 1:1-19, Acts 2:1-5, Acts 2:36-39, Acts 2: 42-47, I Corinthians 3:11, Matthew 6: 25-33.

The purpose of the Kingdom Study is to show that the Scriptural "Kingdom of Heaven" or "Kingdom of God" is synonymous with "the church". Whether stated explicitly by the study leader or not, the "inner doctrine" is that the ICC is the Kingdom of God (McKean, 1989). The student will be challenged to "seek the kingdom" (ICC) first in their lives.  The study begins by linking together biblical prophecies about the "kingdom", culminating in the conclusion that "the church is the Kingdom of God on earth established in approximately 33 AD." (McKean, 1993, p. 11).

The view that the church is synonymous with the Kingdom of God produces some theological inconsistencies. Although the New Testament authors occasionally refer to the kingdom in the present tense (Col 1:13, I Cor 4:20), many other passages talk about the kingdom as something to be inherited, presumably after this life (I Cor 6:9, 15:50, Gal 5:21, James 2:5). Acts 14:22 even depicts Paul and Barnabus instructing "disciples" that they must "go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." If the Kingdom of God had already started on the Day of Pentecost, and if the "disciples" in Acts were part of the Kingdom, as this study teaches, then Acts 14:22 makes no sense. It would have been incongruous to imply that members of the kingdom had not yet entered the kingdom.

Like many of the studies, the Kingdom Study walks a fine line between "outer doctrine" and "inner doctrine." The study leader may not openly disclose "the truth" that the ICC is the Kingdom. Instead, similarities may be pointed out between the ICC and the New Testament church portrayed in Acts 2:42-47, indicating that ICC members are "citizens of the Kingdom." (Ibid.). "The truth" about the ICC being the Kingdom may be disclosed incrementally -- e.g., later the Denominationalism and False Doctrines Study will claim that no other church today is part of the kingdom, or the Church Study will "prove" that there can only be one church. If successful, the Kingdom Study will convince the student to put the group (Kingdom) above all other priorities in life. The unstated equation church = kingdom is applied to Matthew 6: 25-33 ("seek first his kingdom"):

Seek the kingdom first of all the things in your life, all your obligations, and all your worries. The kingdom of God -- his church -- should come first. It will be your priority or you are disobeying God. (Study notes of ICC member, November 1994).

But notice how a deceitful "equation" has been manipulated to produce devotion to the group. Let's try a few other "substitutions" that I will make -- replacing the word "kingdom" with "the church" -- to illustrate how this technique can distort the meaning of Bible passages (substitution underlined):

 

¨      I Corinthians 15:50 "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the church..."

¨      Matthew 8:11 "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the ICC."

¨      Matthew 11:11 "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in L.A. Church of Christ is greater than he."

 

Certainly the Kingdom of God is not equal to the church or to the International Church of Christ.  But when a member of the ICC becomes convinced that the group is equal to the kingdom and that they will receive blessings in heaven for giving everything to the church, they have been deceived and their will has been manipulated.  

 

The Sin and Repentance Study

Scriptures Used: Isaiah 59: 1&2, Romans 3:23, James 5:16, Galatians 5:19-21, II Timothy 3:1-5, Ephesians 5: 3-7, Revelation 21:8, James 4:17, Romans 6:23, Mark 9:42-50, Luke 13: 1-5, Acts 26: 20, II Corinthians 7: 8-11

The Sin and Repentance Study takes on several different names/forms: including separate Sin/Repentance studies (Jacoby, 1990), Light and Darkness Part I (McKean, 1993) or Sin & Redemption. The commonalties of these versions are that sin is discussed and defined, and the student is expected to confess in detail the relevant sins from their background:

Go through the specific sins. Define terms where necessary. Discuss in detail such sins as sexual immorality (adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, fantasies, incest, lust, pornography), abortion, child-abuse, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, etc. (Jacoby, 1990, p. 146).

Obviously, this can be a traumatic process for the student, and the study is supposed to bring them to a point of "godly sorrow" (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991). Generally, the scripture used by the ICC to justify it's practice of confession is James 5:16 (Ibid.): "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Considering the preceding verses, however, this passage appears to have been taken out of context. Verses 14 and 15 would seem to indicate that physical healing was the issue: "Is anyone sick ... the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well." In this context, James 5:16 may only be suggesting confession for the sake of physical healing. And even if one does see the physical sickness as a result of sin, James 5:16 alone would not seem to command a confession to others of all sins.  Especially considering that there is no other verse in the New Testament that specifically mentions confession of sins to others, except Christ himself!

It's also interesting to note that, after this initial study, mutual confession is generally not emphasized. Confession moves through the discipling hierarchy from the bottom up, with members generally confessing their sin to the "disciplers" above them. Why is "each other" confession, with this same literal interpretation of James 5:16, not emphasized among ICC members? One theory: mutual confession would reveal too many weaknesses in the authority figure, tilting the balance of power away from the discipler. Hierarchical confession increases dependence on group authority, and helps to keep the discipler in a position of power.

The authority of church leadership is also reinforced by some of the definitions given to sin in the Sin and Repentance study. Notice some of the behaviors listed as sins:

Idolatry: anything that I put before God...It is whatever keeps me from obeying and following God in every way.  A big bank balance...my own pleasure and wants...pride...

Discord: stirring up trouble...arguing with your discipler...

Selfish ambition: wanting my own way...refusing to admit that I am wrong and submitting to my discipler...

Dissentions: ...arguing, causing division, starting arguments, and stirring up trouble within my church. (First Principles, n.d.).

By redefining biblical sins in terms that favor the group, the ICC will be more able to control the behavior of their converts. Before progressing to the next study, the student will need to demonstrate their repentance:

We have already warned against the premature study of baptism. Again it is essential that you study conversion only with people who are serious about their repentance. (Jacoby, 1990, p. 158).

If you establish their need for forgiveness before the baptism study, you will turn baptism into a joyfully simple solution rather than a doctrinal technicality of 'your church.' (Ibid., p. 123)

 

If successful, this study will produce a student who attains a group-determined standard of "godly sorrow" about their life. The system of confession introduced in this study will become an effective tool in maintaining control over members who might one day want to leave or fall short of the disciplers goal for their life.

 

The Light and Darkness Study

Scriptures Used: I Peter 2:9-10, Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 1:7-8, Romans 8:5-9, Acts 2:36-41, Romans 6:3-7, Colossians 2:11-12, Ezekiel 18: 19-20, I Peter 3:21

The Light and Darkness study, similar to the Baptism Study (Jacoby, 1990), clearly outlines the ICC's views on baptism and salvation. Light & Darkness ambitiously defines baptism as the moment of salvation. (McKean, 1993). The student will be asked if they are in the "light", or in the "darkness". If this study is successful, it will show that the student is "in darkness" until they are baptized into the group.

The study leader will introduce Scriptures to support the ICC belief that baptism is the precise moment of salvation (e.g. Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, Colossians 2:11-12, I Peter 3:21). The intent here is not to disprove this particular doctrine – this subject will be addressed at length later in this critique.  But since the ICC's doctrines about baptism are central to their claims of exclusivity, it is useful to examine some areas where ICC baptismal teachings are inconsistent with Biblical precedents:

 

1.      The ICC evangelism handbook, Shining Like Stars (Jacoby, 1990), gives many reasons to avoid the "premature study" of baptism.  These include avoiding turning off recruits, increasing longevity of converts, that "New Testament teaching on baptism is not logically intuitive" (p. 155), and that "if the person does not become a Christian, he/she goes away with potentially harmful information about your church and its beliefs." (p. 190). In the ICC, the "premature study" of baptism is something to be avoided. By comparison, in Acts chapter 2, three thousand people were baptized after a single sermon! Most New Testament conversion stories take place in a single day (Acts 2, Acts 8: 26-38, Acts 10: 24-48, Acts 16: 25-34).

2.      Baptism can be withheld from someone who's not ready. (Ibid.). The intention is to produce a lasting conversion. But in practice, baptism is withheld until individuals have fully agreed to important points of ICC doctrine/practice. There is no Biblical precedent for church authority being used to withhold baptism. In fact, the apostle Peter on one occasion says, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?" (Acts 10:47). One could argue that if an apostle cannot claim this authority, who can?

3.      Rebaptism is common in the ICC. The only New Testament example of rebaptism is Acts 19:1-5, where "disciples" are rebaptized because they had been unfamiliar with the significance, and perhaps even the existence, of Christ. By contrast, Apollos knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-26), but no re-conversion or rebaptism is mentioned in his case.

 

In a few moments we will come back to the topic of salvation and it’s connection to

baptism. For now just understand that the ICC’s doctrine of baptism equaling salvation has no solid ground on which to stand.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cross Study

Scriptures Used: Matthew 26: 31-75, 27: 1-50, Isaiah 59: 1-2, II Corinthians 5: 21, John 3: 16, 12: 47, I John 1: 5-10, I John 2: 1-6

The stated aim of The Cross Study is as follows: "To inform the student of God's solutions to our sin and to motivate the reader to love God." (First Principles, n.d.). While this goal sounds noble enough, an examination of the Cross Study shows that there are problems in the emphasis and methodology of this study.

The unstated goal of this study seems to create a state of strong emotional remorse in the student, setting the stage for their conversion. The goal is to create a recruit who is "broken" or "cut to the heart." One edition of First Principles indicates the Cross Study is proceeding as desired only if the student feels this way: "If cut, then fine, if not there is something wrong." (Ibid.). Apparently, if the student is not emotionally affected by the Cross Study, the study is not producing its intended results.

Study leaders typically supplement biblical passion readings (passages speaking of the crucifixion) with medical articles on the crucifixion, usually C. Truman Davis' The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View (McKean, 1993). Although medical perspectives on crucifixion may lend insight into the sufferings of Christ, the juxtaposition of Bible verses and medical journal excerpts in this study intensifies the story of the crucifixion, almost to the point of revisionism.

The Cross Study in Shining Like Stars even includes details about the nails: "...nails were driven through Jesus' wrists into the wood. These iron spikes, about 6 inches long and 3/8 inch thick, severed the large sensorimotor nerve, causing excruciating pain in both arms..." (Jacoby, 1990, p. 152). Study notes of an ICC member (n.d.) can show this emphasis on dramatizing the sufferings of Christ: The Scripture "They stripped him" becomes "they tore his clothes off." "They spit on him" becomes "the saliva of 200 men." "Wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head" becomes "jammed into his scalp."

In focusing on the emotional aspects of the crucifixion story, the study leader may add fictional sad stories: One story circulating in the movement is about a train bridge, where a man is a switch operator. His son walks out onto the tracks in front of a passenger train. Instead of switching the train off the tracks and killing the passengers, the father allows the train to kill his only son.  Such stories are more than insightful; they can be used to willfully manipulate the student's emotions.   If the Cross Study follows the Sin and Repentance study, it may also become personalized to include the student's own sins: "Realize that Jesus suffered and died because of your (immorality, drunkenness, hatred, bitterness)." (First Principles, n.d.) In addition to encouraging the student to "love God", it's also apparent that the study can foster a works-mentality wherein the recruit will be motivated to repay Jesus by serving the interests of the group.  The study leaders do this by continually reminding the students through statements and questions resembling the following:

God's forgiveness motivated (Paul) to work super hard for the Lord! Now what are you going to do?

Do you have a clear picture now of the pain your sin caused Christ?  How will you respond to His call to be a disciple?

What is your response? (Hard work?)

What do you think you need to start doing? (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991).

Another theological concern about the Cross Study is that it emphasizes the crucifixion at the expense of the resurrection. The emphasis is on the physical torture of Christ. To many Christians, the story of "the cross" includes the crucifixion and the resurrection.  If successful, the Cross Study will produce a recruit who is "cut to the heart" (Ibid.), an apparent reference to Acts 2: 37: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter's answer to this question in Acts 2 was “accept the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins.”  By contrast, an ICC recruit who is "cut to the heart" by the Cross Study is not ready to be forgiven, and not ready to be a member (disciple) of the church until more studies are digested.

 

The Denominationalism and False Doctrines Study

Scriptures Used: John 17:20 & 21, 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13, 1 Timothy 3: 1-12, 4:1-3,4: 15 & 16, II Timothy 4: 1-5, Romans 16: 16, Colossians 1: 18, Matthew 7:21, Ephesians 4:4-6, Hebrews 13: 7, Romans 3:23, Romans 6: 4-6, 1 Corinthians 1: 17, Acts 22: 16, Colossians 2:12, John 8: 31 & 32, Acts 16: 31, Revelation 3: 20, Romans 10: 9-10

This study also exists in several different forms, including Light and Darkness Part II (McKean, 1993), Denominationalism (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991), and False Doctrines About Conversion. (Jacoby, 1990). The main thrust of this study is to show that all (other) Christian denominations are invalid, and guilty of teaching false doctrines. The study is intended to be "only done with someone who knows they are lost before God." (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991).

The ICC defines a denomination as "a group of a name" (meaning that the denomination is more focused on being Baptist, Methodist, etc. than being a disciple), and says that denominations are "unscriptural." (McKean, 1993, p. 27). Ironically, one can make a very strong case that the ICC itself is a denomination: Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1981) defines "denomination" as "a religious organization uniting in a single legal and administrative body a number of local congregations." The ICC qualifies in all aspects.

By surveying the Scriptures chosen for this study, we can see how the Denominationalism and False Doctrines study is focused on revealing the ICC as the only legitimate Christian group.  According to this study, the religious groups guilty of "false teachings" include: Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, converts of TV ministries, Campus Crusade, Navigators, The Bridge, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991). After summarizing a list of perceived false doctrines in the world today, the study leader may conclude, "We don't know of any other groups who are teaching and following the Bible." (Ibid.). ICC leader Kip McKean is also very clear about the spiritual status of the world outside the ICC:

When you preach who is really saved: that you gotta have faith, you gotta repent, you gotta become a true disciple of Jesus, and then you gotta be water immersed ... that excludes all other denominations, ... everybody else that's out there. (McKean, 1995).

By systematically reviewing and discrediting the teachings of other religious groups, this study is effective in encouraging the student to regard the group as the sole source of truth. This minimizes any potential future impact from spiritual support systems outside the ICC (clergy, religious family member or friends, etc.). Once the student's pre-existing belief system has been refuted and dismantled, it can be replaced by that of the group.

 

The Holy Spirit Study

Scriptures Used: John 3: 34-36, Acts 2:38, Acts 2: 1-4, Acts 10: 1-48, Acts 11: 1-18, Ephesians 4: 4-6, Acts 19: 1-5, Matthew 28: 18-20, Mark 16: 17, Acts 13: 3, Acts 28: 8, Acts 9: 17 & 18, Acts 6: 1-8, Acts 8: 4-8, Acts 8: 9-25, I Corinthians 13: 8-13, II Thessalonians 2: 9-12

This study appears to be an attempt to deal with issues of charismatic Christianity and doctrinal issues involving the Holy Spirit. As such, it is usually reserved for students with Pentecostal or other charismatic backgrounds. Other recruits are likely to encounter the study after conversion, if at all. Sometimes the study is broken down into two separate studies, Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit. (McKean, 1993).

Since it is an optional study, it will not be discussed here except to say, like Denominationalism and False Doctrines study, this study is an attempt to refute perceived false doctrines in other religious groups, while simultaneously clarifying and solidifying ICC doctrine on Holy Spirit issues.

 

The Church Study

Scriptures Used: Colossians 1:15-18, Ephesians 2:19-22, Ephesians 4:4-6, Romans 12:4-5, I Corinthians 1:10-13, 12:12-26, 16:1-2, Hebrews 10:23-25, 13:17, Matthew 28:18-20, II Corinthians 9:6-8, Matthew 18:15-17, Titus 3:9-11, Acts 2:36-47

The Church Study defines the church as the body of Christ, and discusses the student's role as a member of "the body" (ICC).  Generally, the study leader will begin by drawing a stick figure, pointing out that Christ is the "head" of the "body", and that the "body" is the "church". (McKean, 1993). Then, after reading scriptures which speak of "one body", the study leader may conclude, "The Bible teaches there is one true church." (First Principles, n.d.). This conclusion results from a subtle "twisting" of scripture. The implicit "proof" would be structured like this:

 

1.      Colossians 1:15-18 says the church is the body of Christ.

2.      Therefore church = body.

3.      Ephesians 4:4-6 and Romans 12:4-5 say there is one body.

4.      Therefore, there can only be one church.

 

 

 

 

 

This kind of word substitution can produce illogical conclusions. By turning verbal statements (x is y) into equations (x = y), flawed logic and questionable theology can result. Here's an example of a similar, classic false "proof":

 

God is Love.

Love is Blind.

Ray Charles is Blind.

Therefore, Ray Charles is God.

 

The conclusion that "The Bible teaches there is one true church" is especially puzzling, considering that the phrase "one true church," "true church," and even "one church" never appear in the Bible!  The ICC's use of the word "church" gives it an organizational emphasis (i.e., an emphasis on a specific group of people) that is inconsistent with the New Testament. The student may have been told in an earlier study that the Greek word for "church", ekklesia, means "the called out - people belonging to a special purpose." (Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991). However, the Church Study and the Kingdom Study try to equate the church/ekklesia with an organization (the ICC). Notice that the definition of ekklesia is not organizationally specific. "The church" spoken of in the New Testament is a reference to all the believers, wherever they may be.

By teaching that the ICC itself is "the church/body of Christ,” this study is successful in solidifying the student's commitment to the organization. The student is told they "must come to all services. I.e. Sunday, Wednesday, Devotionals, Bible Talks, Retreats, Seminars, etc." (McKean, 1993, p. 27). This rule results from a questionable interpretation of Hebrews 10: 23-25. The passage "let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing" is stretched to mean: "Do not miss any service of the church." (First Principles, n.d.) Obviously, there is a difference between "giving up meeting together" and "missing any service."

Some versions of the Church Study may cover additional, inner teachings about "the church" (First Principles, n.d.) like:

Obey the leaders in the church... each member of the church is to be a persuadable, a leadable person....

If there is still no change or repentance and you choose to remain in fellowship, then we will withdraw from you and no longer consider you a member...

...negatively running down the church or leaders to other members is sinful and will not be permitted....

Conclusion: Are you eager to be in the Lord's church?

 

The Counting the Cost Study

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14: 28)

The term "counting the cost" comes from a passage where Jesus said one should estimate the cost of being his follower. The Counting the Cost Study would seem to be a more complicated process, in which students are evaluated to determine if they are ready to join the ICC.  Quotes from the Counting the Cost Study in Shining Like Stars (Jacoby, 1990, pp. 232-236) show that students are being evaluated in many more areas than simply their willingness to follow Jesus:

Evaluating the student's attitude towards the ICC.

"What is the greatest difference you see between our church and other groups?"

"Taking a stand with family and friends. . .Does he understand that they are lost?

"Ask him if he knows other true Christians (e.g. in his old church, at home, in his country, at work, family...)"

Evaluating whether the student has accepted the ICC doctrinal stances previously taught in the study series.

"Ask about the false doctrine of 'praying Jesus into your heart.'"

"Evangelism is for every Christian."

"Make sure he understands that it is not God's will for him to attend any other church."

Preparing the student for negative reactions to their ICC membership.

"Make sure he understands that persecution is the inevitable result of preaching repentance."

"Ask him how he would react if they (family and friends) opposed him."

Gaining the student's agreement to ICC policies.

"Attending all services."

"Finances...All Christians are expected to support the work of the church. "

"Make sure he knows who will be discipling him."

"Stress the need to be open to advice."

"Since we can marry only disciples...it stands to reason that we should date only disciples." (ICC members)

Unlike the Biblical model of "counting the cost", this ICC study seems to be centered around gauging the student's assimilation of ICC teachings, revealing more consequences of joining the group, and gaining a final commitment that the recruit will meet the conditions of membership. The student must agree to the entire package before they can become a member.

 

A Summary of the Bible Studies

By the end of the study series, many if not most, recruits believe that they are lost/going to hell unless they are baptized. This creates the potential for ethically questionable scenarios in which study leaders can withhold "salvation" from recruits who have not fully conformed to the program. The potential for undue influence on the student's decision making process is obvious.

The following is a summation of the manipulative role of each study in the series:

The Word Study: Indirectly gains a commitment to accept the group's interpretation of truth.

Discipleship Study: Proves that the student is in need of salvation as defined by the group.

Kingdom Study: Shows that the group is the Kingdom of God. Convinces the student to put the group (Kingdom) above all other priorities.

Sin & Repentance Study: Induces guilt in the student about their past actions. Introduces a system of confession, which will become an effective tool in maintaining control over the convert.

Light & Darkness Study: Reveals a religious ritual, which is the secret of salvation. Shows the student that they are "in darkness" until they are baptized into the group.

The Cross Study: Attempts to systematically produce an emotionally "broken" recruit.

Denominationalism & False Doctrines Study: Proves that all other religious groups are invalid. Discredits beliefs espoused by other, (invalid) religious groups.

Holy Spirit Study: Refutes more perceived false teachings in other religious groups, while simultaneously clarifying and solidifying ICC positions.

The Church Study: Solidifies the student's commitment to the organization (church).

Counting the Cost Study: Reveals more consequences of joining the group. Gains a final commitment that the recruit will meet the conditions of membership. Withholds "salvation" from those who will not accede to these conditions.

 

Initial studies are centered around relatively innocuous topics, but as the series progresses, more controversial beliefs of the group are revealed. The student who gives the "proper" response to the Word Study ("I'll take the Word as my standard") is allowed to progress to the next study. A recruit who gives the "proper" response to the Discipleship Study ("I want to be a disciple") is allowed to progress to the Kingdom Study, which tells them that the ICC is the Kingdom of God. The student who accepts the group's interpretation of baptism is allowed to progress to Counting the Cost, with the others following in like manor. The ICC withholds group "truths" which will only be introduced to a recruit once they have progressed far enough into the study series. "The truth" is doled out in small increments, according to what the student is "ready to know."   However, if "truth" is really "truth," then it should remain so regardless of the order in which we tell it. If the ICC were to reverse the order of the studies, starting by informing the student of the rules and conditions of being a member (Counting the Cost), then telling them that all non-ICC professing Christians are going to hell (Denominationalism & False Doctrines), and eventually closing with a relatively innocuous study about the authority of the Bible (The Word Study), the result might be quite different. Obviously, the series would not be as effective.

The ICC may try to defend incremental disclosure using a "student in school" type of analogy, in which the student must understand Algebra before Trigonometry, and Trigonometry before Calculus, etc. (Clayton, 1996). But this analogy caves in along one very significant front: The graduated nature of the ICC study series is not based on an intellectual understanding of each level/study, but rather on agreement. (Ibid.). The statement "I am lost" does not require a lengthy discourse for one to understand it, but it may require this to get someone to agree to it.  And to get the student to agree is the goal of all teaching.  This is done in many ways including:

 

Scripture Twisting - There are two approaches to interpreting scripture: exegesis (examining text to discern its most probable meaning) and eisegesis (reading one's own beliefs into a text). Often the Scriptures chosen for the ICC studies appear to have been arranged to support a view already decided upon. The meanings of passages are distorted to achieve interpretations favorable to the group. Scripture twisting is assisted by the highly structured nature of the ICC study series. Study leaders are thoroughly trained through "equipping classes," books, etc. to present a carefully orchestrated succession of Scriptures and analogies. The crucial teachings of the ICC study series (at least the ones that delineate the ICC from mainstream religious groups) are held together not by Scriptures, but by man-made analogies, diagrams, and dubious equations. A student who was simply given the Scripture list of an ICC study, and asked to study at length and formulate their own conclusions would come up with an entirely different set of responses.

 

Emotional Manipulation - Studies like Sin and Repentance, The Cross, and Light and Darkness can induce guilt or fear in the student. The group may rationalize this by pointing out biblical precedents where characters may have felt guilt about their actions (e.g. the Cross Study and Acts 2:37). But there is a big difference between a person spontaneously feeling remorse, and systematically producing remorse in a person until they reach a group standard of "godly sorrow." The latter can be seen as a form of undue influence.

 

Peer Pressure - Several practices insure that peer pressure will occur during the period of study. Ideally, each study in the series will be taught by at least two ICC members (Jacoby, 1990). If two recruits arrive to study at the same time, they will likely be separated into two separate study groups. When possible, students will be paired with group members of similar age, interests, etc. ICC members have been taught that the first step to "win people to Christ" is to "build a good friendship" (McKean, 1993, p. 5), and there is an emphasis on becoming the "best friend" of the people they are studying with. In a section on foreign evangelism, Shining Like Stars points out the value of friendship in influencing the decision-making process.  "It is amazing to think that within a few months or weeks after meeting someone, you will be challenging him to give up smoking, drinking, or immorality, and even to change his job, schedule, or travel plans. You will be challenging him to leave his family's religious beliefs, no matter how devout and sincere they are. These are very hard decisions to make... We need to be people's best friends so that we can encourage and persuade them to make these kinds of decisions.” (Jacoby, 1990, p. 66).

 

Spiritual Tear Down - The student's prior religious beliefs are gradually disassembled and ultimately replaced with the beliefs of the group. Tear down begins in the Word Study, when students are told that religious traditions (including the student's) can be worthless. As the series continues, basic elements of the student's belief system may be redefined (e.g. the term "Christian" is redefined: disciple=Christian=saved). By the end of the study series, a recruit's unacceptable beliefs have been cleared away and replaced with those of the movement.

 

Manipulated Commitment - Each study in the series seeks the student's agreement to a set of concepts or challenges. The techniques used to gain these commitments include: Scripture twisting, logically unsound arguments, oversimplified theological "equations", peer pressure, emotional manipulation, and ultimately setting up the group (ICC) as the sole broker of truth, so that the student will need to agree with the group's teachings to attain "salvation." In spite of any good intentions by the study leader, the very structure of the studies is manipulative.  When we consider the study series as a whole, our perception of manipulated commitment takes on new dimensions. Early in the series, the student makes small commitments at a time when they can't possibly discern the implications of these commitments. Broad challenges like "Will you take the Bible as your standard?" or "Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus?" lead eventually to specific commitments to the organization. The student's agreement to these challenges has implications they are unable to foresee. As they proceed through the series, words like "disciple" and "kingdom" are redefined, so that the outer doctrines they originally perceived when they were an outsider become inner doctrines with new consequences. By orchestrating the flow of information, the group manipulates the student's capacity for voluntary consent.  As the student reaches the later studies, the commitments sought from them become increasingly specific. Ultimately the recruit will be asked to agree to a complete package of doctrines and expectations. After a gradual and systematic narrowing of the student's options, the only acceptable choice is for them to become a member of the group.

 

Only after all the steps and teachings have been agreed to does the possibility open up for the student to be baptized or re-baptized, which as we have just seen equals being saved and becoming a Christian.  The problem is that this is a major shift from historic Christianity and sound doctrine.  While some of the tactics and methods of the ICC are very disturbing, their doctrine of Salvation is another Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). 

           


SALVATION AND THE INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST

 

The International Churches of Christ teach generally the same doctrine of salvation as the Churches of Christ, which they broke off from late in 1970. The basic teaching is that one must be water baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Faith, they both teach, is not sufficient for salvation; it is not counted for righteousness until one obeys God by being baptized with the conscious knowledge that at the moment of baptism one is being saved and one's sins are being forgiven. Furthermore, one's baptism is not considered valid unless it is administered by the true church of Christ (i.e., the International Churches of Christ).

Having said this, the ICC seems to go beyond the Churches of Christ, setting an even higher standard for baptism, as we saw in the Discipleship Study. They teach that one must be baptized as a disciple, thus they include the element of commitment as a condition for salvation in addition to faith, repentance, and confession. This may explain why they have rebaptized those who were baptized in other Churches of Christ, and why they also have rebaptized their own people, including elders, who were baptized previously but were thought to have lacked the necessary commitment of a disciple at the time of their baptisms. Given their standard and additional condition for baptism (and salvation) which only they seem to meet, one could conclude that those in the International Church of Christ alone are saved.

Laying aside the understanding of baptism as a "conscious baptism" and "as a disciple," and the question of who administers it, the bottom line question is whether baptism is necessary for salvation. In other words, must one be baptized to have one's sins forgiven?  The Bible is very clear in its teachings regarding salvation. Personal faith, belief, or trust in Jesus Christ as one's Savior is both necessary (if one does not have this, one is not saved: John 3:18; 8:24; Hebrews 4:2; 11:6.) and sufficient (if one has this, one is saved - John 3:14-15; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 20:30-31; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Romans 1:16-17; Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 John 5:1, 13.). Paul's response to the Philippian jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" is to the point: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31)

How, then, does the ICC substantiate its claim that baptism is necessary (if one does not have this, one is not saved)? They will agree that faith is necessary (though not sufficient) and insist that baptism is also necessary in obedience to Christ. They will point out certain texts in the Bible, which they interpret as supporting the necessity of baptism. Space will only permit us to look at a few of the major texts cited by the International Churches of Christ: Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:38, and Titus 3:5-7)

 

A Review of the Common Proof Texts with Responses

 

Mark 16:16

“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”

 

Regarding this text, the ICC simply states the first part of the verse, using the formula belief + baptism = salvation. In studying this passage one should understand, first of all, that Mark 16:9-20 is not in some of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (e.g., Codices Siniaticus and Alexandrinus). Therefore, it may not be part of the original text and thus it is not a reliable text to build a doctrine upon.  If one does attempt to build a doctrine here then they must, by extension, have a doctrine about snake handling and drinking poison (v 18).

Second, assuming that it is part of the original text, the easiest and clearest way to see what verse 16 teaches is to list the possible relationships between belief and baptism, and then determine what the verse actually affirms and denies. The four possibilities are: (1) believing and baptized; (2) believing and not baptized; (3) not believing but baptized; and (4) not believing and not baptized. The first part of verse 16 affirms possibility (1) (if one believes and has been baptized, one is saved). The latter part of the verse, however, denies possibilities (3) and (4) (if one does not believe, baptized or not, one is condemned). But the verse does not affirm or deny possibility (2) (if one believes and is not baptized). Since it does not deny that one can be saved apart from baptism, Mark 16:16 cannot be used to establish the teaching of the ICC that baptism is necessary for salvation. In fact, the second part of verse 16 lends support to the view that baptism is not necessary for salvation since the entire basis of condemnation is disbelief implying that belief alone can remove this condemnation.

 

John 3:5

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

 

Regarding this text, the ICC takes the phrase "born of water" to be baptism and interprets Jesus' words in this manner: unless one is baptized, one cannot enter the kingdom of God. In approaching this passage we should keep in mind that context is always the final determiner as to the meaning of any word or phrase. Given this, we should consider the flow and development of the argument in this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus and let that determine what Jesus meant by "born of water."

In verse 3 Nicodemus hears Jesus say that one must be "born again." He concludes that Jesus is speaking of something related to physical birth but cannot comprehend how he can go through physical birth a second time (see verse 4). Jesus picks up on Nicodemus's thinking and seeks to move the argument from physical birth to spiritual birth (the real meaning of "born again" or "born from above").

Jesus does this by introducing the phrase "born of water and the Spirit" in verse 5, and then explaining the phrase in verse 6. If "born of water" in verse 5 is the same as "born of the flesh" in verse 6 (just as "born of...the Spirit" and "born of the Spirit" are the same in verses 5 and 6), then "born of water" should be understood metaphorically as referring to physical or natural birth. Thus, the gist of what Jesus is saying is this: as one has had a physical birth, so one must have a spiritual birth if one is to enter the kingdom of God (which is spiritual). Since John 3:5 is not a reference to baptism, it should not be used as a baptism text.

 

 

 

 

Acts 2:38

“Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Regarding this text, the movement takes the preposition "for" as "for the purpose of" and then concludes that one must be baptized for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins. Students of the Greek language know that eis ("for") is a preposition of reference used to signify a relationship between two things, and that it can have several meanings. It could be understood, for example, as causative ("in order to attain") or as resultant ("because of").

Since prepositions in the English language can also have several meanings, it may be easier to look at two illustrations in English and then apply what we learn to our text. If one says, "I am going to the office for my paycheck," the meaning is clearly causative (to get or receive my paycheck). Applying this to Acts 2:38, one should "be baptized...[to get or receive] the forgiveness of sins." This interpretation would support the teaching of the ICC. On the other hand, if one says, "I enlisted for love of my country," the meaning is clearly resultant (because I love my country). Applying this to Acts 2:38, one should "be baptized...[because one already has] the forgiveness of sins." This interpretation would contradict the teaching of the ICC.

The immediate context does not help us in this case to determine which meaning is correct, but other passages in the same book relate the forgiveness of sins to repentance (Acts 3:9) and to believing prior to baptism (10:43-48). These and other passages in the New Testament support the view that "for" in Acts 2:38 has a resultant sense -- meaning that one should be baptized because one already has the forgiveness of sins. Since the relationship between baptism and forgiveness cannot be determined from the preposition and the immediate context of Acts 2:38, this text should not be used as a proof text by the ICC to substantiate their teaching.

 

Titus 3:5

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us through the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit."

 

At first examination of this passage, one can mistake it as if to mean literal water as the ICC does, however, this means just the opposite "Not by works of righteousness" - baptism is certainly a righteous work. Jesus said that He was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness", yet this is not the means through which we are saved. By mercy, which comes from His grace, we are washed and regenerated. The new creation is presented as a cleansing by His blood. It is the same figure Jesus used in John 15:3. This cleansing Jesus spoke of was not a reference to a bodily cleansing that water does. Rather, it meant a moral cleansing by the Word of God in relation to sanctification. In John 15:3, Jesus says, "You are already cleansed by the Word I have spoken." In Eph. 5:26, we read: "that He might set apart and cleanse her (the church) with the washing of water by the Word." Water and cleansing were often illustrations associated with the Word of God.

Our new birth comes through hearing the Word and by the Spirit. (1 Peter 1:3 - the renewing of the Holy Spirit). This is not putting new clothes on a man, but putting a new man in the clothes. A contrast is shown between works that we earn and faith that receives God's mercy and achieves what we ourselves cannot. It is the Spirit's operation of washing us clean that accomplishes what we are unable to do ourselves.

The Spirit is the agent of regeneration and the Word of God is the instrument. Again, we see that it is by faith one receives the new birth, not by the works of ones own hands.  John 6:63 says, "The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life." In no way is water the means used to convey the new birth. The Bible is clear God Himself is the source of the new birth.

 

Several other passages -- such as Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27, and 1 Peter 3:21 -- are used by the International Church of Christ to support their view of baptism. But, as with the foregoing passages, when studied and understood correctly, they do not teach the necessity of baptism.

 

A Problem passage for the ICC

 

It is also important to note that there are numerous passages that draw a very clear line between baptism and the gospel.  This is important because it is the gospel that saves as Ephesians 1:13 says “In Him (Christ), you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise….”  For the purpose of this paper let me give you one example of a passage which cuts a deep hole in the doctrine of baptismal salvation. 

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:14-17

“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name.  Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.”

 

A situation in Corinth arose which is dividing the Church. Some are saying they follow Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, others say they are of Christ only.  Paul uses both the example of Christ dying for them and being baptized in his name to illustrate their divisiveness.  Paul then states "I thank God I baptized none of you." Less they say they were baptized in the name of Paul. He only baptized a few.  This is quite a dilemma for those who say baptism saves.

Paul states, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." If baptism were a central part of the Gospel message, Paul would never have stated this. Paul would not want to detract a believer from the redemptive work of Christ's death and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Baptism can and does detract if we make it in any sense that which can complete God's saving work of grace. (Imagine Paul saying, "I thank God I regenerated none of you.")  In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul tells us the Gospel message he delivered is in its entirety - Christ's death, burial and resurrection; no baptism is mentioned. He would not have overlooked this important fact. This has the content of the Gospel that Paul preached - there is only one Gospel. This is what we are told to stand in, lest we believe in vain.  In 1 Corinthians 4:15 Paul states he was the Corinthian church's father and he had begotten them through the Gospel. This could not be true if baptism was part of the gospel since, according to the account in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, he only baptized three people. Paul would then be guilty of delivering only part of the message he gave his life to preach. He would then be labeled a false teacher, someone who delivered another gospel. I know for certain that this would not hold any water among reputable scholars. According to 1 Corinthians 1:18 the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.  It is by the cross of Christ that one is saved, through His atoning death, His shed blood, nothing more, and nothing less.  Then it pleased God, by the preaching of the cross, to save those who believe (1:21) so we preach the gospel, that is we preach Christ crucified (1:23).

 

Conclusions

The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of a salvation by grace through faith alone.  Which has been the teaching of historic Christianity since the time of the apostles!  In fact when you take the teaching that man can be saved by an action such as baptism and thus can bring about his own regeneration; you reject the Biblical teaching of sin, and most especially, the truth that sin enslaves man, debilitates man, and brings spiritual death to man.  So we see that the position that attempts to relate baptism as the means of regeneration and forgiveness ignores the most basic teachings of Scripture regarding man's inability to even seek after God (Romans 3:10-18).  In taking the position they do, the International Church of Christ, not only makes man capable of things he is not, but they reduce God's grace to a mere aid, and make the death of Christ a theory that is dependent upon man's act of obedience.  Rather than the finished and effective work that the Bible teaches it to be (Hebrews 10:10-14).

When we keep in mind the foundational truth that man is unable to save himself and that salvation is the work of God, we are able to understand why it is said that we are justified by God's grace (Titus 3:7), justified by the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9), and justified by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and never by baptism or any other work man is capable of. Since nothing in the Bible supports the teaching of the movement regarding baptism, we must return to the clear teaching of the Bible with which we began: What is not only necessary but sufficient for salvation is faith, belief, or trust in Jesus Christ as one's Savior.  It is not a result of works done in the flesh. Rather it is the gift of God to those who believe:

 

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

 

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”

 


THE MEDIA’S RESPONSE TO THE INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST

 

            As we have seen so far, the problem with the International Churches of Christ are far reaching, both doctrinally and in the amount of control they have over their members.  This accounts for an in-ordinate amount of negative press that the ICC has received, from both Christian and secular groups.  What follows are a few items that show the very negative response to the ICC from both secular and Christian sources.  Rather than commenting after each article I will summarize some basic conclusions after all are listed.

 

Boston University

Title of original article: Warning!! The Boston (International) Church of Christ: A Review

      of History and Sanctions at Boston University

Author: Robert Watts Thornburg (Dean of the Chapel at Boston Universtity)

 

The Office of the University Chaplain at Boston University receives calls, mail, and visits on an almost daily basis from individuals who are concerned for the well-being of friends, family or self because of involvement with a cult group called the Boston Church of Christ (also known as the International Church of Christ, and not to be confused with the valid Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ). If you or loved ones have been approached by this group, now prevalent throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world, we suggest that you read the following!

The Boston Church of Christ (now called the International Church of Christ) first met in Marsh Chapel at Boston University in the fall of 1979, shortly after the organization's founding in Lexington, Massachusetts. Soon, multiple complaints arose from Resident Advisors and other students about this group's harassment and high pressure tactics in recruitment. Although the Dean of the Chapel, Robert Watts Thornburg, encouraged leaders of the organization to become familiar with the policies of the University and to apply for recognition as a Student Religious Organization on campus, the group did not apply for such recognition, nor was any attempt made by the BCC to learn or follow university policies.

As early as November 1985, the Dean of Students wrote a letter to all Boston University students advising them of their rights in cases where they felt "pressured to attend or join a group." The definition of harassment contained in this first advisory was formulated in a meeting between Dr. Albert Baird, an Elder representing the BCC, and Dean Thornburg. During this period Mr. Steve Brand, the campus minister of the group, signed the official form for campus religious leaders which pledges that "leaders must affirm that they will respect the integrity and rights of every religious group and pledge not to seek conversions by deprecating other groups, or by harassment or proselytizing."

In spite of the professed willingness of BCC group leaders to live by Boston University standards as stated in the "Policy for Activities and Behaviors of Religious Groups on Campus", the BCC continued to regularly ignore or disregard them. However, since they did not ever seek recognition as a religious organization, it was impossible to make any appropriate response to this disregard.

The first cause for sanctions came in the summer of 1987, as a Resident Advisor witnessed students being recruited by methods of complete deceit and deception. The Tower Director advised Mr. Brand that, because of the flagrant nature of this violation, he should seek a meeting with the Dean of the Chapel. Following the resultant meeting, Dean Thornburg wrote a letter on June 24th which clearly outlined "the consistent and flagrant violations of these requirements by the Boston Church of Christ." Following the warning, Mr. Brand, on behalf of the students, pledged willingness to abide by all the rules to which they had previously agreed. However, by August 19th of the same year, it had become clear, by the BCC's continued actions, that the group was either unwilling or unable to control the behavior of its members.

In response, the Dean of Students and the Dean of the Chapel, in consultation with the Corporation Council, wrote a letter dated August 19, 1987 which spelled out the sanctions imposed against the Boston Church of Christ. It read in part, "leaders of your church assigned to this campus and others will not be authorized or permitted to enter any of the residence halls of the University." While it was made clear that individual students would have the right to practice their religious faith, it was made equally clear that non-student leaders of the group were not to be welcomed on the campus or in any of its buildings.

Leaders of the BCC appealed the sanctions to the Religious Life Council, and on October 14, 1987, the Council met and moved that "the Religious Life Council affirmed the actions taken by Thornburg and Carter and that these actions be communicated to the leadership of the Boston Church of Christ. The vote was unanimous..."

Although this action was clearly communicated to all the appropriate leadership of the Church, there was no evidence seen by any official on campus that the group planned to abide by these sanctions. The Religious Life Council continued regularly to monitor the actions of the Boston Church of Christ on the Boston University Campus and observed no change in methods of recruitment and retention of members, or any willingness to abide by the sanctions imposed.

In January of 1994, Jesse Tauriac, who represented the same group as that which had composed the BCC, met officials of the Student Activities Office and the Dean of the Chapel seeking recognition of a "new" student organization, the BU-ICCSA (Boston University International Church of Christ Student Association). This request was presented to the Religious Life Council at its meeting in February 1994. After extended discussion, it was agreed that the behaviors of the group had not changed in any appreciable way since the initial actions of 1987 and that the sanctions would be continued.

At the same time, it was recommended that the statement concerning religious harassment and proselytizing, given to incoming students each fall by the Dean of Students, be more widely circulated in response to cases of unethical behavior on the part of individual students. The present policy of Boston University regarding the Boston Church of Christ is that their non-student leaders are not permitted to be present for meetings or solicitation in any of the facilities of the university, and that their students, as with all other members of the university community, are restrained from proselytizing or harassing students for the sake of gaining converts.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Free Press – 1/22/99

(The Independent Student Newspaper at Boston University),
Title of original article: Boston Church back on campus
Original author: Mary Beth Polley, DFP Staff

 

Members of a religious organization banned from the Boston University campus are lying about their affiliation with the school to recruit students, an administrator said yesterday.   Marsh Chapel Dean Robert Watts Thornburg said members of the Boston Church of Christ have recently approached four students and claimed to be involved with the campus ministry, an accusation church leaders refute.

The BCC was banned from the university in 1988, though officials say members sporadically reappear. The organization remains under intense scrutiny in the Boston area, as college administrators’ claim it targets students who are new to the area. Some former members have said the group draws people in, pressures them to reveal their secrets and uses that information to control their lives.   Members pretend to be involved with BU so students accept them as a normal part of campus life, Thornburg said. They often target individuals who look vulnerable or are alone and offer their friendship, he said.  "Never did we say an individual cannot practice their own faith, but an individual cannot try to harass, coerce other students," Thornburg said.

The BCC first appeared on campus in 1979. In summer 1988, an RA saw two members approach new students in a dorm and tell them about a required meeting, he said. BU administrators contacted BCC leaders, who apologized, Thornburg said. But two weeks later, they were using the same tactics, he said. BU sanctioned the group, meaning students were free to practice the religion but non-student members could not recruit on campus.

Last Tuesday, Chloe Cole-French, a missionary with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at BU, overheard a conversation in the George Sherman Union in which a BCC member approached a man, claimed to be from the campus ministry and invited him to attend a Bible-study group, she said.   "It was interesting. She went up and started talking to the guy and said, 'By the way...' She got pretty quickly to the point," Cole-French said. Cole-French became suspicious when she heard the time and location of the meeting-- Tuesdays on Babcock Street. She didn't know of any campus religious organizations that met then. She confronted the woman, who admitted she was a BCC member, Cole-French said.

Church officials said it is no surprise that BU students have been approached. "As far as I'm concerned, we have never left," said Randy McKean, a BCC evangelist. McKean said that as far as he knows, the BCC does not send non-students to recruit at BU, though members are free to discuss their faith and invite others to church activities.  Members would not lie about their identity, he said, as the religion prohibits such acts. McKean rejected claims that the BCC manipulates members or controls their lives. The organization is like a family, he said, and members are free to leave at any time.

Michelle, an area resident in her early thirties, recently left the BCC after two months of involvement. She was first approached by members while reading a magazine in a mall after work, she said. They exchanged phone numbers and later met for coffee.  Michelle, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, soon began attending services, and she was baptized into the religion three weeks later.  She quickly became close to members, who invited her to dinner parties and on dates, she said. Some even offered to help her find a new job and roommates, Michelle said.  "They make you feel warm and fuzzy and welcomed," she said. "Unfortunately, you don't know where it's going."

But it didn't take long to learn, Michelle said.   She said the BCC gave her a journal and handbook and asked her to reveal personal details, including those about her family, sex life and whether she cheated in high school.  When members try to leave, that information is used against them, she said.

 

Tommy Magazine – 11/19/98  

Articles original title: Two former members recall their experiences with a high-pressure

  evangelical group.

Article author: Dan Pasquini

 

Wondering why you've never seen the Los Angeles Church of Christ on campus? It's probably because they're not officially here. At the beginning of the school year, when Trousdale Parkway is teeming with off-campus organizations, the church members invite students to join their congregation, but most of the recruitment comes from informal word-of-mouth advertising.  Sophomore Janine Marnien says one of her first responsibilities after being baptized into the church was to attract more followers. "There was a large emphasis on numbers. They kept statistics on how many people would be at a meeting or were coming to Bible studies."

The church has run into some opposition on college campuses. Last year, Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York disbanded the Upside Down Bible Talk Club as an official university organization because of its close ties with the local International Church of Christ congregation. Officials cited aggressive recruiting and encouragement for members to drop out of school as reasons.  David Crandall, USC director of student activities, said the LA Church of Christ has asked for official recognition. "They have never had a formal presence on campus so USC] can not try to prevent them from being here," he said.

Three months was enough for Janine Marnien.  It took her 86 days to realize that the demands from the Los Angeles Church of Christ - mandatory tithes, close supervision and even being when she could visit her family - outweighed any spiritual benefits the church offered.  But Marnien's account is not unique. Several USC students have gone to Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of religious life, telling stories of how they were pressured to quickly join the group and how they were isolated from nearly everything else in their lives.

As word of these stories spread, so did the term cult to describe the LA Church of Christ. But the fires of Waco and the morbidity of Heaven's Gate hardly seem to jibe with the aggressive evangelism of the Church. While Laemmle hesitates to use the word cult, she is convinced that the church's practices do more harm than good.  "At first I didn't take the LA Church all that seriously, but then I had a number of experiences last spring, with a series of students trying to pull back from the church," Laemmle said. "Their stories have convinced me that there is a real problem."  "The specter of harm caused by the church was enough for her to hold a forum called "Cults on Campus" in September to educate students about the tactics of the LA Church of Christ and the commitment involved. Although she was hesitant to put cult in the title, but that she'd been discouraged by low attendance at a similar forum last year when she used the phrase "high-pressure groups" instead.

John Augustine, the LA Church of Christ's campus minister for USC, objects to the use of cult to describe his group. Speaking quickly and matter-of-factly, Augustine said, "The word cult is a scare word. It's a word people don't understand. We don't fit the definition of cult. There are much more dangerous groups out there.

Laemmle said there isn't a good definition of cult, but did outline some common elements of high-pressure or "cult-like" groups: pressure to make a quick commitment to the church, exclusivity (preaching that other baptisms or Christian sects are useless in providing salvation), strong tithe demands and a difficulty in leaving the group. The experiences of Marnien and of freshman Charlotte Barry within the LA Church of Christ seem to mirror all of Laemmle's descriptions.

Barry was raised Roman Catholic, but by the time she arrived at USC she was unsure if she wanted to continue with Catholicism. She knew she wanted to hold on to her Christian beliefs, so when approached by a member of the LA Church of Christ she decided to give it a chance.  After five Bible studies, Barry was re-baptized into the church, which is part of the 175,000-member International Churches of Christ denomination (not affiliated with the mainstream Churches of Christ). "They want to get you through the program as fast as you can," she said. "They say they're the only church God accepts."

Barry, Marnien and Augustine agreed that the church believes that a good Christian life is one lived by following the Bible strictly. Augustine said, "It's not enough to just say you're a Christian. You've got to do it on the terms the Bible lays out. We take a very serious relationship with God and the Bible." This serious relationship manifested itself in mandatory Bible studies, devotionals and prayer times, which Barry said usually totaled three or four events every week. And it wasn't just the act itself that was important, but also that it be done when the church members dictated. "They made me feel like if I didn't do this Bible study on Tuesday instead of Saturday, I wasn't committed to God."  But perhaps the most foreign - and one of the more disturbing - elements of daily life within the church for Barry and Marnien was the "discipler," a member of the church assigned to watch over a new member. Marnien said church members are responsible to their discipler and that she had to ask hers for permission to spend time with friends.  "The condition set up front would be to put the church before all else. I was busy all the time. One time they wouldn't let me go home to visit my family," Marnien said. Barry added, "You have to obey the discipler. I hadn't been told that straight out, but I got the drift. They call every day to make sure you're not getting into trouble, not going to parties, not drinking."

It was their disciplers who made the most effort at discouraging Marnien and Barry from leaving the church. While neither expressed any trouble at getting out, they did say they got repeated phone calls and visits from other church members, who didn't want to see them go. Finally, at Laemmle's advice, they wrote letters explaining their intentions of leaving the church, and the ties were broken.

Augustine says time commitment is part of the church's philosophy. And he says the discipler exists because “as a church grows, there's no personal attention. We make sure the individual member gets the attention they need.  Part of being a Christian is to be involved in other Christians' lives. And within the realm of being a Christian is the element of wisdom, and people need to make good decisions.”  Augustine also stresses the good that comes from the church. “Young people who decisively led hazardous lifestyles - sexual promiscuity, moral apathy - are genuinely sharing good works. I'm very proud of our group.”

He also mentioned that the church holds Biblical discussions encouraging involvement with one's family, and that the church helped reunite families. But Marnien said that was in sharp contrast to her experience of having to put the church before her family.  Marnien did find some good in the church, though. "There were many positive things - a strong relationship with God, which is admirable, high energy, hugs everywhere," she said. "But a lot of the friendship, while it was genuine, wasn't as deep as you would think. At this point, they've done more harm than good."  It is that harm - both done and potential - that prompted Marnien, a sophomore, to start SOS, a program aimed not at getting people to leave the church, but to provide help for them if they do choose to leave.

Laemmle says she has no desire to try to outlaw the church on campus. She says she believes in freedom of religion and assembly and as long as the church doesn't present itself as official school recognition, there is little the university can do about its presence.

While Augustine said there has been no official action, he feels that the university administration is trying to intimidate the church into staying away from campus. "I feel they are making efforts to keep students from joining and aiding people to leave," he said. "I feel it's unconstitutional and not the role of the university to determine morals."

So as the group continues to have a presence on campus, Laemmle says she'll stay concerned. "I think for every person I meet, who is trying to leave the church, there are 100 waiting in the wings. "All human beings have spiritual needs, and they need to meet that appetite in a healthy way. If they don't meet that need, they're vulnerable."

 

Philadelphia City Paper – 2/ 25/99

Title of original article: The Love Bombers The devout crusaders of the International

Churches of Christ have made inroads on some local campuses,   but they've been banned on others. Is the ICC a cult?

Original Author: Blair J. Davis

 

Clayton Lane began his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1993, full of hopes. Bright, clean-cut, nice-looking, he'd come to Philadelphia from Miami, planning to study engineering. This was a big transition for him - a new city, new friends, and all the schoolwork. With time, Clayton would manage. Or so he thought.

One day, Clayton left his daily planner in class. A fellow student stopped by to return it; with her was a friend, John (not his real name). The woman and John invited Clayton to a Bible study. They were members of a then-16-member student group called Campus Advance (now known as Campus Christian Movement) affiliated with a local church. But they didn't mention the name of the church - they just said it was nondenominational.

Clayton hadn't been brought up in a religious home but was curious about Christianity, so he accepted. He enjoyed the Bible study and started going to activities and church services with John. Soon, John and others in the group were calling Clayton every day. Although spending so much time with Campus Advance cut into Clayton's study time, he valued his developing friendship with amiable, lighthearted John and enjoyed the group's social activities. After about a month, Clayton decided to join John's church, the Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ (GPCC). That decision would dramatically affect the next year of Clayton's life. "When I joined the church, they told me the sort of attitude that would be required," Clayton, 23, says today. "They said I had to devote my life to Jesus. But I didn't realize the practical ramifications. I didn't understand the sort of submission I'd have to undergo."

Yun Kim, now 31, joined the Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ in the spring of 1994. She'd been brought up in a Christian home and had spent several years searching for "the right church" after moving to Philadelphia from Maryland to attend grad school at Drexel. She was a serious, religious young woman and sought a church where the members were as devout as she was. A colleague at Temple University Hospital, where Yun worked, invited her to a GPCC Bible study.

Yun found the study stimulating, and after attending the GPCC's Easter service, she was impressed by the church's dynamic preacher and the zeal of its members. She felt this was a place where people truly dedicated their lives to God, as she had been trying to. Soon, she became very active in Bible studies and other church activities. "I was excited about the things I was learning," says Yun. "I was surprised that these things were never taught to me while I was growing up in a Baptist church." Later, after becoming a member, she found out all she didn't know about the GPCC - but by that time, she was already hooked.

The GPCC is a part of the International Churches of Christ (not to be confused with the "mainline" Church of Christ or the United Church of Christ). An evangelical sect, the ICC has been labeled "cultlike" by some observers and as a “cult” by others because of its strict regulation of members and emphasis on growth. Like most Christian faiths, the ICC believes in Jesus as savior and that the Bible is the only true message of God. However, other main points of the church's theology are that the that people are saved not just by faith but also through obedience; that only baptized disciples are Christians; that after baptism, every new Christian needs to be taught, or "discipled," by more experienced Christians; and that every disciple must be committed to helping the church grow which are problematic additions to normal Christian teaching.

 Generally, ICC churches do not have their own buildings: Services are held in rented halls, schools and convention centers. At last count, the GPCC had almost 850 members in the Philadelphia area. The ICC looks for twentysomethings and college students like Yun and Clayton: young, dynamic, well-intentioned people searching for a strong religious community who will grow in the church and bring in other recruits. Students are especially attractive. Intelligent yet impressionable and prone to self-doubt, they're attracted by recruitment tactics like "love-bombing," in which newcomers are showered with compliments, attention and invitations to give them a sense of connection to the church. But the ICC's recruitment efforts can backfire: According to Janja Lalich of Community Resources on Influence & Control, a cult education group in Alameda, CA, "The ICC ranks among the top two or three groups that I receive complaints about among college-age people."

In fact, the ICC has been banned from more than 20 U.S. colleges and universities, including Villanova University, for its high-pressure tactics. According to Villanova Dean of Students Father John Stack, groups that aggressively solicit students are not welcome on the school's campus. Stack says the ICC has been banned from Villanova since the early 1990s because the church's recruiters "were seen as engaging in disruptive, cultlike behavior."

Tom Recchuiti of the GPCC reports that some of the larger schools in the area, such as Penn, Temple, and Community College of Philadelphia, have their own campus chapters. People from these schools, as well as a handful from other local colleges, participate in special church activities for students and also attend GPCC services; the GPCC has about 80 student members in all. According to Reverend Ronald Stanley, the chaplain at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the ICC's chapter at that school, Campus Advance, is a big problem and has been since the early 1990s.  "Nothing compares to the aggressiveness of this group," Stanley says, comparing the ICC with other groups active at the school, such as the Unification church and the Hare Krishnas, which he says, are much more low-key in their recruiting.

Over the past few years, Stanley has seen increased vigor in ICC recruiting at Rutgers. He says the ICC sent a special mission team to Rutgers in 1997, after bad press threatened the group's activity at the school. Stanley tries to educate students about the dangers of Campus Advance, saying the key is to "get people attuned to it, to get that little voice inside of them talking and making them think more critically. But if people are told early on that little voice is Satan or that it is selfishness, they lose their ability to think critically."

Reverend William Gipson, Penn's chaplain, also expresses concern about the ICC's targeting students. He complains that the ICC's group at Penn uses pressure and deception to attract new members. Gipson says he recently had a talk with Josh Ewing, the group's leader, about being more upfront with potential recruits. "Whenever you don't come forward to say what's expected of members, that's false advertising," says Gipson. "If a group is going to be on campus, it must follow the rules." (Ewing could not be reached for comment.) While Gipson does not believe that the ICC should be banned from Penn, he does see its approach as deceptive.

One of the most vocal university chaplains has been Reverend Robert Watts Thornburg of Boston University. (It was in Boston University's chapel where the church that would become the ICC met for the first time, in 1979.) Thornburg has spoken out in the media against the ICC on numerous occasions and states that despite increased negative publicity, the group continues to employ deceptive and aggressive methods to get new recruits. He considers the ICC to be the most troublesome cultlike group on college campuses today.

Dave Woods, 28, who has led the GPCC's Campus Ministry off and on for the past three or four years, says the criticisms of the church are a matter of perspective.  "It's not our job to combat all this negative publicity," says Woods. "We're not in a publicity battle."

Like all new recruits, Yun Kim underwent a carefully orchestrated series of Bible studies with members of the GPCC before she joined. According to Clayton Lane, these studies are intended to make a potential member "rethink his or her life, to come to terms with [the ICC] doctrine." According to other ex-members, the person orchestrating the Bible studies often "plants" people in study groups who have something in common with a newcomer, to make it seem that God has specifically chosen the novice to be with these certain people in this specific church.

Once Yun was deemed ready to join the GPCC, she was baptized. (Baptism by the ICC after one has accepted its ideology is mandatory for membership.) After this initiation, she was assigned a "discipler" - someone to "be responsible for helping her to grow as a Christian." Yun was also informed she'd be expected to "tithe" (give the church 10 percent of her gross income) and to evangelize and bring in new people. None of this had been mentioned to Yun before she joined the GPCC, but she liked the church and wanted to serve God, so she agreed. Within four months, Yun was asked to co-lead the single women's ministry. As time went on, leaders ratcheted up the pressure: Bring in more members, give more money, follow an elaborate set of (sometimes unspoken) rules. Members who didn't obey the leaders were often chastised or ridiculed ("rebuked") and told that "to disobey the leaders was to disobey God." Members weren't allowed to complain or raise questions, and Yun noted that many lacked either the courage or the theological education to challenge church authority.

As a leader, Yun discipled several women, meeting with them frequently to monitor their spiritual growth, keeping track of their activities, and making sure they'd been evangelizing. Her own life was also highly regulated: She lived with other GPCC members; was only allowed to date men from the church on group dates on Saturday nights; had mandatory meetings, worship services and other activities each night and on weekends; and was expected to evangelize to at least 10 new people daily. "I liked being busy and social," says Yun, "but someone else was setting my schedule. There was no time for personal stuff. My bills were piling up - I was always late paying them. And we were always made to feel guilty for being alone. For example, if I wanted to go grocery shopping, they said, 'Take someone with you and evangelize in the grocery store.' They thought being alone was a waste of time."

Although the church's grueling schedule and emphasis on recruiting bothered Yun, even more troubling to her were theological problems with the church. She felt many of the ICC's doctrines were not justified by the Bible and that many of the scriptures used to justify the church's strict rules were taken out of context. For example, Hebrew 13:17 is translated in the Bible the ICC uses, the New International Version, as, "Obey those taking the lead of you and submit." But it can also be interpreted as, "Be persuaded by those taking the lead of you." Yun feels the ICC uses the former translation to justify its leaders' authority.  Yun's doubts about the church grew. "The things they taught were not of the Bible," she says today, "and that was something I just couldn't work out."

Dr. John Vaughan, owner and director of Church Growth Today, a demographic research group says the ICC is one of the fastest-growing churches in the United States, despite the high number of dropouts. (Tom Recchuiti, the administrator of the GPCC, says that although the Philadelphia church gained 220 new members in 1998, it lost 230.) The official ICC Web site says the group has almost 175,000 members in more than 300 churches around the world. The ICC's short-term goal is "to plant a church in every nation with a city of at least 100,000 people by the year 2000."

In the mid-1980s, church members and leaders, both from within the Boston Movement and from the mainline Churches of Christ, began to question the Movement's theology and complain that McKean was too authoritarian, assuming global control over all of the Movement's congregations. Allegations that the group was a cult began to arise.  In 1985, Dr. Flavil R. Yeakley Jr., then of the Church Growth Institute at Abilene Christian University in Texas, was asked to do a study on the growth and dynamics of the Movement. He ran a standard psychological test, the Meyers-Briggs, on a large number of members of the Boston Church of Christ and on a control group of members of the mainline Church of Christ and other Christian denominations. The findings indicated that an extreme level of "personality shift," a sign of mind control, had occurred in members of the Boston Church compared with members of other groups, thus suggesting that the Movement was using cultlike methods. After Yeakley presented his findings, he was "marked," meaning ICC members were not to have any contact with him. Today, Yeakley, a professor at Harding University in Arkansas, says at the time of his study, he "saw an awful lot that was good - as well as some dangerous tendencies" in the Boston Movement. He had hoped the findings of his study would prompt the church to become less controlling. However, he says, from the mid-1980s on, the group "took on more and more cultic tendencies. Their fundamental problem is that the way they thought to make people good was to control them." Yeakley works with many cult counselors and says they receive more complaints regarding the ICC than any other group except the Church of Scientology.

In the late 1980s, the mainline Church of Christ officially denounced the Boston Movement. In a 1992 ICC publication, an indignant McKean responded to the split, claiming the break was caused not by theological differences but by "jealousy over our growth, which exposed their lack of growth." The name "International Churches of Christ" was officially adopted by the Boston Movement churches in the early '90s.

In 1990, McKean moved from Boston to Los Angeles, which became the center of the Movement. Kip's brother Randy took over the Boston church. During the late '80s and early '90s, the Movement's growth was rapidly increasing, but so was burnout. The ICC began to garner more negative press, mainly in college papers, but also in the national media, most notably a brief article in Time magazine in 1992 and a segment on the TV newsmagazine 20/20 in 1993.

Initially, McKean was quick to dismiss the bad press as "attacks by Satan." He said that as Christians, ICC members were to expect persecution. However, responding to allegations, both from within the Movement and from the media, that the ICC's structure was too authoritarian, McKean did admit in a 1992 article in the ICC's UpsideDown magazine that he and other leaders had made some mistakes: "I was wrong on some of my initial thoughts about biblical authority. I had felt that church leaders could call people to obey and follow them in all areas of opinion. This was incorrect." Still, reports of abuses of power in the church continued to surface, and the ICC continued to grow.

Before Clayton Lane would be allowed to join the GPCC, he was told, he would have to break up with his girlfriend, who was still living in Miami. She was not a member of the ICC and therefore was not an appropriate partner. "We were only supposed to date people we intended to marry," says Clayton. "And we could only marry people in the church. So, we could only date people in the church." The ICC has strict policies on male-female interaction: Disciplers and disciplees must be of the same gender, and men and women have separate Bible study groups. And there's the matter of Saturday night group dates, permitted only with others from the church. Even couples allowed to "go steady" have limits placed on how often they can date and even talk on the phone. These strict rules lead to what one ex-member calls "weasel dates" - unofficial get-togethers under the auspices of studying or other seemingly innocent activities.

Having one's personal life scrutinized and controlled is standard in the ICC. The church's vertical structure results in dictation of orders (called "advice") from leaders to lower-level members. The discipling process is a large part of this phenomenon. One controversial aspect of discipling is the "sin list." Each new member must confess all sins - past, present, large and small - to the discipler, who writes them down and shares them with other leaders (without the knowledge of the disciplee). And while some discipler-disciplee relationships are more like friendships - Clayton says his discipler, John, was a good friend and not overbearing - many evolve into situations in which the disciplee experiences mental and spiritual abuse at the hands of the discipler. Clayton says, "The mentoring idea is good, but in the ICC, the discipler is superior."

Yun agrees, and admits that as a discipler, she was hard on her first few charges. "I probably wasn't very loving, and I feel badly about that," she says. "But no one had taught me how to disciple others, and being without experience, I just modeled what other leaders were doing." Al Baird, an elder in the Los Angeles Church of Christ and spokesperson for the ICC, says that the church does not condone this level of control. He insists that although such abuses are bound to occur periodically in a group as large as the ICC, they are the exception rather than the norm.

It is a warm Sunday morning in November 1998. Stragglers are rushing into the foyer of Norristown Area High School, doling out quick hugs and greetings to other latecomers. Inside the school's auditorium are about 500 people, singing and clapping. They represent all age groups, many races. Some are on crutches or in wheelchairs. Some have babies or small children. There are vocal soloists, both black and white. There is a blustery African-American man named Henry Wells, better known as "the Rev," who talks about One Day at a Time, a substance abuse recovery program, which he says is the most effective of its kind in Philadelphia. There is a middle-aged, clean-cut white minister, Walter Evans, who encourages the audience to have "an attitude of gratitude" and peppers his sermon with words like "awesome" and "disciple" and "cranking" (as in, "The church is cranking!").

Throughout the service, calls of "Ayyy-MEN!" and "You go!" and "C'mon!" ring out. Applause is frequent and enthusiastic. The preacher brags about the church's growth; about HOPE Worldwide; about how the GPCC got involved with the presidential volunteer summit a couple of years ago. He name-drops, although the ICC doesn't have quite the star power that the Church of Scientology does. (The minister laments that the GPCC's big celebrity, Jerry Spradlin, former Phillies relief pitcher, was traded to Cleveland. Spradlin's agent reports that the baseball player is still active in the ICC and attends the Los Angeles Church of Christ in the off-season.) It's as though the service, with its barrage of spirited songs and lengthy self-congratulatory messages, is a sales pitch. Which, ex-members say, it is.

In the summer of 1995, Yun was taken out of leadership because her superiors didn't consider her "fruitful" - she wasn't bringing in enough new members. Yun says losing her leadership role was a blessing in disguise: "A lot of the pressure was now off, and I was able to enjoy being a basic member without all the responsibilities." However, one of Yun's roommates was assigned to her as a new discipler. Yun found her to be "spiritually immature" and "harsh" and her constant nagging intolerable. Plus, she says, the discipler's reactions to seemingly insignificant incidents seemed out of proportion: When Yun missed a mid-week church service to take a depressed friend out for dinner on her birthday, she was rebuked, not only by her discipler but by other church leaders as well. One man told Yun he was "concerned about her salvation." Another time, a male member with whom Yun was friends came over late in the evening to talk. When he was still there a few minutes after the church's midnight curfew, Yun's discipler angrily entered the living room and ordered him to leave. The next day, the discipler talked to church leaders, and the "lead evangelist" reprimanded both Yun and her friend.

Increasingly unhappy, Yun sought advice from religious experts outside the ICC, as well as ex-members of the church. She was appalled by what she heard: accounts of spiritual and verbal abuse, questionable financial practices, lies and deception. Eventually, she got in touch with Rick Bauer - a cult counselor and ex-ICC member - and his wife, Sarah. When the Bauers told her about their own negative experiences in the ICC, Yun was convinced she should leave the church.

The stereotypical image of cults involves saffron-robed zombies selling flowers in airports or gun-wielding crazies preparing for the Apocalypse. But the signs are not always so obvious, the line between religion and cult not always clear. In his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Dr. Robert Lifton advocates examining what a group does rather than what it believes when determining if it is a cult. If a group meets several of Lifton's criteria - including employing deceptive recruiting or fundraising techniques; using phobic indoctrination to keep members in the group ("If you leave, you'll go to hell"); having a false theological stance; practicing information control and manipulation; and breaking members' ties to family, friends and environment - he calls it a cult.  All of these elements can be found in the ICC. However, Stephen Dunning, professor and chair of Penn's religious studies department, who teaches a class on cults, is hesitant to call the ICC a cult. And he cautions that just because some ex-ICC members report emotional and spiritual abuse, one can't assume that all those in the church experience such abuses: "Ex-members tend to generalize from their own experience and assume that everyone was abused if they were abused. Some people have negative experiences; some have positive." He also says different people join cults for different reasons: some seek enrichment and fulfillment; some seek order; others join to fulfill personal agendas; still others "just back into it" or are tricked into joining.

Despite these cautions, Dunning says, "When members of a group are given leadership roles before they are mature enough to handle them, that can lead to abuse." He also says that the ICC's policies and doctrines differ from those of other Christian groups and that the group pressures members to conform.

When Clayton Lane first joined the GPCC, he enjoyed it: "All those good things I'd joined the church for were there." But he soon learned that more was expected of him than he'd previously realized. A large part of every day was monopolized by church activities and recruiting. His behavior was strictly monitored by the leaders. Important decisions - whom to date, whom to be friends with, when to visit family - were not to be made without consulting his superiors. "I felt smothered," Clayton says. "I lost control of my own life. I lost the ability to think critically about making decisions."

For Clayton, the GPCC had taken over his life. His studies were suffering. "I lost all motivation for school," he recalls. "I was supposed to put the church first." Formerly close relationships with friends and family were supplanted by new friendships within the church. "The church was my father and my mother," he says. Clayton's mother, Doris, says Clayton told her he'd joined a church his first year at Penn but didn't say which one. She began to suspect something was wrong. Her son was calling less and drifting away from the family emotionally. She tried not to pressure Clayton about his newfound religion, but he could tell she wasn't happy about it. Church leaders cautioned him: "Watch out for your mom - make sure she doesn't take you away from us." When Clayton announced he would not be coming home to Miami for the summer on the advice of the church, alarms went off for Doris. "It was like he was going to disown me," she says. She flew to Philadelphia several times to visit Clayton and find out what was going on. The behavior of Clayton's churchmates during her visits didn't put her mind at ease. "When I was visiting, Clayton was over at my hotel, and one of the leaders, Chris Reed [who was then Student Ministry leader and lead evangelist of the GPCC], came over and made Clayton leave," says Doris. "It was 1 o'clock in the morning - on a school night - and he took him to play basketball." Doris believes the ICC, like many cults, deprives members of sleep to make their minds more open to suggestion.

Many ex-members confirm that their sleep schedules were set by the church. Yun Kim says when she was a leader of the women's single ministry, she typically had to stay up until midnight or 1 a.m. and get up at 6 a.m. "I was told six hours of sleep should be enough," she reports. "If you slept more than that, you were called a glutton."

Clayton gradually became more unhappy in the GPCC. He resented the church's close scrutiny of his life and the requirement that he be "completely and unequivocally subservient to the leaders." Those leaders pressured him to give up a close friendship with a female classmate who was also in the church, convincing him that his feelings for her were not platonic and that the relationship might distract him from his church duties.

A few months after Clayton joined the GPCC, he came across some literature by Jerry Jones, an ex-ICC member that criticized the church. Curious, Clayton wrote to Jones. Jones sent more literature, which Clayton shared with John. "I needed feedback from my discipler," Clayton says. "I was afraid of my own thoughts." Clayton and John began to have doubts about the ICC after reading the materials, but eventually, church leaders found out about the literature and cautioned them "never to look at those books again." Clayton says the ICC controls information very tightly, and being curious or having doubts is seen as being weak. When negative press does surface, ICC leaders often dismiss it as "spiritual pornography." Although Clayton admits that the GPCC leaders' reaction to Jones' literature troubled him, he decided to put his doubts aside and try to have a more positive attitude about the church.

In the early spring of 1994, the GPCC stepped up efforts to bring in new members. The church's primary method of recruiting is to approach strangers and casual acquaintances, engage them in friendly conversation, then invite them to church social events. Clayton says he felt timid about approaching strangers because he felt so insincere: "You're pretending to have these deep, meaningful conversations. Only half the time we told people the things we were inviting them to were church-related." Clayton was unhappy, and his doubts were resurfacing. However, his feelings changed when he met Brendan (not his real name), a fellow Penn student who showed a great interest in the church. "I was excited," says Clayton. "This was my first potential recruit. I devoted all my energies into getting Brendan into the church."

Clayton and Paul, John's discipler, spent a great deal of time befriending Brendan. The three ate together every day. Clayton and Paul took Brendan to social events specifically designed to impress and attract potential recruits. They played pool. But as Brendan underwent the usual series of Bible studies with Clayton and Paul, he became increasingly apprehensive and nervous. What Clayton didn't realize was that Brendan had psychological problems. "He was functional," says Clayton. "But he had some hang-ups. The ICC set off his triggers. It set all the wrong things off in Brendan."

Although Brendan was fervent in wanting to join the GPCC, the leaders felt he was "not ready" and that he "needed to show commitment" before he could be baptized into the church. The church's decision tormented Brendan. He began to exhibit strange behavior - "baptizing" himself in bathtubs and under faucets and twitching uncontrollably. Haunted by the fear that he might die before he could be "saved," he became obsessed with trying to suppress bad thoughts and refrain from sinning. Clayton recalls once, when he and Paul were having lunch with Brendan, he was "on the brink of tears from nervousness" and "several times suddenly and violently dropped his food or fork or pushed his food tray away." The next day, Brendan left Penn. He took the rest of the semester off to get psychological help and support from his family.

When Clayton agreed to come to Miami for two weeks in July 1994 (the church advises members to spend no more than two weeks at a time with family), his mother decided it was time to take action. Doris hired an "exit counselor," a professional who specializes in helping people leave high-pressure groups such as cults, to speak with Clayton while he was home. Clayton met with the counselor, and after listening to what he had to say and reading some literature, he decided to leave the church. Some of his friends, including John, left the church soon after.

According to Clayton, the leaders didn't make a big deal about his dropping out at first. "My relationship with the ICC was tarnished already because of my lack of getting new memberships," he says. "They did want me to meet with Chris Reed before I left, but I said no, because I knew he'd try to manipulate me. I'd heard stories about him doing that to other people who left."

However, once church leaders realized Clayton was not coming back, they began calling repeatedly, trying to change his mind. "They used my trust against me," says Clayton. "They had my 'sin list,' so they knew all kinds of dirt about me, and they used it to manipulate me. They spoke meanly, chastised me." Clayton grew tired of the group's continued communication with him, so he sought help from Penn's Christian Association. He got counseling there and later helped spread the word on campus about his problems with the ICC. His crusading against the group earned him more phone calls, even several years after he'd left the church. But he doesn't regret his decision. Although just after he left, he had doubts and regrets ("I felt I'd lost a year of my life," he says), he now feels leaving the ICC was the right move. Today, he considers himself spiritual but does not participate in any organized religion. "Thank God I got him out," Clayton's mother says. "I think it's worse for the parents, because at the time, the children are happy. They think the gates of heaven are opening for them."

Yun Kim left the ICC in 1996. Leaving was hard for her. Church members would call, send e-mail and show up at her apartment, saying she was going to hell if she didn't come back to the church. Eventually, she had to break off contact with her former friends. She sent an open letter to the church, detailing many of her concerns and asking that she receive no further contact. Finally, Yun quit her job and moved to California for a fresh start. Now, although she still struggles with her feelings about the ICC, she is active in helping others leave the church and adjust to life "outside."

To those seeking religious truth, Yun says, "Just because your parents or your teachers or your pastor or someone that you respected told you something, don't just take it verbatim. Examine it. Question it. Know what you believe and why you believe it."

 

Christian Research Newsletter - Headline News – 11/ 3/92

Title of original article: Critics of the Boston Church of Christ Call It a Cult and Accuse

     It’s Leaders of Dictatorship.

Original author: Ron Rhodes (Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter)

 

An article in the May 18 issue of Time magazine says that exit counselors are seeking to pressure Boston church members to quit; universities across the country are seeking to curb the activities of its evangelists on their campuses; and critics are mailing out booklets and tapes denouncing the group. Some church defectors charge that "the church has done them psychological or spiritual harm. Many are crying 'cult,' although dropout Rick Bauer thinks 'authoritarian sect' is a better label."

Much of the current hostility focuses on the rigid control the church hierarchy exercises over the lives of its members. "Each baptized member is subject to a personal 'discipler,' who gives advice not only on spiritual problems but also on daily life. Dropouts complain that the advice, which members are expected to obey, may include such details as where to live, whom and when to date, what courses to take in school, even how often to have sex with a spouse. One former convert says he was led through a detailed financial inventory to ensure that he would contribute heavily," Time reports.

Church leaders have admitted that some disciplers have gone too far and say the church will "re-adjust" its discipling practice. Al Baird, a veteran Boston elder, says, "members were told to obey leaders not only on specific biblical commands but also on matters of 'opinion.' Now, he says, leaders may demand specific evangelistic efforts but not dictate 'such things as choice of food, car, clothes, [and the] exact amount of giving.' A discipler's advice may be rejected 'without sinning' if a member is convinced he is doing God's will," Time reports. Defectors predict, however, that the demands on church members will probably change little.

The article notes that the control system in the church is designed to focus the energies of members on proselytizing. "All you think about is recruiting," said Mark Trahan, a former church leader in New York. When Trahan left the church in 1990, he says he was "marked" -- meaning that former church friends were instructed not to contact him. Exit counselor Jeff Davis contends that the biggest problem is that "the group identifies itself so closely with God that people fear they must forsake God in order to leave it."

The church, founded in 1979 by Kip McKean, has grown from a single congregation to 103 congregations around the world with a total attendance of 50,000. All this is nettlesome to the conventional Churches of Christ, a conservative body of 1.6 million adherents from which the Boston Church of Christ broke away.

 

Pepperdine University Newspaper - 2/18/99

Title of original article: Official Proclamation of Pepperdine University - New Malibu

                             church: cult or not?

Original author: Name not given – staff writer

 

Officials worry similar Church of Christ name may confuse students. They’re here, they’re recruiting, and they’re confusing people. The Malibu Hills Christian Fellowship, a new church in Malibu, is actively evangelizing in this seaside community. Its Sunday services, held at Malibu’s Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, are similar to traditional Christian worship services. But controversy surrounds this new church and numerous media reports and Web sites have linked the church’s parent ministry with cult-like practices.  The Malibu Hills Christian Fellowship is a ministry of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ, more broadly known as the International Church of Christ (ICC).

The ICC was once part of the mainstream Churches of Christ. But its recruitment tactics and organizational structure caused a split between the ICC and the Churches of Christ. In fact, leaders of the Church of Christ that Pepperdine is affiliated with denounce the ICC and any association with it whatsoever. Pepperdine officials, like mainstream Church of Christ leaders across the country, are concerned that the name similarity could cause confusion among members of the Malibu community. That, in turn, could lead to a major public relations problem for the university.

"It’s important that people understand we’re two different fellowships," Malibu Church of Christ Minister Ken Durham said. "The style of the International Church of Christ is different than the mainstream Churches of Christ in significant ways."  In fact, numerous Web sites and Pepperdine professors describe the church as a potentially dangerous organization that preaches an oppressive doctrine.   

Church leaders of the new Malibu church, meanwhile, strongly deny that they are in any way a cult, that they are dangerous in any way or teach any oppressive doctrine.

"[We are] definitely not a cult," said Devon Smith, a leader with the Malibu Hills church. Nevertheless, an avalanche of media reports, including those published on the Internet, strongly criticize the church.

Just yesterday, the Associated Press reported that a group of 12 ministers in Lubbock, Texas took out an ad in Texas Tech’s student newspaper urging students to avoid the church. A number of universities, including Boston University and Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York, have banned the church from their campuses. Campus papers at many other universities, such as the University of Southern California, University of Cincinnati and University of Nevada at Las Vegas, have reported about the involvement of the organization on campus and questioned their tactics.

According to Rick Bauer, a former leader in the ICC, in his essay "Responding to the Boston Movement/International Churches of Christ," the ICC is a cult. He uses criteria established by Dr. Robert Lifton that includes deceptive recruiting tactics, using fear to keep members in the organization and information control.  "In my own experience and based upon my own research, it is my opinion that the ICC is a harmful cult," wrote Bauer, adding that the organization is directed and dominated by its national leader Kip McKean.

The ICC objects to the cult label.  "Nobody is controlled," Smith said. "Nobody’s mind is controlled."  However, Scott Lambert, Pepperdine’s campus minister, draws rigid distinctions between the two churches with the "Church of Christ" name.  "Over the years, I’ve seen a very controlling nature in the name of discipleship," Lambert said. "When I say controlling, I mean [controlling] information and life decisions." Lambert expressed reservation about speaking out against another Christian church. "I agree with a great deal of their theology, but disagree with some aspects of the theology and with all of their methodology," Lambert said.

Lambert feels that the emphasis on gaining converts for the ICC has led some members to use questionable means to win people over.  "I feel they are a very ends-justify-means mentality," Lambert said. Durham is uncomfortable with labeling the organization as a cult. "I don’t like to use the word cult," he said. "It’s a trigger word."

Durham described why some have called the ICC a cult.  "I think they’ve been called cult-like because of the way they discipline their members to keep them in the fold. It’s their strictness that has some people labeling them a cult. I think the cult label comes from their strictness and discipline."

Dr. Rick Rowland, a Speech professor at Pepperdine, has studied the church extensively and has written about the movement is his book "Campus Ministries." He said the church first worked actively on university campuses as part of the campus ministry movement before establishing its own formal church.

Rowland, who has counseled former members of the ICC church, also feels that the church displays cultic tendencies.  "They understand evangelism, but they don’t understand grace and love," Rowland said. "They are, in my opinion, too militaristic."  Smith disagrees.  "Our ministry is not legalist and we’re not militaristic," Smith said. "We believe we’re saved by grace and that we need to extend that to others." Smith repeatedly said that the goal of his church was to work for the community, and the church often reaches out through community service.

"Our main focus is meeting the needs of the community as Christ did," he said. The community he is referring to is the areas near Malibu, Santa Monica and Calabasas.  According to Smith, the Malibu Hills Christian Fellowship will not attempt to promote itself on the Pepperdine campus.  "We respect the privacy of their campus," he said. "We don’t evangelize on campus. It is their campus and we wish to respect that in every way."  Instead, the first contact Pepperdine students have from a church member is often at a public place. Members hand out invitational cards to people at Ralph’s Grocery store and other public settings. Members approached Cass Tallon, a senior Spanish major, and Alex Huffman, a senior Chemistry major, at Ralph’s near the beginning of the semester.

"They saw my Pepperdine sweatshirt, and they ran over," Tallon said. "It was very friendly. They found out about us very quickly. They appeared to be very interested in us."  Huffman feels that they were targeted because they were Pepperdine students.  "It was obvious they knew we were Pepperdine students and it was fairly obvious that’s why they came over," Huffman said.  After turning down an invitation to attend a service, Tallon and Huffman saw the members speak to others. "We watched them talk to every person they came in contact with," Tallon said.  Lambert has mixed feelings about these methods.  "I think there’s a place for mass advertising," Lambert said. "In principle, I have no problem with what they’re doing, but the people I’ve talked to feel ganged up on.  "The most effective method of sharing your faith is in the natural settings of life," he said.

Smith, the Malibu Hills church leader, said that the cards have helped the church reach out to the community.   "In terms of meeting new friends and inviting them to a great church, it’s been effective," he said.

Jane, another Pepperdine student who spoke on condition of anonymity, was approached in public and attended two weeks of church activities. The experience, she said, left her distraught and fearful of her own salvation. "It became obvious to me that they consider all of mainstream Christianity to not be true," Jane said. "This was a very startling thing to me, to think everything I’ve been taught and read for myself could not be true.  "It became clear that they were not another denomination of Christianity. They were something else entirely." Smith had no comment on Jane’s accusations. He said that it was difficult to remember one person.

Church members spoke with Jane in Starbucks in Calabasas before finals last semester. Two women in their late 20s engaged Jane in conversation. She agreed to attend a church service and gave them her telephone number. "They really talked up their church good," Jane said. "I was impressed by their friendliness and how quickly they seemed to accept me."  One of the two members began calling Jane each day and expressed an interest in her life. Jane believes that the member would have been the contact responsible for bringing her into the church.

The member invited Jane to a Bible study at her home. Jane believes the studies were designed to mold her thinking to fit the doctrine of the International Church of Christ.  "They have a proscribed method of indoctrinating you," Jane said. "I very quickly realized the study was designed to teach me their views.  They obviously had a preconceived plan. They didn’t seem to accept my Bible knowledge or spiritual depth. They seemed very doubtful of me."

By the end of the second Bible study, she was emotionally upset. "At the end, all of the leading questions and misinterpretation of verses were turned on me so that it became very clear that they did not believe I was saved," she said. Jane was confused about her own faith and worried about her eternal salvation. With the help of close friends, Jane found out about the church’s reputation and convinced herself of the validity of her traditional teachings.

Jane feels that the church is dangerous.   "I would definitely consider them a cult," she said. "They provide friends and caring relationships. When you’re coming to college and don’t know anybody, that can be very inviting. If I was new in my faith, or less sure of myself, I may have very well gotten involved further. "It really worries me to think there’s a whole community here (at Pepperdine) of potential converts to a grossly distorted religion that claims the Bible and claims Christ."

According to the ICC’s official Web site, their church emphasizes the Bible and its strict adherence, much like the mainstream Churches of Christ.  Some, including Jane and many reports on cult-related Web sites, say the church stresses works instead of faith as the path to salvation.  Smith disagrees. So does the ICC’s Web site. "We teach that salvation is by the grace of God and was purchased by Christ's death on the cross," stated the ICC Web site, icoc.org. "There is no deed or deeds we can do that are sufficient to earn us God's forgiveness or pay for the debt of our sin."

Unlike the Churches of Christ that Pepperdine is affiliated with, the ICC has a very rigid structure. Each church is not autonomous, but is part of a larger, hierarchical organization. At the top of the pyramid structure is Kip McKean, the leader of the church.  The church puts a strong emphasis on the conversion of non-members to its faith. Each member is also required to commit oneself to making others members of the church.  According to its web site, those who are not baptized are not members, or Christians.  After baptism, a mentor, or "discipler," teaches each member. The discipler and the new convert meet at small Bible Talks, a term used by the church to describe Bible studies.

 

Conclusions

 

After all is said and done, the truth always comes out.  As you have seen from these articles, the uproar about the International Church of Christ has been loud since it’s inception and even through to this present day.  The ICC has been labeled a cult or cult-like by both cult researchers, Christian scholars, social workers, Dean’s from numerous universities, the newspapers and television media, as well as thousands who have had the courage to leave and  look back at their experiences inside the ICC.  Quotes from these and other such articles and testimonies abound:

 

¨      “Group's harassment and high pressure tactics in recruitment condemned.”

 

¨      “…Recruited by methods of complete deceit and deception.”

 

¨      “Disciples are told to reveal personal details, including those about her family, sex life and whether she cheated in high school.  When members try to leave, that information is used against them, she said.”

 

¨      “Her own life was also highly regulated: She lived with other GPCC members; was only allowed to date men from the church on group dates on Saturday nights; had mandatory meetings, worship services and other activities each night and on weekends; and was expected to evangelize to at least 10 new people daily.”

 

¨      A large part of every day was monopolized by church activities and recruiting. His behavior was strictly monitored by the leaders. Important decisions - who to date, whom to be friends with, when to visit family - were not to be made without consulting his superiors. "I felt smothered," Clayton says. "I lost control of my own life. I lost the ability to think critically about making decisions."

 

¨      Last year, Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York disbanded the Upside Down Bible Talk Club as an official university organization because of its close ties with the local International Church of Christ congregation. Officials cited aggressive recruiting and encouragement for members to drop out of school as reasons.”

 

¨      “In fact, numerous Web sites and Pepperdine professors describe the church as a potentially dangerous organization that preaches an oppressive doctrine.”

 

As was mentioned earlier, the ICC loves to tell every one about their phenomenal growth and the large number of baptisms they have each year in support of “God’s hand on our ministry.” But in all reality the church has had very nominal growth because there is an equal number of people who leave the church.

 


THE INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST: A CULT ON ALL LEVELS

 

When I began this critique I gave both a sociological as well as a theological definition of a cult (see pages 3-6).  I then asked this question followed by this statement: “Is the International Church of Christ a cult?  Let’s look at the evidence.”  It is time to come to a conclusion on this matter.

In the sociological realm the International Church of Christ is clearly a cult.  The claims against the movement, both from the inside and outside, have centered on an evangelistic zeal that often leads to harassment, discipling that is authoritarian in structure, a commitment level that excludes participation in other vital areas of life, and the pressure of fear tactics (that if one leaves the group the result is eternal damnation).

In the theological realm The International Church of Christ is a cult as well. The teachings of the church that baptism and discipleship are necessary for salvation can not be supported nor defended on any level of Biblical scholarship or church history. As I have shown, the teaching of the Scriptures continually cries out for a faith that saves so that good works will not be able to boast.  Rather than being able to earn your way to God through good works, good works are a response to god’s gracious gift of eternal life. And the additional charge that the International Church of Christ leaders are able to decide when a follower is ready for baptism and thus ready to be saved relies on the appearance of good works and obedience to man rather than God for salvation.

  Unfortunately the process of getting someone, who believes in the teachings of this movement, to understand these realities is a very complicated process.  As the ICC teaches each of it’s members that they will be rewarded when persecuted and that persecution is the only way they will truly know that God is working in their midst.  Well what should our response be to the members of the International Church of Christ?

 First the process must be governed by Christ’s love.  In every word and action the ICC member must be overwhelmed by Christ’s love and understand that we are not angry with them, but rather very concerned for them. Love must be our motive in sharing with each member. Any other motive is bound to fail.

We also must be able to give an answer for the hope that lies within us as 1 Pet 3:14-15

says “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence….”   The first line of action must be for us to know the Scriptures and why we believe what we believe.  Why do you have the hope of eternal life?  If you can not clearly express an answer to this question to others, then why should they believe you truly possess eternal life?

            Thirdly we must understand the inner workings of the ICC as expressed in part in this paper.  They have specific verses and methods that they use in every encounter they have with possible recruits.  We must study those verses and the appropriate responses and counter-responses so that they can leave every encounter needing to ask further questions about their belief system. One method of gaining understanding even beyond the scope of this paper is through the Internet.  Numerous websites have surfaced in response to the ICC but probably the most detailed is Reveal.org.  Ex-members who have a very balanced approach run this site.  They have up to the minute articles from sources across the United States, testimonies, and links that are very helpful (including links to the official ICC website and its supporters).

And lastly, we must commit to praying for God’s work to be done in the lives of the ICC members that we come in contact with.  Pray that God would provide an open door to share with someone whose heart has been made sensitive and teachable by the Holy Spirit.  Pray that you would be gentile, compassionate, and loving, yet firm as you defend the Gospel of Christ.  And then pray for wisdom and discernment and that God would use you to make an impact that will last for an eternity.

As I finish this paper I want to leave you with the gospel message of the grace of Christ.  For it is not by works, but by His mercy that He saved us. Praise be to God for His indescribable gift.    


The Empty Hand of Faith[vii]

 

"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness . . . For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants."

—Romans 4:4-5, 16

 

"That I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."

—Philippians 3:9

 

"Faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation, because it does not pretend to create salvation, nor to help in it, but it is content humbly to receive it. Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it. Faith never makes herself her own plea, she rests all her argument upon the blood of Christ. She becomes a good servant to bring the riches of the Lord Jesus to the soul, because she acknowledges whence she drew them, and owns that grace alone entrusted her with them."

—Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

 

The single most amazing truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: it is all of grace. It is the work of God, not of man. It is the story of a powerful Savior who redeems His people, and He does so completely. It is about a sovereign God, a perfect Savior, and an accomplished redemption.

In the above quoted Scripture we hear the very message of life itself. We first hear about our inability: if we think we can "work" to gain something from God, we do not understand how truly lost we are. The one who works receives only his wages, not righteousness. But to the one who does not come to God with any idea of merit or earning, but instead trusts in the God who justifies the ungodly, that kind of faith is reckoned to him as righteousness. It is a faith that comes with empty hand, claiming nothing for itself, but seeking it’s all in Christ. This empty-handed faith is the kind of faith that results in a right standing with God.

Next we hear about God’s ability: since faith comes with empty hand, it finds in the grace of God all that it could ever need or want. God’s grace is powerful, and it brings full salvation to the soul of the person who despairs of anything other than unmerited grace. Grace cannot clasp the hand that carries within it ideas of merit, or good works, or any other kind of human addition to grace. "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6). God’s wondrous grace cannot be mixed with human merit. The hand that holds onto its own alleged goodness, or attempts to sneak in a merit here, a good work there, will not find the open hand of God’s grace. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace. Only the person who finds in Christ his all-in-all will, in so finding, be made right with God. This is why the Scriptures say it is by faith so that it might be in accordance with grace: in God’s wisdom, He excludes man’s boasting by making salvation all of grace.

Finally, we see the certainty of salvation: because God saves by His all-powerful and undeserved mercy and grace, the promise of salvation is "guaranteed" or made firm and unmovable to everyone who extends that empty but believing hand to His all powerful and sovereign grace. If salvation was in the least bit dependent upon the sinner, the promise could never be thought of as firm and unmovable. But since faith brings no idea of self-worth with it, and since grace is by definition free and unmerited, then salvation itself is wholly the work of God (1 Corinthians 1:30-31), and hence it is certain, firm and can be "guaranteed." Only salvation that is God’s work in its totality can fit this description.

My friend, do you have the kind of righteousness that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:9, cited above? Or do you have a standing before God that is based upon what you do, rather than upon what Christ has done in your place? Can you understand why a true Christian cannot help but stand in wonder at these words: "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him" (Romans 4:8)? Have your sins been imputed to Christ, and His righteousness imputed to you by faith? Do you know what it means to have Christ not merely as Savior in name, but in fact, so that your entire trust is in Him and in nothing you can ever do? Can you honestly say you trust Him with your eternal destiny, and fully believe He carried your sins on the cross, and has given His righteousness to you, so that you can stand before the holy God? It is my prayer that if you cannot claim Christ in this way, you will give consideration to these truths, and God will be merciful toward you so as to grant you true faith to embrace His gospel. May God richly bless you as you seek His truth.

 

Remember this; or you may fall into error by fixing your minds so much upon the faith which is the channel of salvation as to forget the grace, which is the fountain, and source even of faith itself. Faith is the work of God’s grace in us. . ."No man comes to me," says Jesus, "except the Father who sent me draws him." So that faith, which is coming to Christ, is the result of divine drawing. Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved "through faith," but salvation is "by grace." Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: "By grace are you saved." What glad tidings for the undeserving!

—Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

 


Need more information?

 

Write to or call: Shepherd’s Community Church

                           Pastor Mark Schweitzer

   22222 Saticoy St.

                           Canoga Park, CA 91303

                           818-593-2093 ext. 13

                           markschweitzer@shepherds.net

                           www.shepherdschurch.com

 

 

 

About the Author

 

Mark Schweitzer is the Pastor of College & Young Adult Ministries at Shepherd’s Community Church in Canoga Park, California.  Pastor Mark is a graduate of Moorpark College (A.A.), and California State University Northridge (B.A. in Psychology).  He also is a graduate of the Master’s Seminary (M.Div. – Master’s of Divinity) where he was trained in all facets of Pastoral Ministries including the Biblical Languages, Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology, as well as Preaching and Teaching.  He has served in various ministries, which include Director of Pre-Teen Ministries, Junior High and College leadership, and Young Married’s Ministry at The Church at Rocky Peak prior to becoming the Young Adult Pastor at Shepherds in July of 1995.  Mark’s wife Nickie is a full time mom and is also a consultant for Creative Memories (scrapbook albums and supplies).  Mark and Nickie have been married since 1992 and have two children.  

 


Endnotes



[i] Christ And Comets, Newsweek, April 7th, 1997, Kenneth L. Woodward, pp 40-43

[ii] Webster’s Dictionary The New Lexicon of the English Language, p235.

[iii] Martin, Walter, The Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Mn. 1985, p.11.

[iv] This history was adapted from an article in the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993, page 24. It was used by permission.

[v]  Revival Friday P.M audio tape, Marty Fuqua, Sept. 18, 1992, San Diego.

[vi] The following review was used by permission from the author Dave Anderson for Reveal, a cult awareness ministry devoted to helping people caught in the ICC.  His work is extensive and provides quotes from the ICC materials for Discipleship and training.  I encourage you to go to either of their web sites (REVEAL or Recovery from the ICC) as footnotes from the original article have been taken out to save some space.  The following is the Bibliography from the original article:

Baird, A., et al. (1994). The evangelization proclamation. Boston Church of Christ bulletin, 15, No. 1.

Barnett, M. (1989). The discipling movement. (2nd ed.). Phoenix.

Bauer, R. (1994). Toxic Christianity: The International Church of Christ/Boston Movement cult. Bowie, MD: Freedom House.

Bourland, E., Owen, P., & Reid, P. (1986). The issue of water baptism and salvation in the International (Boston) Church of Christ and the mainline Church of Christ. Waltham, MA: Waltham Evangelical Free Church.

Clayton, A. (1996, February 14). Re: son in ICC/help. alt.religion.christian.boston-church.

Equipping Class for Young Disciples. (1991). Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ.

Giambalvo, C. & Rosedale, H. (Eds.). (1996). The Boston Movement: Critical Perspectives on the International Churches of Christ. Bonita Springs, FL: American Family Foundation.

Griest, S. (1995, September 3). Campus crusaders. The Washington Post, F-1.

The Holy Bible. (1977). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Jacoby, D. (Ed.). (1990). Shining like stars. (2nd Ed.). London Church of Christ.

Life application Bible. (1991). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

McKean, K. (1987). Be perfectly united. Audiotape from Boston Women's Retreat.

McKean, K. (1989, June 11). Ten-year report. Boston Bulletin.

McKean, K. (1992, August). Revolution through Restoration. UpsideDown Magazine.

McKean, K. (1993). First principles. Woburn, MA: Discipleship Press International.

McKean, K. (1995, August). Preach the word. Audiotape from World Missions Leadership Conference in Johannesburg.

Ruhland, J. (1996, March 22). Am I missing something -- what does the ICC really teach? alt.religion.christian.boston-church.

Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. (1991). Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Company.

Yeakley, F. The Discipling Dilemma. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Press.

Young, N. (1992, August). Audiotape of Tulsa congregational meeting.

 

 

[vii] Written by James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries at www.aomin.org.