INTERNATIONAL CHURCHES OF CHRIST
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The International Churches of Christ (ICOC). Also known as The
International Church of Christ. (Formerly known as The Boston Church of
Christ or Boston Movement.) Local congregations are usually designated
by the community's name. Two examples are the Atlanta Church of Christ
and the Nashville Church of Christ.
FOUNDER AND CURRENT LEADER: Kip McKean (born May 31, 1954, Indianapolis, Ind.)
CHURCH ELDERS: Kip McKean, Bob Gempel, and Al Baird
WORLD SECTOR LEADERS (1999): Tom McCurry, Jim Blough, Vivian Hanes, Dan Bathon, Chris Jacobs, Don Lee, Jaime DeAnda
WORLD HEADQUARTERS: International Churches of Christ, 3530 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1750, Los Angeles, CA 90010, (213) 385-5434. Web site: www.icoc.org
ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS: In 1998 the ICOC claimed 175,000 people in weekly worship attendance in 333 churches in 140 countries worldwide.
MINISTRIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE ICOC: UpsideDown Magazine; Discipleship Publications International (DPI); Kingdom News Network (KNN); HOPE for Children, Inc. (Adoption Agency); Kingdom Kids; HOPE Worldwide; RADICAL Christian Rock Band.
One of the fastest growing new religious groups in the United States, Canada, and around the world is the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) movement. For two decades religious observers have watched this offshoot sect of the mainline Churches of Christ grow from only 30 original members to tens of thousands of adherents.
Much has been published and said in the media about the ICOC's doctrine and practices. Consequently, the church has earned a reputation both in secular and religious circles as controversial and even at times abusive. NAMB Interfaith Evangelism team has received hundreds of inquiries from pastors, parents, and relatives of people who have fallen under the ICOC's sway.
This Belief Bulletin examines the history and controversial beliefs of the ICOC. It provides a biblical analysis of the ICOC doctrine and suggests specific principles for encountering and/or evangelizing ICOC members.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE ICOC
In the spring of 1972, 17 year-old Kip McKean was a freshman at the University of Florida. Though mildly religious, it was not until he was baptized that year into Gainesville's dynamic Crossroads Church of Christ that McKean says his life truly changed.
After three years of intense discipleship by Crossroads ministers and his graduation from college in 1975, McKean went to serve as a Churches of Christ campus minister at Northeastern Christian College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Disturbed by the lack of commitment of the school's students and faculty, he left the next year to begin a ministry at Eastern Illinois University. That campus ministry grew under McKean's growing disenchantment with what he saw as the shallow spiritual condition of most mainline Churches of Christ.
In 1979, the Lexington (Massachusetts) Church of Christ invited McKean to serve as pulpit and campus minister of their shrinking congregation. In June of that year, McKean and 29 others in Lexington committed themselves to restoring true biblical Christianity, as they saw it, to the world. ICOC leaders point to that event as the foundation of their "restoration" movement.
The next few years McKean and his team developed their philosophy of radical discipleship and designed an effective strategy for expansion, which they called the "key" or "pillar" plan for church planting. Thus, over the next two decades the church grew rapidly as ministers were sent from the mother church to cities worldwide including London, Chicago, New York City, Toronto, and Moscow. In 1983, McKean's church began to hold regular services in the spacious Boston Opera House, so it changed its name to the Boston Church of Christ. About that time McKean also began to teach that only those who were baptized by immersion and were submitting to his concept of discipleship were actually saved. Thus he required all new members of his movement, even those coming from other Churches of Christ, to be rebaptized.
Early in the Boston movement, leaders from many Churches of Christ visited the Boston Church of Christ to learn its techniques of discipling and missions. However, criticism grew due to disagreements over church organization and what many perceived to be the Boston Church of Christ's heavy-handed approach. McKean and his movement gradually disassociated from the mainline Churches of Christ. In 1988, the final cord was cut when the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, where McKean began his ministry, formally broke fellowship with his church.
The Boston movement continued to expand internationally, so in 1990, the church decided to move the headquarters from Boston to Los Angeles, CA. McKean turned over leadership of the mother church to his brother Randy McKean, moved to the West coast, and the next year officially named the movement The International Churches of Christ.
The ICOC's statement of belief declares, "The Bible is the only written message of God inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:19-21)." (From ICOC Web site: www.icoc.org/who/whatbelieve.html, 1/22/99.)
the ICOC and Kip McKean's concept of biblical authority is shared by most evangelical Christians. Indeed the Bible alone is our final written authority for faith and practice. However, the ICOC violates the standard of "no private interpretation" by requiring its members to reject all reasonable interpretations of many Bible passages except those of Kip McKean and the ICOC.
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD
The ICOC rejects the historic creeds of the Christian faith, arguing, as do many cults and sects, that true Christianity was distorted and even lost in the early centuries of the New Testament era. Thus, they avoid as much as possible utilizing theological language or concepts not found specifically in the Bible.
The ICOC apparently is, nonetheless, in agreement with orthodox historic Christian doctrinal views of the nature of God (the Trinity), the deity and humanity of Christ, His sacrificial atonement, and the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; John 1:1-14; 5:17-18; 8:56-59; 10:30-33; 14-16; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; Col. 1:15-20; 2:9; 1 Peter 1:2).
SALVATION: DISCIPLE = CHRISTIAN = SAVED
The ICOC maintains, as do other historic Christian groups, that mankind is corrupted by sin and is lost and bound for eternal separation from God in hell. However, unlike most evangelicals, the ICOC rejects the concepts of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. The ICOC maintains that faith in Christ is necessary but it is only one of the several ingredients in the salvation process listed below.
ONLY DISCIPLES ARE CHRISTIANS
The ICOC argues in its literature that salvation is only available to those who are deemed "disciples." Kip McKean states in his "First Principles" Bible Studies that Jesus demands his followers be "disciples" and that the term "Christian" is only applicable to those who are true disciples. True disciples are those who have consciously abandoned all other allegiances to that of commitment to Christ alone as McKean understands it.
Key elements of true discipleship, according to McKean, are total denial of self, baptism for the remission of sins, acceptance of persecution (even from family or friends), the practice of biblical stewardship (tithing), and above all, unquestioning submission to the ICOC church authority. Every new prospect and member is assigned a discipler by church leaders with whom they must speak daily. ICOC "disciples" are expected to confess all known sins (past and present) to their discipler and to submit all major decisions for them to counsel. The ICOC warns its members that willfully to disobey their discipler or to break fellowship with the movement puts them in danger of losing their salvation and going to hell.
Certainly Christians are required to follow Jesus' requirements for discipleship. however, the ICOC's understanding of that term goes beyond the biblical perspective. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8, 9). The notion that every believer, in order to be assured of salvation, must submit to human authority violates the New Testament teaching of the priesthood of all believers and the direction of the believer by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:7-16; 1 Peter 2:5, 9). The ICOC's claim to exclusive church authority is presumptuous and arrogant at best, and blasphemous at worst.
BAPTISM: NECESSARY FOR FORGIVENESS OF SIN
The ICOC, in historic agreement with the mainline Churches of Christ, maintains that the New Testament requires baptism by immersion for the remission (forgiveness) of sins to be saved. However, unlike most Church of Christ congregations they require baptisms exclusively under the auspices of one of their congregations.
Kip McKean denies he teaches that one must be baptized into the ICOC to be saved. Nevertheless, he states, "However, I do not know of any other church, group or movement that teaches and practices what we teach as Jesus taught in Acts 2:41,42: One must make the decision to be a disciple, then be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit" (Kip McKean, "Revolution Through Restoration" on ICOC website: www.icoc.org/who/REVOLUTION1/boston.html, 1/12/99).
In other words, it would seem only those baptisms performed by ICOC ministers are deemed valid. Baptisms performed by other denominations and even those performed by other Churches of Christ are not regarded as valid. Only a true "disciple" is a legitimate candidate for baptism; and since the only true “disciples” are in the ICOC, then only those baptized in the ICOC are baptized correctly. Thus, logically, only ICOC members are saved.
Perhaps no issue has separated the Churches of Christ historically from other evangelical and Protestant denominations than that of baptism. Though they deny a sacramental understanding of baptism, the traditional Churches of Christ doctrine, and that of the ICOC, is that baptism by immersion, in addition to faith in Jesus Christ, is necessary for a person to be saved (For a biblical response to this view of baptism see Interfaith Evangelism Belief Bulletin: Churches of Christ by Bill Gordon [Product #: 0840086342]). (See also: Hershel H. Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message, Nashville: Convention Press [LifeWay], pages 72-75, 1997).
The ICOC contention that only those involved in its congregations are true disciples is without biblical justification. No one church or organization can claim exclusive identification as the Kingdom of God or the only possessor of saving grace. All those who have sincerely repented of their sins and received the forgiveness of their sin by grace through faith in Christ and His atoning work are His disciples and are justified (saved) (John 1:12; Acts 3:19; Romans 6:23; 10:9-10; Eph. 2:8-10). Those who have genuinely received Christ are assured of salvation and will endure to the end (John 10:28-29; Col. 3:5; 2 Tim. 1:12; Eph. 1:13-14).
POTENTIAL ABUSES OF ICOC DISCIPLING METHODS
The ICOC method of discipling is similar strategically to those employed by many evangelical churches and parachurch ministries. However, the strict requirement that each disciple obey his or her assigned personal discipler creates an environment for potential spiritual, physical, and/or emotional abuse.
Indeed, many former ICOC members have reported, that while a part of this movement, they felt they were under great psychological pressure to conform to the standards and doctrines of the ICOC. Intimidation, harassment, and even threats of eternal damnation are used to control members who may either disagree with ICOC teachings or who fail to measure up to its legalistic moral standards, time demands, and financial expectations.
RESPONDING TO AND EVANGELIZING THOSE IN THE ICOC
Christians who encounter members of the ICOC are told that they are not true disciples of Christ, not properly baptized, and not truly saved. As a result, Christians need to be prepared to respond to ICOC contentions and be ready to give a clear presentation of the biblical Gospel to ICOC members. Many ICOC members are trusting in their baptism and/or church association for salvation rather than in Jesus Christ alone.
Here are several specific principles for response:
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