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The International Church of Christ

The International Church of Christ didn’t come from nowhere, although it sometimes looks that way to unsuspecting people when a new ICC church is planted in their city or community. The ICC itself largely ignores its roots — current members rarely hear anything about the group’s history prior to the early 1990s, and earlier periods are almost never discussed publicly by the leaders.

This can strike an observer as odd, because the story is worth telling, and hearing. The International Church of Christ has grown from a single congregation with a few hundred members in 1967 to a worldwide organization with over 300 local churches spread across ix continents and a membership of around 85,000 as of earlier this year. This is a record most churches would be glad to point to.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stop there. In its growth, the ICC has also left behind a lot of people and churches on the way — during a series of during a series of reconstructions, exposure and disgrace of its founder for sexual improprieties, rejection by the church which founded it, and (according to former members) sheer burnout from impossibly high expectations and abusive treatment at the hands of the leaders.

Two years ago at a onference in Johannesburg, South Africa, one current ICC leader estimated that there were two former members for each current member, which (if correct) would mean that there are around 200,000 former members. Since the ICC at present does not consider anyone who left it prior to around 1987 to be a former member, the actual number is The International Church of Christ came out of a mainstream American Protestant denomination called the Church of Christ.

The Churches of Christ have come to be called the “mainline” Churches of Christ in the last ten or fifteen years to distinguish them from he International Churches of Christ — before that, both groups were just called Churches The ICC was also influenced by the “Discipling” movement which started among the Assemblies of God in the late 1950s, and to some extent by the general “Jesus People” revival which accompanied the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the This sounds like an odd combination to an outsider, but the rather rigid and legalistic intellectual approach of the mainline Churches of Christ, with its emphasis on Scripture, Scripture, and more Scripture complemented the more emotional Assemblies of God, who alued the personal touch in spiritual development. While the early Crossroads movement did not have direct contact with the Assemblies of God, the influence of such Assembly of God ministers and teachers as Robert Coleman and Juan Carlos Ortiz on the thinking of the early movement is difficult to overstate.

The early Crossroads movement took most of its theological fundamentals, though, from the mainline Churches of Christ, and that is where someone trying to understand the The mainline Churches of Christ are a conservative evangelical fundamentalist group oncentrated in the “Bible Belt”, the southern and midwestern states of the United States. They originally came from an American religious movement of the early 1800s called the “Restoration Movement”, and represent the conservative wing of that movement. The independent “Christian Church” and “Disciples of Christ” are the other two large denominations that came out of the Restoration Movement. The Churches of Christ should not be confused with the United Church of Christ, which came from a different branch of the Protestant Reformation and holds very different beliefs han the Churches of Christ or Restoration movement as a whole.

The Restoration movement was founded by several Protestant evangelists of different denominations and backgrounds who grew tired of the religious bickering of the period and who became convinced that the key to ending it was to believe the Bible only and toss out all creeds and other measures of faith. The movement came to be called the “Restoration Movement” by its adherents since they believed they were restoring Christianity to what it was in the New Testament. Perhaps one of the best, short statements of the beliefs, purpose, methods and goals of the Churches of Christ was written by Batsell Barrett Baxter, a widely respected Church of Christ minister and writer who died only a few years ago. “[The churches of Christ are] primarily a plea for religious unity based upon the Bible.

In a divided religious world it is believed that the Bible is the only possible common denominator upon which most, if not all, of the God-fearing people of the land can unite. This is an appeal to go back to the Bible. It is a plea to speak where the Bible speak and to remain silent where the Bible is silent in all matters that pertain to religion. It further empasizes that in everything religious there must be a “Thus saith the Lord” for all that is done. The objective is religious unity of all believers in Christ. The basis is the New Testament. The method is the restoration of New Testament Christianity. ” As Baxter’s statement makes clear, the Churches of Christ do not see themselves as particularly exclusive.

From their point of view, their emphasis on the “Bible only” and rejection of creeds is an attempt at reunifying a divided Christianity. The implementation of this belief in many places has had a quite different effect, though — there are at least wenty significant factions in the mainline Churches of Christ, most of whom do not recognize each other, let alone the “denominational churches”, as Christian. The Churches of Christ have no formal hierarchy or religious structure above the local congregation, and no written creed, but their beliefs are well defined and agreed upon among the members. Anyone who has been a member knows these beliefs: Churches of Christ believe in following only the Bible and no “creeds of men”.

Any religious practice which is not commanded in the Bible, an example of which is not given n the Bible, or which is not a “necessary inference” from a Biblical command or example, is termed “unbiblical” and is rejected by mainline Churches of Christ. A common saying among them is that, “We speak where the Bible speaks, and keep silent where it is silent. ” “We are also of opinion that as the Divine word is equally binding upon all, so all lie under an equal obligation to be bound by it, and it alone; and not by any human interpretation of it; and that, therefore, no man has a right to judge his brother, except in so far as he manifestly violates the express letter of the law.

Declaration and Address”, 1809 In their view of religious authority, the Churches of Christ are extreme evangelical Protestants who reject the notion that the Church itself has any authority to develop doctrine or initiate practices. All authority devolves in theory upon Christ Himself, in practice upon the written Scriptures since the Churches of Christ reject any post-New Testament revelation or direct guidance from the Holy Spirit. While in practice the mainline Churches of Christ do not object to the doctrines in the Nicene Creed, they do not repeat it in worship or teach it because they believe it is a creed f men, and not a command of God.

Churches of Christ are generally trinitarian, although some respected ministers and teachers in the Churches of Christ were not trinitarian and this was not considered sufficient reason to split the church. Churches of Christ believe that one must hear the gospel, believe it, repent of sin, confess belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and be baptized by immersion for remission of sins, in order to be saved. (Among irreverent mainline people this is called the “five finger exercise”. ) They baptize only believers, so they don’t baptize infants or young children.

They believe that the act of baptism actually saves a repentant believer, although not that the water itself has power to save. (They interpret Acts 2:38 literally. Churches of Christ take communion every Sunday. They believe that the bread and wine are symbolic of Christ’s body and blood — that is, they don’t agree with the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Otherwise they don’t rigidly define what they do believe about this. They use “unleavened bread” and “fruit of the vine” as the communion elements — usually matzoh and grape juice. (Most mainline Churches of Christ disapprove f members drinking alcohol, and so don’t use wine. ) Most mainline Churches of Christ are conservative about women’s roles in the church, and restrict them to teaching children’s classes or speaking to groups of women only.

There’s no such formally-defined role as “women’s counselor” or “women’s minstry leader” among mainline Churches of Christ — that is an innovation of the ICC — but older women in some mainline Churches of Christ do much of the work a women’s ministry leader does in an Most mainline Churches of Christ reject the use of musical instruments during worship as unbiblical. It is primarily this belief that separates the mainline Churches of Christ from the Independent Christian Churches, many of whom also go by the name, “Church of Christ” and whose beliefs and practices are extremely similar to those of the Churches of Christ. Most do not allow members to divorce and remarry unless the divorce was for adultery or, in some cases, abandonment by a non-believing spouse. This list does not give a full picture of the religious atmosphere of the mainline Church of Christ, though — a list of doctrines can’t do that. In the past thirty years, many mainline

Churches of Christ have abandoned the rigid beliefs typical of their denomination in the During the early years of the Crossroads movement, though, the mainline Churches of Christ were known for their absolutism and their generally-held conviction that they alone were the Church of Christ — Christ’s people on the earth. They viewed the “denominational Churches” (any church outside of the Churches of Christ) as schismatic and heretical. While not all members of the Churches of Christ felt this way, many members of the Church of Christ were convinced that people in these churches were unsaved and going to ell, and it was not uncommon to hear this stated from the pulpit.

This absolutism spilled over into their beliefs on every imaginable theological issue. Most members had very little sense of proportion — any little detail of doctrine (like the rule against using musical instruments during worship) was as important as a fundamental of the Christian Faith (like believing in the Resurrection of Christ). This meant, of course, that they were usually isolated from other believers, new thoughts, and new ideas. The isolation was far from total — many members read C. S. Lewis and ther Christian writers of the twentieth century, and some were more open than others to talking with people from other churches about issues of faith.

But outside influences seeped in more slowly than in most churches, feeding the conservatism already typical of The beliefs and terminology of the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ are still very much in evidence in the ICC. The ICC uses the term “Restoration” frequently, and sees itself as God’s movement to restore true “New Testament Christianity”, another Restoration Movement term. It believes that denominations and sects are sinful, and must e rejected. It teaches that creeds and statements of faith are divisive and should be rejected in favor of “the Bible only. ” Its basic theology and hermeneutic (method of interpreting Scripture) are also derived from and remain similar to that of the Church of The Boston and Crossroads movements are earlier incarnations of the ICC, and were named after the Churches of Christ where these movements began.

The Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida in 1967, and the Boston Church of Christ in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1979. ) Both movements had many members at other churches hich they began (or planted), or which adopted their methods and beliefs, so a “Bostonite” or “Crossroader” may not have been in Boston or Gainesville at all. The ICC generally points to the start of the Boston Church of Christ in 1979 as the point at which it begun. Most outside the ICC put the date twelve years earlier, though, and at the 14th Street (later Crossroads) Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida. In 1967 the elders (bishops) of that church hired Chuck Lucas as campus minister.

Lucas immediately began an outreach to the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, named the “Campus Lucas also began a system of mentoring, or discipling, within the Campus Advance, based on the principles in Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism and other works which preached the principles of discipling, or “shepherding”, as it was also called at the time. The central theme of these works was an interpretation of Matthew 28:18-20 which taught Making disciples was the primary goal and purpose of a Christian’s life. To make a disciple, you must go out into the world (not wait for the world to come to you), bring people to conversion (baptism, in the Church of Christ), and then teach them

The process of making disciples thus requires that each new Christian be assigned a more mature Christian as a mentor, or “prayer partner”, who teaches them the fullness of the Gospel and whom the junior prayer partner is expected to emulate and obey. To this Lucas added one further point. To be a disciple requires total commitment to God, the Church, and the discipling process. If this sounds familiar to those who never heard of Crossroads and joined the ICC twenty years later, it should. While there are some differences, a few significant, between the doctrines and practices of the early Crossroads movement and today’s International Church f Christ, the similarities far outweigh the differences.

Small group evangelistic Bible Studies (called “soul talks” in the early Crossroads movement), disciplers (called “prayer partners”), quiet times, radical Christianity (called “total commitment”), and the imperative to evangelize the world (or at least, this generation) all came from Crossroads. During the twelve years before the planting of the Boston Church of Christ, the Crossroads Church of Christ and Churches of Christ with Crossroads-patterned Campus Ministries were among the fastest growing churches in the world. Not surprisingly, there were a series of problems associated with that extremely rapid growth. The young, “totally committed” disciples often looked down on what they viewed as the lukewarm, or even spiritually dead, older members of their churches, and it showed.

Spiritual pride and arrogance have been Achilles heels of the discipling movement from The doctrinal concerns of the older members and leaders about the discipling movement also struck the discipling movement’s leaders and members as largely irrelevant, and were ignored. In the extremely doctrine-conscious, conservative mainline Church of Christ, this In 1977, the Memorial Drive Church of Christ in Houston, Texas fired a couple of young Crossroads ministers they had been supporting at a small church in Illinois. These ministers were Roger Lamb, the son of one of the elders at Memorial Drive, and Kip McKean. In the letter announcing their decision to withdraw financial support for these two young evangelists, the elders accused Lamb and McKean of teaching false and “deceitful” doctrine and promoting controlling practices.

This letter, which was widely publicized in the Churches of Christ, confirmed the growing uneasiness felt by many in this denomination about Crossroads. By 1979, it had become clear to most people in and out of the Crossroads movement that the Crossroads methods did not work well in most established Churches of Christ. Time and again, churches with Crossroads-based campus ministries split or suffered severe problems because of them. So Kip McKean decided to try something different. He found a tiny, dying Church of Christ in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts which agreed to allow him to rebuild it from the ground up using the Crossroads methods. It agreed to give him and his team full authority to do this, and the Boston Church of Christ was founded.

Through the early 1980s, the Boston Church of Christ grew and grew until its growth rate outstripped, not only the Churches of Christ as a whole, but all the other discipling movement churches as well. It also began planting churches of its own — New York in 1981, Chicago and London in 1982, and several more churches in various parts of the world in the following couple of years. In each case, a “team” of people trained in Boston, including an evangelist and usually some interns, was sent to the new city. The evangelist and (in a few cases) one or two other people were on staff and their salaries paid from Boston, but the other team members ere required to find work and pay their own expenses. Early in the 1980s team members were volunteers.

Later on, team members were picked by the church leaders — they nominally could choose whether to accept their “calling” or not, but in practice were in deep trouble if they refused. This basic pattern of church planting has remained unchanged By 1982 Boston had supplanted Crossroads as the real center of the discipling movement. Crossroads continued to plant churches, but soon the Boston-planted churches in New York, Chicago and London were themselves planting churches throughout the world. New missions teams were forming constantly, urged on by Kip McKean’s charismatic and emotional sermons urging people to “evangelize the world in this generation”. It was a message many people inside and, increasingly, outside the Churches of Christ responded to.

Boston was “where it was happening”, and many people transferred to new universities, quit jobs, sold houses, and moved, sometimes with with their families, to Two prominent leaders in the mainline Churches of Christ who “went to Boston”, or joined the Boston movement, during the mid-1980s were Jerry Jones and Gordon Ferguson. Jerry left a little over a year later, and subsequently wrote three lengthy books which consist primarily of compilations of statements by the Boston leadership. These statements are scary to read — they show the growing adulation of Kip McKean, to the extent that some of the movement’s leaders were comparing him to the Apostles. Gordon Ferguson joined the Boston Movement in 1986, shortly after Jerry Jones left. He is still a member, and by most accounts is the architect of the ICC’s “church reconstruction” methods.

These first appeared during the 1987 “Great Reconstruction” eriod (more about that later), but have come to be used much as corporate reorganizations have been in the 1990s — as a means of shaping up churches who were failing to meet During the mid-1980s the Movement and mainline Churches of Christ grew further and further apart. At the same time, the churches in the Movement itself were increasingly found in two camps — those who approved entirely of Kip McKean and Boston, and those who were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Boston’s authoritarian structure and steady streams of burned out ex-members reporting horrific spiritual and mental abuse.

A few months later, in early 1987, the Boston Church of Christ demanded that all discipling movement Churches of Christ which had not been planted by Boston originally allow themselves to be “reconstructed”. This means that their entire leadership was to resign, and make way for a leadership team sent out from Boston to take over. Those who refused were henceforth no longer to be considered part of the Movement. Most of the Movement churches capitulated, but a number did not. Among those who refused were the Northwest Church of Christ in Seattle (whose evangelist, Milton Jones, ad been very influential in the movement) and the Crossroads Church of Christ, where the movement began.

This period also led to an exodus of members from churches which did capitulate, many of them long-time members and leaders who could not accept what was During this period Kip McKean also first formulated the trademark ICC doctrine of “Baptism as a Disciple” — the teaching that one must both fully understand the purpose of baptism and have fully committed to following Christ and obeying the leaders in the Church (the two were seen as synonymous) in order for his baptism to be valid. Those ho had not been baptized in accordance with this understanding of baptism were no This led to a wave of rebaptisms in Boston-planted churches — many of the top leaders were rebaptized at this time.

Kip McKean, oddly enough, either never was rebaptized or Former members have taken to calling the period between late 1986 and early 1988 the Great Reconstruction. It also marks the final break between the ICC and the mainline Churches of Christ — from this point, both groups considered themselves separate churches Although the ICC did not adopt the name “International Church of Christ” formally until 993, we consider the “Great Reconstruction” to represent the breaking point. The earlier Boston Church of Christ had a real, although uncomfortable and contentious, relationship with outside Churches of Christ — churches whose doctrines and practices differed significantly from those of the leaders in Boston. After 1987 the Boston Church of Christ became law unto itself.

It recognized no one but itself as part of the Church; it made no effort to communicate with outside churches; it followed its own path, or (as former members generally believe), Kip McKean’s path. Once shed of the limitations posed by the need to conform to the practices and expectations of the mainline Churches of Christ and, even more, by those of the independent discipling movement churches, the ICC moved forward fast. It began developing the complex hierarchy that is now one of its characteristics. Leaders in various parts of the world were put in charge of proselytizing areas covering several countries — these areas are now called the World Sectors.

The unofficial lines of authority between certain large, old churches and the churches that had been “planted” by mission teams from the large churches were formalized. Formal requirements and mechanisms were put in place for all churches to support the leadership in Boston. (This structure is described in In 1990, Kip McKean moved from Boston to Los Angeles, and the central church of the Movement became the Los Angeles Church of Christ. This finalized the break with the “Boston years”, although the Boston Church of Christ itself is still in existence. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ICC saw an explosion of new church plantings, and in in the size of many existing churches.

The demographics of the ICC also changed — while previously, many of those in the movement had come from within the mainline Churches of Christ, this was no longer true of new members. They came from all religious backgrounds, or none. Most didn’t know much, if anything, about the mainline Churches of Christ — their entire understanding of the ICC was formed by the ICC itself. It also led to an increasing number of people leaving the ICC, burned out by the high pressure lifestyle and unreasonable demands of the group. The complaints grew. Previously, most complaints about the ICC had been heard primarily from people inside of the mainline Churches of Christ, and were often dismissed by those outside of the Churches of Christ as sectarian squabbles.

But the new complaints came from all quarters — Christian churches, Jewish leaders, and secular psychologists who had seen a string of patients who showed evidence of severe psychological abuse and who had all been With a few notable exceptions, the doctrines of the ICC are the same as those of the “mainline” Churches of Christ from which the ICC came. In this page, I will try to cover both those doctrines which the ICC shares with its parent church, and those in which it differs from the mainline Churches of Christ. First, we need to discuss the sources of ICC theology — who has the authority to speak nd teach for the ICC. As the ICC understands this, the Bible is the ultimate source of authority. In practice, though, Kip McKean, the World Missions Evangelist and head of the ICC, is the ultimate authority and source for ICC doctrine, as well as the actual practices of the group.

This does not mean he writes all doctrinal material used by the group — others in the ICC, notably Gordon Ferguson, Doug Jacoby, and Mike Taliferro, have each written and published considerably more than McKean. What McKean has written, though, is authoritative, and nothing the others write is published by the ICC or Among the work actually written by McKean or attributed to him are the First Principles Bible study series, which almost all recruits in the past twenty years were taken through prior to their baptisms, and Revolution through Restoration, a 1992 article in Discipleship Magazine which clearly states the movement’s vision of itself and guiding principles.

Many valuable quotes from McKean also come from sermon tapes and lecture notes, and We also will cite spoken or written work by other ICC leaders, among them Ferguson (an elder and probably the preeminent theologian in the ICC), Ferguson’s wife Teresa Ferguson (a prominent women’s ministry leader), Marty Fuqua, other world sector leaders Core beliefs of the ICC and the mainline Churches of Christ are: Both claim to believe in the Bible only as the sole authority for Christian doctrine and practice. The ICC, however, is considerably more willing to institute a doctrine or practice which does not appear in the Bible, on the grounds that the Bible does not specifically forbid it.

In this they are more like the so-called “Independent Christian Churches”, a somewhat less conservative offshoot of the same religious movement which also gave Probably some critics will no doubt say that we begin some practice and then go to Scripture in order to justify it. But the issue is whether or not the Bible does, in fact, justify “A better motto… would be the following: ‘Where the Bible speaks we are silent, and where the Bible is silent we speak. ” Thus, if God has specified something, we shut up and submit. But if He has not, then we have the freedom to discover the most effective way to Progressive Revelation Boston Bulletin, May 1988 Both accept the doctrines in the Nicene Creed on the nature of God, Christ, and the

Trinity, although they reject the actual creed because it believes that all creeds are human teachings, not the Word of God. Unlike the mainline Churches of Christ, though, the ICC does not emphasize theological issues in its preaching or teaching; it has a utilitarian, results-oriented approach. The ICC tends to view serious theological study as a waste of “Any religious group who strongly emphasizes doctrinal accuracy runs a risk of losing perspective and losing God… An insistence that we have ‘book, chapter, and verse’ for anything new has virtually guaranteed that we will have nothing new, even if the old is a Progressive Revelation Boston Bulletin, May 1988 Both believe in one Church, and hold that denominations and sects are sinful and not of God.

Unlike the mainline Churches of Christ, the ICC also believes that there should be only one church per city or town in order not to destroy the unity of the Church. Because of this, there are never two ICC-affiliated churches in a single city or town. Finally, the ICC sees itself as the “remnant” of God’s people — it believes that the ICC IS Christ’s Church in “this generation. ” It no longer views the mainline Churches of Christ as true If you are not in a discipling ministry, you need to move to one. Why do you resist the spirit and not move?… God is trying to forge a remnant…. There are divisions between us and the mainline church becase, as it says in 1 Corinthians 11, there has got to be divisions so they can show which ones of us has God’s approval. ” Why Do You Resist the Spirit? 987 World Missions Seminar, Boston “This church [the Boston Church of Christ] is truly the Jerusalem of God’s modern day McKean Becomes Mission Evangelist Boston Bulletin, June 26, 1988 Both believe that a person must be baptized by immersion for forgiveness of sins in order o be saved, and both practice baptism of adults only — they do not baptize infants or children who have not reached “the age of understanding”.

The ICC has a unique teaching, though, that a person must be “baptized as a disciple” in order to be saved. This means that a person must have what the ICC views as the correct understanding of baptism at the time of baptism, must have fully repented of their sins, and must have committed to living as a disciple of Christ, prior to baptism, or the baptism is invalid and the person unsaved. “For a long time in the Church of Christ… [people] were taught… the five point plan of alvation — hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized…. I believe an essential element has not been emphasized in the area of repentance….

We need to get it straight, who is a candidate for baptism. It is the individual who is a disciple… There has become an innate doctrinal difference, but they [the mainline Churches of Christ] don’t recognize it because 1987 Boston Women’s Retreat “I taught what was clear in Acts 11:26: SAVED = CHRISTIAN = DISCIPLE, simply meaning that you cannot be saved and you cannot be a true Christian without being a disciple also. I taught that, to be baptized, you must first make the decision to be a isciple, and then be baptized…. I taught that their baptism was invalid because a retroactive understanding of repentance and baptism was not consistent with Scripture. Revolution through Restoration Discipleship Magazine, April 1992 It believes that the Great Commission of Christ, as stated in Matthew 28:18-20, applies equally to all believers and mandates that each member engage in aggressive, active proselytizing (“evangelism”) as their primary personal responsibility before God.

They also believe that proselytizing non-members is the primary responsibility of the church as a Based also on Matthew 28:18-20, the ICC believes in a system of discipling, which means that every member is assigned another member as a mentor, to whom he/she reports, confesses sin, and which he/she is expected to obey and emulate. “To not have a discipleship partner is to be rebellious to God and to the leadership of this congregation….

The person that you are discipling must believe, must trust, that you are out for God and their best interest. Because, you see, there is going to be some advice they will not understand. But if they trust that you are out for God and their best interest, they ill obey…. They must believe your judgement is better than theirs. ” Discipleship Partners 1988 Boston Leadership Conference “Ultimately, if we do not trust these people [disciplers], we do not trust God. To the extent that I trust my discipler, I am in reality trusting God. ” Boston Bulletin, October 22, 1989 Both believe the Bible sets out the proper structure for the Church. In no other area, though, has the ICC moved farther from its roots in the mainline Churches of Christ.

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