Boston 1979. A group of 30 would-be disciples gather in a living room and commit themselves to, at that time, an idea that had not yet been seen. That the true church would be composed of only disciples, only those people that are totally committed to Jesus Christ And those that REFUSE to heed the call of Jesus would be unwelcomed in that fellowship and not recognized by God or His human leaders. That was radical!
‘In ’82 we said we ‘re not gonna send our young men and our young women that we train into existing congregations. We have got to build churches where we can preach the word of God free of all tradition. And so we went to Chicago. And that was radical! We said we’re not gonna stay here in the United States where the Church of Christ had dwelt way too long in the rural communities wishing someday to get into the cities. We’re gonna go to London and build our second church planting on foreign soil. That, my brother and my sister, was radical!
In 1983 we said listen, we have got to get to the largest English speaking city in the world. New York. We believe that only one church was necessary. One small group of disciples led by spiritual people that knew God. That would be all that would be necessary. All that we needed wax just 18 sold-out disciples to go to a city of 18,000,000 and we knew the job would be done because that is God’s plan. That disciples make disciples to make disciples. We didn’t need 45 different autonomous churches. There’s only one church in one city. And that, my friends, was radical.1
These are the words of Kip McKean, leader of the Boston Church of Christ, now known as the International Churches of Christ (hereafter, ICC). We find, in these introductory comments to the 1994 World Leadership Conference in Manila, the driving force behind this movement. The first thing of note is that the movement was started by “would-be disciples.” They weren’t disciples yet, but shortly would be. That is very important for, in the view of the ICC, one cannot be a Christian until they are a disciple first. If that teaching is correct, then the ICC was started by non-Christian men and women. Kip McKean pointed out in 1982 that the nine “Bible studies” he had written earlier, what he calls the “first principles,” taught that one had to be a disciple before one could be baptized. According to the ICC (as well as the Mainline church of Christ) one actually becomes a Christian at baptism. Kip McKean wrote;
I purposely developed this study to draw a sharp Biblical distinction between the Lexington (later renamed Boston} Church of Christ and all other groups. I taught that to be baptized, you must first make a decision to be a disciple and then be baptized. I saw people in and outside of our fellowship had been baptized without this understanding and then, in time, developed a disciple’s commitment to make Jesus Lord of their entire life. I taught that their baptism was invalid because a retroactive understanding of repentance and baptism was not consistent with Scripture. 2
Salvation in the ICC is only achieved by a disciple who has submitted to the authority of a discipler. Only when the discipler is convinced that his disciple is completely submitted to his authority will water baptism be administered. Kip McKean and the others were not disciples at the time they started the movement and didn’t have a discipler over them. In fact, there were no disciplers prior to Kip McKean for there were no true Christians prior to Kip and his band of 30. There was, therefore, no true Christian to disciple or baptize them. In this regard, the ICC has a similar problem to that of the Mainline churches of Christ. They both view themselves as restoring the gospel (which presumably got lost in mists of time since the first century) and call themselves “restoration” churches. The Mainline churches were started by Thomas and Alexander Campbell who were baptized by a Baptist. Yet, if we accept church of Christ teaching, we must understand that a Baptist baptism simply won’t do! Only a church of Christ baptism, with a church of Christ understanding that baptism is necessary to remit sins, is valid to ensure one’s salvation. The Campbell’s did not understand these things until much later which invalidates their baptism, leaving them unsaved. So, according to the prescription for salvation which both groups hold, they were both started by non-Christians! What’s more, they never became Christians for there was no one who predated them to teach or disciple the founders with the the gospel, and without a correct understanding of repentance and remittance of sins at baptism, there can be no true conversion.
Some of the earliest and best research and exposure of the ICC was done by the Mainline churches of Christ. One of the works is titled, The Discipling Dilemma, which states:
Many observers believe that discipling churches delay baptism until the disciplers are convinced that the prospective converts will submit to their authority without question. The issue is not their readiness to obey the gospel, but their willingness to submit to the control system provided in the discipling system. 3
These authors further write:
Many people who have come to the discipling churches from other churches of Christ have been taught by their disciplers that thev must he rebaptized. 4
They were not Christians because they were not disciples to the one true church at the time they were baptized. The Discipling Dilemma also points out
The psychological function of the re-baptism phenomenon is similar to the psychological function of the ‘replanting’ terminology used when the Boston church takes over another congregation: both serve to deny the validity of the previous religious experience of the individual. This cuts the individual off from his or her roots spiritually and thus gives the discipler more power to control and change that individual. 5
The ICC grew out of the Mainline churches of Christ and holds fundamentally the same doctrine regarding salvation with the addition of the discipling mandate. The Mainline churches are attempting to distance themselves from the ICC because they correctly, if belatedly, perceive the cultic control aspect of the ICC. Early on the Mainline churches were excited about the growth of the group and their ability to reach the college-age generation but became concerned over the abuses they began seeing. Yet, in our opinion, the Mainline churches of Christ do bear a large part of the responsibility for the birth and growth of the ICC. The ICC apple does not fall far from the Mainline churches of Christ tree when it comes to elitist attitude.
The Mainline churches view themselves as the only true Christians on the face of the earth and are quite judgmental about other churches. In view of that, it is ironic that what caused the separation between the ICC and the Mainline churches is the ICC’s view that the ICC are the only true Christians and that the Mainline churches are spiritually dead. Commenting on the “judgmental attitude” of the ICC, the Mainline church of Christ, authors of The Discipling Dilemma, lament the ICC injustice of:
…telling new converts that other churches of Christ in the area are dead, that they are not spiritual, or that they could not provide the discipline the new converts need. Interviews with over 100 new converts in the Boston church and over 100 others who have left the Boston church have convinced me that these judgmental comments about other churches of Christ are the rule, not the exception. 6
Since the ICC views themselves as the only true church (where have I heard that before?}, salvation comes by association with the group. Proper submission to a discipler includes leaving a job if you are told to by your discipler. It involves getting permission to date, attending Bible Talk meetings and numerous other tests of submission. Independent thought is strongly discouraged in order to bring you into complete dependence on your discipler.
Kicked Out of The Kingdom
In 1994. the leaders of an ICC church in Indianapolis expressed concern about the authoritarianism within the movement. They were fully dedicated to the teachings of the ICC, but had come to the realization that the structure was very similar to Roman Catholicism with Kip McKean as the vicar of Christ on earth. On February 27, 1994, the Indianapolis church held a congregational meeting to discuss the problems with the current structure. They were not advocating pulling out of the movement, but felt that they should have the ability to make certain decisions locally. They were happy to participate in missions projects, for example, but desired the freedom, as a local church, to decide at what level they were able to participate. To illustrate: If the headquarters of the ICC decreed that they must send $250.000 as Special Missions giving, and they were only able to raise $200.000, they wanted the autonomy to reject the demand lo send $50,000 that they had been unable to obtain. This may seem like an eminently reasonable request but, as a result of that meeting, the ICC kicked the Indianapolis church out of the movement, brought in a number of leaders from Los Angeles, and started another church two weeks later. ICC representatives Marty Fuqa and Bob Geinpel from Los Angeles met with lead evangelist Ed Powers of the Indianapolis church. In a tape of the March 8. 1994 congregational meeting, an associate of Ed Powers recounts that Ed asked Marty and Bob if:
…last week, would you agree that we [the Indianapolis church] were part of God’s kingdom’;” And they all said, ‘Yes, I agree that you were a part God’s kingdom last week.’ He says, ‘O.K. now, this next week we’re gonna keep doin’ all the things we’ve been doing. We’re gonna continue to teach the same thing we’re leaching about how to become a Christian. O.K., the gospel.’ He said, ‘Will we be a part of God’s kingdom? ‘ And again, they did not answer the question. O.K. And I think that that is a real issue here. That these men were not willing to say that we would continue to be a part of God’s kingdom. 7
People who for years had been teaching others that association with the ICC was necessary for salvation, now found themselves outside in the cold, cruel world. If salvation comes by association, then disassociation is spiritual death. Pope Kip and his Bishops hold the keys to the Kingdom.
A Disciple First
I have had correspondence with an individual from the Mainline church of Christ on the issue of salvation. In one of his letters, he gave me what he considered to be the five pieces to the puzzle of salvation. The first “puzzle piece,” belief in Jesus Christ, is an important part of the salvation process, but not the whole enchilada. Repentance is the “second part” of the whole. The third is confession. Baptism (church of Christ baptism being the only valid baptism one could have) is the fourth piece of the puzzle, and Christian living is the fifth and “final part.”
The ICC would add a sixth piece: Discipleship. This teaching of discipleship prior to sonship is a bit “puzzling,” however. How will an unregenerate person live life as a child of God prior to his new birth? A person needs to be born again before he can toddle, and he needs to toddle before he can walk. Yet, both the Mainline churches of Christ and the ICC put the works cart before the salvation horse. True salvation is not discipleship before salvation, nor some other combination of the two, but is by faith alone in Christ alone (Eph.2:8.9 & Acts 4:12).
The abuses of authority within the ICC toward the lowly disciple is devastating The first individual I met who was part of this group had just sold his car at the direction of his discipler. He was told that he lived close enough to work that he didn’t need a car and this loss would help to keep him humble. The money from the sale of the car was to be given to the ICC as a Special Missions offering.
The next person I met was a young woman whose husband was a member. She was desperate because her husband was gone nearly every night of the week being “discipled.” If he missed a night, he had to meet his discipler at 5:30 AM for a prayer walk. Bible studies often lasted until 1:00 or 2:00 AM and her husband had abandoned his responsibilities as a husband and a father. He had run up the credit cards in order to keep up with the financial demands of the ICC. Soon, he re-mortgaged the house to pay off the credit card debt and then began running up the credit cards again. This young mother was at her wit’s end. She was given $6.00 to $10.00 per week for food and was borrowing from her family to keep her children fed. She was not a member of the group herself, and so could not reason with her husband, since ICC teaches that outsiders are evil and anything written against the group is “spiritual pornography.”
The teaching of the Apostle Paul is diametrically opposed to this view:
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?’ Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gal. 3:1-6 NASB).
Paul’s position is that those who teach such a distorted view are bewitching, or casting a spell or hypnotizing their followers. The Christian believer is completely justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. There is nothing in the gospel either stated or implied about salvation by association with a particlar group. In fact, the opposite is true. Salvation only comes by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ one on one.
Some of the things the ICC promotes legalistically are good things, in and of themselves. Having a one hour-quiet time each day is a good thing. Meeting regularly with the Body of Christ is a good thing. Likewise, supporting missions and evangelizing the lost are extremely important, but all these good things are the fruit of the Christian life, not the means of obtaining it. A disciple is one who follows Christ, but no one can follow Christ without the indwelling Holy Spirit, which is given at the moment of faith and salvation.
The teaching that belief and repentance are two separate “parts of the puzzle” is completely flawed. Repentance is a change of direction and is simultaneous and synonymous with belief. When one moves from unbelief to belief they have at that moment changed direction or “repented. ” In the last issue of the Journal, Joy wrote an excellent article on the place of good works in the experience of the Christian. Salvation is freely imparted by faith: eternal rewards are based on our actions as a Christian.
In the next issue, we will look at baptism and salvation.
1. “Malachi: God’s Radical Demand for Remaining Radical,” Kip McKean Delivered at the 1994 Manila World Leadership Conference (#9104). 2.Kip McKean,”Revolution Through Restoration”, Upside Down. April 1992. 3. The Disciplng Dilemma by Howard W. Norton, Don E. Vinzant & Gene Vinzant, edited by Flavil R Yeakey, Jr., 1988 by Gospel Advocate Company, p. 62. 4. Ibid, p.63.5. Ibid, p.63. 6. Ibid, p.64. 7. Taped Congregational Meeting, Indianapolis Church of Christ, Questions and Answers. March 8, 1994, Tues eve, tape 1