Advanced Bible Studies
26. What Is The International Church of Christ?
What Is The International Church of Christ?
DISCLAIMER: We at the Valley Church of Christ are not in any way affiliated with the “Discipling Movement” in the Churches of Christ that has come to be known as the International Church of Christ. The following article traces their history and the progress of their apostasy. One of the greatest dangers of the Lord’s Church is the danger of apostasy – falling from his grace. Consider carefully the lessons of apostasy that can be learned from the ICC and take warning!
Since 1985 the Boston Church of Christ has been the driving force in what is known as the “Discipling Movement” in the Churches of Christ. Previous to that time, the “Discipling Movement” was led by Charles (“Chuck”) Lucas and the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida. However, Kip McKean and the Boston Church’s quickly evolving organization soon eclipsed the Crossroads movement and the International Church(es) of Christ (ICC) was born.
If there is one word to describe the ICC, that word is “evolution.” This movement manifests one of the most amazing aspects of the apostasy: the ability to quickly change both its organization and doctrine to adapt to its own ends as it moves away from the pattern of the faith once for all revealed to the saints. See I Timothy 4:1-2 and Jude 1:3. One area – the organization of the church – easily illustrates this evolution in both organizational structure and in doctrine. In this area the ICC manifests a flagrant disregard for the authority of Scripture and an “end justifies the means” approach to the work and worship of the church. See Romans 3:8. Now, consider the changes that have taken place in the ICC.
The New Testament pattern for the organization of the local congregation was simple with its elders, deacons, saints, and evangelists. Looking at the ICC we find an authoritarian power structure (i.e., scheme) that is totally foreign to Scripture. To the offices of “elder and deacon” they have added Mission Evangelist, The Focused Few, Women’s Counselors, Sector Leaders, Zone Leaders, House Church Leaders, Assistant House Church Leaders, Evangelistic Bible Talk Leaders, Campus Ministers, Discipleship Partners, and a host of other offices and ministries. Even local churches within the movement are given different levels of importance and controlling oversight in the hierarchy of the ICC. As the ICC continues to evolve, one can be assured that new offices and ministries will be added.
The ICC has changed and will continue to change in numerous ways, not only in this area, but in other areas as well. (For instance, with regard to instrumental music, the ICC at one time respected the pattern for New Testament worship and did not use instrument of music in the church. Now she does. Other areas that are manifesting doctrinal changes involve the Charismatic Movement and the role of women in leadership in the ICC.) These changes may very well be even more dramatic in the future than they have been in the past. This is true, if for no other reason than the low view of the authority of Scripture that the ICC holds. To be blunt, the ICC has no respect for the authority of Scripture! In other churches of Christ, including the early history of the Crossroads/Boston movement, our common heritage held the understanding that “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” To put it another way, we have commonly insisted on having “book, chapter, and verse” for all we do in faith and practice. (These concepts are certainly Biblical – Deuteronomy 4:2; 5:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:5-6; I Corinthians 4:6; Colossians 3:17; I Thessalonians 5:21; I Peter 4:11; Jude 1:3; Revelation 22:18-19; etc.) But, no more! The ICC now ridicules these concepts. Gordon Ferguson, in a series of articles on “Progressive Revelation” in the Boston bulletin (May 8, 1988) stated:
“A better motto for disciples who are ‘progressive’ (into making progress) would be the following: ‘Where the Bible speaks, we are silent; where the Bible is silent, we speak.’”
With an attitude like this, it is no wonder the ICC is a continually evolving (i.e., “progressive”) movement. For them and for all apostates, there is no stopping place and almost anything goes in their faith and religion. The ICC apparently gets most of its authority, especially for its organizational structure, from the silence of the Scripture. The ICC fails to understand that the silence of the Scripture does not give permission for anything. See Leviticus 10:1-3; Numbers 22:18; 24:13 (Proverbs 30:6); I Chronicles 13:3-12; 15:2-15; Acts 15:24; Hebrews 1:1-5; 5:6; 7:14. We need to reconsider the words of the Apostle in II John 1:9:
“Anyone who runs ahead (lit. goes forward, goes beyond . . . progresses) and does not continue (i.e., abide, remain) in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
Because the ICC rejects the authority of Scripture it has obviously substituted its own man-made rules and regulations for much of its entire organization as well as its evangelistic ministry and discipling process. The ICC tragically illustrates the problem of man-made religion and human traditions that set aside the commands of God. Jesus deals with this in Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23. See Matthew 23:1-39. See Matthew 7:13-23.
Consider now the revealing nature of the ICC’s discipling concepts. Most of the ideas of the ICC have been borrowed from sectarian and denominational, sources. The writings of Robert Coleman, Paul Yonggi Cho, and Juan Carlos Ortiz have had the greatest influence in forming the Crossroads/Boston discipling philosophy. Coleman’s work “The Master Plan of Evangelism” is perhaps the most influential. (It should be noted that Cho and Ortiz are Pentecostal, and other Charismatic works have had an impact in the movement.) Other works are also influential: Competent to Counsel – Jay Adams; The Disciplined Life – Richard Taylor; Manna in the Morning – Stephen Olford. It is from these works, not the Bible, that the Crossroads/Boston movement has taken their ideas on evangelism and discipleship. These humanistic works, and others, promote a highly controlled form of evangelistic ministry, which depends on charismatic human leadership.
Herein lies one of the most serious problems with the ICC: The ICC’s concept of “discipleship” involves nothing less than a subtle form of power and control, all done under the guise of total commitment to Christ! Individuals, especially young college students and new members, are paired with a senior discipleship partner or spiritual leader to whom they are expected to answer for practically everything. (This practice is open to incredible abuse!) The new member is challenged to “perfection” by their partner and is expected to conform to the demanding standards of the Boston church. In a very real sense, ICC’s concept of “discipleship” means to be discipled to ICC! What is more, they believe that the only way to “disciple” is the way that they do it. Thus, they place themselves in the middle of the discipling process. This is in direct violation of God’s Word. Consider Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 6:40 with II Corinthians 3:18. Compare Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-36 cf. Luke 14:26,27,33. See Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45 and II Corinthians 1:23-24; I Thessalonians 2:3-12; I Peter 5:3.
The ICC believes that it finds the “authority” for this intensive form of discipling specifically in the example of Jesus and his disciples. Randy McKean in the November 16, 1986 Boston bulletin stated:
“Jesus discipled men – we are to do the same. To be successful we must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We must walk with our disciples as Jesus walked with His. No one knows everything about this multi-dimensional subject, but what we do know is that if we fail to make true disciples we will fail to impact this world with the saving message of Jesus Christ. . . . Jesus shows us by his own life that we must be a great disciple to be a great discipler. Jesus was a student, a learner, a pupil for His entire life. He had a disciple’s mindset. 1. Jesus was reverently and totally submissive to God’s will. . . . 2. Jesus possessed an all consuming desire to obey God. . . . The motivation for Jesus’ obedience was in His relationship with God. He obeyed because he loved God. . . . He obeyed because He wanted to please God. . . . We must continually call our disciples to God’s level of ‘fellowship.’ We must do this before baptism and after baptism without fear, shame or compromise. We must call people to a radical submission. . . . to a radical love. . . . to a radical purpose. . . . and to a radical commitment. . . . As we ourselves become more like Christ (in life, not just in knowledge), the better our disciple-making will become.”
This very revealing quotation from one of the leaders of the ICC tells us that we are to disciple people to ourselves (“walk with our disciples” . . . “call our disciples”) just like Jesus did. Now just one moment! There are several problems with this heresy: (1) We are to be discipled only to Christ and not to some man. We do not have disciples. As disciples we are a royal priesthood with Christ as our High Priest. No one comes between us and God in our spiritual life. See I Peter 2:4-12. To think that we are now to be disciples of some man is blasphemous and damnable. See I Corinthians 1:10-17. Jesus has the right to call all of his disciples to radical and absolute submission to Himself, but we have no such right to expect someone we “disciple” to be totally submissive to us. (2) What Jesus was doing in the discipling of the disciples was making Apostles. What our Lord was doing was something unique to the work and Kingdom of God, not something to be duplicated by us. We are not God and we are not making Apostles. What our Lord was doing in the discipling of the Apostles gives us no authority to disciple others to ourselves.
To demonstrate that the ICC leadership is about “lording it over others” (i.e., power and control) consider the following statement made by Al Baird, one of the elders of the Boston church, in a bulletin on “Authority and Submission” (October 4, 1987):
“Submission is not conditional. It does not depend on whether the one calling for submission says it in the right way or whether he is being fair. We submit to authority, not because the one in authority deserves it, but because the authority comes from God: therefore, we are in reality submitting to God. In the same way, we give respect to the one in authority, not because he has necessarily earned the respect, but because we are to unconditionally give him respect unless he is in rebellion to God. . . . When we are under authority, we are to submit and obey our leaders even when they are not very Christ-like.”
Again, the whole discipling process in the ICC is based upon submission to discipling leaders and their man-made rules and regulations in every area that they seek to control. No man has the right to equate submission to him in all areas as equal to submission to God. The discipling leaders in the ICC go beyond the authority of elders and move into realms and offices unknown and unauthorized by the New Testament. In the New Testament the only authorized office of leadership that was given to the local church was the office of the eldership (i.e., the bishop or pastor). See Acts 14:23; 20:17-18; I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9. Their authority was not absolute, but specifically limited. See I Peter 5:1-3. Other passages that refer to “leaders” in the New Testament (i.e., I Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7,17) can only, in context, be referring to the office of the elder. The ICC has created a plethora of “leaders” in addition to the eldership. What is more, some of the leaders in the ICC exercise an authority far beyond the local congregation, and they even oversee works (i.e., churches) in other cities. In the New Testament the local churches were autonomous and independent, they had no earthy central headquarters, and the elders were commanded to “tend the flock of God which was among them” (I Peter 5:2). But the ICC for a long time had its central headquarters in Boston, and Kip McKean was its Leader. Listen to his own words in the 1988 (Summer) issue of “Discipleship Magazine”:
“After talking to the elders . . . Elena and I have decided to resign the leadership of the Boston Church and shift our emphasis to become missionaries. We’ll be ministering to all the churches, certainly to continue to some degree to minister here. . . . I took a day and a night to pray and fast to discern God’s will in our lives. God made it obvious that we should shift the emphasis of our ministry from Boston to a small number of lead couples and the key pillar churches they serve, thus following the pattern of Paul’s role in the first century.”
Notice, Kip specifically said that he (and his wife) “resigned the leadership of the Boston Church.” In doing this he was going to “minister” to all of the churches just like the Apostle Paul. Is Kip an Apostle of the Lord for the Twentieth Century who believes that God is revealing His will to him? And just what are “pillar churches”? It should be obvious that the ICC is an organization that aspires to worldwide proportions with human leaders overseeing the entire church throughout the world. The ICC now promotes this concept of a Universal Church being composed of local churches throughout the world with some “pillar churches” being over other churches. Along with this comes universal leadership. Such aspirations were the hallmarks of the Apostate Church that came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope. See Acts 20:28-31 cf. I Timothy 4:1-2. Study Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18. This same departure from the pattern of the organization and function of the Lord’s church has become the heresy of practically every single man-made denomination ever since.
McKean also wrote an article entitled “The Focused Few” in a bulletin dated September 4, 1988 (Notice this article appeared just after he supposedly “stepped down” from the Boston Church.):
“Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul all understood God’s principle of the focused few. Even these great leaders and our Savior had but twenty-four hours in a day. to accomplish God’s task in each generation – from delivering the people from Egypt’s bondage, to unifying and building physical Israel to conquering the world evangelistically – has always required a focused few. In the past several months, the ever-increasing responsibilities of Boston, the domestic churches and the foreign plantings have not allowed me to meet all the churches’ physical, emotional, financial and spiritual needs. Therefore by counsel, study, fasting and prayer it has become clear to me that a focused few is needed to forcefully advance God’s Multiplying Ministry Movement. In turn, each of these men will focus their energies on the leaders in a specific geographic sector of the world. To select this group of world leaders, to which other in the future may be added, the following qualifications became my guidelines: 1. A man of God. 2. A five talent man. 3. If married, then a great marriage and a wife with comparable leadership gifts. 4. Youthful with a ‘Timothy’ spirit. 5. Not a ‘yes’ man, not a debater, but direct, discerning and insightful. 6. A proven leader with Kingdom impact. 7. Must lead from his geographic field. 8. A close friend and confidant. After prayer, the following brothers were selected: Douglas Arthur, Steve Johnson, Randy McKean, Phil Lamb, Frank Kim, Scott Green, Tom Brown. To the Seven, because of the wisdom which only comes with age, I added Al Baird and Bob Gempel.”
This quotation alone proves the ICC to be a universal organization that is run by human leaders who believe themselves in some sense to be “God inspired.” It also proves that McKean in some sense sees himself as being in an office comparable to the Apostle Paul. Members of the body of Christ have for a long time criticized and condemned (rightly so) the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church for the very same abominable heresies (i.e., a Universal Church; popes and presidents; man-made hierarchal structure; progressive revelation; etc.) that the ICC is now guilty of.
It is significant to note, in all of this, that Kip McKean once made the following statement in 1979 concerning the Crossroads movement, which was endorsed by the Crossroads Church in Gainesville, Florida:
“Each congregation of the Church of Christ is independent and autonomous. There is no hierarchy. Heritage Chapel Church of Christ is not controlled by any other congregation in Florida, Texas or anywhere else.”
Now things are different. Now the Church is no longer to be independent and autonomous. Now the Universal Church is to be activated, organized and overseen by men, rather than by Christ. Now the ICC thinks that it has become the Lord’s church (and the only true church) throughout the world.
Of recent, the ICC has been going through some tumultuous times as it is experiencing serious internal problems. There are those from within the movement who are calling for reform of some of the very problems this article exposes. There are those who realize that the ICC has been guilty of incredible abuse in its perversion of authority and Scripture. There are those who are speaking out. May their tribe increase. Unless major changes are made and the reformation is genuine, the errors of the International Church(es) of Christ will continue to multiply as the Apostasy goes on. May God have mercy on all our souls . . .