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International Churches of Christ



Many of the articles and other resources linked to in this entry are dated, in that they address the ICOC before major changes took place.

Parts of this entry include archived material, but links to research resources have been updated.1 The body of the entry itself will also be updated in the days to come.

In an 2004 statement (updated in 2005), REVEAL -- a website set up by former members in order to provide research on the movement -- reported on the major upheavals and changes the ICOC experienced during the previous few years. (For instance, founder Kip McKean - who was responsible for much of the biblically erroneous and abusive nature of the ICOC - stepped down and then returned to 'ministry.' McKean and his wife took over the Portland Church of Christ and soon again attempted to exert authority over the other ICOC churches. At present he is no longer involved with the ICOC, but leads a new movement, the International Christian Churches.)

In Febr. 2003, Henry Kriete - a leader in the London Church of Christ - released a paper titled, Honest to Godoffsite. It was critical of many ICOC practices.

In response, three major factionsoffsite formed:

1.) There is a reformist group that has taken heed to Henry Kriete and others, who are actively trying to make things better and change.
[...]

2) There is a moderate group that, while they recognize that reform is necessary, feel that the current rate of reform is sufficient and believe that the abuses will be taken care of, eventually. They do not feel that they need to go to the perceived 'extreme' measures of the reformist group, to be radical about reform.

3) There is a conservative or traditionalist group, that feel that Kriete's letter and other criticisms (even positive ones) are just being used by the enemies of the ICC in trying to tear it down, and that the ICC has become 'soft' and 'weak'. They want to return to the glory days of old, when things were more black-and-white and definitive (for instance, mandatory disciplers telling people what to do). This group is divided however; some want a return of a high power, Kip, but others do not want Kip to return. Read UpCyberDown and you'll see many of these comments.

Source: Three Major Factionsoffsite Chris Lee, at Reveal.org
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At Apologetics Index we still do not recommend involvement in the ICOC, nor in any movement headed by Kip McKean (e.g. his "International Christian Churches"), who is no longer involved in the church.

The movement has cleaned up its act somewhat, but it remains troublesome.

The ICOC claims to teach that a person is saved by grace through faith -- but it also insists that salvation occurs at the moment a person is baptized, and in fact teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation. [See these resources on Baptism]

By changing one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, this movement marks itself as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

While it has given up its cult-like, heavy-handed control over its followers, the movement continues to be hyper-zealous.

It was one of the fastest-growing and most controversial churches in America, banned as a cult from dozens of college campuses while boasting 135,000 members worldwide. Its followers were known for spending their free time recruiting new members and waiting on doorsteps at 4 in the morning, hoping to persuade those who had ''fallen away'' to come back to the fold. But now the central organization of the International Churches of Christ, a strict religious body founded in Boston, is collapsing.

Thomas ''Kip'' McKean, its charismatic founder, has stepped down. Its world governing body has dissolved and dozens of local church leaders have resigned or been fired, in part because churches can no longer afford to pay their salaries.

Behind the story of a teetering church empire is the tale of the autocratic visionary who built it and his independent-minded daughter, now a Harvard senior, whose decision to leave the church sparked turmoil in the already troubled group.

''It caused her father to have to step aside and it caused the group to reexamine itself,'' said Michelle Campbell, executive director of REVEAL, a nonprofit organization that provides information and support to former members of the church. ''It was sort of inevitable that Kip would fall. The standards he set, no one could meet. Not his children, not even himself. The very thing that he created came back and bit him.''

Source: A Christian community falters, "Loss of leader, governing body hurts group formed in Boston," The Boston Globe, May 17, 2003
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Though at first glance much of the International Churches of Christ's theology appears to be orthodox, many of its doctrines and practices are, in fact, controversial and cultic.

While the ICC proclaims itself to be "God's modern-day movement," Christian apologists and countercult experts consider it to be a cult of Christianity (theologically). In addition, the ICC includes many of the sociological characteristics of a cult:

Among other things, this movement

  • has a prideful, elitist attitude,
  • frequently engages in dishonest recruitment practices,
  • has a heavy-handed approach to authority
  • employs a controversial discipling system, and
  • misrepresents the Bible's teachings regarding grace, baptism, and salvation

These and other issues have led theologians, cult experts, as well as secular anticult- and Christian countercult organizations to warn against involvement in the ICC.

ABC 20/20 broadcast from Oct. 15, 1993

The ICC is an offshoot of the mainline Church of Christ denomination, whose name it has usurped. The mainline Church of Christ has distanced itself from the movement.

The movement's churches generally take on the name of the place in which they are located, e.g.: Boston Church of Christ, Los Angeles Church of Christ, London Church of Christ, Gemeente van Christus te Amsterdam, etcetera. This is an example of the ICC's exclusivistic and elitists attitude. Considering itself to be the only true Christian church, the movement implicitly teaches that there should only be one church per city. It reluctantly allows for other churches only if those churches are in complete agreement with ICC theology and practice.

Explicitly, this movement taught that unless you are part of the ICC, you are not saved. Hear, for example, John Causy: "Everyone needs to be a member of this church if they're going to go to heaven" Wav File (November 1996 sermon. 290K wave file.)

The ICC's cultic nature frequently is addressed in the media. Examples:
Take the International Churches of Christ. A fast-growing Christian organization known for aggressive proselytizing to college students, the ICOC–which some ex-members and experts on mind-control assert is a cult–is one of the most controversial religious groups on campus. At least 39 institutions, including Harvard and Georgia State, have outlawed the organization at one time or another for violating rules against door-to-door recruiting, say, or harassment. ''I'm banning destructive behaviors, not religion,'' says the Rev. Robert Watts Thornburg, dean of the chapel at Boston University, which barred the ICOC from campus after members posted signs saying their meeting was mandatory.

Janine Marnien, for one, felt intense pressure to join the ICOC. In 1998, the then freshman was on her way across the University of Southern California campus, when a beaming young woman stepped in her path and invited her to a nondenominational church service–and wouldn't take no for an answer. Countless calls, compliments, and invitations later, Marnien was a full-fledged convert, attending almost daily Bible studies, services, and social activities–and forcefully recruiting other students as well. In addition to giving of her time, she was also required to donate a tenth of her income–about 30 percent of each meager work-study paycheck. ''I just didn't realize what I had gotten into,'' says Marnien, now a junior. ''That is, until my discipler told me I couldn't go home for my father's birthday.''

A zealous group, to be sure, but is it a cult? ''We're no more a cult than Jesus was a cult,'' says Al Baird, spokesperson for the ICOC, which, he insists, does not condone harassment and is merely an evangelical church out to ''share Jesus with everybody.'' University of Virginia sociology Prof. Jeffrey Hadden, who has studied religious movements for over 30 years, agrees. ''Every new religion experiences a high level of tension with society because its beliefs and ways are unfamiliar. But most, if they survive, we come to accept as part of the religious landscape.'' He cites Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Scientists as examples.

Still, experts say the label has nothing to do with radical beliefs and everything to do with behavior. Each of the estimated 3,000 cults in this country has a unique ideology, but they all share certain worrisome traits (box). Students are particularly easy prey. ''They are in transition from the culture of their parents, which leaves them somewhat uncertain and anxious,'' explains Marc Galanter, a professor of psychiatry and the author of Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion. ''Cults provide answers.''

A push becomes a shove, US News & World Report, Mar. 13, 2000


High-pressure, fast-growing evangelical quasi-cult successful on college campuses...

Though McKean is not regarded as a charismatic guru, the group uses other common cult tactics, such as "disciplers" who shepherd the thoughts and movements of new members and conduct marathon Bible study sessions that isolate prospective members from friends, family, school, and work.


Yeakley works with many cult counselors and says they receive more complaints regarding the ICC than any other group except the Church of Scientology.
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"In fact, one of the most controversial groups in the U.S. is the International Church of Christ, which has a Minneapolis location," he [Ron Enroth] said.
(...)

In 1993, Free Minds examined the Minneapolis-St. Paul Church of Christ and deemed it a cult because of the deception it employs to attract members.

The Church's tendency to minimize the importance of the individual is another one of the Church's cult-like attributions, Enroth said.

Cult awareness conference courts protest, debate
Minnesota Daily, May 18, 1999


See also the articles in our News database.

The ICC has been banned from more than 30 college campuses in the USA [Source]

Note that members of the ICC often do not reveal their connection to the ICC when recruiting. On- and off campus ministries may go by a variety of names.

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Research resources on the International Churches of Christ

These links include references to archived material:2

Articles

Books

Books -- Online

News Archive

See Also

Usenet (now Google Groups)

Websites

Notes:

  1. This article was update on May 7, 2014. Additional editing will take place. We have updated links to research resources on the movement -- largely in response to requests for information.
  2. After the major upheavals in this movement (see above), many websites eventually were no longer updated. Some of the resources are still online in their original form, but many articles and websites are available only via the Internet Archive.

    Sometimes the archived version linked to becomes unavailable as well. In that case, try to find another version by using the timeline at the top of each Internet Archive page.

  3. An Internet discussion system. See also: Google Groupsoffsite

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This post was last updated: May. 8, 2014