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Authoritarianism in the International Churches of Christ

About the International Churches of Christ
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In his book, Churches That AbuseOff-site Link Ronald Enroth addresses abuses within the International Churches of Christ.

From Chapter 6 - Elitism and Persecution : Abusive Churches See Themselves As Special

The Boston Movement, earlier known as the "Crossroads Movement" and "Multiplying Ministries," had its origins in the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida, under the leadership of Pastor Chuck Lucas. He stressed personal discipleship training, a variant of the shepherding philosophy so popular during the 1970s. This philosophy stressed the need for every believer to have a "covering" in the Lord, a delegated authority who must be unconditionally obeyed and consulted for even the most personal decisions. One of Lucas' own disciples, Kip McKean, became pastor of a small Church of Christ in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1979 and transformed a group of less than one hundred members into a thriving congregation worship on Sundays in Boston Garden, home of the Celtics. It has been under the leadership and influence of this young evangelist that the Boston Church of Christ has developed into what one observer calls the "Jerusalem" of one of the most controversial and most publicized of the authoritarian movements discussed in this book.

Unlike the mainline Churches of Christ (which have distanced themselves from the rapidly growing offshoot), the congregations affiliated with the Boston Movement answer to their mother church in Boston. The doctrinal areas that have caused most controversy are those dealing with authority, discipling, baptism, autonomy of congregations, and the role of the leadership, especially the leadership of Kip McKean.

Central to the Boston Movement's belief system is its view of authority. The leaders have justified the use of abusive authority in order to follow Jesus. They demand submission even if the leaders are sinful and un-Christlike. Here are examples of statements made by various Boston leaders that illustrate their position:

Often we are afraid to submit to authority because it might be abusive. Jesus was not afraid of abusive authority; he was even willing to submit and obey authority that was abusive (Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 27:11-50) ... When we trust God, we do not have to be afraid of abusive authority. Just as in the times of the New Testament, there will be people who are hurt and killed by abusive authorities, but God is still in control; if they were right with Him, and they will still be ultimately rescued to the supreme security - home with God... It is not an option to rebel against their authority... God's people must be aware that they have a responsibility before God to respect, obey, and submit to His anointed servants... Far too many with the church of Christ have imitated the words of Korah and other leaders of Israel who said to Moses, 'You have gone too far! The who community is holy, everyone of them, and the Lord is with them. Why do you set yourself above the Lord's assembly?'... It is true that all Christians walking in the light are holy and God is indeed with everyone of them. However, it is also true that through His spirit certain men have been assigned responsibilities to lead in the Kingdom and that to oppose them is to oppose God who anointed them.
(1)

The Boston Movement teaches that each member should be answerable to another disciple in order to provide nurturing for new Christians. Members are encouraged to imitate and trust their disciplers.

A disciple is one who obeys his discipler if he doesn't comprehend what he's told. Because he wants to have a teachable heart, he will fully obey and be totally obedient even if what he's asked to do is contrary to what he would normally do or think. To distrust the person God had put in his life is equal to distrusting God and his faith in God is shown by his faith in his discipler.
(2)

In 1987, evangelist Kip McKean gave a talk entitled, "Why Do You Resist the Spirit?" in which he said, "No one can do it on their own. Everybody needs ongoing discipleship. You are a disciple of God until you die and you are a disciple of someone else until you die. (3)

The Boston Movement demands "Lordship baptism." In other words, one must confess Jesus as Lord over every area of his life and demonstrate that he is a disciple before being baptized. This has resulted in a wave of rebaptisms, since new adherents who may have been baptized in another Christian church find that their previous baptism is not acceptable to the Boston Church of Christ. Even those people with backgrounds in the mainline Churches of Christ find themselves in need of rebaptism.

The Boston Movement is an example of the elitist orientation that is so pervasive in authoritarian-church movements. It alone has the Truth, and to question its teachings and practices is to invite rebuke. As Jerry Jones observes:

When the Boston Movement is confronted with their wrong teachings, its practice is to attack the character and life of the questioner by claiming that he has "sin in his life." Such terms as "prideful," "independent spirit," and "rebellious" are used in answer to the inquirer. The Boston Movement believes that being "independent" or "critical" is sin.
(4)

Yeakley's research on the Boston Movement concluded that the disciple/discipler relationship was potentially manipulative and destructive. Because members are required to confess their sins to their disciplers, the emphasis on such self-disclosure can be dangerous.

The discipling hierarchy thus becomes a glorified informant network. As such, it is an effective means of control... Those being discipled were told what courses to take in school, what field to major in, what career to enter, whom to date or not date, and even whom to marry or not marry.
(5)

From Chapter 10: Discernment and Response : Abusive Churches Present A Warning

As we have seen, another sign of impending trouble in a church is an obsession with discipline and excommunication. Beware of churches that warn of certain doom if you leave their "covering," or if you "break covenant." Once banished from the group, little compassion is shown the wayward one. An overwhelming majority of the ex-members I have interviews expressed the opinion that abusive leaders are cold, almost cruel, in their treatment of people who leave - whether that departure was voluntary or involuntary. Almost without exception they report that the leadership made no attempt at reconciliation and made no effort to heal the wounds inflicted. Instead, defectors are held up to the congregation as warnings to potential "sowers of discord." As the leader of one small group in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the Church of Our First Love, was quoted as saying, "Anyone who hinders the work I do, God will remove him."

Once he had decided to seek his spiritual food outside the Boston Movement, a former member of that group says he

experienced the full force of friendly persuasions, peer pressure, righteous indignation, and eventually a form of "shunning," where one exists, but for all intents and purposes is "dead" in the eyes of the brothers and sisters. To leave the Boston Church of Christ - even to leave for another congregation of the Church of Christ - was not a recognized option; to leave was a weak, sinful thing to do, tantamount to opting for perdition.
(9)

He adds, "Not once did I ever hear from a member of the Boston Church of Christ again."

Footnotes:

Chapter 6:

1. Jerry Jones, What Does the Boston Movement Teach? Vol. 1. (Bridgeton, MO: Mid-America Book and Tape Sales, 1990), 7-8.

2. Ibid., 12.

3. Jerry Jones, What Does the Boston Movement Teach? Vol. 2. (Bridgeton, MO: Mid-America Book and Tape Sales, 1990), 17

4. Ibid. 14.

5. Flavil Yeakley, The Discipling Dilemma (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1988), 54-55

Chapter 10:

9. Jerry Jones, The Boston Movement, vol. 2, 78

About the International Churches of Christ    About Spiritual Abuse


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