Apologetics Index
International Churches Of Christ:
Who They Are, What They Do, How To Answer Them

Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox International Churches of Christ (ICC)

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Mar. 15, 2005 - Please Note: Over the past couple of years, the International Church of Christ has experienced major upheavals and changes. After founder Kip McKean - who is 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.

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

In response, three major factions 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 Factions Chris Lee, at Reveal.org

This entry will soon be updated and expanded.

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

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.

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, it teaches 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.

"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.

- Articles -
Christian At What Price Success? The Boston (Church of Christ) Movement. By James Bjornstad.
Christian Authoritarianism in the International Churches of Christ Excerpt from Ronald Enroth's book "Churches That Abuse."
Christian Birth of a Cult Collection of articles from the "Let Us Reason" site on the teachings, practices and claims of the International Churches of Christ. Excerpted from a book by the same name, available at the site.
Christian The Boston Church A profile by Russ Wise.
Secular Church of Christ Altculture entry on the International Church of Christ
Christian Doctrinal Positions of the International Churches of Christ Presented in chart form.
Christian How The Boston Movement Operates Steven Rauch tells how the ICC deceives Christians
Christian The International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement) Brief overview by Dan Anderson, Steven Rauch and Rafael Martinez.
Christian The International Churches of Christ: Disciples of Abuse? By John Morehead
Christian Marks of a Cult By evangelist Joseph Owade, former member of an ICOC-affiliated church. (For more information about cults, see Cults, Sects, Alternative Religions)
Secular Mind Control and the International Churches of Christ Article on the R.E.V.I.V.E site
Christian Quotes by the leadership of ICC A "few of the many statements which show the true nature of the leadership of the I.C.C." Also: Additional Quotes by the Leadership of ICC
Christian Stories from the ICC The REVEAL web site index of mostly first-hand stories by former members and a few current members. This page includes stories about individual people and whole churches who left the ICC. There are a huge number of stories (over 60 at present), and the number is growing constantly.
Christian Television Reports on the ICC "Sin Lists," Confidentiality and Other Documentation Documented by Joanne Ruhland. Demonstrates the type of cultic, abusive behavior that has people concerned about the ICC.
Christian 'Toxic Faith' or God's Modern-day Movement Deals with the ICC in general, and the Vancouver Church of Christ in particular.
Secular University Administrators' Responses to the International Churches of Christ Article on the R.E.V.I.V.E. site
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Who Are They? (PRO) A member of the Los Angeles Church of Christ explains why he is an ICOC member.
Christian Why We Left The Boston Movement Article on the Triumphing Over London Cults site Click for more information on this entry

- Books -        Click On Titles To Order At Discount           » More Books
Secular The Boston Movement: Subtitled: "Critical Perspectives of the International Churches of Christ." Edited by Carol Giambalvo and Herbert Rosedale

- Books - Online -
Christian The Discipling Dilemma Online book by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., Editor, Howard W. Norton, Don E. Vinzant, and Gene Vinzant. While specifically written with the International Churches of Christ in mind, it provides good insight in the basic issues regarding discipling. Includes these sections:
  • Church Growth Research Concerning the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ
  • The Impact of the Discipling Movement On Mission Work Done by the Churches of Christ...
  • Historical Roots of the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ
  • A Reference Guide to the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ
Christian From the Churches of Christ to the Boston Movement: A Comparative Study Master's Thesis by Russell R. Paden, University of Kansas, 1994. This is an unusually well written work which traces the roots of the International Churches of Christ in the American "Restoration Movement" and Churches of Christ. Paden discusses how the beliefs and practices of the Restoration Movement influenced and shaped the ICC and helped make it what it is today.
Christian The ICC Bible Studies: A Critical Analysis A careful, point-by-point analysis of the First Principles Study Series written by Kip McKean in 1979, which almost all ICC converts are required to complete prior to their baptisms. Dave Anderson, the author of this analyis, went through those studies himself in the early 1990s. A week before the New York Church of Christ had scheduled his baptism, Dave realized that something was seriously wrong and refused to continue the process. REVEAL reports that this is by far the most frequently accessed document in the theology section of its "Online Library", and one of the most popular on the site.
Christian What Does the Boston Movement Teach? A huge work by Dr. Jerry Jones, a former elder in the Boston Church of Christ. It documents the beliefs and teaching of the Boston Church of Christ between roughly 1982 or thereabouts through 1994, and cites an enormous number of internal ICC sources, such as sermon tapes by Kip McKean and other ICC evangelists and leaders, church bulletins, and notes from conferences and seminars. This is probably the single best source of first-hand material on the International Church of Christ's teaching and practices during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is a three-volume printed work. Most of Volume I is on-line, and the other two volumes will be posted as they are scanned and edited.

- Mailing List -
Christian ICOC_Concerned "...a place where people who have friends or family members involved with Kip McKean's International Churches of Christ to seek advice from former members and learn more about the doctrine and practice of this cult." (Details)
Christian ICOC_Exmembers Restricted to ex-members of the International Churches of Christ. (Details)

- News -
Breaking News and News Archive Presented on the REVEAL site.

- News/Usenet Group -
Grey Zone, Unsure, or Offkey alt.religion.christian.boston-church Newsgroup started to question and examine the teachings and practices of the International Churches of Christ. Like most "alt." newsgroups it is unmoderated. Open to all - members, ex-members and interested parties post. But despite the expected sparring, the level of conversation and the overall attitude in the group is better than in most alt.religion groups. That said,

- Sites -
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox All Nations Webring (PRO) An index of pages and sites by current ICOC members
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox The Barnabas Ministry (Pro) Damage control by John Engler, an ICOC leader. On the surface he appears even-handed, but a tour of the site makes it clear Mr. Engler minimizes ICOC problems. In the newsgroup he has misrepresented Ronald Enroth's writings regarding the ICOC, and called Mr. Enroth names. Mr. Engler figures the ICOC had some problems in the past, but insists the ICOC is not a cult. His participation in the (unmoderated) newsgroup is welcomed by some and decried by others. The latter believe Engler is among the ICOC disciples assigned to counter criticism of the church. On this, Engler states

I have NOT been ''sent here'' by anyone in the ICOC. I speak for myself.

I attempt to be an agent of change in the ICOC on things I believe need to change. I defend things that I think should be defended.
John on the soapbox, alt.religion.christian.boston-church, Jun. 28, 2000

However, while Mr. Engler declares that his web site is operated by himself, and that his newsgroup activities are not mandated by the ICOC, his approach shows him to be a cult apologist for the ICOC.
Christian Bibliography of the International Churches of Christ Good collection of links and references.
Christian Choose Life! Leaving the International Churches of Christ (Contra) A personal testimony.
Secular Cult Awareness Resources (Contra) News items and other information regarding the International Churches of Christ
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox DPI - Discipleship Publications International (PRO) Publishers of ICOC materials.
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Equal Time (PRO) The page's author says: "Since there are so many accounts of 'former' members about the church, it is time for those of us who are still members to give our side of the story."
Christian ExIcoc.org (Contra) Support group listing, ex-member registry, Emergency Assistance Program, mailing lists, etcetera. "Note that this site's domain name ends in .ORG. The ICOC has itself registered exicoc.com and exicoc.net."
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Fishbrain (PRO) A meeting place for ICOC members.
Christian International Churches of Christ Information Site (Contra) counter-ICOC information provided by Steven Rauch.
Christian International Church of Christ Page (Contra) Counter-ICOC site. Includes text of ICOC's "First Principles" studies.
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox International Churches of Christ (PRO) Official ICOC web site
Christian Light and Darkness (Contra) Former member's site. Includes an interesting look at the ICOC "restoration" process.
Christian McKean's Mafia (Contra) Compares ICOC leader Kp McKean with a mafia boss...
Secular Mind Control and the International Churches of Christ (Contra) Articles found on the REVIVE site
Christian New Covenant Publications (Contra) Excellent collection of articles examining the teachings and practices of the ICC and its leadership.
Christian Resource Joanne Ruhland's extensive site on cults and abuse in general, and the International Churches of Christ in particular. Excellent resource.
Secular Triumphing Over London Cults (Contra) Extensive collection of information. Excellent media reports section.
Christian REVEAL (Contra) Easily the most complete source of information, REVEAL (which stands for Research, Examine, Verify, Educate, Assist, Liberate) is an organization of former ICOC members. You'll find lots of resources, testimonies, articles, news items, and source of support.

This Apologetics Index entry is maintained by Anton Hein