- International Churches of Christ
International Churches of Christ Classification Christian restorationist, Christian fundamentalism Orientation New Testament, Evangelical  Polity Congregationalist Geographical areas global (159 nations) Founder Kip McKean Branched from Churches of Christ Separations Kip McKean's movement "International Christian Churches" Congregations 543 (2005) Members 95,751 (2005)
The International Churches of Christ (typically abbreviated to ICOC) is a body of co-operating non-denominational, religiously conservative, and racially integrated Christian congregations, an offshoot from the Mainline Churches of Christ. This group is known for and has a long history of showing charity to the poor. 
The ICOC regards the New Testament of the Bible as the supreme authority on doctrine, ecclesiastical structure, and moral beliefs. They acknowledge the Old Testament as historically accurate and divinely inspired, and its principles as true and beneficial, but hold that its laws are not binding under the new covenant in Christ unless otherwise taught in the New Testament. Through holding that their doctrine is based on the Bible alone, and not on creeds and traditions, they claim the distinction of being "non-denominational". Members of the International Churches of Christ generally emphasize their intent to simply be part of the original church established by Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, which became evident on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2. They believe that anyone who follows the plan of salvation as laid out in the scriptures is saved by the grace of God. 
Once the fastest-growing Christian movement in the United States, membership growth slowed during the late 1990s. McKean was removed from Leadership in 2002 and Henry Kreite's letter of 2003 sparked internal reform and restructuring. Even so, the ICOC still boasts nearly 100,000 members in 160 nations around the world. At the International leadership Conference held in Miami, Florida, the developments over the past few years were explained by Michael Taliaferro "over the past thirty years we've had our highs and we have had our lows, we've had our victories and we've had our defeats. We have dropped the hierarchy in favour of co-operation, we've gone from uniformity to unity." A new leadership structure based on "service teams" now provides global leadership.
Sometimes called the Boston Movement because of its early ties to the Boston Church of Christ, it is a "remarkable but controversial" restorationist Church which branched from the mainline Churches of Christ in the late 1980s under the leadership of Kip McKean. While many of its members have nothing but praise for the church and the ways it has helped heal broken relationships, escape addictions and find a relationship with Jesus and make peace with God. The church has not been without it's critics. Its assertive recruitment methods, high level of control (during the McKean era of the 1980's and 1990's) allegedly exercised by leadership over members through "discipling" partnerships, and rejection of the doctrines of some other churches have caused some researchers, observers, and ex-members to label the organization a cult in the broader sense of "extreme devotion to a set of beliefs." Historically church officials have been unapologetic for their energetic evangelism, believing this to be the duty of all true Christians, but have renounced any allegations of impropriety as unfounded, A few local churches have become autonomous after the recent disbandment of the old central leadership, and today it is difficult to make any generalizations about the organization collectively.
- 1 History
- 2 Church organization and services
- 3 Institutional Description
- 4 Controversy and Criticism
- 5 Cultural, philosophical and doctrinal changes
- 6 ICOC plan for United Cooperation
- 7 See also
- 8 References
The roots of the International Churches of Christ lay in the American Restoration movement of the nineteenth-century. This movement seeks a return to first-century Christianity in holding the Bible as the source of church authority. However by the 1860s, some felt that the movement had become polluted by the institution of missionary societies and use of musical instruments in church. A schism developed, and the Mainline adopted a sub-theology separate from the Churches of Christ in 1906 with some 160,000 adherents, growing to 1.2 million by the end of the century.
The a cappella Churches of Christ membership numbers approximately 2,000,000 in over 40,000 individual congregations worldwide.
In 1967, Chuck Lucas — evangelist of the 14th Street Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida (later renamed the Crossroads Church of Christ) — instituted a new project known as Campus Advance (based on principles borrowed from the Campus Crusade and the Shepherding Movement). Centered on the University of Florida, this program called for a strong evangelical outreach and an intimate religious atmosphere in the form of soul talks and prayer partners. Soul talks were held in student residences and involved prayer and sharing overseen by a leader who delegated authority over group members. Prayer partners referred to the practice of pairing a new Christian with an older guide for personal assistance and direction. Both procedures led to "in-depth involvement of each member in one another's lives", and critics accused Lucas of fostering cultism.
In 1972 (the fifth year of the Campus Advance program), the 14th Street Church of Christ (renamed the Crossroads Church) recruited a young freshman at the University of Florida named Thomas 'Kip' McKean. The son of an admiral, McKean was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is purportedly named after his ancestor Thomas McKean (a signer of the Declaration of Independence). McKean completed his degree program while training at Crossroads and afterward served as campus minister at several other mainline Churches of Christ locations. In 1979 he was offered the position of pulpit and campus minister at a struggling Boston-area congregation called the Lexington Church of Christ. Under McKean's leadership the church — renamed to 'Boston Church of Christ' — witnessed rapid growth from 30 members at the time of his arrival to 3,000 in just a few years.
McKean believed that an important measure of a church's value was its growth and outreach to people far from God, and that the Churches of Christ and other ecclesiastic institutions were too lethargic in this area. Chronicler Russell Paden explains:
“ While [McKean and his followers] would probably concede that there are false religions that experience growth, they would contend that a true church of God must be experiencing growth. ”
Once among the fastest-growing religious movements in the country, expansion of the mainline Churches of Christ had stagnated by 1970. McKean sought to reverse this.
At the start of the 1980s, Kip McKean came up with the plan to have a "vision for the world", which required the establishment of 'pillar churches' in key metropolitan centers to spread the faith globally. With this in mind, he oversaw the establishment of sister churches in Chicago and London in 1982, and in New York one year later.
The Boston church sent mission teams to Chicago and London in 1981, and New York shortly thereafter. The term "International Churches of Christ" was applied to the movement by the Mainline Churches of Christ during the 1980s, as it was characterized both by ICOC church plantings and 'reconstructions' of the mainline in the United States and elsewhere. The movement took on a more centralized structure[specify] after Kip McKean assumed leadership of the Los Angeles church in the late 1980s. In 2000, the ICOC announced the completion of its six-year initiative to establish a church in every country with a population over 100,000. Two years later, membership peaked at 135,046 in more than 540 congregations across the globe. The Los Angeles church rapidly evolved into a "superchurch" that attracted thousands of members.
Boston and New York remained the two key centers, each boasting an average Sunday morning attendance of over 5,000 parishioners.
In 1990, Kip McKean moved from Boston to head the Los Angeles Church of Christ. Los Angeles quickly became the new central authority for the growing movement. By the official website church had 135,039 members in 434 congregations by January 2003. Currently, the total membership of International Churches of Christ is around 96,000.
The Indianapolis Church of Christ
- This section requires more specific details, and independent references to confirm their accuracy.
The first major challenge of the International Churches of Christ leadership occurred in 1994, when Ed Powers, evangelist for the Indianapolis Church of Christ, openly questioned several of the more controversial aspects of the International Churches of Christ, including mandated giving and the exclusivity doctrine of salvation. The Indianapolis Church of Christ was surpassing 1,000 in attendance at that time and was a major congregation in the Midwest region of the United States. In a special meeting of the congregation, Ed Powers challenged several of the International Churches of Christ-enforced practices which he identified as quenching the joy and spiritual health of the members of the congregation. Upon learning of this special meeting, leaders from across the United States, including Kip McKean, flew into Indianapolis and confronted Ed Powers. As a result, there are now two congregations in Indianapolis: the newly formed Indianapolis International Church of Christ and the now-estranged and renamed Circle City Church. Ed Powers later retired from the ministry of the Circle City Church. Mike Kwasniewski currently oversees the Indianapolis International Church of Christ.
In early 2001, some of the World Sector Leaders (regional evangelists directing geographic areas of churches) began to question the effectiveness of the present leadership structure as well as the qualifications of Kip and Elena McKean to continue in their global leadership role. By September, the issue had reached a head in which the majority of World Sector Leaders agreed that significant changes were necessary. In November 2001, the McKeans announced that they were stepping down from leading the Los Angeles Church of Christ in order to take a sabbatical for an unspecified amount of time in order to focus on "marriage and family issues". All of the McKeans' adult children had disassociated themselves from the movement and though this was not the only issue for the sabbatical, it was a visible 'thorn' in Kip McKean's side.
At this time, the International Churches of Christ administration, under the leadership of Andy Fleming (a former missionary to Scandinavia and the Soviet Union), began to formulate a plan for a massive reduction in the overhead of the worldwide organization. The goal of this administrative plan was to refocus the resources of the local congregations on building up their own ministries as well as guaranteeing continued goodwill in future missions contributions. By the end of 2002, the overhead had been reduced by 67%, and Fleming resigned as the Chairman of the Board.
In November 2002, the McKeans announced their resignations from their roles as World Mission Evangelist, Women's Ministry Leader and Leader of the World Sector Leaders. The World Sector Leaders also announced the disintegration of their leadership group with the suggestion that a new representative leadership group including evangelists, elders and teachers, be formed with an initial meeting in May 2003. McKean himself attributes the resignation to his daughter's decision to leave the ICOC,[when?] which "along with my leadership sins of arrogance, and not protecting the weak, caused uncertainty in my leadership among the World Sector Leaders." Later in 2002 the remaining central leadership was officially dissolved at the 2002 'Los Angeles Unity Meeting'.
At the beginning of 2001 as a college student in Boston, the oldest of the McKeans’ children began to question her faith. Unjustly and heavily criticized – because of the high profile of her parents – and feeling unloved by many in the congregation, she stopped attending church. This event, alongside a pattern of relational problems, caused uncertainty in McKeans’ leadership among many of the World Sector Leaders, as well as among the Kingdom Elders and Kingdom Teachers. In September of 2001, the World Sector Leaders “encouraged” the McKeans to go on sabbatical. Applied to McKean were the qualifications of an elder, not an evangelist. The reasoning was that to “oversee” a church, one had to “manage his own family [well or] how can he take care of God’s church.” (1 Timothy 3:4-5) Also cited incorrectly was Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and… he will not turn from it.” Left out from this quote is the phrase, “when he is old.” Disregarding what is obviously implied in the phrase “when he is old,” is that during their younger years children may not be faithful to God, but will return to the kingdom because of their good training when they are “old.” In the Scriptures, some of God’s and Israel’s greatest leaders had unfaithful children – Aaron, Samuel, and even the Old Testament’s Messiah, David – yet they continued to victoriously lead “all Israel.”
This centralized structure lasted until 2002, when McKean resigned from his leadership role, and was furthered by a letter written by then-London church leader Henry Kriete pointing out shortcomings of the ICOC. Since 2003, the International Churches of Christ have no formally recognized headquarters, or hierarchical church government, but most of them still maintain close ties with each other. The International leadership for the IOC is now made up of Elder, Evangelist and Teacher service teams. One or two congregations have sought reunification with mainline churches. In 2004, Kip McKean made an effort to again assert his leadership over the ICOC at a World Missions Jubilee in Portland, major ICOC church leaders rejected the concept due to mistrust in Kip's leadership. McKean had demonstrated a pattern of unrepentant leadership and relational sins that had surfaced in both his family life and in many of his relationships with his closest friends. He had stepped down other senior leaders for "family problems" but was having a difficult time applying those same standards to himself. This lack of humility and integrity had left many of his close friends disillusioned and mistrusting of McKeans leadership. In that same year the International Portland Church of Christ became a place of much controversy, and a calling of dis-fellowship-ment was made from leaders of ICOC against Kip McKean. McKean had demonstrated a pattern of unrepentant behavior and after letters detailing his needed repentance were ignored McKean and those complicit with his sins were disfellowshipped. In 2007 Kip moved to Los Angeles to start a new movement changing the name from ICOC to the International Christian Churches (ICC) Kip McKean Starts The International Christian Churches</ref> to distinguish it from the ICOC.
What followed was a period of increased sovereignty among local churches, Many in leadership positions issued public apologies for their lack of gentleness and participation in overly authoritative leadership practices and some resigned or were asked to leave. By 2004, Boston, Atlanta, and New York had lost over 30% of their members, and a small number of congregations severed their ties with the ICOC.
Local fellowships varied in their reactions to the power vacuum. ICOC Chronicler Chris Lee asserts that three groups emerged, still extant today: a conservative group which seeks a return to the former, authoritarian structure; a moderate group that, "while they recognize that reform is necessary, feel that the current rate of reform is sufficient"; and a reformist group which advocates radical restructuring. The latter group is exemplified by Henry Kriete of the London Church of Christ, who penned an influential 2003 letter criticizing the "four systemic evils … [of] our corrupted hierarchy, [namely] our obsession with numbers, our shameful arrogance … [and] our seduction by mammon."
The International churches of Christ are now a family of churches who have affirmed the "co-operation agreement" (see www.icocco-op.org) and who are committed to brotherhood, partnership and unity between disciples and churches. At the end of 2009, the ICOC has about 92,524 members in 574 churches in 145 countries.
Portland Discipling Movement
In 2003, Kip McKean was invited to return to Oregon's failing Portland International Church of Christ, he preached his first sermon on July 23 to a congregation of some 60–70 parishioners. Six months later, membership had doubled, and by mid-2005 an average of 425 coreligionists visited the church every Sunday.
Its subsequent revitalization and the continuing uncertainty within the ICOC movement prompted a handful of other congregations to join with McKean. This new movement, currently numbering twenty congregations in eight nations, has been termed the 'Portland Movement' or 'International Christian Churches'; it comprises an estimated 800 members.. Strangely, apart from their LA congregation, many of their churches are growing slower than the ICOC congregations they broke away from.
Bolstered by his recent successes, McKean set his sights on establishing a Portland Movement church in his former capital city of Los Angeles. In preparation, he dispatched an anonymous email in October 2006 to Angelino ICOC members, inviting them to a 'bible talk' session where he attempted to regain trust between the ICOC and the new Portland Movement. This came to the attention of ICOC leaders who responded with a letter advising members to avoid contact with McKean's new organization. Four months later, McKean led a 'mission team' of 42 Portland-area parishioners to Los Angeles where they joined with 28 local supporters who had begun a new LA church seven months prior. The new group is now called the City of Angels International Christian Church. In its first calendar year it has had 101 baptisms and 29 restoration and had sent out a mission team to New York City.
In August 2008, the Portland International Church of Christ with Evangelist Steve Johnson broke away from McKean's "new movement" and "extended the hand of fellowship" to the ICOC. A group of 13 local supporters continued their support of the ICC and began the Portland International Christian Church in September 2008. In the first 8 months, they have seen 22 baptisms, 14 people restored and 35 of the 260 members of the former Portland church have joined them.
Church organization and services
The ICOC directly administers or partners with over a dozen organizations. Some function as appendages of the church, others are entirely unrelated in their mission and activities. Of these, the largest and most well-known is HOPE worldwide, a charitable foundation started by members of the ICOC, which serves as the primary beneficiary of the church's charitable donations for the poor (though it is funded through other sources as well). Founded in London in 1986, HOPE worldwide moved to a global scale the following year. It sponsored the largest ever blood drives to be held in Brazil and Mexico in 1994, and opened an orphanage in Hong Kong the same year.
Church government is congregational, rather than denominational. Elders in some cases, or where there are not elders, evangelists, with the assistance of leading men of the congregation, are seen as the spiritual leaders of the congregation.
The evangelist, also known as preacher, or minister, prepares and delivers sermons, teaches Bible classes, performs weddings, and sometimes performs baptisms. The baptismal rite, however, is not restricted to ministers. This position is typically paid, to allow the evangelist to disentangle himself from secular employment and focus on studies. For most congregations the evangelist leads the local church in much the same way as most church pastors. He is often assisted by groups of men that have been elected by the local congregation or appointed by the evangelist. In many cases, church elders from what were formally regarded as 'pillar churches' act as advisers to the smaller congregations.
Church leadership is congregational rather than denominational. The International Churches of Christ have no formally recognized headquarters, or hierarchical church government. Rather, the congregations are a network with each congregation participating in various means of service and fellowship with other congregations. Regional families of churches co-operate in evangelism and benevolence projects to see the gospel and compassion of Christ spread to their area of the world
HOPE worldwide is an international charity that delivers community-based services to the poor and needy. Today the organization operates on every inhabited continent and serves more than 1,000,000 people each year.
Chemical Recovery Ministry
Other affiliated organizations
The following companies and institutions are informally operated or managed by the ICOC:
- Athens Institute of Ministry
- Discipleship Publishers International (DPI) — begun 1992 as the publishing ministry of the Boston Church of Christ but never the official publishing arm of the ICOC; Christian writing and audio teaching
- Baltic Nordic Missions Alliance
- European Bible School
- Florida Missions Council
- FunInTheSon.org (Does not work at the moment)
- Illumination Publishers International (IPI) — Christian writing and audio teaching
- International Missions Society, Inc. (IMS)
- KNN/Disciples Today.net, a production of Kingdom News Network (KNN) — non-profit religious corporation in Illinois
- Taiwan Mission Adventure
- Upside Down — official monthly publication discontinued in 1993.
- Discipleship Publications International — publishing ministry begun by the Boston Church of Christ in 1992, but never the official publishing arm of the ICOC. Now a separate non-profit organization; primarily prints spiritual literature
Los Angeles congregation
The largest ICOC congregation is the Los Angeles International Church of Christ, founded in 1989. The church has 5,300 members, a Sunday attendance of 7,700 and had 1,200 people baptized in 2009-2010. Lead evangelist Bruce Williams said this at the 20th anniversary service "the church is stronger, healthier and more unified than it has ever been since its planting in 1989. But beyond this, our fellowship is filled with a renewed spirit of love, joy, peace and hope."
Members hold to the biblical and historical belief that the church was founded by Jesus Christ, and that its doctrines and practices were established long before these other traditions, movements, structures, councils, et cetera. Members also do not typically consider themselves to be members of a denomination, but prefer to simply be known as Christians (in contrast to, for example, a Catholic Christian, a Presbyterian Christian, a Baptist Christian, et cetera.), with no other religious title needed or preferred. Thus, a collective group of Christians is a church of Christ. However they refer to one another as Disciples most often. (This stems from the New Testament where followers of Christ were called Disciples before Christians.)
Belief and practice
The ICOC teaches that:
- People are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.
- Every individual Christian is called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
- Every disciple must be baptized by being fully immersed under water to be saved.
The basic theology of the International Churches of Christ is Christian, including belief in the virgin birth, the deity of Christ , the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Trinity, and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. McKean explains, "[We are] very fundamental in our following of the Bible, so we have convictions that are narrower than some groups about what it means to be a Christian. We don't apologize for our beliefs."
Like the Mainline Churches of Christ, the ICOC recognizes the Bible as the sole source of authority for the church and believes that the current denominational divisions are inconsistent with Christ's intent. The ICOC, in order to unify congregations, taught that there should only be one church in each City. Both organizations teach the necessity of baptism by immersion, and both reject infant baptism, teaching that baptism is for believers. The ICOC teaches that only those "baptized as a disciple" will receive salvation.
The ICOC does not affirm some of the perpetuity of spiritual gifts, original sin, the perseverance of saints, predestination; it does acknowledge incarnation, atonement, eternal conscious punishment, and amillennialism. Its view on Ephesians 2:8–9, or works-based salvation, is somewhat more complex: though ostensibly denying works-based salvation, in practice "works of faith" (as in baptism where God works to save someone) are deemed requisites of salvation.
A recent development has been the introduction the "One Year Challenge" for many of the thousands of graduating University students to take a year off and go and serve the poor in 3rd world countries and help strengthen churches in other parts of the world.
The Discipling relationships are based on the following scriptures; Ecclesiates 4:9–12; Proverbs 11:25; Proberbs 27:17; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:16
Disciples are student-followers of Jesus Christ.
Sunday morning prayer involves singing, praying, preaching, and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. One unique element in ICOC tradition is the lack of established church buildings. Congregations meet in rented spaces: hotel conference rooms, schools, public auditoriums, conference centers, small stadiums, or rented halls, depending on the number of parishioners; the location may vary from month to month. Though the church is not static, neither is it "ad hoc" — the leased locale is often furnished with an elaborate stage and sound-system. Parishioners are proud of these unrooted tabernacles, negatively referring to traditional churches as "religious". "From an organizational standpoint, it's a great idea", observes Boston University Chaplain Bob Thornburg. "They put very little money into buildings…You put your money into people who get more people."
This practice of not owning buildings changed when the Tokyo Church of Christ became the first ICOC church to build its own church building. This building was designed by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. This became an example for other mega ICOC churches to follow suit.
Bible Talk small groups of disciples that meet usually once a week. They can meet almost anywhere, including college dormitories, restaurants, and members' houses. Bible Talks, or 'Family Groups', are designed so that disciples can read the Bible together and build relationships with others in the church. All are encouraged to invite guests as a way for the guest to be introduced to the Church in a more informal setting.
The practice of discipling is one of the central elements of the ICOC methodology. Members believe that this practice is based upon and encouraged by biblical passages.
“ I believe it is biblical for us to imitate the relationship Jesus had with the apostles and the relationships they had with one another. For example, the apostles had a student/teacher or younger brother/older brother relationship with Jesus. They also had adult/adult relationships with each other. Jesus paired the apostles for the mission. (Matthew 10) Both types of relationships are essential to lead people to maturity. Another text that demonstrates the student/teacher relationship is in Titus 2 where the older women are to train the younger women.
— Kip McKean
One of the most criticized aspects of discipling in the early years was the degree of control that older members exhibited in their "discipling" relationships. The older members were charged with monitoring the spiritual growth and mentoring the younger members. Some members say the partnership was more like having a good friend than anything else. The practice has been labelled by detractors as "dictatorial" because the discipler may also give input on the secular daily activities of others and give advice about life issues they may be facing. Many changes have been made to this practice in recent years to reflect the growing maturity of this body of believers.
By 1988 the budding Boston Movement had congregations in more than eight cities across the globe, and Kip McKean found that running the organization single-handedly had become unwieldy. He selected a handful of men that he had personally trained and assigned each a number of churches in a geographic region, naming them 'World Sector Leaders' and giving himself the title 'Leader of the World Sector Leaders' in perpetuity. In 1994, the subservient position of Geographic Sector Leaders was added.
The leader of each congregation is referred to as an Evangelist, and the Evangelists at in the several 'pillar churches' outrank the others. Larger churches may have an Assistant Evangelist or some number of elders – older, married men with at least one baptized child.
Since each city has a single church, its membership may be large and geographically disperse; if so, it was divided into regions and then sectors of perhaps a few small suburban communities, overseen by Region Leaders and Sector Leaders (known collectively as Zone Leaders).[improper synthesis?] The Sector Leader was usually[who?] the lowest-tier salaried official, with those below him being volunteers only.
This governing system attracted criticism as overly-authoritarian, but the ICOC denies this charge. "It’s not a dictatorship," said Al Baird, former ICOC spokesperson; "It’s a theocracy, with God on top."
This distinct structure, which defined the International Church of Christ's polity for most of its existence, may no longer accurately represent its actual functioning: in the years following McKean's resignation, the central leadership was shaken and largely disbanded, and local churches have become increasingly autonomous. Most no longer report to the Los Angeles headquarters, and some have ceased to collect Special Missions Contribution for the central administration. Local opinion of Kip McKean varies, with some congregations still (unofficially) supporting him and others condemning the man and his past influence on the organization, often with veracity.
This family of churches have formulated a "20/20" Vision Plan to plant churches in the cities of the world where they do not have churches by the year 2020. They plan to build and strengthen those churches through a "best practices" approach to ministry. Oversee and support those churches through strong regional relationships and discipling. Train their ministers and congregations through the newly formed "Disciple Bible Academy" being rolled out across the world and provide global co-ordination and co-operation through "Service Teams" that specialize in "Campus Ministry", "Youth & Family Ministry" and other specialized ministries.
Controversy and Criticism
Some of the practices of the International Churches of Christ have drawn criticism from school officials, members' families, former members and, in some cases, former leaders. The primary sources of complaint are the exacting expectations that is, the high commitment expected of members in terms of time and money, (There are both a Sunday service and a midweek bible study and members are asked to tithe to support the work of the church). One of the key doctrines of the International Churches of Christ has been the "One True Church" doctrine (recognizing repentant disciples who are baptized as part of the one universal church). The International Churches of Christ teaches that a person is saved by grace through a personal faith and the power of God at the point of repentance and baptism by immersion, and that once baptized, you are added to God's heavenly kingdom, and to the church here on earth.
The International Churches of Christ have been surrounded by controversy over the years; media sources from Christianity Today (an evangelical periodical) to town newspapers to popular magazines (such as Rolling Stone) have included articles about members and by former members. There have been TV exposés such as "Believe It or Else" on ABC's 20/20, on 10/15/1993. Criticism has also come from inside the church; for example, Henry Kriete of the London Church of Christ has said during the McKean era of the 1980's and 1990's that his leadership style resulted in the London church:
- As ‘lead evangelists’, we have routinely forced our administrators to ‘get in line’ or be ‘loyal to us’ – as plans and programs and pet projects are railroaded through to the dismay of all. Henry Kriete Letter—Spring 2003
- Administrators have admitted to deceit in the name of compliance, and to ‘smoke and mirrors’ with the finances. Some of the more intimidated, have been involved in wholesale financial mismanagement…. Henry Kriete Letter—Spring 2003
- If we never pushed so hard to get money from our Christians, it would still matter a great deal to God, but not nearly as much as it does now, because of our constant asking and coercive ‘getting’. We have demanded extraordinary monetary sacrifice from our members, but comparatively, it appears we have demanded so little from ourselves. Henry Kriete Letter—Spring 2003
- Coercive giving is practiced, wide-scale. Of course there are may sincere and generous disciples who love to give, but the fact remains, our entire scheme for collecting the contribution is not based on the heart, or about love offerings, or true concern about the spiritual impact our system of ‘getting’ has on the rank and file Christian. That is not what is most important. Accountability, intense scrutiny and follow up and man made pressures are the order of the day. When a Christian is cajoled into a ‘multiple’, tracked down for their tithe, categorized on official spreadsheets for everyone to know so that sector leaders ‘can be on top’ – all to maintain budgets that we have created, this is coercive. Henry Kriete Letter—Spring 2003
Since the 2003 breakup of the centralized leadership; some congregations have made many reforms, while others have maintained former practices. Some current members admit that alleged abuses did happen prior to 2003, but maintain that such practices have since been reformed or discontinued.
Much of the criticism has focused on:
- The ICOC's teaching on "the one true church"
- High commitment expectations for members
- Personality changes
One true church
The ICOC’s stance on being a part of “the one true church” has been one of much controversy and confusion both inside and outside of the ICOC. While the ICOC has never had an official doctrine on the subject, one has often been assumed from the doctrines it does hold.
Specifically, the ICOC holds that the bible teaches the existence of a single universal church. One implication of this doctrine is that, while Christians may separate themselves into different, disunified churches (as opposed to just geographically separated congregations), it is not actually biblical to do so, and so such separations are not likely to take place between groups of Christians being obedient to the Bible. And so there is controversy over who exactly is part of "the universal church" and who is not.
In addition, the ICOC knowingly holds minority views on conversion and salvation. Again, this is common among religious groups that link salvation to the belief in a specific creed. Since, practically speaking, there are unlikely to arise many saved persons within a religious group that doesn’t believe, teach, or practice ‘correctly’ with regard to salvation, and since contradicting views on salvation cannot be simultaneously correct, it logically follows that anyone who knowingly holds a minority view on the subject must assume the majority of people (and groups) to be generally unsaved. This is the source of most of the animosity and controversy that surrounds the ICOC with regard to this subject. But this is also an ubiquitous controversy amongst some mainstream religious groups.
Some recent proponents of the ICOC have stated their desire to be more agreeable to both the Mainline Churches of Christ and also the a greater Evangelical movement, and also distance themselves from earlier practices whereby entire denominations, churches, and individuals outside of the ICOC organization to be unsaved (especially at the "Church" study). It was at this time and also still held by a minority in the ICOC today that if other churches and groups practice what they deemed mistaken beliefs, they were not considered true churches.
This view while popular during the time of McKean's leadership it has been done away with in most if not all of the congregations affiliated with the ICOC since McKean's resignation.
While many Christians do believe that Jesus is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and that most churches outside of the Roman Catholic Church do not hold that they have a monopoly to that truth, the International Churches of Christ has often held that its members have a unique biblical insight into salvation, that the members of the International Churches of Christ are the only true Christians and that one has to hold their set of beliefs and interpretations to be considered a Christian. While many Christian churches outside of the International Churches of Christ hold a conviction that Christians should only marry Christians, the ICOC holds a belief that members should not date nor marry outside the International Churches of Christ.
High commitment expectations for members
Though a self-admittedly immersive organization (which leaders say more closely duplicates the type of religiosity advocated by the Bible), some have argued the ICOC goes too far. Former convert Sarah Cope-Faulkner recounts, "I attended 20 meetings a week and became estranged from my family and friends. I was up at 4am for Bible study, and I spent all my time trying to please everyone."
The ICOC bases the above findings on the following scriptures, Acts 2:42–47, Luke 14:25–27 and Mark 10:17–22, which they understand to teach that to be a true disciple of Christ, one must give up everything one has.
Researcher Flavil Yeakley has documented that ICOC members' perceptions of their interests and personalities suggest a shift towards personality type 'ESFJ' (one of sixteen possible types) once joining the church. The researcher cautions that the method used does not prove an actual personality shift so much as the participant's perception that such a shift should take place. McKean has suggested that this simply indicates Jesus was of this personality type. Yeakley argues that one cannot apply a personality test to divinity; God, having no psychological weaknesses, would have full strength in all dimensions of personality.
Cultural, philosophical and doctrinal changes
Since late 2002/early 2003, many of the International Churches of Christ have gone in different directions. Some have chosen to stay with the distinctive International Churches of Christ characteristics and practices, whereas some have pursued reformation. Results of each course of action vary from church to church; some thrive having chosen to utilize a reformed or progressive approach, while others stagnate with traditional International Churches of Christ methodology.
As of 2005 there are three (sometimes overlapping) groups within the International Churches of Christ. There are those who have held firmly to what has traditionally distinguished the International Churches of Christ: discipling, Bible Talks (small groups), baptism and evangelism. Other churches are gravitating toward Evangelicalism and Protestantism.
The Circle City Church (formerly the Indianapolis Church of Christ) is now an independent and non-denominational congregation, but has made several overtures to open dialog with the now largely independent congregations of the International Churches of Christ, including the Indianapolis International Church of Christ congregation.
ICOC and Churches of Christ relations
As part of the cultural, philosophical and doctrinal changes within the former International Churches of Christ (pre-2002), efforts are being made by some Progressive International Churches of Christ members to also reconcile with mainstream Churches of Christ and Christian churches and churches of Christ. In March 2004, Abilene Christian University (affiliated with the mainline Churches of Christ) held the "Faithful Conversations" dialog between members of the Church of Christ and International Churches of Christ. Those involved were able to apologize and initiate an environment conducive to building bridges. A few leaders of the Church of Christ apologized for use of the word "cult" in reference to the International Churches of Christ. The International Churches of Christ leaders apologized for alienating the Churches of Christ and implying they were not Christians. Although a better atmosphere for cooperation and understanding was generated, there are still fundamental differences within the fellowship. Early 2005 saw a second set of dialogs with greater promise for both sides helping one another.
Harding University (affiliated with the mainline Churches of Christ) is contemplating a distance learning program geared toward those ministers who were trained in the International Churches of Christ.
ICOC plan for United Cooperation
The most recent development is the effort to rebuild and restructure the overall leadership organization for the entire International Churches of Christ. Solicitations for governing structures and methods of inter-congregational relationships were requested by November 1, 2005, with the goal of completing a final proposal by February 1, 2006. This effort is seen to have a purpose only to reorganize and coordinate missionary efforts across independent organizations by the now authority-phobic churches, many of whom can trace their roots back to their old egalitarian Church of Christ days, where a major ongoing issue was opposition at almost any cost to any sort or organized, centralized "missionary society". Yet, attitudes vary from church to church as to how much authority, if any at all, the new leadership structure should possess. It seems only a small band of churches welcome the old style back, while many prefer, and wait, for a "new improved" version that could provide an overall vision for this group of churches. According to www.icocinfo.org, an independent International Churches of Christ survey group, the membership of International Churches of Christ in 2005 is 92,474, which declined 12.5% from 2004.
As of May 15, 2006 a total of 343 Churches agreed to and committed to the Plan for United Cooperation.
Recently the "Evangelists Service team" formulated a "2020 vision plan", that all the thirty or so regional families of churches have a plan to evangelise their geographic area of the world. The plan encompasses the need to strengthen excisting small churches and plant new churches.
Plan for United Cooperation document
Within the ICOC, there is a current push to have churches sign up for the so-called "Unity Plan". This plan is in no way connected to the churches deciding to follow Kip McKean's teachings."
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