Group Snapshot: International Church of Christ

In 1972, while at the University of Florida, Kip McKean was converted through a Church of Christ ministry called Campus Advance. This ministry was an outreach of the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, FL. McKean felt called to the ministry, and served in a number of Church of Christ congregations in Florida. In 1979 he received an invitation to become pastor of the Lexington Church of Christ, outside of Boston. He accepted the invitation. This small congregation of about 30 members grew to over 300 people in less than two years. McKean renamed the church the Boston Church of Christ. Later this was changed to the International Church of Christ. The ICOC officially broke from the parent Church of Christ group in 1993.

The International Church of Christ is essentially orthodox in its most of its doctrines. It affirms believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, etc. The problem with this church is in its understanding of the nature of the church, it belief in baptismal regeneration, and its severe authoritarian leadership structure.

The ICOC teaches that there is only one true church in each city or location. That is why McKean’s church was renamed the Boston Church of Christ. As new churches have been established in various cities, they have called themselves by the name of their location, e.g., the Chicago Church of Christ. The ICOC asserts that their church is the true church, and they are extremely exclusive as regards other churches. Although they say that God is working among many other churches, they believe that is almost impossible to be among the elect without being a member of their church. All new members to the church are baptized by immersion, even if they have been previously baptized in another Christian denomination. Converts to the church are taught that their previous understanding of baptism was flawed and invalid.

Evangelism and discipleship are of primary importance to the church. ICOC followers are highly evangelistic and very active in winning converts and establishing new churches. Members of this church are taught that unless they are winning souls and making new disciples that they are not truly disciples themselves. And unless they are true disciples, they will not go to heaven.

There are two practices that McKean learned and adapted from his days in Campus Advance. One is the practice of each member having a “prayer partner.” Each person in the congregation has a prayer partner who is appointed by the church leadership. This is usually an older member who seen as a mentor to the younger congregant. The prayer partners make daily contact and will meet weekly. This practice is not optional. This discipling program results in there being a great deal of control over the personal lives of all church members. Members who have left the church accuse the leadership of being abusive, controlling and even brainwashing members. Ex-members say that their “disciplers” completely controlled their lives, in minute detail. They were instructed on how to talk, how to dress, even how to fix their hair. At one time an ICOC church in Auckland, New Zealand saw every man in the congregation wearing a goatee because the leader of the congregation had a goatee.

The other practice McKean adapted is “Bible talks,” originally called “soul talks” at the Crossroads Church. These are basically small group Bible studies with an evangelistic emphasis. All attendees at the Bible talks are expected to bring visitors with them. Attendance at these weekly meetings is required.

There is a strong hierarchical organization to the International Church of Christ. The leadership structure is strongly authoritarian. However, each local church is congregational in government. Following their Church of Christ roots, they observe Communion every Sunday. The movement is called by several names: International Church of Christ, Boston Church of Christ, the Boston Movement, Multiplying Ministries and the Discipling movement. They are now located in over 150 different countries.

McKean was removed from leadership of the movement in 2001. Since then, the leaders of the movement assert that they are trying to reform the leadership structure of the church, making it less authoritarian. The resignation of McKean was traumatic for the members of the ICOC, since McKean was the role model for all members to follow. Indeed, for many members of the ICOC their faith was more about following “Kip” than it was about following Jesus.

Summary of Beliefs

God: There is one God, who is Trinitarian in nature.
Jesus: They believe in the full deity of Christ, His Virgin Birth, and bodily resurrection.
Salvation: Emphasis is placed on grace. However, being a fully committed disciple is essential for salvation. Baptism is also necessary for salvation. Thus, there is a works-based view of salvation.
Human nature: Man is created in God’s image but fallen.
Sin: They do not believe in original sin.
Afterlife: A biblical view of the afterlife.
Scripture: The Bible is authoritative, but so are the dictates of the church leadership.
Truth: Absolute and Bible-based, but as interpreted by the church.

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