The Churches of Christ: A Comparative Essay
Over the past ten years there has been much controversy in the Christian and secular media about the International Churches of Christ (ICC), and the United (or mainline) Church of Christ (CoC). This controversy has stemmed from the ICC's misuse of funds, doctrinal problems, member abuse, and mind-control. The differences between the CoC and the ICC are important for Christians know and understand.
The CoC began in 1957 when these four groups merged The Congregational Churches, The Christian Church, The Evangelical Synod of North America, and The Reformed Church in the United States. These churches had firm Protestant roots in England, Germany, Sweden, and the United States, totaling over 49 years in their own traditions and fellowship. On June 25, of 1957, the four churches held a synod meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, to commit more fully to unity, liberty, freedom in Christ, and the evangelism of the world. These groups, under the head of the Uniting General Synod, became the United Churches of Christ. Today the CoC has over two thousand registered churches in the world.
By 1979, the roots of the CoC were firmly in place. It was then that Chuck Lucas, a pastor at the Gainesville Church of Christ (mainline), met a young college student, Kip McKean, and began discipling him. Kip was a bright student and showed great potential for leadership in the church. However, something in the discipling process went wrong. Kip was expelled from the Gainesville church later that year for reasons dealing with departure from the CoC doctrine, manipulative attitude, unclear motivation, and controlling of other's lives. Kip and his wife Elena moved to Boston and started a small church that grew rapidly from thirty to over three hundred disciples in two months. Kip (who, by this time, proclaimed himself as "God's man for God's mission") then declared in his Evangelism Proclamation speech in 1981 that disciples of his Boston church would be sent out to start sister churches in London, Chicago, New York, Toronto, Providence, Johannesburg, Paris, Stockholm, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Bombay, Cairo, and throughout the United States by the year of 1985. His success with this goal led him to present another Evangelism Proclamation in 1990 that said that every city in the world with a population of over 75,000 will have a sister church by the year 2000. Today the ICC is in over seventy two countries, with a recorded attendance (as of January 1997) of 920,000 people. It is important to note that the ICC's current "fall-away (members who leave the church) rate" is 1:3 (that is, for every one person baptized into the ICC, three leave). Due to this growth and departure from the CoC doctrine, the controversy between the CoC and the ICC has picked up great momentum.
The doctrinal and traditional beliefs (i.e., baptism necessary for salvation, acapella worship) of the two groups are based upon the same principals. However, the International Churches of Christ and leader Kip McKean, have taken these foundational Church of Christ beliefs and distorted them into a cult-like system. The leadership setup of the International Churches of Christ differs highly from the mainline CoC in that the ICC has a higherarchy setup closely resembling a multi-level marketing system where every disciple is responsible to report to someone in higher authority, eventually leading to Kip McKean. The cultish behaviors include the ICC's highly enforced beliefs that the International Churches of Christ is the only body of believers in the world, thus having a monopoly on salvation, the ICC is the only "Kingdom of God", negating of previous salvation experiences and baptisms, one on one discipling, the confessions of all sins to the discipler, mind control tactics, spiritual abuse of members, financial misrepresentation, compulsory tithing, and the act of leaving the ICC is to fall away from God negating the ICC's salvation and baptism experience. It is because of these practices the ICC is banned on over forty-five college campuses including Oxford, Berkeley, M.I.T., Yale, Harvard, and Duke. The mainline CoC encourages regular business meetings and the check and balance system of their leaders, while the ICC has one closed business meeting per year, and takes any questions of the higher echelons of leadership as a threat to the ICC's stability. Unquestionably, the ICC is lacking in fundamental CoC and Christian validity.
The validity of the controversy between the ICC and the CoC is perceivable, and the CoC vehemently denies any ties to their antagonists the International Churches of Christ. The controversy has led to numerous reports in newspapers including The New York Times, The Wichita Eagle, The Chicago Sun, and the Milwaukee Sentinel, as well as television coverage on 20/20, A Current Affair, Inside Edition, and the BBC's Third Estate Program. Only through careful investigation of the Church of Christ and the International Churches of Christ can one make a personal decision about these deceptive practices.