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My Run-Ins With the Old ICOC

The International Churches of Christ were once a powerful force to be reckoned with.  The ICOC was birthed out of the Lexington (Mass) Church of Christ by Kip McKean who had been converted while a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville.  McKean had been converted by Chuck Lucas at the Crossroads Church of Christ.  Lucas practiced “shepherding” while the college pastor at the Crossroads church in which they “discipled” students by placing one older disciple over the younger disciple.  Each person was required to have a discipler and to be making a disciple.  The Crossroads church also practiced heavy emphasis on confessing sin openly and evangelism using “Bible talks” in which the disciple would teach a group of students the Bible with an emphasis on baptism into Christ at the Crossroads church.  McKean learned from Lucas and took these practices to several places before landing in Lexington as the lead pastor.  One author wrote,

When the McKeans interviewed for the position, Kip expressed to the leaders in the Lexington congregation that in order for him and his wife to come, they would need to support him in calling “every member” to be “totally committed.” In this small dying congregation, history was made on June 1, 1979, as “30 would-be disciples” gathered on Friday night in the living-room of members Bob and Pat Gempel. At this point, the Lexington Church was simply viewed as another congregation of the “Crossroads” or “Total Commitment Movement.” The profound difference between the Lexington Church and the other Crossroads ministries would soon become apparent as Kip’s revolutionary call from the Bible was for every member of the church to be “totally committed,” not just the campus students.

McKean’s call was for every member of the Lexington Church of Christ to submit to the shepherding teachings he had learned under Lucas.  For the first time, the shepherding movement went from the college students to an entire Church of Christ.  The results were staggering as the Lexington Church of Christ experienced growth:

During the ten years that the McKeans served the Boston Church of Christ, the Spirit produced unprecedented growth. The original Lexington Church of Christ had witnessed only two baptisms in the previous three years before June 1979. Through the restoration of the radical practice that every member of the congregation is “totally committed,” the Boston Church of Christ had 103 baptisms the first year. The most dynamic Mainline Church of Christ for decades had only baptized 200 to 300 each year. In fact, during the 80’s, every year a list of Mainline Churches of Christ baptizing 100 or more was published which had usually only 15 Mainline Churches listed. With God’s Spirit working through the McKeans, the Boston Church of Christ saw 200 baptisms their second year; 256 their third; 368 in the fourth; 457 in the fifth; 679 in the sixth; 735 in the seventh; 947 in the eighth; 1424 in the ninth; and in the churches tenth year 1621 were baptized into Christ. By this time also, the Sunday attendance in Boston was approaching 4,000 as the church met in the famed Boston Garden, “home” of the Boston Celtics. Not only was this the largest single congregation in the history of New England, but it also became the largest “Church of Christ” in the entire world.

The Lexington Church of Christ, as noted above, changed its name to the Boston Church of Christ and began to meet in the Boston Garden.  The Boston Movement was born and later became the International Churches of Christ (ICOC).  The Boston Church planted churches in places such as London, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, etc.  Essentially the movement was a pyramid with Kip McKean on the top and the flow chart just worked down from there.  Kip was the sole leader of the movement and he claimed (though often denied) to be an apostle like Paul.

I first heard of the ICOC while in high school.  In my senior year of high school a young lady started coming to our Bible studies who was attending the Columbia (SC) Church of Christ.  I knew nothing of the Columbia Church of Christ and since we had a Roman Catholic coming, I didn’t care that we had a Church of Christ girl coming.  In fact, her zeal was impressive.  Yet something began to change.  She withdrew from us and ultimately confessed to us that we were all lost and going to hell since we had not been baptized in the Columbia Church of Christ.  She said that the Columbia Church alone was preaching the gospel and the Columbia Church alone was teaching the truth about how to be a true disciple of Christ.  She was baptized in the Columbia Church in the summer of 1993.  She cut off all contact with me.

I later had three run-ins with the Columbia Church.  The first was while evangelizing at the University of South Carolina freshman dorms, I came upon some African-American young men studying the Bible.  I was impressed and waited until they were done to speak to them.  All I wanted to do was to rejoice in their studying the Bible.  The leader quickly asked me what church I belonged to and my red flags went up.  I knew that my answer would now decide my eternal fate.  When I told him (which was not his church of course), I was told to read Acts 2:38 and I was told to repent and be baptized into Christ.  We debated a few minutes before another Columbia Church of Christ leader showed up to debate some more.

My next run-in came while working at a Christian bookstore in the mall.  The ICOC would often travel in groups and they came into our bookstore to buy an NIV Bible (to this day, the ICOC and Kip McKean mainly use the NIV).  They proceeded to try to evangelize me yet again based on Acts 2:38.  Yet again I debated them and yet again it ended in frustration.

My final run-in came near the end of the ICOC.  I was working with some Mormons when a ICOC guy came and tried to evangelize one of the Mormons.  His tactic was horrible as he just opened up the conversation with the Mormon by saying, “You know that Joseph Smith is a false prophet don’t you?”  This made the Mormon offensive and closed to anything else the guy said.  Yet the guy persisted to bash the LDS Church and to call the guy to the Columbia Church of Christ.  While I admired his zeal, I thought his tact was wrong and so I asked for his phone number and called to just challenge him to a new approach to evangelizing Mormons.  He proceeded to ask if he and I could get together to study the Bible.  I knew (having now read all the ICOC Bible studies for evangelism) where this study would go.  I agreed and we met about 4 or 5 times to study the Bible.  It turned into a debate over justification with him arguing that we are justified before God only when we have been baptized by immersion with the commitment of a disciple of Christ by the standards of the Columbia Church of Christ.  I argued that we are not saved by any works we do but by the work of Christ alone.  We ended our debate with him telling me I was going to hell.  I don’t know what became of this man.

While the ICOC remains, it is nowhere near the same as when Kip was in charge.  In fact, Kip has started an entirely new group that views the ICOC as apostate in most ways.  Kip has openly called the ICOC to repent all because the ICOC abandoned the harsh shepherding tactics in 2003.  The ICOC called McKean to repent but he refused and started the International Christian Churches based out of Los Angeles.

Why do I write all this?  No reason really.  It’s just on my mind.  I saw some good things in the old ICOC but much bad.  Kip McKean continues down the road that he forged many years ago.  In my next post, I want to write about what we can learn from the old ICOC, both the good and the bad.


Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/01/2013 at 11:03 PM

Posted in church, Cults

Tagged with ,

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