Has Mind Control Come to Beantown?

The Boston Church of Christ – Has Mind Control Come to Beantown?

by Stephen F. Cannon

  For two decades this writer has been intrigued by the rise and  fall of mind-control groups. A study that began with mind control  in clear-cut cults such as the Unification Church, Peoples  Temple, and the Divine Light Mission has over the years found the  same kinds of practices in the discipling, or shepherding,  movement, (1) and in some charismatic churches.    A committee that investigated Maranatha Campus Ministries from  1980 through 1983 got an intimate look at the inner workings of  an aberrational Christian group that many believe uses heavy- handed tactics to manipulate its members. Maranatha is a campus  ministry teaching basic Christian doctrine and using tactics  similar to those of mind-control groups to recruit and subdue  members (2). With the discovery of Maranatha, the issue no longer  was black-and-white, cult-or-Christian. Now, it appears that  heavy-handed discipleship has again jumped theological lines and  shown up in the independent Churches of Christ.                 Churches of Christ at the Crossroads   In the early 1800s, there arose an unrest in the frontier  American Presbyterian Church. Thomas and Alexander Campbell,  Barton Stone and others reacted against sectarian religion and  urged a union of all Christians based on a restoration of New  Testament Christianity. The doctrines promoted by these men were:  adult baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, weekly  observance of the Lord's Supper, and autonomy of the local  congregation. The movement that grew out of these doctrines  became known as the Restoration Movement.   The Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions states on page 168:   "During the second half of the nineteenth century disputes  erupted, and by 1906 a separately recognized group called the  Churches of Christ had emerged, distinctive in their rejection of  the use of musical instruments in worship. They are conservative,  interpreting the New Testament as the source of all that is  permissible for worship and belief. They also believe that there  is no biblical justification for organizations beyond the local  congregation."   Although the Churches of Christ are extremely mindful of the  autonomy of the local congregation, the independent churches do  work together loosely in a brotherhood. It was from this  brotherhood in the late 1960s that a college outreach group,  "Campus Evangelism", was formed. Active in the outreach group as  well as his local congregation was Charles Lucas (3). Church of  Christ minister Maurice Barnett writes:   "In 1967, Chuck Lucas began work with the 14th St. Church of  Christ in Gainesville, Florida. He led the effort to put into  effect the Campus Advance principles. When 14th Street built a  new building, they changed the name to Crossroads Church of  Christ" (4).   These principles caused a furor within the Churches of Christ  and were to evolve from the Crossroads Movement into the Boston  Church Movement.            Crossroads Church and the Discipling Movement   According to Barnett, the above-mentioned principles had their  beginnings in several books on discipleship, the most influential  being Robert Coleman's The Master Plan of Evangelism. (5). Flavil  Yeakley cites the influence of the Florida Shepherding group  (Christian Growth Ministries), Juan Carlos Ortiz (Call to  Discipleship), and elements of Watchman Nee's thought. (6)  Whatever the major influence, Crossroads Church did adopt a  discipleship program. This created a controversy that swept  through the Churches of Christ worldwide.    Called by various names: Crossroadism, the Crossroads Movement,  the Discipling Movement, Multiplying Ministries, the teachings  instituted by Lucas began to spread across the country. Because  of their evangelistic zeal, the movement began to show success in  conversions. Soon other churches began to want people trained at  Crossroads. This caused polarization, church division, and whole  congregations rebuilt along the lines of the Florida Church. (7)   It was during this time of growth and turmoil, that a University  of Florida student named Kip McKean was converted and trained by  Chuck Lucas. After leaving Gainesville, it is reported that  Mckean tried to start discipling ministries in several different  congregations. (8) The degree of opposition that he encountered  is evident in a letter dated April 4, 1977, from the Memorial  Church of Christ in Houston to Heritage Chapel in Charleston,  Ill. The letter in effect "terminates" Memorial's support for  McKean and another man at the Charleston congregation. This  severance of association came about because:    "... Brother McKean has brought unbiblical practices, peculiar  language, and subtle, deceitful doctrines to Charleston from the  Crossroads Church at Gainesville, Florida." (9)   Fourteen points of departure from Church Doctrine were cited  among which were: "...confession of sins, peer pressure to  conform to human judgemental standards and intimidation. ... The  judgement of humans that mature knowledge must be gained before  one is allowed to be baptized. ... elitism." (10)                      The Boston Church of Christ   In 1979, Kip McKean, age 25, and his wife, Elena, moved to the  Boston suburb of Lexington. The growth of the small Lexington  Church of Christ was phenomenal. Soon the congregation was  meeting in rented quarters in Boston. It then became known as the  Boston Church of Christ. (11)    In addition to the standard Crossroads shepherding/discipleship  format, the Boston Church (BCC) began adding some new doctrines.  With these doctrines, BCC began consolidating its power base and  soon became the seat of authority for "multiplying ministries"  worldwide. Even though McKean revered the Crossroads Movement to  the point of acknowledging that he owed "... my ministry, my  marriage, and my very soul" to that church (12), he soon would  implement programs that would take over most of the Crossroads  type churches, and plunge the whole movement into deeper  controversy.                    Defining a Doctrinal Position   Throughout the Churches of Christ, there is a reluctance to  commit anything doctrinal to writing. The rationale is that "we  follow the Scripture, not the doctrine of men. When the Bible  speaks, we speak, when it is silent we are silent."  Unfortunately, the BCC follows this belief rather strictly.   Pastor Eugene Borlund of the Evangelical Free Church of Waltham,  Mass., has had many confrontations with the Boston Church. He  comments:   "As I have met with leaders in the group oftentimes they would  say, 'Well, we don't put anything into writing because once you  pit it into writing then it is man's works. Anything that has to  do with man's works, whether it's his works or denominationalism,  is false and it quickly degenerates into heresy.'"(13)   The upshot of this is that: 1) It is difficult to document what  the BCC is teaching in some important areas and 2) BCC uses this  to their advantage to teach one thing publicly and teach another  privately. Flavil Yeakley comments:   "There are significant differences between what the discipling  churches teach publicly and what they communicate privately to  their members. There are significant differences between what the  discipling churches communicate verbally and what they  communicate non-verbally. You cannot get a book that teaches you  the Boston system. You have to go to Boston and be trained for at  least a year. The reason for this is that the real message in the  Boston Church of Christ is not the public message that is  verbalized; it is the non-verbal message communicated privately  by the nature and emphasis of the discipling hierarchy."(14)    This is the reason why, to get a handle on what Boston is  teaching, one has to study sermon tapes, BCC bulletins, newspaper  interviews with BCC leaders, a few booklets that have been  written by current and past members, and personal interviews with  current and past members.                          BCC and Discipling   The central doctrine of the BCC/Crossroads movement, and the one  that has drawn the most criticism both in and outside of the  Churches of Christ is "one-on-one" discipling. This is the  practice that has drawn charges of mind control.   Essentially, the framework of the BCC/discipling system is one  of total submission to authority. Any new convert must submit  himself to one who is "more mature in the Lord," that is, one who  has been in the movement longer than the convert. That submission  is absolute. Not only does the new member have his discipler, but  the discipler has his discipler, and so on up the chain of  authority.   "New converts are discipled by older converts. The older  converts are discipled by Bible talk leaders. The Bible talk  leaders are discipled by zone evangelists. The zone evangelists  are discipled by Kip McKean and the elders."(15)   McKean, the evangelist, is the absolute leader:   "The Evangelist will determine how far a congregation will go in  obeying the scriptures by how consistently he corrects mistakes,  rebukes sin, encourages obedience and by impartially carrying the  instructions of God even when it is not the popular thing to  do ... the evangelist must know where the church is in the eyes  of God, where it is headed and what it will take to get where God  wants it to be." (16)   Furthermore, according to McKean the one who "impartially  carries the instructions of God", discipling is the only way to  do God's will.   "Discipling is the only way the world will be won to Christ in  our generation. Its the only way to do it. ... But when it comes  to the biblical principles themselves, about how to take the  world for Christ, there's only one way to do it. ... Get  discipled by men. Most of you have discipling relationships, some  of you don't and you need to find them. Its biblically commanded!  How could you not have them?" (17)    The impact of this statement is enormous! McKean as "the  evangelist" is saying that he knows where the church is in the  eyes of God, he knows where it is headed, and what it will take  to get where God wants it to be. Despite BCC's protestations to  the contrary, if language means anything, this statement makes  the evangelist the oracle of God. Since the doctrine of the  authority of the evangelist precludes dissent, then that  evangelist becomes the unquestioned oracle of God!    Scripture is clear that there is "one mediator between God and  Man, even the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim 2:5) Despite what BCC is  teaching, there is no middle man, be he called Apostle, Prophet,  or Evangelist, between the mediator Jesus and the individual.   As BCC grew and began to eclipse the Crossroads Movement, the  power of the discipler began to evolve beyond just spiritual  matters. After interviewing a large number of former BCC members,  Maurice Barnett reports:   "Many of these individuals told me that their disciplers  required total submission without question. A large majority of  those individuals told me their disciplers often gave orders that  had nothing to do with spiritual matters. Those being discipled  were told what courses to take in school, what field to major in,  what career to enter, whom to date, and even whom to marry or not  marry." (18)   A former member testified: "Submission meant blind obedience to  theirs and your disciplers' advice; otherwise one was branded  weak spiritually and rebellious." (19)   The picture begins to develop of just how much one is controlled  by the leaders of the group. The chief tool to keep the flock in  line seems to be the doctrine of personal confession to one's  discipler.   Working on a faulty interpretation of James 5:16, the BCC has  developed a program whereby disciplers and disciples meet weekly  to study, pray and have confession sessions. Unfortunately,  confessed sins are not kept confidential between these two  parties. Yeakley writes:    "All too often in the Boston system, however, things disclosed  to a discipler one day are known all the way up the discipling  hierarchy the next day. The discipling hierarchy thus becomes a  glorified network." (20)  Former member Karen Gray confirms this statement:  "I confessed my sins not only to God, but also to my discipler,  even when she was totally uninvolved. These confessions could be  made known to others in the group by her if she deemed  necessary." (21)   In December 1988, I had an extended conversation with Buddy  Martin, minister at Cape Cod Church of Christ. Martin has been  monitoring the BCC and Crossroads for over a decade. In that  conversation, Buddy (who has been instrumental in exit-counseling  numerous BCC converts) told me that almost everyone in the BCC  tells their secrets. He further confirmed that those secrets are  often used against the person if they don't follow the "party  line" and do what the elders want them to do. (22) Unfortunately,  it is these tactics of manipulation through absolute submission  and unethical use of confession (as well as others listed below)  that give substance to the serious charges of mind control. (23)                           BCC and Elitism   A prevalent attitude among cults and aberrational Christian  groups is the idea that members of that group are God's elite.  This ranges in severity from the attitude of Maranatha Campus  Ministries "although there are other churches that are valid, we  are the most committed," to the Boston Church: "we are the only  true church on earth". Karen Gray says she was: "...  indoctrinated with the belief that nearly all outside the group  were hellbound, and their personal Bible studies were not  sufficient to reveal the truth." (24)   An editorial titled "Second Thoughts on Boston," which appeared  in a Church of Christ periodical, The Christian Chronicle,  states:   "... these brethren do not really believe that there are any  faithful churches except the ones in their sphere of influence.  They consider themselves to be the 'faithful remnant.'" (25)   One clear indicator that this or any group has exclusive rights  as the only "true remnant church" is the practice of rebaptism.  Any group that questions the validity of one's Christian  experience because one didn't follow a certain ritual conducted  by "one having proper authority"; and preach that it has to be  done over under their aegis, demonstrates the presence of  elitism. Boston has indeed taken this step.   "... the churches' definition of a valid baptism is extremely  narrow, and it believes a valid baptism to be necessary to  salvation." (26)   "They keep careful records of how many they baptize ... one  thing they don't tell is that some of the number they cite as  baptisms are re-baptisms of their members." (27) and:   "It even baptizes people who have been baptized in other  Churches of Christ." (28)   Yeakley agrees that this serves to "... deny the validity of the  previous religious experience of those involved." (29)   The framework that BCC has established is the classic top-down  pyramid organization. The absolute leader that stands as God's  "man of the hour" and dispenses God's will to the hierarchy, who  in turn brings the truth to the laity. A strict unquestioning  attitude must be present in the laity or they might be expelled  from the only "faithful remnant" on the earth. Anyone who dares  to walk away from this "remnant" is in effect walking away from  God.   "The leaders teach that those leaving the church do so because  they have sin in their hearts, a bad relationship with God, and  are deceived by Satan. ... If I do not return to them then I am  fallen away and God will no longer allow me to enter His Kingdom  eternal." (30)   These doctrines of elitism and absolute submission administered  from the top down through a strict discipling hierarchy produce  tremendous pressure to conform to the group norm. It is this  pressure through manipulation that demonstrates the presence on  mind control.   Although this charge of mind control has been leveled against  shepherding/discipleship organizations for more than a decade, it  wasn't until the BCC that a scientific study of the phenomena was  authorized from within one of the groups.                             BCC and MBTI   Because they felt a need to chronicle the group's rapid growth,  the BCC leaders decided in 1985 to have a study conducted by a  recognized church growth researcher. It was also decided that the  study would be much more credible if conducted by someone outside  the discipling movement. Flavil R. Yeakley Jr. of Church Growth  Institute at Abilene Christian University was given the  assignment.    Commencing his study in April 1985, Yeakley interviewed all  strata of BCC members, ex-members, and leaders of other churches  in the Boston area. He writes:   "What was being investigated in this research was simply the  overall group pattern. The focus was not on any individual, but  on the dynamics of the group."(31)   Because much of the criticism against Boston had been that of manipulation and mind control, Yeakley decided to conduct personality profiles as part of his research. He tested about 900 members:   "The personality assessment tool used in this study was the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is one of the leading non-psychiatric personality instruments in use today. Unlike tests used to diagnose mental or emotional problems, the MBTI identifies normal healthy differences." (32)   Research has determined that "... a person's true (psychological) type does not change. ... Changes in psychological type do not indicate normal healthy growth. Such  changes indicate some changes in the environment that causes  people to deny their true type and become like someone else."(33)   With the MBTI, a personality type and subsequent changes in that  type are determined by answering a series of questions three  separate times. Questions were to be answered first as one would  have five years past (or before conversion, whichever came  first), then answered as they would at time of testing, and  finally as they would answer five years in the future.   After the tests were given and before any conclusions were  drawn, Yeakley did MBTI comparison studies with five mainline  denominations (Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist,  Presbyterian) and six "manipulative sects" (Church of  Scientology, Hare-Krishna, Maranatha Campus Ministries,  Unification Church, Way International).   With the first group: "Results were the same as those observed  in the Churches of Christ that are not identified with the  discipling movement. There were no significant changes in  psychological type scores. There was no pattern in the few  changes that were observed."(34) And with the second group:  "Results of this study showed a high level of change of  psychological type scores ... (with) ... a clear pattern in the  observed changes ... (which showed) ... a clear convergence in a  single type." (35)   The detailed statistical results are presented in the excellent  book The Discipling Dilemma edited by Yeakley. His conclusions are summarized:   "... those six groups that I have chosen to call 'manipulative  sects' are clearly producing unnatural and unhealthy personality  changes. ... the Boston Church of Christ is producing in its  members the very same pattern of unhealthy personality change  that is observed in studies of well-known manipulative sects.  Whatever they are doing that produces this pattern needs to be  changed."(37)   The data gathered proves "... that there is a group dynamic  operating in that congregation (Boston) that influences members  to change their personalities to conform to the group norm."(38)   Needless to say, that when Yeakley presented his findings to the  BCC leaders they were less than pleased. Several explanations for  the type changes were posed by these leaders. These reasons are  listed and aptly countered in the aforementioned book. Space  permits the examination of only one example.   "Kip McKean argued that all the Boston Church of Christ is doing  is making people over after the image of Jesus Christ. He  concluded that this research simply proves that Jesus was an  ESFJ" (a particular personality type defined by the testing).  (39)   Yeakley counters "Christianity, of course, requires one kind of  change in personality. Christians are being made over after the  image of Jesus Christ. His divine nature, however, is reflected  in individuals whose gifts differ. Christian growth does not  require falsification of type. Indeed, spiritual growth is  hindered by any effort to deny one's true type and become a copy  of someone else." (40)                     Those Who Do Not Remember...   In November 1978 the world witnessed the horrible tragedy of the  mass suicide of more than 900 people at Jonestown, Guyana. Behind  the empty throne of Jim Jones was a sign with the well-known  saying "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to  repeat it." These words stand as a warning to all those who would  blindly follow a man, no matter what title he may have been given  by himself or others.   That is not to say BCC is another People's Temple. But where  there is manipulation through mind control and the doctrine of  absolute submission to a leader exists, there is potential for  tragedy.   BCC and others say that they are merely teaching New Testament  doctrine when they "offer discipling as Jesus did to the Twelve".  They would be wise to heed he words of Michael Harper:   "The master-disciple relationship is, of course, used frequently  to describe the relationship that Jesus had with others on Earth,  and, therefore, can equally describe our relationship to the Lord  today ... But it is never in the New Testament used to describe  the relationship which Christians have with one another. ... It  is best not to use the 'discipling' terminology at all. Not only  is it biblically unsound, but it also injects into this area an  authority factor which is inappropriate." (41)    In a position paper issued in 1976, the General Presbytery of  the Assemblies of God took the position:   "It is true that many new converts look to someone to keep them  from error and to guide them into truth. However, where the  individual relies altogether on another person to protect him  from all error, he will cease searching the Scriptures and fail  to develop his own ability to withstand false teaching. ... Some  find the pattern for their new order of discipleship in the  relationship of Jesus with His disciples, forgetting this was  done within Judaism before Jesus began to build His Church.  Instead they should seek guidance for church patterns in the Acts  and Epistles. ... Along with this there is a tendency to  downgrade democracy in the church in favor of submission to  authority. ... Jesus must be kept central. He is the Great  Shepherd of the sheep. The only covenant we need is the one  sealed in His blood."(42)    Unfortunately, the question asked in the subtitle of this  article must be answered in the affirmative. Truly, mind control  has reared its ugly head in Beantown. Until such time that the  Boston Church of Christ disavows the "authority of the  evangelist," one-on-one discipling, and the elitist stance of  being the "only faithful remnant," I must advise all to avoid  what is, in my opinion, a destructive organization.                              Endnotes:   1. Steve Coleman, "Christian, Who Is Your Covering?", PFO  Newsletter, April-June, 1983, Vol. 3, No. 2.  2. Dr. James Bjornstad, et. al., "A Statement of Evaluation   Regarding Maranatha Campus Ministries / Maranatha Christian  Ministries / Maranatha Christian Church, May 8, 1984. (Available  from PFO Arizona, P.O. Box 2384, Peoria, AZ 85380.)  3. Flavil Yeakley, Jr., Ed., The Discipling Dilemma, (Nashville,  Tenn., 1988, Gospel Advocate Pub. Co.), pg. 137.  4. Maurice Barnett, The Discipling Movement (Phoenix, Ariz.,  1987, Published by author) pg. 2.  5. Barnett, pg. 1.  6. Yeakley, pg. 138.  7. Barnett, pg. 2; Yeakley, pg. 5.  8. ibid, pg. 6  9. Delbert Burkhart, Elder, Letter to Heritage Chapel Church of  Christ dated, April 14, 1977. Copy on file. 10. ibid. 11. Yeakley, pg. 7 12. Kip Mckean, Letter to Crossroads Church of Christ, (Appeared  in BCC Bulletin, April 6, 1986). 13. Eugene Borlund, "Boston Church of Christ", (Cassette Tape,  April 6, 1986) Copy on file. 14. Yeakley, pg. 68 15. ibid, pg. 51. 16. Kip McKean, "The Role of the Evangelist", (BCC Bulletin, Aug.  9, 1987) 17. Kip Mckean, "The Saints in the Kingdom of Light", (Cassette  Tape, Gainesville, Fla., 1984, Crossroads Tape Ministry) Tape on  file. 18. Yeakley, pg. 55. 19. Karen Gray, "Former Member Exposes Cult", (The Wellesley  News, Wellesley, Mass., Sept. 18, 1987) pg. 3. 20. Yeakley, pg. 54.  22. Personal interview with Buddy Martin, Dec. 13, 1988. 23. For an excellent and detailed examination of cultic mind  control see: Steven Hassan, Combating Cult Mind Control  (Rochester, Vt., 1988, Park Street Press). 24. Gray, pg.3 25. Editorial, "Second Thoughts on Boston", Christian Chronicle,  February 1987.  26. Charlene B. Hill, "Boston Church Grows Amidst Controversy",  (New England Church Life, Dec. 1987, Vol. 7 No. 9) pg. 10. 27.  Barnett, pg. 38. 28. Hill, pg. 10. 29. Flavil Yeakley, Jr., The Hierarchy of Discipling Churches  (Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 5, 1987, Gospel Advocate Periodical) pg.  650. 30. Gray, pg. 3. 31. Yeakley, pg. 30 32. ibid, pg. 24. 33. ibid, pg. 27. 34. ibid, pg. 33. 35. ibid, pp. 33-34. 36. ibid, pp. 34-35. 37. ibid, pg. 37. 38. ibid, pg. 37. 39. ibid., pg. 40. 40. ibid., pg. 27. 41. Michael Harper, Let My People Grow, (Plainfield, N.J., Logos,  1977), pg. 153. 42. General Presbytery, Assemblies of God, "The Discipleship and Submission Movement," Tract, n.d., pp. 13-14. 


Back to other articles about the London/Boston Church of Christ.