I can understand why people are hostile towards the International Church of Christ. I was a member of the Orlando Church of Christ for nearly two years. I first got involved with the ICoC when I was seventeen. My older brother was a leader in the church and while I lived with him, for a month, required that I attend the Orlando Church of Christ.
I was not immediately attracted to the church, although I did make friends with many members during that time. The funny thing though is that those people that did befriend me, were doing it out of love and concern for my soul. I don’t believe the average member, if even the leaders of the church, seek members for unwholesome reasons. In fact I think their intentions are completely pure. This is one of the reasons why I became so vulnerable to the message of the church, one of those messages in particular.
As I said before I became involved with the ICoC when I was only seventeen and I was a bit naive to say the least. On one particular day my brother began to talk to me about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. He said, in so many words, that you blaspheme the Holy Spirit when you turn away from God’s word and continued by telling me that if you blasphemed the holy spirit you were damned to hell.
When I heard this I became frightened to the point of sickness. I went to work that day and could hardly stand on my feet because I knew that I was damned to hell. I had been to church and had quit going, certainly that was grounds for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I Went back to my brother’s home that night feeling so cold and abandoned. My brother came out to talk to me and told me, that since I had not heard the true message of Jesus Christ, I couldn’t have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. He offered to have someone teach me the true message, so that I could receive the Holy Spirit and be saved. I jumped at this chance, not just any chance, but a chance for salvation from hell. So in the beginning of my involvement and very powerful motivator, was fear.
I was taught through Bible studies the theology of the ICoC. It was a revelation to me, not so much because of the doctrine, but because of the love I was shown by the members of the church. They visited me, called me, took me to highly energetic and emotional functions, and to put it mildly, that energy got me hooked.
I was baptized into the ICoC shortly after my eighteenth birthday. Before my baptism I was still fearful for my soul, because I had learned from the Bible studies that if I wasn’t baptized through immersion in water, I was still unsaved, so if I died unbaptized by the ICoC, I was still bound for hell.
During the few weeks before my baptism I began to take extra measures to insure my safety, I was determined not to have some freak accident ruin my chance for eternal life. For the most part I stayed inside my house (I had then moved out of my brothers home and was staying with my father), leaving my house only to go to work and church, nowhere else. I cannot tell you the great relief I felt when I was finally baptized, finally the weight of hell was lifted off my soul. It seemed like everyone in the church came up to express their joy over my final salvation.
On the same night I was baptized I was given my discipler. He was a nice guy, but I, still being a teenager, was less than receptive to the disciple/discipler relationship — in short I revolted. I don’t think there was ever a week in the two years that I attended the church, that I was ever really co-operative. This became a burden to me, because I felt very remorseful over my rebellious nature. I wanted to be submissive, but it wasn’t in my nature to blindly follow someone. So after about three disciplers and nearly convincing one of those disciplers to leave the ICoC during one of my rants against the discipling, I was put on a sort of probation. No one was allowed to talk to me unless they were leaders in the church. Even my twin brother was told that he couldn’t have contact with me, because I was not following the rules of the church. In the end I left the church and moved out of the state, but I still felt the pull of that energy.
You see the ICoC services and congregations are very charismatic. Members hug each other when they meet and always seem concerned about how you doing. I had become close friends with many members of the church after I had confessed to them the natures of my sins. This confession took place during a reformation in the Orlando Church of Christ when the congregation finally decided to become an official member of the ICoC. During that period all but one member of the church, to my knowledge, was required to be re-baptized because they had not confessed all of their sins to the church.
The process of reformation and joining the ICoC meant that I was to tell of any activities in my life that were considered sinful. The person who counseled me during the reformation asked me if I had ever had pre-marital sex, if I had at anytime in my life had sexual relations with a family member, if I had ever had a homo-sexual experience, etc. All the questions were intensely personal and I held out on my greatest secret till finally I was overwhelmed by guilt and called up my counselor to tell him that I had had sexual relations with my brother. I felt such a great deal of shame because of what had happened to me that I had to tell someone, so it was easy to release that burden of secrecy in the sanctity of the church, the only problem was the that the knowledge was not kept to just my counselor. The man who I had trusted with this great dark secret told my discipler, my twin brother, my older brother and anyone else who had any relationship with someone attached to me or my counselor.
This was the breaking point in my association with the ICoC. I could not understand, or condone, the telling of deeply personal confessions to other people without my permission. I felt betrayed and finally broke off from the church.
I was intimidated at times by members of the church, some making veiled threats about disclosing my confession to members of my family, but in the end I was not swayed back. I left on a plane a few months later to the west coast and broke off contact with the church.
I can’t say it was easy when I finally left the ICoC, I found myself in great need of the highly energetic relationships that I had experienced in the congregation. I attended several churches trying to find one that had that energy but I couldn’t. You see, the ICoC creates in sense the atmosphere of love and closeness one feels while attending the church. It does this by restricting who you can be friends with, what segment of the church you attend (at the time the Orlando Church of Christ congregation often met in three separate groups), who you attend Bible studies with, and finally who you can have romantic relationships with.
The ICoC takes a great deal of time and requires that you attend church at least three times a week and sometimes up to four, not including appointments with disciplers and other members of the congregation. In the two years that I attended, I had no friends outside of the church. I had gotten involved with the Orlando ICoC shortly after moving to that city and had not made any other friends, so when I left I was basically abandoned.
I had a nervous breakdown from the stress and finally had to go to therapy. I still at times have that urge to return to the ICoC and I’ll tell you sometimes it’s very strong, but I know now that I can’t- not because they wouldn’t accept me back, they would, but rather because I now know what Christianity is truly about. For awhile I fell away from God, but recently have developed a new relationship with Christ, one that has been more powerful than anything I have experienced so far.
I still sin. I still have struggles in my life, but now I finally feel that I am on my way to being a true disciple of Christ. It is a strange and wonderful thing.
P.S. — If anyone is currently thinking about attending an ICoC church, please think carefully about the things that are asked of you. Make sure that the evidence they provide for their theological views are sound and true. Read the verses before and after quoted passages. Remember verses don’t stand alone, they are part of a larger portion of text. Don’t accept what you are told blindly, but question whether you feel it is right and Godly.
Also on a personal note-I don’t believe confession is something that is mandatory, but rather it should be done when you feel it is necessary and then anything you say should be held in confidence. I also have problems with discipleship (which I can find no true biblical evidence for). If you are asked to imitate another member of the church because he is, in the opinion of the elders, more christlike than you, ask yourself who knows who is more christlike, an elder or Jesus Christ? I can assure you it is Jesus Christ and if anyone should be your role-model it should be him.
God bless you, guide you, and keep you safe in all things.
©1997 by Aaron H. All rights reserved.