No fellowship with the ICC
Alberta Report/Western Report, 25 September 1995.
Calgary churches shun a new Protestant neighbor
As the school year opened, Calgarians learned of a new sect coming to town. The International Church of Christ, or Boston Movement, has been condemned for insisting on baptism and the obligation to tithe- doctrines not entirely foreign to some Christian denominations. Yet Christian cult-watchers warn there are other grounds for suspicion. The Boston Movement is at best blind enthusiasm, they say. It also provides a cushy lifestyle for its elders.
“It might not rank as a full-blown cult, but it is an abusive church,” says Elliot Miller of the Christian Research Institute in Fullerton, California. “They exercise an extreme amount of control over their individual members.” A hierarchy of “disciplers” reaches downward from leader Kip McKean to the newest naive initiate. Disciplers rule their disciples’ daily lives, including their family contact.
“Their theology is borderline,” says CRI’s Mr. Miller. “They’re exclusive, denying salvation to anyone who’s not a member of the sect. They insist on baptism, but it’s got to be ‘conscious baptism,’ aware of the ‘real nature’ of discipleship.” This means every disciple can be baptized only by someone within the movement. And as time goes on and they understand more, they begin an endless round of re-baptisms. “Even the leaders undergo rebaptism,” he adds. “This is a real case of zeal without knowledge.”
Mr. McKean first began his career in evangelism by joining a Church of Christ campus outreach called Crossroads at the University of Florida, run by a Chuck Lucas in the early 1970s, says a recent CRI study. Mr. Lucas taught a radical discipleship, relying heavily on Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Evangelism. In 1976, he sent out a large cohort of campus outreach ministers, including Kip McKean. After an initial stint at Eastern Illinois University in 1979, Mr. McKean relocated to Boston’s Lexington Church of Christ. With his strict methods, he quickly boosted that church from 30 to 1,000 members. He then began church-planting in London (1981), Chicago (1982), New York (1983), Toronto (1985), Johannesburg, Paris and Stockholm (1986), Mexico City, Hong Kong, Bombay and Cairo (1987-8). Today, the 103 movement churches boast 50,000 members.
Mr. McKean’s growing reputation within the Church of Christ was soon creating problems, however. In 1988, for example, elders of the Tampa Bay Church of Christ parted over Boston’s “unscriptural authority and control… leadership and organization…” They objected to Mr. McKean’s statements that –save violations of scripture or conscience– a congregation must obey its evangelist “in all opinion areas.”
Barry Davidson, operations director for the private Canadian Crime Prevention Centre, worries about this obedience. “We don’t care if they worship trees,” he says. “Our concern is their methods. They use classic brainwashing techniques.” Their recruiting guide lays out a 91-day program of isolation, mental exercise and sleep-deprivation. Tithing is normal, but once a year, members also contribute a further 30% to 160% of their income, going into debt. Disciplers compile “sin lists” from their disciples’ confessions. Anyone considering leaving is bombarded with their past, and suicide is described as a preferable option, he alleges.
Where does the money go? “They pay their recruiters,” says Mr. Davidson. “Your position depends on your recruiting success. They raise millions, but it all stays in the church. Kip travels a lot.”
At week’s end, neither Toronto Church of Christ head Tony Singh nor Edmonton mission leader Marty Udall had returned calls from this magazine. The sect’s first Sunday service at the Calgary Convention Centre, September 3, attracted some three dozen people, mostly from the 35-strong, Toronto-based mission. The University of Calgary chaplains were requesting that the movement be denied club status on campus.