(Affiliated with the
International Churches of Christ,
a.k.a. The Boston Movement)
25th June, 1997
Written by Joseph Owade
- Unity of the Spirit versus Unity by Conformity
- What is Divisiveness?
- What is not Divisiveness?
On Sunday, the 8th of June 1997 at 2.45 p.m., I received a delegation in my house sent by you to inform me that my wife and I are no longer welcome to the Nairobi Christian Church. We were further informed that our names had been removed from the membership list. The delegation, which comprised of an Evangelist Richard Ahenda, and an intern Evangelist, Steve Mukenya, in the company of their wives, failed to give satisfactory Biblical reasons for such a serious move with far reaching spiritual, psychological and financial implications for me and my family. Even after I managed to detain them in my house for about 2 hours, it was obvious they were involved in something for which they were neither well informed nor prepared. After praying with and for them I discharged them, but I felt I needed to pursue the issue further. On Tuesday the 10th June 1997, at 3.00 p.m. you and I held a discussion (which I recorded), in which a number of issues came to light:
- It was clear that you could not quite put a finger on what charges warranted my expulsion and that of my wife from church, so you decided to call it a “leave from God”.
- It also became clear that you had suppressed ill suspicions toward me for a long time and having failed to find me guilty of anything you decided that I have to go because you considered me a liability anyway.
- You gave me a number of scriptures to go and study out. My study of these scriptures and many other related ones are the main concerns of this letter.
I want you to know that I have decided to compile this study and make it available to everyone in the spirit of love and openness. I do this because at the moment I have already suffered rejection and even assault at your orders and so I feel it is important that the whole truth be known. On Thursday the 12th June 1997, when my wife and I presented ourselves for the house church, we were violently thrown out by 5 leaders who said they were acting on your orders.
In Proverbs 6:6-16 we read that among the things that God hates are haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. Honestly, I fail to see how any of these applied to me, though you explained that it was concerned with my being quiet over the issue of the 31 brothers and sisters who petitioned for a special general meeting. How that makes me guilty is still unclear to me.
I now hear that you have said that I was behind it all. Richard, you say whatever you wish in order to alienate me from my friends and to justify your unjust treatment of me and my family, but God alone knows who is the liar and the wicked schemer between you and me. It is my sincere opinion that you, more than anyone else are the cause of much of the dissension in the church. I say this to your shame because you have turned all my friends in the church against me using lies and slanderous accusations. But that we will sort out in a better way at a better and fairer playground. I have received first hand information of how you have gone around to some of my friends in the church using deception and intimidation to try to get them to sign charges against me. I forgive you and your hypocritical lot for that is how your fathers, the Pharisees and Sadducces treated Jesus and the disciples in the 1st century. May God not hold this sin against you.
I will not try to pretend that I am a polished theologian, but will just pen my sincere convictions about these rather fragile issues of unity and dissension. I do hope, however, that you and all who read this letter will overlook my emotions and instead take the matters that really matter to heart and let the scriptures speak for themselves!
In our attempts to be unified, we can have one of 2 approaches:
- Unity of the spirit, or
- Unity by conformity
I want to consider each of those separately so we can easily distinguish the two.
In this chapter the Apostle Paul wanted to describe what it means to have a unity of the spirit.
- Attitudes that foster unity of the spirit (versus 1-2)
- Complete humility and gentleness
- All these are done in LOVE
These attitudes are more accommodating and give room for expressing and accepting our individuality and short comings freely without fear. No one tries to fit everyone else into a limiting box or a strait jacket of personal scruples.
- Every effort must be made to keep this unity through the bond of peace. (verse 3)
In Ephesians 2:14-18 we are told that the bond of peace is Christ crucified. The cross brings peace with God and therefore peace among men. The cross demonstrates to us all the attitudes in verse 1-2 and teaches us how to practice them!.
- The basis of unity of the spirit is the person of Christ (verse 4-6) Paul gives an example of 7 fundamental issues about Christ.
- One Body – the church which is the universal body of saints as a witness to Christ here on earth.
- One Spirit – the Holy Spirit who indwells all Christians and testifies of Christ
- One Hope – eternal hope in Christ for all believers
- One Lord – Jesus Christ who died and rose again now crowned Lord of all
- One Faith – the object of whose is Christ
- One Baptism – into Christ for the forgiveness of sin
- One God – Christ in us, our Emmanuel!
Thus Christ is the firm foundation upon whom we must be built and united (1 Cor. 3:11). Beyond this there is nothing else that we should accept as a basis for unity. Why? Because of 4 good reasons that Paul explains from verse 7 to 16.
- Because God recognises diversity in the body (see verse 7) while he is the overall in charge, not man. In 1 Cor. 12: 12-13 Paul explains that though we are one body, each of us is unique and has different functions. It is impossible for all of us to be the same or to play the same role. Each of us is required to play our different roles to the benefit of the whole body.
- Because God himself appoints leaders and gives them to serve his church in order to build it up to complete unity in faith, knowledge of Jesus, maturity and fullness of Christ. These leaders are Apostles, prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (verse 11-13). These are not titles, but offices of service. They serve the church, not boss over the church (Matt. 23:8). The leaders of the church of the first century in imitation of the Lord lived and worked among their flock. Some of today’s leaders who earn fat salaries and live in luxury are a great shame indeed. They need to either resign or repent!.
- Because God wants there to be maturity and freedom (verse 14-15) to speak the truth in love (including disagreement and criticism).
- Because God wants each part of the body to reach its full potential of service without hindrance (verse 16). No part should be forced into any role that is not proper or deprived of opportunity to play its given role. Many individuals have suffered a great deal as a result of some leaders forcing them into roles they were never meant for. Even my wife has been a victim of such abuse in several occasions. What God left out no man can force into another. To try to do this is cruel and pharisaic (Matt. 23:4).
This is an unbiblical type of unity. It is unity that is designed by men in their own deceitful scheming (verse 14). It is unity based on human principles and human effort and is completely devoid of God’s spirit.
- Men decide to set their own standards.
- Men demand conformity to these standards.
- Men use control and illegitimate authority to keep everyone in line.
- Any deviation from group norm is harshly rebuked.
- Any disagreement and criticism is viewed as divisiveness and often lead to expulsion.
Such is the unity that I see being fostered in the Nairobi Christian Church today. Facts are facts and they speak for themselves. The leaders have become so deluded and mad with power that they are actually ordering people to violate their own conscience by forbidding them to come to church meetings. Now they have “authority” to come between God and those they lead. They require that if you do not interpret Scriptures according to their way then you are disfellowshipped.
Unity by conformity is not unity at all because true unity must be based on free will and diversity. Unity by conformity is fake because it is not possible among thinking beings.
In the Bible divisiveness is a situation caused by 3 main factors:
This simply means a “statement of beliefs”, which may be written or unwritten. In 2 Tim. 4:2-4 Paul warned that people would depart from sound doctrine and follow after false doctrines (versions of truth). When people, however well intentioned, decide to come up with a set of beliefs and draw lines of who is in and who is out based on these beliefs then they cause divisions or become sectarian. This is termed as “exclusivism”, i.e. you go through the Bible, pick out the scriptures you like, state that these are the only truth and exclude everyone else as wrong. You have become divisive. It is this kind of division which is addressed in Titus 1: 10-16 and Titus 3: 9-11. The Greek word used for divisive here is “hairetikos”, which means heretic. This refers to a person who promotes divisions by holding to extreme views of “legitimate Christian truth”.
The context of this passage clearly identifies these heretics as the circumcision group of Jews who went about preaching that the Gentiles needed Christ plus circumcision in order to be justified. If anyone preaches that you need Christ plus some other set of requirements to be saved, he has become divisive! It concerns me greatly that in ICC there is an unwritten creed that is way beyond Scripture, that one must follow in order to be accepted. For example, I regret deeply the number of people whom I denied baptism simply because they failed to agree with our teaching that, we are the only ones who are saved and that everyone outside the ICC is lost. May God have mercy on me and these poor souls.
Majority of the people are simply personality followers. They see truth only as presented to them by others. They do not search or think through things themselves. 1 Cor. 1 illustrates this kind of divisions. These are not divisions based on issues but on strong and influential personalities. This remains a warning against strong personalities who would use their positions of influence to divide and rule!
You, Richard, have always made your numerous personal disputes with others become congregational problems. Every time someone differs with you on minor issues you have used all your influence both public and private to alienate them. Isn’t it very obvious that you ostracised Lucas Mboya mainly over your personal differences? Your reluctance to accept or tolerate different opinions was the basic problem between you and him. And finally when you couldn’t take it anymore, you threw him out along with his whole family. And what reason did you give? Tithing! Quite ironical isn’t it? Simply because he did not agree with you forcing tithing on everyone, you decided to throw out one of the most generous givers.
Legalism is the term used to describe a situation where people attempt to serve God through a set of laws rather than by grace. Legalism erects huge spiritual barriers similar to those of the first century between Jews and Gentiles because the legalists become too self-righteous that they do not accept their more liberal brothers.
When a man sets up his own rules and expects everyone to follow them to the tee, he has become divisive. This is because not everyone will see things his way and dissension is therefore inevitable. For those who follow, legalism only proves to be burden in the end. It interferes with the ability to worship God freely and willingly out of love and devotion. Such worship is all in vain (Matt. 15: 8-9). A church that becomes legalistic has taken its first and most lethal step towards apostasy (Gal. 1 :6-10).
I regret to admit that the NCC crossed this line long ago and every attempt to try to remedy the situation has fallen on ears made deaf by hardened hearts. The legalism practised in the ICC would make the Pharisees seem weak in their faith!
In Acts 15:36 Paul and Barnabas disagreed sharply over the issue of John Mark. The Greek word for disagreement used here is “stasis”, meaning dissension or insurrection or controversy. But this disagreement never led to division in the church. Because 2 people do not agree on things having to do even with the work of God it does not mean that there cannot be unity among them. In fact a friendship that cannot accept honest differences however sharp they may be is not worth the name at all.
In Acts 11:1-18 Peter came under heavy criticism for going over to share his faith with gentiles and eating and fellowshipping with them. The Greek word for criticism used here is “diakrino” meaning to withdraw from, or oppose or to discriminate, or contend or differ, or doubt, judge, be partial or waver. But Peter took great pain and patiently explained his actions from beginning to end. In the end there were no further objections.
These Jews were critical of Peter going to the house of gentiles and eating with them. They did not hesitate to be critical. They did not hesitate to call his attention, and yet again, criticism, in itself, was not divisive. It did not lead to division.
I think that it is not criticism that leads to division but our attitude towards it that does lead to divisions. Complete humility and patience on the side of the leader under criticism would enhance unity, rather than a harsh and arrogant spirit which only promotes bad attitudes and bitterness. It is an abuse of leadership to throw out your critics and a foolish one indeed because a healthy leadership is one that accepts constructive and honest criticism.
In Galatians 2:11 Paul had some serious reservations about the hypocritical conduct of Peter. He brought it up publicly. Again, this never lead to a split between Peter and Paul, because reservations in and of themselves do not cause divisions.
Yes, I admit that I have some serious reservations about the leadership of this church. When I first joined the church in early 1990, I was led to believe that the Bible is the only standard we must follow. But now, I have sufficient reason to believe that there are double standards on the part of the leadership. I realise that such an assertion must be proven by facts and so I will illustrate:
- It is a matter of record that I was terminated from the staff of the church as a matter of man’s policy not scripture. The reason for my termination had to do with my wife not being in the full time ministry. This is obviously unbiblical because even the apostles wives did not have to be “Aposteless”, provided they were believers (1Cor.9:5) it was enough. Her not being in paid ministry is irrelevant because you cannot name even a single apostle’s wife!
- It is a matter of record that recently several disciples including my wife and I have been thrown out of the church in a manner not only unconstitutional but also unscriptural and even violent.
- It is a matter of record that the leadership has taken upon itself the role of a match-maker in marriages. A good number of relationships have been frustrated and some people even fired from staff because the leadership was against their relationships. The reason cited for such conduct is that the other spouse is no ‘ministry material’. Sadly though, no one is told of such conditions before they join. Some have ‘fallen away’ for this reason alone. The least this can pass for is meddling! (1Pet. 4:14- 17)
- In matters of deep concern, the apostles did not act alone. The divine will gave guidance, and the apostles interpreted and exhorted, but the consent of the whole church was sought (Acts 6:5, 11:1, 11:22, 15:4, 15:22). I am yet to see this kind of practice in the Nairobi Christian Church. Our leaders in every crisis have always reacted with intimidation and tyranny to the point that members are no longer free to express any discontentment or matter of concern.
Recently, when a few brothers and sisters tried to exercise what seemed to them as a basic constitutional approach to solving some problems in the church, by calling for a special general meeting, the leaders responded with public lies, outright deception, misinformation and intimidation. Within 48 hours of a promised resolution, most of the brothers and sisters were victimised and secretly thrown out of the church with all sorts of false accusations.
Some of these leaders are now spreading false rumours that I was behind it all in order to discredit the lead evangelist. Not surprising, though, because many of the issues raised by the said petition had to do with the leaders tyranny and authoritarian style of leadership, which points towards a very insecure leadership indeed. (Believe it or not, the evangelist John Kilaha lied to the church and the Holy Spirit when he publicly denied that he knew beforehand about this petition) for he was well informed about it from the very beginning by Joe Mwangi, who was leading the petitioners.
- You have heard it said that the Kingdom of God is not a democracy but I tell you the truth it is not a dictatorship either. Whenever there is a crisis in a dictatorial system, those in power usually react by eliminating the ‘troublemakers’ . But as for the Kingdom of God, being made up of puny humans, must accommodate and put up with all types of human personalities, weak, and strong, Jew and Gentile alike. It must have its own fringes. A movement that has no tolerance for the fringes is not likely to be practising true Christianity but something more cultic at least.
Such is the situation in the ICC. Recently they have ‘pruned’ a good number of people whom they consider weak, unfaithful or disloyal to the leadership. Some have been thrown out simply because they have read articles (mainly from the internet) that the leadership is afraid of because the contents expose their dark side. This is a very serious contradiction of scriptures and the teachings of the Lord in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-34 (The parable of the weeds).
Jesus here specifically addresses the issue of ‘weeding people out’ of his Kingdom and expressly forbids his disciples from pulling them up. The obvious danger is that they may uproot the wheat with them (i.e. genuine disciples). Again, there are a number of clear contradictions here with the practice of ‘pruning’ within the ICC as recently done by Richard Alawaye and the leaders of the NCC!
- There will be a harvest, but it is at the end of the age (verse 39-40)
- The harvesters are angels, not humans (verse 39)
- Not even angles have the authority to decide who will be weeded out, but only Christ (verse 41).
When my wife and I pointed out such contradictions of Scriptures, the leaders absolutely refused to open the Bible and said that the leadership had decided and that was that. A common response from the pulpit has always been “if you don’t like what we do in this church, you can go start your own”. How absurd for a movement that claims to have a “monopoly of God!”
- In April 1996 my wife was invited to the U.S.A. to attend her brother’s wedding. This became an issue of great controversy between myself and Richard, and his wife, Sarah. They were against this trip for reasons I still don’t understand. In October 1996, after she had returned from the U.S.A. they ordered that she be re- baptised. After prayerfully looking at the Scriptures, my wife and I came to the decision that she did not need a re- baptism, for we could not find Scriptural reason for it. Despite great intimidation from Richard and Sarah we stood our ground on this issue. But this was the last straw as we were never forgiven for this “defiance”. This demonstrates just how the leadership has no respect for authority of Scriptures and freedom of conscience. My wife and I have been victimised since that time because they had wanted only to use her re- baptism to break her will and not to win her heart. I have never seen anything as cruel as this ever since I became a Christian.
Finally, I believe Richard and the leaders are victimising me because they cannot stand hearing honest Truth. They preach and tell us that as Christians we should be open and not be concerned about how we look. They promise to love you regardless of what ugly feelings or thoughts you express. But the truth is, instead of accepting and expressing these thoughts they train you to deny or distort them. You only gain favour if you express those aspects that are likely to win their approval and support. But honest and naked truth draws disapproval and eventually rejection in the harshest form.
A tremendous amount of psychological abuse is taking place as a result of people being led into what the late psychologist Carl Rogers calls “the basic estrangement of man. He has not been true to himself . . . for the sake of preserving the positive regard of others.” I am being persecuted for refusing to compromise my personal integrity and trade my honesty for man’s approval. You can call me less of a disciple for this and even go ahead and throw me out, but Truth remains Truth and continues to haunt those who fight it till Truth prevails. You may twist facts to distort what is Truth but it will come back and haunt you because God does not associate with what is untrue. Truth is eventually vindicated because God is Truth!
I cannot with a clear conscience continue to hold to the belief that the ICC is a movement led by God because, quite honestly, I fail to see God in all these experiences. What I see is the greed for power and control and abuse of authority by men. I see a system where God’s authority has been replaced by that of depraved and deluded men who think they can play God in the lives of fellow men and get away with it.
Yours in Christ,
NB: Since writing this letter 2 very significant things have happened:
- The leaders of the ICC have withdrawn all their financial obligations toward me and my family. They have defaulted on an agreed upon compensatory contract to pay part of my college fees (I am pursuing a Masters degree in Psychology). They’ve also frozen all financial support which we had an agreement they would give (as severance benefits) until I am able to support my family. For more than 3 months I have had to exhaust my little savings and now depend on offers from friends to feed my family while looking for a job, which is not easy to find in Kenya.
- An annual general meeting was held on 26th June 1997, in which Richard stage-managed a pre- programmed agenda to manipulate unsuspecting congregation into giving him and the leaders almost absolute powers in running the church affairs. They amended the constitution so that accountability from the leaders to the congregation is almost impossible now. Richard used the Police force to bar a number of members deemed as “troublemakers” from attending this AGM.
Because of these 2 events, me and several other ex-members have decide to take legal action against the leaders so that we can defend our rights and for me to obtain my financial benefits.
©1997 by Joseph Owade. All rights reserved. Republished with permission. This article was first published on REVEAL‘s website.