The International Church of Christ and Bible Study
A current member of the ICC writes about what he believes to be deceptions in their Bible study lessons
Much has been said about the International Churches of Christ (ICOC), both good and bad. Good things have come usually from the ICOC itself, of course, and from current members, who are increasingly discovering the technologies of the WWW and are publishing pro-ICOC web pages.
Bad things are mainly said by ex-members and occasionally by the Media, usually when they pick up a story from a disgruntled ex-disciple.
I am in a bizarrely unique position that I am actually a current disciple of the ICOC in the UK but also a fierce critic of their methods.
I was asked if I could infiltrate the Church to find out whether it still continues to manipulate and deceive impressionable and vulnerable people, with a view to publicising any findings that would be of interest. While this is in itself a deception, I believe it is justified by the fact that I am attempting to expose a deceptive and possibly dangerous cult.
At some point in the near future I will deliver a complete account of my time in the ICOC but since I am still in the church, I am still in the process of discovering their methods and practices. This is why this article must, for the time being, remain anonymous.
My reason for writing this article is because I feel a sense of urgency in letting people know just how deceptive and manipulative the ICOC really is. New disciples are being recruited all the time and the church is growing rapidly. Consequently, impressionable people are being deceived by false doctrine. This is no more so apparent than in their Bible study lessons.
As any ex-member will tell you, the disciples of the ICOC love to “get in” on a study with a potential recruit. The method is simple:-
Step 1: Stop someone on the street and invite them to church
Step 2: If they come to church, get them in a study as quickly as possible, usually straight after a church service – always two disciples onto one recruit
How do the disciples know exactly what to study with new recruits? Simple: they learn it all, word for word, in Bible study lessons.
These lessons, usually masquerading under the name of “Guard the Gospel” (GTG), are taught by one of the experienced leaders or an evangelist to a “class” of fairly new disciples over the course of several weeks.
The principal aim of the GTG lessons, according to the ICOC, is to have a great time in a Bible study with a potential disciple of Christ. The bare truth is that it runs like a direct sales pitch, complete with tacky illustrations and misquoted soundbites of Bible verse.
The studies each have definite themes, and must run in a particular order. Without going too deeply into the overall GTG series of studies, I will concentrate on the theme of just one study, called “The Church”. The following is an example of how we would teach a new recruit, based on what we were taught in the lesson in my church.
The Church study comes in usually as the fourth study in the series and concentrates on helping a potential recruit to see that the ICOC is the only true church. It is a useful study to put off any curious person seeking God from seeking God anywhere else but in the ICOC, and is also useful for making any church-going Christian realise that they have been going to the wrong church all this time and that they really are not Saved at all.
First, they check to see whether the recruit is studying the Bible every day (remember, the recruit has already been in a few studies previously). This seemingly innocuous question hides a menacing undertone. It sounds like a threat – “You have been studying the Bible, haven’t you?”
Thus put at unease, the recruit is shown a verse – Colossians 1:18 –
“And He [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
The ICOC disciple will then offer this explanation of that verse: That we have only one head and one body. Likewise, if Jesus is the One Head, then the One Body means there can only be One Church (the ICOC, of course).
They may add that the Pope is not the head, Jesus is (implying that Catholicism is wrong). They often add a ridiculous analogy (which they term “illustration”) about a man with several heads and one body, or several bodies and one head, stressing that such a situation would never exist.
This, of course, is utter codswallop. Colossians 1:18 implies nothing of the sort. As usual, the verse is taken totally out of context. In this letter, Paul was addressing the church at Colosse, in Asia Minor (now Western Turkey). The people of Colosse had received the Good News about Christ from Epaphras, a student of Paul, but had not fully grasped that Jesus was the image of God. In 1:18, Paul is stressing that Jesus is the one and only way to God, that He is all-powerful. In this context , the church is merely a collection of people. In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 27, Paul states “Now you [the members of the church in Corinth] are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it”.
Before any argument can ensue, the disciple then moves swiftly on to the next quotation – Ephesians 2:19-22 –
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”.
ICOC explanation: We are foreigners and aliens before we come to God, but when we are baptised we become part of God’s nation, his household, his family. Since we are a family, we need to be together all the time (so don’t miss any meetings). This, then, is a good introduction to the threat of disunity or disobedience. They go on to reinforce their previous point about the One True Church by saying: according to v.20 the True Church is built on the Bible. If your current church isn’t following the Bible [to the letter], then they are not a True Church. This is, of course, backed up with a comment that the ICOC are very biblical.
Again, this is taken woefully out of context. In Ephesians 2, Paul is expounding his Mission, to bring the word of God to the Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. If you look earlier in the chapter, to verse 11 onwards, you will clearly see that Paul’s later statement about aliens and foreigners is referring to the fact that the people of Ephesus are Gentiles, but through the blood of Christ they can also be part of God’s kingdom. This verse is not about being faithful to your church and regularly attending meetings, it is an excellent and inspiring piece of scripture which tells us that we can ALL be God’s chosen people, Gentile and Jew alike.
Moving on swiftly to 1 Corinthians 12: 14-21 –
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say ” Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of that body. And if the ear should say “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of that body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be ? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand “I don’t need you!” and the hand cannot say to the feet “I don’t need you!”
The ICOC explanation: In the church everyone is different but we all share a common purpose, that is, to make disciples. This is followed by another ludicrous illustration about dismembered body parts not being able to survive by themselves – we can survive without a foot but the foot cannot survive without us. Thus, the church can survive without us, but we cannot survive spiritually without the church. Just to add emphasis to that last line, my evangelist “shared” about a time he nearly “fell away” from the church, eliciting gasps of horror from the disciples. I nearly gasped with horror when he matter-of-factly stated that even if you fall away but join a different church, you are still going to Hell.
Now the scripture has become so twisted that the official ICOC line is almost the opposite of its intended purpose.
Far from “all being different” in the ICOC, they do their best to try to make everyone exactly the same, to think the same, to talk in the same (dreadfully Americanised) way, even to look the same (there’s a lot of unspoken body fascism in the ICOC – just ask any overweight ex-member).
Besides, the scripture quoted is a very famous passage: 1 Corinthians 12 is all about spiritual gifts. Again, if you look outside the scripture quoted here, you will clearly see the whole picture. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul very clearly and unambiguously explains the gifts people may acquire when they receive the Holy Spirit – healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues etc.
The quoted passage has nothing to do with making disciples; it clearly states that members may have different spiritual gifts, but no one is more important than the other – everybody has a valid contribution to make, whether it be healing, teaching or speaking in tongues or whatever. Again, if you look forward from verse 23 onwards, it clearly explains this very point.
I cannot believe that such a distinctive passage can be so badly misinterpreted. Of course, the secondary gain from this for the ICOC is that they can totally ignore the part about spiritual gifts since they do not believe in them at all, thus writing off the Pentecostal and other Spirit-led churches in a stroke.
Why don’t they believe in Spiritual gifts? Because gifts empower people and the only persons who should have power in the ICOC are the leaders.
Next passage (bear with me here, I know it’s heavy going but it’s important) – Hebrews 3: 12-13 –
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
The ICOC say: Share about the first time you sinned, about how repeated sin hardens your heart and turns us away from God. So we should see other Christians every day and encourage each other.
Astoundingly, the ICOC are almost on the right track with this one. The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 (in verses 7-11) to give a dire warning – do not do as Israel did in the OT, and fall prey to sin, turning away from God.
However, they seldom practice what they preach. Far from encouraging each other, I have noticed on many occasions, and have suffered myself, chastisement, harassment and rebuking from other disciples (particularly disciplers – “bottom level” disciples tend to get on pretty well with each other). I have also noticed that disciples are expected to make frequent contact with other disciples, whom they don’t necessarily get on with or have anything in common with. And the less said about relationships and dating the better – that’s another whole article in itself.
Sticking with Hebrews, the next misquote is Hebrews 10: 24-25 –
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The ICOC say: We must spur each other on, but spurs hurt when you are kicked by one. So sometimes encouraging each other may hurt but it moves us closer to God. I have to stop here to laugh, although it’s not really funny. They go on to say Let us not get in to the habit of missing meetings. We must go to al meetings – Sunday, Wednesday and family groups.
What can I say about the idiocy of the “spur” analogy? Firstly, the word “spur” here only appears in the NIV Bible, the preferred (nay, the ONLY) Bible used by the ICOC. The New King James says “stir up” rather than “spur on”; Webster’s says “to excite”, Darby’s says “provoking to”, and so on. The point is, the word “spur” is used totally out of context in order to justify the ICOC’s psychological double bind of hurting you in order to love you (or help you to love God).
The second point is used to once again ram home the idea of commitment, not because meeting together is a Good Thing (it is, and I don’t want to detract from that), but because the ICOC want to keep you in, to keep taking your money, your liberty and your freedom to think for yourself.
Finally, (yes, finally!) they quote Acts 2: 42-47 –
“They [the believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The ICOC say: Share about things you have been devoted to. Was your previous church devoted? Did they share possessions? Did your church grow quickly? A good chance to share [boast] about the rapid growth of the ICOC and the devotion of the disciples.
This passage, together with the Great Commission from Matthew 28, are the most quoted by the ICOC. To them, the 1st Century church of Acts is how they would like to be; it is their Utopia. Unfortunately, times have changed. The times of Acts, Luke tells us, are times immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus and his ascension. It was a time of great passion and fervent evangelism.
Nowadays, there is hardly a man on earth who has not heard of Jesus. We are not likely to baptise 3,000 people in one day (much as the ICOC try), and no-one is about to share all their possessions with the needy. This vision, while inspiring and momentous, is not a blueprint for a modern movement, and it is not intended as such. It is merely an account of the fervour which gripped the apostles and their followers in the days and months following the death of Jesus. But while the ICOC aspire to this vision, they will always fall short, and unfortunately, that means that the ICOC members will feel as if they are failures (and are often made to feel failures) if they are not 110% devoted and if new converts are not baptised daily.
This is but one small (!) example of the workings of the ICOC. Their methods are subtle but the effects can be devastating. For all their denials of being a cult, it is impossible to escape the fact that they use control and manipulation in order to mould people into their image, an image which, sadly, is not only unbiblical but which is also downright dangerous.
Back to other articles about the International Churches of Christ.