International Churches of Christ
By James Bjornstad
A. In the early 1970s Kip McKean, founder of this movement, met Chuck Lucas,
a campus minister at the University of Florida. Lucas was from Crossroads Church
of Christ in Gainesville, FL.
1. Lucas understood Robert Coleman, in his book The Master Plan of Evangelism,
to teach that Jesus controlled the lives of His apostles and then taught His
apostles to disciple others by controlling their lives. He believed that Christians
today should use this same process that Jesus taught His apostles, and began
using this method of discipling in his relationship with new believers.
2. Lucas trained McKean in this radical version of discipleship.
B. McKean went to Heritage Chapel Church of Christ in Charleston, IL and initiated
a campus outreach at Eastern Illinois University. Though successful, he was
questioned about his method of discipling and charged with manipulation and
C. He moved to the Boston suburb of Lexington, MA in 1979 and became involved
in the Lexington Church of Christ. In 1983 the name of the church was changed
to the Boston Church of Christ.
D. His discipleship program brought great growth to the Boston Church of Christ,
and in 1981 it launched an aggressive missions program. As Jerusalem was the
center from which Christianity spread throughout the world, so this church saw
Boston as the modern day center for "multiplying" ministries worldwide. This was
the beginning of the Boston Movement.
E. The Boston Movement disassociated itself from the Churches of Christ in 1988,
taking the name the International Churches of Christ (hereafter ICoC).
F. In 1990 McKean left Boston to assume the leadership of the Los Angeles Church
A. Apostasy - According to their understanding
1. The apostasy foretold in the New Testament (Mt 24:10-12; Acts 20:29-30;
1 Jn 2:18; 4:1) began to take place toward the end of the first century.
2. They consider themselves to be the restoration of original Christianity (i.e.
restoring the doctrine of salvation and the method of discipling), the only true
church and movement of God.
B. Salvation - According to their interpretation of Mt 28:18-20, salvation involves two
steps in the following order
1. First, become a disciple (i.e. change one's lifestyle to conform to their standards).
a. One must complete some or all of a series of studies called the "First Principles"
(studies on the Word, Discipleship, Sin, The Cross, Counting the Cost, etc) with a
discipler, commit to attend all the services, promise to read the Bible daily,
begin recruiting others, agree to obey church leaders, and give tithes weekly.
b. One must also list the sins he or she has committed and confess these to
one or more disciples.
2. Then be baptized.
a. Baptism is necessary to have one's sins forgiven.
b. Only baptized disciples are saved.
C. Discipling - According to their version of discipleship
1. Each person is discipled within a hierarchy of disciples.
2. Under God, Kip McKean is the director. Under McKean are elders (e.g. Al Baird
and Bob Gempel), then evangelists (e.g. Gordon Ferguson), then pastors, and
then disciples who are disciplers, and then disciplees.
3. Final authority in all matters is vested in the leadership.
D. Church - According to their view
1. Their churches take on the names of the cities into which they move, i.e. in
New York, the New York Church of Christ.
2. There can be only one true church in any city, their church.
A. Making disciples
1. ICoC reaches out to people in different ways: e.g. by building friendships, by
blitzing, and by arranging social events. A female disciple may, for example, be
part of a blitz in a mall, meet a young lady, and get her telephone number and a
commitment to attend a social event. Or, she might build a friendship with someone
at work and invite her to a Bible study. Whichever the case, when that young lady
attends, she will meet some wonderful people who will befriend her. As a result,
she will begin to participate in other activities and attend their services.
2. A spiritual mentorship will develop in which the young lady will be discipled by a
discipler (usually by the one who invited her to the Bible study).
3. She will hear Bible Talks on discipleship and baptism and learn that unless she has
been "water immersed as a disciple," she is not saved. She will realize that she has
not, and so she will become a disciple and finally be rightly baptized.
4. She will begin to realize that if she was not saved prior to her being baptized as a
disciple, neither were her parents and friends. She will be encouraged to tell them
about her newly acquired beliefs.
B. Living as a disciple
1. Every decision in her life is filtered through the leadership by her discipler.
a. She will report all daily activities and plans, including
(1) Personal matters, such as the time she wakes up, what she eats, her
schedule, whom and when she dates, duration of kisses on a date, and
when she has sex with her husband.
(2) Church matters, such as how much she gives, and the number of people
contacted and converts made.
b. She will confess or report private matters regarding her life, things she might
even be ashamed of, which will be shared with the leadership. These can be
used against her at a later time.
c. If she mentions any concerns about the movement, she may be accused of
being divisive or prideful.
2. She is so busy she will not have time for reflection and examination of the path
she is on. Her relationship with other disciples and the church can become such
that it will seem as though there is no life outside the church.
3. She will sincerely believe that she is in control of her life, but she is not. The
leadership will control what she does and does not do.
C. When exiting, several coercive tactics are used
1. One approach she might hear is this: "I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way.
If we have offended you, give us the opportunity to reconcile. Proverbs 18:17 says
'The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions
him.' Would you give ________ [a leader's name] an opportunity to respond to what
you've heard?" If she agrees to meet with this leader, it usually turns out to be with
three or more. And the agenda will not be to address her concerns, but to rebuke her
2. Another approach might be this: "How could you trust them instead of us? You have
let God and us down. We were depending on you. If you leave, you're turning your
back on God. Sis', you'll go to hell. Terrible things will happen to you. A dog returns
to its vomit. You don't have what it takes to be a disciple. You probably were never
a Christian in the first place"
A. Mt 28:18-20 - Is Jesus really commanding that only baptized disciples are truly saved?
1. First of all, to "make disciples" is a verb; "baptizing" and "teaching" are participles,
which must refer back to the verb. Therefore, being baptized and being taught actually
describe how a disciple is made.
2. Second, "them" [the ones to be baptized and taught] is a pronoun that can only refer
to the noun "nations," and not to the verb "make disciples." Thus, this passage does
not teach the baptism of disciples, as the ICoC claims, but nations. The disciples
were to begin preaching to all people, not only Jewish people, and those people who
believed were to be baptized and taught.
B. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21; et al - Do these passages teach the
necessity of baptism for salvation?
1. Mark 16:16
a. A textual problem exists - Verses 9-20 are not contained in the earliest
manuscripts of the New Testament.
b. Granting that this passage is a legitimate text, the key relationship that one must
correctly understand is between believing and being baptized. Logically, there are
four possibilities regarding salvation.
(1) Believing and baptized, which is affirmed in V16a.
(2) Believing and not baptized, which is neither affirmed nor rejected in this passage.
(3) Not believing but baptized, which is rejected in V16b.
(4) Not believing and not baptized, which is also rejected in V16b.
c. Since Mk 16:16 does not speak to the issue of salvation for unbaptized believers,
it cannot be used to "prove" that baptism is necessary for salvation.
2. John 3:5
a. Word study approach - "born of water" could refer to John's baptism (Jn 1:26),
the Holy Spirit (Jn 7:38-39), the washing of the Word (Jn 15:3), the washing of
regeneration (Titus 3:5), or perhaps a meaning found only in this passage, as
in (2) below.
b. Structural approach - "Born of water" (V5) = "born of flesh" (V6) as "born of . . .
the Spirit" (V5) = "born of the Spirit" (V6). If so, then "born of water" is a metaphor
for physical or natural birth in this passage, and not a reference to water baptism.
Thus, this passage does not teach the necessity of baptism for salvation.
3. Acts 2:38
a. Consider the structure of this passage: "you (plural) repent and be baptized each
one of you (third person singular) in the name of Jesus Christ for [the] remission
[of the] sins of you (plural)." If one considers the plurals used, remission of sins
is the result of repentance and not baptism.
b. Consider the preposition "for" [eis]: is it causative ("in order to attain") or resultant
("because of" - as in Mt 12:41)? While the Church of Christ accepts the former as
the interpretation, other passages in Acts support the latter (see, for example,
Acts 3:19, where the forgiveness of sins is the result of repentance, and Acts
10:45-48, where baptism follows salvation and the forgiveness of sins).
c. Either way, Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation.
4. Acts 22:16
a. The aorist imperatives are in the middle voice here, and may best be rendered as
"get yourself baptized, and get your sins washed away."
b. The aorist participle "calling on His name" is either simultaneous with the aorist
imperatives or immediately precedes them, making it, not baptism, the basis for
Asins washed away." One's justification from sins, therefore, takes place at the
point of calling on the name of the Lord, and not at the point of water baptism.
For substantiation of this conclusion, see Acts 2:20 and Rom 10:13 as to how
one's sins are washed away.
c. Thus, this passage does not teach the necessity of baptism for salvation.
5. 1 Peter 3:21
a. Note "and corresponding to that" [antitupos], a correspondence from V20 to V21.
b. Persons in the ark corresponds to "Good conscience toward God" Flood/water
c. Baptism is used metaphorically to symbolize a clear conscience before God. It is
not the physical act of baptism that saves, but the good conscience which baptism
6. Whether ICC uses the texts above or any other text in the Bible, the fact will remain
that no text or group of texts will establish their claim that baptism is necessary
V. Some Helpful Resources
Bauer, Rick. Toxic Faith. 2nd edition, revised. Bowie, MD: Freedom House Ministries, 1994.
Beisner, Cal. Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? A Critical Analysis. Christian Research
Institute, 30162 Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-2124.
Bjornstad, James. "At What Price Success?" Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993,
Eternal Life and Water Baptism. Waltham Evangelical Free Church, 21 Bruce Road,
Waltham, MA 02154.
Giambalvo, Carol and Herbert L. Rosendale. The Boston Movement. Revised edition.
Bonita Springs, FL: American Family Foundation, 1997.
Jones, Jerry. What Does The Boston Movement Teach? 3 Vols. Bridgeton, MO: Mid-
America Books and Tapes, 1993.
McGovern, Eugenia. "Recruiting Tactics in the International Churches of Christ (ICoC),"
Cult Info, Fall 2000, 5-7.
Ruhland, Joanne. "Witnessing to Disciples of the International Churches of Christ (a.k.a.
the Boston Movement). " Christian Research Journal, Fall 1996, 8, 42-43.