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In John 17:17 we read:
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
The word “sanctify” means “to set apart.” We are set apart from sin and unto God (Hebrews 10:14). We are to set apart Christ as Lord over our lives (1 Peter 3:15). We are to set apart our minds through the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2). We are to be set apart unto God and from sin just as God is (1 Peter 1:15-16) and in fact, without this being set apart, we cannot see God (Hebrews 12:14). Being set apart or sanctified then is of uttermost importance.
And one of the tools that God has given to us to help us is His holy Word. The Bible helps us to be set apart by exposing ourselves before a holy God as we see who we truly are before Him who is holy (Romans 3:23). James the Apostle describes the Word of God like this in James 1:21-25 (NIV):
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
James describes the Word as a mirror and he says in verse 25 that the Word is “the perfect law” and the ESV says it’s the “law of liberty.” Amazing that people think that the Bible is restrictive or full of laws and regulations when James says that the law of God is the law of liberty. The Bible doesn’t restrict us. It frees us!
The Bible reveals not just ourselves but it also reveals our hearts. Like no other knife, the Bible cuts down deep into our souls. Hebrews 4:12-13 reads:
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
As we read the Word of God, the Word opens our eyes to our sins, to the power of God, to the grace of God that enables us to be holy (Titus 2:11-12), to what God desires. Psalm 1:1-3 promises the man (or woman) of God blessings from reading and meditating upon the Word of God.
Furthermore, 1 Peter 2:1-3 says that we are to hunger for the Word of God like a newborn baby hungers for milk:
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As we long for God’s Word, God’s Word helps us to be disciples who live lives that honor and please the Lord. The Word helps us to become more like Jesus as we study and imitate Him (1 Peter 2:21-24).
Oh that we would hunger for the Word of God! There is nothing we should delight in more than His Word.
In my previous post I talked about the blog, Rethinking Hell. There are some, myself included in this, who have preached hell to the lost thinking that this was the best way to evangelize. Sort of “scare them” into the kingdom. My thinking was that hell is such a terrible place that if we preach what hell is like then people will repent and be saved.
I now believe this type of evangelism is not effective. Why?
First, “hell fire and brimstone” preaching doesn’t produce people who love God. They just fear hell. They don’t love Jesus for His work on the cross other than having a fire insurance policy that allows them to escape from eternal torment. If anything, they still fear Satan more than they fear God. Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 12:4-5 (NKJV):
4 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
Notice Who it is who casts into hell. It is God. Not Satan. In fact, Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be himself cast into hell.
While we are called to fear God (Proverbs 1:7), fear doesn’t lead us to love God but only to tremble before Him. We should fear God (Romans 11:20-22) but we should also love God (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (John 14:15) and John the Apostle says that His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).
Secondly, we find none of the Apostles preaching on hell in the book of Acts to the lost. Even in Acts 17, Paul the Apostle does not preach on hell. He does preach on the judgment to come (Acts 17:30-31) but he never preaches on hell. Strange that the Apostles would not preach on hell if in fact hell fire preaching produces true disciples of Christ. Even in Acts 2, the very first sermon preached after the resurrection focuses entirely upon Jesus and His work rather than hell. In fact, Peter never mentions hell at all. Hell is never talked about as a motivation for evangelism (“consider those about to go to hell as you go out sharing your faith”) nor for evangelistic preaching (“come and be saved from that awful place”).
Thirdly, such thinking undermines the sovereignty of God in preaching the gospel to the lost. Remember that God is the One who saves sinners (John 6:44). Through the preaching of the gospel He draws the lost to Himself (John 12:32; Romans 10:14-17). Jonah 2:9 is clear that salvation is of the LORD. The Lord God saves the lost by His sovereign power. He is the One who regenerates the unbeliever by His grace (Titus 3:5-7). Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:1-9) and not by the will of mankind (John 1:12-13). We don’t need to go out in our evangelism thinking that we need to get people saved by our abilities to reason or to scare them into the kingdom. God will draw the lost as the Church is faithful to go out and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Our duty is to go and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15-16) and not to try to argue people into the kingdom or to persuade them to repent by telling them scary tales about hell.
In closing, I do believe in hell. I believe that Matthew 25:46 is clear that the righteous will go to eternal life while the wicked will go to eternal punishment. However, our motivation for evangelism and salvation must not be hell. It must be the cross. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV):
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Notice that Paul feared God above hell or above Satan. His fear of God motivated Him to want to preach the gospel to the lost. Yet he turns around in 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NKJV) and writes:
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died.
Paul feared God and he loved God. This led to his desire to preach to the lost.
I pray that I would have the balance of fearing God and yet loving God. It is not hell that should push us to preach to the lost. It should be fearing and loving God. Further, as we preach to the lost, let us preach the cross. Let us show sinners their sins (1 Timothy 1:8-11) but let us preach the truth of the cross, that Jesus died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8-9). Jesus shed His blood for the souls of men (Isaiah 53:12). May the cross be our focus (1 Corinthians 1:23)!
Here is a blog by Calvinist Chris Date on the subject of hell. Date has adopted the view known as conditionalism. He now hold to annihilation. I have followed Date’s struggles with the traditional view of hell and then his ultimate adoption of the view he now holds. I must admit that if you have never read literature on the conditionalist view, it is very appealing. Even Arminian Dr. Roger Olson states that he finds conditionalism appealing as it reflects the love of God in that sinners are merely thrown into hell and cease to exist.
Over the years I have gone back and forth. I read Edward Fudge’s book and his arguments are very convincing. I have likewise read other works on hell such as Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. The problem with the debate over hell is that it often turns into an issue of salvation (if you don’t believe in hell you are wrong or if you do believe in hell you are wrong) and emotions. The thought of dear granny Smith burning in hell bothers us. Yet we have no problem seeing Hitler burning in hell. However, we must admit that both are guilty before God of sin and if granny Smith did not repent, she is guilty before God just as Hitler is though she might not be punished on the same level.
Arminius said little about hell. His debate was over salvation so he rarely went beyond that. John Wesley preached on hell and his sermons have often been sources for those who believe in the traditional view of hell. Of course Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, reflects the traditional view.
I do think there is room in the church to debate hell. I would not divide over a brother or a sister who rejects the traditional view. I would reject someone if they completely reject hell (such as universalist). Even conditionalist speak of hell. They simply debate whether hell is eternal or not. I don’t write this post to sway you either way. I pray that we preach that all sinners must repent or they will face the judgement of God (Acts 17:30-31). God will judge all people (Hebrew 9:27). This I do know and this I will preach (Hebrews 12:29).
Even Black Sabbath can get it right, at least in one song anyway:
Lyrics: Have you ever thought about your soul — can it be saved?
Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead you just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head or is he a part of you?
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book when you were in school?
When you think about death do you lose your breath or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope — do you think he’s a fool?
Well I have seen the truth, yes I’ve seen the light and I’ve changed my ways
And I’ll be prepared when you’re lonely and scared at the end of our days
Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say
If they knew you believe in God above?
They should realize before they criticize
that God is the only way to love.
Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say they may as well worship the sun.
I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced
Will you be so sure when your day is near say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down now you can’t retrieve.
Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone
Open your eyes, just realize that he’s the one
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate.
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes — I think it’s too late
Here is a slightly tweaked rendition by Christian Metal band “Deliverance” (one of my all time favorites)
At one point the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) was the fastest growing movement in the world. They started with 30 people in 1979 (according to Kip McKean) and grew to over 100,000 people by the year 2000. In many ways the ICOC was unique in that they had one church per city (based on the model of Revelation 2-3 according to McKean) and named that church after the city it was in so that you had the Boston Church of Christ, the Chicago Church of Christ, the Charlotte Church of Christ, etc. The largest churches of the ICOC at one point where the LA Church of Christ (10,000), Boston Church of Christ (6,000), New York City Church of Christ (7,000), Chicago Church of Christ (6,000), Dallas Church of Christ (4,000), Houston Church of Christ (3,000), the Atlanta Church of Christ (6,000), and many more. The ICOC prided itself on numbers.
The Columbia (SC) Church of Christ was the only one I was familiar with. The Columbia Church boasted a membership of around 500 or so. I attended a few times and I would say that there were about 300 there. According to one report, the average time a person spent in the ICOC was just under 7 years. Why? Because of the legalism that was often promoted. At one point, the ICOC required all its members to have a disciple and a disciple over them. Each week you had to meet with your discipler who would question your Bible reading, your prayer life, your evangelism, your discipling of other members under you, your use of money, your use of time, and if married, your sex life (I am not joking). The ICOC even kept a “sin list” and required their leaders to report the various sins of the people. The prayer lists for the ICOC were full of people confessing how they had sinned this way or that and many of them were confessions such as “Help me to be more like my discipler and not be full of pride at their rebuke.” The ICOC took the “one another” passages and applied them to discipling relationships. Further, they pointed to passages such as James 5:16 and applied this to one-over-one discipling relationships. The result was nothing less than a works-righteousness system in which Jesus was acknowledged but not the focus and the desire was to imitate your discipler and not Jesus Himself. It also resulted in people seeking to please their discipler and not Jesus Himself as their Lord. Few knew the grace of God and even worse, they often felt nothing but guilt or condemnation from the Lord despite Romans 8:1 simply because they were not doing enough to please their discipler. So many have fallen away now from the old ICOC as a result of their works focus and heavy emphasis on “being part of the kingdom” instead of loving Christ and His work. Furthermore, the ICOC taught that they were the only true church and so to leave the ICOC was to abandon God. This put great pressure on people to “be faithful” to the ICOC but not to Christ. The focus became pleasing people instead of loving God.
Yet despite this ugly side of the ICOC, there was some good. Let me highlight what I felt was good about the old ICOC.
1. Emphasis on Evangelism.
One of the most quoted passages among the ICOC folks was Matthew 28:19-20. The great commission was not a call to a few but all according to Kip McKean. Every disciple was expected to be active in evangelism. Each week the disciple had to report to their discipler how many people they had reached out to (this meant invite to their church). I remember one ICOC man saying that he made a goal to talk to 100 people in one day about the ICOC and he did. The focus for every disciple was to be on making disciples.
Now the ugly side of this was the works-righteousness factor where disciples were not evangelizing out of love for Christ and a desire to honor Him as Lord but a desire to please their discipler. Many reports state that if you didn’t reach out, your discipler would often question your salvation (how can you say you love Jesus but not desire to reach people for Him?) or bash you for your laziness (Jesus went to Calvary for you but you can’t even tell your friends about what He has done?). The guilt factor was what led to many people reaching out to others. I remember a guy named Caesar at my work who was persistent in inviting people to the Columbia Church of Christ. Everyone avoided him because that was all he was going to talk about was his church and how we needed to visit. I don’t know what became of him.
2. Emphasis on Discipleship.
The good side was that the old ICOC did talk lots about discipleship and the importance of having disciples around you to keep you strong (Hebrews 3:13). At times the ICOC folks could seem so happy with one another. I went once to play flag football near the University of South Carolina campus with some members of the ICOC. They seemed so happy with one another and genuine. Of course, it could have been a show.
The ugly was the harsh relationships that began at the top up. Kip McKean was reported to have been tough on his leaders. He would often play board games with his leaders to see who would be aggressive in winning and would commend them while condemning the others. This military style came from Kip’s family background as his father was a high up in the Navy. Kip learned discipline from his father and carried that into the ICOC. The results were that Kip was tough on his people and it went straight down from there in the ICOC pyramid. Everyone ultimately wanted to be like Kip. Many of the leaders (to this day) mimicked his preaching. The focus was said to be on Jesus as our example (Ephesians 5:1-2) but sadly, the focus was typically on being like the person who was discipling you.
3. Leaders Do.
The one thing you could say about Kip McKean, according to one ICOC guy I talked to after Kip resigned from being the world sector leader, was that he lived what he preached. If Kip taught on evangelism, he would demonstrate the teaching by his example. To this day you can hear Kip preaching on the book of Acts on the Internet and he uses real examples from his own life to show how to reach out to others. Kip impressed this upon his leaders, to lead by example. Every disciple in the ICOC was expected to evangelize and this began with the leaders. Whether it was Kip or Randy McKean or Doug Arthur or Gordon Ferguson, each was expected to be lead by example by doing what they preached. This produced men who led ICOC churches by example.
The ugly side was that their example was Kip. I am not here to judge his standing before God but Kip talked more about the ICOC as the “kingdom of God” than about God Himself. I have listened to hundred of Kip’s sermons from his days in Boston, LA, then Portland, and now back in LA and the focus is typically the same: himself. Kip is presented as the ultimate example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. One man said while in the ICOC that “Kip is the greatest treasure God has given His Church since the Apostles.” Yet Kip is just a man. I know he would admit this. He is a fallen man (Romans 3:23). He is a man who likewise needs a Savior like we all do. There may be things about Kip that are good but his leadership style doesn’t reflect Matthew 20:20-28 in my opinion. Others have agreed and this is why Kip is no longer the head of the ICOC but has started his own splinter group.
Lastly, the ICOC was unified. Kip often preached from 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV of course) and talked about perfect unity. There could be no disagreements. They needed to all be on the same page. They needed to agree on doctrine and practice. The ICOC was held together by the central church which originally was the Boston Church of Christ (and thus why they became known as the Boston Movement) until Kip resigned and moved to LA to plant the LA Church of Christ. The LA Church took prominence at this point over Boston as the LA Church grew larger than the Boston Church. In fact, after Kip left, the Boston Church stopped growing and actually began to lose members. The LA Church became the central church and the one church the other ICOC churches looked to for direction, leadership, money, and support. Unlike the mainline churches of Christ, the ICOC was unified in missions and in helping others (they started HOPE International now headed by former London Church of Christ evangelist Mark Templer).
The ugly side was the controlling aspect of first Boston and then later LA. One church tried to buck against the system. The Indianapolis Church of Christ sought to confront errors they foresaw among the ICOC leaders and especially their own. The ICOC hierarchy came down hard on the Indy Church. The ICOC leadership blasted the evangelist of the Indy Church and required the people to openly repent for their rebellion against the ICOC hierarchy. This was the first of many such tactics. Eventually, leaders within the ICOC began to call for reform especially after Kip resigned from world sector leader. Today the ICOC is a loosely based fellowship united around a cooperative plan and not around one person or even one church.
Last night I watched a video from Way of the Master on the ICOC and whether they are a cult. I do believe the old ICOC was a cult. I have since become friends with ICOC leaders such as Douglas Jacoby and Joey Harris. Both are solid brothers who view me as saved despite being outside of the ICOC. While they still hold to baptism as part of the model in salvation, they also teach that justification is through faith in Christ and not by works. They reject baptismal regeneration. They further reject baptism in the ICOC as required for salvation. They also reject the idea that the ICOC is the only true church or even the church who best gets the gospel right. Dr. Jacoby interacts with men such as Ravi Zacharias and Josh McDowell. He even has written apologetic books for Harvest House Publishers (an evangelical publisher) and has shared platforms with evangelical apologists in defense of Christianity.
The ICOC has undergone major changes in the past 10 years. The entire leadership structure is transformed. The discipling aspect has been abandoned while they still encourage their people to freely meet together and to have Bible talks but not from compulsion or some discipling requirement. The ICOC also helps other people and other churches through HOPE International and has even been recognized by the United Nations for their efforts at helping people in Haiti and many other places.
Kip McKean, however, has not changed. His new church, the International Christian Church, based out of LA is still teaching and practicing the same methods he first learned from Chuck Lucas at Crossroads Church of Christ in the 1970′s. Lucas himself learned them from the charismatic movement and the shepherding movement. Melodyland Christian Center in southern California helped launch the shepherding movement in the charismatic movement that was picked up by Lucas who taught it to McKean and we are now here. While those movements are all gone, McKean continues to beat the horse. He firmly believes that his model is the biblical model and has called all churches to repent and become part of his one true movement. McKean and his followers often call themselves “God’s modern day movement.”
I hope you enjoyed this brief run down of the old ICOC. Pray for the Lord to allow former ICOC people to know Him in truth, to come to see that Jesus is not harsh as they often perceived. Pray for them to know God’s salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and to know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). We serve the Lord out of love and not fear (John 14:15; 1 John 5:1-4). Pray also for Kip McKean to repent. Pray for Kip to openly repent before the people and to acknowledge that he has been wrong in his approach to evangelism and to discipleship.
I have been reading a bit from the early Church Fathers. What is interesting to read is, apart from Augustine, the early Church Fathers were not Calvinists. I knew this previously having heard a Calvinist theologian state once that Augustine was the first Calvinist and Calvin merely borrowed from Augustine. Reading the Church Fathers helps one to see their theology and I find it fascinating that they nearly all held to libertarian free will, conditional salvation, and required disciples of Christ to be obedient to Christ until the end (necessary perseverance).
However, this morning I was reading from Athanasius on the fall of mankind. There is no doubt that Athanasius would not agree with Pelagius and say that man is born innocent and perfect. Athanasius taught that mankind is wretched because of the direct link to Adam and Eve’s lapse into sin. While he taught that man fell in Adam and Eve, he did not hold to the Calvinist view of total depravity but instead taught that while man has lost immorality of his body, he retains that of the soul, and his will remains free. He taught that man inherits a sinful nature from Adam but he never hints that we participate in Adam’s actual guilt.
Ironically, Athanasius even hints at the possibility of being sinless. He even claims that Jeremiah and John the Baptist actually did this and were sinless. This is not to say that they were born sinless as Jesus was and remained His entire life but rather they overcame sin by the act of their own free will.
All this comes from Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly (pages 346-348).
Read the article at The Arminian magazine on-line:
The Patristic Interpretation Of Rom. 7:14-25 Part 1, The Early Christian Witness to the Arminian Interpretation Part 2
Note: While this represents the typical Arminian interpretation of Rom. 7 going back to Arminius, not all Arminians subscribe to this basic interpretation. Dr. Robert Picirilli and Dr. Brian Abasciano are examples of Arminian scholars who take a different approach to the passage.
Go to Part 1
The Gospel Coalition states in its statement of purpose to be an evangelical group committed to the gospel being the focus. It seeks to build off the Reformation. The statement also acknowledges that there is a broad consensus of the gospel despite disagreements within the evangelical movement over non-essential issues. This would be the fact that TGC has, for example, members who baptize by immersion only believers and those who baptize infants. There are also differences over church government, end times views, etc.
However, what I find odd about TGC is the fact that they have no Arminians represented. None. They would say that evangelical Arminians are Christians and part of the Reformation movement but the fact is that they not one Arminian on their board of directors, not one Arminian on their speakers, and not one Arminian as a blogger. They claim that the gospel is what should unite us yet they clearly believe from their actions that TGC is a Calvinistic movement that unites Calvinists. It seems that this movement is another movement that embraces Calvinism as the gospel.
TGC also teams up and does Together for the Gospel. Yet once again we find no Arminians in their list of speakers. Can Arminians not preach the gospel? Would not godly Calvinists claim that non-Calvinists are brothers and sisters in Christ? I have no doubt that Arminians would gladly welcome godly Calvinists to come and preach at their conferences. An example of this is the Expect Pastors Conference. The lineup of speakers includes Carton Conlon (who would likely claim non-Calvinist above Arminian though he is an Arminian) and yet includes Tullian Tchividjian who is clearly Reformed in his theology (whom I actually went to college with). I firmly believe that I could sit in a conference with my fellow Calvinists (and have done so with John MacArthur and Steve Lawson) all while not fully agreeing on all issues. The gospel is neither Arminianism nor Calvinism. The gospel is the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). God has used godly Arminians such as John Wesley to reach souls for His kingdom as well as godly Calvinists such as George Whitefield (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
If the gospel is what unites us in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29) and if the gospel is what saves us in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18) then can we not unite under the gospel? I see no reason to make Arminianism nor Calvinism the gospel. The gospel is the gospel as I have stated above. Jesus saves and not Arminius or Calvin (Matthew 1:21). Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) and He alone is the one mediator between men and God (1 Timothy 2:5-6). We can debate election as to whether it is unconditional or conditional but we must agree that God elects. We can debate the issue of whether God’s all to salvation is resistible or not but we agree that God calls sinners to repent. We can debate the nature of the atonement as to whether it is limited or unlimited but we agree that only those who have faith in the atonement are saved. The gospel is not about predestination or about whether we hold to perseverance of the saints or not. The gospel is all about Jesus Christ and His glorious work on the cross. I love the way 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 puts it:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
That is the gospel in a nutshell. Nothing about Arminianism or Calvinism or any other ism. Paul’s gospel focused on Christ and His saving work. I pray that we would do the same. I pray that TGC would embrace Arminians as brothers and sisters in Christ who love the gospel and desire to see souls saved for the glory of the King.
HT: Jesse Owens
Here is a good video from Francis Chan on the issue of water baptism from 1 Peter 3:21-22. I appreciate his comments.
The International Churches of Christ were once a powerful force to be reckoned with. The ICOC was birthed out of the Lexington (Mass) Church of Christ by Kip McKean who had been converted while a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. McKean had been converted by Chuck Lucas at the Crossroads Church of Christ. Lucas practiced “shepherding” while the college pastor at the Crossroads church in which they “discipled” students by placing one older disciple over the younger disciple. Each person was required to have a discipler and to be making a disciple. The Crossroads church also practiced heavy emphasis on confessing sin openly and evangelism using “Bible talks” in which the disciple would teach a group of students the Bible with an emphasis on baptism into Christ at the Crossroads church. McKean learned from Lucas and took these practices to several places before landing in Lexington as the lead pastor. One author wrote,
When the McKeans interviewed for the position, Kip expressed to the leaders in the Lexington congregation that in order for him and his wife to come, they would need to support him in calling “every member” to be “totally committed.” In this small dying congregation, history was made on June 1, 1979, as “30 would-be disciples” gathered on Friday night in the living-room of members Bob and Pat Gempel. At this point, the Lexington Church was simply viewed as another congregation of the “Crossroads” or “Total Commitment Movement.” The profound difference between the Lexington Church and the other Crossroads ministries would soon become apparent as Kip’s revolutionary call from the Bible was for every member of the church to be “totally committed,” not just the campus students.
McKean’s call was for every member of the Lexington Church of Christ to submit to the shepherding teachings he had learned under Lucas. For the first time, the shepherding movement went from the college students to an entire Church of Christ. The results were staggering as the Lexington Church of Christ experienced growth:
During the ten years that the McKeans served the Boston Church of Christ, the Spirit produced unprecedented growth. The original Lexington Church of Christ had witnessed only two baptisms in the previous three years before June 1979. Through the restoration of the radical practice that every member of the congregation is “totally committed,” the Boston Church of Christ had 103 baptisms the first year. The most dynamic Mainline Church of Christ for decades had only baptized 200 to 300 each year. In fact, during the 80’s, every year a list of Mainline Churches of Christ baptizing 100 or more was published which had usually only 15 Mainline Churches listed. With God’s Spirit working through the McKeans, the Boston Church of Christ saw 200 baptisms their second year; 256 their third; 368 in the fourth; 457 in the fifth; 679 in the sixth; 735 in the seventh; 947 in the eighth; 1424 in the ninth; and in the churches tenth year 1621 were baptized into Christ. By this time also, the Sunday attendance in Boston was approaching 4,000 as the church met in the famed Boston Garden, “home” of the Boston Celtics. Not only was this the largest single congregation in the history of New England, but it also became the largest “Church of Christ” in the entire world.
The Lexington Church of Christ, as noted above, changed its name to the Boston Church of Christ and began to meet in the Boston Garden. The Boston Movement was born and later became the International Churches of Christ (ICOC). The Boston Church planted churches in places such as London, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, etc. Essentially the movement was a pyramid with Kip McKean on the top and the flow chart just worked down from there. Kip was the sole leader of the movement and he claimed (though often denied) to be an apostle like Paul.
I first heard of the ICOC while in high school. In my senior year of high school a young lady started coming to our Bible studies who was attending the Columbia (SC) Church of Christ. I knew nothing of the Columbia Church of Christ and since we had a Roman Catholic coming, I didn’t care that we had a Church of Christ girl coming. In fact, her zeal was impressive. Yet something began to change. She withdrew from us and ultimately confessed to us that we were all lost and going to hell since we had not been baptized in the Columbia Church of Christ. She said that the Columbia Church alone was preaching the gospel and the Columbia Church alone was teaching the truth about how to be a true disciple of Christ. She was baptized in the Columbia Church in the summer of 1993. She cut off all contact with me.
I later had three run-ins with the Columbia Church. The first was while evangelizing at the University of South Carolina freshman dorms, I came upon some African-American young men studying the Bible. I was impressed and waited until they were done to speak to them. All I wanted to do was to rejoice in their studying the Bible. The leader quickly asked me what church I belonged to and my red flags went up. I knew that my answer would now decide my eternal fate. When I told him (which was not his church of course), I was told to read Acts 2:38 and I was told to repent and be baptized into Christ. We debated a few minutes before another Columbia Church of Christ leader showed up to debate some more.
My next run-in came while working at a Christian bookstore in the mall. The ICOC would often travel in groups and they came into our bookstore to buy an NIV Bible (to this day, the ICOC and Kip McKean mainly use the NIV). They proceeded to try to evangelize me yet again based on Acts 2:38. Yet again I debated them and yet again it ended in frustration.
My final run-in came near the end of the ICOC. I was working with some Mormons when a ICOC guy came and tried to evangelize one of the Mormons. His tactic was horrible as he just opened up the conversation with the Mormon by saying, “You know that Joseph Smith is a false prophet don’t you?” This made the Mormon offensive and closed to anything else the guy said. Yet the guy persisted to bash the LDS Church and to call the guy to the Columbia Church of Christ. While I admired his zeal, I thought his tact was wrong and so I asked for his phone number and called to just challenge him to a new approach to evangelizing Mormons. He proceeded to ask if he and I could get together to study the Bible. I knew (having now read all the ICOC Bible studies for evangelism) where this study would go. I agreed and we met about 4 or 5 times to study the Bible. It turned into a debate over justification with him arguing that we are justified before God only when we have been baptized by immersion with the commitment of a disciple of Christ by the standards of the Columbia Church of Christ. I argued that we are not saved by any works we do but by the work of Christ alone. We ended our debate with him telling me I was going to hell. I don’t know what became of this man.
While the ICOC remains, it is nowhere near the same as when Kip was in charge. In fact, Kip has started an entirely new group that views the ICOC as apostate in most ways. Kip has openly called the ICOC to repent all because the ICOC abandoned the harsh shepherding tactics in 2003. The ICOC called McKean to repent but he refused and started the International Christian Churches based out of Los Angeles.
Why do I write all this? No reason really. It’s just on my mind. I saw some good things in the old ICOC but much bad. Kip McKean continues down the road that he forged many years ago. In my next post, I want to write about what we can learn from the old ICOC, both the good and the bad.
Here is the debate between Dr. Michael Brown (Arminian) and Dr. James White (Calvinist) at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC.
Several weeks ago I posted a post on Tony Miano and him preaching outside of an abortion clinic in Portland, Oregon in which he had an atheist come and yell in his face while Tony sought to preach to those visiting the clinic. The atheist shouted over and over again, “Old white men should not be allowed to tell women what to do with their bodies.” In the course of the video, the man asks Tony why he is doing what he is doing, why doesn’t he go out and adopt children if he wants to help, and he tells Tony that he is judgmental for preaching at the women in the clinic.
I read another blog post where a lady wrote about the same video in which she makes the point that she agreed with the atheist and she finds Tony’s approach to “evangelism” as offensive. She thinks that his tact of preaching outside of an abortion clinic does nothing for the kingdom of God, brings shame to the women in the clinic rather than hope, and presents Christians as we are often seen, “critical and self-righteous.” She never offers any advice for how to evangelize and I have a feeling from her blog that she likely doesn’t share her faith, doesn’t see the necessity of sharing the gospel with the lost, and basis her entire view of Jesus on pure love and not holiness.
I have been asked about open air preaching and confrontational evangelism in the past but let me state again that I feel that the New Testament examples are clearly in favor of this type of ministry. Friendship evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, etc. often never lead to the gospel. Doing good works (as the lady advocates on her blog as the best form of presenting Christ to a skeptical world) are fine if they are accompanied with the gospel. To merely feed a person or to clothe the person without the gospel just makes them comfortable as they go to hell and nothing more. Jesus said that only those who have been born again (John 3:3-7) will see the kingdom of God.
I do agree with Paul Washer, however, that street preaching and evangelism should be done out of brokenness and out of a burden for the lost and not out of anger. I have seen angry street preachers. The wreathe and pronounce judgement after judgment upon the lost without any hint of compassion and fear for their souls. When I was in Washington DC back in November I saw the folks from Westboro Baptist Church preaching outside of Arlington National Cemetery and they were full of rage, hatred, and lack of love at all for the lost around them. Westboro folks are hyper-Calvinists and so they had no problem saying that all these people they were looking at (including myself) were non-elect and were going to hell for the glory of God.
Preaching to the lost must be done in brokenness. We should weep over the lost before ever whipping the lost (see Jesus’ example in Luke 19:41-46). Jesus had no problem denouncing the world (Matthew 11:20) and we should not fear from preaching the truth of God. Truth is offensive by nature (1 Corinthian 1:18). Truth separates. Truth divides at times. Truth shows people that they are in error and people hate to be told they are wrong about God, about eternity, about heaven and hell. In our postmodern age, people want to believe that we are all equal, we are all right, we all have truth. To be told otherwise always leads to anger and resentment.
In conclusion, do we really think that people today would treat Jesus any different if He preached to us in the flesh? If Jesus said what He said such as in Matthew 5-7 or in John 14:6, would the world accept His teachings? If Jesus defined marriage as He does in Matthew 19:1-9 then would the world accept Him? If Jesus taught what He taught in Luke 14:25-35, would the world (or even many so-called Christians) accept Him? I believe the results would still be the same: let us kill this man called Jesus. Face it, we don’t love God, we hate Him (Romans 1:18-32).
I’m grateful for the opportunity to take part in a roundtable discussion for the 9 Marks Journal on the question: are denominations worth it? The other participants are pastors from a variety of contexts and denominational backgrounds and include Tim Keller, Carl Trueman, Tom Ascol, Tim Cantrell, and Rick Phillips. You can preview the roundtable discussion here, and the full journal should be available soon.
Most of us answered the question with a generally positive view of denominations, though as you read each response you may get the sense that some find denominations to be more “worth it” than others. Several responses focused on the value of connection to foster cooperation between churches in a single denomination. Ascol suggested that denominations are useful in bringing autonomous local churches in the same denomination together as partners in mission. Cantrell praised the cooperation of the Sola5 association of churches in South Africa for their strategic partnership to plant new churches and engage in mission. Keller and Truman, both Presbyterian, find worth in the role of denominations in keeping local church leaders accountable to the larger connection, and Phillips sees value in denominations as long as they don’t begin to think that their boundaries are the same as the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom.
Taking a somewhat different approach, my own contribution focused on the value of denominations in relationship to each other. I’ve learned a lot from reading and studying those with backgrounds in other denominations. I hope that exposure to the strengths and distinctives of other traditions has and will continue to improve my own understanding and practice of ministry. I also hope that people in other denominations will learn from the strengths and emphases of our Methodist heritage.
What do you think? Are denominations worth it? Why? Why not? Share your thoughts in a comment below.