International Church of Christ
General Things To Look For

By Steven E. Rauch

{CNV Editor] This article is a testimony of a former member of the ICOC. While I may not agree with all of the authors viewpoints (such as Bible versions) this article does paint a "true picture" of the ICO

I was personally "sucked" into the International Church of Christ movement without knowing it for about two months. A student at my university came up to me and asked, "Would you like to study the Bible with me?" After asking what church he attended, I agreed. But two months later, with time to reflect on it, I was forced to leave as I discovered it was a cult. That student was their campus evangelist, even taking classes at my university. These are characteristics of that organization I witnessed:

1. Withholding information about their organization. They only tell you the name of their church, which is "(name of city) Church of Christ." You would scarcely know anything about a larger organization. They just say they're non-denominational. They may even deny association with Boston. (If you visit their church, the preface page of their hymn book has "Boston Church of Christ" as the publisher. That's a pretty good indicator. Plus, you may look for a leadership structure of campus evangelists, bible-talk leaders, zone evangelists, and church evangelists. Either that, or match them to the characteristics of any counter-cult publication about them.)

2. Taking verses about Christian living and using them as entrance requirements for salvation. They'll bring up a verse about discipleship and suggest you must be that way, work up to it, or continue that way without faltering in order to be saved. If they were talking about _living out_ a Christian life or about spiritual growth it would be okay, as opposed to _entering_ or _remaining_ in a Christian status. The most severe passage they use is I John 2:3-6. They even use Acts 11 about the disciples being called "Christians" in Antioch. They say only disciples (those who evangelize and teach) can be Christians based on that verse.

[NOTE: The evangelist said he usually doesn't go that far on the first visit. He started out with scattered verses about discipleship from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This whole point wasn't obvious to me at my first few Bible studies.]

3. (This one's important.) They assume the Bible has a different salvation message to Jews than to Gentiles. In other words, they believe the Jews only had to believe in Jesus to be saved, with verses like John 3:16 and Romans 10:9. The ICofC believes that the Jews were already obedient to God in the Old Law, were already spreading their faith, and were already baptized. (The baptism part is the easiest to disprove, by the way.) All they had to do was believe in Jesus, whom they had rejected.

In contrast, the I C of C teaches that Gentiles have to obey God's commands, spread their faith, and be baptized in order to be saved--above and beyond merely believing in Jesus. According to the I C of C, Gentiles weren't doing the necessary requirements the Jews were already doing.

Whenever you point out a verse about simply believing in Jesus for salvation, they will immediately say, "That was for the Jews." Strangely, this is their first reaction to any verse--even ones about Gentiles, until I show them that it's about Gentiles.

4. Disarming the Book of Romans, saying it was written only to the Jews. You can read Romans 1 and get a different picture. They also believe that verses like John 3:16 were written only to Jews, where believing is the only requirement for receiving salvation or eternal life. An argument about the nature of the word 'whoever' could easily be made. They also think believing is a work, as Jesus said in John 6:26-29 and then ridicule you for quoting Eph. 2:8,9. To defeat that, you need to see that 'works' is defined differently in both those passages. Anyhow, Romans is a very powerful book, so they first try to stop you from using it. Don't let them!

5. A theology that belief in Jesus is not enough, even being a disciple is not enough, unless you then get baptized in order to get saved. They would wait a while to present baptism. They progress from the "believe in Jesus" stage to the "discipleship" stage to the "baptism" stage, starting from historic Christianity and slowly moving to their cultic beliefs. They hide the "higher" points from you until they feel you're ready. (Who knows what I would have learned if I had continued!)

6. They have a very good method of combining social events with Bible studies for new people. One thing to look for is this: social events are only with _their_ people. They mingle only within their sphere, their church. Exclusivity and elitism is not mentioned--or even denied--but is practiced, which leads me to my seventh point.

7. Contradictions! They will say one thing and do exactly the opposite. It takes a little time to notice things like this. For instance, they deny preaching "saved by works." Yet, they clearly teach that a "disciple's life is full of works," and only disciples can be baptized, and baptism a necessity for salvation. You just need to put two and two together. They also say that independent Bible research and skepticism is okay, but then rebuke and expel you if you disagree with them even if based squarely on the Bible. At one point, I could list out 30 contradictions. (I wish I had written them down back then!)

8. Demanding a new person submit a "sin list." A sin list is a written list of all your sins. They get personal information very early in their relationship with new people. They say it will help you measure your improvements. However, what they don't tell you is that the list is not kept confidential. They use personal information to brainwash! Anything you do, even things outside the list, are not kept confidential. (One time a girl I didn't even know asked, "How did your talk go with your pastor?" To me, that was a personal thing and I was shocked she knew about it.) A leader might even tell you his past sins to motivate you. If you're really hesitant to give a list--like I was--they wait a few Bible studies and keep reminding you and then if you don't, they have you say it out loud while someone else writes it down. (Even after submitting a list, they still wanted to know personal things I hadn't told them.)

9. They study a list of sins in Galations 5:19-21 and then repeat the last sentence of verse 21 over and over again: "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." They mean that even though you believe in Jesus (already past the believing stage) and commit a sin, you won't go to heaven. In other words, if you don't successfully stop sinning altogether, you won't enter heaven. This is their theology of repentance. At least, that's what they preach to you. (Pretty strict. Looks like salvation by works because they include sins of omission. I later saw contradictions in this by their actions.) They believe you have to confess to church leaders to receive forgiveness.

10. Strict obedience to leaders at all cost. Without question. They even give orders that have no spiritual significance.

11. They tell you which school to enroll in, what classes to attend, what to major in, what job to take, whom to date, and whom to marry, etc.

12. They believe your sins are "covered" by your leader if they order you to perform a sinful act, as long as you were obedient. To them, it wasn't sin as long as you were obedient. This is called _covering_.

13. Use of scare tactics to provoke obedience, telling them they're going to hell, etc, if they don't obey. Personal information from my sin list, for example, was used against me when I disagreed over a biblical point. After I won the point biblically and they knew it. (That is, telling me I'm not over such and such a sin. And if I don't stay and agree with them, I'll never get over it.)

14. Use of social attachment to keep the person in the church. (This is a corollary to point #6.) As mentioned earlier, they do a good job of creating a social and emotional attachment. They are very loving. If the person wants to leave, they say something like, "Has any other group shown you so much love? How can you leave us?" They also use this to get obedience. A leader may even boast about fasting three days for you. Social forces are also used, if needed, to get you to write a "sin list" or to move you forward on their agenda if you become hesitant.

15. They believe you have to do the "works of a disciple" in order to be a disciple. That includes witnessing to someone. Naturally, this means evangelizing before you get saved. (This corresponds to point #2.)

16. They believe that if you sin, you weren't serious about God and thus not saved in the first place. (This is a corollary to point #9.) This includes not obeying every commandment. They say, "How can you be serious and not obey God?" In another form: "How can you be serious and commit sin?"

17. Light and darkness illustration. They do a Bible study on light and darkness to illustrate that you're not in the light and thus not saved. They base their notion of a totally successful repentance needed for salvation on I Peter 2:9-11, but like to emphasize I John 1:6,7. They use a few other passages that have the words "light" and "darkness" in them. (At first, they allow you to say that you're in the light. They do this very early, in just the second Bible study. They even go along with you, to keep you from suspecting something. Later on, they come back to this illustration and would strongly convince you otherwise. This illustration relies heavily on binary logic.)

18. No musical instruments in praise and worship. Just acapella.

19. They meet in rented church buildings and often move from time to time. They're also extremely proud of their church. (Most people I met used to attend Christian churches, which they negatively call "religious." Their evangelism plan is to get Christians because it's easier, and they sometimes get non-Christians. Almost everyone ranged in the college and career age and I noticed no complete families.)

After all that, here's some positive aspects to look for:

1. They're right about the Bible--and they use the NIV.[CNV Editor--Using the NIV is not a positive aspect]

. They're right about Creation, the Fall of Man, sin, and the nature and power of God. (Unknown about Trinity, but I'm guessing that's okay.)

. They're right about the eternal existence of heaven and hell, except about exactly who's going there.

. They're right about the Atonement, Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross and His physical, bodily resurrection. In fact, they do a lengthy and detailed Bible study just on this. A good job, but only done to trick you into thinking they're Christian. (They knew I already knew this about Jesus, but continued to cover all the basics. That was in the belief stage.)

. They're right about Jesus' identity. (Well, I'm guessing they're right about it. They say He's the "son of God" in their notes; I could tell it was lowercased. I asked them about what the term "Son of God" means and they always managed to change the subject. They never told me what 'Son of God' means in the Bible studies, just that it's Jesus. They used the term quite often.)

Their attitude about sin is excellent. It's just how they extend it to matters of salvation that's wrong.

Their attitude about evangelism is also most excellent. It's just too bad they incorporate it into their salvation theology.

. They're right about Revelations 3:20, that it's context is repentance to a backsliding church. The verse should not be used for salvation. (However, just "opening the door and letting Him in" appears to contradict their harsh teaching on repentance.) [This whole point is still in debate, but avoiding this one verse shouldn't matter.]

1994 -- Steven E. Rauch
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