July 3, 2011

On the dangers of a discipling system…

Discipling will always be controversial since the watershed events of 2003. Some congregations didn’t really change much, however, and some seem to be showing signs of a return to a reliance on the concept of discipling.

So what is discipling? One of the problems is that the term can be ambiguous -ICOC preachers have used it as a cover term for teaching, training, correcting and rebuking. But the term has taken its own definition in the past culture and practices under Kip Mckean’s ICOC – ‘one-over-one’ discipling’. It’s also been called ‘shepherding’ and ‘mentoring’ whereby each member of the congregation has a personal discipler or mentor, who has (depending on the congregation) some degree of authority over them.

In the culture of the ICOC it had become implied that any true Christian church must have this system of one-over-one discipling. Though it is argued that Jesus had such relationships over his apostles and wanted it passed down, there is no proof of a one-over-one discipling system practised as essential doctrine in the New Testament churches.

One blogger critic of the ICOC discovered a sermon discussing the relationship of Jonathan and David and that it resembled an effective discipling relationship. The critic alleged that the problem arose, however, when the preacher claimed that David’s falling into the sin of adultery was because of a failure to replace a ‘discipler’ in his life after the death of Jonathan.

If this is true, what are the implications? Surely this would be attributing a modern concept (of discipling) over David. Yes, he had godly friendships that help him in his walk, but the responsibility to have a personal discipler was an unknown concept for the people of the day. Besides, the bible cleary attributes the impetus for his sin to laziness (as Kings should lead their armies in war, not stay at the palace), not the lack of a personal human leader (2 Samuel 11:1-2).

Interpreting scripture in light of one-over-one discipling is dangerous and borders on idolatry. I thought I  might coin a name for the idol: ‘Disciplon’. If you start to make the assumption that the only way to be righteous is by having a godly mentor, it’s in danger of becoming a core belief. We can only obtain  righteousness through Jesus -his death on the cross and our faithful response to it.

Does that mean it’s wrong to have a spiritual mentor, a godly leader with a personal relationship in our lives? Of course not, but it shouldn’t be what we rely on, and having it institutionalized in doctrine is dangerous for false leaders and imposters can use the system and take protégés for themselves as well. Bad leaders who take on roles as disciplers can wield damaging influence over their followers and should they rise up through the ranks, can lead whole congregations and regions astray. It can also be argued that Pharisees also ‘discipled’ their followers to be just like them.

The temptation for ICOC congregations is to be seduced by former glory and a significant feature that set them apart from other congregations was the one-over-one discipling system. But to revive (or continue) this system might be justified by the belief that ‘discipling’ is an essential doctrine with the implications of one-over-one discipling being the same thing. In other words, they’ll need to erect the idol ‘Disciplon’.

There are many godly personalities in the bible who did and didn’t have mentors and personal leaders in their life at various times but they all made do by relying on their relationship with God.


June 1, 2009

Why Test Religion?

Filed under: Christianity,ICOC,SODM — Munhwa Experience @ 12:31 am
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One major reason I can think of is financial. If ‘the worker deserves his wages’, then the payers also deserve proper work. I believe that means if you pay a church or religious leaders ten percent of your income, you should have certain expectations as to their conduct, attitude, morality and spiritual example.

Don’t let religious leaders coerce or pressure you into thinking “it’s God’s command, you must contribute”. Sure, it’s a command from God to support church leadership, but a church leadership you believe in and trust. Otherwise, you can take your ten percent elsewhere -give it to another church, or a charity, or simply to the poor, if your faith prompts you to.

I believe the bible also calls us to be shrewd, wise and discerning. You’re not paying ten percent of your income to be lied to, spiritually bullied, looked down upon, emotionally abused, psychologically manipulated, exploited or used for the selfish ambition of church leaders. They have no right to exploit their congregations and take financial liberties at the expense of the grass roots members. That’s simply sheer arrogance, because it’s the grass roots members who literally support them.

I’m honing on this point a little, because I’ve been looking at the music industry recently for interest’s sake, being somewhat of a keen songwriter (though it’s just a hobby), but time and time again I see artists and bands who make it give utmost respect and gratitude to their fans, because it’s fans who put their food on the table.

 Now, sure enough church leaders are spiritual guides, and they have authority to teach people to obey the teachings of the bible etc… but ‘lording it over’ is not supported by the bible. I say this, as is a theme from my blog, in light of my experience of being in the ICOC. The concept of ‘accountability’ became far too ‘top heavy’.

 In leaders’ ambitions for more members, baptisms, visitors and the ultimate goal of the ‘superchurch’, they loaded heavy burdens on their congregations, both financial and in the way of evangelistic ‘works’.  It wasn’t until 2003 that many, but not all, leaders were brought to account themselves. It’s little wonder the ICOC had such an issue with low retention of members.

 But it wasn’t so much the accountability itself, it was the attitude of leaders. Many changes have been made since 2003, but the attitudes of some haven’t changed. Possibly because many leaders are leading the way they were taught and indoctrinated by Kip Mckeanism for so many years. Many still hold to one-on-one discipling which opens the way for control and systematic abuse.

You need to test your church culture, the ways leaders lead, their attitudes, because you are investing in them -in both time and money, and in your spiritual endeavor of salvation. Do you want to invest in leaders who are deceitful? Arrogant? Manipulative? And you need to test, because these things are not obvious. Corrupt religious leaders know how to say the ‘right things’, to spiritually fake it.

How do you test? That’s up to you. Who’s going to be afraid of you asking lots of questions? A leader of integrity, or a corrupt leader? Maybe you need to be observant. Maybe the devil’s in the details. Maybe you need to get away for a certain time to gain some objectivity? Abusive groups tend to exert a lot of pressure. Sincere Christians may out of genuine concern, but they should be considerate enough to give people space. Do they want servile robots or edified Christians with an empowered faith?

Another thing to consider -sometimes the top leadership can be corrupt, while those sandwiched in the middle can be sincere in their concern, but they’re just taught to go along with the system. My experience in the ICOC, it was this middle-level of leadership that was the most overworked and abused.

May 25, 2009

Testing Religion (Part 2 from previous post)

Filed under: Christianity,ICOC — Munhwa Experience @ 5:48 am
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There are many warnings throughout the bible concerning religious leaders and the religious establishment.  Jesus exhorted his followers to be on their guard against the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’. And as I referred to in my last post, John calls Christians to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” 

I find the terminology interesting, though. Why ‘spirit’, and not just ‘teachings’ or ‘doctrine’? But having been through the ICOC for so many years, looking back on that, it makes sense to me now that the ‘spirit’ of a church or leader is what’s important, which includes but is not limited to, doctrine or dry doctrinal arguments.

 Back to my campus days, where nearly all the years I spent at uni I was a dedicated member of the ICOC, evangelising for weekly bible discussions and ever trying to set up personal bible studies with other students. And we earned ourselves a reputation. We had an ‘answer for everything’. Baptism, works, faith, judging others, and every other issue, we were taught and trained to have an answer for. Everything our critics threw at us regarding our own practices, we had an answer for. We believed our doctrinal position was solid, air-tight.

 Now, there’s not anything necessarily wrong with this. If you believe in what you do, then you need to answer your own questions. You need to be assured that this is the right thing to do, that all the time and effort invested is worth it, and that you’re truly benefitting yourself and others with spreading the gospel. Perhaps in the early days the ICOC inspired a refreshing revival, and that’s what attracted many to join.

 However, having an ‘answer for everything’ eventually meant down the line that we didn’t have an honest answer for everything, so we had to erect our own propaganda machine and find ways to silence internal critics. We felt we could ‘test’ every other religion and Christian sect, but we couldn’t ‘test’ ourselves. And I believe that when Jesus warned about the yeast of the Pharisee, he wasn’t just warning us to be wary of exploitation from the religious establishment, but that we should be wary of becoming  like the religious establishment in their hypocrisy.

 After years of becoming ‘indoctrinated’ by one’s own teachings, it’s difficult to test your own church from doctrine alone. But the ‘spirit’ of a church, or a leader is important. And that means everything. Personality, style, manner, charisma, honesty, attitude, atmosphere can all be included. Doctrine may seem all ‘above board’, but the integrity, humility and honesty of a leader is essential, and the kind of ‘spirit’ and culture he passes down to his congregation.

 Practically speaking, how do you ‘test the spirit’ of a leader or church? That’s a good question, and one I’m not making any claims to be an expert at answering. There’s probably no official answer anyway, it may depend a lot on the particular circumstances you’re in.

 Of course, one first obvious answer is to ‘pray about it’. If you really want a healthy relationship with God, and a church that will have a positive impact on this, then you really should pray about it.  And serious prayer, if you are in the valley of decision on whether to join or leave a church. Pray specifically and pray for wisdom, which leads to the next suggestions:

 Reading the scriptures -as Acts refers to the Bereans who examined the scriptures in light of Paul’s teachings. Knowing your bible is a fundamental, and if you know it really well, I believe it provides wisdom and defence against the range of predatory religious leaders from whatever background who are more concerned about their own ambitions (like building super churches and an international franchise) than individual members of their congregations.

 But even a knowledge of the bible is not enough if you are completely indoctrinated by bias of the church your in. That’s my experience in the ICOC. We read an awful lot. We studied the bible daily, we had to memorize scriptures for mid-week services, we participated in extra theology and history classes, but it wasn’t until 2003 when many churches found the freedom to review there beliefs did we get some fresh air. It transpired that we had erred in the way financial contributions were taught, in the control of discipling, the rebuking culture, performance based pressure and exalted role of church stats and the list goes on.

 However, for many, 2003 came too late as spiritual abuse had taken it’s toll, because there was no ‘stop-gap’, no avenue for members and even leaders to find justice because of the tight grip of centralised control with it’s insecurities and inflexibilities. (And it should be mentioned, some churches changed, others didn’t really. Not everyone wants to give up power. That’s why I warn people to stay away from one-on-one discipling churches either from the ICOC or Kip Mckean’s SODM.)

 In testing the spirits, I guess Christians should be ‘shrewed as snakes and innocent as doves’. Christians tend to have the reputation for the later, like Ned Flanders, but one thing I’ve learned over the years you have to be shrewed, even in your own fellowship. It’s about finding a balance. You can’t be paranoid, and you can’t go round just accusing leaders because they’re leaders. But you have to consider whether people are sincere or insincere, and then you have to take appropriate action.

 For all those years in the ICOC, I realise there were often two levels: one was the superficial level of the church -the propaganda, the sermons, the brochures, the cards, the speeches, the sharing about people and the ‘how ya doing bro’ religo-speak. This all reinforces the notion you’re in a ‘utopia’ and that this is THE spiritual place to be, THE movement.

 The other level is all that happens below the surface: the implied meanings, bitter remarks, suppressed emotions etc. But looking back from what people have shared, this level wasn’t ‘unobvious’, meaing it was very much evident. The private discussion you had with trusted friends often revealed stuff really going on.

 If a church generally has an honesty about it and both leaders and members are sincere in their beliefs then this is not so much an issue. If the warts are exposed, then this is a good thing. If you feel your church is visibly dealing with this problem and that problem, than possible your church is doing well in that there’s no need for these two levels. But a good test is, if you feel there are two levels, in other words problems and issues are swept under the carpet, potential critics are silenced by shaming -then it’s probably not wise to invest too many years in such a congregation.

 To ‘test the spirits’ can be to test for sincerity. Conversely, lack of sincerity is simply deceit, and speaking from experience, deceit is a very bad sign. However, I can’t provide any specific formula to test for the sincerity or deceit. There are many ways, but sometimes you have to start with intuition.

 Have you ever been around someone who boasts alot? Or someone who always has to be right? There’s your intuition working. Honest people are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, sometimes have victories and sometimes have defeats. They have no need to lie about either. But you can sense the kind of guy who always has to be right, becuase no matter the topic or the issue, they’ll twist things to suite their own way.

 What I’m getting at, is picking up that ‘spirit’. And you can pick that kind of spirit up even from a religious leader. I believe boasting is one of Kip Mckean’s issues. But it wasn’t obvious at the time, I’ll admit -back then it was all about ‘giving glory to God’, but he’d use that terminology to cover up boasting as to why people should be in his movement, and not, for example, a ‘mainline’ Church of Christ. The point I’m making is not to blame Kip at all, but rather be wise to the tell-tale signs of a religious movement that can chew you up and spit you out like you’re rotten refuse. This is why you need to test.

 It’s not just about testing or looking at the personality of the top leader. It’s about testing the whole culture of the church at the grass-roots level. Again, I’m not saying there are any hard-fast-rules. A lot of it also depends on your personal values as well. For example, do you see a healthy balance of individualism and intelligence with sincere support for the church. An unhealthy balance, for example, is where there’s this feeling that everyone you talk to has the same opinion and creepily says the same things, like church cliches of that culture. A tangible example would perhaps be, everyone supports the same political party and leader. If you get the feeling that there’s no freedom in that realm for individualism, then perhaps it’s not the congregation for you. (I never felt any pressure regarding politics in the ICOC -that was up to the individual).

 Finally, regarding testing, it’s not something you have to necessarily have concrete ‘results’ for. I mean, you could use this test to decieve yourself that everything is OK. That’s exactly what I did for years in the ICOC. “We’re the only one’s who evangilise daily, read our bibles daily, and I can’t see anyone else doing it. Kip Mckean must be right”. That’s an example of how I reasoned to myself whenever something didn’t seem right. If your intuition is telling you something is seriously wrong, then you don’t necessarily need to proove it to decide you need to have a break or examine other fellowships. Of course, there’s probably going to be a discipler or member on your tail…

 In conclusion, ‘testing the spirits’ is not something I recall ever being taught in the ICOC about looking at our own congregations. We just assumed (and that’s breaking the golden rule) that all congregations under the ICOC fold were automatically the ‘Kingdom of God’. Sure, some churches did better than others and maybe some leaders were ‘more immature’ than others, but it never occurred to us that even leaders within the ICOC umbrella can actually lead members astray and be corrupt, unscrupulous and deceitful. Read the signs, genius. Such symptoms are not heaven bound.

May 15, 2009

Testing Religion

Filed under: Christianity,ICOC,SODM — Munhwa Experience @ 11:11 am
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“For the Lord and and for Gideon”… But in the murky world of a differing religious sects, splinter groups, off-shoots, left-overs, conservatives and idealists alike, how do you know who’s really ‘for the Lord’? Modern Christianity seems to be a tale of continuing divisions. One man’s ‘angel’ is another man’s ‘demon’. Kip Mckean is a case in point.

 Considering my own experience, and what I’ve witnessed from post International Churches of Christ situations, we usually base our judgments on how people treated us in a particular group and our experience of being in that group. The bottom line is, how do you know a group is wrong or right, good or bad, unless you’ve spent a considerable time in it?

 However, there are some interesting verses I’ve stumbled upon which discuss ‘testing’.  1 John 4:1 calls Christians to ‘not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,…’ 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says ‘Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.’ My impression from reading through the First Testament is that in those days all kinds of phoney leaders and charismatic personalities were trying to steer followers away from the apostle’s leadership for their own selfish gain, or their own religious doctrinal prejudice etc.

 A major lesson to be learned, I believe, and I’ve discussed this on the blog previously, is that we shouldn’t assume our congregation or particular brand of Christianity is infallible. It seems obvious, but the oppressive nature of the ICOC doesn’t give much leeway in my experience.

 Another reference I’d like to make is from Philippians 2:21: Everyone else looks after his own interests, not after those of Jesus Christ. The point is, Paul was wise enough to know that just because a bunch of people go to church and participate in communion, doesn’t mean they are really for the Lord.

 And it’s the same today. You can’t ultimately know which leader is really for God, and which are kind of in the system, but really concerned about fattening up their superannuation, or finding a better location for their home or a better school for their kids etc… I dare say, it was this kind of hypocrisy that in the long-run led to a major disillusionment with some of the leaders of the ICOC.

 For many who have come out and come through the ICOC, how are you going to know if you are really for the Lord, and if you believe you really are for the Lord, who are you going to trust in committing to a fellowship and it’s leader (who you believe is really for the Lord)? Or will you seek a congregation simply because it supports your particular doctrinal bias or convenience? And out of all the remaining personalities and leaders in the post-2003 world, who are you going to listen to?

 And getting back to the bible’s concept of ‘testing’. How do you test the spirits?  How do you ‘test everything? In the ICOC we spent a lot of time reading the bible and participating in classes concern doctrine, church history and the beliefs of other denominations. It did help us be ‘well-equipped’, but it also lead to a deeper prideful stance that we must be the ‘one true church’. We knew how to measure and test every other denomination, but it was a lot harder to test ourselves.

 And it’s hard to test your own church for the simple fact that what if the results are not good? What then? Just leave all those friends and relationships you’d invested hours, days and years in? Well, the fact was, many left because they just had a bad experience. In one sense, it’s better to test something first, and know it’s prudent to leave, than to go through the bad experience and leave eventually.

 But the concept of ‘testing’ can apply on so many levels. I’ll discuss some of my ideas in the next post…

April 12, 2009

SODM goes West, ICOC goes East…

From what I see in ‘hardline’ discipling movements, Kip Mckean has a lot of influence in the West with his ‘Sold Out Movement’,  while Steve Chin of the ICOC leads discipling congregations in the East including Hongkong and Taiwan. You can find articles and info on the following sites…

Taiwan Churches of Christ, English section:
and Sold Out Discipling Movement, City of Angels International Christian church:

I was originally part of the Sydney Church of Christ, but I spent a few years in the Taiwan Churches of Christ from around 2000, while working in Taipei. In contrast to the turbulent times of other ICOC congregations of 2003, Steve Chin’s version of one-on-one discipling, the ‘Moses-Joshua’ system, continued to exist in the church structure up until when I left in 2005, and by looking at the website it seems to still be the norm.

Meanwhile Kip Mckean seems to have been reinforcing one-on-one discipling, with the belief of churches with ‘no discipling’ or ‘optional discipling’ being false teachings. From what I’ve been monitoring, these seem to be the most dedicated in maintaining compulsory discipling.

Other links

If your Mandarin is good, here’s another link for the Taiwan ICOC:, and here’s a Hongkong link, but at the time of writing this post it was timing out:

April 2, 2009

Roundup on Discipling/Mentoring/Shepherding Part I

Filed under: Christian discipling,ICOC,SODM — Munhwa Experience @ 1:21 am
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I thought I’d try to do a round up on different takes leaders and Christians have  regarding one-on-one discipling including Kip Mckean, Henry Kriete, Douglas Jacoby and others. I’ve taken many quotes from around the time of 2003 and some more present day, and I’ve been surprised how big a task it’s been (having to read through documentation) so I haven’t provided my views or comments much on it yet, and I will have to do another post to finish.


Henry Kriete


This is from Henry Kriete’s Honest to God letter, released in 2003. Previously up until that point discipling was standard practice in the ICOC. The letter is long, and discusses many issues plaguing the ICOC congregations of the time, but I’ll just refer to his statements on discipling, and I think they summed up in many ways problems with discipling. This is a quote:


We have assumed, wrongly, that the sheep are stupid. We have trained them to depend on men, on us in fact, and not on Christ. ‘Did you get advice’ for the most part means ‘Did you get permission?’ Yes of course,  they are vulnerable and open to attack, but they are not stupid. It is we who have been stupid, Biblically and spiritually. Should we not assume, rather, that a true, spirit-filled Christian desires to please God, not a rebel?


(He then quotes Ezekial 36:’I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…’)


Through our discipling partner theology, we have attempted, like modern-day Pharisees, to put a hedge around God’s law. In trying to protect or control the Christians, we have routinely violated their liberty in Christ. We have not trusted disciples to live by their own convictions and decisions (and mistakes), and have fostered in them an unhealthy dependence rather than freedom to grow and mature. Many of our discipling guidelines are nothing more than ‘rules taught by men’, condemned by Jesus as burdensome and legalistic. No control mechanisms, or traditions of men, or rules and culturally accepted regulations will keep anyone faithful who does not want to be faithful in their heart. But they will create rebellions and criticalness among sincere and liberated Christians. We did not become new creations to be controlled by men; rather ‘it is for freedom Christ has set us free’.



Later on he uses a term ‘formalized discipleship’ which I think raises an important point: the concept of ‘discipling’ isn’t bad in it’s bare definition of teaching, correcting, training, leading etc… But in the ICOC discipling formed a culture all of it’s own. Then he lists discipling in number 20 under “Wide Scale Problems and Concerns”:


The concept of discipleship partners as presently practiced in most of our churches has failed. Perhaps more than all else, our discipleship hierarchy with all its ‘little leaders’ has caused more damage, heartache, and criticism than any other thing. Among the tens of thousands of untrained and ‘unspiritual’ disciples, advice has become permission, opinions have become orders, and the dignity and ‘right’ of our God given freedom has been denied. The nature of our hierarchy and the ‘baptism is best’ theology, when mixed with our sinful human nature has in many cases been a disaster. Paul said, ‘I am free and belong to no man’ and to the Corinthians, ‘You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men’. This is a command of God, not good advice. And to the Galations, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’.


In our discipling relationships, we can warn, plead, share from experience, and of course, open the Scriptures – but in the end, each Christian must work out their ‘own salvation with fear and trembling’. Intrusive interference in matters of opinion is simply unacceptable. Pulling rank is sin. A godly man will seek advice, but another godly man will never bind advice. Of course, some will fall and make bad decisions – and in some cases disastrous decisions –  but they are their decisions, not ours. We routinely make ourselves the judges of another man’s freedom; another man’s life. But who are we to judge? The Ethiopian breaks every rule of discipleship we have. He was left dripping wet, and Philip was immediately taken away. Are we wise than God? Or more competent than the Spirit of God?


…What started out as a sincere desire to protect the sheep has degenerated into a mechanism of control… The need for imposed discipleship relationships to maintain our system of things is so crucial that to say ‘no thank you’ has meant banishment from some of our churches. Kips own quote from LA is now world famous. That is why a sincere Christian would even think to ask, ‘Is it a sin not to have a discipleship partner?’ Well, is it?


And he continues to reveal how much advice in discipling relationships stemmed from agendas of those up the leadership chain.  He also refers to scriptures demonstrating Christians are competent to make decisions and judgments for themselves. Then he ends the section with:


I do not deny the phenomenal amount of good that has come about from godly ‘discipling’ relationships- but as a formalized, authority laden institution it is doomed to fail and must therefore be dismantled. Why? ‘Because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’.


Finally, at the end of the whole paper, he gives some practical guidelines to leaders around the world (the document was intended for leaders to read, but later available on the internet). Regarding discipling partners he advises:


We must dismantle authoritarian DP  relationships. All of these ‘little leaders’ have not been immune from bad theology. There should be more prayer, more love, more seeking God’s will. All Christians should be encouraged to seek advice and examine the Scriptures, yet liberated to choose a course of action or application to their own conscience.


From what I gather Henry Kriete currently leads a church in Canada called Maple Ridge, which you can check out here,(but you won’t find the Honest to God document here, best to just google the title)


Kip Mckean and Mike Patterson


If you’ve read this blog or followed the latest literature from Kip Mckean you’ll know that not only is he pro discipling, he states his belief that optional discipling within a church is a heresy. However, going back to around 2003 and in light of the Honest to God letter, I thought I’d refer to his ‘From Babylon to Zion: Revolution Through Restoration III’, and to the section towards the end ‘Reaffirming God’s Revealed Truth, part 7, where he says:


Every disciple must be discipled by God, by the Scriptures and by man. God is sovereign and disciples us through our experiences of both victory and defeat. (Hebrews 12:1-15) The Scriptures disciple us and mature us as we learn to obey them more and more. (Hebrews 5:11-14) Jesus exemplified discipling in his relationships with the apostles and then commanded discipling not only to become a Christian, but also after baptism … “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)


Though the methodologies of discipleship partners, prayer partners, discipleship groups, as well as the changing nature of the discipling relationships mature from being a parent/child to adult/adult may all be debated, being discipled is an absolute command of God and makes God’s true movement distinctive.


Later in a section devoted to disciping he goes into more detail. He starts of with Hebrews 3:12-19 regarding the role of Christians being involved in each other’s lives and guarding against ‘sin’s deceitfulness’. He also cites examples of Moses discipling Joshua, Samual and David, Elijah and Elisha and then goes on to Jesus:


In the New Testament, Jesus preached the Word publicly, but he focused his energy into a few. He chose 12 men to be his apostles. Jesus, our perfect example, discipled them as a group. He discipled them one-on-one. And, yes, even one-over-one. And then he paired them up and sent them out on their first mission. He focused on the few, so that “they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3:14) After daily walking with them for three years, he called those same apostles in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples of all nations. This enormous, seemingly impossible task of evangelizing the world could only be accomplished by the God-given principle of the multiplication of disciples. In other words, one disciple makes another disciple: the two of them each make another disciple… 


From this concept comes the ideal of global evangelism which he claims that churches could not grow they way they did in the ICOC without discipling. He continues regarding its necessity:


Discipling is not only for the salvation of the lost, but I believe it is the salvation of the saved. All of us, at one time or another, struggle even to the point of disconnecting with God. It is at these times that those who are involved in our lives can rescue us from the fire because of their relationship with us. Discipling is the only way that we can fulfill all of the “one another” passages in the Scriptures…


And he goes on to refer to more “one another” scriptures: Hebrews 3:12-13, Hebrews 10:24, James 5:16, Galations 6:2, Galations 5:13, Romans 15:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.


He does give some concessions to the problems of discipling however:


I do believe too often many of us have tried to disciple behavior, and not heart and character. …Also, too often in the past a discipler would give advice to another disciple and make it binding on him. That was very wrong. However, to do away with discipling is equally wrong because this is what Jesus called us to do by command and example.


Discipling gave warmth to our fellowship and distinctiveness to our brotherhood. Discipling is the reason many many committed Christians from within the mainline Churches of Christ moved to the congregation of the “Boston Movement”.


Finally he discussed the issue of distinguishing Biblical ‘principles’ and ‘methodology’ in discipling:


Discipleship partners, prayer partners, friendship partners, discipleship groups, family groups and Bible talks all draw on the principles of Jesus’ discipling, but they are methodologies. Methods are neither right nor wrong; people can use them for good and for evil. But denying the principles of discipling in time will lead us directly back to the mainline Church of Christ… Some have argued that one-over-one discipling is wrong because people have been hurt, and therefore we should not do it. However, even in the church, we have marriages in which husbands and wives have hurt each other, but we are not about to abandon marriage…. We must not abandon discipling… We must reaffirm it because it is one of the key ways God changes us through the Spirit and the Word. Jesus calls everyone to be a disciple. Jesus calls everyone to be discipled. And Jesus calls everyone to make disciples.


I’ll probably have to devote a number of posts to this, but I feel there’s a whole lot of rationalising going on.


But on to the present  ‘Sold Out Discipling Movement’ it’s fairly obvious that Kip Mckean still maintains the practice of one-on-one discipling with the belief that ‘optional discipling’ is a heresy (let alone ‘no discipling’). Mike Patterson of the SODM has also labelled as ‘false teachings’ autonomy and “discipling is optional”.  He quotes Colossians 1:28 – “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ”… and states in his article ‘Spiritual Maturity’ that:


Discipling is a command from God that is necessary for each of us to become mature! Who is discipling you to maturity in Christ? Not just giving you “Biblical Knowledge” or “deep insights into the Scriptures” or their “opinions,” but someone who is challenging you to become Biblically mature, calling you to obey the Word of God. (Matthew 28:20) That means someone who is training you to become like Christ in every aspect of your character. Who trains you to obey the Scriptures, serve others, build the church, disciple others and produce a crop? Discipling is vital for each of us to be presented mature in Christ. Discipling relationships are friendships with Christians who “speak the truth in love,” “warning and teaching” us in every aspect of our lives. 



 Kip Mckean is currently leadering the City Of Angels International Christian church in L.A. (again, I think you’ll have to google ‘From Babylon to Zion’ to find the original document addressed to the ICOC).



Douglas Jacoby



On to Douglas Jacoby, who was a teacher in the ICOC for many years prior to the 2003 ‘shake-up’. Since then I know he’s been running an apologetics ministry but I don’t know what affiliations, if any, he has to ICOC or post-ICOC churches.

I found the following sections on discipling from his informative website (see above), and he’s given me permission to quote the ‘Q&A’s in full. The first one is Q&A 309 ‘Discipler’:


Q “I was wondering if having a discipler was essential for salvation. I know that the Bible says getting discipling and advice and counseling is essential, but there are many ways to get discipled without having an official discipler. So isn’t it okay not to have a discipler, as long as we get discipled by each other?”


A You are right, the Bible speaks of “many advisers,” not one single individual helping us along. (Though it usually does begin with one person who really cares.) There are two opposite errors to avoid. One is to have so many diffuse relationships that no one ends up challenging us. This contradicts the spirit of Colossians 1:28-2:1, and in fact all the “one another passages”.


The other extreme is to limit our openness to one person only. James 5:16, for example, insists we share with one another. (Confession, yes, but no “confessional”, please!) So to answer your question, the N.T. portrays a vibrantly interactive fellowship where in love all members give to and receive from others. Discipleship is not limited to only one individual. If we are smart—as the Proverbs repeatedly remind us—we will be getting advice, perspective, training, correction, and inspiration from a number of persons.


Now if someone doesn’t want anybody involved in his or her life, we do have a problem! (If that is the sad situation, scriptures like John 3:19-21 come to mind, don’t they?) Let’s all go after all the discipling we can get, without making rules where the Bible lays down no rule. Yet for most of us, the needs is probably for more input, not for less! For more on this, see Gordon Ferguson’s excellent books on Discipling, available from DPI…



The other is Q&A 403 ‘Discipler Advice’.


Q. Do I have to obey a human discipler? I have heard Hebrews 13:17 quoted to tell me to be humble and follow advice. But sometimes it feels like I am following orders, especially when I don’t agree with the advice. Please help me.”


A. No, we are not obligated to obey human disciplers. To begin with, there are no “disciplers” in the New Testament. Instead, we find the “one-another passages.” There are dozens of them. If you are not familiar  with these scriptures, it your concordance or skim through the New Testament and they will leap off the page at you! This does not mean that we do not all need instruction, or that we should disregard advice. “Victory comes through many counselors”– which I take to mean we all need a number of “disciplers.”


Hebrews 13:17 does not give carte blanche to a leader. I believe the passage most likely refers to elders. At any rate, there is not enough information in this one passage to enable us to decide how much “authority” a leader has in the life of a “non-leader”. Leaders cannot bind their advice or opinions on others. (Maybe a good way to understand the scope of obedience to leaders in the New Testament is to study Acts and the letters to notice the sorts of things leaders told others to do.)


In short, advice should be weighed. It should be considered. We are under no obligation to follow it. The word of God, on the other hand, is not to be “considered.” It is to be obeyed. Humanly speaking, it is a strong tendency to confuse God’s word with our guidelines and suggestions. This is dangerous. (Mark 7:1-9)


(Here are the full links:

309 Discipler

403 Discipler’s Advice



Mike Cameron’s ‘Discipling and Related Issues’.


If you search on Douglas Jocaby’s site you may find an essay written by Mike Cameron (also in 2003) which at first I found a little dry (contrasting to the dramatic letters, apologies and essays coming out at the time) but reading over it now I found it very informative and well-argued. I could just as well quote the whole thing, as he attacks every relevant issue to the ICOC culture and discipling, but instead I’ve provided the link (above) and put in one quote:


A discipling system would undermine Paul’s intentions because it would put the church effectively in the hands of inexperienced, untested leadership, which he specifically taught against. This is because, as mentioned earlier, discipling requires that almost everyone be a teacher (that’s the whole point of it -to teach and train).


He looks at discipling thoroughly from many of angles and in light of scriptures commonly used to support discipling.


I find Mike Cameron’s articles to be one of the most unassuming, trustworthy, devoid of self-absorbed rhetoric, and well-argued articles I’ve read so far -coming from both sides of the Mckean/ICOC fence. I guess it helps that he’s not so much a famous personality with a large following that may tend towards bias.



Russ Ewell



The development of Russ Ewell’s leadership and Bay Area Christian Church post 2003 has surprised me a little as he has appeared to distance himself somewhat from both Kip Mckean’s SODM and the remainder of the ICOC churches by chosing a different term to ‘discipling’ in the form of ‘mentorship’.  Having said that, I did see a reference to him and his fellowship on the ICOC ‘hot news’ website.


Citing examples of biblical relationships on their website with Moses to Joshua, Samual to Saul and David and Jesus to the apostles, the BACC explains that


We will practice mentorship in our church so that everyone receives spiritual and life guidance.  New Testament Christianity is impossible without this kind of relationship and guidance.   Proverbs 9:9 clearly states that even the wise and righteous need these types of relationships.  Who can claim to be wise, righteous, or a New Testament Christian and exempt himself or herself from mentoring relationships?


It seems clear that they haven’t taken the ‘discipling is optional’ approach. The section also outlines basic expectations each newcomer must have to starting a ‘mentoring relationship’. First is to consider how the newcomer can ‘give’ and what his ‘gifts’ are, and second is how they can ‘receive’ Then they’re advised how to ‘initiate’ in the new relationship by examining some scriptures. 41 references in fact, according to my count.


They’re not saying the references are about mentorship directly -they’re for ‘gaining conviction about initiating in relationships’, but since it’s under the topic of ‘getting started in a mentoring relationship’ it’s implied. 

Here is the link:


March 12, 2009

Discussing autonomy and ‘optional discipling’ heresy

Filed under: Christian discipling,ICOC,SODM — Munhwa Experience @ 4:32 am
Tags: , , , , ,

From what I’ve read of some of the recent SODM articles (by Kip Mckean and others) there seems to be repeated issues raised about autonomy, lack of baptisms, and ‘optional discipling’ (whereby some ICOC churches that formally practiced one-on-one discipling have adopted the approach to give members a choice of whether to have a discipler or not).


One of Kip’s recent articles has become more persuasive, and while I agree with some of his argument I still feel provoked to react with my own discussion, and perhaps his intention is to provoke. He even used a quote from Jeremiah, which I feel he misquotes. A ‘horrible and shocking thing’ he equates to ‘few baptisms’, and ‘prophets prophesy lies’ equates to those preaching ‘discipling is optional’.


One point comes to mind -there are ICOC churches with compulsory one-on-one discipling, and who don’t subscribe to autonomy. Where do they stand? Or is the problem that they don’t fit into Kip Mckean’s version of central authority? How could they, some joined in the public challenge to Mckean’s divisiveness. I’m not sure how they’re doing with baptisms, but I’ve also heard the ICOC is now out of a seven year ‘recession’ and is back in growth, or estimated growth or something. What is supposed to happen then? They change sides over to SODM? Kip Mckean accepts them into his version of Christianity anyway?


Back to the quote from Jeremiah -I still maintain the argument that if the First Century Christians didn’t have the system of one-on-one discipler (whereby every member is assigned a discipler who is accountable up the discipler ladder), how could ‘optional discipling’ ever be a heresy or a lie? If the Christians of the New Testament were able to fulfill all that was expected of them from the scriptures without a system they hadn’t even heard of, how come it should be compulsory today?


Sure, the bible has examples of mentors and protégés or partners fighting side by side. But these relationships exist in all kinds of contexts -cops hitting the streets as partners, a leader in an academic field taking on an assistant, the kungfu “sifu” with his disciple; in fact any field where one benefits by learning from the other. The bible, as well as life, demonstrates the effectiveness of such inspiring relationships enabling people to learn from each other in a personal way.


But the system of discipling and shepherding remains controversial, because it is imposed, and easily becomes a tight mechanism for control. That’s not inspiring -that’s a dangerous recipe for abuse. And testimony after testimony is proving this.


On to autonomy. I haven’t studied the issue in the bible personally. However, I don’t believe it’s necessarily a heresy or correct doctrine, and that’s why I don’t intend to scrutinize every reference in Acts. I believe it really depends on the situation. And in the current situation my advise is for any former ICOC fellowship or mainline Churches of Christ to stay away both from Kip Mckean’s SODM and the ICOC Cooperative.


I don’t believe ‘autonomy’ and ‘independence’ are the dirty words that have been ascribed by Kip Mckean or the ICOC. Of course, in regards to faith we’re called to rely on God rather than man. However, I also believe these were terms that were twisted and abused to keep people staying tied to the system of discipling. It is clear many prophets roamed the desolate places, almost as if to express a desire to remain detached from politics, to find solace in God, and to have the objectivity to challenge society and king where necessary.


It’s good to be part of a good church -but we can’t assume that every church remains good. If anything the New Testament letters demonstrate how challenging it was for churches to stick to the true path. They were forever attacked from within and without in the form of heresies, crooks and frauds trying to lead them astray, jealous leaders of competing sects etc… Churches and leaders alike can go astray, get lukewarm, become deceitful or abusive. Even if it’s a good ‘movement’ or group of churches, within them some can go astray.


There may come a time when a church has to break free and become autonomous -perhaps the leader of the church believes according to his conscience, this is the right thing to do to protect his flock. For this to happen in the former ICOC, such a leader would have been labeled rebellious and divisive. Yet from my point of view, in the churches I was in, that probably was the right thing to do. Much abuse stemmed from a conflict of interest in leadership where they had to appease pressures from up the hierarchy and yet were called by God to look after the flock under them (not exploit them in rushing baptisms every month etc…). The only way to protect them from a system of works and abuse was to break away. That’s just an example from the former ICOC. The issues could be over anything.


Of course, generally it is good for a church to have relationships with other churches -mutual encouragement etc… But if a church labels or implies another church (is) ‘heretical’ just because it doesn’t submit to it’s self imposed central authority, then that’s just like saying “your heretical because you don’t follow us”. And that’s judgment in the wrong sense of the word, because it’s not basing the judgments on the merits of the church itself before God.


This is why I’m skeptical about the issue of ‘autonomy’, it can more like a devise of moral bullying rather than challenging a church to repent of a sin.


February 17, 2009

Dark side of Discipling and Shadow Discipling

This post looks at how the one-on-one discipling system (or Joshua-Moses system) can be abused by an unscrupulous and dishonest leader. I am not saying all churches with one-on-one discipling are like this, but I believe some of these ugly aspects can turn up. This is a theoretical portrayal of techniques used -different people are bound to have different experiences. But it may allow people to understand how abuse works or to identify it before being sucked in.

Again, it depends on the integrity, or lack there-of, of the top leader. I’ve posted before about how many people in the ICOC have had an ‘Owellian’ experience. Though I’m not saying ICOC congregations are just like this, and I believe most have changed, but it is a warning of the tendency of such a controlling system and I sense there are some who want to bring it back.

Therefore my position is to warn people not to join ICOC/SODM congregations with one-on-one discipling and to test out other non-affiliated churches who may have similar systems. People can be deceitful and power corrupts. We all know that, but we don’t want to believe it happens in our own backyard.

Access to information

The discipling system allows unbridled access to any and every member’s personal information and life, to the point of a psychological profile. Any strengths and weaknesses, financial difficulties, temptations, tendencies to question, criticize or be difficult can easily be found out via the member’s discipler, who will confide in his discipler and so on up the line to top leadership.

Practical information is also accessible: type of occupation and where they work, family situation, best friends within the church, dating prospects etc… This may be significant to how influential a member may be within and outside the group.

Don’t be surprised if an unscrupulous leader also has knowledge in psychology, either academically or from popular reading. Understanding what makes different types of people tick, how to push their buttons or ‘pressure points’, how to manipulate and coax, how to persuade, how to provoke -these all become important in a system of psychological control. With access to intimate information of member’s lives he can use this to his advantage.

Control and leverage: Individually

In a tight one-on-one discipling (moses-joshua) system it is reasonably easy for a dishonest leader to have leverage, control and angles of manipulation over a member’s life. In fact, with the access to information mentioned above, it is easy to pre-empt any potential threats in the form of questioning or criticizing doctrine or leadership. More importantly, it is easy to pre-empt any ‘opposition candidates’ who may potentially hold sway over large numbers of the group. With the ability to pre-empt so early on any individual’s tendency to question things, there’s little chance that cooperated opposition can come about.

A healthy congregation should desire unity around the gospel. Naturally they want a limit to disputes and arguing that may disrupt the fellowship because they are concerned for the welfare of the whole. But with discipling, the unscrupulous leader can seek to exploit and control, and he can’t succeed if there’s opposition in the camp, can he? (And he won’t succeed like he could if he has the cooperation of international connections in his religious franchise.)

The individual has virtually no power but to conform to the system. If leadership should desire an individual to leave, they can do it in such a way to make it seem as if the individual is leaving on his own accord, as if he’s leaving God (because ‘spirituality’ is tied to the system under an unscrupulous leader). They can use subtle provocations or implied (veiled) threats.

In extreme cases this can continue into the realm of psychological manipulation, the power of suggestion and putting temptation in the individual’s path (because they know what his sins and weaknesses are from confession to his discipler). Mixed with an unscrupulous leader’s willingness and ability to deceive, an individual is probably clueless to what’s going on and will find himself “falling away” etc…

For example, should a dishonest and insecure leader want an individual to leave, there are several ways to manipulate and provoke. Overburden with extra responsibilities, set frustrating evangelism goals, be ‘hardline’ in D-time, give challenges not to spend too much time with a friend or potential dating partner in fellowship, give mixed or contradictory advice, give disheartening advise regarding profession and career (when linked to one’s dream), twist scriptures out of context to cause self doubt and hamper self-confidence and the list goes on. After time the individual will leave in frustration, but it will look as if the individual was the problem, not the system.

(This is key, because of the monopoly of salvation. The members must believe that it is vital to remain in the system otherwise they lose salvation, and thus the system can never be faulty. It is possibly where Kip Mckean went off the rails. He had inspired many and made a stand regarding repentance and baptism, and the call to be an active Christian on a daily basis rather than a ‘Sunday Christian’, but his continual propaganda war waged against the influence of the mainline Churches of Christ and the message that not them, but only his ICOC was ‘saved’ demonstrates this principle.)

The unscrupulous leader can also maintain a monopoly on language and opinion in his system. If there is any dispute between an individual and the discipler, whatever the individual says is “defensive”, “critical”, “proud”, “emotional”, “unspiritual” etc. Whatever the discipler says is “out of love”, “giving spiritual input”, “concerned”. The discipler is always ‘right’, the individual always ‘at fault’. In this way it’s impossible for the individual to have any personal defense or support, because all members are trained to support the system over the individual.

Shadow Discipling

Leverage over an individual doesn’t just come in the form of treating the individual, it also comes in the form of treating every relationship or connection around the individual. Thus I’ve coined the term ‘shadow discipling’. A crafty, manipulative leader can influence every relationship around that individual, and the individual not only is powerless to stop it, he is probably unaware of it.

For example, say that ‘Joe Blogs’ is a threat to leadership in some way by exposing bad doctrine or practice. Joe Blogs’ group leader (bible talk or family group) can spend individual ‘discipling time’ with every other member of the family group, and discuss how Joe Blogs is going through ‘a difficult spiritual time’, or is having ’emotional struggles’, or has ‘pride in his heart’ and to ‘please pray for him’ etc…They can even call them to ‘stand firm’ against Joe Blog’s if he’s ‘divisive’. This will undermine the opinions and cases of argument that Joe Blogs will have, and therefore will negate his influence in the small group.

Of course, leadership has access via discipling relationships to all friends and connections Joe Blogs may have in the fellowship -the sister he hopes to date, the brother he likes to meet up for prayer or evangelism, those in the choir he sings with, those he plays tennis with etc etc… The effort leadership goes into ‘shadow discipling’ is determined by how much of a threat Joe Blogs is to the moral authority of leadership.

A healthy church leadership does need to discern if a member has a reasonable case or is being argumentative and divisive. However, this should be determined with the people involved, in more open discussion. There’s no need to go behind one’s back, and there’s no need for shadow discipling. Because everything is open, the case will become apparent. An unscrupulous, dishonest leader will not work with such integrity, however, because if things are open and above board it will become apparent his is illegitimate for serving in a moral, religious position.

Shadow discipling leaves an individual defenseless against slander. There is no defendant, there is no jury -only a self appointed prosecutor and judge casting slurs behind one’s back. And in a discipling organisation, leadership has access to all the key relationships an individual will have.

Leverage via dating

Leverage over an individual via dating is a powerful technique with singles. Without the the green light from a discipler, who often needs a “yae or nae” from zone-leader/evangelist, then the only possible way for that individual to date the person he desires is to persuade her to “fall away” with him. He cannot continue in the system and have hopes to date without total cooperation with leadership. In other words, when it comes to dating, leadership has got the single by the proverbial balls.

Control and leverage: in the Small Group

Small teams and teamwork is important in a healthy church -it gives a chance for members to get to know others on a closer level and opportunity to help each other. It can provide encouragement and comradeship in the mission (evangelising), support in prayer and bible study and encourage deeper friendship. Ideal numbers in a group could range from 5 members to 15 members I suppose, and it doesn’t have to have rigid discipling relationships.

The small group (bible talk, family group, cell group etc…) however, can also be a tool used by an unscrupulous leader. In a small group individual members can feel more pressure to conform, and a way for the group leader (like a bible-talk leader or family group leader) to keep tabs on all members. It’s reasonably easy for the top leader to ensure all the group leaders are loyal to him (rather than first to the gospel), who will then ensure all members in their groups are loyal to him as well.

In such a case you have a group that fears a man and his man-made system rather than fearing God. If the small groups become very tight-knit ‘families’, it can leave members vulnerable to fear of non-acceptance and rejection by his peers and the leader. In fact, if the leader disapproves, it’s more likely all other members will automatically support the leader over the individual (because it’s a lot safer and easier for them).

Continuing with the concept of ‘family’. A healthy church inspires family-like relationships built on love and trust with each other and a deep faith and commitment to God and the scriptures. There are some hardline scriptures that warn that the commitment to Christ can cause one’s natural family to oppose or persecute but one must remain faithful. However, the unscrupulous leader can twist these scriptures to pressure members to antagonise their natural family and allow the church’s ‘family group’ to have more influence than appropriate.

(I won’t argue the ICOC was mostly like this: in my experience often members had freedom with commitment to their natural families, but leaders could be insensitive and negligent in guiding newly baptised Christians in communicating with their family, leading to needless antagonising. This would often be the case if a leader felt pressure to baptise more, and to rush them through before the end of the month in trying to meet quotas.)

Control and leverage: collectively

On the collective level, leverage and control can by conducted via propaganda, implied meanings, implied threats and double meanings. This can be via the literature, websites, sermons, classes, conferences and midweek services. And there are several objectives and ways to achieve these objectives which will be discussed:

Undermining confidence

If members have strong self esteem, strong confidence in the system, good grounding in the scriptures and belief in their own ability to discern right from wrong, (and therefore good leadership from corrupt leadership) then they will be a threat to the unscrupulous leader. Techniques to undermine confidence may be to constantly remind members of their ‘spiritual weakness’, that they should ‘go and reflect on themself’, and that ‘one another’ relationships are about not being ‘proud’, but ‘getting help from other brother’s and sisters’ and ‘getting input from one’s disciplers’. These constantly imply the members are never qualified to question leadership and never strong enough to make it on their own (i.e. to leave the group). Ultimately this is to cultivate dependence on the system, the leadership, and one’s discipler on an individual level.

I believe this is a contrary message to the spirit of Christianity. Yes, we’re called to confess our sins, face our struggles, but also we are called to ‘strengthen our weak limbs’ and to grow and mature. We’re called to grow in wisdom, be able to discern right from wrong in more circumstances, to know the bible well and know how to use it, to be an example at work, to be more responsible, more disciplined and have the ability to face more situations with faith.

(Why did the ICOC then constantly have the case of the ‘old Christian losing zeal’ syndrome, always becoming ‘spiritually lethagic’ all the while it was the young Christians who were the ‘examples of zeal’. Was it that insecure leadership didn’t like members to have the ability to discern -the very thing a Christian is called to do? Therefore the constant message was to say how weak they are… Or was it because they became used to the antics of such a system? Over time they saw through it. Maybe they did become wise, but that wisdom wasn’t welcome.)

The weak

Back to the corrupt leader and his propaganda techniques. In his system, the weak aren’t the weak. In bible terms, the weak are perhaps those less able to take on responsibility for whatever reason, -physical, mental, education level, background etc… And therefore, more care and honour should be shown them -simple biblical principle. But a twist on the definition of ‘weak’ can be used to imply those who don’t support the system.

The idea is to make someone who may question the system be ‘weak’, and no one wants to seem ‘weak’. Everyone wants to seem ‘strong’ and ‘mature’. Other labels include ‘critical’, ‘difficult’ and ’emotional’. Often leaders like to make examples of these people, they’re the ‘fall away’, ‘bitter, emotional person who couldn’t grow in their relationship with god’ , and this sends an implied meaning to the rest of the congregation: ‘you know what to do if you don’t want to be like this guy.’

Furthermore it undermines the influence an individual may have to others, if they’re portrayed as ‘weak’ and ‘unspiritual’. Christians in the fellowship won’t seek their advice or respect their input.

Character assassination from the pulpit

This can be like a veiled form of slander, used particular if a prominent member or leader left the group and opposes the leadership. It’s basically a rationalisation for how people leave such a ‘good’ leadership, so therefore they must have had the problem. “A certain person/couple have left… they weren’t doing well spiritually… they had struggles with this or that sin… they just hadn’t been fired up for a long time…. their relationship with God was weak… not having great QT’s…. brothers and sisters, how are your QT’s recently?…” In a sermon, the preacher doesn’t even have to say their names, many will know who they’re talking about, and the rest will get all the information from round the grapevine.


When a congregation has a system that causes such a very close-knit community, with such access to members private lives and influence around their key relationships, there’s a big dependency on trust. In one sense one-on-one discipling can have benefits of close relationships, camaraderie, people able to meet each others’ needs and the ability to mobilise a unified group for action. But surely there needs to be a balance. Surely healthy Christianity has these benefits without so much control given to leadership -in a sense, real trust, rather than ‘forced trust’.

Forced trust is just a facade, because it means down the line, everything is based on a lie under such a propaganda machine. And if there is one thing Christianity is not about, it’s lies. Christianity is about openness and truth, and giving from the heart, not under compulsion.

February 8, 2009

Definitions of a Cult

(I hesitated to publish this post after I wrote it up as a draft, because I was concerned about “opening up old wounds” and I wondered if it could be constructive. But I figured that despite the changes in 2003, the problems I had experienced had continued to 2005 in some congregations.

From my perspective I’ve seen a kind of polarization: some leaders have learned from the past and are trying to forge a better way ahead because they honestly acknowledge the seriousness of the issues, some leaders (understandably) want nothing to do with the ICOC/SODM/Kip Mckean at all, some gave token apologies but even tightened controll with the one-on-one discipling system, and some are kind of existing in the middle.

When I got baptized, it was with the intention to become a Christian who contributes and shares in a church, it wasn’t to become a “cult member”. But I’ve mentioned before there were definitely some “Orwellian” aspects, and these are things I believe that need to be counteracted in maintaining a healthy, spiritual fellowship and therefore we need to be aware of them. Furthermore, if I’ve experienced these things, then perhaps I’m obligated to warn others of the pitfalls of religion gone wrong.)

There’s always been controversy around the word “cult” as it is a very media-driven word and can mean several things. That is, it can evoke different associations in a reader depending on media impressions: the Waco sect, sci-fi cults, suicidal cults, Japanese terrorist cults and the list goes on.

It has also been an issue for the old ICOC (International Churches of Christ, Boston Movement, etc) because the media has used the term, some ex-ICOC people have used the term, and friends and family of members have used the term as well. I’ve read several definitions on forums and I thought I’d write a list of definitions that I’ve heard and thought of from my own knowledge and experiences. Actually, they are more ideas and insights, rather than strick definitions. I’ve numbered them so as to identify them in discussion, but I don’t consider any more “right” or accurate than the others.

<1> A group with such a strong and insular culture that it negates the influence of society outside the group. In this “cult” comes from “culture” -it’s a group with a strong culture.

<2> A group with a leader who has such strong influence that it is like his/her personal kingdom. It’s an empire within a modern state (in a democracy, for example). Most modern nations are fledging democracies where the leader is held accountable to the people and is in for limited terms. A cult leader is an emperor (or dictator) within his own personal empire -there’s no limited term and there is no opposition party. The cult leader can also expand his “empire” globally. It may have only a few hundred thousand members, but, hey, being an emperor of a few hundred thousand beats an office job.

<3> A deceptive religious organisation that exploits and controls it’s members via psychological control (fear, conditional love and false emotional comfort, knowledge of members personal lives, pressure to comform, pressure to reject influence of and contact with outsider family and friends).

<4> A religious system that becomes a self-feeding organism greater than its individual parts. That is, a kind of pyramid structure where you enter on the lower rung and work hard at first, but the more you can climb up the structure (if you can), the more benefits you can gain. With this kind of culture the truth is only acceptable if convenient to the majority of the group (or leadership). The culture fosters competitiveness, connection building, leadership pleasing, slander (for one’s enemies) and eventually cronism and privelege for those at the top rung. Any individuals are expendable if they threaten the whole group (or are perceived to be a threat), and this can include leaders and even the top dog.

<5> A delluded yet charismatic man who creates a new religious sect based on his visions/dellusions/claims of higher spirituality. Of course this incorporates some previous definitions as well.

Obviously this list is not exhausted, but I think it points out different aspects. I’m not going to say the ICOC definitely was or wasn’t a cult. That’s something people need to decide for themselves. 

However, the  first definition isn’t necessarily a negative definition, and in this sense the ICOC can be defined as such. I believe there are some influences in society in general that should be negated such as promiscurity, violence, course language, empty consumerism. Now, whether definitions <2> to <5> apply is up for debate. In my own experience I’ve witnessed <3> (only under one evangelist) and some aspects of <4> . In fact, is kind of similar to some of the things discussed in the “Honest to God” letter of 2003 -like institutional ills.

Some may argue for definition <5> , but I never felt that Kip Mckean was important in my day-to-day existence in the ICOC. But if the allegations of his financial benefitting from the ICOC are true, then definition <2>  has some sway, where the ICOC became like his own personal kingdom. He certainly seemed to have most influence, but I never new the details of what when on in L.A. Maybe it was like a power struggle between defs <2> and <4>. I will say, from what I’ve read in his articles lately in the SODM, he’s heading towards definition <5>.

There are arguments for the ICOC not being a cult. It was a strong revival movement, and that seems to be a tendency in Christianity. We have the truth of the bible, but when we see the hypocrisy of the institution, it only takes one guy to take the lead and call for change, and many rally behind him. In the early days Kip had that kind of inspiration. There needs to be revivals -but we can’t assume all revivals are good. They can be misguided even when inspiring because wrong doctrine and wacky ideas can be slipped in during all the europhoria, and then become cemented in “tradition” and the belief system.

I appreciate some brothers in the ICOC who reached out to me -in that I appreciated how they took the bible seriously, they took sin seriously, they confessed sin, they prayed seriously, they shared their faith because of what they believed in the bible. That part to me wasn’t a cult. But discipling was to become a problem, and the belief the ICOC was the only saved church was to become a problem as well. These things led to tighter control. Some say this just stemmed from the insecurity of leaders, but does that make it condonable?

Discipling became a cult in that people could be bullied and coerced “spiritually”- I mean they used spiritual jargon to coerce. I saw bibletalk leaders in meetings rebuked for as long as forty minutes or an hour (just on them), made to feel like a worthless wretch for the lack of visiters over a month, and if they said “boo” they were being “proud” “arrogant” “defensive” “emotional”. And it became a cult in the amount of control leaders and disciplers (or moses’) had over their “disciplees” (or “joshuas”, especially in regard to whether one could date and when they got the green light to date.

ICOC being the only true church was also cultish -it fed fear into it’s members, because to leave the ICOC was to fall away from God. It also fed arrogance to its members, who were taught to assume that any person outside the ICOC who claimed to be a Christian couldn’t be. It assumed that because Kip said mainline churches of christ were “lukewarm”, that all mainline churches must be lukewarm, and that all ICOC congregations were “fired-up”. Yet most of us had never set foot in a mainline service.

What’s the scripture that says the spirit blows where it pleases? Just when the ICOC was taking for granted it was THE kingdom of God, things fell apart, and the average member could breath again. People may say “the kingdom of God is here”, Kip may say “no, it’s over here”, but the kingdom exists within our hearts if there’s real love. If there’s no love, then it’s just a “resounding gong”, and a lot of the religious lingo you’ll find is nothing more than a resounding gong. I guess what I’m saying is, do your homework to see if your local Christian leader is the real deal or dodgy.

There’s another aspect that I found in the ICOC that could be considered “cultish”, and that was the over-emphasis on imitating older Christians or leaders. Because it was preached to death, people would imitate “style” (words, lingo, prayerstyle) more so than “substance” (character, conviction, sincere love). In fact, some people learned that if you imitated  the former, you could get away with not imitating the latter. Moreover, imitating ICOC leaders could become more common than imitating examples in the bible.  And that leads to cliches and jargon more so than real faith.

February 2, 2009

Follow up cartoon

Filed under: ICOC,SODM — Munhwa Experience @ 6:10 am
Tags: , , , ,

Here’s another comic strip, kind of related to some of Kip Mckean’s pet phrases -but it’s used in the religious world in general I’ve found.


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