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REVEAL: About the ICC

The Roots of the ICC/ICOC

The International Church of Christ came out of a mainstream American Protestant denomination called the Church of Christ. The Churches of Christ have come to be called the "mainline" Churches of Christ in the last ten or fifteen years to distinguish them from the International Churches of Christ -- before that, both groups were just called Churches of Christ.

The ICC was also influenced by the "Discipling" movement which started among the Assemblies of God in the late 1950s, and to some extent by the general "Jesus People" revival which accompanied the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States.

This sounds like an odd combination to an outsider, but the rather rigid and legalistic intellectual approach of the mainline Churches of Christ, with its emphasis on Scripture, Scripture, and more Scripture complemented the more emotional Assemblies of God, who valued the personal touch in spiritual development. While the early Crossroads movement did not have direct contact with the Assemblies of God, the influence of such Assembly of God ministers and teachers as Robert Coleman and Juan Carlos Ortiz on the thinking of the early movement is difficult to overstate.

The early Crossroads movement took most of its theological fundamentals, though, from the mainline Churches of Christ, and that is where someone trying to understand the movement must start.

The mainline Churches of Christ are a conservative Fundamentalist Protestant group concentrated in the "Bible Belt", the southern and midwestern states of the United States. They originally came from an American religious movement of the early 1800s called the "Restoration Movement", and represent the conservative wing of that movement. The independent "Christian Church" and "Disciples of Christ" are the other two large denominations that came out of the Restoration Movement.

In addition, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, came out of the same widespread religious revivial of that era and shared several early leaders with the Restoration Movement.

The Churches of Christ should not be confused with the United Church of Christ, which came from a different branch of the Protestant Reformation and holds very different beliefs than the Churches of Christ or Restoration movement as a whole.

The Restoration movement was founded by several Protestant evangelists of different denominations and backgrounds who grew tired of the religious bickering of the period and who became convinced that the key to ending it was to believe the Bible only and toss out all creeds and other measures of faith. The movement came to be called the "Restoration Movement" by its adherents since they believed they were restoring Christianity to what it was in the New Testament.

Perhaps one of the best, short statements of the beliefs, purpose, methods and goals of the Churches of Christ was written by Batsell Barrett Baxter, a widely respected Church of Christ minister and writer who died only a few years ago.

"[The churches of Christ are] primarily a plea for religious unity based upon the Bible. In a divided religious world it is believed that the Bible is the only possible common denominator upon which most, if not all, of the God-fearing people of the land can unite. This is an appeal to go back to the Bible. It is a plea to speak where the Bible speak and to remain silent where the Bible is silent in all matters that pertain to religion. It further empasizes that in everything religious there must be a "Thus saith the Lord" for all that is done. The objective is religious unity of all believers in Christ. The basis is the New Testament. The method is the restoration of New Testament Christianity."

           -- Batsell Barrett Baxter
                  "What is the churches of Christ?"

As Baxter's statement makes clear, the Churches of Christ do not see themselves as particularly exclusive. From their point of view, their emphasis on the "Bible only" and rejection of creeds is an attempt at reunifying a divided Christianity. The implementation of this belief in many places has had a quite different effect, though -- there are at least twenty significant factions in the mainline Churches of Christ, most of whom do not recognize each other, let alone the "denominational churches", as Christian.

The Churches of Christ have no formal hierarchy or religious structure above the local congregation, and no written creed, but their beliefs are well defined and agreed upon among the members. Anyone who has been a member knows these beliefs:

"We are also of opinion that as the Divine word is equally binding upon all, so all lie under an equal obligation to be bound by it, and it alone; and not by any human interpretation of it; and that, therefore, no man has a right to judge his brother, except in so far as he manifestly violates the express letter of the law."

           -- Thomas Campbell
                  "Declaration and Address", 1809

This list does not give a full picture of the religious atmosphere of the mainline Church of Christ, though -- a list of doctrines can't do that. In the past thirty years, many mainline Churches of Christ have abandoned the rigid beliefs typical of their denomination in the 1950s and 1960s, as well.

During the early years of the Crossroads movement, though, the mainline Churches of Christ were known for their absolutism and their generally-held conviction that they alone were the Church of Christ -- Christ's people on the earth. They viewed the "denominational Churches" (any church outside of the Churches of Christ) as schismatic and heretical. While not all members of the Churches of Christ felt this way, many members of the Church of Christ were convinced that people in these churches were unsaved and going to hell, and it was not uncommon to hear this stated from the pulpit.

This absolutism spilled over into their beliefs on every imaginable theological issue. Most members had very little sense of proportion -- any little detail of doctrine (like the rule against using musical instruments during worship) was as important as a fundamental of the Christian Faith (like believing in the Resurrection of Christ).

This meant, of course, that they were usually isolated from other believers, new thoughts, and new ideas. The isolation was far from total -- many members read C.S. Lewis and other Christian writers of the twentieth century, and some were more open than others to talking with people from other churches about issues of faith. But outside influences seeped in more slowly than in most churches, feeding the conservatism already typical of this group.

The beliefs and terminology of the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ are still very much in evidence in the ICC. The ICC uses the term "Restoration" frequently, and sees itself as God's movement to restore true "New Testament Christianity", another Restoration Movement term. It believes that denominations and sects are sinful, and must be rejected. It teaches that creeds and statements of faith are divisive and should be rejected in favor of "the Bible only." Its basic theology and hermeneutic (method of interpreting Scripture) are also derived from and remain similar to that of the Church of Christ in most ways.

For more information about the history of the Restoration Movement, check out the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement Resources and Russell Paden's excellent MA Thesis, From the Churches of Christ to the Boston Movement.

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