a blind and single-minded defense of individual liberties we ignore the simple
fact that when a sizable minority of the members of the body is ill, the entire
body is ill."--Max De Pree
Provocative philosophy, dietary restrictions, fascination with angels, new religious practices created from tidbits of other traditions, worship shaped to suit individual preferences...all of these tempted the first-century Colossian believers to wander away from authentic Christianity (Col.2:8-23). Sounds familiar doesn't it? Almost two millennia later we encounter similar temptations as we try to live out our faith in Christ. Thus, like the original audience, we have much to gain from Paul's letter to the Colossian Christians.
The recent deafening calls for ICOC to change, reform, repent or however you choose to categorize it, has for the first time come, en masse, from those, not on the outside of the organization, but from within. Why has this happened? We can look to Paul's message to the church in Colosse to find part of the answer.
Paul writes to strengthen those who are struggling with a "hollow and deceptive philosophy" that "depends on human tradition...rather than on Christ" (2:8). Paul's explains that contrary to this philosophy:
Therefore Paul is emphasizing, to grow closer to God we do not need to adopt new religious rituals (e.g., mandatory discipling), but to live in a relationship with Jesus Christ and to be strengthened in that relationship (2:6-7,19). Paul makes it clear that Christ is not one spiritual guide among many. In fact, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning (not 30 would-be disciples sitting in a living room in 1979), from the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. Therefore we grow to spiritual maturity not by adding extraneous elements onto faith in Christ but by remaining in that faith, confident that Christ is all sufficient. He alone will lead us, to experience God more deeply, even sharing in divine glory (1:27-28; 2:23; 3:4). We believe members of the ICOC have been caught up in a system and under leaders for over twenty years that have espoused"hollow and deceptive philosophies that are based on human tradition...rather than on Christ."
There is a difference between doing and being, in fact, they are polar opposites and Paul is expressing to the believers to be careful not to get up in something that would confuse the two concepts.
Because of the recent events unfolding within the ICOC, many current members and leaders have been contacting us to share their feelings and impressions regarding how they are affecting their respective congregations. Some of the accounts are encouraging and yet there are some that downright disturbing. Sidney, Australia, Atlanta, and New York are some the areas represented where it appears that the leaders are holding open forums to give members the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the abusive teachings and practices of organization.
Unfortunately, not all of the church leaders are of the mind or possess the integrity and courage to change. Sadly, the ICOC affiliated church in the area in which our office is located is not fostering an environment of openness, but one of intimidation. That is, members who have tried to address the recent letter entitled "Honest to God" by Henry Kriete, a current leader in London, are being made to feel ashamed and guilty by being told that if they are reading the letter and gaining courage to speak up about things, then they are not reading their Bibles enough. They are also being told to stay off the Internet. These type of sentiments are symptomatic of a leadership group that is completely detached from the rest of the body and reality. In fact, they are like the slave owners of the past who would not tell their slaves that they had been emancipated, and kept them working the in fields for as long as they could get away with it.
Like some of the members in the organization, we desire to see authentic change come about, yet we find ourselves being the recipients of caustic and shortsighted comments from some current members who are criticizing us and other former members for making the choice to leave the organization. Some of the statements that have been made to us are;
"While you guys decided to leave and be cowards, we stayed and fought for our freedom." And
"Although you decided to leave for your own reasons, I decided to wait for God's timing to see the changes come about."
These criticisms hold no truth, however, they do serve to represent the birth of a what we sense to be a new pride developing among the some of the leaders and members.
Whether one has "abandoned ship" or not, it is perfectly legitimate to help others to godliness. Paul had never been to Rome. Yet Paul wanted to help the Roman church. Elijah was called out of the kingdom of Israel and yet he tried to reform it. Jonah, an Israelite, was called to tell the Assyrians at Nineveh to repent. The Assyrians were Israel's worst enemy at that time! No -- leaving is not the criterion for disqualification of criticism. This is no time for those within the ICOC to take pride in their repentance. Pride has become the Achilles heel of ICOC and it is time to change completely. It is not time for those within the organization to find a another way to put themselves on a new pedestal. The supposed changes that are coming about are not because of the glorious or good things the leaders and members have done, but because of the atrocities Mr. Kriete describes in his letter plus some people simply grew tired of the abuse. One former member from the LA Church of Christ once described what the abuse felt like. She said,
"It felt like I was lying on my back and my discipler and the leaders were kneeling over me, pinning my arms down with their knees and then making a fist, they begin to pound on my chest trying to knock the air out of me. After a while, it begins to hurt and instinctively the desire to protect yourself starts to kick in, but the moment you try to wiggle out of their grip, they begin to label you as being independent, prideful, hardhearted and rebellious. They go on to tell you that your heart is not in the right place and by you trying to protect yourself just goes to show how spiritually weak you are and that you are not "trusting God". After a while you just get tired of someone beating on your chest... God gave me a mind, common sense and a conscience but most of all the Holy Spirit to guide me away from danger and towards the truth. "
Authentic repentance is evidenced by the attitude and behavior Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11:
"Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it-- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter."
Our primary focus for the past seven years has been to extend a supportive hand in order to help those caught up in the abusive system of the ICOC and to also help those who had left the organization who were wounded emotionally and spiritually. We are not the enemy and we never have been. Trust me, we would welcome the day that our services are no longer needed.
Within the recent weeks, some ICOC leaders have published open letters of apology to the members of their respective congregations, REVEAL has remained relatively quiet about all of the events taking place because we feel that the dust has not yet settled. There are still many questions left to be answered such as,
Will REVEAL really be out 'business' as some current members say? Or will we continue to help the spiritually wounded and expose the deeds of darkness which have, alas, made a home within the hearts of the leaders of the ICOC? The quote by author, Max Depree, cited at the very beginning of this commentary should serve as a cautionary and thought provoking reminder to all members and leaders; when one part of the body is ill, the entire body is ill (1 Corinthians 12). For authentic and lasting changes to take place from within, they must be forthcoming with people who are on the outside of their denominational influence and ask for help. Otherwise, they are in jeopardy of repeating their horrific past. We hope and pray honest and contrite hearts will prevail.