by Stephen F. Cannon
Originally published in Vol. 9, No. 2 (April-June 1989) of the Quarterly Journal of the evangelical Christian counter-cult organization, Personal Freedom Outreach. Cannon also wrote a follow-up article, "Has Mind Control Gone Hollywood," which appeared in Vol. 15, No. 4 (October-December 1995) of the same publication.
For two decades this writer has been intrigued by the rise and fall of mind-control groups. A study that began with mind control in clear-cut cults such as the Unification Church, Peoples Temple, and the Divine Light Mission has over the years found the same kinds of practices in the discipling, or shepherding, movement, 1 and in some charismatic churches.
A committee that investigated Maranatha Campus Ministries from 1980 through 1983 got an intimate look at the inner workings of an aberrational Christian group that many believe uses heavy- handed tactics to manipulate its members. Maranatha is a campus ministry teaching basic Christian doctrine and using tactics similar to those of mind-control groups to recruit and subdue members 2. With the discovery of Maranatha, the issue no longer was black-and-white, cult-or-Christian. Now, it appears that heavy-handed discipleship has again jumped theological lines and shown up in the independent Churches of Christ.
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In the early 1800s, there arose an unrest in the frontier American Presbyterian Church. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone and others reacted against sectarian religion and urged a union of all Christians based on a restoration of New Testament Christianity. The doctrines promoted by these men were: adult baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, and autonomy of the local congregation. The movement that grew out of these doctrines became known as the Restoration Movement.
The Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions states on page 168:
"During the second half of the nineteenth century disputes erupted, and by 1906 a separately recognized group called the Churches of Christ had emerged, distinctive in their rejection of the use of musical instruments in worship. They are conservative, interpreting the New Testament as the source of all that is permissible for worship and belief. They also believe that there is no biblical justification for organizations beyond the local congregation."
Although the Churches of Christ are extremely mindful of the autonomy of the local congregation, the independent churches do work together loosely in a brotherhood. It was from this brotherhood in the late 1960s that a college outreach group, "Campus Evangelism", was formed. Active in the outreach group as well as his local congregation was Charles Lucas 3. Church of Christ minister Maurice Barnett writes:
"In 1967, Chuck Lucas began work with the 14th St. Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida. He led the effort to put into effect the Campus Advance principles. When 14th Street built a new building, they changed the name to Crossroads Church of Christ" 4.
These principles caused a furor within the Churches of Christ and were to evolve from the Crossroads Movement into the Boston Church Movement.
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According to Barnett, the above-mentioned principles had their beginnings in several books on discipleship, the most influential being Robert Coleman's The Master Plan of Evangelism.5. Flavil Yeakley cites the influence of the Florida Shepherding group (Christian Growth Ministries), Juan Carlos Ortiz (Call to Discipleship), and elements of Watchman Nee's thought.6 Whatever the major influence, Crossroads Church did adopt a discipleship program. This created a controversy that swept through the Churches of Christ worldwide.
Called by various names: Crossroadism, the Crossroads Movement, the Discipling Movement, Multiplying Ministries, the teachings instituted by Lucas began to spread across the country. Because of their evangelistic zeal, the movement began to show success in conversions. Soon other churches began to want people trained at Crossroads. This caused polarization, church division, and whole congregations rebuilt along the lines of the Florida Church.7
It was during this time of growth and turmoil, that a University of Florida student named Kip McKean was converted and trained by Chuck Lucas. After leaving Gainesville, it is reported that Mckean tried to start discipling ministries in several different congregations. 8 The degree of opposition that he encountered is evident in a letter dated April 4, 1977, from the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston to Heritage Chapel in Charleston, Ill. The letter in effect "terminates" Memorial's support for McKean and another man at the Charleston congregation. This severance of association came about because:
"...Brother McKean has brought unbiblical practices, peculiar language, and subtle, deceitful doctrines to Charleston from the Crossroads Church at Gainesville, Florida." 9
Fourteen points of departure from Church Doctrine were cited among which were: "...confession of sins, peer pressure to conform to human judgemental standards and intimidation. ... The judgement of humans that mature knowledge must be gained before one is allowed to be baptized. ... elitism." 10
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In 1979, Kip McKean, age 25, and his wife, Elena, moved to the Boston suburb of Lexington. The growth of the small Lexington Church of Christ was phenomenal. Soon the congregation was meeting in rented quarters in Boston. It then became known as the Boston Church of Christ. 11
In addition to the standard Crossroads shepherding/discipleship format, the Boston Church (BCC) began adding some new doctrines. With these doctrines, BCC began consolidating its power base and soon became the seat of authority for "multiplying ministries" worldwide. Even though McKean revered the Crossroads Movement to the point of acknowledging that he owed "... my ministry, my marriage, and my very soul" to that church12, he soon would implement programs that would take over most of the Crossroads type churches, and plunge the whole movement into deeper controversy.
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Throughout the Churches of Christ, there is a reluctance to commit anything doctrinal to writing. The rationale is that "we follow the Scripture, not the doctrine of men. When the Bible speaks, we speak, when it is silent we are silent." Unfortunately, the BCC follows this belief rather strictly.
Pastor Eugene Borlund of the Evangelical Free Church of Waltham, Mass., has had many confrontations with the Boston Church. He comments:
"As I have met with leaders in the group oftentimes they would say, 'Well, we don't put anything into writing because once you pit it into writing then it is man's works. Anything that has to do with man's works, whether it's his works or denominationalism, is false and it quickly degenerates into heresy.'"13
The upshot of this is that:
Flavil Yeakley comments:
"There are significant differences between what the discipling churches teach publicly and what they communicate privately to their members. There are significant differences between what the discipling churches communicate verbally and what they communicate non-verbally. You cannot get a book that teaches you the Boston system. You have to go to Boston and be trained for at least a year. The reason for this is that the real message in the Boston Church of Christ is not the public message that is verbalized; it is the non-verbal message communicated privately by the nature and emphasis of the discipling hierarchy."14
This is the reason why, to get a handle on what Boston is teaching, one has to study sermon tapes, BCC bulletins, newspaper interviews with BCC leaders, a few booklets that have been written by current and past members, and personal interviews with current and past members.
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The central doctrine of the BCC/Crossroads movement, and the one that has drawn the most criticism both in and outside of the Churches of Christ is "one-on-one" discipling. This is the practice that has drawn charges of mind control.
Essentially, the framework of the BCC/discipling system is one of total submission to authority. Any new convert must submit himself to one who is "more mature in the Lord," that is, one who has been in the movement longer than the convert. That submission is absolute. Not only does the new member have his discipler, but the discipler has his discipler, and so on up the chain of authority.
"New converts are discipled by older converts. The older converts are discipled by Bible talk leaders. The Bible talk leaders are discipled by zone evangelists. The zone evangelists are discipled by Kip McKean and the elders."15
McKean, the evangelist, is the absolute leader:
"The Evangelist will determine how far a congregation will go in obeying the scriptures by how consistently he corrects mistakes, rebukes sin, encourages obedience and by impartially carrying the instructions of God even when it is not the popular thing to do ... the evangelist must know where the church is in the eyes of God, where it is headed and what it will take to get where God wants it to be."16
Furthermore, according to McKean, the one who "impartially carries the instructions of God", discipling is the only way to do God's will.
"Discipling is the only way the world will be won to Christ in our generation. Its the only way to do it. ... But when it comes to the biblical principles themselves, about how to take the world for Christ, there's only one way to do it. ... Get discipled by men. Most of you have discipling relationships, some of you don't and you need to find them. Its biblically commanded! How could you not have them?"17
The impact of this statement is enormous! McKean as "the evangelist" is saying that he knows where the church is in the eyes of God, he knows where it is headed, and what it will take to get where God wants it to be. Despite BCC's protestations to the contrary, if language means anything, this statement makes the evangelist the oracle of God. Since the doctrine of the authority of the evangelist precludes dissent, then that evangelist becomes the unquestioned oracle of God!
Scripture is clear that there is "one mediator between God and Man, even the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim 2:5) Despite what BCC is teaching, there is no middle man, be he called Apostle, Prophet, or Evangelist, between the mediator Jesus and the individual.
As BCC grew and began to eclipse the Crossroads Movement, the power of the discipler began to evolve beyond just spiritual matters. After interviewing a large number of former BCC members, Maurice Barnett reports:
"Many of these individuals told me that their disciplers required total submission without question. A large majority of those individuals told me their disciplers often gave orders that had nothing to do with spiritual matters. Those being discipled were told what courses to take in school, what field to major in, what career to enter, whom to date, and even whom to marry or not marry."18
A former member testified: "Submission meant blind obedience to theirs and your disciplers' advice; otherwise one was branded weak spiritually and rebellious."19
The picture begins to develop of just how much one is controlled by the leaders of the group. The chief tool to keep the flock in line seems to be the doctrine of personal confession to one's discipler.
Working on a faulty interpretation of James 5:16, the BCC has developed a program whereby disciplers and disciples meet weekly to study, pray and have confession sessions. Unfortunately, confessed sins are not kept confidential between these two parties. Yeakley writes:
"All too often in the Boston system, however, things disclosed to a discipler one day are known all the way up the discipling hierarchy the next day. The discipling hierarchy thus becomes a glorified network."20
Former member Karen Gray confirms this statement: "I confessed my sins not only to God, but also to my discipler, even when she was totally uninvolved. These confessions could be made known to others in the group by her if she deemed necessary." 21
In December 1988, I had an extended conversation with Buddy Martin, minister at Cape Cod Church of Christ. Martin has been monitoring the BCC and Crossroads for over a decade. In that conversation, Buddy (who has been instrumental in exit-counseling numerous BCC converts) told me that almost everyone in the BCC tells their secrets. He further confirmed that those secrets are often used against the person if they don't follow the "party line" and do what the elders want them to do. 22 Unfortunately, it is these tactics of manipulation through absolute submission and unethical use of confession (as well as others listed below) that give substance to the serious charges of mind control.23
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A prevalent attitude among cults and aberrational Christian groups is the idea that members of that group are God's elite. This ranges in severity from the attitude of Maranatha Campus Ministries "although there are other churches that are valid, we are the most committed," to the Boston Church: "we are the only true church on earth". Karen Gray says she was: "... indoctrinated with the belief that nearly all outside the group were hellbound, and their personal Bible studies were not sufficient to reveal the truth."24
An editorial titled Second Thoughts on Boston, which appeared in a Church of Christ periodical, The Christian Chronicle, states:
"... these brethren do not really believe that there are any faithful churches except the ones in their sphere of influence. They consider themselves to be the 'faithful remnant.'" 25
One clear indicator that this or any group has exclusive rights as the only "true remnant church" is the practice of rebaptism. Any group that questions the validity of one's Christian experience because one didn't follow a certain ritual conducted by "one having proper authority"; and preach that it has to be done over under their aegis, demonstrates the presence of elitism. Boston has indeed taken this step.
"... the churches' definition of a valid baptism is extremely narrow, and it believes a valid baptism to be necessary to salvation." 26
"They keep careful records of how many they baptize ... one thing they don't tell is that some of the number they cite as baptisms are re-baptisms of their members." 27 and:
"It even baptizes people who have been baptized in other Churches of Christ." 28
Yeakley agrees that this serves to "... deny the validity of the previous religious experience of those involved." 29
The framework that BCC has established is the classic top-down pyramid organization. The absolute leader that stands as God's "man of the hour" and dispenses God's will to the hierarchy, who in turn brings the truth to the laity. A strict unquestioning attitude must be present in the laity or they might be expelled from the only "faithful remnant" on the earth. Anyone who dares to walk away from this "remnant" is in effect walking away from God.
"The leaders teach that those leaving the church do so because they have sin in their hearts, a bad relationship with God, and are deceived by Satan. ... If I do not return to them then I am fallen away and God will no longer allow me to enter His Kingdom eternal." 30
These doctrines of elitism and absolute submission administered from the top down through a strict discipling hierarchy produce tremendous pressure to conform to the group norm. It is this pressure through manipulation that demonstrates the presence on mind control.
Although this charge of mind control has been leveled against shepherding/discipleship organizations for more than a decade, it wasn't until the BCC that a scientific study of the phenomena was authorized from within one of the groups.
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Because they felt a need to chronicle the group's rapid growth, the BCC leaders decided in 1985 to have a study conducted by a recognized church growth researcher. It was also decided that the study would be much more credible if conducted by someone outside the discipling movement. Flavil R. Yeakley Jr. of Church Growth Institute at Abilene Christian University was given the assignment.
Commencing his study in April 1985, Yeakley interviewed all strata of BCC members, ex-members, and leaders of other churches in the Boston area. He writes:
"What was being investigated in this research was simply the overall group pattern. The focus was not on any individual, but on the dynamics of the group."31
Because much of the criticism against Boston had been that of manipulation and mind control, Yeakley decided to conduct personality profiles as part of his research. He tested about 900 members:
"The personality assessment tool used in this study was the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is one of the leading non-psychiatric personality instruments in use today. Unlike tests used to diagnose mental or emotional problems, the MBTI identifies normal healthy differences." 32
Research has determined that "... a person's true (psychological) type does not change. ... Changes in psychological type do not indicate normal healthy growth. Such changes indicate some changes in the environment that causes people to deny their true type and become like someone else."33
With the MBTI, a personality type and subsequent changes in that type are determined by answering a series of questions three separate times. Questions were to be answered first as one would have five years past (or before conversion, whichever came first), then answered as they would at time of testing, and finally as they would answer five years in the future.
After the tests were given and before any conclusions were drawn, Yeakley did MBTI comparison studies with five mainline denominations (Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian) and six "manipulative sects" (Church of Scientology, Hare-Krishna, Maranatha Campus Ministries, Unification Church, Way International).
With the first group: "Results were the same as those observed in the Churches of Christ that are not identified with the discipling movement. There were no significant changes in psychological type scores. There was no pattern in the few changes that were observed."34 And with the second group: "Results of this study showed a high level of change of psychological type scores ... (with) ... a clear pattern in the observed changes ... (which showed) ... a clear convergence in a single type." 35
The detailed statistical results are presented in the excellent book, The Discipling Dilemma, edited by Yeakley. His conclusions are summarized:
"... those six groups that I have chosen to call 'manipulative sects' are clearly producing unnatural and unhealthy personality changes. ... the Boston Church of Christ is producing in its members the very same pattern of unhealthy personality change that is observed in studies of well-known manipulative sects. Whatever they are doing that produces this pattern needs to be changed."37
The data gathered proves "... that there is a group dynamic operating in that congregation (Boston) that influences members to change their personalities to conform to the group norm."38
Needless to say, that when Yeakley presented his findings to the BCC leaders they were less than pleased. Several explanations for the type changes were posed by these leaders. These reasons are listed and aptly countered in the aforementioned book. Space permits the examination of only one example.
"Kip McKean argued that all the Boston Church of Christ is doing is making people over after the image of Jesus Christ. He concluded that this research simply proves that Jesus was an ESFJ" (a particular personality type defined by the testing). 39
Yeakley counters "Christianity, of course, requires one kind of change in personality. Christians are being made over after the image of Jesus Christ. His divine nature, however, is reflected in individuals whose gifts differ. Christian growth does not require falsification of type. Indeed, spiritual growth is hindered by any effort to deny one's true type and become a copy of someone else." 40
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In November 1978 the world witnessed the horrible tragedy of the mass suicide of more than 900 people at Jonestown, Guyana. Behind the empty throne of Jim Jones was a sign with the well-known saying "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." These words stand as a warning to all those who would blindly follow a man, no matter what title he may have been given by himself or others.
That is not to say BCC is another People's Temple. But where there is manipulation through mind control and the doctrine of absolute submission to a leader exists, there is potential for tragedy.
BCC and others say that they are merely teaching New Testament doctrine when they "offer discipling as Jesus did to the Twelve". They would be wise to heed he words of Michael Harper:
"The master-disciple relationship is, of course, used frequently to describe the relationship that Jesus had with others on Earth, and, therefore, can equally describe our relationship to the Lord today ... But it is never in the New Testament used to describe the relationship which Christians have with one another. ... It is best not to use the 'discipling' terminology at all. Not only is it biblically unsound, but it also injects into this area an authority factor which is inappropriate."41
In a position paper issued in 1976, the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God took the position:
"It is true that many new converts look to someone to keep them from error and to guide them into truth. However, where the individual relies altogether on another person to protect him from all error, he will cease searching the Scriptures and fail to develop his own ability to withstand false teaching. ... Some find the pattern for their new order of discipleship in the relationship of Jesus with His disciples, forgetting this was done within Judaism before Jesus began to build His Church. Instead they should seek guidance for church patterns in the Acts and Epistles. ... Along with this there is a tendency to downgrade democracy in the church in favor of submission to authority. ... Jesus must be kept central. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. The only covenant we need is the one sealed in His blood."42
Unfortunately, the question asked in the subtitle of this article must be answered in the affirmative. Truly, mind control has reared its ugly head in Beantown. Until such time that the Boston Church of Christ disavows the "authority of the evangelist," one-on-one discipling, and the elitist stance of being the "only faithful remnant," I must advise all to avoid what is, in my opinion, a destructive organization.
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1.Steve Coleman, "Christian, Who Is Your Covering?", PFO Newsletter, April-June, 1983, Vol. 3, No. 2.
2.Dr. James Bjornstad, et. al., "A Statement of Evaluation Regarding Maranatha Campus Ministries / Maranatha Christian Ministries / Maranatha Christian Church, May 8, 1984. (Available from PFO Arizona, P.O. Box 2384, Peoria, AZ 85380.)
3.Flavil Yeakley, Jr., Ed., The Discipling Dilemma, (Nashville, Tenn., 1988, Gospel Advocate Pub. Co.), pg. 137.
4.Maurice Barnett, The Discipling Movement (Phoenix, Ariz., 1987, Published by author) pg. 2.
5.Barnett, pg. 1.
6.Yeakley, pg. 138.
7.Barnett, pg. 2; Yeakley, pg. 5.
8.ibid, pg. 6
9.Delbert Burkhart, Elder, Letter to Heritage Chapel Church of Christ dated, April 14, 1977. Copy on file.
11. Yeakley, pg. 7
12. Kip Mckean, Letter to Crossroads Church of Christ, (Appeared in BCC Bulletin, April 6, 1986).
13. Eugene Borlund, "Boston Church of Christ", (Cassette Tape, April 6, 1986) Copy on file.
14. Yeakley, pg. 68
15. ibid, pg. 51.
16. Kip McKean, "The Role of the Evangelist", (BCC Bulletin, Aug. 9, 1987)
17. Kip McKean, "The Saints in the Kingdom of Light", (Cassette Tape, Gainesville, Fla., 1984, Crossroads Tape Ministry) Tape on file.
18. Yeakley, pg. 55.
19. Karen Gray, "Former Member Exposes Cult", (The Wellesley News, Wellesley, Mass., Sept. 18, 1987) pg. 3.
20. Yeakley, pg. 54.
22. Personal interview with Buddy Martin, Dec. 13, 1988.
23. For an excellent and detailed examination of cultic mind control see: Steven Hassan, Combating Cult Mind Control (Rochester, Vt., 1988, Park Street Press).
24. Gray, pg.3
25. Editorial, "Second Thoughts on Boston", Christian Chronicle, February 1987.
26. Charlene B. Hill, "Boston Church Grows Amidst Controversy", (New England Church Life, Dec. 1987, Vol. 7 No. 9) pg. 10. 27. Barnett, pg. 38.
28. Hill, pg. 10.
29. Flavil Yeakley, Jr., The Hierarchy of Discipling Churches (Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 5, 1987, Gospel Advocate Periodical) pg. 650.
30. Gray, pg. 3.
31. Yeakley, pg. 30
32. ibid, pg. 24.
33. ibid, pg. 27.
34. ibid, pg. 33.
35. ibid, pp. 33-34.
36. ibid, pp. 34-35.
37. ibid, pg. 37.
38. ibid, pg. 37.
39. ibid., pg. 40.
40. ibid., pg. 27.
41. Michael Harper, Let My People Grow, (Plainfield, N.J., Logos, 1977), pg. 153.
42. General Presbytery, Assemblies of God, "The Discipleship and Submission Movement," Tract, n.d., pp. 13-14.
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©1989 by Stephen F.Cannon. All rights reserved.
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