Spiritual Declaration of Independence

J. David Dahm, MD
St. Louis, Missouri
March 2, 2003

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

From the Declaration of Independence of the USA, 1776

An open letter to members of the ICC and any interested parties

I was baptized in 1991 as a part of the St. Louis Church of Christ - International Churches of Christ (ICC). Over 11+ years, my spiritual life has been gratifying overall and God has blessed me richly. I have dated and married in the ICC. I have served in leadership (Bible-talk leader, Family-Group leader). My wife Brooke and I served as the St Louis HOPE directors from 1998 through 2002.

Along the way I’ve experienced 4 evangelists, the Dallas/LA dispersion and subsequent mass “fall aways” (from a thriving church of 450+ to barely 200 in about 1 year), the failed deprogramming (by Jerry Jones and Daniel Eng) of my future wife, lots of bad “advice”, persecution, the leadership mistakes and sin of Nick Young, as well as the usual day to day challenges. For several years, Brooke and I were told we could not date or consider any future together because she was in full time ministry and I was not. I was told to “repent” of my feelings for her.

During my first few years, I was passionate and sold out. I wrote off any criticism as uninformed, misguided, or satanic. I thought of problems as isolated occurrences, the product of individual mistakes by imperfect men. However, after several years I became increasingly aware of problems within the ICC. Like most good disciples, I clung to the ICC doctrine as biblically faultless and the foundation of my faith. As time went by, I became increasingly concerned about obvious inconsistencies between my understanding of the Bible and what I was seeing in the ICC. The pride among leaders was undeniable. The megalomaniac tendencies of Kip McKean and Nick Young were becoming blatant.

A turning point for me came in 1999 when we were challenged to write our own commentary on the book of Romans. As I studied these familiar scriptures, it was as if scales fell from my eyes. I was gaining insight and learning things that seemed so essential but had never been emphasized by the ICC. God’s amazing Grace blew me away! Where had I ever been taught this during my conversion? It began to dawn on me that the doctrine of the ICC was not as rock-solid as I had thought. I became a Berean eight years after my baptism. I took off the ICC-colored glasses and began reading God’s word “again for the first time”.

Since that time, I have been conflicted. Having invested so much time, blood, sweat, and tears, I did not want to admit that maybe I was involved in a group with cult-like tendencies. Having such dear friends in the ICC, I could not bear to leave. And yet, it was not “well with my soul”. I began to speak out, and I know I exasperated the men who tried to help me. I tried hard to go numb and suppress my feelings. I knew I could no longer reach out with genuine enthusiasm, and if by chance someone did respond, there was no way I could teach the First Principles studies with any sincerity. When I became a father in 2000, the stakes got higher. I wanted to raise my children with a healthy, Grace-oriented view of God. I did not want to expose them to what I increasingly viewed as the tragically flawed ICC, but I didn’t want them to go to hell. I also knew my conflicted feelings would become transparent to my children eventually. I saw no realistic chance for change within the ICC.

I began to plan my departure. In fits and starts, I began to compile and compose the document you are now reading. As in the case of the original Declaration of Independence, this letter was designed to explain my reasons for leaving. Having seen too many people “fall away”, I knew that I would be gossiped about, slandered, and accused of returning to my “vomit”.

In the fall of 2002, God removed Kip from his throne. One month ago, Henry Kriete released his inspired letter to the world. What seemed impossible 6 months ago is now happening! I am so grateful to see these changes! God does answer prayers.

Last week the St Louis COC had two amazing meetings. The first was designed for those members who had been present during the Nick Young years. It was an emotional meeting as one after another, disciples shared openly, honestly, fearlessly, all the pain anger, and frustration they had suppressed. I realized I was not alone! After almost four hours, the meeting ended with plenty of people who had not yet shared. Although it was difficult for many, I cannot remember the last time I felt so much “realness” in the church. Two nights later, the leadership responded. At a full congregational meeting, a lengthy list of mistakes was listed, some apologies were given, and another list of planned changes was read. The specifics were similar to what was included in the recent LA and Chicago meetings.

I am no longer paralyzed by the fear of leaving, but I am now planning to stay and help facilitate change. However, I will not hesitate to leave if the changes are superficial, incomplete, or counterfeit.

As a physician, I am keenly aware of the need to make an accurate diagnosis in order to administer correct treatment and allow ultimate healing. The ICC is in critical condition. If we are going to cure it, we must understand the pathology. Therefore, I am releasing my original list of grievances (slightly revised) although now with a different intent.

I. The Pathology

1. Legalism / Lack of Grace

This is the major flaw in the ICC system. It is not a minor problem. It is often explained by pointing to the original reactionary nature of the ICC (to the perceived deficiencies of the mainline COC) or the good intentions of leadership. These explanations do not in any way excuse or mitigate the problem.

Grace is the fundamental concept of the Gospel message. Any attempt to seek God without focusing on God’s grace is an exercise in futility. The ICC has for over 20 years introduced hundreds of thousands to a humanistic, legalistic form of religion, devoid of the powerful message of Grace. This has brought about a tragically unhealthy view of God, and caused a prideful, judgmental, and unloving approach to our fellow man/sinner.

A common illustration used to depict the futility of a works-based salvation is the example of people trying to swim to Hawaii. Regardless of training or talent, no one can succeed in this impossible endeavor. Why then does the ICC seem to try? Righteousness as a response to Grace is biblical. Righteousness to merit Grace is a perversion of scripture.

The ICC separated from the mainline COC due to “deadness” or lack of “discipleship”. This represented a judgment of another’s righteousness. Romans 14 specifically warns against this. It was as if Kip McKean said, “Although we can’t reach Hawaii, my people can swim so much farther or try so much harder than anyone else, therefore we are the only swimmers worthy of God’s Grace.”

Even if one accepts that “mainline, denominational, religious” Christians need to be more focused on “Lordship”, this does not excuse the swing to the opposite extreme that the ICC has taken. It also does not justify the “one size fits all” mentality that takes a non-religious, spiritual neophyte and hammers them with passages on Discipleship without one study dedicated to Grace.

Legalism is not isolated to the ICC conversion process; it pervades a disciple’s entire life. Large amounts of extra-biblical rules and restrictions are imposed. Compliance is monitored. Accountability is common. Statistics are collected and recorded diligently. “Goals”, “campaigns”, and “challenges” are frequent, and it is understood that failure is not acceptable and may be met with rebuke. I remember as a leader striving to have an “awesome” rating on the ICC “church visitor” formula. I remember going to bed worried about my salvation if I had not met my daily quota for “reaching out”.

This is a major issue that could justify a lengthy analysis, however it is so obvious and self-evident that I will not waste anymore time addressing it.

2. “There is no private interpretation of the Bible”

Based on 2 Peter 1:20-21, this statement is itself a private interpretation of scripture; an incorrect interpretation. The Bible is an ancient text, rich in symbolism containing poetry, parables, metaphor, and prophesy. While inerrant and God-inspired, it does not always lend itself to absolute literalism or readily understood meanings. Does Christ really want us to hate our family members if we want to be disciples? Does He recommend self-mutilation by hand amputation or eye gouging? Without proper interpretation, the literalist would be inclined to think so. The seemingly simple language of “And there was evening and there was morning” repeated at the closing of the six days of creation obviously requires interpretation (particularly when one considers that the sun was not even created until day four!)

This interpretation of 2 Peter 1:20 -21 is one of the fundamental teachings in the ICC doctrine, and is also one of the first lessons a prospective member is taught. While this may not seem overtly significant, it sets the stage for future teachings based on other scriptures. Once accepted as true, a person is conditioned to suppress their own thoughts (interpretations) and defer to the official ICC interpretation of scripture. Although one is encouraged to “be a Berean” and study scripture independently, interpretations of scripture in conflict with the ICC position are not acceptable.

This incorrect interpretation of 2 Pt 1:20-21 is acknowledged by Fontenot & Jones in their book the prideful soul’s guide to humility (p.135). However, the statement “there is no private interpretation of the Bible” is printed clearly as a teaching point in both First Principles and The Disciples Handbook, and any member will attest that this teaching is widespread. It has never to my knowledge been officially retracted.

3. “The end justifies the means”

This mentality characterizes the approach taken by the ICC. The movement started with a template of what “true disciples” should look like; how they should behave, speak, give their money, date, marry, etc. The ICC then hammered every member into this mold. They monitored their people to make sure everyone was “in line”. As long as a person did and said the right things, everything was “fine”. Never mind if the motives were legalistic or sinful. Never mind the human wreckage. External, tangible, quantifiable results were paramount. Emotions were things to be ashamed of, or repented of. Sentimentalism was a four-letter word. Disciples became “white-washed tombs”. Hearts were often not dealt with. Just put on the ICC mask, meet your goals, and no one will rebuke you.

The “unity”, growth, and “righteousness” produced by this approach was held up as proof that the ICC really was “God’s modern day movement”. Just don’t look at the many thousands of people leaving/ “falling away” each year. Don’t consider the unity of “the Moonies”, or the more explosive growth and worldwide saturation of the Mormon Church. Don’t ask people in a candid, off-the-record moment whether they were really happy.

4. “Fruit”

There are 158 verses in the Bible containing the word “fruit”.

But, there is only one verse that ties in any way “making a disciple” with the word “fruit”. (PR11: 30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”)

The Bible uses the word “Fruit” to describe many qualities such as the fruit of the light (EPH 5:9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and the fruit of the Spirit (GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.)

However, in the ICC the word “Fruit” is almost exclusively used to describe a conversion. Yes, very brief lip service may occasionally be paid to other forms of fruit, but in the daily parlance of the ICC, “fruit” means a convert.

Why is this a big deal? This practice greatly over-emphasizes one meaning of the word “fruit” while ignoring other equally valid and more biblically common meanings. This easily allows a member to feel (or be convinced) that he or she is unfruitful if they have not been recently involved in a conversion, even if the member has many other obvious forms of spiritual fruit in their life. This distortion of the word “fruit” also allows verses such as JN 15:1-2, 8 ("I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”) to be misused to scare members into evangelism, and “defines” a true disciple as one who has been consistently successful in winning converts.

5. The Discipleship Study

The expressed purpose of this study is to show the student that he or she is not a disciple (i.e. a “true Christian”, saved). Although this may be true, the a priori assumption that a given person is not saved smacks of religious pride. This study does correctly point out many challenging scriptures describing attributes, attitudes, etc. toward which all Christians should aspire. However, after each point in the study the student is asked if they have ever attained or attempted to attain the particular standard being described. Of course the answers are almost always “no”. These cumulative responses are ultimately presented as evidence to show that the person is not saved. This is a theologically unsound argument but can be convincing, particularly to the unsophisticated, uneducated, or weak person regardless of their true spiritual status.

We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ at baptism (full immersion at the age of accountability). A study to determine if someone is saved should be focused on a person’s belief in, knowledge of, and heart for Christ, as well as an examination of their Baptism. Once saved, all Christians embark on a lifelong journey, with success and failures, sinful but forgiven, striving toward greater spiritually and righteousness. However, even our best efforts are but “filthy rags”, and by themselves merit nothing. The scriptures in The Discipleship Study are convicting and definitely call us to “take it higher”. However, using them to gauge a person’s salvation status reveals a legalistic, works-based approach that is wrong. It is also hypocritical because in reality, most ICC members would not qualify as saved according to the standards of this study!

6. “Only Disciples are candidates for baptism”

{“ Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you; …”}

Based on MT 28:19-20 (above), this statement doesn’t make sense logically. If we accept the ICC equation “disciple = Christian = saved”, and we know that salvation occurs at baptism, how can we say that “disciples” (already saved/baptized Christians) are the only candidates for baptism (salvation)???

The scripture describes Jesus’ command to the eleven apostles to “make disciples of all nations”. To correctly understand this scripture, it should be analyzed grammatically. It is an imperative sentence, a command. The understood subject is “you” (plural), and the compound verb is “go and make”. The direct object is “disciples”. “Baptizing them…” and “teaching them…” are participial phrases which modify the subject “you”. “Baptizing…” and “teaching…” are simply commands which are part of the overall process of making disciples.

The ICC interpretation of this scripture wrongly emphasizes the word order. Therefore, it is argued, there are three sequential steps: first, make a disciple, then baptize him/her, then teach him/her to obey the commands. This is why they conclude that only “disciples” are candidates for baptism. However, as described above, “baptizing them…” and “teaching them…” are modifying phrases describing the process of disciple making. They are not subsequent commands to be implemented only after a “disciple” has been already “made”.

It is helpful to consider the similar sentence, “Go and clean the house, dusting the shelves, and mopping the floors.” Here we have a command in which the participial phrases are clearly elaborating upon the command “go and clean”. We certainly wouldn’t interpret this to mean three sequential commands, (why would we dust and mop subsequent to completing the more generalized command to clean the house?). Another example is the sentence, “Go and make soldiers of these men, training them to be fit, teaching them to use weapons.” It is understood that the statements “training them…” and “teaching them…” are modifying the statement “Go and make soldiers”.

This flawed interpretation of scripture has placed an unnecessary burden on prospective disciples. Rather than simply coming to faith and having a repentant heart, the ICC expects a person to exhibit discipleship to a high standard prior to being cleared for baptism. This places another human in the position of gatekeeper, judging the level of repentance that warrants salvation. It also emphasizes works and righteousness as a way to in effect “earn” God’s grace. There is an example of an eager and enthusiastic young man who had already studied, come to faith, etc. but was denied baptism because he lacked the courage to preach publicly in the park when challenged to do so. This young man never became a “disciple”.

This flawed interpretation also sadly deprives a would-be convert of the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, those who are trapped by tobacco addiction have been told that they need to stop smoking prior to baptism. While this is a worthy goal, why is this a salvation issue? Everyone knows how hard smoking cessation can be. Wouldn’t this be more likely once the person is empowered by the Holy Spirit? Why is smoking more detestable than other less obvious sins such as pride, lust, etc.? Were any of us able to completely conquer these and other sins prior to baptism?

This misinterpretation is also responsible for many members questioning the validity of their baptism. It is not uncommon for a member to have been baptized multiple times by the ICC due to a perceived inadequate level of discipleship (repentance, confession, spiritual knowledge) prior to their previous baptism(s).

7. Protracted conversions

The ICC is guilty of adding large amounts of non-essential teaching and extra-biblical requirements to the conversion process. The prospective disciple must agree to the entire ICC doctrine and all of its rules and policies before being baptized. Dating rules, discipling partners, contribution, are just some of the policies a person must agree to in order to be baptized. People have had baptism withheld because they would not declare that a deceased relative is in hell.

In the New Testament, conversions occurred in a matter of hours. One of the longer conversions was 3 days (Saul/Paul). The ICC claims that things are more complicated now with all the “false religion” out there. Maybe so, but the ICC has reacted by taking things to an opposite extreme. A myriad of hoops and hurdles are now placed in front of a prospective disciple.

If we are really trying to restore New Testament Christianity, we should return to the simple Gospel that Paul preached.

1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…

8. First Principles

While many of my earlier points have concerned specific points from the First Principles, a broader critique is warranted. This study guide has been the de facto ICC manual for converting the prospective disciple. The study series was designed with a strong ulterior motive. It was a reactionary creation in response to the mainline Church of Christ. Passages were selected to bolster the author’s (Kip McKean) spiritual worldview. Much about the ICC can be gleaned by reading between the lines.

During the Word study, a person is correctly instructed that the Bible is the inspired word of God. However, a sub point basically instructs a person that the only correct interpretation of scripture is the ICC version. It is ironic that one is told to be a Berean. Nevertheless, if at any time an alternative interpretation or conclusion is reached, it is defeated. This is the first indication that one of the ICC tendencies is to discourage independent thought. A person is also told to place the Word (i.e. the ICC interpretation of the Word) above their own feelings. This is an ominous foreshadowing of the general disregard for emotions/feelings/”sentimentalism” by the ICC.

The Discipleship study begins with the prideful assumption that anyone not in the ICC is not saved. The prospect is taught that to understand the requirements for salvation, one must look at the passages containing the word “disciple”. Other synonyms such as “believer”, “saint”, and “brother” are conveniently avoided. It is outrageous to consider that a study designed to gauge a person’s salvation does not once mention the word or discuss the concept of Grace! This speaks volumes about the ICC’s focus on deeds, works, and external appearances. It also reveals a prideful tendency to act as judge.

The Kingdom study teaches that by becoming a Christian one enters God’s Kingdom. A not so subtle inference then equates God’s kingdom with the ICC. Matthew 6:25-33 can then be used to insist that a disciple “seek first” the ICC. This portends the pathologic authoritarianism that controls so much of a disciple’s life. A litany of examples come to mind of abusive “advice” which prevented involvement in important events (family reunions, weddings, work functions, etc., etc.) in order to allow attendance to an ICC function. Passages referring to the heavenly kingdom or the kingdom within you are de-emphasized or omitted.

The Church and Light & Darkness II studies are designed to further drive home the “one and only true church” concept, and to reinforce the devotion to the ICC that is expected. It is during this time that one is told about many of the “rules” such as contribution, dating, etc. Regardless of the merits of these studies, they are non-essential to the salvation process and should at least be deferred until after baptism. Nevertheless, adherence to all of the ICC customs/rules/culture is mandated prior to baptism.

Finally (and incredibly) these studies contain no significant mention of faith in Jesus, God’s love for the individual, or salvation by grace!In summation, First Principles is seriously flawed and does not represent healthy exegesis.

9. The most important commandment?

MK 12:28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: ’love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

The answer to this question is biblically clear. As a movement dedicated to discipleship, shouldn’t this be a part of First Principles? After all, in a parallel account, this is a salvation issue.

LK 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' “ 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

One could argue that our ”purpose” as disciples should be to love God and love our neighbor. However, in the ICC we all know that our “purpose” and the most emphasized “command” is Matthew 28: 18-20.

10. Restoration

The ICC is happy to “restore” a “fall away”. However, this process is often lengthy and arduous. This will only occur if the ex-disciple prostrates himself / herself and admits that they were completely wrong. At the conclusion of this process, the restoree must write a detailed letter to the church confessing the various sins which led to his /her falling away. This obstacle-strewn process has led to aborted/failed restorations, and stands in sharp contrast to the prodigal son’s father running to meet him, showering him with love, free from conditions or prerequisites.

11. Contribution

While tithing is not a New Testament concept, giving to others is. We are also warned against materialism and the love of money. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that all giving should be done cheerfully, based a person’s own heart, and without compulsion.

The ICC dictates a 10% before taxes contribution as acceptable. Anything less is considered suspect and a sign of a “heart problem”. Special missions contribution is even less biblical with a formulaic multiplier specifying what is acceptable.

Leaders are under intense pressure to meet the goals for their churches, and this is passed on to individual disciples. Extremely foolish things have been done to avoid shame and rebuke from leadership. There are examples of disciples selling important possessions, borrowing money from relatives, forgoing repayment of debt, ignoring healthcare needs, neglecting responsible saving for their family’s future, even using cash advances on their credit cards in order to meet their SMC goal. In many cases, these things occurred in response to “advise” from a discipler.

These practices hardly resemble the non-compulsory, cheerful, non-specified giving seen in the New Testament.

12. Pride

LK 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus railed against the Pharisees because of their religious pride.

RO 2:17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

Paul referred to the hypocrisy of the self-righteous Jews as blasphemy.

CS Lewis referred to pride as “the Great Sin” and “a spiritual cancer.”

Unintentionally, the ICC indoctrinates pride into its members. “Disciples” walk around convinced that they are a “guide for the blind”. Spiritual insights or experiences described by non-ICC believers are often immediately discounted. Non-ICC “Christians” are often viewed with pity, and are described as “sincere, but sincerely wrong”. Phrases such as “God’s modern day movement”, “Defining Christianity for this generation”, and “The Kingdom” absolutely drip elitist, religious pride.

13. “The one and only True Church”

Just look at the above phrase for a moment…

It almost speaks for itself. The pure, unadulterated pride that would allow a group to utter such a phrase is so apparent that it is staggering to think that any of us ever believed it.

14. Mind control / Information control

The Bereans were considered noble because they did not accept the Apostles’ teachings at face value without first critically examining them to verify Truth. The ICC encourages a person to “be a Berean” during their studies. This statement would seem to encourage an open-minded, analytical, and objective approach to the Bible and spiritual thought. Unfortunately, the reality is just the opposite. Anything critical of the ICC is labeled “spiritual pornography” regardless of merit. Disciples are warned against reading this material, and to do so risks rebuke or worse. Similar to the former USSR, the ICC practices a form of information control. Behind our own “iron-curtain”, disciples are spoon-fed the party-line teachings and propaganda whether from the pulpit, in D-times, on KNN, or in the form of DPI publications. Other Christian opinions, beliefs, resources, etc. are often demonized or discredited.

Besides being biblically incorrect, this practice acts to stunt the spiritual growth of the disciples. Muscles that encounter physical resistance and strain over time become strong and more able to handle the demands placed upon them. Conversely, muscles that never have to wrestle with resistance remain weak, atrophic, and are poorly prepared for adversity. One’s spiritual journey should be characterized by an ongoing healthy “wrestling” with God, seeking Truth and greater understanding as they work out their salvation and overcome hardships. This process builds spiritual depth, character, strength, and maturity. By sheltering disciples, telling them what to think and believe, the ICC has created many narrow-minded, dependent, and spiritually immature members that have never been encouraged to think independently.

The ICC has employed other repressive techniques, more suited for a communist country than God’s church. For example, dissention or critical thought from within has never been tolerated. In the mildest form, a person with alternative views is often “discipled” for having a ”hard heart” or rebuked for being divisive. In other instances, the person is accused of unconfessed sin or worse, previously confessed sin(s) are used against them to deflate, deter, and discredit the person and their views. This character assassination has in too many cases been followed by “marking” a person and removing them from the church. This is particularly detestable if one considers that in the ICC viewpoint, this person is now bound for the fires of hell! If a person leaves voluntarily because of issues of conscience, they are often slandered behind their backs and their “sins” often become public knowledge to cover up the real issues. In their pride, some members take a certain perverse satisfaction in predicting future marital problems, and other life-failures for the “fall away”. Many of these victims of “marking” are now rightfully seen in hindsight as having been correct all along (Ed Powers, Rick Bauer, Jim Condon, etc.). Does anyone think that Henry Kriete could have written his letter as recently as 12 months ago and remained in the fellowship with his job intact?

The Truth of the Bible is undeniable. It has stood the tests of time. If the ICC is so confident in being “God’s modern day movement”, it should have no fear in it’s members reading or hearing any differing religious viewpoints. It should stand secure that it can withstand any scrutiny or critique whether external or internal. After all, to quote another phrase from the ICC, “it’s not who’s right, but what’s right”.

15. Disputable matters

RO 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The ICC is in serious violation of this scripture. Judgments and rules regarding a myriad of disputable matters are widespread. Leaders have often done terrible harm by giving poor “advice” on almost every aspect of life. Career goals, lifelong dreams, family relationships, romantic interests, etc. have in countless cases been destroyed or damaged by “advice” (in reality more of a command) given with selfish motives or a superficial understanding of the issues.

16. Authoritarian, hierarchical leadership

This is so blatant that I will refrain from further comment except to refer to the old saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

17. “Non-denominational”

This term has been used by the ICC to describe itself. But, what makes it non-denominational? It has an accepted name, a unique culture, a distinct set of uniform practices, extremely structured governance, a rigid doctrine, and a clear demarcation between itself and other religious groups. The label “non-denominational” is a semantic issue, and for all practical purposes the ICC is as much a denomination as the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc.

18. A double standard regarding sin

In the ICC, we have never been soft on sin for the rank and file disciples. We are zealous in discipling sin; calling for confession, openness, and godly sorrow followed by repentance. When done correctly, with the right heart, this is biblical. Jesus frequently called people to repent. However, in this movement, leaders (particularly at the upper levels) are often not discipled and therefore sin is not dealt with. Sins of the rank and file can be discussed openly in leaders meetings or among “concerned parties”. Conversely, sins of leadership are considered off limits. To discuss them is to risk being labeled “divisive” or “critical”.

19. “Fall aways”

The concept of apostasy is biblical. In the New Testament, this concept applies to a person who disowns Christ and/or completely returns to their life of sin. Hebrews is often referred to regarding this topic. However, the people being warned in this book are Jews who are reconsidering whether Jesus really is the Messiah. It is wrong to brand someone as fallen from God’s grace because they decide for whatever reason not to attend the ICC. God alone knows when exactly a person falls from grace and it is absolutely nauseating to consider the pride and sin involved in one man proclaiming another a “fall away”

20. “You can’t chase a true disciple away”

This frequently used phrase is one of the most outrageous examples of ICC garbage I have ever heard. This heartless euphemism is often uttered after a disciple has left the church. In effect, the “fall away” is being accused of never having been a “true” disciple. Another time it might be heard is after a mistake by the ICC or one of its leaders. In this case, the phrase is used to minimize their responsibility and the damage done.

MT 18:3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. MT 18:5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

It is clear from scripture that we will all face God alone and answer for our own lives of sin. However it is also clear that our behavior and sin can definitely cause another to sin and possibly fall.

MT 15:14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

Why would Jesus give this warning if bad leaders were not capable of contributing to people falling?

21. Bad shepherding

LK 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, `Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Leadership is so focused on “the mission” (and meeting their evangelism goals) that tending the flock is often neglected. Leaders are acknowledged and promoted for baptisms. Having a healthy, happy flock is not reinforced. High-maintenance disciples are considered a liability.

The ICC has needlessly damaged many congregations by shuffling evangelists. They have played people like chess pawns, moving them here and there, often for selfish and sinful reasons. Disciples are expected to have a “go anywhere, do anything”, “seek the kingdom first” mindset without questioning the “wisdom” of leadership. St. Louis is still reeling from the Dallas/LA debacle 6 years ago.

It is sobering to note that in recent years, there have been approximately four “fall aways” for every five baptisms. There are an estimated 250,000 “fall aways” worldwide.

Clearly something is wrong. Disciples are not being nurtured and protected.

22. “Playing church”

This phrase is often used derisively to describe members of other denominations. In fact, this phenomenon is extremely pervasive throughout the ICC. “Playing church” refers to a person concealing their true self, feelings, struggles, and putting on their “game face” when coming to church. Artificial hype and hoopla are common. Everything is “awesome!” If the church isn’t spontaneously boisterous enough, a speaker may ask for it directly. Sure enough, suddenly the “amens” start pouring in.

Here in St. Louis, we’ve been like “walking wounded” after the trauma of the Dallas/ LA dispersion and the subsequent mass “Fallaways”. People have been severely traumatized, but until last week there had been no public discussion or forum (there still has been no formal apology or admission of mistake). For the past 6 years, people have been robotically going through the motions. Stuffing emotions, we’ve tried to go on, playing church as if nothing had happened. So many have tried to “repent” of their feelings as if they were sinful. People have not been enabled or encouraged to “be real” with each other, allowing the catharsis and healing of mutual acknowledgment. The meeting last week opened a floodgate of emotions for many. It was amazing to watch as disciples finally stopped “playing church” and spoke openly and honestly. Finally, after all these years, we admitted, “the emperor has no clothes”!

II. The Cure

JER 6:14 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.

In medical practice, a deep infection that is untreated and ignored can fester and progress into an abscess. If this pus and poison is not dealt with aggressively, sepsis and death can result. At that point, salves, creams, even IV antibiotics will not cure the problem. The only cure is to incise and drain the abscess. Although dramatic, aggressive, and painful, this is the only recourse. Once the abscess is laid open, the pus is drained, and the wound is cleaned, swift healing will occur. This movement is infected with sin. A life-threatening abscess has formed. We cannot ignore or minimize the situation. Applying ointments and band-aids will not work. Decisive, aggressive, unflinching, and yes painful treatment is required. Now is the time for the problems to be laid open, exposed to the light, washed away, and then – only then can healing occur.

Now is not the time for euphemisms or trivializing the pain that many feel. This is not the time for spin doctoring, the standard ICC damage control, or limited disclosure. Leaders need to lead by example. Leaders need to practice what they have preached (humility, alarm, complete openness, confession, brokenness, indignation, longing to see justice done). In short, leaders need to demonstrate godly sorrow. 2CO 7:8-11

III. Prevention of recurrence

When treating cancer, the original treatment is followed by close surveillance to carefully observe for any signs of recurrent disease. Similarly, the ICC must resist the temptation to go for the quick, miracle-cure. If we really want to save the ICC, we have to recognize that this is a chronic disease. It may take years to fully recover and be completely cured.

Racism in America, particularly against African-Americans was institutionalized for many years. The Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s was a significant victory. However, over 30 years later we all sadly realize that racism is not dead. It takes ongoing vigilance and courage to recognize and battle racism in this country.

The institutionalized, “systemic evils” of the ICC will not magically disappear. The ICC culture has been built up over 20+ years. Just like racism, old ICC habits will die hard. Henry Kriete’s letter and the recent events are analogous to the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s. This is not the end of the struggle, but just the beginning. Therefore, we must all remain eternally vigilant and never again hesitate to speak up and call sin a sin.

Here are some specific things that come to mind. Speak up and address the leaders or disciples that have hurt you. Getting your pain out is crucial to healing. Then work toward genuine forgiveness. Remember, forgiving does not mean forgetting. “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We have to be on guard against the “yeast” of the old ICC mind-set. Guard against prejudices regarding fellow believers (in or out of the ICC). Stop judging others! Extend Grace and accept your brother who is weak. Please stop the ICC lingo! Understand that the Kingdom is bigger than the ICC. When referring to our church, say “our church” and not “The Kingdom”. Everything does not have to be “impacting” or “awesome!” Abandon the phrase “spiritual pornography”. Return to the simple Gospel of Jesus, and stop complicating and protracting the conversion process. Think outside of the box, but don’t forget to think! Do not ever again be afraid to question authority. Give your money based on your own convictions with a cheerful heart. Do not allow any leader to impose a legalistic, formulaic approach to influence any part of your life! Seek advice but don’t follow blindly ever again! Read the Bible again without your ICC-colored glasses. Walk in the light, live life to the full, and enjoy your freedom in Christ! Amen.

©2003 by J. David Dahm. All rights reserved.

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