This letter was originally written by David Medrano to the ICoC just before leaving Madrid. It has been rewritten by David and Natercia in order to present a more complete picture of why and how they chose to leave the movement.
It is with deep sorrow on the one hand, but also a sense of relief, that we write to you concerning our decision to stop leading the Madrid Church of Christ and to leave the ICoC altogether. During recent weeks we reconsidered important doctrinal issues and aspects about our church which we can no longer accept with a clear conscience. We are thankful to God for bringing us into this church so that we could become Christians and meet brothers and sisters with whom we have shared some of the most special times of our lives. The relationships with so many of our friends have been incredible and we will continue to cherish them forever. From London to Bristol (UK), to Washington DC, to Boston and finally to Madrid (in David's case) and from Rhode Island to Boston to Madrid (in Natercia's case), we have been blessed to share in so many different experiences which have strengthened our relationship with God and shown us the importance of God's Word.
We are particularly grateful for all those people who have taught us to love the Bible and encouraged us to grow in our knowledge and our understanding of the truth. It is precisely because of this love for the Scriptures that we now write this letter to you and that we have decided to leave this church. Since we became Christians (David in Dec. 93 and Natercia in May 90) we were always taught that true disciples of Jesus should know God's Word, and develop the ability to teach it. After I (David) did the First Principles studies, I distinctly remember being told that with the knowledge I had acquired in those initial days, I was equipped (2Tim 3:17) to teach people what I had learned, and that I probably knew more about the Bible than the average religious person out there in the world. If God is God then, I concluded that his Word had to be simple and available to every person. Therefore everyone should be able to teach it.
We now realize we have presumed to be teachers all these years (James 3:1). We have taught discipleship, repentance and total commitment to many interested in Christianity. We have done this with zeal and conviction, reassuring ourselves with the passage of time that if no one else teaches what we teach, we must be God's movement. Like the proverb teaches, though, the first man seems right until someone else presents his case.
We always chose not to hear anyone else's case though. We have always perceived criticism from outside of the church as 'persecution' and so over the years we grew to despise and ignore any outside information, which could represent a threat to God's movement (Luke 18:9 -- To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…). We genuinely believed like so many others that issues had to be resolved from the inside within the family, not with 'non-Christians'. Despite the fact some of our friends who left the Movement over time encouraged us to investigate different concerns of theirs by looking at compelling evidence, until recently we were determined to look the other way and never question the Movement in any way. In short, we have been very loyal to the movement and its leaders.
As many of you know we were overseeing four churches until 26 February (Las Palmas (Canary Islands), Madrid, Lisbon and Milan). We were to get married this April in Boston (we are still getting married), and life was looking both promising and exciting from a ministry and personal perspective.
A few weeks ago, I (David) was asked to look at an internet document and other evidence presented by my family as per 1 Peter 3:15 (always be prepared to give an answer). Though very hesitant at first, I read it with increasing concern. I realized, though, that if this was God's Movement, I had nothing to be afraid of and that God could keep me safe even if I explored a few more of the things critics have to say about the ICoC.
The evidence compelled me to pursue dialogue with ex-ICoC members, who once held very important positions of leadership in the Movement, and could verify and document their charges against the ICoC. I became particularly interested in the stories of Isaiah Pickett and Ed Powers. Ed's story was especially shocking in the ways it dramatically differed from the 'official version' of events, as written and spoken by our leaders. I specifically asked Ed to come to Madrid, which he did, at his own expense. I insist, though, that it was my decision to speak with them, and under no circumstances was I pressured or coerced by any member of my family to do this.
Having spent considerable time reading various articles on Biblical Christianity which were recommended to me (I have listed a few of these below at the end of the letter), and after discussing a variety of topics with these men, I realized there are some critical problems regarding the ICoC which if true, were calling me to make a decision about my involvement in this organization. At this point I had to communicate all this to Natercia. She agreed to observe the evidence which had been presented to me, and after a few more days of discussion and thorough examination, we were certain we could no longer remain in the church with a clear conscience.
We concluded four things.
It is a pyramid with one man at the top (Kip McKean). Kip has authority over his world sector leaders and their churches, who in turn exercise control over their geographic sector leaders and their churches, etc., all the way through Bible talk leaders to the youngest converts. The discipling tree is vertical, enabling commands to be passed down from one level to another.
Discipleship is a good idea based on the 'one another' passages of the Bible, but the ICoC legislates the requirement for each disciple to have a discipler-disciple relationship, thus preventing the practice of these 'one another' passages. When one is made a discipler he is immediately put in a position of authority over someone else, and Jesus ceases to be the focus. So everyone is under the authority of someone else all the way up until you get to Kip, who really has no one over him at all.
This is dangerous, for when he makes mistakes, he hurts everyone below him. That is why God never gave Paul, nor Peter, nor any of the apostles the kind of authority that would enable any one of them to become the sole first century church leader (Galatians 1 and 2). Instead they were able to plant churches, but they left elders in charge to take care of local congregations (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
The ICoC has misused the Scriptures to justify the authority of the evangelist over the elders (like for example Titus 1:5). By mishandling God's Word the ICoC has justified the position of authority held by its leaders. Scriptures like 2 Corinthians 13:10, 2 Corinthians 10:8 (concerning the Apostle Paul's authority to build the Corinthians up), 1 Timothy 6:17, 2 Timothy 4:2, and Titus 2:15 (concerning an assumed position of authority enabling an evangelist to command and lead others in the Lord's church) have not been taught in their right context. A thorough study of these Scriptures (using different English translations helps in doing this) reveals the need for an understanding of the Greek words employed by the inspired authors of the Bible, before coming up with a sensible interpretation of those verses dealing with authority in the church. The ICoC has used these verses irresponsibly to justify its leadership hierarchy.
The New Testament pattern of leadership seems to be one whereby the elders direct the affairs of their local congregations, while evangelists function in the role of messengers (or proclaimers) in charge of preaching the gospel and preventing it from becoming perverted. If anything it would seem that during NT times, elders were above evangelists, since their qualifications were more difficult to attain than those of evangelists (often younger and less experienced in leadership; compare 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with 1 Timothy 4:12).
Since the evangelists appointed elders in the NT (Titus 1:5 and Acts 14:23), the ICoC interprets (in a very subjective manner) that the evangelist must be over the elders in the Lord's church. However, upon closer examination of the relevant scriptures dealing with 'the appointment' or 'the selection' of others in the NT church, it is more reasonable to deduce that the members of the church itself were very much involved in the selection process of elders (early church history seems to support this too). The evangelists then confirmed this selection by officially appointing the elders chosen. (What does the Boston Movement Teach? Volumes 1, 2 and 3, by Jerry Jones, includes some great articles written by both ICoC and non ICoC members which will enable any seeker to make his own decision about this,)
From my experience in all the churches listed above, I have observed that ICoC churches have a lot of young and zealous evangelists and church leaders, but very few elders. In fact, churches like London and Washington DC have an average of three or four elders each, who are unable to oversee almost two thousand disciples in each church respectively. These elders do not direct the affairs of the congregations they worship with on Sundays -- the evangelists do this, while elders play the role of advisors.
Biblically, this is not the only irregularity. Since there are so few elders in proportion with the number of church members, they must spread themselves very thin by trying to meet the needs of members in different congregations, not just theirs. By focusing so much on training evangelists who can lead large groups of people, the ICoC has not been able to raise up many elders. The few who are found in the larger churches, like (for example) Boston, end up playing a role not found in the Bible. It is not surprising to find some with a variety of leadership positions such as teacher, evangelist, and elder, thus justifying whatever activity they choose to engage in.
This would all be fine except for one problem: since there are very few elders, the evangelists and the church leaders are forced to make sure the church is evangelizing and growing, while they simultaneously engage in resolving a lot of the internal problems that arise within their congregation. Unfortunately, though, they lack the qualifications to be elders. (In my opinion, very many of the ICoC evangelists also lack maturity and depth in their knowledge of the Bible.) They attempt to direct the affairs of their members as if they were elders amidst tremendous pressure to grow their ministries. Led to believe they are in a position of authority, they disciple, command, advice, and expect things from other people below them (all in the name of God) in areas of opinion that have nothing to do with the gospel (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8). If growth is not taking place they can easily resort to insensitive and even harsh practices focused on getting better outward results at the expense of taking care of the flock's needs.
If the elders were over the evangelists, and there were enough of them around to be able to direct the affairs of their congregations, then evangelists could function in their true role of preaching the Word. However this cannot happen if Kip McKean, a man, designs the leadership structure of the church in such a way that beginning with himself, evangelists lead everyone else in every area. Unfortunately it gets even worse when we consider one-over-one discipling, because ultimately this means that the evangelists disciple the elders and they themselves are ultimately discipled by Kip McKean through the instructions that he passes down.
The only reason why we can claim to be the only ones is because of a clear distortion of Scripture involving Matthew 28:18-20 and many related passages. Read Matthew 28:19. It is clear that 'to make disciples' is the only verb. 'Baptizing' and 'teaching' are simply participles, which describe the how of the verb 'to make'. Therefore to claim that the verse is teaching that we must first be disciples, or that we must at least demonstrate a decision to become disciples, before we are baptized is totally wrong. We are made disciples by first being baptized and then continuing to be taught to obey Jesus.
For example: please clean the bathroom, scrubbing the surfaces and drying them. Here we have one verb and two participles. According to Matthew 28:19 the Movement is saying 'please clean the bathroom, then scrub the surfaces and then dry them'. Why are you going to scrub and dry if the bathroom is already clean?
In the movement we teach people to obey before they are baptized, going against the Scripture. We set up all these hurdles which they must overcome with the First Principles series, and a bunch of expectations regarding going to meetings, having daily quiet times, and prayers, paying their weekly tithes, confessing all sins, not going home for too long, being at home by 12:00 a.m. with your date, agreeing clearly that everyone else is lost in the world etc… Before a person is baptized their readiness is measured according to how well they have practiced the above and/or committed to living by them for the rest of their lives in the ICoC.
In 1987 the leader of the Movement (Kip) established this new doctrine of Matthew 28:19, which essentially is saying that you must work your way to baptism (become a worthy candidate) instead of being saved freely through baptism by the goodness of Christ, upon turning to Him in faith (Mark 16:16). This 'turning to him' is exactly what is meant by the 'repent and be baptized' teaching of Acts 2:38, that is why so many people turned to Jesus in so little time that day. There were no prerequisites for their baptism, other than a turning to and acceptance of Christ as Savior! This is how the ICoC first declared its exclusivity, thus condemning the rest of the world outside the ICoC to hell.
Since Matthew 28:19-20 does not teach what the Movement leader teaches, this cannot be God's Movement. The ICoC not only a) prevents its members from fellowshipping with other Christians outside the Movement, but b) it makes it harder for people to come to be free in Christ and learn to obey the Scriptures after baptism with the help of the Holy Spirit. Finally, c) it shuts the back door, so that if burdened people want to leave due to all the legalism they are subjected to (having to go to all meetings, having to have daily morning quiet times, having to evangelize daily, etc.), [there is no way out.] These things are very important -- they must be taught -- but they can never be legislated or we will become like the Galatians of Galatians 5, men and women under the law, not under grace, without the Spirit, lost.
Because we are judgmental towards others who are not in our Movement, we become arrogant before God, and just like the Pharisees, we look down on others and shut the door to God's kingdom when they do not submit to our system. Many [in the ICC] feel this is wrong, but we do not change it because we are under human authority from the top. When we study with potential converts, we impose our traditions on them and judge when they are ready to be baptized. We measure people's level of repentance according to human criteria, and demand that they confess everything before they can be baptized.
And yet we know that we ourselves did not know everything when we were baptized; we ourselves did not repent about everything when we were baptized. Who are we, therefore, to place such burdens on the backs of others and turn them into our own disciples, rather than empowering them to be free followers of Christ? We do not teach the gospel; we impose a system of rules and regulations.
But biblically, this is something that should never be legislated. Perhaps we could argue that in theory we don't, but as with so many other things in our church, in practice we do legislate this. (Matthew 6:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 8:3-4, 10-12; Galatians 6:9-10; 1 Cor. 16:2)
All of this hurts its members and deprives them of their joy in the Lord. The disciples in the Bible did not focus on results but on watching their life and doctrine closely, and teaching the gospel. The ICoC obsession with growth and numbers has led to (by a conservative estimate) at least 400,000 baptisms in twenty years, but only 120,000 actual members. This cannot possibly be considered growth in light of all the 'fall-aways'.
The focus on baptizing the sharp, the talented, and the wealthy differs enormously from the love Jesus brought to share with the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, the ones in jail, the ones in need. If we are going to use statistics to hold leaders accountable for the studies, to the contribution, to the attendance, to the baptisms, why not hold leaders accountable for serving the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigners, the naked, the sick, the ones in jail, and the ones in need (Matthew 26:35-36). We have never known of such statistics, because we are not so interested in measuring these things, yet that is what mattered to Jesus. (I am not trying to discredit the successful work undertaken by HOPE, nor to imply that the ICoC does not encourage its members to think about the poor.)
This then is what we have concluded. There is much more to say regarding each point in the way of Scriptures that are distorted, and the many examples of how the ICoC system hurts people, and makes them more vulnerable to abuses which ultimately drive them away from Christ.
Having spent ten and six years, respectively, in the movement, Natercia and I (David) have resolved that it makes no sense, in light of what we now realize to be true, to continue to be part of the movement. We realize we cannot change the system by staying in the ICoC. We know that discussing this with those leaders above us, in Paris, or in Boston, would only result in them employing the usual tactics we have regrettably used in the past with members who are in disagreement with ICoC doctrine. In other words, the leadership condemns the non-ICoC Christian world because it is lukewarm, 'unfruitful', and corrupt as well, and convinces them that no one else is "doing it" out there. The concept of there being no other church out there is so deeply embedded in the ICoC organization that to question it would lead us nowhere. And we must say this is really the biggest disagreement we maintain with the ICoC.
We believed God had called us to be shepherds of his Church. So, since we were the appointed leaders of these four churches, we decided they needed to hear from us why we were leaving so they could make their own free choice too. Under no circumstances, though, were we attempting to start a new church under our leadership. We strongly believed people under our care had a right to know what we had learned.
On Friday February 25, 2000, we called a leaders' meeting for the Lisbon and Las Palmas churches, and we also invited two of our closest friends in the Madrid church. The specific reason for this meeting was never stated. We simply stated that with some of the changes taking place in the ministry (referring to one of the Portuguese staff members who was leaving to train for the ministry in Paris) we needed to have an important meeting. (In all we had the three staff members of the Lisbon church, the lead couple of the Las Palmas church and two Spanish disciples present at David's apartment in Madrid.)
At this meeting we shared a lesson explaining the four points described above in more detail, and presenting our reasons for leaving the church. During this meeting we also told the leaders that we would share this same message with the entire Madrid Church in a meeting later that night. We also encouraged them to come and listen to the ex-ICoC leaders mentioned above.
The leaders had mixed feelings about everything and a heated discussion ensued. Some felt they needed to think about this and read over what had been said. Others felt the Madrid Church should not listen to the message we had shared, and most were reluctant to speak to the ex-ICoC leaders present in Madrid.
Natercia and I asserted that the Madrid Church had a right to know and that they would be encouraged to go and think about it before making a decision. The Portuguese leaders decided to call Boston, in spite of being urged to wait and think about it before making such a quick decision to call in the top leadership of the Movement, thus robbing the members of the opportunity to hear another point of view. Shortly afterward, I, (David) received a call from Gordon Ferguson, but chose not to speak to him, given that my decision to leave the movement was made. In fact the Spanish member present at the meeting spoke to him and after I repeatedly asked him to hang up, I disconnected the telephone cable myself. (It was, after all, my phone.)
That evening the Portuguese leaders, with the help of the Spanish member who attended our earlier meeting, went to the location where the church was scheduled to meet, and following instructions given to them by Gordon Ferguson, 'advised' the members of the Madrid church not to go to the meeting. By the time we arrived, many of the members had already gone home. We heard (though we do not know for a fact) that the Portuguese leaders had a Boston leader on their cell phone dissuading the Madrid members from going to the meeting.
The meeting was held twice that evening (since many were not there to hear the message the first time) and slightly less than half of the Madrid disciples ended up hearing what we said. The next day, about seven or eight of these same members attended another meeting with some of the ex-ICoC leaders present.
Later on Saturday, I (David) decided I would go to the meeting the ICoC had arranged for the Madrid Church that night at the usual place of worship. Since we suspected many top leaders would be brought to Madrid, I, (David), decided to ask my brother, Steve, and the three ex-leaders of the Movement to come to the meeting and support me in a final attempt to share my message with the Madrid church, which I was appointed to lead. I asked specifically for their help, even though it was clearly against their best interests (almost certainly affecting important relationships in their lives in a detrimental way). I knew that, otherwise, I would have no chance of presenting my case before the whole church, with many top leaders from the movement present at the same time.
My only hope was that the whole church would hear my side of the story, with the help of godly men who were spiritually qualified, not to argue but to dialogue with the ICoC top leaders about the issues at hand, before the whole church. We knew how reluctant the ICoC leaders would be to do this, and as soon as the five of us walked into their meeting, I addressed Randy McKean. I explained to him that I was the legal authority of the church, and yet a meeting was being held without taking me into account. I told him I was presiding over the meeting.
Things then got out of control; everyone started talking, particularly Gordon [Ferguson, an elder, prominent teacher/theologian, and frequent troubleshooter for the ICC], Randy [McKean, World Sector Leader for the sector containing Madrid], Steve [Medrano, David's brother] and Ed [Powers, former Evangelist of the Indianapolis Church of Christ who left the ICC in 1994], who exchanged various words in English while I addressed the church in Spanish. I asked them to make it clear if they wanted us to have a proper dialogue between the ICoC leaders and the men I brought in. After about seven minutes, the ICoC leaders left the room, taking about half of the Madrid members with them. The rest stayed to listen to us.
As sad as it was to experience an event like this, we must say that we had few other options if we were to reach all the Madrid members before the ICoC publicly 'marked' us. We are grateful to God that at least half of them were able to hear a very small portion of what we heard, and therefore are in a better position to make informed decisions about their lives and the church they want to belong to.
Finally, we want to express from the depth of our hearts that our protest and departure are not aimed at any man (though we are very concerned about the man at the top and the power he holds in his hands), but are instead aimed at a system we believe God opposes, a system which can easily control and manipulate disciples into living a burdensome life, secure to some extent, but definitely not free. We ask you to hear us out and to do something about this so we can really be instruments used by God to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Galatians 1:6), and not objects of wrath who turn people away from his kingdom. We look forward to the day that the leader of the Movement releases you from bondage, and publicly admits there are millions of Christians outside the ICoC.
Some close to us have said we are deceitful. We apologize if over these days, we felt constrained not to disclose everything on our hearts, but there was much evidence we had to examine carefully, and wisdom and discretion was necessary. In any case, this is not something we planned in advance. However, since we became Christians, we have never ceased asking God to show us the truth, and we believe He has done exactly that. We will continue to be Christians and to help other people become Christians.
We are extremely grateful for your love and do not doubt it. Please question the foundation of your beliefs, examine the system, and the truth will set you free. It is not wrong to listen to the critics. (In fact, how can we even call criticism persecution? It is not.) If we have nothing to hide, let us consider what they have to say, and determine whether it is true or not openly before the whole membership of the Movement.
Your brother in Christ,
Your sister in Christ,
©2000 by David Medrano and Natercia Alves. All rights reserved.