Observations, Assessments, and Proposals regarding Recent events in the International Church of Christ Movement
by Kyle V. Degge
13 March 2003
We who follow the ever engrossing saga of the International Church of Christ Movement, both from without and within its massive walls, stand in a place never before occupied or seen by human eyes. Its a point in time, and in the evolution of the Movement, for which millions have prayed, hoped, and waited, but at the same time, for which very few have prepared. We have endured years of doubt and discouragement, resigned to the apparent inevitability that such a time of sobriety, much less repentance, would never come; yet, here we stand. To witness this moment in time is not unlike the wonder and thrill at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and its client states, or the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa. And, while we know there are humanly rational and logical explanations for such events in history, as people of faith, and a biblical world-view, we know Gods hand has moved to destroy and disintegrate regimes of tyranny and oppression which few, if any, of mere human insight have anticipated.
While I am in the process of authoring what I hope will be a broad, comprehensive, and practically helpful book dealing with these things, I believe the need exists for a relatively brief article simply and clearly setting forth my observations. Why, you may ask, would your thoughts and observations be particularly important or relevant? This is a question I have continually asked myself since God began opening doors for this ministry over fifteen years ago. Sometime in 1988, I made a commitment to God to make myself available as a useful resource to help others hurt and disillusioned by religious tyranny. But along with that commitment came a great responsibility to persistently seek to be humble, honest, up-to-date, and as objective as possible. This has always been absolutely necessary if I am to be of any use to anyone in this holocaust of good intentions gone terribly wrong. Let him who thinks he stands
You may or may not be following recent developments through Christian or secular media, e-mails, Delphi or other online means, phone calls, or other sources. Regardless, it is undeniable that at long last, both rank and file members and leaders at all levels within the ICoC are now admitting many of their sins (both of omission and commission) in such great numbers, and with such sincerity and determination, I am convinced we are, indeed, witnesses to the beginning of the end of the Movement as we have known it. However, what will come out of this mess remains to be seen. It may be better, but could, in many ways, be even worse. Though this child of the Stone-Campbell restoration movement can be traced directly from Gainesville, FL, and the Crossroads Church of Christ, beginning in the early 1970s, until the late 80s, things seemed to be pretty harmless, at least in the minds of most observers. The real metastasis of the deadly discipling cancer had a very specific and obvious beginning.
In 1987, the leaders of the Boston Church of Christ, at the bidding of their lead evangelist, Kip McKean, began raiding and overthrowing (my words; they called it replanting and reconstructing) sister congregations which were in league with them, but not yet subordinate and pledging fealty to McKean and company. Put otherwise, until that time, these churches were still, basically, autonomous, and their leaders were still peers. In 1988, McKean maneuvered into the pope-like role of World Missions Evangelist, thus placing himself in an apostle-like role, and further refining the unapologetically hierarchical system he clearly intended to dominate. In 1994 in Manila, his head trip reached its zenith when he addressed subjects gathered from around the world in a speech loosely extrapolated from the book of Malachi, declaring boldly and without flinching, I am a prophet. In early 1995, in a little-known speech to his most inner sanctum leaders, Kip further radicalized the mien of leadership and its definitions in an atrocious and irresponsible attempt to exposit Matthew 11:12 by declaring preachers and prophets are to be violent men and violent women in their preaching, teaching, and leading of churches. He stressed that leaders (1), as prophets and prophetesses of God (obviously subordinate to the highest prophet-himself) must employ such violence if they were to rightly and successfully lead the churches he had placed in their charge(2). By September 2001, McKeans odyssey was becoming so unraveled and bizarre, he took a sabbatical in his papal role, and almost exactly one year later, resigned as the leader of Gods modern-day movement. Soon thereafter, a unity and governance meeting was convened, and while the remaining World Sector Leaders clearly hoped to forge some semblance of order in the midst of their chaos, by most accounts Ive been able to glean, the meeting was a resounding failure. What has come to pass is a rumbling, tumbling confederation of tens of thousands of people and hundreds of congregations in confusion, hurt, anger, and disarray, cut loose from the moorings to which they have been so harshly driven, and increasingly ready for revolution. Undoubtedly, there exists as great a potential for even more evil and harm as for good, and unless people of good faith in any position to be of help are willing to strike while the iron is hot, this opportunity for good to prevail may forever be lost, and history will, and should, be quite unforgiving of our negligence and failure to all give our very best to be helpful, and part of the solution.
Perhaps, if you could read the amazing letter (about as long as the brief letter of Hebrews!) by Henry Kriete [pronounced like Crete] entitled Honest to God, you would appreciate the 8.5 magnitude earthquake which has hit the ICoC. Never before has such divisiveness, such spiritual pornography (their terminology) been permitted such wide circulation, thorough hearing, or high regard among the membership of the Movement. While Kriete incorrectly implies he is the first to so comprehensively catalog the sins of the ICoC, he does, repeatedly, hit nail after nail squarely on the head in his analysis. And, there are two words in his tome that give great hope to me. He repeatedly asserts that these sins are systemic and endemic to the very fabric and essence of the Movement. For as long as any of us can remember, the only acceptable attributions as the causal roots of problems and abuses in the ICoC have been personal sin and inadequate discipling / training. The fact Kriete has finally confronted these problems as intrinsic to the root designs and intentions of the Movement is nothing less than phenomenal, and affords considerable cause to be very hopeful. If you havent yet seen this letter, its available on web sites, such as http://home.earthlink.net/~guyloginin/ICCdocs.html, REVEAL (click here), and others. By all means, download and digest it right away!
What does this mean?
I refer you to ten charges I have made against the leadership of the ICoC for years, first compiled for use in counseling settings in 1994 (3):
I make the following charges against the principle participants in the formal leadership heirarchy of the International Church of Christ Movement. I want to stress that several of these are realities of which many of the rank and file members of the Movement would have no conscious awareness, though their participation in this system, no matter how unwitting, serves to support. However, I do charge the formal leaders with the responsibility for the intentionality and perpetuation of these offenses.
I charge the top leaders of the ICC Movement with:
- Mishandling and distorting (twisting) the Scriptures and their meanings, with great consistency and persistence, to reinforce their biased doctrines.
- Systematically and deliberately misrepresenting themselves and many of their ends (i.e., goals and purposes) to both grassroots members and outsiders.
- Offering whats called unconditional love for a price (i.e., thorough compliance of the would-be convert), amounting, in net effect, to spiritual prostitution.
- As a result of the practice of marketing this conditional love, painting and promoting a practical picture of God as a Cosmic Pimp. (This is strong language, but they have done all they have done, including much abusive behavior, with the bold assertion that God has sent them out to do it. How would you express that in an unvarnished way?)
- Distorting many facts of their history to dishonestly inflate and embellish their all-important image (another name for this is revisionism, and most tyrants and scoundrels in history have practiced it).
- Damaging, or even destroying, the relationships of family, marriage, and friendship with shocking regularity.
- Maliciously attacking the character and reputation of any critics who dare to take persistent stands even to question them, not to mention oppose them.
- Maliciously denying the legitimacy and reality of other devoted Christians and churches.
- Generally exploiting and manipulating people in these ways on a consistent, worldwide basis. (In other words, they may not all be the same in degree, but they are in kind.) And finally,
- Refusing almost all repeated, sincere attempts, for many years, to establish reasonable dialogue re. mistakes that have supposedly been made (and continue to be made) by ICC leaders.
I fully realize such charges are very blunt, shocking, and, undoubtedly, offensive to many. For the therapeutic purposes I have employed them, they are intended to be all three, but they are, above all, the truth, and to almost any honest member of the ICoC, they are self-evident. Through the years, I have stressed to those with whom Ive counseled that if these charges are trumped up or exaggerated, I am the most evil man theyve ever met; that to dare make such harsh charges against something that is, indeed, Gods one true modern-day movement would have to originate from the very bowels of hell. But, Ive further said that if even some of them are obviously and undeniably true, then there can be no way people of good faith and character can further ignore, diffuse, dilute, or equivocate such grave sins.
I submit, now, that Henry Krietes letter, as well as many other letters of apology currently being penned by leaders of the International Church of Christ, totally vindicate and affirm the legitimacy of my ten charges. That these things are systemic and endemic cannot be ignored any longer, and we stand at a crossroads (no pun intended) of choosing what to do, now, to make things better (or worse). From this point forward, we are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.
What must be done?
The fact you are still reading this implies you accept at least some kind of spiritual and moral responsibility to do more than just lay this article aside, and walk casually away. Knowledge and awareness intrinsically imply responsibility. All honest Americans now, since 9/11/2001, realize this more than ever before. There were hints and bits and pieces of alarming evidence known to many different authorities prior to 9/11, but because we were not vigilant as a nation, more than 3000 innocent victims paid the ultimate price of our national apathy.
In Gods kingdom, it is the same. We have to be wise, continuing to examine our actions, our attitudes, and our motives, and we must not just throw up our hands in a sigh of relief and declare, Well, thank the Lord thats over! Its far from over, dear friends and brethren, and if we hope to avoid standing in even greater shock and horror at the rim, so to speak, of a yawning mass grave of shattered faith, lives, relationships, and futures, we have to keep our wits, now more than ever. We have to pursue sobriety, truth, and integrity as never before. We must have the courage to face facts, and utterly commit ourselves to understand how such a violent, brutal, vicious system of religious machinery came to pass in the first place. And, especially for those of us in mainstream Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, facing the realities of what is deeply and intrinsically rooted in the soil of our own heritage, we must equally commit ourselves to never have any part or complicity in something so terrible again.
Knowing what to think of events and statements is daunting, to say the least. There is so much to digest, and since its impossible to know the motives of others, there will remain some things we simply cannot know. I have been struggling with both when and what to write about this for many months. Not wanting to say or write things which would do more harm than good, I have done my best to remain relatively silent. Only recently has it all begun to gel for me. The editors of REVEAL have posed four very good questions (4) regarding ICoC members and leaders as per recent developments:
While I agree these are great questions, I believe others remain to be asked, and answered. They would include:
I wish I could say I know the answers to these questions, and others that need to be asked, but, alas, I do not. For over fifteen years, I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, in almost every state in the U. S., and in several foreign countries, appealing to people of faith everywhere I go to make ongoing commitments to prepare for this day as if it would come. Ive often felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall! We, in the Christian community at large, have not been willing to commit ourselves to such preparation because we have lacked an adequate understanding of the gravity of this problem, as well as the foresight to see what a great need almost certainly lay ahead. Now, we know its certain, but were profoundly unprepared.
We casually stand, today, with our hands in our pockets, very little aware of the countless thousands of anguished, bleeding souls all around us. We lack any meaningful strategy or commitment of resources to be of much use. Whether its too late to respond, now, I do not know. But, I believe with all my heart we must, even at this late hour, give our all to try. Will we make the most of this amazing and unprecedented opportunity, or, in the end, be guilty of the worst kind of apathy and irrelevance? Only time and deeds will tell.
Here am I; send me
Since God delivered me from the tyranny of this movement in 1987, I have come to love the picture of the prophets conversion to humility in Isaiah 6. For five chapters before, Isaiah readily takes up the mantle of being the prophet, and again and again, cries out against the sins of Israel with the words, Woe to you Then, in chapter 6, its as if (as I see it) God says to Isaiah, Isaiah, would you come to my office for a few minutes? There, in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord. Youre, most likely, familiar with this story, but by way of reminder, the upshot of it is, after being driven to his face in Gods presence (which happens to all who truly encounter the presence and majesty and glory of God), he cries out, Woe to me; for I am ruined a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips. And you know the rest. God stands him up, dusts him off, and as if he puts his arm around Isaiah in partnership, asks, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then, apparently, without hesitation, Isaiah answers, Here am I. Send me.
It was sometime during 1988 when the Lord burned this burden for others like myself, sincerely and thoroughly caught up on the vortex of youthful zeal and misguided appetites, into my broken and bleeding heart. At that time, I was deep in my own wilderness of recovery from my nightmare-sojourn into the Boston Movement. Almost everything I thought I had known, for certain-for sure-had been challenged, questioned, or shattered beyond repair. How could I have been so wrong? How could I have become part of something that does so much harm to the weak, innocent, and truly humble? How did I ever get from where Ive been to where I now am?
There were only three things, at the genesis of my recovery, which I could not deny, and thus, still knew for sure: 1) there is a God; 2) Jesus is the Son of God; 3) the Bible is Gods revelation of himself and his will in human language. Beyond those three things, I could not be certain. I was very fortunate. Many hundreds I have met through the years were no longer even certain of those things once they were blown out the tailpipe of the ruthless machinery of this system.
God rescued me, my shattered wife, my precious children, and happily, many of our fellow pilgrims from the bondage in which we were ensnared. I learned and lived the experience of Isaiah, in that most of my life, I had been very quick to point a bony finger of judgment at those around me, and utter Woe to you for all their flaws, failings, and errors. Now, I realized I had been just as wrong and just as deserving of judgment as anyone I had ever condemned. I answered the call God placed upon my heart at that time, and said, God, please use me to help anyone, any time, anywhere who needs to be helped by the things youve shown, and continue to show, me. God answered that petition by forging from the worst decision I made in my life (i.e., to align myself with the Movement in the first place) a ministry which has taken me to never before imagined places and people for the purpose of service and ministry. Only on rare occasions has my phone and e-mail fallen silent for long in these fifteen-plus years, but this is so much larger than any one man.
I am willing, now more than ever, to go anywhere, any time, to help anyone possible, but I cannot do it alone. I am attempting to make contacts with people of good will within the ICoC to make offers to come in and help. I dont, at this moment, know where that will lead, if anywhere, but I am fairly certain my offers wont be accepted everywhere. Even if they were, I cant go everywhere! I believe two things are needed to maximize any impact I, and any who wish to work in partnership with me, can have:
I am here, and willing to be sent, but Im only one guy. There are, certainly, others with considerable and qualified experience in this arena of ministry, but most of them have moved on to other things. If thats what the Lord is calling them to, God bless them, but if some are similarly burdened with this need of the moment, then now is the time, more than ever, to gird up your loins, and prepare for this battle. One more thing we can know for sure: Satan wont be idle in his schemes to insure the destruction of every ICoC member he can possibly accost.
But, can I really make a difference?
If you want to help, there may, very well, be opportunities literally staring you in the face. If you dont quite know what to do, Ill help you in any way I can. Most people familiar with both the Movement and my ministry tell me, that, given my extensive experience ministering to this problem, I have important contributions to make. With that knowledge, experience, and ability comes great responsibility, and Im ready to step forward and do my very best. The rest is in Gods hands.
Further, over Memorial Day Weekend, beginning Thursday evening, May 23, and continuing through Monday morning, May 26, I will host whosoever will come to Highland, IL for the first of several training meetings to prepare those wanting to understand and equip to join in this urgent ministry. I anticipate that this meeting will be an opportunity for much mutual instruction and encouragement, humility, healing, and worship. There will be intensive Bible study, role-playing/skills training, panel discussions, and small group exercises. Through it all, I believe we can establish a prototype for additional training weekends in months to come, and further into the future. This will not only have relevance to the ICoC, but will be applicable to ministry to all destructive, control-obsessed groups and relationships.
I would offer that sooner, but anticipate being quite busy between now and then, with my local ministry, other ministry opportunities, and with completion and publication of my book. My goal is to have the book completed in time to be available Memorial Day. Please pray for me, for everyone everywhere attempting to minister to this mess, and most of all, for the many tens of thousands of members of the International Church of Christ who desperately need help, healing, and answers to their burning questions and urgent needs.
One last thing
Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, Immanuel, came to seek and save that which was lost in just such a time as this. The corrupt, pious, oppressive and abusive system of the Pharisees was in shambles, but still desperately lashing out and thrashing those who dared challenge its primacy or authority. Even those who had been crushed by its tyranny were reluctant, fearful, confused, and more than a little groggy from a lifetime of living in the haze and maze of its legalistic corridors. But, Jesus came anyway. He fought a tireless, frustrating, thankless battle for the freedom of the human spirit, to restore us back to the liberty and dignity of our Eden estate. And they hung him on a cross.
Will we ask the question, now, What would Jesus do? and allow the question to be more than a cliché, but instead, a compelling principle in our allocation of help and aid to the countless refugees needing to find the healing love, grace, and mercy of Jesus extended from and among his people? Are we, like Jesus, willing to suffer greatly for the sake of the nobility of shining the light of freedom in the darkest of corridors-that of empty, futile religion? Are we, like Jesus, willing to do good, just because its the right thing to do, and even if those we help never attend our services, give their money, or integrate into our fellowship. Will we do good for its own sake? Will we ? May God bless us all as we seek ways to help, striving to do as little harm as possible, and find out the answers to these questions. Father, glorify your name.
Kyle writes: For more information about this ministry, or to get contact information, you can go to our FreeNDeed Ministries web site, www.freendeed.org, e-mail Kyle at email@example.com, his secretary, Peggy Knebel at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 618-654-9609.
1 The term leader in the ICoC applies to everything from the most menial leader of a small group study all the way up to the leader of the Movement, as McKean grew fond of calling himself.
2 It is axiomatic in the ICoC that no one is entrusted with any significant role of leadership (i.e., salaried) if McKean doesnt want them there. In this system, no one is simply called by God, and obedient to that call. Either youre called by higher leadership, or not at all.
3 For more elaboration, clarification, or to inquire of the nature of the evidence on these charges, feel free to contact me, or better still, read all about it in the book I will soon be publishing.
4 See Reveal.org
5 There are actually many more than this; somewhere between three quarters of a million and a million former members, alone. When we add all collateral relationships to that, the staggering number of victims ranges into the millions.
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