The ICC Bible Studies: A Critical Analysis
(Revised 2002 Edition)

by Dave Anderson <>

“Early on I developed a series consisting of nine Bible studies on the ‘first principles’ (Hebrews 6:1-3).”

-- Kip McKean, 1992; see full quote

Each prospective member of the International Churches of Christ (ICC, ICOC) goes through a series of Bible studies. This article will examine the First Principles studies and find that they are a system of indoctrination that manipulates the commitment of individuals to serve the interests of the group. Originally published on REVEAL in 1997, this paper has been revised to include newly discovered ICC material about the studies, and also to clarify that the studies themselves are the subject of criticism -- not the members who teach them.



The "First Principles" Bible studies of the International Churches of Christ (ICC) were examined. Each study in the series seeks agreement to a set of concepts or challenges. The individual studies were seen to make use of scripture twisting, illogical arguments, and emotional manipulation to gain agreement. As the series progresses, studies were found to seek increasingly significant commitments from the student. The series as a whole was seen to make use of graduated, incremental disclosure. The studies were found to manipulate the student's capacity for voluntary consent to the material, systematically narrowing his or her options until the only acceptable choice is to become a member of the group.

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[Note: The sincere beliefs of ICC members or their motives are not the focus of this analysis. Members likely have the best intentions in teaching the series. The focus here is on the study content devised by ICC leadership, and how the study series can be manipulative – regardless of the sincerity of the teacher.]

According to the ICC organization, founder Kip McKean devised the First Principles Bible study series in 1979, although in it has since been "fine-tuned to meet specific needs": (1)

“Early on I developed a series consisting of nine Bible studies on the ‘first principles’ (Hebrews 6:1-3). The members of the church were called to memorize these studies and then teach others to become Christians.”

Kip McKean (World Missions Evangelist), “Revolution Through Restoration, Upside Down, April 1992, p. 7.

This article will examine the ICC Bible studies, looking not only at the ICC’s teachings, but the method used to teach them. (It is not always the doctrines in the series that are troubling, but they way they are used: the presentation of doctrine is manipulated to gain the student’s agreement to the doctrine.)

We will not attempt to present the entire content of the series, but will focus on areas of concern. Multiple ICC sources will be used for the studies, since different versions of the studies can be more representative, or more revealing of ICC teachings. (Two of the most-cited ICC sources will be McKean’s First Principles and Doug Jacoby’s Shining Like Stars.) The "Scriptures Used" listed at the beginning of each study will also be compiled from multiple sources.

The actual sequence of ICC studies will vary in different published sources and in individual practice, as will exact content of an ICC study. The names of some studies may differ between ICC congregations, although the content of the studies is generally similar. Depending on progress of a prospective member, some studies may skipped or repeated.

Throughout this analysis, the ICC member leading each study will be called the "study leader." The prospective member will be called the "student" or "recruit."

[To see a reference outline of the First Principles studies posted on the ICC's Web site, click here.]

Related Topics on RightCyberUp:

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Overview of the Studies

The Word of God Study

Scriptures Used: II Timothy 3: 16-17, Hebrews 4: 12-13, II Peter 1: 19-21, John 8: 31-32, Mark 7: 1-13, Matthew 15: 12-14, Acts 17: 10-12, John 12: 47-48.

Intended as an initial study, the Word Study's subject matter is mostly non-controversial. The major points of the study center around the authority of the Bible ("God's Word"). However, much of the study paves the way for the student to accept the authority of the ICC.

Since many Bible passages will be used during the study series, the study leader begins with a passage to establish the entire Bible as a source of truth, II Timothy 3: 16-17: (2) “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Although this passage says that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” it is important to note that it doesn't say all interpretations of scripture are inspired. Similarly, while II Timothy 3: 16-17 says that “all Scripture is . . .useful”, it does not follow logically that all uses of scripture are correct. One who believes the entire Bible is inspired must still beware that scripture can be "read into," misapplied, or quoted out of context – something to keep in mind as we examine each of the ICC Bible studies.

The Word Study subtly prepares the student to absorb ICC teachings. For example, one of the conclusions taken from II Peter 1: 19-21 (“…no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.”) is that "There is no private interpretation of the Bible."(3) (The ICC’s conclusion doesn’t follow logically from the NIV passage – see Role of Interpretation on RightCyberUp). If the student cannot have a "private interpretation" of a scripture, then evidently he or she will be expected to accept the ICC’s interpretation. Thus the student’s understanding of the Bible can be influenced, by controlling the choice and sequence of scriptures presented, with the study leader interpreting meaning along the way. In lieu of any personal interpretation, the student becomes likely to accept the group's interpretation.

[For examples of ICC interpretation problems beyond the study series, see ICC Interpretations and ICC vs. the Bible on RightCyberUp.]

A process of dismantling the student's belief system begins with the Word Study. Mark 7: 1-13 may be presented: “. . .You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” This scripture paves the way for the study leader to question the student’s religious traditions in future studies. Kip McKean says not to examine specific practices during this study, but instead to get a commitment from the student to abandon traditions in general:

“Now, do not get into any specific discussions about certain traditions. What you’re doing in this study is laying the groundwork for Sam, so that when he does face traditions that, are contradicted in the word of God [according to later ICC studies], then he is going to say, ‘Now hold it, I’ve already made a decision to go by the Word of God and not by my traditions, so I’m going to give up my traditions and I will accept the teachings in God’s word in this area.’ So, don’t get into specifics at this point…”

Kip McKean, First Principles: The Word of God, DPI, Woburn, MA, Tape # 10068, recorded 1985.

conclusions and consequences...

Some potential effects of the Word Study’s conclusions/challenges are as follows:

  • Conclusion: All scripture is useful, and is to be applied to our lives. Prepares the student to accept the use of the many Bible passages in the study series.
  • Conclusion: “There is no private interpretation of the Bible.” (4) Induces the student to accept the ICC’s interpretation of the Bible passages that are presented.
  • Challenge: "Will you go by the Word of God instead of by your religious traditions?" (5) Prepares the student to begin questioning his or her religious traditions so they can eventually be replaced by the beliefs/traditions of the ICC.
  • Challenge: "Will you go by what the Bible says rather than your feelings?" (6) Prompts the student to trust the teachings of the study series more than his or her own feelings.

Although students may believe they are simply being asked to "follow the Bible,” in reality they will be asked to adopt the ICC belief system, one step at a time.

As the study comes to a close, it will challenge the recruit to make "the Word" his or her "standard.”(7) In this way, the Word Study indirectly gains a commitment from the student to accept the group's interpretation of truth. Students who accept this challenge have taken the first step toward becoming members of the International Churches of Christ.

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The Discipleship Study

Scriptures Used: Acts 11: 19-26, Mark 1: 14-18, Luke 9: 23-26, Luke 14: 25-33, Luke 11: 1-4, Matthew 28: 18-20.

The Discipleship Study may be perceived by the student as a well-meaning attempt to encourage them toward a deeper commitment to Jesus. However, the study seems designed primarily to show that the student has never been a disciple, is not a Christian, and is not "saved." One printed version of the study says its purpose is "To help the religious person see that he is not a Christian. (In other words, he may be a Christian as society defines the word, but not as the Bible does.)"(8) Clearly, any person outside the group – even "the religious person" – is assumed in need of salvation.

The study leader may begin by explaining that the word "disciple" appears 270+ times in the New Testament vs. only three appearances of the word "Christian".(9) Then the leader presents the student with the following equation:

"Disciple = Christian = saved."(10)

The ICC derives “Disciple=Christian=saved” from Acts 11: 26, "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." The Discipleship Study reasons that the earliest believers were called disciples before they were ever called Christians, therefore, one can’t be a Christian without being a disciple; one must be a disciple to be saved, etc. But in the context of Acts 11, this verse seems to be more about location than salvation – it parenthetically notes Antioch as the place that the disciples were first given the nickname “Christians.”

thoughts on Acts 11:26...

Acts 11:26 ("the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch”) does not mean that a person must be called a “disiciple” in order to be a Christian. If we consider the grammatically parallel statement, “Bill was first called ‘Scuzzy’ at summer camp,” we see that a person would be in error to conclude that “One must be named ‘Bill’ in order to be called ‘Scuzzy,’” or vice versa. The whole point of the sentence was to tell you where Bill got his nickname. Although Acts 11:26 does imply that "disciple" and "Christian" are both viable terms which mean the same thing, the New Testament Christians are referred to with several different names, including "disciples," "believers," "Christians,” "brothers," "sisters," etc. In fact, the word "disciple" – and all its forms – is conspicuously absent from all of the epistles (letters) of the New Testament. The fact that "disciple" is not used in 22 of the 27 New Testament books would indicate that adopting the name "disciple" is not integral to Christianity.

If discipleship and Christianity are truly synonymous as the ICC equation “Disciple = Christian” implies, then what purpose does it serve to shift students’ focus from one term (Christian) to the other (disciple)? It seems that by defining Christian = disciple, this study prompts recruits to redefine and reshape their spiritual identity according to the ICC’s terms. Most students coming into the study already have an idea of what a Christian is, and whether they are one. But after presenting the ICC’s concept of discipleship, the Discipleship Study will ask recruits “Are you a disciple?” Most students will answer that they’re not disciples – not Christians – sometimes to their own surprise. (The ICC teaches study leaders to use the Disciple=Christian=saved equation as basis for a damning logic chain: if recruits aren’t doing what the ICC defines a disciple to do, then they’re not Christians, and they’re not saved.)

In truth, the way the Discipleship Study is presented, it would be a surprise if any student would be considered a disciple by the ICC. Dan Conner, leading a New York “equipping class” on how to teach the studies, outlines just one impossible standard of the Discipleship Study:

“If someone’s not denying himself every single day. If someone’s not asking himself the question, ‘Okay, what would Jesus do’ and if his [own] will goes against it, saying, ‘…I’m going to do what Jesus wants.’ If someone’s not living that way every single day, is that person living the life of a disciple? No. So is that person a Christian? No. So is that person saved? No.

Dan Conner (Geographic Sector Leader), Discipleship, Equipping Classes for Men,, New York, 1996.

Actually, Conner here uses a fallacy of argumentation called Argument by Demanding Impossible Perfection. It will always be possible to argue that a student didn’t deny himself every day or give up everything for God. If ICC study leaders raise the bar high enough, no incoming students will ever qualify as “disciples.” (11)

The Discipleship Study outlines the ICC's view of what a disciple is through a subtle blend of scripture and ICC interpretation. To the ICC, disciples according to Mark 1:14-18 must be “fishers of men” (see Evangelism by Compulsion on RightCyberUp). Disciples must carry their cross daily (Luke 9: 23-26) and “count the cost” before becoming a disciple (Luke 14: 25-33). According to the movement’s interpretation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 18-20), a disciple must be “discipled” by another person(12) (see Mandatory, Assigned One-Over-One Discipling on RightCyberUp). The Discipleship Study – and the ICC – tend to teach discipleship as a compulsory checklist of requirements, rather than a simple state of trying to follow Jesus.

Some versions of the Discipleship Study include the problematic teaching that only “disciples” can be baptized. In First Principles the teaching is phrased like this:

"Who is a candidate for baptism? Disciples." (13)

This creates striking contradictions with other ICC teachings. If we take this statement and make logical substitutions from the ICC equation disciple = Christian = saved, we could derive the following statements:

"Who is a candidate for baptism? Christians,” or,

"Who is a candidate for baptism? (People who are already) saved."

But these statements conflict with ICC doctrine: according to First Principles, "Baptism is when we become a Christian,"(14) and "[baptism] is the point in time a person is saved." (15) The doctrine of disciple's baptism is not internally consistent.

[For a more thorough discussion, see Disciples' Baptism on RightCyberUp.]

At the end of the study, students will be asked if they are a disciple, if they are a Christian, and if they are saved. Conner gives a verbatim of how he would close the Discipleship Study:

“Okay now, based on all of this stuff that we’ve looked at today, seeing that a disciple is someone who asks ‘What would Jesus do?’ and then does it. A disciple is someone who fishes for men – that’s what their life is about, going out and helping other people to learn about Jesus. A disciple is someone who denies himself – someone who says no to himself when it gets in the way of God. A disciple is someone who puts Jesus – puts God – number one in his life. A disciple is someone who has given up everything, including things like gossip and impurity and lust and masturbation, things like that. A disciple is someone who loves people like Jesus loves, who pulls people aside and tells them the truth about their lives… Finally, a disciple is someone who is part of God’s plan – they’re out there making disciples, baptizing them and staying in their lives, teaching them to obey everything.

Based on all of that, would you say that up until this point, you’ve been living the life of a disciple? …Most definitely, probably the answer will be, if they’re like any religious person I’ve every studied with, ‘No.’

“‘So are you a Christian?’ ‘No.

“‘Are you saved?’ ‘No.

“‘Do you want to be?’ ‘Yes.’

“‘Do you want to be a disciple?’ ‘Yes.’ And that’s where you end the study.

Dan Conner, Discipleship, 1996.

Since students have been presented a standard of discipleship that is either idiosyncratic (16) or impossible, the inevitable answer is that the student is “not a disciple.” If students do not admit that they are “lost,” variations of the study will be taught until they either declare that they are not saved or quit studying.

When successful, no matter who students are and regardless of their religious background, the Discipleship Study will "prove" that they are in need of salvation as defined by the group. Following studies will demonstrate the need for baptism into the ICC.

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The Kingdom Study

Scriptures Used: Daniel 2:31-45, Is 2:2-3, Matthew 3:1-5, Matthew 4:17, John 3:1-5, Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 23: 50-51, Luke 24: 44-49, Acts 1:1-19, Acts 2:1-5, Acts 2:36-39, Acts 2: 42-47, I Corinthians 3:11, Matthew 6: 25-33.

The purpose of the Kingdom Study is to show that the "kingdom of heaven" or "kingdom of God" spoken of in the Bible means "the church.” The student will be challenged to "seek the kingdom" (ICC) first in his or her life.

The Kingdom Study begins with the study leader linking different Bible prophecies about the "kingdom” to reach the conclusion that "the church is the Kingdom of God on earth established in approximately 33 AD."(17) The study cites several scriptures to support this conclusion(18) but leaves out other scriptures that would disprove it (see The Kingdom = The Church? on RightCyberUp).

Like many of the studies, the Kingdom Study walks a fine line between "outer doctrine" and "inner doctrine." The study leader might not openly teach that the ICC is the Kingdom of God (which the organization claims). The leader of the study might instead point out similarities between the ICC and the New Testament church in Acts 2:42-47 to conclude that ICC members are "citizens of the Kingdom."(19) The belief that the ICC is the Kingdom may be revealed to the recruit later though a process of elimination – e.g., later the Denominationalism and False Doctrines Study will claim that no other church today is part of the kingdom, or the Church Study will "prove" that there can only be one church.

This gradual steering of students toward “the truth” has been encouraged by ICC leaders. For instance, Kip McKean has suggested that study leaders begin to subtly challenge Catholic students about the role of Peter (whom Roman Catholics regard as the first Pope) during the Kingdom Study:

“And I think it’s a good time to perhaps challenge your Catholic friends just a bit about some of their Catholic doctrine, but not to hit it hard. Just to hit it, make the statement, and move on… “

Kip McKean, First Principles: The Kingdom of God, DPI, Woburn, MA, Tape # 10068, 1995.

The successful Kingdom Study will convince the student to put the group (Kingdom) above all other priorities in life (see The Kingdom = the Church? on RightCyberUp), as the unstated equation, church = kingdom is applied to Matthew 6: 25-33 (“seek first his kingdom"). Actual notes from a Kingdom Study session betray this emphasis:

“Seek the kingdom first of all the things in your life, all your obligations, all your worries. The kingdom of God -- his church -- should come first. It will be your priority or you are disobeying God.”

Study notes of ICC member, November 1994, emphasis member.

In this way the ICC uses the Kingdom Study to produce devotion to the group.

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Sin and Repentance

Scriptures Used: Isaiah 59: 1&2, Romans 3:23, James 5:16, Galatians 5:19-21, II Timothy 3:1-5, Ephesians 5: 3-7, Revelation 21:8, James 4:17, Romans 6:23, Mark 9:42-50, Luke 13: 1-5, Acts 26: 20, II Corinthians 7: 8-11

The Sin & Repentance Study comes in various names and forms, including separate “Sin” and “Repentance” studies,(20) Light & Darkness Part I(21) or even Sin & Redemption. (22) In this highly personalized study, the leader will define sins and discuss examples from his or her own (usually pre-conversion) background, and then ask the student to detail his or her own sins:

“Go through the specific sins, defining terms where necessary. Discuss in detail such sins as sexual immorality (adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, fantasies, incest, lust, pornography, abortion, child abuse…) greed (materialism, selfishness), malice (grudges, refusal to forgive), deceit (lies, deceptiveness, work ethic), lewdness (language, dress), envy, slander, etc.”

Douglas Jacoby (Kingdom Teacher), Shining Like Stars: The Evangelism Handbook for the New Millennium, mil. ed., Woburn, MA: DPI, 2000, pp. 103-104.

The study is supposed to bring the student to a point of "godly sorrow,"(23) and the process can be upsetting. Maria Rogers once taught a women’s leaders’ class on how to produce “godly sorrow” in female recruits:

“Do you know how embarrassing and shameful it is to talk about your sin in a specific way? To have to detail it – it’s so awful, it’s so shameful. Instead of, ‘Yeah, I’ve done this.’ That’s easy. We need to talk to women as we go through sexual immorality, we need to ask them – and talk to them first about what sexual immorality is. You know, that it’s immorality of course, in various forms, homosexuality, adultery, and just get real specific, masturbation, petting, all of the sins….

“And you need to ask them specific questions. It’s not enough just to know that they’ve been involved in sexual immorality. How many times? How many men have they been involved with? How many women have they been involved with? You know, how many times have they been pregnant?

”…Not only have you had an abortion, how many?

Maria Rogers (Geographic Sector Leader - Women), Producing Godly Sorrow, Boston World Missions Seminar audiotape, September 2, 1988.

[Note: Dan Conner in a New York “Equipping Class” recommended a less invasive method, saying that not every instance of sexual immorality needs to be discussed.(24)]

Generally, the scripture used by the ICC to justify one-another confession is James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” However, considering the surrounding verses, this passage appears to have been taken out of context (see Mandatory Confession on RightCyberUp). James 5:16 in context does not seem to command a confession to others of all sins, especially considering that there is no other verse in the New Testament that specifically mentions confession of sins to others.

[For more on the manipulative power of shame and confession, see ICC Emotional Control on RightCyberUp.]

Definitions assigned to sins in the Sin & Repentance Study may in turn become guidelines of acceptable behavior for those who join the group. Some of these same definitions leave potential for later manipulation by leadership:

“Idolatry: anything that I put before God. . .It is whatever keeps me from obeying and following God in every way. . .big bank balance. . .my own pleasure and wants. . .pride. . .”

“Discord: stirring up trouble. . .arguing. . .”

“Selfish ambition: wanting my own way. . .refusing to admit that I am wrong. . .”

“Dissensions: . . .arguing, causing division, starting arguments, stirring up trouble.” (25)

Before progressing to future studies covering baptism, the student will need to demonstrate his or her repentance:

“We have already warned against the premature study of baptism. Again it is essential that you study conversion only with people who are serious about their repentance.” [emphasis Jacoby]

“If you establish their need for forgiveness beforehand [before studying baptism], you will turn baptism into a joyfully simple solution rather than a doctrinal technicality of 'your church.'”

Douglas Jacoby, Shining Like Stars, 2000, pp. 118, 89.

If successful, the Sin and Repentance Study will bring the student to a group-determined standard of "Godly sorrow" about his or her life.

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Light and Darkness

Scriptures Used: I Peter 2:9-10, Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 1:7-8, Romans 8:5-9, Acts 2:36-41, Romans 6:3-7, Colossians 2:11-12, Ezekiel 18: 19-20, I Peter 3:21

The Light and Darkness study (sometimes called the Baptism Study) outlines the ICC’s doctrine of baptism. The study leader will present scriptures to support the ICC belief that baptism is the point of Christian salvation (e.g. Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, Colossians 2:11-12, I Peter 3:21). The leader may draw a timeline on paper, illustrating that, regardless of any earlier conversion experience or infant baptism, the recruit is still "in darkness" until baptized into the group.

The doctrine of salvation through baptism, known to scholars as baptismal regeneration, will not be discussed in detail here, because RightCyberUp devotes an entire section the subject.

[See RightCyberUp’s article What About Baptism?]

ICC baptism in practice…

Even without considering the relationship between baptism and salvation, the ICC’s use of baptism is inconsistent with the Bible in at least two areas – the ICC’s prerequisites to studying baptism, and its barriers to getting baptized.

The ICC evangelism handbook Shining Like Stars warns against the "premature study" of baptism for reasons including the risk of turning off recruits by raising the subject too early, that studying baptism too early might allow students’ religious friends to “poison” them against the ICC’s viewpoint,(26) and even that "the New Testament teaching on baptism is not logically intuitive.”(27) Shining Like Stars recommends splitting the baptism material into two studies for “religious” students, saying, “if for some reason your friend does not accept that baptism is essential for salvation, and especially if he thinks he does not need it himself, do not go on to the remaining passages.”(28) [emphasis Jacoby] By contrast, there’s no evidence in the Bible that information about baptism was withheld from prospective converts: in Acts chapter 2, three thousand people were baptized after a single sermon, and most New Testament conversion stories take place in a single day (Acts 2, Acts 8: 26-38, Acts 10: 24-48, Acts 16: 25-34).

Furthermore, the ICC may deny baptism from students who "aren't ready" in leadership’s view (those who haven't fully agreed to important points of ICC doctrine/practice), even though there is no biblical precedent for church authority being used to withhold baptism. (29)

Ultimately, the Light and Darkness Study will ask students if they are in the “light,” or in the “darkness.” If students agree they are “in darkness,” they will proceed either directly to Counting the Cost, or to other studies.

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The Cross Study

Scriptures Used: Matthew 26: 36-75, 27: 1-50, Isaiah 59: 1-2, II Corinthians 5: 21, John 3: 16, 12: 47, I John 1: 5-10, I John 2: 1-6

The ICC says that the Cross Study is designed "To inform the studier of God's solutions to our sin and to motivate the reader to love God."(30) While this goal may sound noble, the emphasis and methods of the Cross Study raise concerns.

In actual practice, the Cross Study can emphasize manipulation over “information.” The unstated goal of the Cross Study seems to be to create a strong state of emotional remorse in students to ready them for conversion – in ICC terms, a recruit “broken” or “cut to the heart.” One edition of First Principles indicates the Cross Study is not producing its intended results unless the student is affected emotionally: "If cut, then fine, if not there is something wrong."(31)

Study leaders typically supplement biblical readings with medical articles on the crucifixion, usually C. Truman Davis’ The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View.(32) True, medical theories on crucifixion may lend insight into Jesus’ sufferings. However, the juxtaposition of Bible verses and medical journal excerpts can intensify the story of the crucifixion, almost to the point of revision. Written study notes of one ICC member show this tendancy: The scripture “They stripped him” becomes “they tore his clothes off.” “They spit on him” becomes “the saliva of 200 men.” “Wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head” becomes “jammed into his scalp.”(33) The Cross Study in Shining Like Stars even includes details about the nails: .” . .nails were driven through Jesus' wrists into the wood. These iron spikes, about six inches long and three-eighths of an inch thick, severed the large sensorimotor nerve, causing excruciating pain in both arms."(34)

Focusing on torturous, emotional aspects of the crucifixion story, the study leader may add anecdotal stories: one story circulating in the movement is about a train bridge, where a man is a switch operator. His son walks out onto the tracks in front of a passenger train. Instead of switching the train off the tracks and killing the passengers, the father allows the train to kill his only son.(35) Such stories provide more than mere insight; they can be used to willfully manipulate the student's emotions. The Cross Study may also be personalized to include the student's sins disclosed in earlier studies: "What have we talked about: last time was sin study. Realize that Jesus suffered and died because of your (immorality, drunkenness, hatred, bitterness)." (36)

Theologically, it is disturbing that the Cross Study de-emphasizes the resurrection. Mainstream Christianity regards the resurrection as a crucial element of the Cross, inseparable from Jesus’ death in it’s importance – as Paul said in I Corinthians 15:14 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Yet the ICC’s Cross Study is largely about the crucifixion at the expense of the resurrection.

The ICC gets its terminology about making recruits “cut to the heart” (Ibid.) from Acts 2: 37: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'” Peter’s reply to this question was: accept the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. By contrast, an ICC recruit who is “cut to the heart” by the Cross Study is not ready to be forgiven, and not ready to be a member (disciple) of the church until more studies are digested.

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Denominationalism and False Doctrines

Scriptures Used: John 17:20 & 21, 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13, 1 Timothy 3: 1-12, 4:1-3,4: 15 & 16, II Timothy 4: 1-5, Titus 1: 5-9, Romans 16: 16, Colossians 1: 18, Matthew 7:21, Ephesians 4:4-6, Hebrews 13: 7, Romans 3:23, Romans 6: 4-6, 1 Corinthians 1: 17, Acts 22: 16, Colossians 2:12, John 8: 31 & 32, Acts 16: 31, Revelation 3: 20, Romans 10: 9-10

This study exists in several different forms, including Light & Darkness Part II,(37) Denominationalism,(38) and False Doctrines About Conversion.(39) The study is intended to be "only done with someone who knows they are lost before God."(40)

The thrust of this study is to show that all (other) Christian denominations are invalid, and guilty of teaching false doctrines. The ICC defines a denomination as "a group of a name,” and says that denominations are "unscriptural."(41) According to the Denominationalism and False Doctrines Study, the religious groups guilty of "false teachings" include: Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, converts of TV ministries, Campus Crusade, Navigators, The Bridge, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.(42) (Note: this list includes practically all of the monotheistic world.)

on exclusivism...

We can see the ICC’s focus on revealing itself as the only legitimate Christian group by looking at the scriptures chosen for this study. Some of the verses are used to support that the ICC is the only remaining remnant of the body of Christ (Romans 16: 16, Colossians 1: 18, Ephesians 4:4-6). Others may be used to aggressively point the finger of blame at (other) denominations (I Timothy 4: 1-3, II Timothy 4: 1-5). Still other verses can be used to suggest that the ICC alone has the correct emphasis on unity (John 17: 20-21, I Corinthians 1: 10-13) or authority in leadership (I Timothy 3: 1-12, Titus 1: 5-9, Hebrews 13: 7). "Problem scriptures" which create problems by appearing to conflict with ICC conversion doctrine (I Corinthians 1:17, Acts 16: 31, Revelations 3: 20, and Romans 10: 9-10) may be reviewed and countered with verses that reinforce the ICC's views (Matthew 7:21, Romans 6: 4-6, Acts 22: 16, Colossians 2:12, John 8:31 & 32).

This study systematically reviews and discredits the teachings of other religions groups, after which the study leader may conclude, "We don't know of any other groups who are teaching and following the Bible."(43) In so doing, this study is effective at prompting students to regard the ICC as the sole source of truth, minimizing any future impact from spiritual support systems outside the ICC. Whether clergy, religious family member or friends, according to the ICC and this study, such people are not to be trusted.

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The Holy Spirit

Scriptures Used: John 3: 34-36, Acts 2:38, Acts 2: 1-4, Acts 10: 1-48, Acts 11: 1-18, Ephesians 4: 4-6, Acts 19: 1-5, Matthew 28: 18-20, Mark 16: 17, Acts 13: 3, Acts 28: 8, Acts 9: 17 & 18, Acts 6: 1-8, Acts 8: 4-8, Acts 8: 9-25, I Corinthians 13: 8-13, II Thessalonians 2: 9-12

Like Denominationalism/False Doctrines, the Holy Spirit Study is designed to refute what the ICC believes to be false doctrines in other religious groups – charismatic Christian groups in particular. For this reason, this study is usually reserved for students with Pentecostal or other charismatic backgrounds.(44) Other recruits might go through this study after conversion, if at all. Sometimes the study is broken down into two separate studies, Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit.(45)

According to the book Shining Like Stars, this material must be taught at the right point in the conversion process:

“Despite the temptation to enter into an involved study of the Holy Spirit with a megareligious person in the early stages of your study with him, don’t! In fact you may need to go easy on the Spirit material until he understands that he is lost. Also, adapt your studies to the megareligious, sharing verses or points that will be helpful in the future, once he realizes he is lost. Instill principles, but do not attack the major issues too early.” [emphasis Jacoby]

Douglas Jacoby, Shining Like Stars, 2000, p. 118.

As we have seen in previous studies, reaching the Holy Spirit Study at all is contingent on the student’s having agreed to material presented earlier.

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The Church Study

Scriptures Used: Colossians 1:15-18, Ephesians 2:19-22, Ephesians 4:4-6, Romans 12:4-5, I Corinthians 1:10-13, 12:12-26, 16:1-2, Hebrews 10:23-25, 13:17, Matthew 28:18-20, II Corinthians 9:6-8, Matthew 18:15-17, Titus 3:9-11, Acts 2:36-47

The Church Study defines the church as the body of Christ, and discusses the student's role as a member of "the body" (ICC). The ICC belief that it is the “one true church” may be introduced to prospective converts in this study, after previously being withheld. Kip McKean has instructed members not to introduce the “one church” teaching too early:

“I believe that one of the things we’ve got to learn to do in the Lord’s church is not to jump on our denominational friends on the issues of baptism and the one church too quickly.”

Kip McKean, Book of Acts Overview: Chapters 9-18, DPI, Tape # 10074, recorded 1985.

Generally, the study leader will begin by drawing a stick figure to illustrate that Christ is the "head" of the "body,” and that the "body" is the "church."(46) Then, after reading Bible passages about "one body,” the study leader may conclude that "The Bible teaches there is one true church."(47) This conclusion results from a subtle "twisting" of scripture. The ICC's "proof" would look like this:

But the Church Study makes the mistake of confusing a church organization with the church universal. In Premise I (above), the word “church” (Greek ekklesia in Colossians 1:18) is used in the non-organizational sense of the original Greek. Yet in the Conclusion (IV), “church” means something different: a church organization rather than the church universal. In a sort of semantic shell game, the meaning of the word “church” has been switched.

Notice that in the following false “proof,” a similar error is made, changing the meaning of the word “blind:”

Similar to what the Church Study has done, this proof changes the meaning of “blind” between Premise II (“blind” = non-discriminatory) and Premise III (“blind” = sightless). We should not be surprised that this proof also has a flawed conclusion. ICC leadership makes a similar mistake by confusing a church organization (the ICC) with the church universal (see The Church).

[For analysis of the logic of some other ICC claims, see Logic and the ICC on RightCyberUp]

The Church Study teaches future ICC members that they "must come to all services. i.e. Sunday, Wednesday, Devotionals, Bible Talks, Retreats, Seminars, etc."(48) This rule results from a questionable interpretation of Hebrews 10: 23-25 (see Mandatory Attendance on RightCyberUp). Some versions of the Church Study may disclose additional, inner ICC teachings that reinforce the authority of ICC leaders while also being subject to leadership’s future interpretation:

Obey the leaders in the church. . . each member of the church is to be a persuadable, leadable person. . .”

“If there is still no change or repentance [regarding a particular sin] and you choose to remain in fellowship, then we will withdraw from you and no longer consider you a member. . .”

“negatively running down the church or leaders to other members is sinful and will not be permitted. . .”(49)

Overall, by teaching that the ICC itself is "the church"/body of Christ, the Church Study solidifies the student's commitment to the organization and its policies.

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Counting the Cost

The ICC takes the term "counting the cost" from a King James scripture quote of Jesus saying people should first estimate the cost of being his follower:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14: 28, emphasis added)

on cost-counting...

Actually, the term "counting the cost" is never used in the New International Version (NIV) Bible, the unofficial translation of the movement. This term is apparently old King James Version (KJV) language held over from the movement’s early history. The KJV says “counteth the cost” whereas the NIV says “estimate the cost."

In contrast to Jesus’ words about “estimating the cost,” the ICC’s Counting the Cost study can be a more extensive process, in which the group evaluates prospective converts to determine if they are ready to join the ICC. Although the student’s willingness to follow Jesus is one thing under examination, we can see there is much more in the following quotes from one Counting the Cost study:(50)

Evaluating the student's opinions of the ICC…

"Ask, ‘What is the greatest difference you see between the church [ICC] and other groups?’"

Checking that the convert's worldview conforms to the ICC's:

"Taking a Stand with Family and Friends
- Does he understand that family and friends are lost?”

"Ask if the person knows other true Christians (e.g. in his old church, at home, in his country, at work, family. . .)."

Confirming that the student has accepted the ICC interpretations previously taught in the study series…

"Ask about the false doctrine of 'praying Jesus into your heart.'"

"Evangelism is for every Christian."

Preparing the student for negative reactions to his or her ICC membership…

"Persecution is the inevitable result of preaching repentance…"

"Ask how he would react if opposed by these people [family and friends]."

Gauging the student's agreement to ICC policies…

"Attending All the Services."

- All Christians are expected to support the work of the church…"

"Make sure he knows who will be discipling him."

"Stress the need to be open to advice."

"Since we can marry only disciples. . .it stands to reason that we should date only disciples [ICC members]."

Unlike the Biblical model of "counting the cost,” this ICC study seems designed to gauge the student's assimilation of ICC teachings, reveal more consequences of joining the group, and gain a final commitment that the recruit will meet the conditions of ICC membership (see ICC Hidden Costs: the ICC Membership Contract on RightCyberUp). The student must agree to the entire package to become a member.

What’s more, study leaders in individual practice may leave out information that would give converts a more accurate picture of life in the ICC (see Non-informed Consent on RightCyberUp). When this happens, the biblical spirit of “estimating the cost” is lost – people can’t count costs they don’t know.

A final concern about ICC cost-counting is the presence of what we could call eternal pressure surrounding the student’s decision to join the organization: by the end of the study series, many or most recruits believe that they are lost/going to hell unless baptized into the ICC. This creates scenarios in which study leaders can withhold "salvation" from recruits who have not fully agreed to the program. The influence on the student's decision-making process is profound – either they agree or risk “going to hell.”

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Manipulative Themes in the Study Series

When we look at the ICC study series as a whole, we see that each study plays a manipulative role in influencing the student’s decisions about joining the ICC:

· The Word Study: Indirectly gains a commitment from the student to accept the group's interpretation of truth.

· The Discipleship Study: “Proves” that the student is in need of salvation as defined by the group.

· The Kingdom Study: Shows that the group is the Kingdom of God. Convinces the student to put the group (Kingdom) above all other priorities.

· Sin & Repentance: Induces guilt in the student about his or her past actions.

· Light and Darkness: Shows the student that he or she is "in darkness" until baptized into the group.

· The Cross Study: Systematically tries to produce an emotionally "broken" recruit.

· Denominationalism & False Doctrines: “Proves” that all other religious groups are invalid. Discredits beliefs espoused by other, (invalid) religious groups.

· The Holy Spirit: Refutes perceived false teachings in other religious groups, while simultaneously clarifying and solidifying the ICC’s positions.

· The Church: Solidifies the student's commitment to the organization (church).

· Counting the Cost: Reveals more consequences of joining the group. Gains a final commitment that the recruit will meet the conditions of membership. Withholds "salvation" from students who will not agree to these conditions.

Following are some manipulative themes found throughout the study series:

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Incremental Disclosure

Initial studies are centered around relatively inert topics, but as the series progresses, more controversial beliefs of the group are revealed. The student who gives the "proper" response to The Word Study ("I'll take the Word as my standard") is allowed to progress to the next study. A recruit who gives the "proper" response to The Discipleship Study ("I want to be a disciple") is allowed to progress to The Kingdom Study, which teaches that the ICC is the Kingdom of God. The student who accepts the group's interpretation of baptism is allowed to progress to Counting the Cost, etc. The ICC withholds group "truths" which will only be introduced to recruits once they have progressed far enough into the study series. (51) "The truth" is doled out in small increments, according to what students are deemed "ready to know."

However, if "truth" is really "truth," then it should remain so regardless of the order in which we tell it. If the ICC were to reverse the order of the studies, starting by informing students of the rigorous rules and conditions of being a member (Counting the Cost), then telling them that all non-ICC professing Christians are going to hell (Denominationalism & False Doctrines), and later closing with a relatively innocuous study about the authority of the Bible (The Word Study), the result would likely be different – the series would not be as effective.

As an astute observer once noted on an ICC-related newsgroup, the ICC may try to defend incremental disclosure using a student-in-school analogy, in which the student must understand Algebra before Trigonometry, and Trigonometry before Calculus, etc.(52) But this analogy caves in along one very significant front: The graduated nature of the ICC study series is not based on an intellectual understanding of each level/study, but rather on agreement.(53) The statement "I am lost" does not require incremental persuasion for one to understand it, but it may take this to get someone to agree to it.

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Scripture Twisting

There are two approaches to interpreting scripture: exegesis (examining text to discern its most probable meaning) and eisegesis (reading one’s own beliefs into a text). The scriptures chosen for the ICC studies have been arranged to support a view already decided upon, with the meanings of passages distorted to achieve interpretations favorable to the group.

The highly-structured nature of the ICC study series fosters systematic scripture twisting. Study leaders are thoroughly trained through "equipping classes," books, etc. to present a carefully orchestrated chain of scriptures and analogies. The ICC recommends that members closely follow the First Principles outline:

“…I want us to be really of one mind and of one heart about the purpose of these studies. You might have stuck another scripture in, you might have had another study. Listen, amen, and perhaps that might have been a little bit better, perhaps not. But this is the plan that we’ve got. It will work, if we work the plan with our hearts, amen?”

Kip McKean, First Principles: Follow-Up Study #1: After Baptism, Now What?, DPI, Tape # 10076, recorded circa 1989.

The crucial teachings of the ICC study series – at least the ones that separate the ICC from mainstream religious groups – are held together not by scriptures, but by man-made analogies, diagrams, and dubious equations. World Sector Leader Steve Johnson once explained the importance of imitating even the smallest details of leading the studies:

“We’ve got to imitate the effective things – you see a way a person’s studying the Bible, want to be just like them. I tell – when I study the Bible with people, I use illustrations – you know where I got them? I got them from Kip McKean. The exact illustrations. And I can remember when he would lean forward, I want to lean forward. I remember when he got intense, I’d get intense. I remember when he’d sit back, and just sort of lightened up – okay, I can do that. And I saw that it had an impact – it affected people.”

Steve Johnson (World Sector Leader), Jesus Was Not a Nice Guy, New York City, audiotape, 1988.

Kip McKean also recommends that members take notes for the student, to emphasize the agenda of the study leader rather than of the student:

“And just like with the Acts study series, you get out your piece of paper… And then you write out the study for him, and then you’ll be able to give it to him for him to keep. Do not let the young Christian keep [write] the notes – I mean some of our young Christians aren’t the best note-takers in the world, if you know what I mean. And they may not know exactly what to note.”

Kip McKean, First Principles: Follow-Up Study #1, recorded circa 1989.

If students were simply given the scripture list of an ICC study, and asked to study at length and form their own conclusions, they would likely come up with an entirely different set of findings.

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Emotional Manipulation

Studies like Sin and Repentance, The Cross Study, and Light and Darkness can induce guilt or fear in the student. The group may rationalize this by pointing out biblical precedents where characters may have felt guilt about their actions (e.g. The Cross Study and Acts 2:37). But there is a big difference between someone spontaneously feeling remorse, and systematically producing remorse in a person until he or she reaches a group standard of "godly sorrow." Systematically “breaking” students is emotional manipulation.

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Peer Pressure

ICC practices insure that peer pressure will occur during the period of study. According to Shining Like Stars, each study in the series should be taught by at least two ICC members.(54) If multiple recruits study at the same time, they will likely be separated into distinct study groups.

ICC members have been instructed that the first step to win converts is to "build a good friendship,"(55) and there is an emphasis on becoming the "best friend" of the student (see Influence and Use of Friendship). When possible, students will be paired for the study series with group members of similar ages, interests, etc.

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Spiritual Teardown

During the study series, the student's prior religious beliefs are gradually disassembled and ultimately replaced with the beliefs of the ICC. Teardown begins in The Word Study, when students are told that religious traditions (including the student's) can be worthless. As the series continues, basic elements of the student's belief system may be redefined (e.g. the term "Christian" is redefined: disciple = Christian = saved). By the end of the study series, a recruit's unacceptable beliefs have been cleared away and replaced with those of the movement.

Unlike self-directed religious conversions in which converts reassesses their own beliefs, ICC study leaders systematically assess prospective converts’ beliefs for them, producing systematic changes in belief and deciding for converts when they are ready to be converted.

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Manipulated Commitment

Each study in the ICC series seeks the student's agreement to a set of concepts or challenges. The techniques used to gain these commitments include scripture twisting, logically unsound arguments, oversimplified theological "equations,” peer pressure and emotional manipulation. Ultimately the study series sets up the ICC as the sole broker of truth, so that the student will need to agree with the group's teachings to attain "salvation." In spite of any good intentions by the study leader, the very structure of the studies is manipulative. Study leaders will likely believe they are just bringing students to a knowledge of the truth: they have been taught to manipulate others, perhaps without realizing it.

Early in the series, recruits make small commitments at a time when they can't possibly discern their implications. Broad challenges like "Will you take the Bible as your standard?" or "Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus?" lead to specific commitments to the organization. Agreeing to these challenges has consequences students are unable to foresee. As they proceed through the series, words like "disciple" and "kingdom" are redefined, so that the outer doctrines they originally perceived when they were outsiders become inner doctrines with new meanings.

As students reach the later studies, the commitments sought from them become increasingly specific and intense. Ultimately, they will be asked to agree to a complete package of doctrines and expectations. After a gradual and systematic narrowing of students' options, their only acceptable choice is to become a member of the group.

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Related Topics on RightCyberUp:


(1) Kip McKean (World Missions Evangelist), First Principles, Discipleship Press International (DPI), Woburn, MA, 1993, p. 2.

(2) McKean, First Principles, p. 8.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, Equipping Class for Young Disciples, 1991.

(8) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, Discipleship, n.d.

(9) McKean, First Principles, p. 6.

(10) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, Discipleship, n.d.

(11) In the same session Conner says “It’s not about perfection, it’s about the standard being Jesus Christ.” But how would one prove that Jesus is their standard without being perfect? (Even the ICC’s own members wouldn’t qualify.)

(12) McKean, First Principles, p. 7.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid., p. 26.

(15) Ibid., p. 13.

(16) The ICC presents students with an interpretation of discipleship to which no one outside the ICC subscribes. This includes unbiblical elements (mandatory discipling partners) and interpretations not readily apparent from scripture that would never be guessed without influence from the ICC.

(17) Ibid., p. 11.

(18) Ibid., p. 10-11.

(19) Ibid., p. 11.

(20) Douglas Jacoby (Kingdom Teacher), Shining Like Stars: The Evangelism Handbook for the New Millennium, mil. ed., Woburn, MA: DPI, 2000.

(21) McKean, First Principles.

(22) This study was called “Sin & Redemption” when the author studied in the New York City Church of Christ, but there was no “redemption” in the study. Even after several Bible studies and the confession of sins, the student is not seen to be “ready” for forgiveness -- the repentant student will need to successfully complete the Counting the Cost Study before redemption can be administered in the form of an ICC baptism.

(23) Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, Equipping Class…

(24) Dan Conner (Geographic Sector Leader), Sin & Repentance, Equipping Classes for Men,, New York, 1996.

(25) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, The Church, n.d.

(26) Ibid., p. 141.

(27) Jacoby, Shining Like Stars, p. 107.

(28) Ibid., p. 119.

(29) Jacoby cites two passages as “precedent” for the ICC’s policy of withholding baptism: Matthew 3:7-8 and Luke 7:29-30. [Ibid., p. 272.] But these passages are talking about baptism by John the Baptist, not New Covenant baptism (“baptism into Jesus’ death”) as the ICC teaches. Also, Luke 7:29-30 implies that the Pharisees in general chose not to be baptized by John the Baptist. So there are no biblical grounds for withholding baptism -- in fact, Peter on one occasion says “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” (Acts 10:47). At least in this instance, Peter – an apostle – did not claim the authority to withhold baptism.

(30) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, The Cross, n.d.

(31) Ibid.

(32) McKean, First Principles, pp. 19-21.

(33) Study notes of New York City Church of Christ member, n.d.

(34) Jacoby, Shining Like Stars, p. 199.

(35) Ibid., p. 106.

(36) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, The Cross, n.d.

(37) McKean, First Principles.

(38) Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, Equipping Class…

(39) Jacoby, Shining Like Stars.

(40) Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, Equipping Class…

(41) McKean, First Principles, p. 27.

(42) Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, Equipping Class…

(43) Ibid.

(44) Kip McKean, Holy Spirit Baptism, DPI, Woburn, MA, Tape # 10071, 1995.

(45) McKean, First Principles.

(46) Ibid., p. 26.

(47) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, The Church, n.d.

(48) McKean, First Principles, p. 27.

(49) San Antonio Church of Christ Jesus, The Church, n.d.

(50) Jacoby, Shining Like Stars, pp. 269-271.

(51) Although the ICC has posted the studies on some of its web sites, it seems to have done so not to assist prospective converts directly with the studies, but instead to create a resource to encourage uniform teaching.

(52) A. Clayton, “Re: son in ICC/help,”, February 14, 1996.

(53) Ibid.

(54) Jacoby, Shining Like Stars, pp. 84-85.

(55) McKean, First Principles, p. 5.

©1997, 2002 by Dave Anderson <>. All rights reserved.

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