The Boston Church of Christ founded by Kip McKean in 1978 grew to an organization of more than 100,000 members, with churches around the world. It is now known as the International Church of Christ (ICC).

The group has a deeply troubled history, which has included often being called a “cult.” The ICC has been criticized for allegedly “brainwashing” its members, through a tight system of control it calls “discipling.”

Abuses reported about the group led to it being banned on many college campuses, where it often focused much of its recruitment efforts.

Throughout the troubled years of its controversial existence the ICC was defined and led by one man. Kip McKean was known as its “World Evangelist” and at times compared to the “Apostle Paul.”

Not long ago McKean stepped down and now it seems he has been forced out of the movement altogether. This has been explained as the result of his “sin” and “arrogance,” while acting as the group’s effective dictator.

Now in an apparent effort to stem the tide of departing “disciples” leaving the ICC, key leaders have issued and published on the Internet apologies concerning the group’s abuses and errors.

Whether these apologies actually reflect real and/or meaningful change, or are instead a public relations ploy remains to be seen.

Apparently Al Baird, once McKean’s “right hand man,” is perhaps the “first amongst equals” in a new regime that controls the ICC.

Baird is an elder within the LA Church of Christ, which became something like the Vatican over the organization during McKean’s long reign.

The LA church has issued a statement that includes an apology for “arrogance in the staff,” “authoritarian discipling,” “abusive accountability,” teaching they are “the one true church” and “one way to salvation.”

Baird and other key leaders who endorsed this declaration say, “We are absolutely committed to change.”

But many “cults” have claimed they were “committed to change” and later found guilty of the same abuses.

In fact in an apparent defense of the discipling system that has caused so much grief and damage amongst ICC members the LA church “apology” states, “We definitely believe in Biblical discipling relationships and the need to be involved in each others’ lives.”

What does this really mean? A continuation of some vestige of this destructive system that has claimed so many victims?

Regarding their teaching of “exclusive salvation,” only available through their church organization, LA leaders seemed somewhat evasive.

They stated, “In spite of our many weaknesses and sins, the Lord’s church is still amazing.”

Who then is “the Lord’s church”?

Baird and his associates certainly didn’t name anyone specifically that might share in that title.

They added rather cryptically, “We do need to teach the one way to salvation as taught in the Bible, and let God determine who is in His one universal church… there is one church, and God knows who is in it.”

Once again, they seemingly sidestep a meaningful answer. This may be clever, but it is not clear enough to reflect real change.

The apology posted on line by the South Florida Church of Christ statement was a bit more detailed and explicit.

Its leaders stated, “Effective immediately, we are ending the practice of a discipleship tree, or one over another discipling. We are also ending the practice of assigning discipleship partners.”

But they too seemed to want some “wiggle room.”

“We encourage all members to be involved in several peer one-another relationships…[with] regular times of friendship, teaching [and] personal accountability,” they added.

Florida leaders also said, “Those who are young and newly baptized in the Lord to be involved in at least one ‘mentoring’…so that they will be safe.”

What does this all really mean? It sounds like some form of “discipling” will effectively continue in Florida.

The Florida church also revealed that some of the money its members gave through “special contributions” was “improperly used” to assist the LA church.

The leaders claim there will now be “100% local oversight of the money” with “a full accounting of exactly how the money will be spent.”

They mention an “outside CPA firm [that] conducts an annual audit.” But don’t discuss the details of that report will be published and/or available to members.

Apparently they plan to “appoint a committee” which will somehow “evaluate the financial affairs of the church and individual concerns such as staff salaries.”

But shouldn’t the general membership elect such a committee, given the leadership’s admitted failures and acknowledged history of financial improprieties?

Florida leaders repented regarding the excesses of “one man leadership,” but blamed this on the “cowardice…of the elders.”

However, it is unclear how any “elder” during McKean’s era of dictatorship could have effectively done anything except listen and obey, or leave.

As is often the case within the ICC, problems are blamed on people rather than the system or the church itself.

Florida discussed “dating rules,” but again offered no details.

They simply said, “There needs to be much additional teaching done on this subject.” Whatever that means.

Likewise, the leaders of the church in Florida mention the issue of “church autonomy.”

However they conclude, “We are still committed to a brotherhood of the churches.”

Apparently that “brotherhood” will be largely dominated by Al Baird and an insider’s group of the chosen few.

These recently published apologies don’t appear to reflect any sweeping democratic reforms, or even a concerted or serious effort to effectively dismantle an admittedly abusive and authoritarian power structure.

It doesn’t look like there is any reason to expect any drastic changes in the discipleship system, which is after all, the organizational glue that has always held the ICC together.

What is clear is that Kip McKean is out, removed through something like a “palace coup” and now “there’s a new sheriff in town,” but with largely the same old “posse” of “appointed” deputies.

The ICC remains essentially intact as an undemocratic and authoritarian system of church government, from the top down. It just isn’t limited to “one man rule” anymore.

But there are rumors that McKean is already planning a “comeback,” hoping to return and reclaim his throne.

If the history of other alleged “cults” is instructive, these recent “apologies” may be little more than slick spin.

If the ICC is really intent on change why not begin with a far more explicitly laid out framework, that offers meaningful details.

Why not start with a real “change,” such as the election of new leaders?

Replace what is an admittedly a failed and “sinful” leadership, through a genuine democratic process that includes all ICC members.

Don’t expect this to happen any time soon.

The power players drawing salaries and perks within the ICC establishment have benefited personally and financially from the organization.

It’s doubtful these guys want any change, which might change that.


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