Paper on BCC by Brian Miller
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; ..."But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments. And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi." "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves..." "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Matthew 23:1-26)
Throughout the ages the religious views of individuals have clashed with the views of society. In the first century, the early Christians refused to worship the Roman emperor, resulting in terrible persecution. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Christians persecuted the Jews for not accepting the established religion. Even today in America, people criticize and look down upon or even judge others with differing views. The liberal Protestant will look at the Southern Baptist with contempt for his close-minded interpretation of Christianity and judgmental attitude toward other denominations; the Southern Baptist will look at Catholics as superstitious misguided remnants of a dark forgotten time. However, few groups in the United States have received as much criticism as the Boston Church of Christ (BCC). Ex-members report of being brainwashed into turning away from their family and friends and not being allowed to think while in the Church. Most mainline denominations who have studied the church classify it as a "dangerous cult". In my report I hope to address many of the complaints against the church.
When undertaking this project to report on the beliefs and practices of the BCC, I understood the difficulty of objectively studying such a controversial organization; however, I did not expect that my own views and perceptions of Christianity would be challenged so much. I also did not expect my research to interest so many people both inside and outside of the BCC. I will attempt to accurately describe the church's history, beliefs, and practices and discuss the allegations that the church has taken control of the lives of its members, programmed them to believe and act according to the church's mandates, and has taught the members to use trickery and deception to "brainwash" unsuspecting prey into joining the church. I will describe how closely the BCC fits the description of a "cult" and how closely "cults" fit their stereotypical image. Finally, I will discuss the validity of the criticisms of the BCC by Christians both inside and outside the mainline Churches of Christ. I will primarily keep the perspective of the more conservative Christian branches for several reasons:
1) The conservative churches and the BCC have a common absolute basis for discussion, the inspired teachings of the Bible. Comparing the BCC to more liberal churches would touch upon such complex and controversial issues as Biblical infallibility.
2) The conservative churches have a fairly uniform set of teachings compared to the full range of doctrines and practices encompassing all the Christian churches.
3) Finally, because of my own religious background, I best understand conservative Christian thought.
However, before one can properly address these topics, one has to understand that the world of religious thought is not a realm of discussion, compromise, or opinion but of right and wrong, good and evil, and of absolute truth. Religious convictions often take precedence over society's teachings and perspectives. For instance, the concern for the eternal salvation of a person's soul can override society's pluralistic mandates on tolerance of other peoples' religious views and drive a person to "push" his faith onto a sometimes unwilling candidate. To the religious person, the goal of leading himself and others to eternal happiness can far exceed such immediate goals as social acceptance and a successful career.
Background History of the Mainline Churches of Christ
Many of the fundamental doctrines of the BCC originate from the teachings of an eighteenth century reformer named Alexander Campbell who learned the Reformed distrust of historical tradition and accretions in every aspect of the church life from his Presbyterian background. Like many "reformers" Campbell sought to reestablish the patterns of primitive Christianity as he perceived them. He looked entirely to the New Testament for the New Dispensation or New Testament "law" for Christian living and worship. He even believed that practices not mentioned in the Bible, such as the use of musical instruments and the formation of missionary societies, should be removed from the church.
However, as a student of John Locke, natural law ideology emerged in his theology. He understood faith as the mind's assent to the proper beliefs, an idea completely foreign to Jewish thought. He also viewed baptism not as a gift of grace or a symbol but as a decisive compliance of Jesus' command necessary for the "washing away of sins." Walter Scott, a very influential Scotsman, helped crystallize Campbell's theology in 1827 into five simple conceptions:
1. Faith consists of accepting the view, which Scott called the "golden oracle", that "Jesus is the Christ".
2. If the faith is genuine, repentance naturally follows motivated by Christ's promises.
3. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins is the obedient response to Christ's command and makes one's commitment complete.
4. The forgiveness of sins is the fulfillment of God's promise, as are:
5. The gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
The Baptist church along with other denominations condemned the "Disciples" denomination, which resulted from Campbell's and Scott's teachings, on six points:
1. The "Disciples" distinguish sharply between the Old and New Covenants and hence abolish the Old Testament law.
2. They believe that conversion takes place through the profession alone without any direct operation of the Holy Spirit; "faith" and "repentance" in their sense constitute regeneration.
3. They believe baptism should be administered on profession of belief that Jesus is the Christ, without any consent or examination by the church.
4. They believe that man's obedience alone can bring upon a person God's electing grace, since baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins and gift of the Spirit.
5. They believe that none have a special call to the ministry.
6. They believe that the Christianity of the New Testament is simple and clear, with no element of mystery, thus eliminating most creeds along with other traditions.
The mainline Churches of Christ grew out of the Disciples movement nearly a century later. They felt that they were the only true restorers of the New Testament church, since they were the only true followers of Alexander Campbell. They continued to oppose missionary societies and musical instruments and perpetuated Campbell's doctrines.
Background History of the BCC
The story behind the BCC begins in Gainesville, Florida, with the Crossroads Church of Christ and a man named Chuck Lucas, who worked as a campus minister at the University of Florida. He developed the practice of assigning new students "discipling partners" who would pray with a new student each week, discuss scripture, and challenge the new student to conform his life to the teachings of scripture and to evangelize students on the campus. The older discipling partner would have complete authority over the younger student, who needed to confess his sins to the discipler. The discipleship system became part of the Multiplying Ministries program which included evangelistic bible studies and extensive proselytizing. This new system proved highly effective. Within a year nearly a hundred students joined the church, one of whom was Kip McKean. Lucas personally discipled Kip when he was a University student around '79. After Kip graduated, he went to several college campuses and introduced the Multiplying Ministries program with great success and at times great criticism.
Eventually, the Lexington Church of Christ heard of Kip's exploits and invited him to work with them to revive their dying church. Kip initiated the Multiplying Ministries plan, which caused the church to grow at an exponential rate. Kip eventually became the main authority and replaced all elders of the church who did not fully cooperate with his plans. When the church outgrew the Lexington building, it moved to Boston and became the Boston Church of Christ. Kip invited ministers from other Churches of Christ to train in the Boston Church, while Boston ministers would replace their positions. This process known as "rebuilding" perpetuated the Multiplying Ministries plan to other churches. As the Boston Church of Christ grew, it became more and more exclusive until it only considered members of churches who practice the Multiplying Ministries plan true Christians. Chuck Lucas eventually resigned from his position in the Crossroads Church of Christ and apologized for the mistakes he had made. The Crossroads Church discontinued the Multiplying Ministries plan and refused to be "rebuilt" by the Boston church. Now the Boston Church no longer even considers the members of Crossroads or of other non-cooperating Churches of Christ as heirs to eternal life.
Multiplying Ministries and the Master Plan of Evangelism
Eventually, Kip McKean incorporated the Multiplying Ministries into a plan for world evangelism partially drawing from Robert Coleman's book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. Kip's plan takes on the form of a hierarchical structure with four main types of churches:
1. Pillar Churches - Churches established in the largest population centers of the world. These churches' spheres of influence can cover several countries. Upon these "pillar" churches, the world brotherhood will be built.
2. Capitol City Churches - Churches established in the capital cities of countries.
3. Small City Churches - Churches established in towns and smaller cities. Usually this is where people are more difficult to evangelize because of deep roots of tradition, more than in major cities.
4. Countryside Churches - Churches built among the people in the regions around small cities and would include what missiologists call the "hidden peoples."
First, missionaries would establish Pillar Churches of multiplying disciples in the major cities such as New York, London, and Hong Kong. After becoming established, the Pillar Churches would send teams to the capital cities under their influence to start City Churches. After the City Churches discipled leaders, these people would start Small City Churches in all the cities of the nation. These churches would then plant the Countryside Churches which would reach all the people in the surrounding countryside.
The hierarchical structure continues down to the newest members. Kip McKean resides at the top of the pyramid as the missionary evangelist who like Paul travels from city to city starting new churches. Kip disciples a handful of Lead Evangelists, each of whom meet with the elders of the churches in their regions which can cover entire continents. The elders control individual churches and personally disciple sector leaders. The pyramid continues with zone leaders, house church leaders, bible talk leaders, and finally with older members discipling younger members of the church. Each person must submit to the authority of the people above him.
The Multiplying Ministries plan also specifically dictates the methods of recruitment. A member of the church invites a classmate, fellow living group member, or a stranger walking down the hall to a Bible talk. The Bible talk, designed for invited guests, covers some basic principles of Christianity, free from theological discourse or difficult doctrines to understand or accept. The members of the Bible talk immediately befriend the perspective convert and invite him to other activities. As the perspective convert becomes more familiar with the church members, they encourage him to be more open with his thoughts and feelings and to study the Bible with one of the church members assigned to be his discipling partner. The discipler teaches him more church doctrine and encourages him to be open with him about his concerns, weaknesses, and sins. Soon, the discipler encourages him to invite people to church activities.
After the perspective convert learns the fundamentals of church doctrine, he is asked to be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. By this point he either becomes baptized and a full member of the church or leaves, breaking nearly all ties with the church members. If he decides to stay, he also learns to submit to the authority of those above him and attempts to bring as many people into the church as possible.
Teachings of the Church
During a perspective convert's recruitment before he is baptized, he is taught by his discipler or in a larger group a series of lessons from a First Principles class which I will outline:
1st lesson - The Word of God
This study most closely resembles any conservative Sunday school class. A few verses such as:
"All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work," (II Timothy 3:16-17) are used to justify accepting the Bible as the only true authority by which all teaching and practices are to be judged. However, this lesson also states that "there is no private interpretation of the Bible", a teaching that can limit a person's ability to judge if teachings from the church contradict scripture.
2nd lesson - The coming of the kingdom
This study teaches that the kingdom of God is the church established by the apostles and continued by the true Christian churches today, which as mentioned earlier are only Kip's churches. This study draws from several verses such as "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power," (Mark 9:1) to prove that the kingdom of God would be established in just a few years. The study further shows how predictions made from the gospels were fulfilled by the church described in the book of Acts.
3rd and 4th lessons - Light and Darkness
Resembling most conservative doctrines, the first part begins by describing how everyone has separated themselves from God by their sin and how only faith in Jesus can save a man from God's judgment. However, the study quickly departs from conservative theology by claiming that full immersion water baptism is the process by which sins are forgiven and a person is brought "out of darkness into light": "And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.' " In addition, unlike most conservative churches which stress that a new Christian undergoes a life long sanctifying process gradually conforming his life into the image of Christ's and that noone can live a life completely free of sin, this lesson teaches that after baptism, a new Christian should only live in the light completely free from sins. The BCC usually takes a much stronger stand on sin questioning the salvation of members who sin, while conservative churches more often will consider at times even serious sins as only a temporary setback in a Christian's life. These studies conclude by denouncing doctrines from other churches such as infant baptism, believers baptism, and salvation before baptism. Finally, this lesson outlines the process of salvation resembling that interpreted by Campbell nearly two centuries earlier: Hear (the message of Christ), Believe, Repent, Confess (that Jesus is Lord), and be baptized.
5th and 6th lessons - Baptism with and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
These lessons teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit could only be passed onto people by the apostles and that the gifts are not present today: "but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease." (1 Corinthians 13:8) These lessons are used mainly to discredit the Charismatic churches.
7th lesson - The Church
This lesson teaches that only one unified Christian church (BCC) without any form of division should exist. The lesson then criticizes other denominations for having been started by men instead of Christ. Obviously, the fact that Campbell and Scott started the movement that produced the Churches of Christ was not mentioned. The lesson concludes by emphasizing the importance of becoming involved with the church and its members and faithfully attending all services: "And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some." (Hebrews 10:23-25)
8th lesson: Discipleship
This section presents some of the most distinctive teachings of the BCC. Beginning with the common teachings of counting the cost before becoming a Christian and dying to self, the lesson continues by teaching that all Christians must be disciples and also make new disciples. In addition, the promise of persecution for true believers is mentioned. After these studies, the discipler will ask the perspective convert to be baptized. The next four sections are follow up lessons for the baptized convert. They help to firmly establish the discipling relationship, encouraging openness, commitment, and discipline. Evangelism and the expectation of persecution are also continuously stressed.
All the teachings of the church support Kip McKean's vision for evangelizing the world. Every new convert believes that the BCC is the true church of God and that the emphasis in the Bible on seeking the kingdom of God first refers to seeking to serve and advance the BCC. They dedicate their time, energy, and resources to achieving this goal. They submit to the direction of their superiors and live strictly in accordance to the guidelines sent down before them. However, how similar are these teachings and practices to those of the new testament church?
And, how has the BCC earned their reputation of being a "cult"?
The BCC claims to follow the Bible, the whole Bible (at least all of the New Testament), and nothing but the Bible. In addition, the members of the church believe that they and only they have recreated the New Testament church to the best of their abilities. However, members both inside and outside of the mainline Churches of Christ strongly disagree with these assertions. They claim that the BCC often takes verses from the Bible grossly out of context and distorts their meaning, even to the point of contradicting other very clear passages in the scriptures, to support Kip McKean's personal vision for world evangelism.
Most conservative Christians find the church's view on the necessity of water baptism for salvation the most obvious departure from standard Christian doctrine. The BCC sights passages such as:
"Or do you now know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life," (Romans 6:3-4)
To illustrate how baptism is literally sharing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. They believe that 1 Peter 3:21, "And corresponding to that (the water from the flood that saved Noah), baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ," clearly states that water baptism saves. However, the conservative Christian would argue that this verse is stating that the act of being dunked with water does not save a person, but simply the decision to turn toward God and that the act of water baptism is simply a visible yet inessential sign of this decision. The conservative Christian would then point out that the Romans passage was removed from the context of Paul criticizing the Christians for believing that works could save a person instead of faith alone. Finally, the conservative Christian would criticize the BCC for ignoring several other passages that clearly state or show that faith alone assures salvation such as "...whoever believes in Him (Jesus) should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) In addition, when Peter spread the gospel to the gentiles, they received the Holy Spirit, the promise to the Christians, before they were baptized. (Acts 11)
The next point of contention that usually surfaces in doctrinal confrontations with the BCC deals with a new Christian's freedom from sin. The BCC teaches that a Christian's life must be free from sin, drawing from numerous passages describing how Christians must no longer act unrighteously, and that a Christian can lose his salvation from sin, a doctrine completely contrary to much of conservative thought. The conservative Christian, on the other hand, more often believes that a person's profession of faith in Christ begins a gradual process, that could last a lifetime, of conforming to the image of Christ. The conservative Christian would again sight passages promising salvation to whoever believes in Jesus and passages illustrating that Christians continuously do sin and need only confess their sins for forgiveness without fear of losing their salvation under any circumstances:
"If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleans us of all unrighteousness." (1 John 8-9)
Kingdom of God
Most Christians would agree that when Jesus describes the kingdom of God, he is referring to his second coming as much as referring to the establishment of the Christian church, as illustrated by the many lengthy passages describing how when the kingdom of God draws near, wars and famines and natural disasters would precede Jesus' coming in glory to judge the living and the dead. In addition, even the passages referring to the present concentrate more on a Christian's personal relationship with God more than with a specific body of believers.
The BCC's teaching that every true Christians must be an obedient disciple and make new disciples to a large extent stems from Jesus' allegory about bearing fruit: "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit ... Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 7:17-19) However, the Conservative Christian would argue that bearing fruit has a much more encompassing meaning than simply bringing people into the Christian church. For instance, John the Baptist spoke of bearing the fruit of repentance, and Paul often wrote of the fruit of the Spirit such as joy, peace, and kindness. In addition, the New Testament describes a disciple as someone who follows Jesus' teachings, not someone who submits to the mandates of a more mature Christian.
The BCC teaches that a "disciple must submit to and obey the human discipler in "matters of opinion unless what is asked of him/her violates his/her conscience." The elders state that since all of a person's possessions belong to the kingdom (church) and since the elders are the overseers of the church, they have the right to dictate how a person must use his possessions. They also use the argument that since Jesus told a rich man to sell his possession, they should have the right to do so also. In addition, they often quote Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." However, as the house church leader points out in his letter, the word persuaded is a better translation from the original Greek than obey, and he observes that this verse could be related to Hebrews 13:7 which states, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you." Ron Gholston also mentions that neither Jesus nor the apostles taught that Christians should place themselves in authority over other Christians. Instead Jesus said,
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
Ron Gholston also sights several passages where the apostles recognized the individuals right to judge for himself what God's will is for him. For instance, Peter says to two Christians in Acts 5:4 who sold their possessions for the church, "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?" Paul also tells the Christians to be convinced in their own minds what is right. (Romans 14:5)
Description of a Cult
Clearly, most Christian groups have severe criticisms of the BCC's teachings, but most churches have severe criticisms for other church's teachings. Why has the Christian community reacted so strongly against the BCC. Before answering this question, I should discuss the common practices of groups who fit under the description of a "cult." A cult by definition is an organized set of beliefs and rituals surrounding some object of worship. All religions begin as cults. The organization is extremely simple, simply a charismatic leader and his band of followers without bureaucracy, priesthood, or scriptures. A cult strives to start a radically new religious tradition, existing in conflict with what it regards as a corrupt world. Clearly, neither the BCC nor any other common "cults" fit into this category. As shown the BCC has a very well organized structure and is simply a somewhat radical branch of Christianity. However, I shall use the word "cult" to describe religious groups, such as the unification church, who allegedly use tactics of "brainwashing" and "deception".
The term "brainwashing" used to describe the practices of cults conjures up images of mindless zombies walking around helpless to disobey the whims of some insidious leader. However, the tactics used by most cults simply exploit natural sociological tendencies. The Chinese developed the system of "thought reform" which most cults use today to adjust the attitudes of the people to accept Moist communist ideology. The procedure has three main steps:
1. Group Identification. The group leaders create a cordial atmosphere acting like older, wiser camp counselors. They encourage openness in revealing their feelings and questions about propaganda lectures that emphasize the corruptness of the past and the responsibilities of citizenship under Maoist communism.
2. The Period of Emotional Conflict. The group leaders encourage self-criticisms, introspective essays, confessions, and testimonies of past "sins" against the group to be presented in front of the group. The leader informally singled out more "progressive" members to foster peer pressure on the others to demand self-criticisms and to reward ideological conformity with approval and acceptance.
3. Submission and Rebirth. Group members prepare autobiographies describing their new "enlightened" Marxist perspectives, which are submitted to the group and to communist party members until everyone is satisfied that each individual was ideologically sound.
Social psychologists have attributed the effectiveness of these tactics to people's psychological need to perceive continuity between their actions and beliefs and people's tendency to perform actions that produce approval from their social environment and eliminate actions that do not. Cults use these very principles in several of their most effective techniques:
"Hooks" and "Plants"
Nearly every salesman, politician, and cult makes use of hooks or "openings" to attract their customers or simply to entice them to consider their message seriously. For instance, a cult member will usually invites a prospective convert to a picnic or a general discussion of the problems in the world and the need for some universal answer. During these activities members of the organization never discuss any of their beliefs that people might find hard to accept. Instead, after the presentation of some dramatic appealing message, that may appeal to an idealistic youth who is concerned about the world and wishes to help improve it, members of the group individually talk with guests probing for hooks, such as interests, hobbies, or information about their backgrounds, which they can dwell on and flatter the guests with to attract them to the group. Rather than weed out unlikely candidates, everyone is encouraged to learn more about the organization.
Many cults, as well as politicians and salesmen, use people known as plants who act like regular members of a group but who premeditatedly reinforce the message of a speaker or foster group discussion. For instance, a cult gathering usually contains more members than guests. The members give emotional testimonies, laugh the loudest at jokes, and applaud the speakers. This effect can create subtle pressure on a guest to cheer, clap and laugh with the group. Such participation in the group produces subtle attitude changes in favor of the message.
After a prospective convert attends a few activities, his contact invites him to a retreat, seminar, or weekend-outing where the most intensive indoctrination takes place. The members of the group continue to use hooks and plants but with the added tactic of love-bombing, showering the guest with affection and kindness. The constant flattery and expressions of concern and love produce in some guests a feeling that the group offers an answer to many of their desires and problems. Near the end of the event, the members reveal the groups beliefs and expectations. Group leaders keep a frantic pace not allowing people to have a chance to critically examine the teachings. After becoming absorbed by the security and belonging of the communal group, neither the unusual beliefs nor eventually finding out that much of the affection was premeditated bothers them. The minority who continue with the group feel that the members performed the act for their own good and eventually learn to do the same from more experienced members.
Cultist practices in the BCC
Every person who leaves the BCC testifies to the fact that the church uses hooks, plants, and love-bombing. The mainline Churches of Christ compiled a list of unorthodox practices, many of which make use of thought reform techniques, used in the Multiplying Ministries Movement:
invite them only
don't use our terms or they'll ask questions
don't talk about baptism
win them with love and friendship first, then get them to study with us
pre-baptism study is step-by-step indoctrination
don't let new people sit together to talk
Withholding information about:
baptism for salvation
only members of this church are Christians
everyone must evangelize
everyone must have a discipling partner
confession (of every fault)
submission to discipling partner and leadership
must seek counsel on all decisions
Orchestrated Bible Talks
Bible Talks only for visitors, if nobody visits, they talk about something else. 1/2 hour before Bible talk, Leaders discuss visitors to who will attend (design talk to address some concern that visitor mentioned to church member earlier)
"love bombing" -- win them over with love first
call them often (sometimes according to rigorous schedule)
encourage them to begin study
use same procedure on everyone -- not sincere about individual
if person does not convert, end of friendship
extreme time pressure from numerous required activities.
if person will not confess suspected sin, discipler asks questions to figure out what he is thinking to use to get him to come to his discipler's conclusions about his sin
Clearly, the church actively and effectively uses the techniques described above from the prearranged Bible talks to their assigning people to call and visit prospective members. However, since the Church is more or less founded on Christian teachings, the members can use the added threat of hell to prevent dissension. With most groups that practice thought reform, the individuals can still weigh the advantages and disadvantages of remaining in the group. Members often decide to leave out of guilt for the pain they are causing their parents or because they just grow tired of the lifestyle. However, the threat of hell looming over the BCC members' heads often outweighs any possible advantage of leaving the church. On many occasions, members who considered leaving the church changed their decision after several members of the church continuously reminded them of the punishment in store for those who leave the one true church.
The BCC also practices information control, another common tactic of cults. If a person decides to leave the church or criticizes the church's doctrine, members of the church accuse the dissenter of practicing some sort of sin that has blinded him to the "truth". If out of guilt the dissenter does not recant his statements, the church officials ask him to leave the church and then on occasion spread malicious rumors about the ex-member to other members of the church to discredit him, and they strongly discourage church members from associating with him. Church leaders also discredit critical articles about the church as lies and call writing about cults "spiritual pornography."
Examination of criticisms
Most people who have extensively studied the Bible would agree that the BCC's interpretations are for the most part tenuous at best and possibly motivated by more of a desire to support Kip McKean's dream than to sincerely understand the teaching of the Bible. However, many of the church's most criticized doctrines originate from the mainline Churches of Christ whose members have not gone through any type of thought reform. In addition, many doctrines held in "respectable churches" also seem to stem from somewhat contorted interpretations of scripture or from an examination of only select verses. For instance, a common doctrine interpreted in slightly different ways in many conservative churches is that a person need only "invite Jesus to come into his heart" and he is guaranteed salvation. However, this practice appears nowhere in the Bible. In addition, this type of easy salvation seems to contradict passages illustrating how faith without works (full repentance) is useless.
Undoubtedly, the tactics employed by the BCC exploit the minds natural processes to indoctrinate a visitor into a very rigid pattern of thought. However, no evidence seems to indicate that the church members can not make intelligent informed decisions. Although giving large sums of money to a church, attending numerous church activities each week, and inviting strangers to Bible studies may seem strange to most Americans, within the BCC's belief system, these actions are natural extensions of their beliefs, no matter how those beliefs came about. The large number of people who eventually leave the church, nearly 40%, also testifies to the members ability to think and reason for themselves, Ron Gohlston providing an excellent example. It is true that most of the members of the church blindly follow church doctrine without even considering the arguments people present before them, but realistically this statement can easily apply to the vast majority of mankind.
In addition, many other groups such as the military also use the tactic of changing people's environments to change people's attitudes. Like in the BCC, soldiers views and personalities conform to that of the artificial environment, created to turn individuals into submissive cogs in a much greater wheel yet still leaving them capable of making rational decisions. Billy Graham's crusades provide another clear example:
"Counselors begin their work after the singing, testimonials, collection, and Billy Graham's invitation to "come forward to Christ," counselors and choir members begin moving forward to an area usually in front of the speakers platform or rostrum. To a naive member of the audience or a television viewer, this movement creates an illusion of a spontaneous and mass response to the invitation. Having been assigned in strategic areas of the auditorium or arena and given instructions on the staggered time-sequencing for coming forward, the counselors move forward in such a fashion so as to create the illusion of individuals 'flowing' into the center of the arena from all quarters, in a steady outpouring of individual decision...These strategies promote the respectability of making a public commitment and represent methods calculated to manipulate the consent of the passive, the uncertain, the wary, and the indecisive."
Similarly, some conservative Christian groups attempt to entice non-Christians to come to non-religious activities in an attempt to partially win them over with warmth and kindness before presenting them with religious doctrine. Although rarely are these groups deliberately deceptive or insincere, they do to a small extent attempt to exploit the same social dynamics that cults use.
Many people claim that BCC members are psychologically trapped, helpless to break out of the bondage of the BCC thought police. This claim has limited truth. As mentioned earlier, severe pressure is put on members to stay in the church and joyfully serve. Even appearing not to be completely convinced by the church's doctrine or not being entirely committed to performing church activities can bring on severe condemnation. Disciplers will often use information obtained from a member's confessions to further manipulate his decisions. However, many people do eventually realize that for one reason or another they do not wish to remain in the church, and they find the courage to stand up to the severe psychological abuse and leave. When they do leave, they experience a great deal of pain and confusion, in many cases believing that they failed God and themselves or rejecting the idea of God altogether. They eventually put back the pieces of their lives and continue on.
The actions of the members of the BCC often seem harsh, contrived, or even irrational. However, within the frame of their beliefs, their actions appear completely logical and consistent. The members of the church believe that they are on a mission from God to save the world, a mission which requires complete sacrifice and obedience. And, like many of the communists, they feel that the overall ends justifies the means by which they wish to obtain it, whether that be deception, insincerity, or slander. The church has damaged the lives of countless individuals, yet the church has given people without hope, people, whom other Christians did not bother to reach out to, a purpose in life which many retain even if they leave the church. Many would consider the means by which the church indoctrinates its members completely diabolical, but one must wonder if raising a person with one rigid religious view, teaching him to look down upon other denominations, religions, or even races as any less unethical.
The BCC has started to feel some of the repercussions of their unorthodox practices and teachings. Many members of the church, who had believed for years that they were heirs to eternal life, find some fault in their life, such as not convincing enough people to join the church. They then decide or are convinced by other members of the church that they had not fully given their lives to God at their baptism and are destined for hell. The church then rebaptizes them. Some members have been rebaptized as many as seven times, each time falsely believing that they had "truly repented." These members live in continuous uncertainty, never sure if they have escaped the judgment of hell.
With the bad publicity the church has received over the past few years, most Boston residents and college students have learned to avoid it. However, the church's future in the religiously naive countries of Eastern Europe may prove more successful. Only time will tell the future of Kip McKean's dream child.
Ahlstrom, Sydney. A Religious History of the American People.
Vail-Ballou Press, Inc., Binghamton, NY, 1979.
Broomley, David and Shupe, Anson. Strange Religions.
Giambalvo, Carol. "Issues of Deception with the Multiplying Ministries
(Crossroads) Movement," February, 1988.
McKean, Kip. First Principles (Acts Study Series). Boston Church of Christ, Lexington, MA, 1989.
McKean, Kip. "Strategy for World Evangelism." January 4, 1987.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. The Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard. Chicago, 1976.
Message to Christians
I hope that this paper proves useful in understanding the Boston Church of Christ. I know that this group has affected so many of our lives. Although their techniques and teachings are from man and not God, many of their criticisms of the Church in America are valid. Christians today, including myself, do not live anywhere near the life that Jesus commanded us to live, but even more disturbingly, few even seriously try.
Jesus commanded us to lay down our entire lives to serve him. Often today, preachers and Christian speakers subtly dilute Christ's message, implying that we do not have to live the life outlined in the Sermon on the Mount: giving our very clothes to the poor in need, forgiving our enemies, trusting God to provide for our needs, using our talents to serve God instead of simply providing a good career and comfortable life, not judging others, staying free from sin, and sharing God's love for man through our very lifestyles.
Although I wrote this paper with a secular tone, I must emphasize that the conflict between the BCC and the Christian church is a spiritual struggle as much as a theological one that must be faced with prayer more than with theological discourse. We must also guard ourselves from using insincere or deceptive tactics or from following teachings of men instead of God in our own Christian groups.