There’s a new and almost unknown cult in America, and it’s growing at a tremendous rate. This cult demands the serious attention of any Christian college group because their rapid growth is taking effect solely as a result of their campus ministries. Unlike most cults, this one believes only in the Bible. Their evangelists are very knowledgeable of the Bible, making it very easy for the Christian to be taken in. And they are very tricky about revealing their true theology, drawing one in a step at a time.
Their US national headquarters is located in Boston, Mass. where the US movement began. It’s called the “Boston Church of Christ,” part of the International Church of Christ movement. This is not the traditional Church of Christ denomination. Affiliated regional churches across the nation begin with the name of their respective city. Examples include the “Chicago Church of Christ” and the “Detroit Church of Christ.” Their name is so deceptive because it sounds like a legitimate Christian church. With their strong non-denominational claim, added that there’s many other non-affiliated Church of Christ’s who are also non-denominational, early detection is difficult. But one way of detection is to take advantage of their desire for a low profile: they hold their Sunday services in rented church buildings, often moving from time to time. Also, the preface page of their hymn book has “Boston Church of Christ” as the publisher.
Their theology is false about the requirements of salvation. They believe one must believe in Jesus, repent, bear all the fruits of a disciple, and experience water baptism (in that order) to be saved. The Christian theology, however, is that you only have to believe. Since this cult considers a Christian who commits a sin to be unsaved in the first place, they separate from Christian theology concerning repentance. So the only agreement that can be made is belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. But unlike the thinking of this cult, the Christian belief is not just in the existence of Jesus as even the demons believe, but rather a belief that leads to repentance and obedience. For the Christian, all works, except believing, are done after salvation. And the conditions for remaining saved are the same as for getting saved.
Furthermore, they’re cultish in something even worse and they would hide this until well after initiations. It first seeps in unconsciously during the intermediate stages of membership. They demand absolute submission without question to someone higher ranked in the church. They have a pyramid power structure headed by their church evangelist. Not only that, but they believe their sins are “covered” by their leader if their leader should order them to do anything sinful. To them, it’s not sin as long as they were submissive. Anyone inside who questions them is branded as weak spiritually and threatened with eternal damnation. After getting the person to confess their sins during initiations, they would use whatever personal information to brainwash and manipulate the person into obedience. They also make heavy use of scare tactics to ensure obedience. They will often give orders that have nothing to do with spiritual matters. They tell them what classes to take, what to major in, what career to enter, whom to date, and whom to marry. [For details about verses, please read part two.]
Our job is to inform Christians about this dangerous cult and stop their campus movement. People in this cult are not afraid to tell you the name of their “church.” So if you ever encounter someone, make sure you memorize who he/she is. Then warn the one he/she is trying to disciple, later when that person is away from the discipler. Whenever you see the ICofC member and often with an accomplice talking to someone, you should be able to discern the one they’re talking to. Especially if you know that person is a student. Even if it’s just a casual conversation or a simple greeting. Inform that person and warn him/her about it. (It would be wise to ask how involved that person is before you inform.) This cult goes after Christians! Most phone numbers on that evangelist’s list are Christians. Don’t give your number and don’t study with them unless you’re prepared. Spread this news to everyone in your Christian college group to be spread everywhere. Also, if your campus group has a mailing list or a phone list, it’s recommended that you give or show it only to reliable people.
I was involved with a member of the Detroit Church of Christ for almost two months. He was 20 years old and student at my university. A total stranger, he walked up to me and asked if I wanted to study the Bible with him. I agreed, after I asked what church he attended. (Later, I discovered he was their campus minister from Chicago assigned to take classes at my university - a commuter campus 300 miles from Chicago.) We met almost twice a week alone on campus with a friend of his. (He was later to be identified as his superior and he lead the study; he came in unexpected in the second meeting.) After about two weeks of studies, they suggested that I join their church. They really pushed that their church was evangelizing far more than my church and that every member of their church lives like a disciple as the Bible commands us to. They really pressured me into going, asking me a lot of questions about my church. (I really like my church. It’s evangelical and they do evangelize.) I honestly felt that no matter what I would say, they would come up with something better about their church. They even put the people in my church down, especially the pastor, because my church wasn’t experiencing their enormous growth. So I decided to go with them the next Sunday, just to visit.
I was skeptical of them the whole time during the two months. I was educated in the area of the cults and decided at the first meeting that if this was a cult, I was in a no-lose situation: either go to a better church or witness to a cult member and get further pumped up. The second half of the two months was spent having a good time with more of their people, even with other new people like myself. Activities included going to a movie, playing basketball, and just hanging out. The Bible studies continued at the same pace. Keep in mind also that I had a lot of homework - no free time left - and they knew it. This was when the Bible studies started to reflect more of their real salvation theology. They made it all sound so biblical, basing it on many verses of the Bible. They pressed their argument and hurried on to the next supportive verse. I was still skeptical, but I believed what they said and started to tell other people about it. I actually believed that I was still skeptical, but I really was not. I had changed without realizing it.
At the end of the two months, I had free time in the gap between classes and exams to really think it through and to truly study the Bible on my own. (They wrote notes for me at each Bible study.) I visited their church a second time, listening very attentively to the evangelist’s sermon. That night I could not sleep at all! I had known the Bible very well and had been a dedicated Christian for most of my life. The Holy Spirit kept revealing all kinds of verses to me that contradict what the ICofC had taught me. These were all verses I had known before-I really know my Bible. Verses they had used wrongfully were revealed in their true context. Even verses they hadn’t used kept coming to me. I finally had to write them all down. Earlier, when I had time to think more clearly and study them, I had only stumbled across some of their false assumptions and logical errors. Nothing like the immense flood of truth that was now surging from the life within me. Two days later I met with all my friends from that church and expressed how they were wrong in their thinking. The leader sternly argued against me, but I defeated him at every turn. Even made him admit fallacies that utterly destroyed his position. He became infuriated and stood up and told me I was arrogant, closed-minded, being sinful, and he wasn’t going to listen to me anymore. He said he didn’t want to study with me again. They cast me out for being skeptical. This should be ample proof that their friendship was only to proselytize me into their church.
At that time, I was the Bible Study Coordinator for my campus Christian group and had led a Bible study four times. Later, I discovered the evangelist knew this before he ever met me; he wanted me to influence the group for him. I’m familiar with the cults and have been knowledgeable of the Bible for most of my life and I’m respected in my group for that. If they can pull me into their cult, I don’t think it’s arrogant of me to assume they’re capable of leading many others astray. I was saved only by an act of God! While I was in the evangelist’s apartment, I saw all the phone lists with names of other people contacted. There were over twelve names (just one person’s list!) Half of them were people I recognized-from my church and from my campus group! These people were all Christians and I think it reasonable the other half were too. People in this cult like to put down their former churches, which they negatively call “religious.” Most of them used to be Christian. When I visited their church, almost everyone was college-age and I saw no complete families. This shows me that their campus ministries are their primary source of new people.
1993, 1994 - Steven E. Rauch <0024694@STUDENT.FLINT.UMICH.EDU>
Duplication and distribution is highly encouraged
Please read the first paper before reading this one. This goes into detail about how this cult thinks and what verses they misuse.
First of all, something must be said about the way they formulate doctrine. For example, they insist one must look at all the passages in the Bible dealing with salvation to understand how to be saved. This isn’t really wrong, but they organize everything said in all the verses to form doctrine. They make a recipe out of them. What they should do is take what is common between all the verses. They throw everything else the verses say into their doctrine.
Their salvation theology is this: believe in Jesus, repent, be a disciple, and be baptized (water), and then one is saved. In their way of thinking, belief is just in the existence of Jesus and everything He did. Their concept of repentance is to live completely without sin. If a sin is committed, they think the person was never really serious and wasn’t saved in the first place. Their idea of being a disciple is to bear all the fruits of a disciple. This means one must lead people to the Lord on a very regular basis, obey the leaders, love the people in the church enough to die for them, be open about your private life, read the Bible regularly, and continuously obey every command in the Bible. This is something worked up to and usually takes about a month. A disciple must also deny himself daily and make every effort. Unfortunately, they demand use of this effort in more than just spiritual things, such as one’s social life. They believe only disciples can be baptized. They believe Jesus made the atonement for our sins on the cross and they believe baptism is the point at which we receive forgiveness of sins. They believe this is when one contacts the blood of Christ.
Acts 11:25-26 They try to connect the words “disciple” and “Christian”, saying that you have to teach people about Jesus as Paul and Barnabus did, in order to be a Christian as the Bible defines a Christian. They ask, “Who were called Christians?” One has no choice but to respond, “disciples”, because the verse says so. “And what did they do?” ....
However logical, that’s not at all what the verse is saying. All this passage is saying is that people will know you’re a Christian when you teach them about Jesus. It doesn’t make one a Christian; it just lets them know.
Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16 are the only other places where the word “Christian” appears in the Bible. The Christian needs to examine these verses carefully. This cult probably misuses them in the same way.
It’s important to realize something right here. This cult is very famous for coming up with verses regarding Christian living - but they’ll teach it as though it’s necessary for salvation. This is something to look for.
Acts 2:38 They interpret it literally that you must repent and be baptized to be forgiven of your sins. They fail to see that Peter makes repentance the only necessity; it doesn’t mean baptism is part of it - just an added ritual to represent forgiveness. Look at Acts 3:19. Peter’s talking to the same type of people; it’s in the same context. Both Acts 2:38 and 3:19 have to be equally true. Peter doesn’t mention baptism in 3:19 because it isn’t important. He would have said it, if it was that important. Also, notice the amount of Peter’s speaking after verse 19. It continues to the end of the chapter at verse 26. They would like to argue that Peter was arrested immediately and was unable to mention baptism. But he wasn’t arrested until chapter four. Later on, they’ll try to say verse 19 doesn’t say your sins are washed away. But that’s only an attempt at confusion. Wiped away and washed away both have the same meaning - your sins are removed.
The fact that Acts 2:38 and 3:19 are equally true, and yet only one of them mentions baptism, indicates baptism is only extra, and is not necessary. It’s important to notice the fallacy of their way of forming doctrine - that is, adding different verses into a recipe format.
Acts 9:1-19 Acts 22:1-16 They trace the story to see exactly when Saul was saved. They finally rest at the end of the story at 9:19 where Saul was baptized and look at 22:16 at what Ananias said to him. They interpret 22:16 to mean baptism is literally washing your sins away. They fail to see that it only represents washing sins away, and that’s why they’re mentioned together. Then they combine “calling on His name” (22:16) with Romans 10:13, to mean it’s done only at baptism to be saved. But that’s absurd because one calls on His name also during worship and prayer. (Psalms 105:1; 116:17) Indeed, calling on His name is done every time we approach Him. Their idea is even more ridiculous when you know that Romans 10:13 supports verses 9-12 which teach salvation only by believing in Jesus and without any water baptism.
Two places where this scripture contradicts their theology come to mind. First, they believe Saul fasted in repentance because he wasn’t saved. But fasting is done by those already saved. In fact, Matt. 6:18 is pointless if one isn’t saved, having God as Father. The second place is Acts 9:20. Notice here that Saul didn’t start to preach until after he was baptized. According to their beliefs, one must be a disciple and preach before getting baptized and saved. To be consistent, they must believe Saul was never qualified for baptism and hence, not saved! His blindness was no excuse; he was lead by the hand. They also refer to Acts 8:34-39, about the Ethiopian eunuch, to support baptismal conversion. However, that passage doesn’t say baptism was necessary. Philip only asked the eunuch if he believed. (v.37) He didn’t ask him if he preaches the gospel. Philip knew he didn’t need to be a disciple, only a believer.
Romans 10:8-13 They say the Jews were already doing everything else required for salvation, and believing in Jesus was the only thing missing. They respond this way to every verse in the Bible that says you only have to believe, such as John 3:16. They believe the Jews had repented to God in the Old Law, were living like disciples and spreading their faith, and were already baptized. However, nothing could be farther from the truth! Jews did not spread their faith very often because they believed they were God’s chosen people. And baptism is purely a New Testament phenomenon! Why did Saul, the Pharisee, have to be baptized? Don’t be fooled by their attempt to use Romans 6:1-4 to say the Jews were already baptized before chapter ten. Paul always says “we” were baptized-not them.
It’s also hard to believe that the Jews in Jesus’ time were obedient to God when their teachers, the Pharisees, were so corrupt in their man-made laws and in their twisting of Old Testament teaching. The ICofC likes to portray the more modern Judaism. They’ll say that Jews spread their faith and are baptized, which is typically true of modern times although baptism really hasn’t been integrated into Judaism. They do have a ceremonial washing that at least resembles baptism in appearance, but it can’t be considered the same thing.
I Peter 3:18-22 This is the main scripture for their belief in baptismal conversion. As you might have suspected, they interpret it very literally. They also look at Romans 6:1-4, Col 2:12, 1 Cor 12:13, Gal 3:27, and Mark 16:16 in the same way. Again, they fail to see that it only represents salvation. One doesn’t need it to be saved. 1 Peter 3:21 does say that baptism saves you, but the word “saved” doesn’t always refer to salvation. They will, after a while, agree that it saves one from a bad conscious toward God. But then, they’ll suggest that no one can enter Heaven with a bad conscious. It should be pointed out, however, that the verse says it’s a “pledge of a good conscious” (NIV) - one already has a good conscious.
Their last defense is an analogy about taking a pledge. They’ll say baptism is a necessary pledge, just like the pledge a police officer or the President must say before taking office. But this is a false analogy, because being saved is not like having a professional job. Even if you buy the analogy, inconsistencies arise. A pledge points to an agreement or promise, like a toast, and is in itself symbolic. The policeman’s pledge, for example, is symbolic of the agreement to be a policeman. Not the actual agreement, but just a ritual to show it. The agreement was obviously made a long time ago. Since a pledge is symbolic of a decision, this is where the Bible calls baptism symbolic. It’s a representation of what has already happened in the believer’s life.
The following is I Peter 3:21 taken from the Young’s Literal Translation (1898):
also to which an antitype doth now save us-baptism, (not a putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the question of a good conscious in regard to God,) through the rising again of Jesus Christ,
Baptism does not wash away the filth of the flesh. It doesn’t wash it away in a literal sense, as a bath for the body, or in a metaphorical sense of the filth of the soul. Peter flatly denies baptismal remission of sin.
A rendering of the Greek shows that the word for ‘question’ should be translated as ‘inquiry’ or ‘the interrogation of a good conscious toward God.’ The word for ‘inquiry’ is an old word which means to question. In ancient Greek, it never means answer, but only inquiry. The Antonines used it to state the Senate’s approval after an inquiry was made. Thus, baptism is the action of the inquiry of a good conscious toward God. The believer already has a good conscious toward God. And one cannot have a good conscious toward God unless saved.
It’s interesting that when Gal. 3:27 says that those baptized “put on Christ,” the Greek word for ‘put’ is ‘enedusasthe.’ It means like a badge or uniform of service like that of the soldier. The verb is common to putting on garments, either literally or metaphorically as used here. In other words, the verb is like in I Thess. 5:8, “putting on the breastplate of righteousness.” Just like the imagery used in I Thess. 5:8, baptism is the symbolic picture of the change that already occurred by faith. Also, in Romans 6:3-4, a better rendering of the Greek yields, “baptized unto Christ”, instead of “baptized into Christ.” The word ‘unto’ makes it symbolic. Paul uses the imagery of baptism to present the spiritual truth about dying with and rising with Christ, probably because baptism was something his audience could picture.
The following are some verses that openly contradict their theology:
Acts 10:1-11:18 Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. (v.44) He was later baptized in verse 48. He was previously an unsaved man. (11:14) We don’t even have to guess what Peter said, because it tells us. All they had to do was receive his message. In 11:18, the disciples knew the Gentiles were saved when the Holy Spirit came on them. The Gentiles received “repentance unto life.” This cult agrees that the Holy Spirit is proof that one is saved, but believes it must happen after baptism. When confronting them, they try very hard to evade this one.
Ephesians 2:8-10 (see also Galatians 2:16-21) One is saved through faith. That’s all it takes. “And this is not from yourselves,” from the NIV, “and this is not your own doing,” from the RSV, speak to the undeniable point of this passage: “not by works.” Since faith has already been accounted for, “works” can’t include faith. Works is defined as any physical action on the part of the believer. Faith is not something physical. This means one doesn’t have to lead people to the Lord to be saved -that would be a physical action. One doesn’t have to be a disciple, because a disciple’s life is full of works! Baptism isn’t needed either, a physical ritual, a work no matter how simple. As verse 10 states, “we are ... created ... to do good works.” It’s the “we” in verse 10, who were saved by grace like the Ephesians, who perform good works. Works obviously come after salvation. Good works, according to God’s standard, can only be performed by those who believe they’re saved just by having faith.
The context of this passage will not destroy this straight-forward interpretation. This book was written to Christians, not Jews. Not everyone in this church used to be a Jew. Some were Gentile (2:11) and were converted directly to Jesus. (v.13) Their origins don’t even matter. Paul was telling Christians how they were saved.
Titus 3:5 This verse says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Titus was a Greek (Gentile) and not a Jew. Paul was telling Titus what to preach to the Gentiles on the island of Crete. It’s obvious here that we’re not saved by righteous acts, such as being a disciple. And this verse is talking about the way of salvation, as opposed to the atonement, because the next sentence says, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” It’s talking about the Holy Spirit’s activity of rebirth in conversion. It’s obviously talking about receiving salvation.
John 5:24; 3:16,18 These verses and others all say “whoever” believes has eternal life. “Whoever”, certainly includes more than just the Jews. “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’” (Mark 16:15) “And this gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (Mark 13:10) “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” (Matt 24:14) The gospel is obviously the words Jesus spoke. (John 14:24) Jesus knew when He spoke that His words would be preached in the whole world. He spoke for the whole world when he said, “whoever.”
Galations 3:8 This reference to Galations 1-3 has been added to this paper because of its importance. The message is clear: nobody is justified by works of the Law, but only by faith. The teachings of the International Church of Christ that one must constantly add works to faith as a requirement of salvation are seriously countered and defeated in these three chapters. The heresy Paul was warning these people against strongly resembles the ICofC, with the exception of obeying Jewish rituals. But even with that, having to obey every command is bad enough. That’s essentially the Law, and the ICofC expands it to New Testament commands. Vaguely speaking, any code of works to obtain salvation is the Law. The ICofC is trying to take away the freedom you have in Christ.
Galations 3:8 says, “The Scripture foresaw that God would JUSTIFY THE GENTILES BY FAITH, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” Those who believe are children of Abraham, those that have faith. (3:7,9) As they like to ask you, ask them, “If something you believe contradicts with the Bible, which do you believe?”
Unfortunately, the specific verses they use to support their belief in absolute submission to church leaders is unknown to this writer. They probably use the verses about Jesus giving orders to his disciples. Then they relate that to church authority, since all authority is from God. With this reasoning, they would fail to understand the difference between the relationship Christians have with Jesus and the relationship they have with other Christians. We obey Jesus without question because He’s the Son of God. That doesn’t apply to other Christians. It’s no wonder they would believe their leader is their “covering.”
WRITER’S NOTE: My explanation of the above verses should not be taken as the final authority. It’s hoped the reader will have a personal interpretation of his own. Other verses that contradict this cult are hoped to develop personally. The purpose of this was to demonstrate what a free mind can produce. There are too many possible verses this cult may use. I hoped to give you the strongest ones and a general feel for what others they may bring up.
1993, 1994 - Steven E. Rauch <0024694@STUDENT.FLINT.UMICH.EDU> Duplication and distribution is highly encouraged
I was personally “sucked” into the International Church of Christ movement without knowing it for about two months. A student at my university came up to me and asked, “Would you like to study the Bible with me?” After asking what church he attended, I agreed. But two months later, with time to reflect on it, I was forced to leave as I discovered it was a cult. That student was their campus evangelist, even taking classes at my university. These are characteristics of that organization I witnessed: