Amy had been in the church for four years. She had been involved in church planting for the previous two years. Now she was on the phone and wanted information. She was scared and wanted to get out. But she had nowhere to turn. You see, Amy had been subtly brainwashed into believing that she was in the “true church” and that all others churches were apostate.
Amy is now free from the bondage that she so freely accepted several years ago. She wanted to be serious about her faith and make an impact on the world for Christ. But she ended up in a cult! Perhaps you are not aware of The Boston Church, but you have a key advantage that Amy did not have – an opportunity to know the truth before you encounter this church of deception.
Church Background and History
The International Church of Christ, also known as The Boston Church, began in Gainesville, Florida, under the leadership of Chuck Lucas in 1971. It was known as the Crossroads Church of Christ and Lucas was the pastor. Chuck Lucas was involved in “Campus Advance,” an outreach program at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
There he met Kip McKean who later became the founding evangelist and prime influence of the movement. Lucas trained McKean in discipleship based on Robert E. Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism.
In 1976 McKean and other young men under Pastor Lucas’ influence were sent to other Churches of Christ with close proximity to university campuses to establish similar ministries. Kip was sent to Heritage Chapel Church of Christ and Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. His success brought scrutiny to his method of discipleship and many in the church questioned his use of manipulation and control to reach new disciples. McKean’s aggressive form of discipleship is both the source of the movement’s growth and its source of controversy.
In 1979 McKean was moved to the Boston area and the Lexington Church of Christ. It was in Boston that his methodology of subtle manipulation and mind control took its effect on great numbers of people. The church literally exploded in membership from 30 to over 1,000 members.
In 1983 the church changed its name to the Boston Church of Christ. In the early 1980’s the church sent disciples across the United States and around the world to establish a ministry that would, in effect, disciple the world.
Because they believed that the biblical model for naming churches was to name them after the city where they were established, they would name them the Stockholm Church of Christ or the Dallas-Ft. Worth Church of Christ, etc. Essentially, they would authorize one church per city. According to figures in 1997, they have planted churches on every continent and have a membership of 143,000. The International Churches of Christ has 292 congregations around the world and is currently active in 115 countries. The church has been embarrassed in recent years by the departure of thousands of members who no longer could live under the smothering control of the church. Ex-members confide that for as many people who join the church an equal number flee the church’s bondage.
According to a Time magazine article, May 16, 1992, The Boston Church utilizes a “control system” that is designed to focus all the energies of the member on bringing new people into the church. Mark Trahan, a former member in New York, said “All you think about is recruiting.” It becomes a way of life inside the group.
Trahan goes on to say that once a member leaves the church, he becomes a “marked” man and is shunned by members who are directed to no longer have any contact with them.
As we continue taking a look at the Boston Church Movement we will see how it embraces legalism and legalism often opens the door to another gospel. A gospel that ultimately says the cross is not enough to gain our salvation.
Church Teaching and Belief
On the surface The Boston Church is much like other Churches of Christ in relationship to their teaching and doctrine. They both teach the necessity of water baptism by immersion, the innocence of infants, the invalidity of original sin, and that musical instruments are not to be a part of worship.
However, The Boston Church and the mainline Church of Christ differ on several counts. The Boston Church utilizes a hierarchical structure of church organization rather than one that reflects the independent nature of the local church. The Boston Church further differs from the mainline body in its controlling method of discipleship which represents the most serious concern about the church.
Discipleship is a requirement for the believer. There are no options. Each member has a discipler and is held accountable to the church by that individual. The disciple is not allowed to make basic decisions on his or her own, but to conform to the wishes of the discipler and ultimately the church.
The disciple is given direction on every aspect of his life, from church attendance and giving, to his dating habits or personal relationships, where to live, his sex life, and a multitude of decisions in between. The disciple’s life is regulated and controlled all for the glory of God.
In an article by Stephen F. Cannon, The Boston Church of Christ - Has Mind Control Come to Beantown?, the author gives us an insight into how the discipling program is structured. “New converts are discipled by older converts. The older converts are discipled by Bible talk leaders. The Bible talk leaders are discipled by zone evangelists. The zone evangelists are discipled by Kip McKean and the elders.”
McKean is the absolute leader. He determines “how far a congregation will go in obeying the Scriptures by how consistently he corrects mistakes, rebukes sin, encourages obedience and by impartially carrying out the instructions of God . . the Evangelist must know where the church is in the eyes of God, where it is headed and what it will take to get where God wants it to be.”
This type of authoritarian leadership is not supported by Scripture. Rather, mutual servanthood was the norm under Jesus’ watch (Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27). Scripture is clear in its teaching regarding to whom we are to be accountable. I Timothy 2:5 states that Jesus is our mediator, not man.
Baptism equals salvation. As mentioned earlier, The Boston Church agrees with the mainline Church of Christ on basic doctrine. Generally, The Boston Church is in agreement that the member must be baptized by the Church of Christ by immersion to receive his or her salvation. However, The Boston Church goes one step further and says that the member must be a disciple in order for his or her baptism to count unto salvation.
In other words, faith, repentance, and confession are not enough for the believer to be acceptable before God, but he must be baptized by the “true” church as a disciple. The Bible offers the unbeliever a simple option, to only believe and you will be saved (Romans 10:9). God does not place restrictions on us as sinners; He only asks us to believe and exercise our faith.
Abusive Behavior in The Church
There are many ways for abuse to become a controlling element in a church body. Later we will look at specific ways one can avoid deception. But for now, let’s look at a few ways that we can discern abusive behavior in the church.
A key element most always found in abusive churches is a leadership that is excessive in controlling its members. Pat Zukeran, an apologist and an authority on The Boston Church Movement, says this about control-oriented leadership. “The leader in an abusive church is dogmatic, self-confident, arrogant, and the spiritual focal point in the lives of his followers. The leader assumes he is more spiritually in tune with God than anyone else. He claims insight into Scripture that no one else has. Or, he may state that he receives personal revelations from God.”
Another element of control that usually accompanies this style of leadership is the leader offering his or her personal interpretation of the Scripture and in some cases even re-writing the Scripture to underscore their ideas. This level of manipulation opens the door to a subtle control that affects how one thinks and pulls the member more deeply into the web of deception.
The Scripture challenges us to seek its counsel rather than that of men. We are to measure all teachings against the Word of God. We find an example of this counsel in Acts 17:11 where the Apostle Paul placed himself under the authority of the Scripture.
Manipulation of church membership is another element of abuse that may be found in churches. It is most always very subtle and is usually a highly skilled method of control.
The use of unwarranted guilt, intimidation, peer pressure, threats of divine judgment from God for disobedience, and confessional are among the methods employed to manipulate the member.
Stephen F. Cannon, mentioned earlier, says that “the chief tool to keep the flock in line seems to be the doctrine of personal confession to one’s discipler.” Cannon continues by quoting Rev. Buddy Martin, of Cape Cod Church of Christ, “that almost everyone in the Boston Church of Christ tells their secrets.” Martin further confirmed “that those secrets are often used against the person if they don’t follow the ‘party line’ and do what the elders want them to do.”
This kind of manipulation is foreign to our Lord, who sacrificially gave of Himself for others. Jesus’ example is one of humility and service, not the dogmatism and arrogance found in those who would abuse their followers.
Another aspect of an abusive church is one that establishes itself as being the only “true” church. In their methodology all other churches are wrong or practice a false doctrine. They do not allow for any outside teaching that may be contrary to their interpretation of “truth”.
The abusive church demands undying allegiance to its leadership and its doctrinal positions. It becomes authoritative on every element and aspect in the life of the believer. There is no room for another position to be considered.
Understanding Thought Reform
Abusive churches such as The Boston Church Movement and others use thought reform as a standard element in their program of recruitment. The key to their success is the ability to keep the subject unaware of being manipulated and controlled.
Mindbending or thought reform is carried out in a sophisticated program that incorporates three elements to bring the desired result. They convince you that your past is wrong and that it has negatively influenced your present life. They make every effort to gain control over your personal will. This is done by introducing mind altering activities into your normal routine. The desire of the group is to alter your normal thought processes and essentially introduce a neutral or free wheeling state of mind in the individual so they can ultimately reprogram the mind.
All thought reform cults use this method of mind control. The methods to accomplish this state range from the use of meditation techniques, to pray-reading and chanting a mantra, to name just a few.
Once the group has gained control of the new convert’s mind, an intensive time of reprogramming or indoctrination is begun to establish the group’s goals and reinterpretation of “truth” or other beliefs. The key to this process of thought reform is to keep the subject unaware of the manipulation that is taking place in his mind.
How thought reform works? Clinical psychologist and emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkley, and author of, Cults In Our Midst - The Hidden Menace In Our Everyday Lives , Margaret Thaler Singer offers the following tactics used by thought-reform programs.
The first tactic is to “destabilize a person’s sense of self.” In essence, cultivate an environment of community in the individual that eliminates his or her person -hood, thereby creating an identity crisis within the individual.
The second tactic is to “get the person to drastically reinterpret his or her life’s history and radically alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality and causality.”
And the third tactic used by the group is to “develop in the person a dependency on the organization, and thereby turn the person into a deployable agent of the organization.”
Dr. Singer offers six conditions that are employed to gain the desirable results of thought reform. The first condition that must be accomplished is to keep the individual “unaware that there is an agenda to control or change” them.
The second is to control their “time and physical environment”. The convert is denied an opportunity to interact with family or friends and he or she is subjected to a schedule that utilizes every minute of their day without giving them a chance to find time alone.
The third condition is to “create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and dependency.” The group systematically eliminates the individual’s support system. The organization may implement a system of rigid control that dictates where you work or live, how you spend your spare time, and other aspects of personal freedom, thereby increasing your sense of powerlessness.
The fourth condition is to “suppress old behavior and attitudes.” The individual’s prior ideas about right and wrong become irrelevant as the group continues to define the approved agenda of thought.
The fifth condition that must be met is to “instill new behavior and attitudes” so the convert will readily assimilate into the organization. A system of rewards and punishment is instituted to further control the individual. The goal is for the individual to accept the new philosophy without question.
The sixth, and last condition that Dr. Singer offers, is to “put forth a closed system of logic” that deters any ability to question the authority of the leadership. There is no opportunity to express doubt or offer any kind of contradiction that would bring into question the veracity of the organization. The individual is always wrong in such a case and the organization is always right.
These six conditions are utilized to varying degrees by all groups that attempt to reform a new convert’s thought. It is no less than subtle brainwashing and it is destructive in the long term.
If we are to guard our minds from the enemy and renew them as the Scripture challenges us to do then we must remain vigilant. We cannot do any less if we are to prove ourselves before God.
In our previous discussion we have dealt with The Boston Church and its abusive nature. We have also looked at thought reform and how the church uses it to control its membership. In our last segment we are going to look at practical ways we, as Christians, can avoid being deceived by those who would entrap us by false teaching.
Deception is a mainstay of thought reform cults and groups. It is a subtle form of manipulation that erodes the personal freedom of individuals. In our time it has become imperative for us to protect ourselves from those who would deceive and abuse us. Here are several practical ways you can prevent deception in your life.
ONE: Keep your spiritual life personal. Do not discuss it with people you do not know personally. However, if an individual wants to discuss his spiritual life with you keep the focus of such a discussion on them and avoid your own. (This approach will not allow someone, who may be out to solicit you into an aberrant group, to seduce you in a time of vulnerability.)
TWO: Be aware of Bible studies or meetings that are offered outside of known Christian groups or organizations. If you are unsure of a particular group check it out by asking your pastor or other legitimate spiritual authorities.
THREE: Sincerity does not equal truth. If someone uses Christian terminology and is accommodating they may be camouflaging their true intent - deception - by meeting your social and personal need to belong. Remember legitimate groups are up front and more than willing to identify who they are and what they are about.
FOUR: Avoid groups that do not allow you to question their teaching or authority. Non-Christian groups attempt to mislead the individual regarding their true beliefs and goals by not allowing the prospective member to ask needed questions.
FIVE: Avoid groups that do not allow you time to reflect on what you have been taught by encouraging you to become overly involved in “church” activity, and thereby, not giving you the space you need to make your best decisions about your spiritual life.
SIX: Be aware of groups that attempt to limit or sever your relationship with your family, your church, and long-standing friends in the faith who are, in effect, your support net.
SEVEN: Be aware of groups that supplant individuality and personal freedom with a communal identity.
EIGHT: Make an effort to discover what kind of authority the group operates under. Do members have leeway in making decisions about their present and future or are they manipulated to do what the group desires?
The Scripture contains warnings about those who would bring dissension into the church. Romans 16:17 says, “I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.”
2 Peter 2:1 tells us that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies . . . and in their greed they will exploit you with false words . . . “
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