This sermon is number 6 in a series of 14
Strongholds Shaken - Part 6
"International Church Of Christ"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Church Of Christ
Characteristics of a Cult:
I want you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians. Now we're looking tonight at the 'Church of Christ', it is called the 'International Church of Christ', and it has many other names, but we're going to try to define who they are this evening, and understand something about their doctrine and practice. I want to take this passage, and we'll refer to this later on in our meeting when we look specifically at the theology, the doctrine of this particular movement. But I want us to note carefully what the apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has to say - verse 12: "Now this I say", Paul's speaking into the situation in Corinth where the believers in this church were splitting up into different factions who were following individuals. "Now this I say that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas", or Peter, "and I of Christ" - 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 12 - "Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?". Now mark these words please, Paul says: "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God", and we'll finish our reading at verse 18, and you might want to keep a marker in that passage of Scripture, although we'll be looking at many others this evening.
Steve Wookey has written a book entitled 'As Angels of Light' on the subject particularly of the London Church of Christ. He characterises the London Church of Christ, which is a particular parochial branch of the International Church of Christ, in this way, and I quote what he says verbatim: 'You might meet them in the underground, or outside a station, or on the street. They will ask you if you would like to join a Bible study or come to a meeting, they will be friendly but a little insistent. You may already be a member of a church, but somehow their church has so much more to offer, so you really ought to try their church. They will get hold of your telephone number and then call you often, sometimes everyday, to encourage you to come along to their meetings. Before you know it, you are caught up with them - you have questions, but somehow you never get the chance to ask them. Your timetable is just too full, and the commitment expected of you is simply too demanding. You find yourself with a discipler, who begins to make all your decisions for you - what job you should do, what course you should take, where you should live. All of a sudden your parents and your friends appear to be worried by the amount of time that you're spending with the church, so your discipler points out that they are a bad influence on you, and you ought not to see them too much'. So Steve Wookey in his book, 'As Angels of Light', described the characteristics of the International Church of Christ, specifically in London.
But you know, that definition and list of characteristics that he gives of the International Church of Christ, I believe is very akin to a caricature of any classic cult, whatever that cult may be, whatever name they take for themselves. Now there's a great debate going on at the moment as to whether the International Church of Christ is a cult, or whether it is a genuine Christian church purely with cultic characteristics and tendencies. In fact, I have to be careful, although I'll not be too careful in what I say tonight, because the International Church of Christ in Singapore actually took a newspaper to court who called them a cult, and they won the court case to prove that, as far as they were concerned, according to the law of the land in Singapore they were not a cult.
Now I have resisted, as we've gone through these studies each week, probably because of the multitude of other things that I've had to say each night, from actually defining for us what a cult is. Maybe you've been curious as to what the definitions of a 'cult' are - how do you recognise a cult, defined as opposed to the Christian church? Maybe we could spend some time on this just for a few moments. If you look up at the screen tonight, you'll see some of the characteristics of a cult. A man called Matt Slick has defined these, he is the founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, abbreviated 'CARM' - you can find their web site on the World Wide Web, it's very helpful in these matters. I have taken a few of his definitions as to how we can recognise a cult in our day and age, the particular distinctives that are found in a cult as opposed to what is the true Christian church in a Bible sense.
The first characteristic, often, in a cult is that there is a new teaching that has been brought to light. In other words, whether it's a prophet, or just a particular organisation, it's purporting to have a new light on the gospel, a new prophetic revelation that God has given only to them, and they need to reveal it to the world - a new teaching, a new inspiration of God. We've found in recent weeks that in the Jehovah's Witnesses movement it's revealed in the New World Translation and by their prophet Russell. In the Mormons you have it through Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and many other 'inspired writings', so-called, that they aspire to. You have it right throughout the world of the cults: men with new ideas of how to come to God, new revelations that they claim God's Spirit has revealed to them.
The second distinctive that sort of flows out of that is that they, of course, claim exclusivity to that revelation. They believe that they are the only true church, and they have the only true teaching on this new way to God. As far as they are concerned, you'll hear them use this language, everybody else - particularly the rest of Christendom - are apostates, they have left the true gospel, whether it has been since the Reformation or since the fifth century or something like that - but they believe that they alone have the truth.
The third distinctive that you'll have noticed going through these studies Monday-by-Monday, is that in these cults there is a strong leadership - whether it's one individual who has founded the cult, or a group of individuals who lead the church, all of them seem to have this leadership base that exerts strict control over the religious group, almost in a dictator-like fashion. What they say goes, and almost that their word is taken as the word of God, being a prophet of God. Strong leadership.
Fourthly, another characteristic is overt financial emphasis. You will find within many a cult, if not them all, compulsory tithing - you have to give a tenth of your income - and even worse than that, some cults even acquire your assets, whether it be after your inheritance - the wealth of another who has died and left it to you - or even your own assets after you die, whether it be in the bank or in property, they seem to be able to get their hands on it one way or another. Often in cults we see this characteristic of overt financial emphasis.
Fifthly, there is what we could call isolationism. Cults are isolationist - now what do I mean by that? Well, they try to sever you from real-life, whether that real-life be the world in general, or whether it be your church background or your family love and dependence on those around you, flesh and blood - they try in some way to gain more control over you than those other environments of your life have. They do it physically, they try to cut you off physically from family and friends and other religious influences. They try to do it mentally, by mind control techniques - that's why you hear many people talking about cults as 'brainwashing people'. They do it financially, they try and cut off you giving your finance to other things, and give it to the church, whereby you feel you are obliged to them because your assets have been poured into their organisation. And they certainly do it emotionally, where they seek to get you dependent on that particular group of people.
What outflows from that is that they are controlling, sixthly, they seek to get control through isolating you, through teaching you in their doctrine that you could lose your salvation - not if you lose faith in Christ, but if you leave their group. They are the sole inheritors of salvation because of their new teaching and revelation, so if you leave them, you leave Christ and you leave any hope of heaven. So they create an emotional dependency, and they put it into practice through the doctrine and also through other things such as meditation, the repetition of words - you will find in cults that they often have their own language, cliches and phrases. By using this language they're able to identify whether you are in the group or not, and if you don't know how to use the language, well, you're not in the group; but if you can use it, well, you're one of them. There is a sense of belonging that comes with the special jargon and phraseology that's adopted.
Seventhly, they use control over you through deprivation. Often what will happen, and specifically regarding the International Church of Christ, you will find some of the disciples testifying that often all the hours of sleep that they have are four and half to five hours a night. They spend so much time praying, reading the Bible, studying the Scriptures, reading together in their fellowship, that they can only get that amount of sleep. They go in quite a lot for fasting, and of course the Bible teaches fasting, but they go into it fanatically - not in the sense of chronologically, the time that they fast, or the way that they fast, but they allow their disciples - and even encourage them - to fast so that when they become weak through sleep deprivation and food deprivation, their wills also become limp and they're very prone to any suggestion that will be given to them by their strong strict leadership. Through deprivation they weaken the will.
An eighth characteristic of a cult is indoctrination, and of course this is the obvious one - but we need to realise that particularly in a cult, continually and constantly their belief is reinforced and, this is what is chiefly characteristic, all other opposing views or critique of their views are misunderstood voluntarily so, and really most of the time prohibited. You're not allowed to look into anything else that could contradict your beliefs.
Ninthly, and finally as far as we will go, one particular characteristic of a cult is that they believe they're being persecuted all the time. They're persecuted because they have the truth and nobody else has the truth, but they actually imbibe within their followers this belief that any challenge to their beliefs, any argument, any questioning, any trying to reason with your rationale that God has given to you, is persecution. Therefore you're to avoid it.
So I hope you see how you can recognise a cult. There are many other definitions and characteristics that we could give to you tonight, but those are some that may help you to discern what a cult is. Now a second question, before we look at the International Church of Christ specifically, the second question I want to ask is: what type of people join a cult? Well, I believe this will shed light on the International Church of Christ itself, when we say that those that join a cult - not in any way to be patronising to them - are often vulnerable people. They are vulnerable, they may be vulnerable emotionally, in other words they may have had a loss in their life - they may not have many family members or friends. They may be vulnerable spiritually, in other words they are searching, they're looking for the truth, they want a religious community to join and feel a part of and feel at home in. They may be financially vulnerable, they don't know how to deal or handle their finances, and all of a sudden this cult comes along and says: 'We'll take full control of your finances, we'll get you into financial shape, and show you how God can bless you financially'.
A second mark of the type of people that join a cult are that they're not only vulnerable, but they're supernaturally curious. I mean that they're interested in the supernatural, they want to know more about eternity, salvation, heaven, hell and God. Then thirdly, often they are intellectually confused. Maybe they have gone to university, maybe they have searched the Scriptures, maybe they have studied theology, and maybe cults and religions of all kinds right across the globe - and they really do desire to know the way to God, and what true reason and truth may be, and so they search. Like Solomon of old they maybe go into every cult or belief possible to find out what is the real truth.
A third question I want to look at is not just what type of people join it, but the general profile of members in a cult. Once a person joins a cult, what happens to them? The characteristics of members of a cult - and this is often how you will recognise that a person has joined a cult. Many of you who will have known anybody in a cult will be able to decipher this right away. Generally speaking there is a change of character in a person who joins a cult. Now that change of character could be summarised threefold - or maybe fourfold even, or fivefold, we'll see how far we go. One: a loss of humour - now that makes me suspect that some Christians must have joined a cult when we weren't looking at them - but nevertheless, there is often a loss of humour. In other words, they fail to be able to laugh at themselves, and laugh at other people particularly among their group. Then we find also that a characteristic of them is a childlike behaviour, and what I mean by that is that they become excessively dependent on other people. They're always seeking the approval of their leaders, of their prophets and their elders. They bow and scrape to them like little children to parents. Then, what outflows from that, is an indecisiveness that is characteristic in people who join a cult. They're always consulting the leaders over this decision, or that decision, they want to know God's divine will, and they seem not to be able to make a decision for themselves even before God.
Here's a characteristic that we find particularly in the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses that we've encountered over recent weeks who have been here, and it's been good to see them - but there is tunnel vision. They can't see beyond what they have imbibed as truth, and no matter how much evidence that you give them that seems to categorically expose the beliefs and practices behind their cult, they just won't believe it, they have tunnel vision. Something related to that is an inability to reason. I talked to you about this, particularly in the cult of the Mormons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that it doesn't matter how you could prove to them that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were the greatest crooks that ever walked across the face of the earth, it doesn't matter to them because they're not depending on facts - and they admitted that to me that very evening after the meeting - they're not depending on facts, they're depending on an inner light! This is where we have to be careful as Christians: there's a danger that we run around singing 'I'll tell you why I know He lives, He lives within my heart' - now that doesn't mean anything! We know He lives because there's an empty tomb, and it can be proven that there's an empty tomb - sure, who knows what's in your heart? Who knows what's in my heart? It is not chiefly the testimony of our own subjective experience, it is the facts and experience of truth that can be proven evidentially.
Now why do I tell you how to recognise a cult, what type of people join a cult, and what is the general profile of cult members? It's simply this: because there is a dispute as to whether the International Church of Christ is a cult or not - and I'll leave you to decide on that, but I think it's very clear. The difficulty here when we consider the International Church of Christ, is that it does seem, with the first glance of the naked eye, to be an orthodox, in the theological sense, Christian church - with the exception of a couple of tenets of doctrine. This is why I believe it's so dangerous, and perhaps this is the most dangerous aspect of the International Church of Christ: how it is so like biblical Christianity, it appears to be just like any other Christian church or denomination, even if it is a little bit overzealous in how it propounds its doctrine. It appears to have many, many similarities with Bible Christianity.
Let me show you a couple of them: one, we have debated over these weeks from scripture how there is taught within the word of God the Trinity, the triune Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - three separate persons, one God, one substance. Well, the International Church of Christ believes in the Trinity, it believes in the deity of Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit. It believes in the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus, it believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God and ought to be the final source and ultimate authority of the church. It believes in a literal hell, it believes in a literal heaven, it believes in the personality of Satan as a literal fallen angel. And so it is very easy for people to think: 'Oh, this is just another fundamental Bible-believing organisation and movement'.
When we consider the backdrop that there is in a religious sense, ecclesiastically in our world today, the backslidden nature of the church of Jesus Christ, mainstream, regarding the truth of God's word - it can be refreshing to realise that there actually is a group that is zealous, a group that is full of conviction - what a pleasant change it is to find a group of people who actually believe what they say and stand by it! This is why the International Church of Christ can be so attractive to people today. There is a great deal of commitment among them. Their devotion to the word of God and the study of it, even though they are in error with the interpretations that they take, it is second to none. Their emphasis on obedience, their friendliness, their vigorousness in evangelism and soul-winning, as they see it - I would have to say that they, in this regard, show the most of us Christians up right away!
Now I know that can be said of other cults that we've considered over this series, but this is where the danger lies! This is why Steve Wookey entitled his book on the London Church of Christ 'The Angels of Light', because they appear so plausible, they appear so orthodox - but when we will look at their methods, their techniques, their practices and their beliefs, we will see that they are far from the true church of Jesus Christ.
It's very hard to give you a total resume of everything that they believe on such a night as this, in one hour or so. But I want to show you a video clip, Jill Dando is the presenter at the beginning, and I think it was on Breakfast News on the BBC several years ago. It's just a six minute cameo that gives you a summary of the beliefs and practices of the Church of Christ, and also how the outer world perceives them:
[Begin video transcript]
Dando: "There has been increasing criticism of the teaching methods used by one group, and that is the London Church of Christ. Anastasia Cook reports"
Cook: "It's one of the fastest-growing religious cults in the country. The London Church of Christ came over from America 11 years ago, and now it has over 2000 members across Britain. They're encouraged by the church to go out every day of the week recruiting and evangelising in universities and public places. Their targets: the young and vulnerable. Whilst filming in Leicester Square our crew were approached no less than three times in the space of an hour"
COC Member: "Do you have a number, so that I can get in contact with you and give you a ring?"
Cook: "This church believes they provide the only true route to salvation, in return they command total obedience. The leaders make your decisions, and can even dictate who you marry - but many members say this commitment has changed their lives for the better"
COC Member: "Well, we give our lives basically, not only just our money, but our lives as well"
Cook: "And how have you benefited from it?"
COC Member: "Well, basically, I would say we all were lost, and I've gained - you know - the truth. That's the main thing I've gained, the truth, I would say"
Cook: "Do you like it? Why, tell us why?"
COC Members: "It's the only way to live, it's the only way to live - come along and find out!"
Cook: "Why is that, tell us why?"
Cook: "So, we went along to one of their Sunday meetings to investigate allegations that this church is splitting up families and brainwashing members. However we were told to leave the hall, and leaders instructed followers not to talk to us"
COC Leader: "We're going to have to ask you to leave now, I'm sorry"
Cook: "You're kidding? <Name> said he was going to allow us to..."
COC Leader: "Excuse me Sir, this way is the door. It has been discussed, and the leadership have come to a decision, it's final"
Cook: "An ex-member told us how her parents kidnapped her from the group because they felt she was being brainwashed. Two years on, she's still trying to come to terms with her experiences"
Ex-Member: "Whilst you're with the group you have no...you're not encouraged to be responsible, you have no independence basically. You've lost the ability to think for yourself, because whatever you do you always have to seek help, seek advice"
Cook: "You say you've met a lot of friends in the Church, do you know what has happened to them now?"
Ex-Member: "One young lady comes to mind, she has only been with the group for a short while, but she became very, very disturbed and confused about the teachings and what she had learned before joining the group, to the point of being psychologically disturbed - in fact, very suicidal"
Cook: "We asked the country's leading cult psychiatrist if she had come across any similar cases during her many dealings with ex-members"
Psychiatrist: "The phone calls I've had...I've had a lot of phonecalls about the London Church of Christ, and I haven't recorded them all - but they've been from psychiatric hospitals in the London area, and they've been about the fact that somebody who was admitted on section with an acute psychosis, talking unintelligibly and very distressed - either very high or very withdrawn. The relatives have told the psychiatrist concerned that the breakdown had something to do with the London Church of Christ"
Cook: "Now a growing number of established clergy are questioning the methods of the London Church of Christ, and the affects on its members"
Clergyman: "Whilst you're with the church everything seems fine, they're very loving, very friendly - but the moment you begin to ask questions, or disagree, or try to leave the church it's very, very different. They put all sorts of pressure on you, and if you leave them they tell you that you're inevitably going to go to hell - you've got no chance. That leaves people very scarred and very battered"
Cook: "Eighteen-year-old Samantha was recruited three months ago at her college, but she left last weekend because she became disturbed by their methods"
Cook: "Do you think you were brainwashed by the cult?"
Samantha: "Yea, I do, I do think I was brainwashed - even in three months, because people have been there three months, six months, a year, twelve months, and they're brainwashed. You know...the memory...they're always asking questions, you're always reading the Bible"
Cook: "In another case, Ian and Sally are going through agony as they try to persuade their eldest daughter to leave the cult before they lose her altogether"
Ian: "She will very likely suffer severe psychological damage when she does eventually leave, however she leaves, and she will need extensive psychiatric counselling for a long period of time"
Sally: "Even the amount of time she's been in it now, if she comes out relatively soon we've still got at least another year of counselling and getting her over the experiences that she's felt in the cult"
Cook: "We also discovered members of the cult offer 10 percent of their earnings. We tracked down the leader of the church, Fred Scott, to find out where this money is going, and to ask him about these allegations of brainwashing"
Cook: "Hi, is Fred Scott here? Hi Fred!"
Person at door: "He isn't prepared to talk to you, thanks very much" [Closes door]
Cook: "So we tried to talk to some members who live in one of the church's communes in Putney...they also refused to talk to us"
Cook: "How many people live here?"
COC Member: "I'm not going to answer that question"
Cook: "Do you not feel that they're coercing you, at all, as a church?"
COC Member: [Laughter] "I'm not going to answer that kind of question, I'm sorry"
Cook: "Just say 'no'" [COC Member closes door]
Hayworth [Ex-Member]: "The other thing I want to stress is that I was a victim of mind control and psychological coercion in a matter of four days, in fact they had me by Saturday mid-day, just after two..."
Cook: "Breaking down these walls of secrecy has become a life-long mission for Ian Hayworth, an ex-cult member himself. He is determined that others don't get involved"
Hayworth: "Cults grow exponentially, each person that becomes a victim becomes a victimiser; each person that's recruited becomes a recruiter - and so they can grow rather rapidly unless people are warned"
Cook: "For every one person who heeds the warnings, dozens more are recruited every week from the streets of Britain - new disciples to a growing cult, seemingly run on secrecy and fear"
[End video transcript]
Now you may ask the question: where did such a church come from, the International Church of Christ? It's no surprise, I'm sure, to most of you, like all these cults or most of them, it hails from America originally. It is a break-off of a more mainstream denomination, although some of their beliefs are heretical, the Church of Christ - the denomination, the 'Church of Christ' - yet the International Church of Christ came under the influence in the 1950s of the 'discipling movement'. The discipling movement is something akin to what went on in charismatic circles during the shepherding days of the shepherding movement. Since that influence, its roots can be traced to 1967 to the 'Crossroads Church of Christ' in Florida, out of which came a man called Kip McKean - that's a picture of him on the screen, and that's where he received his start, the Crossroads Movement. He was actually fired from the Houston, Texas Church of Christ, and then founded his own church in Boston, Massachusetts - where the International Church of Christ hails from, even those that are in London, and here in Ireland, all come from the church in Boston, Massachusetts in the States.
Now recently, and I don't know the circumstances of it, he has resigned as the leader - somewhat shaking the foundation of the church's authority, which we'll see in a moment. But the Central London Church of Christ was founded in 1982, and there are others across Britain, the United Kingdom and Ireland - and there is one not too far away from here on the Newtownards Road. They consider all other denominations as sinful and apostate. There are many doctrines that we'll not have time to look into tonight, but they cite biblical passages in particular that show the apostles establishing one church per city - and therefore they believe that there ought to be only one church per city, and of course they claim that that true church is always theirs.
Now in the year 2001 it was estimated, they claimed at least, that there were over 400 Churches of Christ across the globe, with 130,000 worldwide membership in 150 countries. Now although they are orthodox in many of the tenants of their doctrine, I want under two titles to show you and prove to you from the word of God the concerns that a Bible-believing Christian and church ought to have about the International Church of Christ.
Here's the first: discipling, their discipling processes. Now on the screen just now you'll see a diagram of the church structure for the International Church of Christ - this is the church structure. Now you'll not be able to understand, but just let me talk you through it: the previous leader and founder of the International Church of Christ is this guy at the top represented by the star, Kip McKean. He was the director and, it would have to be said, the unquestioned leader of the group - in fact, one member of the church said of him: 'He is the greatest living treasure that God has ever given the kingdom on the face of the earth today'. Whatever he says goes, and you can understand why the movement has been shaken now that he has resigned - I don't know why. But underneath him you will see that there are elders who serve underneath his authority and wisdom. Then underneath the elders there are evangelists and women's ministry leaders for major city churches, underneath those evangelists there are zone leaders, and then there are house church leaders, and then there are assistant Bible-talk leaders. That is the hierarchy of government within the church that keeps a rein on everything that goes on in such an authoritarian way.
Now the reason why I'm telling you this is to understand what a hold they have on people. The leader, McKean, said these words: 'I'm the one who gives them direction', he's the one at the head who gives the movement direction. Al Baird, who's an important Boston Church of Christ elder, said these words: 'It's not a dictatorship, it's a theocracy with God on top'. He also said: 'In questions of spiritual leaders abusing their authority, it is not an option to rebel against their authority' - so you can't rebel against a leader, what the leader says goes - and later in that article he says 'When we are under authority we are to submit to and obey our leaders', now mark these words, 'even when they are not very Christlike'. 'You have to obey us even when we're not Christlike', and the inference I would ask of that is: does that mean even when the commands that you're being given are not Christlike, that you are obliged to submit and obey?
Many who have left the Boston International Church of Christ have testified, I quote: 'They complain that the advice which members are expected to obey may include such details as where to live, whom and when to date, what courses to take in school, even how often to have sexual relations with a spouse' - and that was published in Time magazine. Now what is the reason for me, in a series on the cults, addressing the International Church of Christ? The reason is this: that they prey upon the vulnerable, and as we speak in the university area of Belfast, around Queen's University, young people who are vulnerable away from home, away from family, away from church influences, are being recruited, brainwashed into this organisation showing cultic characteristics.
After recruitment what happens is they join this hierarchy as such, they are discipled and they're allocated a discipler - someone who goes alongside you and chaperones you, you discuss every decision with them. Now I know that the Bible tells us to disciple one another, but it does not teach us to disciple one over another. In other words, we're not to lord it over another, there's not a control that we ought to have over people that we are discipling, we're to bring them along - but what this group is actually doing, by these disciplers, is often creating friction in the home and among the family, and among the connections that the individual has had, so much so that that person becomes more dependent on the cult and the church. Through various processes of mind control - which may not be intended to do such, but nevertheless that's a result of these practices - they wean the people away from every other dependency and association and relationship to the church alone.
Some families have gone as far as attempting to abduct and reprogram individuals to get them away from this group. Now I'm going to show you a quick video clip that came from UTV Insight, just to show you how applicable this is to our particular country and city as we speak. The first person you'll hear from is a young man who studied at Queen's University, he came from the South of Ireland I believe, and after three weeks being away from home he was recruited by the International Church of Christ. The next person that you will hear from is a man called Eamon Akshar (sp?), who was a former senior member, and he talks about how they sought to control the members of this particular church. Listen carefully:
[Begin video transcript]
QUB Student: "I was baptised by full immersion in Belfast Lough in November, so as you can imagine it was very cold! But it was a very good experience, I enjoyed it, and this was the moment that I was inducted, this is the moment that I was brought in, this is the moment that I was saved to receive the Holy Spirit"
News Reader: "Eamon Akshar was once a senior member of the church in London. His job was to oversee the lives of married couples under his command, and his control was absolute"
Akshar: "The level of influence is almost every aspect of their lives, for example in their finances they have to know each and every detail, how they spend, where they spend their money. I will tell them when and when not to spend their money, I will have to make sure that I get the maximum amount of money into the cult. When it comes to their marital relationship I will have to tell them when and when not to have sex, when and when not to have kids - what position they should have, the frequency, we used to give them weekly goals - again to know if there is any weakness in the relationship. The purpose of all that, if you ask, to use sex as means to control people. If you know the weakness of people, you will be able to control them".
QUB Student: "There was a strong sense of 'This is what the church should be doing', and that includes each individual sort of participating fully in the life of the church, which basically has a very busy schedule. There's not really much free time to go to do something, if you want to be on your own for a couple of hours - you know - it's really out of the question"
[End video transcript]
Very telling, isn't it? If you ask anybody the downfall of modern man today, you'll find it's threefold: sex, money, and power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely - and that is how this group controls individuals. Now I want to look, because this is perhaps for us the more important issue, not just at their discipling methods, but their teaching. Orthodox in many tenets of their belief, but perhaps one of the greatest characteristic doctrines that the International Church of Christ adheres to is baptismal regeneration. In other words, that you're saved, regenerated and converted, at the moment of baptism - that is, baptism by total immersion. It teaches that when you receive Christ, that that is not the moment of your salvation. You can have faith in Christ, you can repent, you can then confess, but it's not until the point of water baptism that you receive the Holy Spirit - and apart from water baptism, your sins are not forgiven you.
Now, it's worse than that, because it's not just about being baptised - you have to be baptised in the International Church of Christ. If you were baptised after having faith in Christ in another church, and you join them, you have to be re-baptised. But more than that, your baptism must be performed by someone in authority in the International Church of Christ. Added further even to that, and this is the astounding thing to me, you must understand that the moment of your baptism, and believe that there and then, you are regenerated, given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and there you are converted at that moment. If you don't understand that, even being baptised in the church by a church authoritarian, you are not truly saved nor truly baptised - therefore, salvation is not in Jesus' death, but in Jesus' death on the cross, subsequent resurrection, and the baptism that this church gives you when you understand what it means.
Now this is the reason why we reject this false faith as a cult, because the issue at stake is justification by faith alone. They believe in justification by faith, that is not what we believe in - we do not believe in justification by faith, we believe in justification by faith alone, the cry of the Reformation: sola fide, faith alone. Now what does the Bible have to say about this matter? I want you to take down some of these verses, we'll not have time to look at them all, we will look at some in more detail. The Bible teaches us that justification is the legal act whereby God declares the sinner innocent - no sin attributed to you! Your sins are cleansed away, even though there's still sin that you're committing day by day, God has declared you legally, before His eyes, innocent.
Now what does the word of God say about this? Romans chapter 5 verse 1 says: 'Therefore being justified by faith', by faith, 'we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ'. Now if you were to go down to verses 8 and 9 of Romans 5, you would read: 'But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him'. We are justified by faith on the merits of Christ's blood - I think that text is quite clear, and baptism isn't mentioned at all. If we were to go back a wee bit to Romans 3:28, we read there in relation to how a man is justified, Paul says it's not through the law: 'Therefore we conclude' - verse 28 of chapter 3 - 'that a man is justified by faith', he didn't leave it there, 'without the deeds of the law', apart from the deeds of the law. Faith without works, whatever that work may be, even if it is baptism.
Romans 4, coming forward a chapter to verse 5, Paul says: 'But to him that worketh not', not to him that worketh, 'but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness'. This is the word of God. Romans 11 verse 6 reads: 'And if by grace', if this salvation is by grace, 'then is it no more of works' - you can't have grace and works, it's one or the other - 'otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work'. God's word testifies clearly that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, not of ourselves, it is the gift of God lest any of us should boast - Ephesians 2:8-9. In fact, incidentally in the hierarchy of the Church of Christ, one of the things they do after they get you hooked-up is that they bring a study group to your house, or you come to theirs, and they study the book of the Galatians - but the book of the Galatians is all about this very fact. The Galatian controversy was a group of false teachers, Judaisers, who came to the Christians in Galatia and told them: 'You believe Jesus died for you, and you put faith in Him, but that's not enough - you've to be circumcised as well, you've got to adhere to the ceremonial, ritualistic and moral law of God on top of Christ's death'. Paul said that that is not the Gospel, that is not the Jesus that I preach, that gospel is anathema!
The gospel is anathema that adds baptism to it, and in fact the book of Galatians proves this fact in chapter 2 verse 16: 'Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified'. Verse 21: 'I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain'. Can I paraphrase that? 'If I can get to God through my own righteousness, through my own acts, through an act of baptism or whatever it may be, Christ's dying was a waste of time. If water can wash away my sin, why did Christ need to die?'.
Galatians teaches the opposite, in fact let me tell you that there are approximately 150 passages in the New Testament that state clearly, without reference to baptism, that salvation is by faith and faith alone in Christ. It doesn't matter what obscure verse you turn up for me tonight that may suggest that baptism is necessary for salvation, it does not explain away all that which is clear within the word of God, the overwhelming evidence of textual verse is that salvation is by faith - and nothing more - in Christ. But yet, you might say: 'Does the Bible not teach baptismal regeneration?' - and maybe you could turn up a lot of verses for me. Here are some of them - but I want to say first of all, before we look at them individually, that regarding all interpretation of Scripture, context is the key. The cults are characteristic in taking verses out of its textual context, and making it a pretext.
Now let's look at the first verse that they always throw at you, Mark 16:16 - now I want you to turn to these, and we're going to take time to deal with it. Mark 16:16: 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned'. 'He that believeth and is baptised' - there you are! You have to be baptised to be saved! - 'and he that believeth not shall be damned'. Well, do you not see that this verse is saying clearly that condemnation comes through not believing: 'He that believeth not shall be damned' - so the issue of salvation is belief, not because baptism is rejected. It doesn't say 'He that believeth and is baptised is saved; and he that does not believe and is not baptised...' - surely if baptism is the very moment of regeneration, that is what would be said here? In fact, in verse 15 the Lord is giving the Great Commission, and He's telling the disciples what will happen: 'People will believe and be baptised and saved; and people will believe not and be damned'.
I hope that explains that, it'll be explained more when we go through some of these other texts. John 3:5, the Lord Jesus Christ talking of the new birth says that the one that is saved is that one which is 'born of water and of the Spirit'. Turn to it with me, John 3 and verse 5: 'Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God'. Now there are many interpretations of what 'the water' is here, of course the Church of Christ says it's baptism - you have to be baptised before you can be born of the Spirit. Some believe due to the context that the Lord is talking about physical birth, because He goes on to say 'that which is born', verse 6, 'of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit' - and I have some sympathy with that version. There's another interpretation that sees it as the word of God, the word of God is typified in Scripture as water, in other words the word of God has to come to you, and then the birth of the Spirit comes - and I think you can see that interpretation here as well. Others believe, and this is perhaps the more weighty one, that the word here where Jesus says 'except a man be born of water and of the Spirit', the word 'and' can be translated as 'even' as well. In other words, 'except a man is born of water even of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God' - the water representing the Spirit, and the water often does represent the Spirit in the Scriptures. There's one thing for sure, it doesn't mean baptism, because baptism isn't found in the whole passage - the new birth is the subject, that is the context!
I hope that explains that verse for you, baptism isn't near it. Then there's Acts 2:38, turn with me to this one. This is one they like to shout about, Acts 2:38 - and I trust you'll give me time to deal with these tonight - 'Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission', or forgiveness, 'of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost'. Now if you were to take that out of context, you would say that you need to be baptised in order to be saved. But if you look at what else Peter said in verse 21, you'll read this: 'And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved' - not whoever is baptised, baptism is not mentioned. The intrinsic thing for salvation is faith. If you turn to chapter 3 and verse 19 you read these words: 'Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord' - conversion, repentance, is the point at which forgiveness of sins is given...yet it would appear in chapter 2 and verse 38 that baptism is mentioned. Well, there's no mention of baptism in the two other exhortations, but what is true in this verse 38, if you look at it: 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ' - the word 'for' in the Greek is also the word 'because'. It can be translated 'because', and in Matthew's gospel 12:42, talking about the conversion of the Ninevites 'because of the preaching of Jonah', not 'for the preaching of Jonah', but 'because of the preaching of Jonah' - it's clear that that can be the translation of this word, that you're baptised 'because of the remission of sins that has been given to you through faith in Jesus Christ'. It certainly does not mean that baptism washes your sins away, that's clear.
Then another verse that they use is chapter 22 of Acts - turn to it - now I know there are others, but time doesn't permit us to look at them all. Chapter 22, and I just say a word of warning, that it's always a bit dangerous building doctrine upon the Acts of the Apostles, for it's not a book of doctrine as such, it's a book of the experience and historical record of the early church. Acts 22 and verse 16: 'And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord'. Paul is instructed here to be baptised, this is his testimony, to wash away his sins. Now you would think right away: 'How can you argue against this? It's clear that baptism is washing away his sins'. Well, is it clear? Can I suggest to you, and I believe I have grounds in doing it, that the only time this is said to anyone in Scripture in relation to baptism, about washing away sins, it's always to a Jew - always to a Jew. Was it not the Jews that cried at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus: 'Let His blood be upon us and our children's children', and that was an outward sign that they were prepared to be counted guilty for the crucifixion of the Lord. The baptism is an outward sign that we have been saved, that's showing to others - and I believe in relation to the Jew it was showing that the sin of crucifying Christ was being washed from off them publicly, a testimony that they were not guilty of it any more.
Apart from that, if you look at Paul's testimony, turn back to chapter 9 where he gives his testimony again - verse 17: 'Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit'. How could he call him 'brother' if he wasn't saved? He was saved, he just wasn't baptised.
Can I show you another one, and this is the final one? Not the final text, but the final pretext that they use - 1 Peter - perhaps one of the most difficult ones, the first epistle of Peter if you turn to it please. First Peter chapter 3 verse 21, we'll read verse 20 first: 'Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water', saved by water - incidentally, the Greek word 'by' can also be translated 'through', 'saved through water'. 'The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us' - there you have it! Baptism saves us! - '(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ'. Can I read it to you in the New King James version, which is a far better translation: 'There is also an antitype which now saves us', that's what the figure means here, like-figure, there is an antitype which now saves us. Now an antitype is the fulfilment of a type, now what is the type being spoken of here? Is it the water? Is it the water? It's not being saved by water, it's being saved through water. How were Noah and his family saved through water? Did the water save them? What was the water? The water spoke of judgment! What saved them? The ark! What saves us? Water? No! Christ, the ark! We went through the judgment in Christ on Calvary, and that judgment is not ours any longer - it speaks of the waters that Jesus went through, that's how we are saved through baptism, identifying with Christ as He went under the waters of God's wrath, and came out - and we, if we are in Him, are saved! We don't trust in the waters, we trust in Christ.
Can I leave with you - those are the problem texts - but can I leave with you the proof that there's no problems at all? The problems are solved, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17: 'I did not come to baptise, I came to preach the gospel'. Paul was not sent to baptise people - wouldn't it be strange if you were saved through baptism, yet the great apostle Paul didn't want to baptise anybody? In fact, he argued that he hardly baptised anybody, and he thanked God that he hadn't - that would be very strange, wouldn't it, if baptism saved your soul? In Acts 16:31, the Philippian jailer said: 'What must I do to be saved?'. What did Paul say? 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and, quick, get a basin of water till we baptise you!'? No, 'Believe on the Lord', and then he was baptised after conversion, and his house after their conversion too. First Corinthians 15:1-5, we don't have time to read it, but you read it and you will hear there the gospel that Paul preached, and baptism isn't mentioned once - only Jesus!
Philippians 2:12 tells us, yes we're to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but it is God that worketh in you to do His good pleasure - you've already received God's work. Now here is one I want to finish on that I think is categorical, Acts 10:44-48: 'While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus'. They received the word, they believed, they received the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues - which is only a gift given to a believer in the New Testament - yet they weren't baptised!
Scripture is clear, I'll tell you better than that, the Lord Jesus Christ didn't baptise anybody - John 4:1-2. If He was the Saviour of the world, do you not think He would have baptised somebody if that's what saves you? The thief on the cross hadn't time to get baptised. Oh, there are many other things they don't believe in, like original sin - they believe you can fall from grace, even though John 10:28 tells us that Christ's sheep are given eternal life, 'and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand or my Father's hand'. My friend, it's wonderful, Peter tells us: 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved' - reserved, booked by faith! - 'in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time'.
If you're depending on yourself tonight, or your baptism, or in a church, I exhort you, listen to me: you will be lost, and lost for all eternity! On Christ the solid rock we ought to stand, and all other ground is sinking sand! God's word makes that clear - will you not trust in Him tonight? What are you trusting in? Throw it to the wind, and take Christ and His cross alone for salvation.
I have to finish. Someone has said 'Baptism will make you wetter, but no better' - it's true you know. It's an outward sign, and it saves you in the eyes of men in the sense that it shows you've come from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light - and it's very important. Incidentally, whenever the Gospel was preached, baptism was the confession - the Gospel was preached by the waterside, and as soon as you believed you were baptised. Maybe that would sort out some false professions! But it doesn't save you, my friend. Whether it was done to you as a baby, or as an adult, I don't care what it is: Christ must save you, His precious blood must be your plea.
Father, we thank Thee tonight that we know that nothing can wash away my sin - nothing - but the blood of Jesus. Lord, if there's someone here tonight, and their sins have never been washed away for they're trusting in something other or added to Christ, reveal Thy grace to them - that Jesus finished the work, paid it all, the atonement covers everything. May they trust in that risen Saviour tonight, to Thy glory we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth recording in his Strongholds Shaken series, titled "Church Of Christ" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word. The inclusion of Images and diagrams in this transcript is done without intention to breach any copyright restrictions. If this has been done in any instance, please contact us and we will willingly remove the offending item.
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