Two Things That Make Me Sad

I've been reading a string of items on two subjects lately that have saddened me.

The first is a series of posts by Kristen at Walking Circumspectly (Three of them: here, here and here.). I only know her from her blog and I only found my way there from one of my readers. Kristen's been writing about her experiences in the ICOC in college back in the early 90's. She was a part of the Atlanta ICOC church for around a month. She calls the ICOC a cult, and frankly I don't blame her (though I don't agree). In the month she was a part of the campus ministry there, she was exposed to the worst of the ICOC of those days. The performance mindset, judgementalism, high evangelism expectations, warnings about spending any time with, or even contact, her family and more. I can remember the warnings about my family when I was in campus, and they were in fact scary and intimidating. I too had strong a strong family which saved our relationship (in ways I would only learn of in the past couple of years.)

Her story saddens me for a couple of reasons. First, of course, is the sadness that anyone should come to a church looking for God and be told that to find Him means to abandon the most important folks in your life. All too many over the years have found elitism, arrogance and high expectations instead of grace and forgiveness. To be told that the ICOC was the only church and everyone else was not. She says that the month long experience over 10 years ago still impacts her today.

The other thing that saddens me about it is how one sided it is. I don't fault Kristen for that, it's what she knows. After she left, as was common, those who she had thought were her friends didn't want to talk to her anymore. She was a 'fall away', a casualty of the war to save souls. She had made her choice and they had more souls to find. That's the result of the lopsided, evangelism focused ministry the ICOC practiced. (I am not saying that evangelism isn't important, just that it is not the most important thing.) She still wanted to know what the ICOC was and to learn more. With no one from the ICOC talking to her to keep her informed, she got her news on the ICOC from anti-ICOC organizations like Reveal. (Frankly, I am speculating here a bit, making assumptions from her posts. Kristen, if you're reading, please correct me if I'm wrong.)

In contrast, my 17 year experience with the ICOC has been overwhelmingly positive. I have seen much of the things she talks about in her posts, even (shamefully) participated in some. But they did not have the negative impact on me they did on her. Over the years I was able to have an amazing and pure dating life in college (how many guys have a date nearly every week with a variety of wonderful women?), to meet the woman of my dreams, court her and marry her, to have relationships that would help me to become the husband I wanted to be, to help my marriage shine, to help me learn to not stop questioning things, to take sin seriously and seriously pursue repentance and more. My point is not to say, "See Kristen, you've got it all wrong." Rather, I'm saying that my perspective without hers or hers without mine is an incomplete picture of the ICOC. We've had our faults and we've had our successes. We should look at both.

The second thing that has saddened me lately is both unrelated and completely related. Pinakidion has been writing about the teachings coming from the Portland ICOC church. Portland is where Kip McKean, the former leader of the ICOC, is currently leading. Pinakidion has been chronicling some of the things said and comparing them to things said years ago (Have a read: here, here, here, here and here.) The talk out of the NW (and there's been a lot) sounds familiar. There's lots of talk about how many great things they're doing there in Portland, how folks have been coming from miles around to see how they're doing it, how they've heard the other churches aren't discipling anymore and have forgotten the mission to evangelize and grow and there's even been talk of how they're targeting cities where churches have abandoned discipling and evangelism. Pinakidion points out, and I agree, that it sounds a lot like 1979 all over again.

It makes me sad because I thought, hoped, that we had learned something in the past couple of years of re-evaluating and reconsidering our practices. Perhaps not. Now certainly, Portland does not speak for the whole of the ICOC, but not many are speaking against what is being taught there. I may disagree with Mr. McKean's teachings and priorities in his message, but I will give him credit for knowing what he believes and speaking passionately about it. He's an amazing man, with amazing passion and charisma. Where are the charismatic, passionate and outspoken men to make a difference teaching the radical grace and love that Jesus taught rather than works, performance and growth?

It's sad to see so many papers and apologies written, so many relationships strained or broken, so many churches split and so much hurting over the last couple of years to perhaps end up, collectively, right back where we were. If we do, it will not be because that's where we decided to go, but instead because we didn't really decide to go anywhere else.

17 Comments

Doug, the only correction I need to make is that I was a part of the Athens ICOC. (I was attending the University of Georgia.) :)

Wonderful post. I see where you're coming from and am so glad that changes in the ICOC over time have allowed you to be where you are now.

To God be the glory.

My experience has been positive for the past three years and my early years were quite positive as well.

Thank you for a well-written article.

I was part of the ICOC for some twelve years. The thing that makes me sad is how so much potential and innocence was lost because of the pride of man. Who knows when it began or how the ICOC failed but one thing is for certain, in the area of picking leaders they stoped looking at what God looks at and choose to look at outward appearances, (1 Samuel 16:7). And, it only took a few to make it fail, (1 Corinthians 15:33).

I have wondered if some of the early fall aways had some insight and perhaps they did. However I don't think if falls under the category of prophet but rather of like saying my dad's going to be grumpy...it's a given. :) It's a given that the ICOC would fail like every attempt before it to have a movement for God but it's also a given that a remnant has always and still does remain.

When I remember the hurt and suffering I often ask myself would I do it again and the answer has always been yes. It was a terrible price to pay but I had terrible sin and pride that needed to be dealt with. Through that fire I was blessed with a relationship with God, a beautful wife, out of this world friends, great advice and I hope became a better man that could glorify God.

I find it very interesting that you speak in terms of "fall aways" and "remnant," beg. I am not a fall away. I love Jesus Christ and serve Him with all my heart. I only "fell away" from the ICOC, which at the time was equated to falling away from God.

This is exactly what I am talking about...does the ICOC still encourage people inside the church to see those who left as apostate? :(

Thanks for you comments Kristen, I'm glad for your words of encouragement. I was a little worried that I had misread you.

Was there a separate congregation in Athens at that time? I thought it was considered a 'zone' or 'region' of the Atlanta church. Maybe I'm thinking of Marietta. If you're interested, Douglas Jacoby is there in Athens now. He's one of the wisest men the ICOC produced and has been an independant thinker and teacher for years in the ICOC. He's started a ministry school (Athens Institute of Ministry) there as well.

I empathize with your experience in the ICoC. I was in for 14 years, in San Diego, LA, Cyprus, and Salt Lake City. I remember a lot of great things from the ICoC; I became a Christian, some great friends, the adventure of missionary work in the Middle East, dating some great women, and finding the very best for my wife. But I can also remember so much of the bad; so many people used and burnt-out trying to play the "Christian" performance game, including myself, most of the people I've known throughout the years have left a long time ago, questionable doctrines upheld, and a single minded focus on evangelism that left many leaders and others cold and hard hearted towards really caring for people.

Now as I read the things on Portland's website, and watch the Salt Lake Christian Church gravitate towards its standard, I wonder about the same things you mention. I tried to help the church here change, but there is only so much one can do.

Kristen,

I didn't notice that you had snuck another comment in just before mine.

Regarding "fall aways": In my experience, the teaching on fall aways has changed dramatically, but the perceptions of the people have not. What I mean is that it has been stated publicly that to leave the ICOC is not to leave God, when people talk amongst themselves about those who have left, they often speak in terms that imply that they've left God. Some of that's habit, but some is a lingering view that our church is God's church.

As far as BEG goes, I think I can safely say that he does not hold that view. In fact, he's probably considered a "fall away" by some since he left our congregation, and the ICOC, about a year and a half ago. :-)

I think of the history of the International churches of Christ, and their relationship with the Mainline churches of Christ, and their relationship with the Presbyterian church, and the general history of restoration. A person can read about the histories of these attempts to restore New Testament Christianity to today's modern arena (spiritually speaking). I personally have had to detach myself from the influence of centuries of predisposition, and try to find the pureity of the scriptures, with out the taint of tradition. This is extremely challenging. But when I look at the resoration attempts, and the outcome of their efforts, I can only think of two different but equally important scriptures; Matthew 7:24-27, and Matthew 9:16-17. I point out these scriptures because they are (like all the others) pivital to what was at the time, a new teaching about the Christ and new covenant. When we look at the modern attempts, it is important to get a larger view of what has happened. The McKean doctrines are a revision of a flawed restoration attempt, and had the foundation of sand. So, it all fell apart when the wizard was exposed behind the curtain. To see the new attempts to implement the systemic flawed paradigm of "evangilism is life," to me is sad. I can only hope that the Father will continue to lead us, and that we are open to that leadership. I respect you for you what are doing Doug, I only hope it is God's will.

I am sorry Kristen. I should have chosen my words more wisely. As Salgoud says I would be considered a "fall away" by some in the ICOC and I understand the hurt that comes from that stigma. And, I don't believe that just because someone leaves the ICOC they leave God.

Again, I am sorry.

Sincerely,
BEG

No problem, BEG. I appreciate the clarification you guys gave--a lot. :)

Great post, Doug.

Being a "mainliner" (post-mainliner?), it's interesting to read about the ICOC from an insider's perspective. The only perpective I've ever heard is of the great evils of the Boston Movement. Most COCers are still very bitter about the whole thing. Being that I wasn't even born in 1979, it doesn't bother me so much.

Interesting tidbit: my in-laws were baptized and part of a COC in Atlanta circa 1986 that went ICOC. They eventually moved to the North Atlanta COC and stayed there until 1998 when they moved. Ah, it's a small world.

Paul - I meant to ask - what relationship with the Presbyterian church? I was a part of a Presbyterian church growing up, they seem worlds apart.

Aaron - You may have missed it but Kristen corrected me taht she was a poart of the Athens ICOC church, not Atlanta. I should correct my post.

Are most COC'ers really still bitter? I hope not, that would be a shame. I guess I understand it though. Since mid-2003 and thanks to the internet, I've been able to meet several 'mainline' folks (like yourself) and they've been nothing but kind and gracious.

It's interesting that history may be in the process of repeating itself. It's considering all the division and hurt that time caused that makes me sad. I've heard mention of planting new churches in cities that no longer practice discipling and 'targeting' cities with large campuses. Living in the shadow of Ohio State and it's 60,000 students, it makes me wonder if we're a target here in Columbus. Then I wonder if that's how the other COC's felt back in 1996 when we marched into town.

Oh, I forgot:

Being that I wasn't even born in 1979, it doesn't bother me so much.
I turned twelve in 1979. Yikes.

Doug-
I appreciate your generous comments about many of the "leaders" of the ICOC, as it is not my intention to harm. However, the truth is the truth, and I do think we have to be careful about who we praise and who we refer to as "independent thinkers". One of those who was credited as such did not seem that way to me, and I was personally involved. Without malice, many have done lasting harm. I am still trying to recover from my experiences, which were vast.
Lita

Lita,

Thanks for stopping by. I cannot judge what various leader's motives were, I can only assume they were noble. I agree that much harm was done, unknown and understood by many who did that harm. "Independent" I guess is open to interpretation. My personal experience was that DJ (since that was who I referenced, I assume that's who you're referring to) was quietly calling for different ways of thinking and acting for long before the HK letter. Perhaps he could have been more vocal, perhaps he could have pushed for more change, but I'm not sure he could have made more of a difference.

It does illustrate a bit of what I'm talking about. It sounds like you and I have both had personal experiences with the same person, one positive and one negative. Just as with the ICOC, the complete story includes both.

My heart goes out to anyone that I come across that's been hurt by our churches. I truly hope that you can make peace with your ICOC past and, more importantly, that you can see God regardless.



Monthly Archives

Recent Comments

  • Lita, Thanks for stopping by. I cannot judge what various leader's motives were, I can only assume they were noble. I agree that much harm was done, unknown and understood by many who did that harm. "Independent" I g...

  • Doug- I appreciate your generous comments about many of the "leaders" of the ICOC, as it is not my intention to harm. However, the truth is the truth, and I do think we have to be careful about who we praise and who we ...

  • I was five in 1979. ;-)...

  • Oh, I forgot:Being that I wasn't even born in 1979, it doesn't bother me so much.I turned twelve in 1979. Yikes....

  • Paul - I meant to ask - what relationship with the Presbyterian church? I was a part of a Presbyterian church growing up, they seem worlds apart. Aaron - You may have missed it but Kristen corrected me taht she was a p...

Close