Friday, May 13, 2011

Over Eight Years Later: Signs of ICOC Reversion, Part 3

This is the third and final commentary in a series of posts on recent articles on Disciples Today concerning the reversion of the ICOC to a state before reforms were promised by the leadership in 2003. The third article is entitled Still Willing to Go Anywhere for God, written by Damon Brog (presumably the Lead Evangelist) from Springfield, Illinois.

At first glance, this story seems inspiring. A young, single man named Rajaveen (Raj) Chandrasakaran decides to do "something radical" in order to escape "complacency".
"My time with my company was coming to an end, I am single and my parents are disciples. I realized no better time than now to take that radical plunge and to GO and be on the cutting-edge of faith. So I proceeded to put my condo on the market, gave away all my possessions, and put out feelers to anyone who would give me an opportunity to help build their ministry."
Raj then gets hooked up with Damon and effectively becomes the campus minister of the Springfield Church of Christ. Damon describes Raj's efforts.
"Just today we studied the Bible with 4 college students consecutively between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They continue to bring friends with them. Nearly twenty students are studying the Bible in earnest. The church has been here for about 15 years and had never had a campus ministry, though the effort had been made prior to our arrival. We put together a little campus Bible Talk at the beginning of 2010 and had a couple of baptisms, but there has been a literally miraculous injection of life to our campus ministry since Raj arrived here in August. It is very likely that we will finish the year out with about a half dozen baptisms."
So should there be rejoicing about Raj's decision? That apparently he made it on his own and wasn't being told to do it through a discipling partner? Was the Holy Spirit calling him to do this?


However, the article mentions nothing about the Holy Spirit, or the influence of another person either for that matter.

He says, "Instead of living my life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me, I constantly tried to live for me –not in a blatant manner but far more subtly, allowing the distractions and desires of life to lull me into a sense of complacency." This certainly can be done within the context of being a "Network Engineer for Fortune 500 company".

Did that "something radical" have to be done in the context of selling and giving away everything and becoming a campus minister intern? Certainly not! However, this mode has been a classic McKeanist position for decades. And he's going though this well-worn path once again. Even though Raj may not have a discipling partner or leaders telling him what to do, the ICOC's mindset regarding what it takes to be "alive in Christ" has clearly been transferred to him.

Damon continues:
"All that being said, it has made a GREAT impact on our church members here. Seeing someone surrender all and move to their town in order to invest themselves in the work of the Lord has left the people here revived and challenged in a good way. The Springfield church began the 2010 with 39 members; we will finish the year with well over 50! This comes after years of the church here struggling and even decreasing in size. Now there are ongoing Bible studies in all ministries of the church –campus, teens, marrieds, and singles! It is difficult to overstate the effect that the campus explosion has had on the entire church. The momentum that we have gained during the year has been pushed into hyperdrive when one committed disciple made the bold decision to respond to the radical calling of the Lord!"
In short, the campus ministry is the spark that gets the church going, growing, and doing well. The position of the campus minister is and continues to be the most exhausted role in the church, sometimes surpassing the roles of the evangelists and elders! Why couldn't Damon "crank" the campus ministry like Raj could?

It's concerning, like it's been mentioned in the previous two articles, that the role of the Holy Spirit isn't mentioned at all. So it's doesn't take a lot for Raj to fall back into the classic game plan - convert a bunch of campus students to create the illusion that the church is growing and groom those campus students as the leadership base as they get married and have children of their own. In addition, it's not a foregone conclusion that when Raj or any of the people mentioned in the previous two articles aren't using "First Principles" or a derivative that still promotes the same works-based steps of salvation developed and pushed under Kip McKean.

In the past three articles, the common thread for both Kingdom Kids and new converts, major cities and smaller towns, established strongholds and newer outposts, is that core patterns established in the Crossroads era, built and solidified through the Boston Movement era, continued through the unified ICOC era, are now clearly being seen during the post-McKean era. We should see more signs of abuse as the ICOC continues on its clear path back to the "glory days". And we should pray that the Holy Spirit is stirring the heart of the next Henry Kriete who will inevitably call the graceless, Christ-less, man-made system to true and unequivocal repentance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Over Eight Years Later: Signs of ICOC Reversion, Part 2

This is the second of three posts commenting on recent articles on Disciples Today concerning the reversion of the ICOC to a state before Kip McKean was dismissed from the organization. The second article is entitled The Joys of a Discipling Relationship, written by Ross Lippencott, a campus student who was "converted post-2003" in his own words. The first paragraph provides a concerning summary of the article:
"I was not growing because I did not have a Paul in my life. I did not have someone to teach me, to train me, to correct me, to rebuke me, to love me, to guide me, to help develop the character of Jesus in me - to get in there and encourage as well as to say the hard things that no one else could."
The traditional, authoritarian, hierarchical model of discipling in the ICOC has been well-documented. A top-down system of control is established in each congregation from a Lead Evangelist or Lead Elder and each congregation's leadership is discipled in a top-down form from more influential churches to less influential ones. One of the key reforms called for by the Henry Kriete Letter was to reform the discipling system:
"We have assumed, wrongly, that the sheep are stupid. We have trained them to depend on men, on us in fact, and not on Christ. 'Did you get advice' for the most part means 'Did you get permission.' Yes of course, they are vulnerable and open to attack, but they are not stupid. It is we who have been stupid, Biblically and spiritually. Should we not assume, rather, that a true, Spirit-filled Christian desires to please God, not to rebel? Ezekiel 36: 'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws'.

Through our discipleship partner theology, we have attempted, like modern-day Pharisees, to put a hedge around God's law. In trying to protect or control the Christians, we have routinely violated their liberty in Christ. We have not trusted disciples to live by their own convictions and decisions (and mistakes), and have fostered in them an unhealthy dependence, rather than freedom to grow and mature. Many of our discipling guidelines are nothing more than 'rules taught by men', condemned by Jesus as burdensome and legalistic. No control mechanisms, or traditions of men, or rules and culturally accepted regulations will keep anyone faithful who does not want to be faithful in their heart. But they will create rebellion and criticalness among sincere and liberated Christians. We did not become new creations to be controlled by men; rather, 'it is for freedom Christ has set us free'"
In light of Henry's call, Ross's descriptions of discipling indicate that Henry's truthful insights have been ignored.
"'That was it!' I had realized. I was not growing because I did not have a Paul in my life. I did not have someone to teach me, to train me, to correct me, to rebuke me, to love me, to guide me, to help develop the character of Jesus in me - to get in there and encourage as well as to say the hard things that no one else could"
Healthy Christian relationships when it comes to teaching can be classified in three ways relative to an individual believer: student-teacher, peer-peer, and teacher-student. Ross's article only describes one of these aspects: student-teacher. He needs a Paul in his life to teach him as his student. He doesn't need peers like Barnabas and Silas. And he doesn't need students like Timothy that he can teach, although he will likely become a Paul himself some day. With the focus on only the necessity of the teacher, the groundwork is laid for a repeat of the authoritarian abuses of the past.

Sadly, Ross has no frame of reference of this kind of discipling:
"As someone who was converted post-2003, I never had an assigned 'discipling partner' and quite frankly - because of my limited understanding - the term 'discipling partner' had a negative connotation. However, the way Nilson had described his relationship with Troy sounded very different from everything I had associated with 'discipling' in the past. To be honest, they sounded a lot like... well ... friends. To be honest, I needed a friend."
Ross got his friend - and friends are a blessing from God! - but Ross has no idea about the evolution of the optional prayer partner back in the Crossroads Campus Ministry days of the late 1960's to discipling partners to mandatory discipling partners to mandatory assigned discipling partners that can change at the blink of an eye due to the whims of the leadership.

Again, as was shown in the last commentary on Joseph Porter, the lack of the role of the Holy Spirit in Ross's life is disturbing. For a healthy believer needs both need the relationships in a healthy community of Christians and the Holy Spirit to be taught (John 14:26), trained in divine wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-16), corrected and rebuked (John 16:8), loved both individually (Romans 5:5) and collectively through the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:3), guided into all divine truth (John 16:13-15), transformed to the very image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18), encourage (Acts 9:31), and speak with Spirit-taught words (1 Corinthians 2:13).

Ross is "young and still learning". Let's pray that now as a Youth and Family and Worship Minister can learn to throw off this one-way model of discipling that has failed in the past before he and his hearers are irrevocably damaged.

This is the second of three related commentaries. The third one will be posted soon.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Over Eight Years Later: Signs of ICOC Reversion, Part 1

Three articles posted on the primary news site for the International Churches of Christ, Disciples Today, are an ominous sign that over eight years after the reforms spurred on by the events surrounding Kip McKean's departure and Henry Kriete Letter, that the status quo is returning to classic positions the movement has had since the 1970's.

The first article is entitled Confessions of a Kingdom Kid at Harvard, written by Joseph Porter (posted 1/7/2011), a self-professed "Kingdom Kid" (who was born and raised in the church). In fact, his parents "both... served in Boston's campus ministry back in the day".

What are Joseph's confessions?
"I was a prideful coward. I was terrified of inviting strangers to Bible discussion groups or other events, and I did everything I could to avoid actually talking to strangers..."
His sin was not anything in the realm of sexual immorality, drunkenness, use of illegal drugs, cheating and cutting corners in his school work, but inviting enough people out to church! He repented of this sin, not by reading the Word of God (there still isn't a verse in there that says "thou shalt evangelize everyone at all times of the day and night") and not by a conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), but by submission to discipling.
"Eventually - about two years in to my career as a college disciple - I learned my lesson. I learned that it was laughably foolish for me to think that I knew how to evangelize my campus better than my campus ministers..."
It's a given that any leaders of a campus ministry would have more experience than the students they're leading. However, what we see in this case is submission to discipling by the leaders. "Soul Talks", now known as "Bible Talks", were a new innovation in the late 1960's during the start of the Crossroads Campus Ministry Movement days in Gainesville, Florida. Were they "laughably foolish" by breaking the then norms? Of course not. These delivered results: conversions. And Joseph wasn't making disciples at the rate that both himself and his leadership expected him to.

Joseph finishes with a description of his commitment to the church:
"Of course, being a disciple on campus is a full-time job. I have to use my time wisely; meals are often combined with Bible studies, and many evenings are devoted to midweek services, Bible talks, Friday devotionals, d-groups, and the like. I've learned to limit the time I spend on Facebook and playing video games. I don't always get as much sleep as I'd like; I wake up at around seven on Saturday mornings for Saturday Academy, and not much later for church on Sunday. But I love what I'm doing nevertheless."
With this example, he's been "given the opportunity to serve as an intern in Boston's campus ministry". He's also repeating the time and resource consuming requirements of being a disciple, a Christian, a saved person - as the ICOC has clearly defined it in the past. A total commitment not to Jesus, but to the church and its ideology. Joseph's reflection of the ICOC ideology is shown here:
"I knew that campus ministry was the heart and soul of the ICOC, and I wanted to turn my campus upside down when I arrived there."
The concept of the importance of the campus ministry, not only to himself as a campus student, but to the survival of the church as a whole, has been deeply embedded into him, literally since birth! Also his unconditional submission to discipling and what the leaders above him say and what he says to the people he personally disciples. And not to mention the total commitment to even put the church above his studies, particularly challenging studies at an Ivy-League institution! Sadly, Joseph and other Kingdom Kids like him have likely never learned to put Jesus in the center of their lives and had all of their activities - church, school, family, leisure, and even sleep - centered around the crucified Christ and guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit to keep the balance.

Two more commentaries about the remaining two articles will follow.