The scene? A crowded London underground train. The time? About 8.00 am on a weekday and only four years ago. Unexpectedly, a conversation was initiated by a pleasant, friendly, young woman. Sitting next to her, and now engaged in the conversation, was Lucy, a young biochemist on the way to her research laboratory. Within a few minutes, Lucy had accepted an invitation to a barbecue over the weekend organized by the International Church of Christ. Lucy enjoyed the barbecue. It was fun and, unlike her local Baptist church, her hosts made her feel welcome and wanted. She told her parents, ‘It is exactly what I have been looking for.’ A few weeks later, her parents were desperately worried as they saw the ICC completely dominate their daughter’s life. Lucy became withdrawn, lost weight, developed an ‘emotionless stare’ and became a stranger to her family. Lucy was now caught in the cultic web of the ICC.
It is a typical story, although the end of this story was more dramatic. In desperation, her mother arranged secretly for Lucy to be kidnapped and then de-programmed and counselled over many weeks. Eventually it worked.
ICC recruits tend to be young but usually middle-class and intelligent. They are often either students or professionals, with social or personal needs. Another example is a marine engineer, Bill, who moved from Sheffield to Surrey to take up a new job. Two girls then befriended him and telephoned him regularly to invite him to go to their church. Needing a social life, he eventually accepted their invitation, although he had no interest in Christianity. ‘My first impression’, he described later, ‘was that it was a load of rubbish — people dancing around, clapping and singing “Jesus will fix it.”’ But it was their friendship that really won him. Within six months he reported, ‘There was nothing else in my life. I had completely lost interest in my career and family.’
Older people, however, are also drawn into the ICC cult and not just in the UK or USA. Francis Mbugua, for example, was fifty-two years old and had been brought up by godly parents in Kenya. His father was a pastor in the African Inland Church. It was in April 1996 that Francis attended the Nairobi Christian Church, affiliated to ICC. He was in turmoil due partly to family problems, and he longed for genuine friendship and encouragement. In the first sermon the NCC was introduced as God’s movement, consisting only of disciples who taught the Bible and who would evangelize the world by AD 2000. The claim, ‘We preach only what the Bible teaches’, impressed and deceived Francis. In the service, he heard ‘vibrant singing, lengthy emotional prayers and frenzied preaching’ and then he was welcomed, befriended and lured into the cult, where he remained until 1997. But now Francis testifies, ‘I am closer to my God now that I am no longer in the ICC… There is life after NCC/ICC. In fact, a far better life without stress, mind control and stumbling blocks, but the scars take a long time to heal.’
In this second article, I want to answer more questions about the ICC.
Where do they meet?
They meet usually on Sundays in rented rooms or halls, hotels, conference centres and, where possible, schools or colleges. They tend to change their location at regular intervals. During the week, members meet in small groups called ‘House Churches’ and then again in even smaller groups called ‘Bible Talks’, consisting of six to fifteen people. Each member is expected to bring at least one stranger each week to these meetings. The purpose of the two smaller groups is to encourage sharing on an informal basis and to show visitors their need to be ‘converted’.
What do they believe?
They accept the Bible as their authority for what they believe and do. They also believe in one church and teach that denominations are sinful. From the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), they insist that all Christians should be involved in aggressive evangelism and disciple-making. One must also be baptized in water in order to receive salvation. They claim that baptism is essential and, of course, it must be administered by their leaders.
What is wrong with ICC beliefs? As we saw in our first article, baptism is not essential to salvation, but is an ordinance to be observed by those who are saved. It is only by grace that we are saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). This gospel of grace has been distorted by ICC. The group is also exclusive in its claim that ICC is the only true church in this generation. From this they conclude that only ICC members can be saved.
From Acts 11:25-26 they also try to link the words ‘disciple’ and ‘Christian’, claiming that you have to teach people about Jesus as Paul and Barnabas did, in order to be a Christian. They ask, ‘Who were called Christians?’ And, of course, people respond by saying, ‘disciples’, because the verses say so. ‘And what did they do?’ comes the rejoinder. In this way they try to show that witnessing to Jesus is involved in becoming as well as in being a Christian. But this twists the two verses in an irresponsible and dishonest way. Why? Look again at the meaning of the text — Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch so that they could share together the burden of teaching publicly a young, growing and multi-racial church. It was the ministry of the Word to the church, not ‘witnessing’ to unbelievers, that Saul and Barnabas were engaged in at Antioch. The emphasis of their ministry would have been on the life, death and exaltation of Jesus Christ and it was probably this that gave rise to the nickname ‘Christian’ being given to believers. Remember, too, the fact that Saul and Barnabas were already converted. This points to the error of the ICC interpretation. The teaching and witnessing of the two preachers did not make them Christians. Not at all!
Are there other concerns?
Yes, there are. They practise compulsory tithing of the gross income of members of the church, and strictly monitor and record such giving. This practice puts some people into considerable debt. Again, young people are targeted and exploited, particularly students. In 1992, for example, all ten halls of residence belonging to University College, London, had ICC members resident in them. The cult describes such places as an ‘evangelistic paradise’. Their recruiting methods also cause concern. Such methods involve ‘tubing’ (talking to folk on the underground) and ‘blitzing’ (talking to people in the high streets and shopping centres) as well as offering friendship as a bait to attract people to their meetings. There is an element of deception here. When invited to their meetings, you will usually be told that they are informal Christian gatherings of a non-denominational flavour. The bait may even be a party, concert or games evening, but the intentions behind the invitation are concealed. More seriously, they make recruits ‘confess’ sins to their leader (‘discipler’) and share confidential, private matters. This confidentiality is sometimes broken to get a person to obey the leaders. The ICC exerts a considerable level of control over the lives of its members and this leads to psychological and spiritual abuse. For example, even dating, courting and marrying come under the complete control of the cult.
How can we help friends or relatives in ICC?
Keep in touch with them by writing and phoning, even if there is no response.
Make sure your manner is calm and caring. You need to be warm and helpful in your approach.
Find out in a low-key way why the person joined the cult.
Obtain more information about the cult.
Pray regularly for the person and visit, if possible.
Is there a challenge for Christians?
There certainly is. We need to warn our young people and children about the group. They should not accept invitations from strangers to a meeting nor should they disclose their address or phone number to such. Are we failing our youngsters? Do we teach the Bible at an appropriate level and deal with the questions they are asking? Have we a prayerful, pastoral concern for them as individuals?
There is one final challenge, namely, we must make clear what the gospel is. ‘It is God who justifies’ (Romans 8:33), and reconciles sinners to himself. And he does it by grace alone. Here is the secret. ‘Grace’ means that God’s mercy is completely undeserved. Salvation is free, wholly from God and without any human contribution, not even baptism or witnessing. Here is the significance of Calvary. Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to us personally when we trust in the Lord Jesus, for our sins were laid on Christ when he died as our substitute. This is the heart of the Christian gospel. Be clear about it yourself, then tell as many people as possible. That is the challenge