Monday, August 28, 2006

Reject the dangerous rhetoric of false prophets (1)

The most challenging aspect for reconstructing the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) is to find a healthier alternative or “mousetrap” for it seemingly essential discipleship methodology in order to increase and sustain membership. The Los Angeles apology letter of February 25th, 2003 attests: “We participated in an authoritarian discipling structure where advice was too often perceived as command. Some felt controlled and manipulated…” Therefore they pleaded: “We need your help and support to make these changes deep and long lasting.” They were in for the long run. “We are absolutely committed for change.”

That was yesterday. As for today, it is certain that the major role players within the ICOC lay claim to the disciple approach. Steve Johnson proceeded earlier this year to side himself with Kip McKean! The Unity Proposal Group has also embraced discipleship without McKean!

Have we reached a scenario where old dogs can’t learn new tricks while fighting over the same bone of discipleship?

Steve Johnson stated last year; “I wanted to do exactly what I did in Boston in 1979 or in New York in 1983 – in regards to teaching people how to teach people to become disciples. I’ve not come up, and I haven’t seen anyone else that has come up with a better mousetrap. And I assure you that when I see one, I’ll adopt it just like I did when I moved to Boston to be trained by Kip back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.”

Equally this year the Unity Proposal Group “are striving both to articulate the theological framework of ‘the faith that was once entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3) and to reaffirm those truths and emphases that have particularly shaped our branch of God’s movement, from the campus ministry days until now.”

It is important to notice that the disciple approach was only disrupted for a short period and never formally rejected. The Los Angeles apology letter stated in 2003: “Although we definitely believe in Biblical discipling relationships and the need to be involved in each others’ lives, as taught in the many ‘one another’ verses, many relationships need to be redefined so that they are filled with mutual trust, honesty, humility and approachability.”

A year after Kriete’s letter, Kip McKean was outraged early in 2004 (March) when “many churches in the ICOC fellowship have either abandoned discipling relationships or compromised them by teaching there is no such thing as teacher-student (one-over-one discipling) relationships in the Scriptures. This is devastating false teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-4) No wonder so many disciples are confused, lonely, lukewarm and lacking zeal for souls. One person teaching another is the essence of the method and ministry of Jesus.” Kip maintained, “Making disciples is a command of God for every true Christian. Jesus built God’s movement on the now lost plan of multiplying disciples. It was and still is the only plan of God to evangelise the world. And to God be the glory!”

In April 2004, Greg Marutzky assured Church of Christ panellists that Kip McKean’s “influence is not there anymore, and each congregation is making their own decisions. We want to move forward. Please don’t believe that the comments he makes are as if he is speaking for all of us; that’s not the case. And that’s not going to be the case in the future.”

Kip McKean was isolated. He had very few sympathisers in his camp. Today this remains the case.

Mike Taliaferro assured the same panellists of the 2004 Faithful Conversations Forum in addressing a question: ‘Talk about the changes you see going on in the ICOC. “We have done away with top-down hierarchy that we had in the past, and we recognize the mature independence of every congregation in our fellowship of churches … We have ended the practice of over/under discipling. We don’t believe one Christian should be giving orders to another. We are definitely stressing topics like grace, the cross, God’s love. We are moving away from performance orientation and getting back to basic Bible, as we should.”

It seemed at the time that the disciple approach only existed in the annals of recent ICOC history and the present reformed Portland Church. Here, Kip’s regular updates on events in the Portland Church during the period of 2004 sketched a bleak picture of apathy and neutrality that now define most churches in the ICOC fellowship. He writes: “In many parts of the United States and the world, disciples report that their congregations have little fire in the service, with little zeal in their singing, little discipling, little warmth, and very few baptisms.” ICOC Congregations that showcase this level of Christianity are often described by Kip in his bulletins as ‘committed but confuse disciples’; ‘misguided Christians’; ‘well intentioned disciples’ as in contrast with his pumped up congregation consisting of ‘sold-out disciples'. The Portland International Church of Christ is perceived to be according to Kip ‘a powerful beacon of light’. Bob Bertalot, an elder in training during that time in Portland become very supportive of Kip while he criticise neutral ICOC discipling churches. ‘Neutrality is running rampant in many churches, not because it’s righteous, but because it’s safe. … I so appreciate Kip’s bold sermons on Sundays and the bulletin articles. There is no neutrality, only compassionate convictions from the Word of God. As a church, let’s repent of any apathy, neutrality, or a playing it safe in relationships. [Bob Bertalot (Elder-in-Training) Portland International Church of Christ, The Violence of Silence, 08-08-2004.]

Kip has fully restored old discipleship structures with slightly improved adjustments while the world watched. ‘In Portland we teach from the Bible that everyone is expected to be in discipling relationships (We call these Discipleship Partners.) However, each member chooses how many, who it is, and the two of them define whether the relationship will be more teacher/student or adult/adult. Also every week, the leadership expects each member to be in an evangelistic, discipling group – Bible Talk.’ Will other neutral ICOC churches follow?

The McKean’s since July 2003 could share their skills first hand in the fellowship of the Portland Church. They progressed much quicker in resolving conflict and building a new ministry based on these “old school” principles. Their renewed efforts were focussed on eliminating bad habits of the Boston days. The “practice of over/under discipling” and “performance orientation” is some of the red herrings they tried to avoid. At this stage many neutral ICOC churches were still recovering from repercussions followed from the aftermath of the LA Unity Conference in 2002 (decentralization) and the release in 2003 of Kriete’s letter (exposure of systematic evils).

The “proven church builders” knew the magical ingredient for multiplying churches with disciples is none other than following a programme of discipleship as “trained by Kip back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth” or “from the campus ministry days until now.” The problem was to calm the panic stricken churches. Then renegotiate the plan.

Churches in the U.S. were slowly beginning to assess in which direction they should venture regarding church missions and maturity. Mike Taliaferro, evangelist of the San Antonio ICOC reinstated the importance to “embrace all over again the Biblical pattern of discipleship relationships.” I quote from an article titled ‘Our Discipleship Crisis’ released in September 2005. “Here in the San Antonio church we have made certain that every disciple has a disciple partner with whom they can meet on a regular basis. It was late last year [2004] when we decided to once again become involve in close personal relationships in the congregation.” Mike is of opinion that people have “over-reacted” the principle of a “closer friendship with a few” as seen with Jesus and the apostles’ friendships. Antonio church fellowship consists of “close, dedicated, specific relationships.” The aim of these relationships is to mentor people to “confess their sins, receive encouragement, or give an admonishment”. Apparently these relationships in the church prevent people from “turning into a sort of impersonal spiritual experience.” The discipleship mentoring method is base upon “one another passages” in the New Testament. The Antonio church like the Portland church for the moment steers well clear from “one disciple over another.”

“The purpose for having discipleship partners”, write Taliaferro, “is to help us have close relationships in the body. The idea is not to have one disciple over another. We do not believe in bossing around or giving orders to one another. Rather, the purpose is to provide a framework so that everyone can both help another disciple and receive it as well. The point is for us to see our own need for fellowship, to seek out the help we need, and to also ask, ‘Hey, how can I encourage, build up, teach, or pray for my discipleship partner?’ Instead of just wandering the fellowship and speaking randomly to whoever we might encounter, we are also devoting ourselves as Jesus did to specific relationships. It is really that simple.”

The plan to sell and accept the disciple approach again to a weary ICOC crowd is the masterstroke for this year. Perhaps, McKean’s concern will lessen as many will return to his legacy of McKeanism. For this reason it will be silly to maintain hostilities with McKean since Kip is trying to reconcile with his comrades on the other side.

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