Question: "What is the International Church of Christ (ICOC), and what do they believe?"
Answer: The International Churches of Christ (ICOC) is a spin-off from the Churches of Christ; both groups are non-denominational, worldwide associations of churches and part of the Restoration Movement. The ICOC has a network of over 600 non-denominational churches in about 160 countries. The International Churches of Christ was formerly referred to as the ICC.
The International Churches of Christ has a number of distinctives. One is a strong emphasis on discipleship; however, “discipleship” in the ICOC looks very different from what most other churches practice. The ICOC consistently uses high-pressure manipulation to bring new disciples into their fellowship. Once a member is acquired, he is set up in a “buddy system” of discipleship. The neophyte is indoctrinated to believe that only the International Churches of Christ has a true understanding of the Bible and the gospel. The “disciple” is encouraged to imitate the whole life of his “discipler.” The disciple must meet with the discipler at least weekly, have daily contact, and make no major decision without checking with him or her. Disciples are told where to live, whom to date, what courses to take in school, how often to have sex with their spouses, and so on. Individuals must not question their leaders. Such requirements are often made by those who practice heavy shepherding.
Another distinctive is that the International Churches of Christ focuses its evangelism almost exclusively on college students. This fits well with the ICOC’s preferred method of “love-bombing”—suddenly and purposefully surrounding a person with high amounts of friendly contact, various forms of aid, and an overall sense of being immersed in a community—something first-year college students especially crave. While none of these things are unbiblical (indeed, community, service, and friendliness are all excellent aims for Christians), the International Churches of Christ uses these virtues as a façade and manipulative tool to increase membership.
Theologically, the International Church of Christ holds to the basic tenets of Protestant evangelicalism, but with two very important exceptions. First, the group is exclusivist, claiming that the church is meant to be united in one association, divided only by geography. It teaches that any church that remains outside of this unified system, i.e., not under the ICOC’s leadership, is not a part of the “true church.” Such claims of exclusivity should raise a red flag. Any church or denomination that claims to be the “one true church” and that all others are false churches is itself teaching falsehood.
The International Churches of Christ also departs from biblical teaching in its teaching of baptismal regeneration, the belief that baptism is required for salvation. The ICOC believes that anyone who is not baptized is not saved and must be “evangelized” and brought into the church. Further, the ICOC teaches that baptism under the auspices of the ICOC is the only baptism that can save. No other baptism will do. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8–9)—including the work of baptism.
Other problems with ICOC theology include their rejection of eternal security and their amillennial perspective of the end times.
The International Churches of Christ has a strict and invasive power structure that uses manipulation and indoctrination to control its membership. Many people have been hurt by this group emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Because of its manipulative practices and errant view of salvation, we must caution against becoming involved in the International Churches of Christ.
If you have been negatively affected by the International Churches of Christ or another manipulative group claiming to be Christian, we encourage you to seek healing, firm in the knowledge that, even though God’s name may have been used to hurt you, God Himself is loving and able heal those who have been spiritually abused.