Outside United States, will ICOC merge with us?

Christian Chronicle/November 24, 2003
By Erik Tryggestad

As International Churches of Christ outside the United States struggle to find direction after a shake-up in the church's leadership, reactions from "mainline" churches of Christ range from cautious optimism to outright avoidance.

In Australia, ICOC congregations "are full of faith-filled people who have a high level of commitment to God and following Jesus," said Stephen Randall (left), elder and evangelist for the Canberra church, a mainline church of Christ. "But they are having big difficulties working out a sense of geography in the new world - in which there is no real control left from above."

"I am keeping contact, and locally we are working on amalgamating the ICOC church and the local church of Christ," Randall said.

Elsewhere, mainline churches of Christ are taking a more low-key approach to their ICOC neighbors.

"We have made no efforts nor made any open invitations (to the ICOC), but we will certainly be happy to provide a family for any members out looking," said Scott Hayes, who works for Eastern European Mission, Vienna, Austria, and the mainline church that meets in the printing ministry's facility.

About six to eight ICOC members have visited the Vienna church recently, he said.

Other missionaries told the Chronicle that they had no contact with ICOC groups, and praised God that such was the case. Despite recent changes in the ICOC, some said that the years of mistrust will be hard to erase.

The ICOC once boasted congregations with thousands of members in Asia, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union. But since the resignation of Kip McKean, many of of the churches have lost their missionaries and staff.

In McKean's document, "From Babylon to Zion," the former church leader documents multiple mission points that have lost their missionaries for financial and family reasons. Ninety percent of the nearly 100 full-time workers in the United Kingdom have left the ministry or were fired, according to McKean.

"(Those) who have more closely been in contact with international leadership ... were disturbed by the changes, but welcomed them as necessary," Christoph Widmer, of the ICOC in Zurich, Switzerland, told the Chronicle.

"Steps have been taken to carry church responsibilities on the local level," he said. "(Our) church wants to stand on its own feet in terms of finances and leadership."

The Zurich church had not made contact with any mainline churches of Christ, but Widmer did not rule out the possibility.

"Largely, these churches are on their own," said Rich Little (left), minister for the mainline Naperville, Ill., church. He met with ICOC leaders from outside the United States during an ICOC teachers seminar Nov. 7-11 in Oak Brook, Ill.

Little said he was encouraged by the interaction between representatives of both groups. Members of ICOC congregations from Tokyo to Geneva are meeting with mainline church leaders, healing old wounds and discussing possible cooperative efforts, Little said.

Because they now exist outside the United States' leadership, Little said that ICOCs abroad may have an easier time partnering - or even merging - with mainline churches.

He encouraged missionaries and church leaders to establish trust. "Sit down at a neutral location and see what we have in common. This movement is not the same movement of three years ago," Little said.

In Maputo, Mozambique, about five ICOC members have met with the mainline church of Christ, where missionaries Manuel and Pam deOliveira serve.

"They have been a great encouragement ... especially to our young people, and have in turn been encouraged by our freedom in Christ and our diversity in age groups," said Manuel deOliveira, supported by the Richland Hills church, Fort Worth, Texas.

"We still have a long way to go before we can have complete fellowship with all the ICOC members in Maputo," he said, "but we are praying and have a Mighty God who is able to do the impossible."

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