NOTE: As a result of this article below, Justyn Martyr, of The Bereans: Apologetics Research Ministries (www.TheBereans.net), who ironically is a member of MSI (now called “Every Nation”), wrote a short letter in response (read here). He demanded of me to produce more factual evidence to support the claims contained in the article (for he was quite unaware of the predominance of evidence that existed, which is typical among current members). Thus, after explaining that the article was not intended to provide an exhaustive presentation, but rather basic facts, I then provided Justyn with documented official MSI teachings, which demonstrate beyond doubt the false and sociologically cultic teachings of MSI. Read it Here
At face, the term “cult” can be viewed by some as quite pejorative, to be sure. In any normal English dictionary, several different meanings to the term are provided. However, from an evangelical/theological point of view, the term “cult,” that is, “non-Christian cult” is used to signify groups that consider and call themselves “Christian,” but denies or rejects an aspect of essential biblical theology. For instance, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals all reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity; Catholics reject justification through faith alone; etc. Hence, these groups would be classified as theological non-Christian cults due to their denial of these essential doctrines (cf. John 8:24; Gal. 1:6-9). However, there is another category of “cult” that, unfortunately, some Christian churches are regarded as. By way of doctrinal definition, this category is known as a “sociological cult.” A “sociological cult” is a group(s) that holds to essential biblical theology, but in terms of leadership and organizational construct they are sociologically abusive, promoting “elitism,” and teach a very unbiblical concept of church authority. For example, to support the false notion that water baptism is a necessity for justification, Kip McKean, founder of the sociological cult, International Church of Christ (ICC), teaches his biblically unstudied followers:
I do not know of any church, group or movement that teaches and practices what we teach as Jesus taught in Matthew 28:18-19: one must make the decision to be a disciple, then be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit. When one is born again at baptism (First Principles, 34). Hence, the ICC teaches that in order for one to have salvation, it is not faith alone, but rather: first, the candidate must become a disciple, which is a process, then assuming the candidate is worthy (i.e., a “true disciple”), then he or she must be water baptized (only in the ICC), and only then are they accepted as true Christians. Further in the ICC publication, The Disciple’s Handbook, they explain that salvation is a developmental:
we believe and expect every member of the church to be fully committed to living according to that truth. . . . To our knowledge, we are the only group that teaches the biblical principle of discipleship as a necessary part of the salvation process (120; emphasis added). This is only one of countless false teachings that the ICC forcefully teach. Note the utter elitism that is slipped in the above statements that produce an atmosphere of fear, which then causes members to “submit” unconditionally. Thus, the ICC is both a theological cult (for denying justification through faith alone) and a sociological cult (for holding to an unbiblical view of authority and church discipleship). For more information on the ICC see: www.christiandefense.org/ICC_.htm#n1
Morning Star International (now called Every Nation)
Virtually identical to that of the ICC’s teaching on discipleship and authority is Morning Star International (MSI; now called “Every Nation”). Even though MSI is not theologically branded as “non-Christian cult,” MSI does, in fact, fall unequivocally in the category of “sociological cult.” This should not be at all surprising since they stemmed out of Maranatha Ministries. The leadership of MSI consists of Rice Broocks, Phil Bonasso, and Steve Murrell, all whom are self-appointed Apostles, thus referring to themselves as the “Apostolic Board.” Of course, the only church that I can think of that has a governing Board of so-called “Apostles” is The LDS (i.e., the Mormons), which they call the “Quorum of the Apostles.”
Note that when leaders of groups insist that they are “Apostles” or as with MSI, an “Apostolic Board,” it creates an illusion in which they are seen by members as God’s infallible mouthpiece determining what is “best” for their devotees. Hence, the result is that members of these kinds of organizations fearfully submit unconditionally. In fact, there are literally hundreds of Christian counter-cult ministries that speak out against the cultic practices, theological falsities and abusive teachings of MSI. Further, there are hundreds of internet posts from ex-MSI members who have written much of the spiritual abuse and crass authoritarianism that they have experienced. This perpetual teaching of “unconditional authority” keeps MSI leadership in full control of their non-questioning members. In the end, many ex-MSI members come out spiritually, and at times, mentally damaged. Physiologically, spiritual abuse is one of the most damaging abuses. A simple Google search on MSI will produce scores of websites exposing MSI. I have personally interfaced with the so-called Apostles (viz. Broocks and Bonasso) and many members of MSI. In evaluating official MSI literature, shown to me by former MSI leaders and carefully listening to MSI sermons throughout the years, I see a virtual exactness with the International Church of Christ.
Not surprising, both ICC and MSI utilize the same passages (e.g., Heb. 13:17) to teach that members should submit to “God’s delegated leaders” without question! Although, they both, with no regard for the exegesis of the text, read their own a priori assumptions into these passages. Further, both hold to an unbiblical concept of discipleship. Hence, both churches are filled with sheepish terrified members who would never dream of questioning their “covering” that, according to MSI leadership, are God’s delegate authority. To maintain a rigid control, leaders of these Discipleship or “Authoritarian” movements, claim that the authority of the leaders is “God-given” or “God-delegated.” Thus, any disobedience to the leaders is direct disobedience to God. They emphasize heavy authority and relentless submission in the relationships between the leaders and ones under them.
Space precludes me to go into every aspect of teaching on key issues of Authoritarianism such as MSI’s biblically-unbalanced doctrine on discipleship, submission, etc. that they reign over unassuming members. However, if you are a current member of MSI consider the following:
1. The New Testament does teach that church leaders are authoritative on issues of (i) directing church affairs (cf. 1 Tim. 3:5); (ii) teaching sound doctrine (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-4); and (iii) correcting those who sin and disciplinary action if they refuse to repent (cf. Titus 3:10-11). In these cases, church authority exits. This kind of biblical authority will help, rather than obstruct, the Christian to submit to Christ.
2. Scripture indicates that the pastoral ministry is noticeably, “marked by a servants attitude,” not a weighty emphasis on authority and submission (see Matt. 20:25-28; 2 Cor. 1:24; and esp. 1 Pet. 5:1-3).
3. Christ is the one Mediator between God and man, not church leadership, for they can err (cf. 1 Tim 2:5).
4. God, not man or a church leader determines one’s destiny, (cf. Ps. 139:16; Eph. 1:11; 2:10).
5. Scripture indicates that Christians should “obey God and not man” (cf. Acts 5:29).
6. Studying God’s Word will help the Christian develop a maturity to discern what God’s will is or is not for his or her life (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:8-10).
7. The first and final authority—above all—is Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:21).
Writing against Authoritarian groups, apologist, E. Miller, pointed out that “Leaders who put heavy emphasis on authority and submission typically seek to make themselves indispensable to others’ spiritual growth and well-being” (CRI Journal, Spring, 1985, 15). Because of MSI’s over emphasis on submission and unconditional authority, which naturally flows from their roots, Maranatha, MSI is not a biblically based or exegetically sound organization. There are far too many churches that do not view members as “rebellious” merely for asking questions or pointing out theological error. Among the many, MSI is a typical Discipleship/Authoritarian movement that seeks to control and ultimately intimidate its trusting members.
The Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses) proclaimed: “If we have love for Jehovah and for the organization of his people we shall not be suspicious, but shall, as the Bible says, ‘believe all things,’ all the things that The Watchtower brings out. . . . ” (Qualified to be Ministers [WT pub.], 156).
Scripture alone is the only sole infallible authority and rule of faith for the church—our ultimate freedom is in Christ Jesus, our great God and Savior.
For documented official MSI teachings, which demonstrate beyond doubt the false and sociologically cultic teachings of MSI, Read Here