THE BOSTON CHURCH OF CHRIST – Has Mind Control Come to Beantown?
– by Stephen F. Cannon
For two decades this writer has been intrigued by the rise and
fall of mind-control groups. A study that began with mind control
in clear-cut cults such as the Unification Church, Peoples
Temple, and the Divine Light Mission has over the years found the
same kinds of practices in the discipling, or shepherding,
movement, (1) and in some charismatic churches.
A committee that investigated Maranatha Campus Ministries from
1980 through 1983 got an intimate look at the inner workings of
an aberrational Christian group that many believe uses heavy-
handed tactics to manipulate its members. Maranatha is a campus
ministry teaching basic Christian doctrine and using tactics
similar to those of mind-control groups to recruit and subdue
members (2). With the discovery of Maranatha, the issue no longer
was black-and-white, cult-or-Christian. Now, it appears that
heavy-handed discipleship has again jumped theological lines and
shown up in the independent Churches of Christ.
Churches of Christ at the Crossroads
In the early 1800s, there arose an unrest in the frontier
American Presbyterian Church. Thomas and Alexander Campbell,
Barton Stone and others reacted against sectarian religion and
urged a union of all Christians based on a restoration of New
Testament Christianity. The doctrines promoted by these men were:
adult baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, weekly
observance of the Lord’s Supper, and autonomy of the local
congregation. The movement that grew out of these doctrines
became known as the Restoration Movement.
The Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions states on page 168:
“During the second half of the nineteenth century disputes
erupted, and by 1906 a separately recognized group called the
Churches of Christ had emerged, distinctive in their rejection of
the use of musical instruments in worship. They are conservative,
interpreting the New Testament as the source of all that is
permissible for worship and belief. They also believe that there
is no biblical justification for organizations beyond the local
Although the Churches of Christ are extremely mindful of the
autonomy of the local congregation, the independent churches do
work together loosely in a brotherhood. It was from this
brotherhood in the late 1960s that a college outreach group,
“Campus Evangelism”, was formed. Active in the outreach group as
well as his local congregation was Charles Lucas (3). Church of
Christ minister Maurice Barnett writes:
“In 1967, Chuck Lucas began work with the 14th St. Church of
Christ in Gainesville, Florida. He led the effort to put into
effect the Campus Advance principles. When 14th Street built a
new building, they changed the name to Crossroads Church of
These principles caused a furor within the Churches of Christ
and were to evolve from the Crossroads Movement into the Boston
Crossroads Church and the Discipling Movement
According to Barnett, the above-mentioned principles had their
beginnings in several books on discipleship, the most influential
being Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism. (5). Flavil
Yeakley cites the influence of the Florida Shepherding group
(Christian Growth Ministries), Juan Carlos Ortiz (Call to
Discipleship), and elements of Watchman Nee’s thought. (6)
Whatever the major influence, Crossroads Church did adopt a
discipleship program. This created a controversy that swept
through the Churches of Christ worldwide.
Called by various names: Crossroadism, the Crossroads Movement,
the Discipling Movement, Multiplying Ministries, the teachings
instituted by Lucas began to spread across the country. Because
of their evangelistic zeal, the movement began to show success in
conversions. Soon other churches began to want people trained at
Crossroads. This caused polarization, church division, and whole
congregations rebuilt along the lines of the Florida Church. (7)
It was during this time of growth and turmoil, that a University
of Florida student named Kip McKean was converted and trained by
Chuck Lucas. After leaving Gainesville, it is reported that
Mckean tried to start discipling ministries in several different
congregations. (8) The degree of opposition that he encountered
is evident in a letter dated April 4, 1977, from the Memorial
Church of Christ in Houston to Heritage Chapel in Charleston,
Ill. The letter in effect “terminates” Memorial’s support for
McKean and another man at the Charleston congregation. This
severance of association came about because:
“… Brother McKean has brought unbiblical practices, peculiar
language, and subtle, deceitful doctrines to Charleston from the
Crossroads Church at Gainesville, Florida.” (9)
Fourteen points of departure from Church Doctrine were cited
among which were: “…confession of sins, peer pressure to
conform to human judgemental standards and intimidation. … The
judgement of humans that mature knowledge must be gained before
one is allowed to be baptized. … elitism.” (10)
The Boston Church of Christ
In 1979, Kip McKean, age 25, and his wife, Elena, moved to the
Boston suburb of Lexington. The growth of the small Lexington
Church of Christ was phenomenal. Soon the congregation was
meeting in rented quarters in Boston. It then became known as the
Boston Church of Christ. (11)
In addition to the standard Crossroads shepherding/discipleship
format, the Boston Church (BCC) began adding some new doctrines.
With these doctrines, BCC began consolidating its power base and
soon became the seat of authority for “multiplying ministries”
worldwide. Even though McKean revered the Crossroads Movement to
the point of acknowledging that he owed “… my ministry, my
marriage, and my very soul” to that church (12), he soon would
implement programs that would take over most of the Crossroads
type churches, and plunge the whole movement into deeper
Defining a Doctrinal Position
Throughout the Churches of Christ, there is a reluctance to
commit anything doctrinal to writing. The rationale is that “we
follow the Scripture, not the doctrine of men. When the Bible
speaks, we speak, when it is silent we are silent.”
Unfortunately, the BCC follows this belief rather strictly.
Pastor Eugene Borlund of the Evangelical Free Church of Waltham,
Mass., has had many confrontations with the Boston Church. He
“As I have met with leaders in the group oftentimes they would
say, ‘Well, we don’t put anything into writing because once you
pit it into writing then it is man’s works. Anything that has to
do with man’s works, whether it’s his works or denominationalism,
is false and it quickly degenerates into heresy.'”(13)
The upshot of this is that: 1) It is difficult to document what
the BCC is teaching in some important areas and 2) BCC uses this
to their advantage to teach one thing publicly and teach another
privately. Flavil Yeakley comments:
“There are significant differences between what the discipling
churches teach publicly and what they communicate privately to
their members. There are significant differences between what the
discipling churches communicate verbally and what they
communicate non-verbally. You cannot get a book that teaches you
the Boston system. You have to go to Boston and be trained for at
least a year. The reason for this is that the real message in the
Boston Church of Christ is not the public message that is
verbalized; it is the non-verbal message communicated privately
by the nature and emphasis of the discipling hierarchy.”(14)
This is the reason why, to get a handle on what Boston is
teaching, one has to study sermon tapes, BCC bulletins, newspaper
interviews with BCC leaders, a few booklets that have been
written by current and past members, and personal interviews with
current and past members.
BCC and Discipling
The central doctrine of the BCC/Crossroads movement, and the one
that has drawn the most criticism both in and outside of the
Churches of Christ is “one-on-one” discipling. This is the
practice that has drawn charges of mind control.
Essentially, the framework of the BCC/discipling system is one
of total submission to authority. Any new convert must submit
himself to one who is “more mature in the Lord,” that is, one who
has been in the movement longer than the convert. That submission
is absolute. Not only does the new member have his discipler, but
the discipler has his discipler, and so on up the chain of
“New converts are discipled by older converts. The older
converts are discipled by Bible talk leaders. The Bible talk
leaders are discipled by zone evangelists. The zone evangelists
are discipled by Kip McKean and the elders.”(15)
McKean, the evangelist, is the absolute leader:
“The Evangelist will determine how far a congregation will go in
obeying the scriptures by how consistently he corrects mistakes,
rebukes sin, encourages obedience and by impartially carrying the
instructions of God even when it is not the popular thing to
do … the evangelist must know where the church is in the eyes
of God, where it is headed and what it will take to get where God
wants it to be.” (16)
Furthermore, according to McKean the one who “impartially
carries the instructions of God”, discipling is the only way to
do God’s will.
“Discipling is the only way the world will be won to Christ in
our generation. Its the only way to do it. … But when it comes
to the biblical principles themselves, about how to take the
world for Christ, there’s only one way to do it. … Get
discipled by men. Most of you have discipling relationships, some
of you don’t and you need to find them. Its biblically commanded!
How could you not have them?” (17)
The impact of this statement is enormous! McKean as “the
evangelist” is saying that he knows where the church is in the
eyes of God, he knows where it is headed, and what it will take
to get where God wants it to be. Despite BCC’s protestations to
the contrary, if language means anything, this statement makes
the evangelist the oracle of God. Since the doctrine of the
authority of the evangelist precludes dissent, then that
evangelist becomes the unquestioned oracle of God!
Scripture is clear that there is “one mediator between God and
Man, even the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim 2:5) Despite what BCC is
teaching, there is no middle man, be he called Apostle, Prophet,
or Evangelist, between the mediator Jesus and the individual.
As BCC grew and began to eclipse the Crossroads Movement, the
power of the discipler began to evolve beyond just spiritual
matters. After interviewing a large number of former BCC members,
Maurice Barnett reports:
“Many of these individuals told me that their disciplers
required total submission without question. A large majority of
those individuals told me their disciplers often gave orders that
had nothing to do with spiritual matters. Those being discipled
were told what courses to take in school, what field to major in,
what career to enter, whom to date, and even whom to marry or not
A former member testified: “Submission meant blind obedience to
theirs and your disciplers’ advice; otherwise one was branded
weak spiritually and rebellious.” (19)
The picture begins to develop of just how much one is controlled
by the leaders of the group. The chief tool to keep the flock in
line seems to be the doctrine of personal confession to one’s
Working on a faulty interpretation of James 5:16, the BCC has
developed a program whereby disciplers and disciples meet weekly
to study, pray and have confession sessions. Unfortunately,
confessed sins are not kept confidential between these two
parties. Yeakley writes:
“All too often in the Boston system, however, things disclosed
to a discipler one day are known all the way up the discipling
hierarchy the next day. The discipling hierarchy thus becomes a
glorified network.” (20)
Former member Karen Gray confirms this statement:
“I confessed my sins not only to God, but also to my discipler,
even when she was totally uninvolved. These confessions could be
made known to others in the group by her if she deemed
In December 1988, I had an extended conversation with Buddy
Martin, minister at Cape Cod Church of Christ. Martin has been
monitoring the BCC and Crossroads for over a decade. In that
conversation, Buddy (who has been instrumental in exit-counseling
numerous BCC converts) told me that almost everyone in the BCC
tells their secrets. He further confirmed that those secrets are
often used against the person if they don’t follow the “party
line” and do what the elders want them to do. (22) Unfortunately,
it is these tactics of manipulation through absolute submission
and unethical use of confession (as well as others listed below)
that give substance to the serious charges of mind control. (23)
BCC and Elitism
A prevalent attitude among cults and aberrational Christian
groups is the idea that members of that group are God’s elite.
This ranges in severity from the attitude of Maranatha Campus
Ministries “although there are other churches that are valid, we
are the most committed,” to the Boston Church: “we are the only
true church on earth”. Karen Gray says she was: “…
indoctrinated with the belief that nearly all outside the group
were hellbound, and their personal Bible studies were not
sufficient to reveal the truth.” (24)
An editorial titled “Second Thoughts on Boston,” which appeared
in a Church of Christ periodical, The Christian Chronicle,
“… these brethren do not really believe that there are any
faithful churches except the ones in their sphere of influence.
They consider themselves to be the ‘faithful remnant.'” (25)
One clear indicator that this or any group has exclusive rights
as the only “true remnant church” is the practice of rebaptism.
Any group that questions the validity of one’s Christian
experience because one didn’t follow a certain ritual conducted
by “one having proper authority”; and preach that it has to be
done over under their aegis, demonstrates the presence of
elitism. Boston has indeed taken this step.
“… the churches’ definition of a valid baptism is extremely
narrow, and it believes a valid baptism to be necessary to
“They keep careful records of how many they baptize … one
thing they don’t tell is that some of the number they cite as
baptisms are re-baptisms of their members.” (27) and:
“It even baptizes people who have been baptized in other
Churches of Christ.” (28)
Yeakley agrees that this serves to “… deny the validity of the
previous religious experience of those involved.” (29)
The framework that BCC has established is the classic top-down
pyramid organization. The absolute leader that stands as God’s
“man of the hour” and dispenses God’s will to the hierarchy, who
in turn brings the truth to the laity. A strict unquestioning
attitude must be present in the laity or they might be expelled
from the only “faithful remnant” on the earth. Anyone who dares
to walk away from this “remnant” is in effect walking away from
“The leaders teach that those leaving the church do so because
they have sin in their hearts, a bad relationship with God, and
are deceived by Satan. … If I do not return to them then I am
fallen away and God will no longer allow me to enter His Kingdom
These doctrines of elitism and absolute submission administered
from the top down through a strict discipling hierarchy produce
tremendous pressure to conform to the group norm. It is this
pressure through manipulation that demonstrates the presence on
Although this charge of mind control has been leveled against
shepherding/discipleship organizations for more than a decade, it
wasn’t until the BCC that a scientific study of the phenomena was
authorized from within one of the groups.
BCC and MBTI
Because they felt a need to chronicle the group’s rapid growth,
the BCC leaders decided in 1985 to have a study conducted by a
recognized church growth researcher. It was also decided that the
study would be much more credible if conducted by someone outside
the discipling movement. Flavil R. Yeakley Jr. of Church Growth
Institute at Abilene Christian University was given the
Commencing his study in April 1985, Yeakley interviewed all
strata of BCC members, ex-members, and leaders of other churches
in the Boston area. He writes:
“What was being investigated in this research was simply the
overall group pattern. The focus was not on any individual, but
on the dynamics of the group.”(31)
Because much of the criticism against Boston had been that of
manipulation and mind control, Yeakley decided to conduct
personality profiles as part of his research. He tested about 900
“The personality assessment tool used in this study was the
Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is one of the
leading non-psychiatric personality instruments in use today.
Unlike tests used to diagnose mental or emotional problems, the
MBTI identifies normal healthy differences.” (32)
Research has determined that “… a person’s true
(psychological) type does not change. … Changes in
psychological type do not indicate normal healthy growth. Such
changes indicate some changes in the environment that causes
people to deny their true type and become like someone else.”(33)
With the MBTI, a personality type and subsequent changes in that
type are determined by answering a series of questions three
separate times. Questions were to be answered first as one would
have five years past (or before conversion, whichever came
first), then answered as they would at time of testing, and
finally as they would answer five years in the future.
After the tests were given and before any conclusions were
drawn, Yeakley did MBTI comparison studies with five mainline
denominations (Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist,
Presbyterian) and six “manipulative sects” (Church of
Scientology, Hare-Krishna, Maranatha Campus Ministries,
Unification Church, Way International).
With the first group: “Results were the same as those observed
in the Churches of Christ that are not identified with the
discipling movement. There were no significant changes in
psychological type scores. There was no pattern in the few
changes that were observed.”(34) And with the second group:
“Results of this study showed a high level of change of
psychological type scores … (with) … a clear pattern in the
observed changes … (which showed) … a clear convergence in a
single type.” (35)
The detailed statistical results are presented in the excellent
book The Discipling Dilemma edited by Yeakley. His conclusions
“… those six groups that I have chosen to call ‘manipulative
sects’ are clearly producing unnatural and unhealthy personality
changes. … the Boston Church of Christ is producing in its
members the very same pattern of unhealthy personality change
that is observed in studies of well-known manipulative sects.
Whatever they are doing that produces this pattern needs to be
The data gathered proves “… that there is a group dynamic
operating in that congregation (Boston) that influences members
to change their personalities to conform to the group norm.”(38)
Needless to say, that when Yeakley presented his findings to the
BCC leaders they were less than pleased. Several explanations for
the type changes were posed by these leaders. These reasons are
listed and aptly countered in the aforementioned book. Space
permits the examination of only one example.
“Kip McKean argued that all the Boston Church of Christ is doing
is making people over after the image of Jesus Christ. He
concluded that this research simply proves that Jesus was an
ESFJ” (a particular personality type defined by the testing).
Yeakley counters “Christianity, of course, requires one kind of
change in personality. Christians are being made over after the
image of Jesus Christ. His divine nature, however, is reflected
in individuals whose gifts differ. Christian growth does not
require falsification of type. Indeed, spiritual growth is
hindered by any effort to deny one’s true type and become a copy
of someone else.” (40)
Those Who Do Not Remember…
In November 1978 the world witnessed the horrible tragedy of the
mass suicide of more than 900 people at Jonestown, Guyana. Behind
the empty throne of Jim Jones was a sign with the well-known
saying “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to
repeat it.” These words stand as a warning to all those who would
blindly follow a man, no matter what title he may have been given
by himself or others.
That is not to say BCC is another People’s Temple. But where
there is manipulation through mind control and the doctrine of
absolute submission to a leader exists, there is potential for
BCC and others say that they are merely teaching New Testament
doctrine when they “offer discipling as Jesus did to the Twelve”.
They would be wise to heed he words of Michael Harper:
“The master-disciple relationship is, of course, used frequently
to describe the relationship that Jesus had with others on Earth,
and, therefore, can equally describe our relationship to the Lord
today … But it is never in the New Testament used to describe
the relationship which Christians have with one another. … It
is best not to use the ‘discipling’ terminology at all. Not only
is it biblically unsound, but it also injects into this area an
authority factor which is inappropriate.” (41)
In a position paper issued in 1976, the General Presbytery of
the Assemblies of God took the position:
“It is true that many new converts look to someone to keep them
from error and to guide them into truth. However, where the
individual relies altogether on another person to protect him
from all error, he will cease searching the Scriptures and fail
to develop his own ability to withstand false teaching. … Some
find the pattern for their new order of discipleship in the
relationship of Jesus with His disciples, forgetting this was
done within Judaism before Jesus began to build His Church.
Instead they should seek guidance for church patterns in the Acts
and Epistles. … Along with this there is a tendency to
downgrade democracy in the church in favor of submission to
authority. … Jesus must be kept central. He is the Great
Shepherd of the sheep. The only covenant we need is the one
sealed in His blood.”(42)
Unfortunately, the question asked in the subtitle of this
article must be answered in the affirmative. Truly, mind control
has reared its ugly head in Beantown. Until such time that the
Boston Church of Christ disavows the “authority of the
evangelist,” one-on-one discipling, and the elitist stance of
being the “only faithful remnant,” I must advise all to avoid
what is, in my opinion, a destructive organization.
1. Steve Coleman, “Christian, Who Is Your Covering?”, PFO
Newsletter, April-June, 1983, Vol. 3, No. 2.
2. Dr. James Bjornstad, et. al., “A Statement of Evaluation
Regarding Maranatha Campus Ministries / Maranatha Christian
Ministries / Maranatha Christian Church, May 8, 1984. (Available
from PFO Arizona, P.O. Box 2384, Peoria, AZ 85380.)
3. Flavil Yeakley, Jr., Ed., The Discipling Dilemma, (Nashville,
Tenn., 1988, Gospel Advocate Pub. Co.), pg. 137.
4. Maurice Barnett, The Discipling Movement (Phoenix, Ariz.,
1987, Published by author) pg. 2.
5. Barnett, pg. 1.
6. Yeakley, pg. 138.
7. Barnett, pg. 2; Yeakley, pg. 5.
8. ibid, pg. 6
9. Delbert Burkhart, Elder, Letter to Heritage Chapel Church of
Christ dated, April 14, 1977. Copy on file.
11. Yeakley, pg. 7
12. Kip Mckean, Letter to Crossroads Church of Christ, (Appeared
in BCC Bulletin, April 6, 1986).
13. Eugene Borlund, “Boston Church of Christ”, (Cassette Tape,
April 6, 1986) Copy on file.
14. Yeakley, pg. 68
15. ibid, pg. 51.
16. Kip McKean, “The Role of the Evangelist”, (BCC Bulletin, Aug.
17. Kip Mckean, “The Saints in the Kingdom of Light”, (Cassette
Tape, Gainesville, Fla., 1984, Crossroads Tape Ministry) Tape on
18. Yeakley, pg. 55.
19. Karen Gray, “Former Member Exposes Cult”, (The Wellesley
News, Wellesley, Mass., Sept. 18, 1987) pg. 3.
20. Yeakley, pg. 54.
22. Personal interview with Buddy Martin, Dec. 13, 1988.
23. For an excellent and detailed examination of cultic mind
control see: Steven Hassan, Combating Cult Mind Control
(Rochester, Vt., 1988, Park Street Press).
24. Gray, pg.3
25. Editorial, “Second Thoughts on Boston”, Christian Chronicle,
26. Charlene B. Hill, “Boston Church Grows Amidst Controversy”,
(New England Church Life, Dec. 1987, Vol. 7 No. 9) pg. 10. 27.
Barnett, pg. 38.
28. Hill, pg. 10.
29. Flavil Yeakley, Jr., The Hierarchy of Discipling Churches
(Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 5, 1987, Gospel Advocate Periodical) pg.
30. Gray, pg. 3.
31. Yeakley, pg. 30
32. ibid, pg. 24.
33. ibid, pg. 27.
34. ibid, pg. 33.
35. ibid, pp. 33-34.
36. ibid, pp. 34-35.
37. ibid, pg. 37.
38. ibid, pg. 37.
39. ibid., pg. 40.
40. ibid., pg. 27.
41. Michael Harper, Let My People Grow, (Plainfield, N.J., Logos,
1977), pg. 153.
42. General Presbytery, Assemblies of God, “The Discipleship and
Submission Movement,” Tract, n.d., pp. 13-14.
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