The death of those close to us comes as a shock to almost everyone on the planet. My wife recently lost her father and though she is a very spiritually robust person this whole event and it’s surrounding environment threw her very much off balance emotionally. Personally I am a very adrenalised individual and I find that death has a very sobering and calming effect on my energy. It causes me to be reflective and pensive for prolonged periods of time. It has quite literally changed my life. My African American preacher has a saying, ‘Death is for the living’. I have found this to be very true.
Most people remember quite vividly the first time they saw a dead body. For me it was one of my uncles. I think I was about eight or nine years old and I was allowed to go into the room where the open coffin was placed. I was told that I could touch him or kiss him but I just cried once I became aware of the corpse. I found the situation intimidating because I didn’t know what to do. I do not however remember the 10th time that I saw a dead body. I imagine for some reasons we get used to this experience. There are certain human phenomenons that accompany death almost universally. One of these is grief. Another is positive verbal affirmations to the grieving parties along the lines of ‘they are in a better place’. Many professing agnostics will affirm and accept albeit briefly at these times that they believe in an afterlife and often a better life after death. There can be cultural pressure behind this ‘positivity’.
Physical death is no more harder to deal with than spiritual death. Spiritual death is when someone who is spiritually alive becomes spiritually dead. They go from the state of light to that of darkness. They go from discipleship to religiosity. They go from hard line to flatline. Disciples of Jesus are faced with certain challenges in these circumstances. The Apostle Paul describes the dilemma of this senario well when he writes,
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

In days gone by I often wore Patchouli oil. It is a pungent odour that some people find distastful. Most people would however prefer it to human body odour so it is largely tolerated. The disciple is caught in what I call the Patchouli Dilemma when they face the spiritual death of their loved ones. It is a cross roads and one where at any point one can decide to go astray to sentiment. The question comes, ‘Do I put on my spiritual Patchouli around this spiritual death?’. The worry is, ‘Some people will hate the smell’. The alternative is, ‘I just ignore the stench of death and let it permeate me?’.
The story of the Old and Young Prophet in 1 Kings 19 starts with the Old Prophet in spiritual darkness and the fiery Young Prophet preaching the Word. The Old Prophet deceives the Young Prophet. The Young Prophet believes the lie that contradicts God’s Word. Then God immediately uses the same Old Prophet to preach to the Young Prophet! The young prophet leaves God and God punishes him by death. The Old Prophet mourns over the physical and spiritual death of the Young Prophet weeping and crying out ‘O my brother’. The Old Prophet had messed up so badly. By the death of the Young Prophet he had an opportunity to repent and turn to God. Instead he cries out to the dead Young Prophet ‘O my brother’! This corpse of the Young Prophet did not lead to the Old Prophet’s repentance! They had both fallen away! What a stench of death!

The simple omission of a word of affirmation like ‘O my brother’ or ‘Grace, Grace’ where there is no grace, can become the stench of death to some who are falling away or who have already left. Yet the very same conviction not to condone or justify a decision to walk away can be fragrant and inspiring to someone else in the situation.

Disciples must put on the Patchouli!

Disciples have to exercise caution around those who are spiritually dying or dead. Physically alive yet spiritually dead persons are often spiritually blind and looking for acknowledgement of their false perception that refuses to accept the death they are experiencing. They are oft times in denial and ready to persecute the living, simply by trying to gain approval for their decision to ‘leave’. How should the living respond? It is a fact that we can call upon very sophisticated emotional and psychological responses required to be in obedience to the scriptures in these scenarios.
Jude 1:22-23 Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
Look how complex this command is for the last group mentioned here in verse 23 called the ‘others’. Some people require this very mixed response as an authentic and genuine show of love and concern. Humans are cabable of very mixed feelings. This is a great example of God expecting great complexity from his children. Again, Jesus himself commands His disciples in Matthew 10:16 to ‘be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’. We should approach the subject I will discuss next, with similar caution.

I’ve recently read Andy Fleming’s analysis of the ICOC growth curves in the 1980s and 90s which he has entitled ‘Each one must be careful how he builds’. This is actually one of the main products that came out of Andy’s academic degree in Birmingham a few years ago. He reported in the 2012 San Antonio ICOC conference that his leadership in Birmingham had also produced some 10% growth in terms of baptisms and restorations. This did however include a woman who was still speaking in tongues with his permission! With this as a guideline I’m therefore more than a little suspicious about the nature of these converts. However there is no evidence to suggest that he did not actually make some disciples. Andy writes a lot about the statistics that he analyses. I discuss here the spirit with which the analysis is undertaken. I will show the bias that is inherent in what he regards to be accurate research and analysis.
I believe there is a very real danger that Andy Fleming’s teachings will poison any ‘young prophets’ that are called by God in the former ICOC churches. I have heard one of these young men that I quoted in my ‘Remnant Rant‘ article. It’s young men like him who seem to be genuinely concerned about the terrible state of the former ICOC churches that could be influenced by this paper that Andy Fleming calls ‘research’.
Having been a member of the ICOC since 1990 I was very surprised at one of the major mistakes that Andy made near the beginning of his analysis. There are a number of places in Andy’s article where he states that God did miracles and that there were ‘thousands of people’ who were saved in the ICOC. This is actually gross minimising of the actual impact of the ICOC on God’s behalf. There where in fact over 453,100 people converted in approximately 22 years. Almost half a million souls! This amounts to hundreds of thousands rather than thousands. The degree of Andy’s inaccuracy is actually therefore in the hundreds of percent. This was part of his PhD!

The degree to which Andy measures the falling away of members of the ICOC is also highly inaccurate. This is because his graphs stop in 2002 just before a massive apostasy occurred. Of the 135,000 that were members in 2002 many stopped actively living the life of disciples in terms of trying to make disciples. This is testified to by many witnesses who joined the International Christian church from 2004 onwards, myself included. The results of the 2017 leadership questionnaire sent out to thousands of leaders within the current co-operating congregations formerly known as the ICOC, showed that approximately 10% were interested in having some kind of central leadership that didn’t have its role prescribed by the membership. It showed that perhaps 90% of the cooperating congregation’s leaders do not believe in a centralised effort to evangelise the world. One would have to see the graphs in Andy Fleming’s paper extrapolated up until the present day to understand that these cooperation congregations currently have a growth rate somewhere in the region of 2% after some 15 years of attempts at revival in various ways. These have included focusing largely on children and young people within their congregations and largely those related to members since birth. This is much the same strategy as the Catholic Church and many other churches in the world which follow tradition and do not in fact preach the true gospel.
Andy’s main focus is on why so many left the ICOC. It is the obsession inherent in every page of his paper. I stopped counting words and phrases referring to negative growth at 100 mentions in his 39 page article. The problem with Andy’s focus on how people have fallen away over the years during the growth of God’s movement (when it was known as the ICOC) is that he has completely disregarded the justification from scripture for such a model. This disregard is also typical of the leadership of the former ICOC churches in terms of how they view centralised leadership and evangelisation of the world.
Let’s look at a few passages of scripture dealing with the phenomenon of large-scale falling away not mentioned at all in Andy’s paper (which remember… obsesses on falling away). First of all let’s look at how Jesus gave a doctrinal model of the ministry that he was involved in. First he tells the Parable of the Sower to his disciples and then he explains it as follows,
Matthew 13:8,18-23 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus did not use a pie chart to illustrate the parable of the sower and so we don’t have the percentages! However Jesus has four categories in His parable so one could hypothesize that approximately 25% of those who become disciples fall away because of trouble or persecution. Remember, this is a description of an ongoing ministry that is sowing and reaping. Jesus also describes seed that fell among thorns which also began to grow but was choked by the thorns. Verse seven says ‘Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants’ so we see that the plants had already begun to grow and it was the thorns growing up that choked them. In terms of its relevance to people who begin to follow Jesus and then turn away, this part of the parable shows approximately another 25% leaving. This is a total of roughly 50%. Then of course we see the seed that fell on the path is likened to those that are hard-hearted. These could represent people who study the Bible and refused to follow it or even people who get baptised but never really become disciples. This brings the ball park total of leavers predicted by Jesus near 75%.
One of the big problems with Andy Fleming’s analysis of the ICOC fall away rate is that he does not at any point give any of Jesus’ clear teaching pointing to the fact that this would be part of the dynamic of an effective ministry. I’m saddened that a significant number of former ICOC members in the cooperation churches might read his analysis and think that it somehow condemns the International Christian Church based on our own fall away rates. The fall away rate of any church is not something to be celebrated but when we look at the teachings of Jesus we understand that doctrinally this is to be expected. It is not something that should be over analysed or a subject to spend years researching and writing papers about, in order to try to avoid. It is already part of a biblical model preached by Jesus and it is indeed a complete waste of study time to looks for ways to stop this occuring. This is akin to trying to predict the end of the world. It is a chasing after the wind. To teach this as an authority figure among many members of the former ICOC churches, is an act of heresy. It is only a matter of time before those running after research into fall away rates will suffers the fate of a false prophet.
Jeremiah 2:19 Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
The ICOC had nearly half a million baptisms over a 22 year period. Stand in awe of God. God is again at work in the International Christian church which currently has over 20% growth rate all around the world. Stand in awe of God.
Not only did Jesus give this doctrinal account of ongoing falling away but he also predicted the falling away of his entire leadership group. This then actually happened. Not only did Jesus predict it, but he did so using Old Testament scripture which was specifically prophesying the falling away of the entire leadership of the movement.
Mark 14:27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

The biblical model within the first century movement was one where there were catastrophic falling aways. Not only did this happen in Jesus ministry but it also happened in the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
2 Timothy 1:15 You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
This describes catastrophic falling away in an area that has been almost completely evangelised in the first century. There were churches spread all over the province (Acts 19:10) and yet at this point just as the Apostles had deserted Jesus, the disciples had deserted Paul. They had all fallen away. Andy Fleming says in his paper that he was one of those who was shocked in 2003 when things went so badly. As an ordinary member I often was involved in conversations where prediction of this kind of catastrophe came up and it was suggested that it may happen at some point. It was often a scenario used in the last study before baptism in the ICOC. It was weird that anyone who knew our Catheticism and led at the level of World Sector was shocked when it actually happened. In fact, future episodes of catastrophic falling away comes up in my conversation in recent years also! It’s not something to be feared or avoided especially by leaders in God’s kingdom.

All that Andy has really done with his paper is prove that the ICOC were God’s Kingdom following their Lord and Master Jesus and His ministry dynamic is clear as day in the statistics!

John 6:66-68 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
‘Many disciples turning back’ is something that may well happen because it’s in the biblical model. It is actually prophesied that it would happen even by the Apostles and their writings. Some in the ICOC did not think that this catastrophic falling away was possible. Let me repeat.. It’s in the biblical model. It was amazing to see how many of our leaders went scurrying away from the flock in 2003. It is highly commendable that some stayed and faced off quite severe persecution within the churches as they fell into apostasy. It is even more commendable that Kip McKean picked up the pieces and regained his vision to evangelize the world in our generation.
We should always bear in mind the warnings by Jesus and the Apostles in their ministries of these kinds of catastrophes.
Matthew 24:12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
We should always be wary of those who claim they can reverse engineer what ‘the Spirit clearly says’? Each one should be careful how he writes as well as how he builds!
I appeal to the members of the former ICOC churches to ignore Andy Flemings’s bias and critical paper and return to tried and tested biblical models of leadership that are working again all over the world and to Andy himself to repent of this wicked false teaching and follow the example of ICC leaders like John Causey, Blaise Feumba, Cory Blackwell, Raja Rajan, Oleg Sorotkin, R. D. Baker and so many others. Andy needs to stop this stupid squabbling and scheming and get down to the serious job of building God’s kingdom in ernest. Let’s do what has always worked. Let’s not shirk away from the model that Jesus and Paul had to live with, of catastrophic falling away. After the fall, comes the restoration (Luke 10:22-24). Come and join us.
Remnant Rant 5.0 Catastrophic Christianity II
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