Guest Editorial: Ghislain Normand
Editor’s note from Kip McKean: Ghislain and Debbie Normand were baptized in the late 1990’s through the efforts of the Campus Ministry in the International Churches of Christ (ICOC). They married in 2002, and in 2003, they planted the Quebec City ICOC! Interestingly, Ghislain baptized Tim Kernan in 2001 in their Montreal Days. Therefore, in the mid-2000’s, the Normands started following Tim and Lianne Kernan’s efforts for Christ by listening to lessons and reading bulletins coming from Portland, and later from what became the SoldOut Movement. In 2017, when John Causey wrote about joining the New Movement in the April CAICC Bulletin, REMEMBER THOSE EARLIER DAYS, the Normands could relate to what John so vulnerably shared. After studying the Scriptures with John and others, as well as attending the 2017 European Missions Conference in London, Ghislain and Debbie – following their renewed convictions – placed membership in the SoldOut Movement’s Toronto International Christian Church on November 12, 2017!
Please read Ghislain’s remarkable account of how the Spirit led the Normands into God’s SoldOut Movement – in this our Year of the Impossible!
“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the [Remnant] from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 ESV
God is sovereign and places each of us in situations to seek Him – both before and after we become Christians. (Acts 17:26-27; Hebrews 12:11) In 1998, after working two years as a lawyer, I went back to school at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) to pursue my Master’s in Political Science. I tried to make sense of my life and my desire to embrace a purposeful destiny. It was then that I was invited on campus by my new friend Bruno to come to a midweek service. I was blown away by the spirit of this small crowd of believers. Their joy and passion moved me to accept their invitation to study the Bible. I was cut to the heart by the sacrifice of Jesus, made Jesus my Lord, and was baptized on a beautiful afternoon in June.
My first years as a disciple were so rich and filled with so many adventures and discoveries. I was learning to really live, embracing this life to the full offered by Jesus. (John 10:10) My amazing wife Debbie and I met and started to date in 2001. Encouragingly, Debbie – like me in Montreal – was also the fruit of a dedicated mission team from Toronto, in her case sent to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Invited on the University of Manitoba campus by two disciples, Debbie quickly embraced the vision set forth by Jesus. She was baptized in 1997 on November 2nd – the day of her physical birth! The vision the Spirit had brought into our lives was simply amazing: A worldwide spiritual revolution ignited and sustained by a total commitment to Christ and His mission to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In many ways, we were not perfect as a Christian fellowship, but God took care of us as we witnessed the salvation of many, especially before 2002. We also remember being involved in meaningful and fruitful discipling relationships which were based on the divine expectations of wholehearted devotion, humility, and obedience to the Scriptures. We were inspired by the unity among the International Churches of Christ around the globe through initiatives like KNN, many refreshing conferences, and a common vision of the evangelization of the nations in this generation. (John 17:22-23)
During these remarkable days, no one would deny that Kip McKean was our father in the faith for this historic Christian Movement. God used him to inspire faith, passion and courage. Kip, his wife Elena, and all of us leaders around them inspired many to leave the comfort of their religiosity and follow Jesus in a powerful and real way. As well, all of us learned many lessons the hard way – as God’s people have experienced during ages past.
In February 2003, when the Kriete Letter was released, it eroded so many Biblical convictions in the ICOC and consequently led to thousands abandoning the faith. Yet in August 2003, one year after Debbie and I were married, we went with four other disciples to plant the Quebec City ICOC. In truth as the months passed, we became more and more isolated, and lost the perspective and conviction of being a unified body committed to win the world to Christ. I believe that God allowed the Kriete Letter for our fellowship to face His light. Like all of us, Kip faced his own sins. He has confessed and apologized many times for his pride, arrogance and a lack of compassion for the weak, as he humbly did with Debbie and me. However, Kip was among the very few that kept his convictions on world evangelism. So sad that Kip was “falsely disfellowshippped” in 2005 by once loyal brothers, since he would not agree and give into the Kingdom Teachers on different issues such as autonomy as church governess. Personally, we understand that through the influence of the Kingdom Teachers – who were all from a Mainline Church of Christ background – many wanted to return to the comfortable Mainline Theology of autonomy, hence rejecting the conviction of central leadership. So, in time, Debbie and I came to understand that autonomous churches are composed of disciples growing in autonomy… which led, among other reasons, to our fall.
The fire storms of the 2003 crisis in the ICOC sparked by the Kriete Letter also showed that Debbie and I did not know what we were doing, although we tried our best. We had very little discipling, and five years later we were invited to leave Quebec City to rest and find new strength in Toronto and Virginia Beach. During these years, in 2007, our first child was born – Lily! We came back to Montreal in 2009, and God blessed our ministry in 2010, allowing us to rebuild the campus. Our son Caleb was born in 2010 as well! God’s grace was encouraging us despite our very real weakness and fatigue.
In retrospect, we realize that during those years, we lost sight of the standard of Christ in many ways. Jeremiah 6:14 speaks volumes about the illusion of health, when in fact the body is so sick, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Simply put, we did not hold true to the fundamentals of discipleship. We spent a lot of energy on organization, administration and meetings, but I do not remember my mentor and I going to share our faith together more than three to four times in as many years. We should have been prayer warriors and partners in the fields. What seemed normal was in fact spiritually wrong. This is just one example of the many ways we did not embrace the radical faith of Jesus.
What Debbie and I went through in early 2017 – events that almost destroyed our marriage – is both the product of our own sins and the delayed outcome of years of what we see as the global, spiritual decline of our beloved fellowship – the ICOC. These were heightened, in our opinion, by the destructive consequences of autonomy. Ironically, Debbie and I were seen as an example for many, and even had a “successful” ministry according to the majority. However, the lack of humility and vulnerability, true discipleship and accountability revealed the frailty of our lives. We are so thankful for the generous love of the Bahula, Dumornay and Brisebois families. We are indebted to them for their prayers and support, as well as the restoration of love in our marriage. Indeed, our gracious God is sovereign: Our suffering led to our brokenness, many tears and prayers, bringing us to a state of desperation that led us to once again – as in the days of our conversions – radically seek out the will of God.
GOD’S GRACE AND OUR QUEST
Though in no way do Debbie and I seek to excuse our sins or defend ourselves, we do believe that God Almighty can bring great victory out of devastating circumstances. (Genesis 50:19) In 2017, God opened a door for us to move to Toronto, not knowing what laid ahead. Of great importance, I occasionally read the bulletins of the Portland Church from 2004 to 2007, and then the City of Angels ICC Bulletins to this day. I was inspired and moved by what God was doing in the life of a brother that I baptized and discipled in 2001-2002, Tim Kernan. It was obvious to me that he had found a great path, much more fruitful than the one I was walking. Interestingly, Tim and I were baptized the same day – June 21st – three years apart! Tim was even one of my groomsmen! How could I not examine and compare the outcome of our respective faiths and lives, as now Tim leads thousands of disciples. Especially so since Tim, as a young disciple, was quite unstable and fearful in so many ways, being often a “thorn in my flesh” more than a “pure joy!” This examination of my life compared to Tim’s was very convicting, humbling and freeing at the same time. I remembered the words of Jesus, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20)
A few months ago, I read John Causey’s testimony about his own spiritual journey in the City of Angels International Christian Church Bulletin of April 9, 2017. (John was arguably one of the most influential Evangelists in the ICOC until his sabbatical in October 2016.) In the article, John pointed out that it has now been 14 long years of deliberation in the ICOC since the Kriete Letter and there is little or no global impact in this time. John cited one of the ICOC’s Teachers Gordon Ferguson, who wrote about the ICOC that, “[At the end of 2015], we had 667 congregations overall, 381 of which baptized between one and 10 people, and 122 had zero baptisms.” Debbie and I know firsthand that so many of the ICOC congregations have been left orphaned by autonomy and struggle immensely to this day.
Throughout John’s article, I recognized myself and saw how far my heart was from the glorious Kingdom that I once discovered. I wept as I considered the spiritual state of the Canadian Churches and my family. I called John to ask him a few questions about his own experience, and John graciously came to visit us a few days later in Toronto. We had a bonding time, sharing our hearts, hurts and hopes. John shared with us how God opened his eyes. It brought him to seek forgiveness from and reconciliation with Kip. I asked him many questions about his journey and the life of the saints in the International Christian Churches (ICC) – God’s New SoldOut Movement. Yet, I had to see it to believe it!
John invited us to come see the work of the Spirit at the European Missions Conference sponsored by the London ICC in late October 2017. Debbie and I were deeply inspired by the vulnerability, faith, love and passion of the saints. We saw there what we first discovered 20 years ago – a unified spirit with a divine purpose! Our hearts were deeply convicted and moved! We cried tears of joy! Our visit confirmed what we see in the Scriptures…
BACK TO THE FUNDAMENTALS
A. Leadership And Unity
We believe, from the Scriptures, that God has always led His people through the leadership of a chosen man or woman (Deborah) – all sinners apart from Jesus. “Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord… appoint a man over this community… one who will lead them out and bring them in so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’ So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hands on him.’” (Numbers 27:15-18)
We believe that God’s purpose for a central leader is to not only give godly and practical direction, but also a central leader unites God’s people. This unity must be maintained not only locally, but globally. After all, the body of Christ is international. Without central leadership and direction, “everyone does as he sees fit.” (Judges 17:6; 21:25) Hence the standards in our autonomous churches became relative to the leader in place. Since a great number of our church leaders became autonomous – without direct leadership and accountability themselves – we as their flock “became like sheep without a shepherd.” We became distant and alienated without a common standard, though affirming our fellowship with Christ. The hearts of so many disciples became lukewarm, including our own. Sadly, this seemed just normal and accepted in so many of our congregations. Let us never forget that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that makes our Savior nauseous. (Revelation 3:16)
In the light of this fact, we believe that most of the leaders who were involved in the top decisions of the ICOC Movement in the early 2000’s have not forgiven Kip (nor have they sought his forgiveness of them). It seems clear to us that though they say they have, they will not go deeper to see if he has truly repented or not. Is it not what happened with David after he sinned so seriously? (2 Samuel 15:13-23) It is so easy to say from the comfort of our living rooms, that David was a man after God’s own heart! But let us be real here: If we were amongst the people of his time, there are great chances that most of us would have followed Absalom! However, we know from the Scriptures, that David was still God’s chosen leader. Remember, a lack of forgiveness – which some mistakenly call “hurt” – may have eternal consequences. (Matthew 18:23-35)
The same way that Paul was a father to numerous people in the First Century Church, Kip’s faith has been the instrument for the salvation of so many of us. (1 Corinthians 4:15) He was a spiritual father to us and still is for so many. As faithful disciples, we would not leave our physical father because he sinned against us. Rebellion and lack of love and forgiveness divides what God has united.
At the end of the day, it is not about Kip, the ICC or the ICOC. It is a question of our individual convictions about what the Bible teaches regarding central leadership, unity, discipling and the mission to seek and save the lost. We believe that Kip has not been removed by God. Quite the contrary, we see the present fruits in his life and ministry as he has held firmly to his convictions as well as learned from his sins and mistakes. In fact, starting with the 42 Portland Disciples that planted the City of Angels ICC in 2007, God has multiplied them into 6,000 disciples, in 85 churches, in 36 nations on all 6 populated continents of the world!
The absence of constant and real Biblical discipling has produced leaders who went from being evangelists to “pastors” – in the Protestant fashion. The mission of Christ has been replaced by a symphony of roles and activities often played or led by the same man, paid by his congregation under the umbrella of the Board of Directors. It is difficult to call people to be fishers of men when we struggle ourselves to live the call. As well, the great majority of our members are not involved in a deep, loving mentoring relationship towards obedience to Christ, which we call discipling. This is so obvious. We have accepted mediocrity through a relative standard. How about our congregational midweeks? Though we talked about its importance, NOTHING changed as less than half the church attends. My heart is broken to see how the lack of commitment has discouraged the faith of many, and for this I am so sorry for my lack of godly leadership.
C. Commitment To Evangelize The World
Frank Kim – the ICOC’s former Pacific Rim World Sector Leader – preached at the 2016 ICOC Conference in St. Louis that the mission to evangelize the world will be embraced by our children. We think that this is not true. How would they decide to give everything for the cause if their parents themselves do not believe anymore that God can reach all the nations and hearts in this generation? Faithlessness is as powerful as true faith. We saw it so clearly as no one was ready to leave Montreal to go lead and strengthen the Quebec City Church after we left in 2008.
This reminds me of the story of this poor frog who slowly dies in the water in which she bathes. Her skin slowly cooks, and she falls asleep in her deadly comfort as the cool water is heated slowly over time, leading her to eventual death. The only hope for the frog is to “jump” out of the deadly mix. Alarmingly, we often do not see the danger of our own lukewarmness until it is too late.
Since God wants ALL MEN (and ALL WOMEN) to be saved, it is our responsibility to take seriously the command of Jesus in Matthew 28. (1 Timothy 2:3-4) His love for the lost is so intense. We lost this love many years ago. People think Kip is fooling himself with his vision of bringing the Gospel to the whole world as a unified group of churches… again! The Israelites thought the same way when Caleb and Joshua were ready to enter the Promised Land. (Numbers 13:25-14:12) These faithless thousands died in the desert. In Judges 1:27-33, we see that the next generation of Israelites failed to accomplish God’s purpose for their lives. They were in the Promised Land, but the pagans had a deeper impact on them than the other way around. God’s people faced a sharp spiritual decline. Though there are many committed disciples in the ICOC congregations, we see how the general spiritual climate has been killing the fervor and dreams of so many. This is a very dangerous place to be… and remain in.
OUR HOPE FOR ALL THE SAINTS
We love all of our brothers and sisters so much! We cannot forget the tenderness and sacrifices of our beloved spiritual family. We are praying for our friends in so many cities. Now, however, Debbie and I believe that God is calling us to “jump” on another path, confident that He will use us to serve Him and His Kingdom in a better way. So, after thoroughly examining the Scriptures, praying and fasting, as of November 12, 2017, we have now become members of the SoldOut Discipling Movement in Toronto! We know this decision will affect many, but we should be reminded that this is very similar to what happened in the 1970’s and 1980’s! Sensing the lukewarmness in the Mainline Churches of Christ, scores “jumped” into the Boston Movement which in 1994 became known as the International Churches of Christ! Most were affected for the best, as they saw the glory of God when they opened their hearts to this invitation. We are under no delusion: Debbie and I are still fragile, but convinced that our Heavenly Father has allowed all these struggles “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) We believe that what God has done once, He has the desire to do again in even greater ways, for the salvation of so many! Yes, “His love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34)
My heartfelt appeal is simply this: Please, examine the Scriptures, pray, fast and be open to renewing your response to God’s radical call. Debbie and I are praying for all of us to return to the Biblical fundamental convictions that brought us to salvation, and through this, we will all be united once again! And to God be all the glory!