In examining the doctrines of the International Churches of Christ, one finds much that is familiar, much that is acceptable, much that is orthodox. But in what is not acceptable or orthodox in their teachings, one will find a familiar error of thought that is shared with other systems of belief: The idea that some particular work -- and in the case of the ICOC, baptism particularly -- is in some sense required for salvation.
Of course even the most theologically-versed and spiritual among us have fallen into the temptation that legalism offers from time to time; who has not thought in their heart that we might do something to give God a "better" view of us? Yet the danger here is greater, for ICOC is not merely a personal aberration, but a significant movement that claims to have Scripture on its side and to be a movement blessed of God.
An article on the ICOC website declares: "It really doesn't matter what any church or any person says. What matters is what the Bible says. That is what Jesus' church believes." On the surface one can hardly disagree. Yet the question remains as to whether the Bible says what the ICOC thinks it says, and on this account, they are clearly in the wrong.
Because ICOC offers nothing new, I will refer the reader to this article on the general subject of the relation of faith and works, which also includes comments on the role of baptism. Little else is needed, for ICOC simply falls for the same anachronistic view that many other groups have in this regard (notably with reference to the so-called Semitic Totality Concept).
And there are other flaws as well. Commenting on John 3:5, they write:
Although many religious groups and theologians try to explain away being "born of water" as something other than water baptism, those conclusions do not stand the test of biblical scholarship. Dr. William Wall, the noted eighteenth century British scholar, in speaking of the early church fathers says, "They understood that rule of our Savior, Except one be regenerated (or born again) of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God,' of water baptism, and concluded from it that without such baptism, no person could come to heaven--and so did all the writers of these four hundred years, not one man excepted " (History of Infant Baptism, Vol. I, pp. 69,70).
One might comment upon the relevance of citing a scholar of the eighteenth century when so much more has been discovered and determined since that time. Nevertheless, even if we assume that this assertion is correct, the early church fathers (including Justin Martyr, whom the ICOC article goes on to cite) were not Hebrews. They were brilliant men, but they had no conception of the Hebrew view of the unified person (as our linked article shows, this would have been quite necessary).
The ICOC is right to argue that "without faith, baptism is invalid [and] without baptism, faith is incomplete." The article is also right to say that one "cannot be a true disciple of Jesus if you do not truly believe and repent. True disciples will then be baptized into Christ because of their faith and repentance." But they are wrong to see baptism as some sort of "switch" whereby men turn on the power of Christ in their lives!
See also treatments on these verses:
Beasley-Murray summarizes our case thusly:
The assertion, "Unless you become baptized you cannot be saved," would have sounded to a first generation Christian like saying, "Unless you believe and are Christians you cannot be a Christian..." It is only because in the development of the Church the whole complex of baptism-faith-confession-Spirit-Church-life-sanctification has been torn asunder that the question has been forced upon us as to the relationship between baptism as an act and that which it represents, and whether the reality can be gained apart from the act with which it is associated in the New Testament. [Baptism in the New Testament, 298]
The ICOC falls into the same error of thought that Beasley-Murray warns against. In this, they are not unique, but they are egregiously falling into an error which sets the tone for their general perception of what it means to be a disciple.
Because they do not believe that good works are the inevitable and natural outgrowth of a saved person, it is little wonder that they resort to the methods of "discipling" that have so often brought accusations of cultism upon them.