Family-Integrated Church Movement Critique Essay

There are various other problems with the confession: vague generalizations, undefined terms, simplistic proof-texting, questionable assertions and the like.  These alone would prevent me from signing the confession. But throwing all churches under the evolutionary-secular-unbiblical bus for practicing age-segregation goes too far. Whatever a church or Christian believes about the FIC movement as a positive or negative, all should agree that the NCFIC in particular has certain definable and public views that are codified in this confession.

 

There are a number of reasons I will not sign the online family integrated church confession. And it has nothing to do with animosity. It has to do with principled objections to the substance, nature, purpose, and effects of this confession.

Substance: The National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC), which wrote the confession over a decade ago, is not simply another organization concerned with the decay of the Christian family but an organization that is concerned about a specific, perceived problem: family-segregation and age-segregated meetings. They are so concerned about this issue that their confession boldly asserts the following:

“We affirm that there is no scriptural pattern for comprehensive age segregated discipleship, and that age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking which have invaded the church” (Article XI).

This affirmation uses unqualified language beyond the vague adjective comprehensive. While the confession never uses the words “Sunday School” and the like, the practice and logic is clear: “Age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking,” modern Sunday Schools are age segregated; therefore, they are based on “evolutionary and secular thinking.” This conclusion is reinforced through the words of their leaders, their book and their movie as demonstrated in the following points.

  1. The original founder and current board member, in his lecture on the history of Sunday school, Mr. Phillips, declares “[that today’s church has]. . . an entirely new hierarchy of social groups based on age: . . . dayschools . . . adolescence . . . PMS for women of certain age . . . these are all variations of evolutionary hellish thinking.”
  2. The current president, Mr. Brown, approvingly summarized the sin of age-segregation as “…the church has usurped authority from the family by training youth through Sunday schools and youth groups, whereas the Bible commits the training of children to their parents.”
  3. Mr. Brown further states, “We maintain that man sins by adding to or subtracting from the ways that the Bible says that youth are to be gathered, evangelized, and instructed.” Age-segregation is a “serious matter,” a “serious error.”
  4. The defining book of the NCFIC, A Weed in the Church, written by Mr. Brown, is an extended treatment of this serious charge.
  5. The movie, Divided, produced by the NCFIC, “discovers the shockingly sinister roots of modern, age-segregated church programs….” With fewer nuances than the book and greater rhetorical flourish, the movie apparently condemns any church program not in alignment with its own views.

To understand how strongly the NCFIC stands against age-segregated activities, consider the president’s allowance of “exceptions” in the NCFIC’s flagship book, A Weed in the Church. Even with a healthy church and strong youth ministry, Mr. Brown affirms that as “little as one hour a week” of age-segregation is “problematic” for those wishing biblical felicity.

In other words, 1/168 of a week is still too radical to contemplate. That is .006% of a child’s week! There is virtually no exception allowed in this type of thinking.

Since the substance of the confession includes such a radical view, and those who wrote the confession publicly confess such radical views, I cannot sign it.

Nature: In the modern digital age, Christians sign many and sundry contracts and statements such as when they start a new email account, download Adobe reader or otherwise purchase items online. Whenever they check the “yes, I agree” option, they have given their word.

And the nature of a confession is a public declaration of important issues common to those who have signed it. So when the NCFIC asks the churches to be in “substantial agreement with the NCFIC Confession” and check off the “yes” option, they have signed the confession. They have agreed with the substance of the confession. As the organization stated in the FAQ section: “We hear from time [sic] of a church that may not completely reflect everything in the confession. While we wish this were not so, we encourage churches to be honest about their true convictions and practices.”

And part and parcel of the substance of this confession, the NCFIC, and its leadership is that age-segregation is “based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking.”

Because I cannot agree with this substantive issue, and the nature of signing this public confession is to confess this substantive issue, I cannot sign this confession.

Purpose: The NCFIC’s stated purpose includes laudable goals such as stabilization of the family. However it includes a dogged propagation of this sectarian viewpoint as follows:

  1. Founder, former president and current board member, Mr. Phillips, publicly called for more such churches: “So there’s been a revival that’s taking place in the heart of these homeschool families. And this revival works itself out to the local church . . . our prayer: every Christian in the world is in a family integrated church. And there should be nothing but that….”
  2. The confession’s introductory remarks include the prayer for more family integrated churches (FIC): “Our fervent prayer is that our God will raise up Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, family-integrated assemblies from the ashes of our man-centered, family fragmenting churches.”
  3. The stated mission of the NCFIC is to “facilitate church planting” and “restore the biblical pattern of age integrated worship, discipleship and evangelism.”
  4. Age-segregation is important enough to fashion the name of the organization; the FAQ claims “it is unquestionably a defining issue of our day.”
  5. As a defining issue, the NCFIC is willing to call all churches to their confession without discrimination (their church list includes 7th Day Adventists).

Since I am in opposition to their idiosyncratic view of age-segregation, I certainly cannot support their efforts to “facilitate” more churches like that. Since they are more concerned with helping families find family-integrated churches than Reformed churches, I cannot support their effort with my name or the name of my church.

Effects: The substance, nature and purpose of this confession will have necessary effects.

  1. It is contrary to the received practices of the church universal. A serous study of the history of Christian nurture and education reveals this fact. The NCFIC has made historical claims contrary to these facts.
  2. It limits Christian liberty in the area of Christian nurture and education by calling for a blanket removal of methods that are indifferent in themselves (adiaphora).
  3. It contains alienating language. Publicly asserting (without substantive evidence) that the practice of age-segregation is based on “unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking.” My church uses age-segregation…therefore what should I conclude from this confession? Publicly associating the “responsibility for the vulnerability of the family” to church leaders with the “bitter fruits of…fragmentation of the family.” Publicly asserting the following: “We deny that the church should continue as she has and delay dramatic reformations, or that she will escape the wrath of God for the disintegration and destruction of the family by ignoring or taking lightly biblical roles and responsibilities.”
  4. It has become alienating.  This is especially manifested in their various talks and articles which emphasize a “we” versus “they” language and mentality. Individuals have been adversely affected by the movement. I know of young men who moved from one state to another to find an FIC church after watching the NCFIC movie. In many cases dialogue on internet sites usually shows Christians defending the NCFIC confession more readily than their own sister churches. Some churches have struggled with members mesmerized by the rhetoric of this movement. I know of two Reformed churches through personal contact that have either been split over the movement or lost members and leaders. Some FIC churches are practically and rhetorically separated from their sister churches. Sister churches are alienated in the eyes of Christians looking for FIC churches, being taught that this is a “defining issue.” The confession is the public ground for unity instead of the pre-existing confessions publicly agreed upon. The confession is the public instrument of perpetuating more said churches, with the NCFIC as a clearing house for families to find more FIC churches instead of the traditional church.

There are various other problems with the confession: vague generalizations, undefined terms, simplistic proof-texting, questionable assertions and the like.  These alone would prevent me from signing the confession. But throwing all churches under the evolutionary-secular-unbiblical bus for practicing age-segregation goes too far.

Whatever a church or Christian believes about the FIC movement as a positive or negative, all should agree that the NCFIC in particular has certain definable and public views that are codified in this confession. It is my hope this essay will bring these views to bear so that churches may prayerfully reconsider their association with this confession and organization.

Shawn C. Mathis is Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Denver, Colo. 

[Editor’s note: Original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]

 

A Critique of Voddie Baucham's Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God

Our elders get asked all the time whether we would endorse a particular book, ministry resource, or popular teaching.  Cultivating biblical discernment is one of the most crucial aspects of the believer’s growth in the Lord. What’s difficult is that trusted teachers and authors sometimes publish questionable viewpoints, even serious errors, which foster confusion and promote unbiblical ideas.  It’s our burden as shepherds of the flock to bring biblical clarity to these challenges and help the sheep distinguish between truth and error.  A critique of otherwise faithful, godly leaders should always be loving and gracious, but where a ministry’s output has become unsound it should be pointed out, corrected, and the body of Christ strongly cautioned if the error persists.  In that spirit, below is a brief critique of the book Family Driven Faith, authored by the Family Integration Movement’s most well-known proponent, Voddie Bacham.  While evangelicalism has benefitted greatly from Voddie’s preaching ministry and faithful gospel labors, we hope this brief review will help foster greater discernment regarding this influential teaching on the family and the church.      

Voddie Baucham is the pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, a flagship ministry in the Family Integrated Church Movement. The distinctive of the Family Integrated Church (FIC) is its strong emphasis on equipping parents to fulfill their biblical responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). As a part of the FIC’s attempt to carry out that biblical mandate, churches insist that families are not separated by ages and are seated together for all public gatherings of the church (hence “integrated”) and roundly rejects all Sunday Schools, youth groups, or other age-graded “niche” ministries. Baucham’s book, Family Driven Faith, is an explanation of the philosophy behind the FIC’s ministry structure.  

Baucham’s observation that many Christian parents have grossly neglected their God-given ministry of teaching the scriptures to their children is sadly accurate and his strong objection to the spiritually inane methods of many church youth groups is equally valid. But Family Driven Faith (FDF) offers solutions to these errors which are problematic on three fronts. First, FDF over-generalizes the issue by equating all involvement in age-graded ministry to children/students with abdication of parental responsibility. Second, FDF sets ministry within the family and within the church at odds. And third, FDF convolutes clear biblical mandates and Baucham’s personal application of those mandates so that, at times, the two are virtually indistinguishable.

The following excerpts and comments will substantiate these very real concerns:

1. Family Driven Faith equates having children involved in a church’s ministry to students with abdication of parental responsibility.

Baucham makes a clear case for the primacy of parents’ ministry in their children’s lives:

“Contrary to popular belief, the home, not the church, has been entrusted with the primary responsibility of teaching children the Bible.” (p. 95)

“This is the linchpin in every argument I have made or will make in this book. God has designed your family – not the youth group, not the children’s ministry, not the Christian School, but your family - as the principal agent in your children’s lives.” (p. 120)

The text also concedes that while a parent’s role is indeed primary it is not exclusive. FDF does allow a place for the involvement of others in the spiritual development of children:

“That is not to say that parents should reject any help. If I believed that, I wouldn’t have written this book. (p. 91)

“That doesn’t mean we would be the only ones who would teach, and nurture…on the contrary, we have had numerous partners in the process over the years. I am grateful for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends who have walked with us through the ups and downs.” (p. 93)

“…I’m not saying that I wouldn’t welcome help, advice, mentoring, and/or support from someone who has raised teenagers, has proven himself as a parent, and is well trained and competent in handling the scriptures. I am more than happy to rely on such help to assist and undergird me in my task.” (p. 179)

Inexplicably, however, Baucham contradicts himself by actually rejecting parenting-partnerships if it happens to come from the local church! FDF considers children or student ministry pastors as inappropriate “trained professionals” and uncharitably characterizes the church’s planned effort to teach scripture to children or teens as “systematic age-segregation” and “extra-biblical isolationism” (his terms, not evangelicalism’s p. 180 & 182). FDF and the FIC Movement seek to completely do away with any organized children’s/youth, even viewing them as threatening to the family and clearly equates age-graded teaching-formats with parental abdication as shown in the following excerpts:

“Moses saw the home as the principle delivery system for the transmittal of God’s truth from generation to generation. There is no hint – here or anywhere else in the Bible– of the multigenerational teaching of the truths of God being abdicated by parents in favor of ‘trained professionals’… we must be careful not to shift the responsibility for our children’s biblical training onto anyone else.” (p.91)

“Nor is there anything inherently wrong with seeking help when we need it. However, we have gone beyond seeking help to abdicating our responsibility. Unfortunately, this abdication has become… common in spiritual matters.” (p. 95)

“I believe one of the greatest crutches in the church is the nursery. Parents who have neglected to train their children have very little encouragement to do so when there is a place to hide them.” P.147

“It is not the job of the youth pastor to evangelize my child - that’s my job. It is not the youth pastor’s job to equip (disciple) my child - its mine. And it is not the youth pastor’s job to send my child out to engage the world; you guessed it-that’s my job too… I am also pleased to have other significant adults in my teenager’s lives. However, I am not about to turn my child over to a youth pastor for their discipleship. Again, that is my job.” (p. 179)

“…It wouldn’t matter if the youth pastor were a forty-year-old Ph.D. with five children of his own whom he had raised successfully. That would still not justify the abdication of parental responsibility.” (p. 180)

“Parents who take their disciple-making mandate seriously are beginning to be skeptical about turning their children over to the youth ministry.” (p. 183)

Certainly, parents MUST NOT “abdicate” their primary teaching role to anyone else!  However, it’s one thing to say that many parents neglect their spiritual responsibilities, “pawning” their children off to youth leaders and other teachers in the church.  It’s quite another thing to imply that Scripture forbids a local church from teaching truth in various contexts, on the Lord’s Day, to someone else’s children. The FIC movement teaches that since God gives the primary role of truth-teaching to the parents, and because many (although they imply “all” outside the FIC fraternity) parents are guilty of using the church’s teachers as surrogates, therefore the Bible forbids formats on the Lord’s Day that allow others to teach truth to your children. Baucham may qualify such ideas during teaching venues or personal conversations, but his book attempts no such balance.

The concern about parental abdication is a legitimate one. Our culture breeds lazy, self-absorbed family life, resulting in the gross spiritual neglect of children and unchecked parental hypocrisy. We applaud any movement that challenges fathers and mothers to take up their spiritual mantle. Self-centered neglect of the family is patently unbiblical. But mandating that churches do away with multiple teaching contexts in favor of corporate integrated family worship is just as unbiblical! The idea that parent & child must always be taught together in a worship service is no more authoritative than “age-segregated” formats.  Neither is the issue.  To use Baucham’s logic and phraseology, there is “no hint…anywhere else in the Bible” commanding parents and children to always be sitting together while being taught the truth in a worship service. While Baucham vigorously charges that “the American practice of systematic age segregation goes beyond the biblical mandate” (p. 180), unfortunately he seems oblivious to fact that the FIC’s “insistence on integration as an ecclesiological principal” (p. 196) is also not grounded in scripture and therefore “goes beyond the biblical mandate.” Solving weaknesses in the church and family with another brand of extra-biblical, personal preferences is confusing and prone to further weaknesses. The answer to parental abdication is clear biblical instruction (God’s actual mandates for the family), godly mentoring/discipleship, and praying for strength in the grace of Christ. This can be accomplished through a wonderful variety of resources within the body of Christ. The issue is not one of ministry methodologies, teaching contexts, or the inexperience of youth pastors—as Baucham implicitly admits when he says: ““…It wouldn’t matter if the youth pastor were a forty-year-old Ph.D. with five children of his own whom he had raised successfully. That would still not justify the abdication of parental responsibility.” (p. 180)

Baucham’s fervor is commendable, but too often his diagnosis and cure is a confusing blend of general biblical principles and his own personal practice within his family.

Tomorrow we will address the second concern.

 

Jerry Wragg and Todd Murray (professors at The Expositors Seminary and pastors at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida) wrote this review of Family Driven Faith.

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