Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pastoral thoughts on family integrated church movement, 8 part series

In Scotland, by the North Sea, the small town of Elgin had simple educational requirements. The directory for the local grammar school required that "upon the Lord’s day, masters and scholars shall convene in school at eight o’clock in the morning, and after prayer in the English tongue, the several classes shall be exercised—the seniors in the exposition of a sacred lesson [of the Psalms or catechism]...and the juniors in getting ‘by heart’ some select English psalms, or the ordinary catechism; they shall return to school in the afternoon at the first bell after sermon, and be exercised till the second bell in reading their sacred lesson…" (Grant, 427).
This requirement is dated 1649. Scotland had Sunday school 131 years before the supposed first Sunday school of Robert Raikes.
[Continued here...]
[The following are Pastor Mathis' lecture notes in a multi-part series from the Spring 2014 Presbytery of the Midwest Seminar, "A Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement." More information on the movement, homeschooling and the history of Christian education, see the new book Uniting Church & Family(Kindle format).]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Uniting Church and Family

Imagine in the not-too-distant future:
  • That almost every family homeschooled.
  • That every church discontinued its Sunday schools and youth groups.
  • That every family practiced daily Bible reading and prayer.
  • That every father led his household.
  • That every child said ‘yes sir’ and ‘thank you.’
  • That the churches were full every Sunday—full of dead man’s bones.
The current efforts at uniting church and family upon a method instead of the Gospel can easily lead to this danger. This is especially the case in today’s climate of weak and confused Christians.

The Gospel First
57% of self-confessing Evangelicals deny that Christ is the only way to heaven. Barna numbers suggest that being a homeschooler is no sure defense either: half of those polled believe that salvation is not by faith alone. And anecdotal evidence could be multiplied until the Second Coming.

The American family today certainly needs instruction in the basics of family life: fatherly leadership, motherly responsibility, parental discernment and the like. But they need more. They need to understand the sinfulness of sin. That the Good News must first have bad news to make sense. That all their obedience, Bible reading and church attendance will not eradicate their wickedness before God.

And while their hearts are pricked, they should be offered the Balm of Gilead. Not just any generic, Evangelical, warmed-over Deistic moralism, but the good-old fashioned, man-humbling and Christ-exalting Gospel.

Or as Spurgeon proclaimed:
I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.
Uniting the church and family begins foremost with the Gospel. How can it be otherwise?

Church
Because the Gospel message is entrusted to the Church and not to the family, any Christian praying for revival and reformation must pray for the Church to be faithful.

It is to the Church that God has given teaching, sacraments, prayer and discipline for the sanctification of the saints. It is to the Church, and the pastor in particular, that the ministry of reconciliation is given. This means the Church of God, the Bride of Christ, is the mother of all Christian families…and orphans, widows and singles (Gal. 4:26).

The deacons should help take care of the poor and helpless. The ruling elders should govern in righteousness and humility. And the minister should faithfully preach and teach the whole counsel of God, especially the Gospel.

The Church must be governed by Jesus Christ, through His Spirit and Word. The activities of the Church must be within the parameters of the Law of Christ. Public worship must be jealously guarded and carefully in line with the positive warrant of the Bible. All other activities—fellowship and teaching opportunities—must be exercised within the boundaries of glorious freedom found in Christ (Rom. 14:10).

Family
Even so, the family has its own sphere of responsibility. First and foremost, the head of the home needs to unite his family with a faithful church. Period.

The parents must also unite in purpose: will the Gospel be the distinguishing truth in their family or some method? The children must see the parents take Christ’s message seriously. They must see the parents love the church of God. The whole family must faithfully attend the public means of grace, especially preaching.

The parents must unite in practice: daily family worship is a must; catechetical instruction is important; loving discipline is necessary; parental involvement is demanded. And practical expressions of love and obedience should be the order of the day.

This means prioritizing time and talents. The Christian Sabbath should order family time during the week. Tithing should order the finances. The time and money remaining should be used in order of importance with sports, clubs and the like at the bottom of the list—or eliminated if they crowd out the ever-important spiritual nurture required day in and day out (Deut. 6:7).

United families
The unity of church and family begins with the Gospel. But it does not end there. It is a unity of a family, where those who do the will of God are brother, sister and mother (Mk. 3:25). Biological ties may be severed by the Gospel (Mat. 10:34), yet those spiritually united to Christ will still have the Church as “the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

This should not be a pie-in-the-sky idea but a truth with practical consequences. For instance, in 1 Timothy 5:1, Paul commands Timothy not to rebuke the older men and women of the Church but to come alongside and entreat or exhort (parakalei) them as members of the family–even the younger among them.

Likewise, in Titus 2:3-4 Paul commends the older women to be “teachers of good things” and to train and admonish the young women of the Church—whether married or not. If this is true for women, it is true for men (cp. Paul’s mentoring of Timothy). And if this is true for ad hoc situations, then it is true for more structured situations (cp. LCQ 99).

The children of the Church, by virtue of their baptism, must be instructed by the Church (Mat. 28:20). The content is the entire Word of God. The goal is for God’s glory and the salvation of their souls. And the method–whatever details may be employed—must include someone mature because instruction is not only taught but caught.

Naturally, this does not mean supplanting parental responsibility but supplementing their work and exercising the Church’s own responsibility toward her covenant members.
Ideally, parents would feel comfortable with a trusted, godly brother or sister instructing their child. In practice, the older men may meet at a restaurant to talk about life while the younger men listen and learn. Those mothers strong in English could instruct a group of children in the fine points of grammar. Such variations are neigh endless.

The members of the family of God must never lose sight of how much they can influence the covenant child by their example alone: do they show love to each other? are they ready to restore the weak? are they quick to acknowledge sin? The covenant child should know that whatever adult he is in contact with has the same expectations as his parents.

What it all means
Families are hurting. And many churches are not helping. Yet a true union—even revival—of the church and family cannot exist without the fundamentals of the Gospel. As an 1809 report of the General Assembly summarized the matter:

“In those parts of the church, without exception, in which vital religion has flourished, in the course of the last year, the fundamental doctrines of the gospel; viz. the total depravity of human nature, the divinity and atonement of Jesus Christ, justification by his imputed righteousness, the sovereignty and freeness of divine grace, and the special influences of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration and sanctification of sinners have been decidedly received and honoured.”

Friday, August 31, 2012

What Is a Family Integrated Church?

Is your Christian education based upon evolutionary and secular thinking? It is if your church practices the usual age-segregated Sunday school according to a new church movement.

The family-integrated church movement, primarily within the homeschooling community, is a self-conscious challenge to classic Christian nurture. It has already affected some Reformed churches. This paper will explain what it is and examine its assertions by the Word of God and church history.

Many such churches are associated with the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC). The center was publicly part of the Vision Forum organization until 2009.[1] The NCFIC, among other things, is about “uniting church and home,” inveighing against the typical Evangelical church’s abundance of age-segregated, special-interest programs. It unequivocally rejects age- and family-segregation that separates children from parents.

Churches interested in associating with this organization must be in “substantial agreement” with the NCFIC confession, a “working document.” Churches are not officially endorsed and denominational affiliation is no barrier to enrollment.[2] Although not a church planting agency, it wants to “encourage new church plants” based upon this model.

The confession includes a laudable rejection of children’s worship services and affirmations of parental responsibility; it also includes some questionable assertions. For instance, it rejects “family-fragmenting, age-segregated, peer-oriented, youth driven, and special-interest programs” (Article VII). This is another way of rejecting typical Sunday schools, youth groups and the like.

The core challenge of the confession is Article XI:
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.
This affirmation uses unqualified language beyond the vague adjective comprehensive. While the confession never uses the words “Sunday school” and the like, the unqualified language 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 serious charge is also publicly asserted by the leaders of this organization.

In his lecture about the history of Sunday schools, the founder and current board member, Mr. Phillips, declares these schools a “modern invention without biblical and historical precedent—period.” He also asserts 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.”[3] Mr. Phillips claims that such special-interest thinking resulted from Greek thinking (youth and efficiency) instead of Hebraic thinking (discipleship and relationships). In fact, the “modern classroom . . . is a distinctly Greek and pagan approach to education”—an approach initiated by the Devil himself.[4]

It is certainly true that age-segregated programs (and special-interest programs in general) have been abused by churches and become crutches for too many families. Too many churches readily regulate the family into niche-market “ministries,” keeping the families busy while teaching them little of God’s Word. And too many families like it that way: there is less responsibility for them and they feel godly. Even so, do such abuses warrant rejection of any type of special-interest programs or age-segregation? Are all age-segregated approaches unbiblical, even evolutionary?
Such a serious charge is supported with three main claims: the “desert island test” of the Bible, the evolutionary roots of modern education, and the revival of families.

First there is the novel “desert island test”:

“[If all you had was the Bible on a desert island] . . . would you naturally conclude that you should fragment children along age-groups and put them in grade-based classroom . . . would you see a foundation . . . would you see a pattern, would there be any ground, any refuge in God’s Word that leads you to mimic this approach?[5]

In other words, if the education method cannot be found in the Bible (by command or example), then it is forbidden (cp. Articles II, XI). In contrast, the Reformers stood upon the liberty of the Word of God (Rom. 14:4). For example, Christian liberty allows believers and churches to use note-taking, picture-books, and catechisms. They are neither commanded nor forbidden, yet are perfectly allowable if used correctly.

In fact, Luke (2:42ff.) explains that as a boy, Jesus was separated (segregated) from His family while under their authority. Furthermore, the temple layout at that time was family segregated: there was a court of the men and a court of the women (and children). The synagogue, regularly attended by Jesus, the Apostles and the early church similarly divided the family.

Moreover, the apostles preached to women and children without the presence of their male heads (Acts 16:13). Nehemiah 8:2 records the public meeting of the men and women of Israel, “all that could hear with understanding.” It appears that those of mature understanding attended, leaving those not able to understand (smaller children) at home or with the servants.

Next, it is asserted that many methods of education are evolutionary in origin. Yet, historically, children were separated from family, even age-segregated, before Darwin’s book published in 1859.[6] During the time of Christ many a young Jewish boy attended age-segregated day schools. The early church fathers and councils encouraged the creations of schools. New England worship services segregated the women from the men, and the children sat together elsewhere with adult supervision. Catechizing by ministers or elders could include separating children from parents and boys from girls. Larger schools, such as at Calvin’s Geneva, included seven grade levels with a typical child in a grade for about a year before testing for the next grade-level.

Lastly, there is the claim of revival:
Home educators, almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children [Mal. 4] . . . 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, but you know what that is going to lead to? That’s going to lead to people homeschooling! . . . [7]
Three points will demonstrate this as a misguided prayer: 1. The Malachi four passage involves the family and the church with the minister (the prophet) as an instrument of revival in the family. 2. Luke 1:16ff. interprets “fathers” and “sons” in moral or spiritual terms. 3. Why pray for more such churches instead of more Reformed churches?

In summary, even though this confession’s emphasis on family is commendable, its unqualified rejection of age-segregation is biblically unfounded and contrary to historical facts. There is no Biblical “desert island test”; there is no biblical prohibition against properly practiced segregation; and there is no revival that focuses on family-integrated churches.

The church does not need another movement. In today’s climate of Christian darkness, churches and families do not need another method; what they need is the old message. A 2008 Pew Research Center study notes that fifty-seven percent of confessing Evangelicals believe in other ways to heaven than through Christ.[8] Ignorance about basic Law and Gospel is wide-spread as well.
And in an already fragmented church landscape, an emphasis upon this narrow issue only creates another sub-culture that weakens Christian unity. It also diminishes the role of the church in nurturing the children (Matt. 28:19, 20; Deut. 31:12ff.).

The views documented here are integral to the NCFIC’s very existence. To sign the confession is to publicly associate with these public sentiments. In spite of the leaders’ strong denunciations, it is hopeful that open dialogue can move beyond methods to uniting over the message of the Gospel.
_______________________
Footnotes
[1] In January 2009 the NCFIC changed their site from Vision Forum to www.ncfic.org. The confession was expanded too. Mr. Phillips (president of Vision Forum), is on the NCFIC board; his articles and lectures are used by the center.
[2] The registered Colorado churches include Dispensationalists, Presbyterians, Seventh Day Adventists, a range of worship styles and infant, child and father-led communion (as of Spring, 2011).
[3] Track 2, The History of the Sunday School Movement, Doug Phillips; track 13, post-Civil War era. Emphasis mine.
[4] Vision Forum about-page, 2010; History, track 3.
[5] Ibid, emphasis original, track 13; cp. track 2. Scott Brown, the center’s director, makes a similar argument, “Yet this structure [Sunday school] cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. It is not commanded in Scripture.” The Sufficiency of Scripture at Work in the Family Integrated Church, Scott Brown, NCFIC online, Jan. 2011
[6] Such facts and more are documented at ChristianNurture.blogspot.com or in good history books.
[7] Phillips, quoted from “The Family-Integrated Church Movement,” interview, Generations Radio, sermonaudio.com, June 12, 2006. This broadcast is favorably referenced by the NCFIC blog, January 21, 2009.
[8] Pew Research Center Publications, Religion in America, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/876/religion-america-part-two

[ORIGINALLY POSTED AT WES WHITE'S SITE. That site is closing so my articles are moving here.]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Overt misquote in the movie Divided

"The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him." Proverbs 18:17

The Claim
When watching the movie, Divided, last year at the Colorado homeschooling conference, I was curious about what kind of historical evidence would be brought forward. Would the true story of Sunday school be told?

To my dismay, it was not so.

[continued here]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Family Integrated Church podcast series

For those who prefer audio interviews, here is the entire four-part series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Otherwise, check out the written series of related articles here.