Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 31: transformation of the West

Americans will celebrate Halloween in ignorance this Monday. They will blissfully party not knowing that their right to party is historically based upon Protestant theology.

Learn why in this series of articles celebrating Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Homeschool Blindspots

I cannot give a true evaluation of homeschooling as a movement since I have only recently begun my journey.

However, after over a decade of watching and interacting with homeschooling families, I have had my private concerns. Now, some of these concerns have been voiced by a leader of this movement.

Exposing Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers by Reb Bradley is a hard-hitting article that attracted scathing comments. It received greater exposure since it was republished at Joshua Harris' blog.

He recounts his own personal troubles with idealized homeschooling. And he explains how wide-spread the problems are before listing nine particular traps homeschooling families can fall into.

It is somewhat long as articles go but if you homeschool or wish to understand this culture then this is a must read.

I pray it will bring many to the crying need of homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike: repentance from sin and faith in Christ.

Read it now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review of Mr. Baucham on youth ministries, Part 1

I was recently asked my opinion on the uncut interview with Mr. Bauchman (here). This interview was reduced and integrated with the movie Divided. Since many topics were covered in this interview, I will examine some more than others, basically following my notes in order.

Mr. Bauchman first sets up the problem in the church: the "institutionalization of the youth." In other words, age-segregated churches are considered the "norm" and Christians cannot think of anything else. In fact, when radical change is presented "institutional inertia" resists the change and people will not change. 

I think there is much truth here. The phrase "institutionalization of the youth" is a good description of my own experience growing up in a typical Evangelical church. "Inertia" is another choice word that aptly describes the inherent conservational attitude of most humans to the institutions and methods with which they are comfortable. The churches need to reject youth-centric cultures.

There is a problem with youth-worship in the church. The cottage industry graphically illustrates this sin. And much money is to be had. And that can be a large temptation to maintain the status-quo. But we should not paint such a broad brush that those against change are necessarily in it for the money or to hold their positions of power.

The history of Sunday school was presented next. Its origins are in late 18th century England for the stated purpose of helping illiterate children, to "teach them generally." Or put another way by Mr. Bauchman, it was "outreach from the church" to the community but was not intended "to be the discipling arm of the church" (5"). Even so, this teaching tool did not "catch on" until the mid- to late 1800s. 

As has been demonstrated repeatedly, history is not the forte of this movement. If Sunday school is conceived of as simply instructional time in the bible that occurs on Sunday, then Sunday school is an old practice (historian Schaff is one example of this thinking). On the other hand, if Sunday school is conceived of as something radically different than the catechism classes of yesteryear, then it is a new tool. But newness is not inherently wrong.

Many churches embraced Sunday school early on. In fact, the Presbyterian church early on adopted Sunday schools (and the "bible class") as useful tools for instruction of the young. Sunday school was already lauded by the General Assembly as early as 1816. And by 1830 the Presbyterian General Assembly listed Sabbath schools, along side bible classes and catechizing, as a means of covenant child nurture. In fact, Boylan's scholarly book about Sunday schools concludes that Sunday school was fast becoming integrated into Protestant nurturing methods after 1830 (p.20).

He presented two major arguments used at that time against this "youth ministry" as it began to grow in the 1800s: 1. It will be applied to Christian children 2. Parents will stop catechizing their own children (6"). He ominously concludes that both have now occurred. What is more interesting is the argument not presented: that which cannot be found in the bible should not be practiced; Sunday school cannot be found in the bible, therefore it should not be practiced. This is the implied argument in this interview as well as the movie. Was it used at the beginning of the Sunday school movement?

However, neither "argument" is sufficient. 1. The fact that Christian children may use an outreach tool for their own spiritual nurture is not inherently wrong. Churches could use catechisms as an educational outreach for the lost and have done so (like the New England Puritans) as well as use it for their own children. 2. That lazy parents exist and will always exist is no argument against the use of something that could be beneficial. Titus 2:3 tells the older women to instruct the younger women. Does this negate the responsibility of the mothers to instruct their own daughters?

Mr. Baucham asks: "Where do you go in the Scriptures to justify this ministry? The answer is: you don't" (9"). This new insight occurred to him while at seminary. There he asked: "To reform something is to return something to its original biblically intended purpose. Youth ministry does not have one. Therefore, we do not need to reform it but we need to abolish it" (9.30"). It was a crazy idea to them.

Again, we find the leaders of this movement begging the question in debate. The question is whether or not the church must have explicit positive warrant for non-public worship educational events. They assert yes without reason. If readers do not get this, they will find themselves implicitly accepting the answer given without examining the question carefully.

Again, the question is whether youth ministries can be used without having explicit biblical warrant. Does the church have to find some bible verse to justify the existence of Sunday schools? If so, what is acceptable reasoning and what is not? These are the real questions that should be debated. Readers should not assume that the questions offered are the correct questions. Merely asserting that Sunday school must be found in the bible easily becomes a rhetorical device to bludgeon listeners.

But behind these questions (answered by Mr. Bauchman but never explicated to the audience) is the more basic question: what is a "youth ministry"? If it is anything like the movie, it is apparently any and all bad things rolled up into one. But put that way, who would be for such ministries? Mr. Phillips, in his lecture "A History of Sunday School," defined Sunday school in such a precise and negative light that his argument was won before the debate ensued. Even I could cheer for him!

But as all newcomers to this issue know instinctively: it is not bad youth groups and Sunday schools that the NCFIC is against, it is youth ministries as youth ministries that are rejected. Mr. Bauchman asserts later that the "entire structure" must go (12").

Apparently, after challenging the existence of youth ministries, responses included any and all types of arguments but "never" a biblical argument. There was never a text or biblical principle employed "that this is something we ought to be doing as a church" (11"). The strongest argument he encountered was, "well, there is nothing that says we can't..." He countered: "that's unacceptable."

So far, no actual argument has been presented in the interview. Asserting that youth ministries must have biblical warrant such "that this is something we ought to be doing as a church" is not an argument but an assertion. Why should the churches accept this standard? Upon what biblical doctrine or text does this reasoning rest?

If Mr. Bauchman quoted relevant verses (or even a confession of faith), maybe threw in a syllogism or two, then an argument would have been presented. Until, perhaps, recently, a lack of a clear argument has been the pattern through much of the literature and lectures of this movement.

Mr. Baucham continues this line of undeveloped argument noting that most of the age-segregated requirements cannot be found in the bible (again, so what?). In fact, most of the categories come from "space requirements" (12"). It is "completely arbitrary" with no more "merit" than picking people randomly as couples. 

Of note is that this observation about space requirements does not match the NCFIC's confession (article 19) which seems to tie age-segregation to "evolutionary and secular" thinking. Space requirements, I believe, is likely the culprit for many small churches, for instance. Again, so what? Only if I take on faith that I have to find a passage or doctrine that can link "space requirements" with the bible in some way can one follow this line of reasoning.

But there is a biblical doctrine: Christian liberty.

However, such an argument seems not to meet muster: "Philosophically there is no argument. Theologically there is no argument for any of it" (12.40"). It is unfortunate that Mr. Baucham does not present the best argument, Christian liberty, and demonstrate why it is irrelevant to the case at hand. Instead, the audience is suppose to take his word that no real argument has been presented.

"But we do it religiously," Mr. Baucham complains. It is as though age-segregation is the the only thing we know (12.40").

Now, I think I can agree with that. However, that observation is different than some small church with genuine space requirements concerns. Perhaps they separate the children but not "religiously" knowing that the parents are given the final say of which class they think is best. That approach is certainly not an air-tight 23-35.5 year-old age-group that Mr. Baucham ridiculed earlier. In fact, churches have the biblical freedom to reduce their Sunday school to two groups or just one.

Next, he rightly debunks the pragmatic assertion that if something worked for me it should work for everyone (14"). He also shows the unbiblical nature of operating two different worship services serving two classes of people (15"). He laments that youth are no longer part of the church.

I agree. I was unaware that some of these terrible things were happening. I only wish he would clearly separate the worship issue from non-worship issues (many Sunday schools do not overlap worship). And that he would distinguish messed-up youth ministries from well-grounded ones (Mr. Brown in his new book does exactly that). This helps the listener carefully evaluate the assertions offered.
[For numbers on young people leaving the church, see Barna, here.]

Over half-way through the interview, Mr. Baucham decries youth ministers evaluating the problems within youth ministries. Why? Because it is like the fox guarding the hen house (19")! The youth ministers are going to try to "eat less chickens" to preserve their jobs (19.20")! Naturally, he does not want to smear their motives but they would not be youth ministers if they did not believe they were "the answer" or "essential." 

Using such language (ad hominems) and such a nefarious illustration betrays more of his own uncharitable mindset than he may realize. Perhaps Mr. Baucham should stop evaluating churches in general since he is a pastor of a church and would naturally wish to maintain his job by denigrating other churches? Or perhaps I should wonder why the NCFIC ignores my articles. Could it be that they wish to preserve their public image. After all they would not keep propogating their views (and errors) if they did not think they were "the answer" or "essential." But I will refrain myself from any such speculations. I believe better things of Mr. Baucham and the NCFIC.

(continued in part 2)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mr. Baucham on youth ministries, uncut

Here is the unedited interview with Mr. Voddie Baucham from the movie, Divided.

I was asked my opinion about this segment. That will be the next posting, Lord willing.

(More about the movement here.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weak defense of Divided the movie

Here is a summary of some typical arguments defending the new family integrated movie, Divided, and why they fall short of their intended goal.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mr. Brown's late-in-coming distinctions for family integrated churches

The following is from the NCFIC blog by Mr. Brown. He is responding to counter-claims that the bible does not have cars or films just like there is no age-segregation.

My hope is that my questions will help bring differing parties together. Or at the least clarify any real differences between the NCFIC and traditional Reformed thinking.

First of all he writes,

"First, the primary argument of the NCFIC and the film Divided is not that youth ministry does not exist in the Bible...What is more important – and this is the main point we want to make – is that all the positive commands and examples in Scripture call for the practice of age-integrated worship and discipleship in the church and the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children."

First, the reader should note the careful (yet unclear) language "modern form of systematic, age-segregated youth ministry". What does this mean? In the movie, the reviewer is left with the worst possible illustration of such ministries. However, it is not youth ministry per se that is rejected but "systematic age-segregation". The NCFIC confession article uses the words "comprehensive age segregated discipleship." But it never offers a definition of these phrases.

Can a youth ministry have non-systematic age-segregation? This important question will help clarify exactly what Mr. Brown means.

Secondly, an argument from silence is used but it is a secondary argument. As such it is still invalid unless clarified by another premise. Such a premise has not been offered or proven (for example, "that which is not in the Bible is therefore suspect").

Third, it is claimed "all the positive commands and examples in Scripture call for the practice of age-integrated worship and discipleship in the church and the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children." This is not precisely true since no command states: "children should only be family integrated for instruction," neither in so many words or by syllogistic reasoning. Not one. But apparently the bible states that "children should more often than not be age-integrated for instruction" according to Mr. Brown's exceptions (see below).

Consider another important point: the commands and examples offered are not specific enough to determine exactly how the meetings of instruction were arranged. Did the wives sit with the husbands? Did nursemaids watch over the infants? Did families even sit with each other? The texts do not say, except Nehemiah 8 which is (special) pleaded away into an insignificant "exception". Yet history tells us that during the time of Christ families were separated in the temple worship. Where is the New Testament outrage for this practice?

Next he states,

"The Bible is clear about this matter, and it gives the full range of that teaching including who, where, why, what, and when....When you split youth up according to age, you are doing something that is contrary to the explicit, revealed commands and patterns of claim that we can set aside these scriptural methods and employ our own methods because we do things and use means not mandated in Scripture in other areas of church life is a generic fallacy."

Let me take this in reverse: "generic fallacy"--I do not know what that is. I googled it. Perhaps he means the "genetic fallacy." This is a logical fallacy of denouncing (or proving) something based upon its origins. Thus a Christian who would reject Aristotelian logic because it was formalized and expanded by an unbeliever is committing the genetic fallacy.

Even granting this is the fallacy he desired to use I am not sure how it relates to the issue at hand. On the other hand, when the movie points to Plato and Rousseau as the source of modern age-segregated youth ministries that is a genetic fallacy.

Now for the details:

"The Bible is clear about this matter, and it gives the full range of that teaching including who, where, why, what, and when."

I am not sure what this means. For instance, what is what? Is this the subject matter of the teaching? The method? It is noteworthy that how is missing in this list. But age-segregation is a how of instruction.

If the bible gives the what of teaching where is the verse that says: "learn to read, write and type"? Where are the examples? If we are counting examples and lining them up as Mr. Brown appears to do in his book, then in the bible the majority ("primary") of examples are oral examples: people speaking and memorizing.  The "exception" is non-verbal.

If these are not the "full range" covered in his assertion then what is covered? This assertion only creates more questions.

Lastly, he elaborates a distinction missing in the NCFIC confession and book:

"Third, methods and means of discipleship are in a different class than microphones and computers. Discipleship methods are defined and commanded in Scripture and are matters of Law (i.e., God’s revealed will that we are to obey), while things like microphones, computers, and film are matters of technology (i.e., practical tools we can use as means to carry out the Law of God). In regard to technology and other practical aspects of church life (where we meet, the length of our meetings, type of seats we use, etc.), these are matters of liberty that are under the biblical guidelines for the practice of liberty. This means that Scripture must be consulted to see if they contradict anything that Scripture maintains."

Not a single bible passage or theological syllogism is offered to prove this point. It is completely arbitrary to assert that "methods and means of discipleship" are substantially different than "microphones and computer." For if the sufficiency of Scripture gives the "full range of that teaching including who, where, why, what, and when" then one would expect technology (a what and how of discipleship) to be sufficiently and explicitly guided by the Bible.

So, since discipleship is part of the law of God. And the "methods and means of discipleship" are matters of the Law. Therefore, these "practical tools" which Mr. Brown admits are "means to carry out the Law of God" must fall into the same category. Unless equivocation of terms is occurring.

Again, upon what biblical principle does he differentiate discipleship methods that are significant from discipleship methods that are not significant (my language)? I believe that using computers for discipleship purposes is significant because instructional time can be hampered if one is using the computer more than a human in some cases. Generally, it is not the tool itself that is a problem but the usage of the tool.

More importantly, the entire paragraph is built upon an unproven premise (as is the entire book): the regulative principle of discipleship. In my own words for clarification: all methods and means of discipleship invented by the brain of man without His own express commandment is wrong.

Now, I have never seen it written out that way. What we have instead are the elements of this premise found in Mr. Brown's posting and book. See especially the "desert isle test." He requires that "all the positive commands and examples" must limit the range of discipleship methods to just those things explicit in the commands and examples of the bible--just like the regulative principle of worship (RPW).

The Scottish reformer, John Knox, explained the regulative principle of worship as, "All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without His own express commandment, is idolatry." All Reformed creeds follow this principle for worship. Otherwise the Reformers exercised Christian liberty even in the domain of education and discipleship (read the history here).

Now to sum up, why is "systematic age-segregation" rejected? Because all the commands and examples of the bible are age-integrated. But why does a Christian need to find explicit commands and examples of discipleship before using a method of discipleship? I do not know what their answer is. Somehow discipleship (however defined) has a separate moral interpretive tool than other moral fields of everyday life.

But the matter does not end there. Mr. Brown allows for age-segregation!

"There are times when it may be appropriate for various ages of people to meet for specific purposes" (A Weed in the Church, p.231, cp.61).

Then what is the whole debate about? Why is this exception not placed at the beginning of the argument? Where is it in the NCFIC confession?

Has the entire decade long debate been over how much age-segregation is allowed? If so, how much does Mr. Brown think is allowable?

Very little it seems. "However, this is not to be the normative pattern of biblical youth discipleship, but rather an exception." A glimpse of how much is offered on page 225 where he contends 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! What Mr. Brown gives in one hand is virtually taken away by the other.

At the end of the day, the article offered by the NCFIC did not bring much clarification. I do not know where this leaves the movement. But I do hope that the questions and observations of my article will bring more light than heat.

[Family integrated church series here].

Monday, August 1, 2011

Samples of catechizing over the centuries

I was asked at about the history of catechizing. Although I have focused on the broader question of how Christians educated their children over the centuries, I still have much information on this narrow question.

Below was my very short answer:

If you are referring to Divided, please see the comments at the puritan forum here. And my review here.

It is important to know that the organization behind the movie actually has two problems with the modern "youth programs": separation from parents and age-segregation. Thus the history of Christian schooling as well as catechizing are both relevant in showing the gross inaccuracies of this movement.

[To fully understand the NCFIC and her leaders please read my article, What is a Family Integrated Church? (According to a current church member of Mr. Brown's church and one-time intern for Mr. Brown and currently employed with the NCFIC, Mr. Glick, my article was accurate).]

Here is a sample of the history of catechizing (and school class divisions).

Jewish Church:

"In this period a synagogue presupposed a school, as with us a church implies a Sunday school. Hence the church and Sunday school, not the church and the district school, is a parallel to the Jewish system. The methods in these schools were not unlike those of the modern Sunday school. Questions were freely asked and answered, and opinions stated and discussed: any one entering them might ask or answer questions. Such a Jewish Bible school, no doubt, Jesus entered in the temple when twelve years the apostolic period teachers were a recognized body of workers quite distinct from pastors, prophets, and evangelists (see 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29; Eph. iv. 11; Heb. v. 12, etc.). The best commentators hold that the peculiar work of teachers in the primitive church was to instruct the young and ignorant in religious truth, which is precisely the object of the Sunday school." (A Religious encyclopaedia, Schaff, 2262)

Ancient Church:

“These catechetical classes and schools were intended to prepare neophytes, or new converts, for church-membership, and were also used to instruct the young and the ignorant in the knowledge of God and salvation. They were effective, aggressive missionary agencies in the early Christian churches, and have aptly been termed the 'Sunday schools of the first ages of Christianity.' The pupils were divided into two or three (some say four) classes, according to their proficiency. They memorized passages of Scripture, learned the doctrines of God, creation, providence, sacred history, the fall, the incarnation, resurrection, and future awards and punishments..." (Schaff, ibid)

Reformation and Post-Reformation:

The Geneva Academy had two divisions: schola privata and schola publica (the Academy proper). The schola privata (the lower school) was divided into seven grades, admitting children as young as age six. Most boys stayed in each grade a year, but could advance earlier. School began at six in the summer and seven in the winter and lasted until four in the afternoon. Children went home under escort from nine to eleven in the morning. Classes were on Saturday as well and included an afternoon recess. The children sung Psalms one hour a day as well. Catechism classes were held Sunday afternoons. (The History and Character of Calvinism, John T. McNeil (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 194ff. cp. Calvin and the Biblical Languages, John Currid (Christian Focus Publications) 2007).

Article 21 of the Dutch Church Order of Dordt (1618) orders that:

"In order that the Christian youth may be diligently instructed in the principles of religion and be trained in piety three modes of catechizing should be employed I. In the houses by the parents II. In the schools by school masters III. In the churches by ministers elders and catechizers those specially appointed for the purpose." (Full quote here).

It also stated:
"That these may diligently discharge their trust the Christian magistrates shall be requested to promote by their authority so sacred and necessary a work and all who have the oversight and visitation of the churches and schools shall be required to pay special attention to this matter."

[This civil enforcement was also enacted in New England and similar oversight in Geneva. Pastor oversight was neigh universally encouraged.]

Now, for the parts more germane to the movie:

"The schoolmasters shall instruct their scholars according to their age and capacity at least two days in the week not only by causing them to commit to memory but by instilling into their minds an acquaintance with the truths of the Catechism. For this end three forms of the Catechism adapted to the three fold circumstances and ages of the young shall be used. The first shall be for the young children comprising the Articles of Faith or Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Institution of the Sacraments and Church Discipline with some short prayers and plain questions adapted to the three parts of the Catechism. The second shall be a short compendium of the Catechism of the Palatinate or Heidelberg used in our churches in which those who are somewhat more advanced than the former shall be instructed. The third shall be the Catechism of the Palatinate or Heidelberg adopted by our churches for the youth still more advanced in years and knowledge."

[Radical nuts following evolutionary though? I think not. But godly men using the light of nature to differentiate between babes, children, youths and adults--broad categories followed by many cultures.]

"John Knox devised a system of Sunday schools, at the very beginning of the Reformation in Scotland, which system has been in operation in that country more or less extensively ever since. So that the Sunday schools which now exist in Scotland are derived, not from the system of Raikes in England, but are only a revival of the old system of the Reformer. These schools are frequently referred to in the records of that Church, and in the biographies of good men connected with it. In 1647, the General Assembly recommended to all universities to take account of their scholars on the Sabbath dny of the sermons, and of their lessons in the catechism [students at "universities" could be as young as twelve]. John Brown, the godly carrier, had in his day a Sabbath school at Priesthill. It is stated, on the authority of Rev. John Brown, D. D., of Langton, Berwickshire, that Sunday schools were in existence in Glasgow, and other places, in 1707. Ihey were in operation in Glasgow, and other places, in 1759, and also in many places in 1782." (The Congregational Quarterly, 1865, p.20)

The pastors and elders of the Bohemian Unity of Brethren church would assemble the older children of the church after the worship services to examine how well they retained the sermon; “hence our ancestors held separate addresses to the different classes, the beginners, the proficients, the perfect; also to the single, and again to the married by themselves: which practice it is evident was not without its advantage.” "At the conclusion of the noon and afternoon service, the elder youths and girls remain, and are examined by the preacher (one of the elders assisting him with the former, and one of the matrons with the latter) to ascertain what attention they have paid that day in hearing the word of God, and how much each has retained. Moreover, during the Lent season, on Wednesday and Friday evening, meetings are held, termed salva (from the hymn Salva nos Jesu, rex cmli, "Save us, Jesus, heavenly King,") in which the mystery of redemption is diligently inculcated, especially upon the young." (Church Constitution of the Bohemian, 136ff.)

Early America:

The church in Norwich, Connecticut, in the Spring of 1675 covenanted together to instruct their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord: “We do therefore this Day Solemnly Covenant to Endeavour uprightly by dependence upon the Grace of God in Christ Jesus our only Saviour. First, That our Children shall be brought up in the Admonition of the Lord, as in our Families, so in publick; that all the Males who are eight or nine years of age, shall be presented before the Lord in his congregation every Lord’s Day to be Catechised, until they be about thirteen years in age. Second. Those about thirteen years of age, both male and female, shall frequent the meetings appointed in private for their instruction, while they continue under family government, or until they are received to full communion in the church.” (The Ecclesiastical History of New England, p.665 )

"It is well known that every respectable family had a regular weekly exercise in the catechism [in early New England]; and also that once a week in some towns, or once a month in others, the minister gather the children and youth of his parish, at two o’clock, on Saturday afternoon to catechize them." (The Congregational Quarterly, 1865, 21)

As late as 1808 (before Sunday Schools reached critical mass), the General Association of the Congregationalists in Connecticut, “That they [parents] require them to attend public catechisings till they are fourteen years of age, and thenceforward, during their minority, to attend seasons, that may be appointed by their pastor, for the religious instruction of youth.” (Panoplist, 1808, p.159.)

"My first acquaintance with Mr. Donnelly [early 1800s] was when I became a pupil in his school in my father's neighbourhood, in Chester District, S. C. I entered his school at an early age; and as he was my first teacher, (my parents excepted,) so he was also among the last. Under his tuition I studied the elementary branches, such as reading, spelling, etc., and recited to him the Larger Catechism. The Bible was not then excluded from the school, on the ground of its being a sectarian book…the afternoon of every alternate Saturday was spent in reciting Catechisms and portions of Scripture, which had been previously committed to memory- IIe was a rigid disciplinarian of the Old School…” (Letter, 1862, Rev. McMillan to William Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. 9, p. 26.)

If you have any more questions please ask.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fellow blogger with good analysis of Divided the movie

My fellow blogger, Adam, has a few good thoughts about the semantic confusion from the NCFIC and the Divided movie, here.

"Do parents have the authority to teach kids? Yes. Do churches have the authority to teach kids? Yes. Where is the contradiction, and what is the objection? I don’t know, and I am finding that, the more I listen to these guys speak, the more I am impressed with their ability to say very ambiguous statements with a ton of conviction and passion. That is, honestly, not helpful."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Unity of Church and Family

Although I have critiqued the family-integrated movement, it is not enough to show its errors. An alternative must be presented. And here it is:

Uniting Church and Family

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Divided the movie

Why are churches losing upwards of 80% of the youth?
Why are Christian youth increasing in childishness?
What can be done to stop the demise of the next generation?

A new, provocative movie, Divided, seeks to give an answer. The movie was shown on June 17th at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado conference in north Denver.

The movie was fifty minutes long. The producer, Mr. LeClerk, takes the viewer on a grim journey into the heart of youth ministries. He interviews church kids, youth ministry experts, statisticians, and pastors.

In an ever-spiraling descent into marketing madness, the film ably portrays the deep-seated pragmatism of the teenagers and their would-be pied-pipers. One youth leader bluntly told the camera that the youth did not need more Biblical truth but more practical things, more relationships, more fun.

Mr. LeClerk then "discovers the shockingly sinister roots of modern, age-segregated church programs..." The roots do not begin with Mr. Raikes of late eighteenth-century England but with Plato and Rousseau. And even more, there is no biblical precedent for such programs. Therefore, the solution is to tear down the entire youth ministry--branch, root and all.

To rescue a lost generation it will take churches and families following the Word of God. Churches should stop usurping parental responsibilities. And parents should take back their God-given duty to train and nurture their own children. This will rescue the next generation.

The movie was created in conjunction with the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC). The president of this organisation, Mr. Brown, figures predominately in the movie.

The photography, mood and music were spot-on. This is obviously a professionally made film. The pacing was good. Its presentation was not over-the-top or in-your-face, but subtle and dramatic. Aesthetically, the movie deserves full marks.

But presentation aside, what of the content? Given the applause at the end of the Friday night showing in Denver, it grabbed the audience. Setting the problem up with multiple teen-interviews, peppered with real-time video of Christian "rock concerts," LeClerk masterfully guides the audience through the entertainment-minded youth ministries of today.

This is a serious problem. Children, teenagers and youth alike are baptized in a sea of childish entertainment all for the sake of "relevance." If the statistics are only partially accurate, they are astounding enough. Too many youth are leaving the church.

And the parental problem is equally heinous: too many parents feel godly sending their children off to youth camp while neglecting family worship, home discipleship and basic doctrinal fidelity. Added to this problem are too many churches willing to accept the status quo.

In fact, a Pew study shows 57% of 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.

Although the show does a good job presenting the youth problem, it misses the wider context of that problem. With such wide-spread doctrinal ignorance, is it any wonder the youth leave the shallow churches?

Unfortunately, the history section leaves much to be desired. Pointing out that Plato wished to send children to the state schools is not the same as proving this as the intellectual source of today's age-segregation. The omission of the fact that the Reformers and Puritans practiced age-segregation is another problem.

What of the solution: to demolish youth ministries and incorporate family discipleship?

The solution is wonderful...if understood correctly. But proper understanding cannot come from the movie since it leaves out important pieces of information. For instance, Mr. Brown believes there are times and occasions for the family to be separated (see his bookA Weed in the Church). Likewise, Mr. Phillips thinks there are times to speak to teenagers as teenagers.

In other words, the rhetoric of the movie would forbid any and all age-segregation. When in actuality the leading proponents have a more nuanced position. If the film were twenty-minutes long this lack of nuance could be tolerated.

What family discipleship entails was lightly touched upon. But the proper role of the church was not clearly articulated. In contrast, Mr. Brown's book helpfully clarifies that the pastors and laymen have a role in the life of the youth.

Overall, the movie delivers the content and delivers it well. The problem is that the content is one-sided. There is a youth problem but there is a larger problem of Gospel ignorance. It would be better to read the book, but at least the movie will challenge Christians to rethink the role of youth ministries.

[More about the NCFIC organization here. More about Mr. Phillips here. A Review of Mr. Brown's book here.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Recent articles about family integrated churches

This week was full of family-integrated church articles.

For those interested in intelligent interactions on this issue I offer the following. The first is an article I hope many proponents of FICs can agree upon.

1. Uniting Church and Family  The proper relation requires the Gospel.

2. A Weed in the Church: A Review.  I may expand on this in detail.

3. Family-Integrated Church Series by Prof. Sam Waldron. Part 17 here. It is an irenic engagement.

4. Christian homeschooling conference: who is Doug Phillips? There is a lively exchange in the comment section. Unfortunately, it is not as productive as the discussion with Mr. Glick here. Many ardent supporters of this movement tend to jump the gun and assume that if you critique them then you are against parents having the primary responsibility of instructing their children.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Weed in the Church: A Review

There is a crisis among the Christian youth. They drop out of church. They remain childish. They are biblically illiterate. The church is losing the next generation.

Author Scott Brown, pastor and director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), insists this youth problem is of “epic proportions,” requiring repentance and change right now.

This book is his clarion call to change youth discipleship. It is divided into five sections: orientation, history, solution, objections, and implementation. The first section is a much-needed explanation of what family-integration (FI) is and is not. He offers ten qualifications that help nuance the concern and the solution. He also explains his view of sola Scriptura in relation to not only worship but discipleship.

The second section of the book traces the history of age-segregation. Section three (the largest part) collects the biblical data for youth discipleship for both the family and the church. Section four rebuts eleven arguments against age-integrated discipleship. The last section tersely explains nine steps to planting an age-integrated approach.

The thesis of the book argues that this problem among the youth (drop-outs, childishness, etc.) is caused by (among other things) “systematic age-segregation.” Age-segregated youth ministry “is the result of apostasy in the church,” the supplanting of the Word with man-made traditions of discipleship (p.43). But the modern youth ministry is not only defined by age-segregation or Sunday school but by a curiously long, heavily-descriptive sentence (p.47).

The author offers a two-fold solution: stop age-segregation and start age-integration (especially get the fathers involved). This dual solution is to be implemented en toto and not piece-meal (p.249ff.). Obedience to God is a hard calling, but ministers must persevere for the sake of the families.

A Weed in the Church does the church a service by graphically illustrating the corrosive effects of a youth-oriented, niche-market culture. It rightly calls fathers back to their God-given duties to disciple their children and to lead their families. It rightly denounces children worship services.

The opening chapters include details that attempt to clarify the concerns. But the highly-specific definition of youth ministry (p.47) is partly a loaded definition that poisons the well of discussion from the very beginning. For instance, youth ministries are described as methods “that usurp parents’ authority over their children.” Many good churches that are careful in their use of Sunday school and the like would take great umbrage at being labeled thus without evidence.

The book does not make the historical case that age-segregation is secular and evolutionary in origin. There is no explicit tie-in between each historical segment. Lining up quotes is not the same as proving their connection. Further, the omissions of the many age-segregated meetings in history—such as age-specific meetings in Puritan New England—are conspicuous by their absence.

The heart of the book, the theological assertion, is tenuous at best. It is asserted that God did not tell the church to use age-segregation for discipleship; therefore it should not be used (p.47, 85). This appears to be (what I dub) the “regulative principle of education,” a confusion between Christian liberty and the Reformed doctrine of worship (cp. chapter 5). This approach is assumed but never proven.

Further, segregation “does not properly fulfill” the biblical requirements for discipleship and is contrary to the “primary examples” of church gatherings (p.203, 74). What a “primary example” is in contrast to secondary examples is not clear. And since segregation does not “properly fulfill” biblical requirements it is odd that some age-segregation is allowable (p.231).

It is true: churches should stop abusing age- and family-segregated meetings like a drunkard abuses wine. And many families feel godly using the multitude of programs to bypass their own responsibilities. But the author simply throws all such meetings into the waste basket of evolution—almost. He admits there are times and occasions for the family to be separated (p.61, 231), yet never explains when and why such a time should be an “exception.” In contrast, he actually argues that even if fathers were properly instructing their children and youth groups were Bible-centered with only one-hour a week meetings, it would still be wrong (p.57, 218, 222, 225). What is given in one hand is taken by the other.

I am a child of age-segregated discipleship. I grew up with Sunday school. I attended my local youth ministry. I went to school. If Scott Brown was the typical youth group leader, I was the typical teen target for that leader.

Yet I was not a typical youth. By God’s grace, I paid attention to the pastor. And I paid attention to my parents, my father in particular. But, like many today, I was ignorant of much Christian doctrine and practice.

So I tried to obey God’s Law to gain heaven. I tried so very hard until the Law shattered my ego. Around the age of sixteen, I recognized my inability to save myself through good works. I cried out to Christ to save me from myself. A few years later, through the doctrines of sovereign grace, I matured in my faith.

Are youth-oriented, programmatic “ministries” a problem? Yes. Do fathers need to take their duties seriously? Yes. And this book is a needful reminder of these facts. But there is a greater problem that is harming youth and families alike: a soil of widespread ignorance of the Gospel. The basic truths of Christianity are needed in the churches. The conversion of a teen-ager twenty years ago illustrates this dire need.

[More analysis of the book may be forthcoming. A picture of what uniting church and family should look like, here. More about family-integrated beliefs here.]

Saturday, May 28, 2011

75th Anniversary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

This summer marks God's faithfulness for sustaining the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for 75 years.

The official celebration time will be during the meeting of the General Assembly, the week of June 8th to the 14th. There will be a banquet celebration on Saturday, June 11 at 5:00 pm at the Sandy Cove Conference Center in Northeast, Maryland.

Tickets are $25.00 for non-GA commissioners (more info here).

There is a Facebook pagefor the younger generation. Otherwise, the older generation can visit the website.

But there is more.

There will be a pre-Assembly Conference arranged by the Committee for the Historian. It is free and open to the public.

The Conference, "The OPC at 75," is on Wednesday, June 8 from 2:00–4:00 p.m. There will be two talks: "Is the Past Really Past?" and "The Church that Calvinists Have Been Waiting For?" The first talk will be by
the OPC Historian John R. Muether. The second talk is by OPC ruling elder Darryl G. Hart.

Even if you cannot make the event or are not part of the OPC, please rejoice with us as we praise God for His faithfulness.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How our spiritual fathers educated their families

Here is a list of articles explaining the opinions and practices of our spiritual fathers and mothers on the issue of Christian education. It probably goes against everything you have heard in some homeschooling circles:

 The Necessity of the Christian Schools, J. Gresham Machen

 Children in the Hands of Arminians, B. B. Warfield

  Plans of Religious Instruction, Part 1, Hodge

 Education, Protestantism and the West, Part 2

 The Old Virginia System, Dabney

 Comparing State Schools, Dabney

 Noble Exercises of Teachers, Baxter

 Necessity of Schools, Comenius

 Need of Presbyterian Schools, J. W. Alexander

 Home Education Defined, Issac Taylor

 Preparing for School: Attitude, Comenius

 Vindication of Sunday School, A. Alexander

 Non-parental Discipline, Comenius

 Sunday School, Samuel Miller

 History of Christian Education: Westminster Divines

 The Importance of Childhood Education, Luther


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Recent rejoinder of Family Integrated Church comments

The original article, What is a Family Integrated Church?, garnered over 80 comments.

Thus I thought it wise to write another article handling some of the issues brought up. It is published here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Defense of Homeschooling [repost]

In my naivete, I thought only the secular school sponsors ranted against home education.

But I was wrong.

I recently discovered that Christians could be against homeschooling. For instance, a professor of theology strongly discouraged homeschooling as a viable option. He may have allowed it under special circumstances but such was not articulated.

I have also heard second-hand from reliable ministers that homeschooling has been discouraged by other ministers. Yet as near as I can tell this is a minority position.

Nevertheless, I think homeschooling should be defended from such detractors.

First of all, parents have Christian liberty in this realm. Sending their children to a good Christian school, using a good tutor, homeschooling or combining all of the above are well within the acceptable parameters of the Bible. What the Bible does not forbid is allowable if used correctly. The Bible does not forbid homeschooling. Therefore, homeschooling is a viable option.

Second, there is no universally acceptable manner to educate children. Naturally, what decision is made in this regard is heavily dependent upon the family's financial, academic, ecclesiastical and similar circumstances. As much as such circumstances change so there are that many combinations of acceptable educational methods. And mature parents are usually the best judges of their own circumstances.

Third, the Bible assigns the parents as the primary guardians, giving them the responsibility to determine the best nurturing method for the child (Eph. 6:4). Although the Word of God does not specify all the areas and ways to nurture a child, the light of nature and the clear assumption of the Word puts questions of diet, exercise, entertainment, etc. as areas in which parents are granted authority. Certainly, this includes education.

Fourth, religious instruction is assigned to parents (Deut. 6:7; Proverbs). Religious instruction has historically been propagated in the family through daily family worship, catechetical instruction and daily impromptu discussions. Religious instruction being a greater subject of education than math, for instance, it follows from the greater to the lesser that parents have the option to instruct in less sublime topics, if able.

Fifth, history demonstrates the acceptability of homeschooling. Some Puritans practiced it. And some church leaders were partly or mostly homechooled. Historically, homeschooling has never been condemned by the church nor denounced by her leaders.

None of this should be taken to excuse bad homeschoooling. As with any enculturation tool, homeschooling can be abused. This defense of properly applied homeschooling does not defend those families that wish to isolate themselves from the local church. The church of God has her own duty to instruct her members, young or old. Nor is this a defense of those who wish to use homeschooling as a new relational center, replacing a common set of doctrine and practice with a new set of emphases.

Rather, good homeschooling does not consider itself in isolation from the Christian community. It is concerned with doctrinal and practical purity. Furthermore, many families in my experience do not exclusively homeschool but mix it with other approaches.

So, the next time someone wishes to dismiss homeschooling as some suspicious aberration, point out these truths to them. And above all, do not become overly agitated--there are bigger concerns we ought to be worried about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Representative articles

Here are some more popular articles displaying the various issues covered on this blog:

The Future of Homeschooling [Repost]

Over the last two years there has been much brouhaha about the explosion of homeschooling. Statistics and numbers fly readily from the pens of writers and lips of hosts: 2 million nation-wide; double-digit growth; incredible SAT scores. Hyped claims of revival, reformation and the culture-changing power of homeschooling have mushroomed. As one bright-eyed romantic exclaimed, homeschooling has been a “veritable reformation of life” among a dying culture.

Sadly, this optimism is driven by an uninformed idealism. The 2 million number is suspect because unprovable: most of the number includes an assumption about how many homeschoolers have not been counted. The National Center for Educational Statistics has the latest number at about 1.1 million—with 18% of that number including students that attend 25 hours or less of class time outside the home. So, practically the 1.1 million number should ignore 18 percent. And if the 2 million number is accurate, it should shrink proportionally as well: 902 hundred-thousand and 1.640 million respectively.

When the retention factor is analyzed, the future of homeschooling becomes more questionable. The latest 2007 Peabody Journal of Education summary paints a more accurate picture: “much homeschooling occurs in intervals of 1 to 4 years. This implies that the total number of 18-year-olds in 2006 who have been homeschooled at least intermittently is around 375,000, or about 10%.” Only a 63% retention rate exists into the second year of homeschooling. And after year six 48% are still homeschooling (only 15% for secular families). Similar numbers are acknowledged by some homeschooling leaders.

There’s more. Many assume that most homeschoolers are college-educated, middle-class, white conservatives. However, a Barna poll suggests that is not so.  49% of these families fit this description. And just over half (51%) are not classified as “born again”. Only 15% are (loosely) Evangelical. Half of the homeschoolers polled consider themselves somewhere between conservative and liberal.

More importantly, the Barna Group numbers display a level of poor spirituality I had only guessed at from my own anecdotal experience: most homeschoolers deny that Satan exists and half believe that salvation is obtained through good works.

The future of homeschooling is decidedly not looking bright. Even if the numbers are actually growing, who cares? If the numbers grow but the spiritual life does not grow what have homeschoolers achieved? What have the leaders wrought? If vast numbers are ignorant of the depths of their sins and the power of the Gospel of sovereign grace, hypocrisy and false assurance will rise. Then the future may be pleasant people, clean neighborhoods, and whiten sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.

The future of homeschooling is bright if and only if the faith grows with it. Hyping it will not help. As a viable option among many, the families that choose homeschooling still need to have their life and methods rooted in the same Gospel as the Reformation.For it is only in the Person and Work of Christ that homeschooling—or any schooling—can be part of a reformation of life and a bright future for mankind.

[More observations on homeschooling]

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Review of Peter Enns’ Bible Curriculum [Wes White]

"...Further concern was raised over the fact that the publisher, Olive Branch Books, is part of Peace Hill Press which is directed by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Susan Wise Bauer is well-known and well-respected within the homeschooling community for her history series, The Story of the World, and book, The Well-Trained Mind. Olive Branch Books has released a statement in which it begs parents to read the curriculum for themselves instead of relying on secondhand accounts.

So, that is what I’ve done. I received my copy of the parents’ guide to Telling God’s Story, and I have now finished reading it. I also read Dr. Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation, to help me understand his views..." [continued here]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Science catches up with biblical nurture

Those ornery Puritans were right after all: self-control is paramount for healthy adulthood.

A recent study strongly indicates what Christians believed and practiced for centuries.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Church-Integrated Family

"We are at the beginning of the end of the American family as it has been known for generations and generations. As I've discussed this over the years with other pastors, we can no longer assume husbands and wives know the duties they owe one another, let alone how the Bible defines those duties. Parents do not teach their children basic manners, let alone the catechism. Hence, it seems to me churches and pastors will be increasingly obliged to teach congregation members what they never learned at home (that is, how to be families), or they will never find men who rule their households well to serve as elders (1 Tim. 3:4)."

continued here.