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.)