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)


Todd Smith said...

Mr. Mathis, I appreciated your thoughts on part 1. And I can't wait for part 2. I think probably where we agree the most is the Christian Liberty issue. I am fine with there being Christian Liberty but not everyone else around me is. I believe that it is my job to disciple my children and if I am doing my job then a separate Sunday School or Youth Group for my children is not needed. My conviction tells me it is wrong for my children. That doesn't mean I force anyone else to follow my own convictions. However even now in my congregation where we have an age integrated Sunday School and only two families bring their children, mine and one other; some adults don't think they can learn in such an environment and they don't think the children can as well. I disagree. But that is beside the point. The issue is I can give others freedom to have groups if they want to organize them and staff them I do not have the freedom to withhold my children from those ministries because I don't believe in them any longer. While one side (at least in my experience) is begging the folks at the NCFIC to give liberty others are not willing to allow the NCFIC folks the same liberty of conviction. I can't force any parent to follow my example but I won't put my own children in age segregated ministries again. When I say that I am not judging anyone I am merely trying to do my job as a father. And I ask for the freedom from brothers and sisters in Christ to do that.
Thanks for the discussion.

polymathis said...

Mr. Smith,

When I mean Christian liberty, I mean activities or things that are indifferent in themselves. Such practices and things become sinful by way of the attitude or abuse of them (to put it simply). Just as many other things in Christian liberty (like drinking) may become sin by dint of circumstances, attitudes and abuses. Thus, age-segregation is a matter of Christian liberty in that sense.

You seem to mean that others cannot force you to enact (or not enact) a certain thing or activity. For example, some in my denomination (OPC) are Psalm singers: the church will not force them to sing anything else in worship.

polymathis said...

"I believe that it is my job to disciple my children and if I am doing my job then a separate Sunday School or Youth Group for my children is not needed."

That is a gratuitous assumption that I have heard elsewhere (Baucham implies this as I recall). Proverbs 18:1 comes readily to mind. Of course, you may not mean what you wrote in such an absolute sense.

mozart said...

Thank you for this. Christian liberty, as the Reformers understood it, is very much a misunderstood concept, but as I understand it, an important one. This runs totally counter to theonomy, I think.

polymathis said...

Mr. Mozart, Your comment is interesting. I know Mr. Bahnsen and Rushdooney had christian schools they were associated with. However, one theonomy site, theonomy resources, they endorse the FIC:

Todd Smith said...

Liberty is a funny thing. And I'm not sure where Prov. 18:1 comes in. I currently Pastor a Church in transition. Right now we have Sunday School. One class. Everyone who wants to come comes. My children come and sit with me and we all learn together from 8 years of age to 84 years of age. It is fantastic.
We have a worship service following that where we don't have any children's Church etc. Just all generations worshiping together.
Right now all of our families with children like this format and it is working. We as a family have time where we read the Bible and study it and sing and pray every day at home. We also get together with other families several times a week. Whether it is after Church where we share a meal and the children can play together or for 4H or Homeschool groups, etc. What I don't see a need for in my family is for a class of children whether it be a Sunday School or Youth Group to teach my children the Bible. It is simply not needed for my family. And for me to go back to allowing others to disciple my children instead of me would be sin. That is my conviction and belief.
I don't see where Prov. 18:1 plays into the discussion because I am not isolating myself from anyone.
If those in our congregation decided down the road to go back to age based Sunday School and the Elders wanted to go that route they could do that. My family simply wouldn't participate in that activity. But the problem is as a Pastor of the Church I would be looked down upon and not be given the option to opt out.
I have to agree with Paul Washer when he said that children don't need to spend more time with children they need to spend more time with adults so they learn how to grow up. We have seen growth in our children this past year that I have never seen before by moving in this direction. So for me it is not a preference it is a conviction. Something that would be a sin for me if I did it any other way. I would encourage others to go that route but because it is not a salvation issue, i.e. you won't lose your salvation if you send your children to Sunday School or not, I wouldn't force anyone. Kind of like homeschooling for me. I can't see how any Christian parent can read the Word and not feel compelled to Homeschool. As a leader of a State Organization I am very pro-homeschooling. God has called me and my family to follow that road. I encourage others to do the same. I can't force but I try and influence. Parents have the freedom to educate and disciple their children as they see fit, people have the freedom in Christ to make decisions and answer to God for them. And everyone has the right to defend their position Scripturally, pro-fic and anti-fic folks alike. To me that is freedom.

polymathis said...

Mr. Smith, I posted Prov. 18:1 because it speaks to those who think they can raise their children in isolation, "

But I do not think you think that way although what you wrote strongly implied that. The assumption is that SS have to replace parental training. But why? Can it not supplement it? Do you have a catechism program with the pastor or elders examining the children's answers? If so, then in principle SS is no different.

polymathis said...

Mr. Smith, You wrote: "I have to agree with Paul Washer when he said that children don't need to spend more time with children they need to spend more time with adults so they learn how to grow up."

I, too, agree. But does that mean no time can be spent with their age group? Is it OK for them to play a board game down in the basement when most adults are not interested in board games?

polymathis said...

Mr. Smith,

1. Are you saying that before God those who have age-segregated Sunday school are in sin?
2. Are you saying that before God those who do not homeschool are sinning?

The question is not how big a sin, etc. but is it a violation of God's law?

Todd Smith said...

Mr. Mathis,
Thanks again for the open discussion. You are the only one I have seen online who has issues with the FIC folks who seems willing to discuss these things.
I believe that children can spend time with other children and mine do. I don't think they need to spend time with other children in order to be taught the Bible. Emphasis on the word need. If there are people who desire Sunday School as a supplement to what they are doing at home they could do that but even I as a Pastor for about 20 years now was not using it as a supplement and I don't know of many parents who do that. They are the exception if they are discipling their children at home and using Church programs as supplements. That hasn't been the pattern in modern church live. If there are those able to do that great.
The sin question is a harder one to define within the context of liberty.
Let's look at other non-essential to salvation issues.
One hot button topic, Eschatology. I am a partial preterist. I believe that Revelation was written prior to AD 70 and most of the Bible prophesy was fulfilled prior to AD 70. I don't believe the Tim LaHaye Left Behind Rapture view of Scripture. I can't support it with Scripture. I think my interpretation is right. My friend, a fellow believer, believes the rapture is close at hand, any day now. I would say that he is misinterpreting Scripture but I wouldn't call his belief a sin. I would try and defend my position and he would try and defend his and we would at the end of the day unless one of us could sway the other have to agree to disagree.
Homeschooling. I feel that Christian parents should home educate. I think Ps. 1 and many other Scriptures bear this out. I don't think there are holy subjects and there are sacred subjects, all are sacred and we shouldn't sit at the feet of mockers, etc. And I could go on to defend my position from Scripture. My friend and fellow Christian doesn't see Scripture like I do and maybe even separates sacred and secular subjects. So has no problem sending his child to the public school to be raised by those who don't glorify Christ (yes there are some Christian teachers but not all of them are). Now I am speculating a little because I don't argue that position. So like the example above we both have a different view of Scripture. And at the end of the day we interpret it differently and have to agree to disagree. I think I am right and he thinks he is right. We are still brothers in the faith.
Same with age integration. As I have been studying this out and taking the words in "Divided" and "A Weed in the Church" back to the Bible, I pretty much line up with what is being presented. But my friends (and I have lots who are youth ministers) don't interpret Scripture the way I do now. etc. and we still consider ourselves brothers in Christ.
In these instances I am not calling my fellow Christians sinners but for me I have to follow James 4:17, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."
Since God has convicted me and my family to Homeschool based on his Word and to not be a part of age graded ministries based on His Word for me it would be a sin. I can't answer that question for anyone else.
I know I am getting long again so I will cut this off. I wish I could explain to you how God moved our Church towards FIC and how He orchestrated things over the last year. I have seen more fruit in people's lives than I have in over 20 years of ministry. If God was not in this moving in our Church then I don't know what it was. People hungry for the Word and desiring Christ and wanting to train up the next generation. It was incredible.
Sorry for the length.

polymathis said...

Mr. Smith,

I cannot speak to your experience of growth other than to note that it is irrelevant to the question at hand. Many people experience growth and revival but were short lived or spurious or partially good.

Your take on the issue is quite puzzling to me. Are you a five-point Calvinist? Reformed baptist? something else?

I am a conservative, Westminster Confession of Faith, Reformed Presbyterian.

Todd Smith said...

I would fit in the "something else" category. We are a part of the Restoration Movement that began in the early 1800's. A unity movement that started to unite Christians around the Bible alone rather than creeds/etc. It was an attempt to try and unify the body of Christ. We are an independent Christian Church with no denominational oversight. Each Church chooses their own Pastor and Elders. We have sister congregations that work together to promote Bible colleges, camps, etc.
The movement was also to try and restore the Church to New Testament Christianity. Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, were some of the early leaders.
Known for slogans such as, "Where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent we are silent." "In Essentials Unity, In non-essentials Liberty, in all things Love." "No Creed but Christ." etc.
Our movement is very big on, what does the Bible say, so much of the FIC stuff seems to fit with that idea on the Sufficiency of Scripture.

polymathis said...

Mr. Smith, Thank you. And I appreciate your willingness to dialogue in light of the many (even pastors) who write me off after one article.

Dave A said...

How you define "The Sufficiency of Scripture" seems to be a key point in this discussion.
This is an excerpt from an article by John Piper.....
"2 Timothy 3:15-17 and Jude 1:3.
In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient in the sense that they are the only (“once for all”) inspired and (therefore) inerrant words of God that we need, in order to know the way of salvation (“make you wise unto salvation”) and the way of obedience (“equipped for every good work”).
The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane. In other words, the Bible does not tell us all we need to know in order to be obedient stewards of this world.
The sufficiency of Scripture means that we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge. All other knowledge stands under the judgment of the Bible even when it serves the Bible."

Dave A said...

If you agree to the above definition of SOS then the issue is what does the Bible actually say and really mean. I am not a scholar but that would be hermeneutics/Bible interpretation. From what I have seen the FIC folks get "most" of their "Biblical" ammunition from "assumtions" about what they "think" the culture looked like during bible times. That would seem to explain why explicit scriptural refrences are absent in much of their discussions.

Dave A said...

Specifically pertaining to S.S., youth ministry, or any other ministry, does the Bible give the local N.T. church any authority? What authority does the Bible give the local Church? What is the purpose of the local Church?

Todd Smith said...

Mr. Mathis -- I have been enjoying the conversation. It has been helpful to me.
Dave -- I agree that we can read outside sources for other topics but we have to make sure that they line up with Scripture. The Bible is the best economic book I know. If you follow the principles in Scripture you will be successful financially if you don't you won't. So we have to weight everything to the Bible. Same with Science or anything else. If my other book contradicts Scripture then I need to abandon the other book.

mozart said...


But let's not forget the Scriptures are about CHRIST, not about economics. Don't ignore the plotline of the story--Christ coming to save a people for Himself. We do some serious damage to Christ when we treat His Word as something else--as an economics book. And Calvin was clear that God gives wisdom in His common grace to scientists, philosophers, doctors etc even though they are not His.