Friday, August 31, 2012

What Is a Family Integrated Church?

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

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

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

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

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

The core challenge of the confession is Article XI:
We affirm that there is no scriptural pattern for comprehensive age segregated discipleship, and that age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking which have invaded the church.
This affirmation uses unqualified language beyond the vague adjective comprehensive. While the confession never uses the words “Sunday school” and the like, the unqualified language and logic is clear: “age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking”; modern Sunday schools are age segregated; therefore, they are based on “evolutionary and secular thinking.”

This serious charge is also publicly asserted by the leaders of this organization.

In his lecture about the history of Sunday schools, the founder and current board member, Mr. Phillips, declares these schools a “modern invention without biblical and historical precedent—period.” He also asserts that today’s church has “ . . . an entirely new hierarchy of social groups based on age: . . . dayschools . . . adolescence . . . PMS for women of certain age . . . these are all variations of evolutionary hellish thinking.”[3] Mr. Phillips claims that such special-interest thinking resulted from Greek thinking (youth and efficiency) instead of Hebraic thinking (discipleship and relationships). In fact, the “modern classroom . . . is a distinctly Greek and pagan approach to education”—an approach initiated by the Devil himself.[4]

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

First there is the novel “desert island test”:

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, there is the claim of revival:
Home educators, almost by definition, have turned their heart to their children [Mal. 4] . . . So there’s been a revival that’s taking place in the heart of these homeschool families. And this revival works itself out to the local church . . . our prayer: every Christian in the world is in a family integrated church. And there should be nothing but that, but you know what that is going to lead to? That’s going to lead to people homeschooling! . . . [7]
Three points will demonstrate this as a misguided prayer: 1. The Malachi four passage involves the family and the church with the minister (the prophet) as an instrument of revival in the family. 2. Luke 1:16ff. interprets “fathers” and “sons” in moral or spiritual terms. 3. Why pray for more such churches instead of more Reformed churches?

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 17, 2012

Overt misquote in the movie Divided

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

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

To my dismay, it was not so.

[continued here]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Family Integrated Church podcast series

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Denver pastors discuss solutions to family crisis

"At a symposium in Denver, a panel of three pastors discussed why Christian families are losing their children to the world and how this can be prevented. Local homeschooling advocate and internet talk show host, Rev. Swanson, was on the panel presenting his vision of family restoration. The event was hosted at Park Hill Presbyterian Church on Monday night, April 2."

Continued here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A sketch of the history of age-segregation among Christians

The following is a sketch of the facts I have uncovered in my research over the last few years in response to claims from many homeschoolers and/or family-integrated proponents. It is a slightly modified reprint (spelling and format) from the original post at

Hello Boliver,

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 Encyclopedia, 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 & 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 “consistories everywhere shall see to it that there are good school teachers not only to teach the children reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but also to instruct them in godliness and in the Catechism.” (cf. the full Dordt instruction for catechetical teaching here).

"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 day 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. They 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..."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.” (110ff. 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.” The 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- He 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.
If interested in more of how Christians educated over the centuries, please see my blog,   

Additional (2.7.12): I have combed some of the sessional minutes of Scottish churches in the 1600s: they had age-segregated Sunday school between services. I'll gather that info soon Lord willing.