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.]

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