[(Part 1 here) Part 2 of Pastor Mathis' lecture notes in a multi-part series from the Spring 2014 Presbytery of the Midwest Seminar, "A Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement." More information on the movement, homeschooling and the history of Christian education, see the new book Uniting Church & Family (Kindle format).]
The Family Integrated Church
This amorphous movement began a little over a decade ago, probably in 1999 with Eric Wallace's book, Uniting Church and Home. However, this movement was not on the Reformed radar until a few years later when Pastor Joseph Morecraft offered a mixed review of the book, critiquing the movement's rejection of Sunday school.
This review was published at patriarchy.org in 2005. By this time the movement had taken its first serious toll on the Presbyterian churches. The owner of patriarchy.org had his PCA church split in two because of this and other related matters. Other churches in his presbytery were adversely affected in various degrees.
However, the true impetus that propelled this movement onto the national stage was the marketing savvy of Doug Phillips. He started the largest organization within this movement: the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC). And he promoted it far and wide with yearly conferences, a book and a movie.
But the NCFIC is not the only organization that currently represents this movement. Eric Wallace, of the book Uniting Church and Home, has a website and a few conferences. There is a family integrated church directory website hosted by J. Mark Fox, who also has a book on this topic.
These kinds of organizations built upon an idea are not a surprise. The surprise has been the willingness of an entire denomination to describe part of their distinctive as the rejection of Sunday schools among other unique practices. The Covenant Presbyterian Church (CPC) describes Sunday schools and like instructional programs as "inventions of the modern church"--by modern, presumably, they also included the Scottish Sunday schools of the 1600s. [update: Praise God that upon reading the information offered in Part 1 of this series, they have received correction and as a result updated their website. 9/9/14]
To best understand this movement, it is best to understand the largest group of this movement: the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC).
What the NCFIC believes
The NCFIC boasts over 800 churches as part of its movement. It was created by Vision Forum over a decade ago. It was part of the Vision Forum website until 2009. Both organizations had the same board members. All the board members are Baptists. The NCFIC, among other things, is about “uniting church and home.” But what does that mean?
It means an embracing of family-integration and a rejection of family-segregation. Family-integration is a broad belief that includes traditional views of fatherly leadership, family worship and familial nurture. It also includes a unique view parental involvement. Parents, fathers in particular, are to be so involved in their children's education that the use of non-parental instructors is virtually forbidden. The vast majority of group activities are to be family activities.
This view naturally compliments their belief in the rejection of family-segregated activities. If, as a rule, activities of the church are to be attended by the entire family, then Sunday School and youth groups are anathema. Virtually any discipleship activity that physically separates children from children (age-segregation) and children from parents (family-segregation) is roundly denounced. Note the word virtual. I will get back to that word.
The frequently asked question section of their website also explains: “We do not believe that family-integration is the only—or even the primary—issue in selecting or establishing a local church. But it is unquestionably a defining issue of our day…”
The Center offers a directory of like-minded churches. It boasts over 800 churches. The directory is for family integrated churches to advertise and for families to find them. The directory is partly designed to help with the “working for the planting of Christ-centered, biblically ordered, evangelistic, expository preaching, family-integrated churches.”
Since at least 2003, to register with their church directory, an appropriate representative of the church must click “yes” next to the question “Are you in substantial agreement with the NCFIC confession.” Next they are asked “Which parts of the confession do you not agree with?” In the frequently asked questions section, the Center reminds churches: “Churches are listed on the NCFIC site by indicating that the church is in agreement with the NCFIC confession. We hear from time of a church that may not completely reflect everything in the confession. While we wish this were not so, we encourage churches to be honest about their true convictions and practices.”
Churches are not officially endorsed and denominational affiliation is no barrier to enrollment. There are all types of churches on the directory: 7th Day Adventist churches, charismatic churches, Baptist churches, paedocommunion churches, father-led communion churches and Orthodox Presbyterian Churches. Although not a church planting agency, it wants to “encourage new church plants” based upon this family-integration model. Presumably, the vast arrays of different churches have this model in common.
The introduction of the confession gives this stated purpose: “Our fervent prayer is that our God will raise up Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, family-integrated assemblies from the ashes of our man-centered, family fragmenting churches.”
The confession, organization and leadership have many commendable characteristics. The confession includes a laudable rejection of children’s worship services and affirmations of parental responsibility. The confession also points to the importance of personal relationships, especially in everyday familial settings.
The organization over the years has used conferences to encourage families, and fathers in particular, to own up to their responsibilities as educators of their children. Catechism usage is highlighted in several blog postings.
And there is no doubt that the current leader of the center, Scott Brown, is zealous for family reformation. He wrote a book called a Weed in the Church. And he helped created a movie, called Divided. He has published some puritan works on family life as well.
But the NCFIC is about more than integrating families.
The Center is closely aligned with and assumes certain beliefs that are not clearly articulated in their confession. These include homeschooling and what has been called “biblical patriarchy.” The patriarchy confession, the Tenants of Biblical Patriarchy, was produced by Vision Forum and linked to the NCFIC site until about a year ago. Both of these views align nicely with their unique take on family-integration: keep the family together by means of the fathers’ discipling the children at home.