[(Part 1 here) Part 6 of Pastor Mathis' lecture notes 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).]
I do not want to give you the impression that the only problem with the family integrated church movement, and the NCFIC in particular, is their rejection of youth ministries. There are other beliefs that are of concern. One such concern is the view of the importance of the parent.
In the flagship book of the NCIFC, A Weed in the Church, Scott Brown gives several pages of reasoning against even one hour of Sunday School in a spiritually healthy church. His final argument is that youth ministry “overthrows biblical jurisdiction…if God thought that systematic, age-segregated ministry for youth were good or helpful, He would have prescribed it. We know that Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 speak clearly regarding whose job it is to teach children. God has appointed this responsibility to only one kind of person—a father" (p.229).
With such language, he undercuts pastor-led catechism classes and Christian schools, let alone youth ministries.
This misunderstanding of judicial boundaries seems reflected in their confession in articles IX and X where the family is labeled the “primary” nurturing institution, especially for children.
The family-centric nature of this movement is verified by one Reformed pastor who attended a number of lectures on fatherhood by the NCFIC last year: “There was some good mixed in there to be sure. But I would have been fine with missing the whole thing, because there was loads of crap! Brown said that the most important ingredient for evangelization of the world is fathers, and their theme was forced into one biblical passage after another. It became absolutely confirmed in my mind that this was an obsession with these people, and they are much more about ‘what we do and don't do’ than about the Gospel of God's saving and sanctifying grace through Christ.”
Pastoral Considerations of the Movement
My pastoral reflections come from my own experience with family integrated churches, their leadership and their members both in person and online.
There are things to be learned from the movement and there are many things to be concerned about.
Learning from the FIC Movement
As with many movements that over-react to wrong situations, the FIC movement has good elements that can remind us of truths we may have forgotten. This means we should take the call to family integration seriously. But how?
Well, there is a type of niche-marketing, age-segregated, youth-oriented, family segregating, anti-Christian spirit of this age. And I had to use all these adjectives to try to describe it. It is not the simple use of age-segregation, or schools or youth camps as such. These are adiaphora. These are tools that should be used within the parameter of Christian liberty. And used within the environment of Gospel preaching.
At the same time, families and churches are free not to use age-segregation of any type. And free to keep their children with them in any and all events. And that may even be the best way given the circumstances of the family, church or both. But that is a case-by-case call that should not be codified in some non-Presbyterian public confession.
Here are some more suggestions:
For the family: Spend more time with each other. Be acutely aware of the effects technology upon the integrity of the family: TV, computer, and smart phones. Ask your children questions about the movies they watched or the book they read. Exemplify a life that takes God’s church, word and worship seriously. Regular family time is a must. And avoid such a busy life that the important private and family worship are neglected. Teach them the Law and the Gospel.
For the church: do not over-schedule events for the family or youth. Know your families. Is there knowledge of the Law and the Gospel? Do they know the difference? Help them with family worship and prioritization of God’s law. Reinforce parental authority and love. At the same time, do not forget your responsibility to instruction the Christian family and apply it to the young and old alike. The churches of old have always, at their best, been schools of Christian education.
For both: Titus 2 calls the mature women to help instruct the less experienced. Similarly, the older men should instruct the younger men. And that includes youth that are not your own children. Every member of the Body of Christ is called to help the other members. No member and no family is an island. Take a few young men out to lunch and ask about their lives. It is a fact of life that children and youth of a family usually open up to those outside the family. And those people should be the mature members of the Church.
But above all, remember that the integration of church and family must be rooted in the Gospel and not in some method.
This movement also calls us to take seriously the question: “Where does the responsibility and priority lie between the Session and the head of the household?”
The historical answer to this question, in my own study at any rate, seems to be: this is the wrong question.
In his rousing speech in favor of parochial schools, Charles Hodge made no bones that the average family was in need of help. They could not be depended upon to give the full range of instruction needful for a Christian education. And since the common schools of the 1840s were not acceptable places of Christian nurture, then the church must create schools. In contrast, Breckenridge and Thornwell thought this approach undermined the spirituality of the Church. So, they proposed that they stick with the common schools but make sure that good Christian education occurs therein. Neither of them placed the church and family against each other.
This is too short a lecture and too deep a question to fully answer this question of jurisdiction. Some suggested directions for the answer can be found in the various practices of the Bible and church history. In 2 Chronicles 17, King Jeoshaphat sent teachers throughout the land. And, historically, the relationship between state and education has been close. Further, Samuel was virtually adopted by the priest Eli. Such a strange event to our minds seemed to not faze the Israelites of that time. So, too, in church history bishops housed students and the apprentice-model was widely used.
Historically, the integration of the church and family for education has been of a type not comprehended by this new movement. The families acutely felt their need of help and did not protest the loving assistance of God’s church.