[(Part 1 here) Part 7 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).]
Dangers of the Family Integrated Church Movement
The dangers of this 800-church movement are real. They are two-fold: doctrinal and practical.
I have found the FIC movement, and the NCFIC in particular, lacking both in sound, well-articulated and consistent theological arguments and substantial, historical research.
The doctrinal dangers should be clear now. Resting upon a nascent legalistic hermeneutic—what I call the “regulative principle of discipleship”—the arguments offered by the NCFIC in particular can and has moved people toward a law-centric lifestyle that has little toleration for dissent. Their confession reflects this intolerant and critical attitude by denigrating all the Reformed churches that practice the centuries-long instructional institution of Sunday catechizing. Remember: if your church has Sunday school it is declared to be “based upon unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking.” That includes Calvin’s Geneva.
This strident attitude can be seen especially in their movie, Divided. Go ahead and just watch the first 20 minutes. It’s free online. Better yet, go and watch the 2 minute feature videos like the one labeled “Hope for the Future.” There the speaker claims the FIC churches are the ones truly building the kingdom of God and the other churches are just losing their children, ruining their churches and ruining society. He then challenges his detractors with a less-than-humble declaration: “Sure we have detractors. People are poopooing what we are doing. I get that all the time, constantly. But I say 'hey, just wait 20, 30 years we'll see what your fruit is and we'll see what our fruit is. We'll see what happens in 30 years…you can have your youth groups and Sunday schools and things. But we're going to eat vegetables for 20 years, 30 years, we'll see what happens.”
The practical danger can be seen in the divisiveness caused by this movement within the small Reformed communities. One church has already brought a complaint against another church for signing their confession that denigrates the ministry of the local church by calling youth groups and the like as “based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking.” Some churches have been virtually split over the matter. Others have felt undue pressure upon themselves and families. While many more lose potential members to yet another minor issue to eat at the foundations of church unity.
There are four ways the NCFIC undermines confessional Reformed churches. These can be found in the FAQ section of their website. First, they point people to FIC churches first: “Christians who are seeking a church, we recommend you use our Church Directory to find a family-integrated church or network with other like-minded Christians to start one.” Whether 7th Day Adventist, Charismatic, Arminian, paedocommunion—it doesn’t matter as long as they are family integrated. Second, they readily work with churches that are open to their viewpoint, whether confessional or not. Thus they are an opposing influential force to Reformed churches trying to help non-Reformed churches be faithful. Third, they encourage members in your church to “graciously and winsomely try to bring about change from within through respectful appeal to your leaders. This has the potential to transform many lives, the lives of some of the people you care about the most.” Fourth, the NCFIC has as its stated goal to “encourage new church plants.”
My own experience and the report of others paint a picture of secluded churches keeping themselves aloof from those who have Sunday school. I know of young men who, after watching the movie Divided, became dissatisfied with their church and moved out of state to a family integrated church whose pastor was in the movie. I know of a family whose father was a pastor that was so engrossed by the movement he moved across country to join Scott Brown’s church. I would encourage you to read Karen Campbell’s personal experience in planting three FIC churches on here website, thatmom.com.
This movement is contrary to the received practices of the church universal. Recall Scot Brown’s denigration of Calvin’s catechetical classes. It limits Christian liberty in the area of Christian nurture and education by calling for a blanket removal of methods that are indifferent in themselves (adiaphora).
The alienating and divisive nature of their confession is seen in what it says about your church: “We deny that the church should continue as she has [How? with her family-fragmenting ministries of course] and delay dramatic reformations, or that she will escape the wrath of God for the disintegration and destruction of the family by ignoring or taking lightly biblical roles and responsibilities.”
But, perhaps, the more divisive nature of the movement is the doctrinal and emotional claim that it is part of a revival of God. And in some circles, it is claimed to be a fulfillment of Malachi 4.
Family Integration as Revival
The idea that the family integrated church movement is a revival and a reformation of the church is a significant claim from leaders of this movement. The claim is broad sweeping. Consider one NCFIC blog posting which announced: "the family-integrated movement is addressing fundamental problems with our social systems that has worked to destroy the church in the west over a thousand years."
How is the family integrated movement fixing a thousand years of problematic social systems? By fixing the family. Scott Brown in a recent blog posting asserted:
"I continue to be convinced that the revival of biblical family life is one of the most pressing needs of our era for the spread of the gospel. Why? God has designed the family to be the first place the gospel is preached and heard in a human being's life. If the family is in spiritual disarray, then the communication of the gospel is compromised."
“Progressively, and often unwittingly, the church has taken over the father’s role and given it to preachers, women, Sunday school teachers, and childcare workers. I believe that until fathers take their jobs back, there will be no reformation” (NCFIC article).
Consider the founder and long-time leader and board-member, Doug Phillips, who claimed that the FIC and homeschooling were twin revivals.
"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!" [Recently expunged by Generations Radio. The interview (which I downloaded) has some illuminating statements by the host, including claiming the FIC the greatest movement in almost 200 years].
In Scott Brown’s book, Family Reformation, wherein he uses the life and times of Calvin and the city of Geneva as a springboard to offer advice, he lists twelve signs of family reformation occurring today. The list includes important characteristics such as a “right understanding of the gospel,” doctrinal awareness and expository preaching. But the list of the modern reformation includes two more characteristics that the Reformation fathers would not have recognized: homeschooling and family integrated churches.
He writes: “Over the past decade, there has been significant upheaval in established churches over questions regarding age segregated church life, the methods and philosophy of modern youth ministry, and the distinctive roles of fathers and mothers in the church. This is coupled with a wave of church planting which features many of the above signs of awakening incorporated into everyday church life. This methodology of family integration rejects the age segregated and feministic church models of the last half century as modern inventions.” [This is from the first edition. The second edition has expunged this without explaining if his views changed.]
Brothers, imagine the effect upon weak and struggling consciences when they are told that family integrated churches are part of a revival of God? Would they not naturally conclude that the other churches are not part of this new reformation? Would they not become dissatisfied with your church for not taking such a stand?
It is even worse when you consider the typical evangelical that this movement appeals to. The Barna Group and the Pew Study have shown over and over again high-percentage of Christians either classified as born-again or Evangelicals who deny cardinal truths of the Word or are just in rank biblical ignorance. And I do not believe for a moment that homeschoolers are somehow immune to this widespread problem. When these kinds of people hear this message, they are just being set up for spiritual pain.