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Pastoral evaluation of the family integrated church movement, part 8

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[(Part 1 here) The final Part 8 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).]

Working with FIC Members in an Non-FIC Church
How should church leaders of a traditional Reformed church interact with members who may be family integrated church proponents or attracted towards it?

One thing is to know the family. It seems that many families are attracted to FIC churches because the churches share certain things in common with these families: they homeschool; they have a large family; they are social conservatives; and they emphasize the integrity of the family against the rise of a post-Christian America. Many have little to no confessional understanding of the bible.
In such cases show them love. And then after that more love and some doctrine. Teach them the basics and essentially ignore their predisposition toward this new movement. This is how one of our families was protected from the nascent legalism of Scott Brown’s book.

The father of that family recently told me this. He was attracted to A Weed in the Church. The repetitive insistence by Scott Brown that he is just following the bible seems to hypnotize my friend’s mind. What protected him from such a confused outlook? A solid and balanced Reformed church. He said that while attending Providence he was learning that the Reformed faith gives solid, deeply-researched answers whereas the book, and many like it in his experience, just dogmatically asserts their positions.

My experience in homeschooling circles can be of help as well. Recall that the FIC is closely aligned with homeschooling. And one of the dangers of conservative homeschoolers is legalism. I wrote an article about it that attracted some responses. People emailed me, identifying with the nascent or virtual legalism I described in my essay. And it helped them resist the allurement of legalism.

For a few years I assisted homeschoolers in organizing a Homeschool Day at the Capital in Denver. It was a way to remind politicians of the rights of homeschoolers. In one of the organizational meetings, someone voiced a concern that the Gospel was not being presented enough. But other people offered the evidence of many speakers over the years who explained how to homeschool, nurture children, or be politically active.

As nice as I could say it, I pointed out that this was all Law and no Gospel. I spent the next twenty minutes explaining the difference to a room with a high percentage of family integrated church members.

In another incident, I had a father of another church family attracted to the radical homeschool elements. I gave him my essay on the history of Christian education—there in my new book. He read it. Afterward, he told me that it helped put things into perspective for him. He still preferred homeschooling but was less strident about it and more comfortable with other approaches.

So, the advice I would offer is three-fold: be a faithfully confessional church—both in love and doctrine—help people fight legalism, if that is a problem—and give them the true facts.

It is this last point that undergirds my lecture here and my book. The leaders of this movement present themselves as accomplished theologians and historians; Doug Phillips was especially guilty of this. But they are not.

To help protect your church families from the radical elements of FIC, take a Sunday school class or two and go over the history of Christian education. Or be more pointed and explain the pluses and minus of the FIC movement. If you teach church history, incorporate the details of life, such as schooling and Sunday school in Scotland.

When talking with a church pastor who promotes this new movement, take time to find out what he really believes. Many, in my experience, do not fully understand the NCFIC’s position. You may have to be specific. It is not enough to ask if they allow Sunday school, for example. I've heard men say yes, but their yes is the same yes of Scott Brown—it virtually means no.

Where is the movement going?
The movement is slowly moving mainstream even as it is unpacking its own logic in new and unhelpful ways.

For the later part of the 2000s, the movement, and the NCFIC in particular, has included Voddie Baucham, Douglas Phillips, R.C. Sproul, Jr., Geoffrey Botkin. All four were in the NCFIC’s movie, Divided.

With men such as Joe Morecraft and Joel Beeke speaking at the NCFIC conferences, the movement has gained some credibility. Scott Brown has several articles at the Christian Post online website. His books, movie and conferences are found in various homeschooling organizations such Christian Home Educators of Colorado, CHEC, and the Missouri homeschool organization.

Scott Brown tirelessly hosts many conferences over the year. The way the movement spreads, primarily, I think, is by such conferences on less controversial topics. It is more of a back-door evangelism approach. But even then, the radical elements still show.

Where is the movement going? It started with family integrated schooling (homeschooling), then family integrated churches and now family economics. Last year the president of the NCFIC endorsed a family economics conference. The blog posting stated: “Consider this question: Does your family have a biblical, family-integrated vision for work, financial management, inheritance, tithing, mentorship/higher education, hospitality, care for aging parents, roles for older daughters in the home, health care, and the countless other decisions you will face?" It continues, “Now families are looking at the entire family economy as a critical element in this family reformation. Without re-integrating family economies, it becomes difficult to re-integrate the family in the other areas… Since the industrial revolution, the capitalist corporations and socialist systems have slowly displaced the family economy. Many fathers are not able to disciple their sons and daughters effectively because the economic sphere.”

So, integrating the family means school at home, Sunday school at home, and now businesses at home.

Conclusion
I have covered a great amount of material in this hour. And I thank you for your patience. The family integrated church movement is a mixed bag at best. I must say that I cannot speak for every person, family or church in favor of this movement. Nor do I want to. But I can offer an overview of the largest and most influential, if not the most defining organization of the movement, the NCFIC.

To the extent that the Center promotes good practices it is a positive influence. But its myopic focus on the supposed intrinsic evils of youth ministries, undermining of Christian liberty with a regulative principle of discipleship, considering FIC churches preferable to confessional churches and its stated purpose to propagate such churches makes it on balance a hindrance at best and harmful at worst.

Christian education and home nurture are important. But then so is church nurture, especially since we believe that covenant children are members of the church and the NCFIC does not.

I do not want to hype up the size of this movement. It is relatively small compared to Federal Vision, for instance, but has more resonance with struggling families than we may realize. It is a more practical issue for many mothers who desire the best for the families.

Remember, it is not enough to demonstrate the gross historical errors of this movement or the incipient legalistic rationales used. You and your church must continue in faithfulness by God’s Spirit. And continue to offer a truly biblical alternative with the historic doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches.

There is a real problem that this movement has identified. Families are hurting. And many churches are not helping. Yet a true integration—even revival—of the church and family cannot exist without the fundamentals of the Gospel as much as the family integrated church movement may try otherwise.

It is my hope and prayer that struggling families will find good Reformed churches. Churches of the type our forefathers rejoiced over such as those described in the 1810 report of the General Assembly:

“In those parts of the church, without exception, in which vital religion has flourished, in the course of the last year, the fundamental doctrines of the gospel; viz. the total depravity of human nature, the divinity and atonement of Jesus Christ, justification by his imputed righteousness, the sovereignty and freeness of divine grace, and the special influences of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration and sanctification of sinners have been decidedly received and honoured.”

May the Lord bless his people with the true Gospel that alone can integrate families and churches.

[Part 1 here]

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