Recently there have been some good blog articles written by Reformed Baptists in response to the growing Family-Integrated Church Movement (FICM), and I would like to inform this blog's readers of some of them.
First, I would suggest beginning with the wise counsel of Andy Dunkerton, one of the elders at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, North Carolina. He has written an excellent article entitled What Should We Think of the Family-Integrated Church Movement? In it he offers sound advice about the proper attitude and care we should take in evaluating the FICM, along with a solid frame work within which to evaluate such movements. Well done, brother!
Second, I would recommend reading Sam Waldron's article entitled The Relation of Church and Family, in which Dr. Waldron focuses on a primary issue I have often seen in the FICM, the issue of the relationship of the authority of the Church to that of the family. For example, after listing some "praiseworthy features" of the movement, Dr. Waldron warns:
All this being said, there are significant philosophical and practical issues raised by this movement that contradict a biblical ecclesiology and infringe on the rights and authority of the church ....Again, I think Dr. Waldron has identified what I have found to be a primary issue in discussions I have had with FICM advocates in my own ministry, and he has offered a sound, Scriptural response.
The church is not a collection of families, but a collection of believers. It is not an extension of the family, but a completely different and sovereign institution. The family was instituted at creation and is a creation institution, while the church in its present and final form was instituted after the work of redemption accomplished by Christ and is a redemptive institution. This means that the head of the household in virtue of his being the head of the household has no authority in the church. His rights and liberties as to church membership and as a church member are no different than those of his 20 year old son who lives at home but is also a member of the church. The family-based church idea makes some sense from a paedobaptist and Presbyterian standpoint. They often have held that only heads of households should vote in the church. They have always held that the membership in the church is family-based and composed of families. But family-based churches are a specific contradiction of a Baptist view of the church and make no sense within a Baptist viewpoint ....
When the church is seen as a distinct and sovereign institution under God, then its right and duty to fulfill the Great Commission in many ways beside the meeting of the church becomes clear. The elders of the church and their appointed delegates have the right to instruct the men, the children, and the women of the church in age-segregated situations. The Great Commission gives the church the right to evangelize and instruct the entire world and so certainly the children and wives of believers. It does not limit this instruction to church services. Only a specific, scriptural prohibition would warrant a man in refusing as a matter of principle to cooperate with the church in such attempts to evangelize and edify all those to whom the church is sent by the Great Commission. No such prohibition exists. In principle the choice to join a church is a choice to subject one’s wife and one’s children to its instruction. This is what church membership means—subjection to the authority of a specific, local church to fulfill its commission with regard to one’s children and one’s wife. In principle refusal to allow this in one’s absence represents a misconception of the nature of the church and her authority.
To sum up the church does not exercise authority over its members through the mediation of heads of household or as families, but as individual believers. Its authority over the women of the church is not exercised, for instance, through the head of the family. Its authority is direct. While children are under the care and authority of the family, parents of children who are members ought to be grateful for and recognize the right of the church to evangelize their children with their consent.
Third, I would recommend reading a series of articles at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship Blog written by Jason Webb, who is a graduate of the Reformed Theological Seminary and member of Grace Fellowship Church in Bremen, Indiana. Here are the links:
My Introduction to the Family-Integrated Church Movement
What is the Family-Integrated Church Movement? – Part 1
The Family-Integrated Church Movement – Part 2
In these articles Webb focuses on the nature of the Church and aims his critique at the common and misguided "family of families" understanding of the Church among FICM advocates. He deals primarily with the nature of the Church as a New Covenant community over against an inappropriate application of Old Covenant concepts to the Church by many FICM advocates.
To be fair, one prominent FICM advocate, Voddie Baucham, has sought to distance himself from some of the errors associated with the "family of families" concept, here and here. But he admits that this terminology – terminology which he and his church have helped to promote – is "enigmatic," and I think he fails to see how much the terminology has been taken by many common FICM advocates as descriptive of the nature of the Church. This is why I think Webb's critique is necessary and appropriate, Baucham's protestations notwithstanding.
The Family-Integrated Church Movement – Part 3
Here Webb discusses the use of Biblical metaphors describing the Church (e.g. that of a family) and the need for care in understanding these metaphors. He also offers a good, brief description of the distinctive roles of the Church and the family.
Update 19 October 2009
I have added the fourth article in the series by Jason Webb ("The Family-Integrated Church Movement – Part 3" linked above) and corrected the personal information concerning him. Thanks to Steve Clevenger, pastor at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, for the correction. (I hope I got his information right!)
Update 21 October 2009
Here is the fifth article in the series by Jason Webb:
The Family-Integrated Church Movement – Part 4
Here Webb offers an historical critique from the standpoint of Puritan theology. He especially highlights the theology of Richard Baxter, John Owen, and the early Particular Baptists.
Update 29 October 2009
Here is the sixth article in the series by Jason Webb:
The Family-Integrated Church Movement – Part 5
Here Webb offers a number of practical considerations, highlighting where those in the FICM have been right but primarily where they have been wrong. He also writes a conclusion to the series, ending with the following sobering words:
The only conclusion that can be drawn from the research is that the Family-Integrated Church Movement needs to rework their ecclesiology. They need to clarify their positions and their priorities in light of Scripture. Their ecclesiology does not bear up to the scrutiny of the Word of God; neither does their elevation of the family as a guiding structure for the Church. Christ is building His Church. The FICM needs to make sure they are not building with wood, hay, and straw.After having read the entire series by Webb, I highly recommend it as a well-reasoned and Biblical approach. I cannot help but agree with his conclusions.
Update 5 August 2010
Somehow I missed this followup blog entry by Sam Waldron (posted back in January):
An Open Letter with regard to My Blog on the Family-Integrated Church Movement
In this open letter Dr. Waldron clarifies some misunderstandings about what he had previously written, recognizes that the FICM is not monolithic and that there are more moderate branches, and offers some additional thoughts on why Reformed Baptists oppose the FICM.
Update 19 May 2011
Dr. Waldron has been writing a whole series of blog articles responding to the FICM here.