Friday, September 13, 2013

"What Is a Family Integrated Church?" by Shawn Mathis

Earlier this year Shawn Mathis, pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC), Denver, Colorado, wrote an article entitled What Is a Family Integrated Church? The article has a subheading that reads "Rejecting activities which separate children from parents," and this immediately lets the reader know about one of the core principles at the center of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM). The article begins this way:
Is your Christian education based upon evolutionary and secular thinking? It is if your church practices the usual age-segregated Sunday school according to a new church movement. 
The family-integrated church movement, primarily within the homeschooling community, is a self-conscious challenge to classic Christian nurture. It has already affected some Reformed churches. But what exactly is the movement and how does it measure up to the Word of God and church history?
Shawn seeks to answer this question in his critique of the FICM. And in my continuing endeavor to keep this blog's readers informed about the issues and debate surrounding the FICM, I recommend that you read Shawn's article in its entirety. As always, comments are welcomed here.


  1. Some suggestion to answer the concerns Pastor Mathis wrote below:

    "The confession includes a laudable rejection of children’s worship services and affirmations of parental responsibility; it also includes some questionable assertions.

    The core challenge of the confession is Article XI:

    “We affirm that there is no scriptural pattern for comprehensive age segregated discipleship, and that age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking which have invaded the church.”"

    Some suggestions to consider.

    1) The confession has context and key adjectives. It is hard to make a challenging statement with precision and be understood exactly by all readers. In this case give some consideration to the phrase "Comprehensive age-integrated discipleship". I observe nothing in the rest of the confession nor observed in the conduct or speech of some of the more visible proponents of this idea to suggest there is not a role for elders, deacons and other church members to interact with members of a household to encourage christian maturity.

    2) The days are evil and our stay on earth is fleeting. I would recommend if a pastor has a serious concern of the influence of the perspective of this confession to take some time to visit with the members of their church to understand what it means to them. Perhaps they have a member who does have a distorted and unbiblical view and need some shepherding. Perhaps the member has a biblical view that needs to be heard to foster some reformation in the flock.

    3) Take the time to visit a fellow pastor or elder who is trying to shepherd his flock without the tradition structure and seek some understanding. Get on the phone or go visit. The lack of sunday school is not the main thrust of many of these congregations.

    Here is the link to put the article of concern in context.

    Keep at your calling brother.

    1. Thanks for the input, brother. I agree that we should read the statement carefully. The problem with the particular part of the statement cited above -- at least as I see it -- is that the next line after "We affirm that there is no scriptural pattern for comprehensive age segregated discipleship" adds "and that age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking which have invaded the church." This makes it sound as though any and all forms of age segregated instruction are necessarily "based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking," not just "comprehensive age segregated discipleship" (whatever that means). In other words, the statement over-generalizes and classifies any sort of age segregated practices as stemming from worldly principles.

      To be sure, Article XI does state in the following sentence that, "We deny/reject that corporate worship, discipleship and evangelism should be systematically segregated by age, and that it has been an effective method for making disciples." But here the word systematically does no more than the word comprehensive has done in order to remove the over-generalization of the assertion sandwiched in between the statements containing these two modifiers. Thus the apparent reason for thinking that a "comprehensive" or "systematic" age segregated approach is wrong is that any age segregated ministry is "based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking," not just applications of the concept that might be deemed "comprehensive" or "systematic."

      Personally, therefore, I find myself in partial agreement with the statement at this point. I agree that we have no Scriptural basis for utilizing age segregation in every aspect of local church ministry (if that is what "comprehensive" and "systematic" mean in this discussion). So, for example, I am against age segregated worship services, and I am against them based upon Scriptural precedent. But I think it goes too far to say that there is no legitimate place for age segregated instruction at all, which clearly seems to be the idea driving "A Biblical Confession For Uniting Church And Family." And I deny that age segregated instruction in principle is altogether "unbiblical." In fact, I have written a three part series of articles on this blog arguing to the contrary. I thus also adamantly deny that age segregated instruction in principle is based either on "evolutionary" or "secular" thinking, charges which themselves should be regarded as being both against Scripture and without logical or historical merit. After all, the notion that children grow in their capacity for knowledge and wisdom as they grow biologically is hardly something one has to learn from evolutionary theory or secular practices. It is a notion clearly recognized and taught by Scripture and is confirmed by the common sense and experience of any person who has ever had a child. I fail to see, then, how recognizing such a basic fact in our approach to training children should be regarded as a bad thing. Yet this is precisely how the statements under discussion make the concept appear, and it is how many in the FICM make it sound when they broach the subject (even if they follow the very same principles in the homeschooling of their own children). The movie Divided is a clear example of this point.

    2. (Continued from above) But there is an easy fix here. The NCFIC -- and other branches of the FICM -- can admit that they have overstated their case and wrongly accused many of their Reformed Baptist brethren in particular, and we can move forward in unity where we agree -- and most Reformed Baptist pastors and churches I know of agree on just about everything else advocates of the FICM might have to say on the matter. We just can't seem to get past some of the poorly worded arguments (the dust-up over "the church is a family of families" slogan being a prime example here) and falsely accusatory language that seems to permeate so much of a movement we might otherwise be fully engaged in.

      You have observed that "The lack of sunday school is not the main thrust of many of these congregations," and I am sure you are right. But the problem is that their assertions about the subject are the primary point at which their equally conservative Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist brethren take offense. For their assertions falsely accuse us of "practices [that are] are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking" simply because we might offer age segregated Sunday school classes for children. They simply leave no room at all for any careful use of such a practice, and this is why this issue is the main point of contention between advocates of the FICM and their Reformed brethren. After all -- as I have already pointed out -- we agree on most everything else, but it is hard to be united with a group that keeps lumping us together with the worst sort of liberal churches and that keeps speaking in a way that essentially -- and falsely -- accuses us of worldliness.

    3. Dear Brewer, You stated: "The lack of sunday school is not the main thrust of many of these congregations." I never wrote that. The point is that the NCFIC and its confession have a *unique* addition to the otherwise worthwhile critiques of stereotypical youth groups. etc. and that is the near whole-sale rejection of segregation by age and physicality from parents. Please read my newer article that incorporates more data: Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession, at Aquila Report:

  2. I can appreciate your concern that I fully research the views and practices and not just read the confession in a vacuum. I have visited FIC churches and/or spoken (at length) with their leaders. But the rest of my article adds evidence from the mouth of the highest leaders. More evidence is in my latest article, Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession, at Aquila Report:

    1. Shawn, I will add an additional blog post linking to your article later this week. Thanks for the thoughtful and careful input to the debate.

  3. Well, I am sure you all don't need the book, but others do. And it covers more than FIC: My book on Family Integrated Churches, radical homeschooling and the history of Christian education:

    Uniting Church and Family: Observations about the Current Family Crisis, Amazon
    Kindle version

    The Christian family is divided. The church is weak. Will homeschooling protect us? Will eliminating Sunday school strengthen us? Will "family integration" unite us? This collection of essays will explore these timely questions with thought-provoking analysis from history and biblical common-sense.

    thanks for your articles on the FIC.