The Family-Integrated Church movement is getting some heat by critic, Pastor Shawn Mathis. Pastor Kevin Swanson is forced to make a choice: OPC or National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC)
by Julie Anne
The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches NCFIC began as an off-shoot from the Doug Phillips’ now defunct “ministry,” Vision Forum (I cannot type the word ministry without the quotes knowing what has gone on there). Scott Brown, director of NCFIC, was a close friend of Doug Phillips, both men being proponents of the Homeschool Movement and Christian Patriarchy Movement.
In a nutshell, family-integrated church (FIC) ideology teaches that age segregation in churches is wrong and they blame many problems in churches/society on the age-segregation model. This has led to much division within churches and has been noted especially among the Homeschool Movement community because the FIC movement started within the Homeschool Movement and has spread widely.
Scott Brown’s group, NCFIC, claims to have a network of over 800 churches.
This means those churches hold to the confessions of the NCFIC:
The common denominators for those registered in our database are: (1) all parties have expressed a basic, orthodox understanding of Christianity as defined by the Nicene Creed; and (2) all parties have formally testified to at least substantial agreement with the NCFIC Confession on issues of unity between church and family. These are the only known points of agreement among the churches and families in the directory. (Source)
Below is one of the more troubling confessions in 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.”
Pastor Kevin Mathis Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC), has been following this movement for quite some time and offers the following response to the above confession:
This affirmation uses unqualified language beyond the vague adjective comprehensive. While the confession never uses the words “Sunday school” and the like, the practice and logic is clear: “age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking”; modern Sunday schools are age segregated; therefore, they are based on “evolutionary and secular thinking.” This serious charge is echoed through the words of the leaders, their book and their movie. (Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession)
The movie Mathis refers to is “Divided” which was produced by NCFIC which promotes everything Doug Phillips promoted:
Ok, so now with that background, let’s move on to some new and important developments in the FIC world. In March, Pastor Shawn Mathis presented an hour-long talk on the FIC movement at a seminar in New Lenox, Illinois, which was hosted by the Presbytery of the Mid-West of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).
Labeled a Pastoral Response to the Family Integrated Church Movement, the talk lasted a little over an hour, presenting the history of the movement’s rejection of youth ministries, its confession, practices, goals and beliefs. (Source)
Shawn Mathis is a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, but guess who else is also connected with OPC? Kevin Swanson. Yes, that Kevin Swanson. Kevin Swanson pastors at Reformation Church of Elizabeth OPC in Colorado.
Well, it seems that the OPC was not too keen on Kevin Swanson having signed the NCFIC confession and didn’t like him seemingly straddling the fence. Through their governing presbytery, they called for Pastor Kevin Swanson to make a decision which I summarize to mean:
It’s either US (OPC) or THEM (NCFIC). Choose now, Swanson!
Karen Campbell reported:
During the hearing, Swanson was asked directly if he had both feet planted in the OPC or if his allegiance was divided–would he leave the OPC over this issue? He responded in no uncertain terms that he has both feet firmly planted in the OPC and “one little finger” in the NCFIC. He was also asked if he believed practicing age-segregated Sunday school was a sin. He unequivocally denied it was sin. Later, he was asked if such Sunday schools were “unwise or in error” as opposed to being in sin. He responded with an unclear answer to the effect that he could not answer the questions without knowing the particular churches in question.
Can you imagine Kevin Swanson having to make a public choice before his governing assembly after having promoted NCFIC and the family-integrated church models for years? Check out this video. Whoa!
He had to do it. It was either sever ties with NCFIC, or the OPC would probably be forced to sever ties with Swanson. As a result, Swanson’s church is no longer listed in the network at NCFIC. You can see that Reformation Church is not listed on the Network search in Elizabeth, Colorado.
This is a very strong statement by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church against not only NCFIC, but also the family-integrated church movement. Here is more from Karen Campbell explaining OPC’s concern:
At the April, 2014 meeting of the Presbytery of the Dakotas of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a complaint was upheld against Reformation OPC for signing an NCFIC family integrated church confession that has “the effect of charging our own congregations, and many others of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, of error without employing the process prescribed in our Book of Discipline and thereby introducing schism into our broader Church.”
The NCFIC, in its attempt to have the perfect church ideology, has marginalized other traditional churches which have Sunday schools, youth groups, college groups, etc. This is the same kind of methodology we see from high-controlling and abusive groups:
- black and white thinking
- our way is the right way
- everybody else is wrong
- our way is the biblical way
- our way is the godly way
In this kind of high-controlling environment, if you differ from these views, they will likely question what else in your belief system is off kilter. They may even question your salvation if you get too many “wrong” answers.
I give kudos to OPC presbytery for keeping this destructive ideology away from their church groups. It will be interesting to watch Kevin Swanson maneuver around this when he has been one of the loudest voices in the Family-Integrated Church movement.
What Is Family Integrated Church?
At the most basic level, the family integrated church is one intentionally designed to eliminate unnecessary age-segregated structures from the church’s ministry. Children typically attend all of the corporate worship gatherings with their parents rather than attending a separate children’s ministry or, in some cases, even a nursery.
Intergenerational discipleship is a core value of the movement. The movement seeks to put the responsibility for disciple-making within the family primarily upon the parents (and particularly fathers), rather than relying on church programs. In fact, the movements tends to elevate family, making church extension of the family.
That said, within the movement there is a fair bit of diversity. Some are very strict about the no age/stage segregation, some are more flexible. Jim Hamilton provides a very helpful description of this range:
…At the strictest end of the spectrum would be a church whose mission statement would be along the lines of “discipling dads to disciple families.” Such a church might not have Sunday School classes divided by ages–so the children and the teens and the adults might all be in the same Sunday School class together. Churches on this stricter end might lean toward having fathers leading their own families in taking communion as families.
At the looser end of the spectrum are those who would say that the mission of the church is not simply to “disciple dads” but to “make disciples.” These churches would probably have “age-appropriate” instruction, and they would probably take communion as a whole church and avoid breaking the church up into family units at communion (I hope I’m not misrepresenting the more strict versions of FIC groups here). Those who are much more Family Integrated might not regard these “looser” groups as being Family Integrated at all, but what would put them on the spectrum would be that they are much more intentional about encouraging fathers to lead their families in family worship and disciple their children, much more intentional about protecting and cultivating biblical gender roles (no embarrassment here about 1 Timothy 2:12 and Ephesians 5:22-33), and there will be a more “family-friendly” culture at such churches.
NCFIC, the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, in their critique of Kostenberger’s critique, defines the movement as follows:
The FIC movement is part of a determined attempt by certain men of God to recover for the family the ground that has been taken over by the church and the state. In this regard, we call both church and state to repent of their sin of trespassing on the roles and duties that God has given to the family. We seek to restore the family to its rightful place in God’s economy—no more and no less. Because the family has been pushed aside for so long, our attempt is seen as the undue exaltation of the family by those who have been doing the trespassing. However, our goal is not to exalt the family, but to articulate a biblically balanced view where the importance and necessity of the family, the church, and the state are recognized.
There are several passages of Scripture typically used to support the family integrated church approach:
- Ephesians 6:1-3, where Paul addresses children is usually appealed to as it appears to assume that children are part of the intended audience (or so argues Paul Renfro in B&H’s book Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views). Renfro also suggests children are a part of the assembly of God’s people in Deut. 31:12.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is another text often appealed to, notably verse 7: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Other Scripture used to support this methodology include 1 Timothy 5:8,16 and Galatians 6:9,10.
Prominent Advocates of the Movement
Scott Brown is Director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. This organization produces books, DVDs and other media defending FIC. It also organizes conferences and is present at many events, particularly those associated with homeschooling. The documentary film Divided is perhaps their most prominent product.
Voddie Baucham may well be the highest profile Christian leader within the movement. Baucham’s Family Driven Faith is an apologetic on the need for family integration—that children are not fully part of the church in the segregated view. Here’s how he puts it in a Boundless interview from 2005:
…in Family Driven Faith, I’m dealing with the front end of the problem. Why are these people leaving in the first place? And one reason that they’re leaving is because they’re not part of the church. They’re part of a systematically segregated subculture in the church. And when they graduate from the high school ministry, where do they go now? Do you go to the big church? “I’ve never been a part of big church. You know, it’s never been real to me before.” They’ve got nothing, you know.
Paul Washer, Joel Beeke and Jeff Pollard are regular speakers at NCFIC events.
Common critiques suggest that the FIC movement puts too high an emphasis on the father; some have called it a patriocentricity that elevates the father above all others in the discipleship model. This critique, though, seems to be based on a hyper sensitivity to anything that smacks of patriarchy, rather than a sound biblical argument.
Kostenberger’s update to God, Marriage and Family contains a chapter which raises concerns about Family Integrated Church. The core of his critique is that FIC gives “the family an unduly high status that is unwarranted in light of the biblical teaching on the subject.”
Why does it matter?
The issue comes down to who is responsible for discipling children and what role should the institutional church play—a primary or supporting role. The FIC strongly supports the family unit as the context of discipleship (which is a good thing—I doubt many would disagree). However, they seem to risk undervaluing the benefits that age-specific ministry can provide alongside family discipleship. This seems more than anything else to be a matter of conscience and preference, rather than a black and white biblical methodology issue.