What Should We Think of the Family-Integrated Church Movement?
Dear Church Family,
Have you heard of the “family-integrated church” (FIC) movement? If you are familiar with classical Christian education resources like Vision Forum, you have probably encountered the influence of this growing movement. Or perhaps you have seen recent ads in World Magazine for an upcoming conference sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC). Speakers at this conference include Ken Ham, Paul Washer, Andy Davis (First Baptist, Durham), Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips, and the director of the NCFIC, Scott Brown (a pastor in Wake Forest, NC).
What should we think of the FIC movement? I’m not writing to tell you just what you should think.
And I’m not writing to cast aspersions on the brethren promoting it. From all that I can tell, the leaders of this movement sincerely desire to promote church and family life regulated by the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Surely that is a good desire.
But because this movement seems to be exerting a growing influence in circles that are familiar to many of our people, I am writing to urge you to think with careful biblical discernment about this movement. As with any so-called “movement” within Christian circles, we must be careful to test all things by the Scriptures, no matter how biblical they may sound or who may be espousing them.
Here are a couple of things we should keep in mind when evaluating the FIC movement:
1) Obviously, faithfulness to the Word of God is of first importance. But faithfulness to the Word means more than just holding a biblical view about a given issue. Biblical fidelity includes holding that view in due proportion to the weight it receives in Scripture and the place assigned to it by Scripture.
“Issue-oriented” movements like FIC often are reactions against some legitimate problem in society or the church at large. Reactionary movements sometimes (often?) overact and become biblically imbalanced. The proverbial pendulum swings too far, if you will. When I read FIC leaders describe age-segregated Sunday School programs as a serious threat to biblical family order and the authority of fathers, I wonder if they are taking their legitimate concern too far and finding enemies where they should be finding friends. Be careful to evaluate the legitimacy of such assertions according to the Scriptures.
2) “Issue-oriented” movements like FIC tend to so emphasize and so closely identify themselves with their one primary issue of concern that they unwittingly displace the one great issue for the Christian and the church- the gospel itself. I’m not saying the proponents of FIC are denying the gospel or even failing to preach and promote the gospel. I’m saying that issue-oriented movements have a tendency to displace the gospel from its place of first importance. Every local expression of the church of Jesus Christ should desire to be known and identified supremely for its commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, not by its distinctives. Whenever the church raises such issues to the level of first importance, we risk distorting our true identity and undermining our true calling and usefulness. When I read FIC leaders speaking as if America’s greatest need is the restoration of biblical fatherhood, I wonder if such a displacement is occurring. Be careful to evaluate the legitimacy of such assertions in light of the supremacy of the gospel in God’s plan and man’s need.
3) Lastly, “issue-oriented” movements like FIC tend to hold their particular convictions in such a way that almost inevitably promotes disunity within the body of Christ. This especially concerns me on the local level. The concern I have is this: FIC leaders speak and write much of the “truly biblical” way to order the church and family together. We want to be truly biblical in the ordering of our church and families. That’s a good desire. But care is needed.
We get into trouble when our efforts to define “truly biblical” take us beyond the Bible itself. Especially when we feel strongly about truth and the recovery of certain truths, we also need to exercise humble restraint and spiritual wisdom not only to go where the Bible goes but to stop where the Bible stops. We need the grace to acknowledge the difference between clear biblical principles and the cultivation of personal convictions based on those principles.
Numerous problems result from this all too common practice of going beyond the clear teaching of Scripture and making laws where God has not made any. Not the least is the damage it inflicts on the unity of the church. The basis of unity becomes agreement with the specific way those convictions are worked out, rather than like-mindedness on the more broad biblical principles behind those convictions. Seeking to order one’s family by the Word of God is not enough. It must look a certain way, or it is not “truly biblical.” And that’s where the problem lies.
Here’s an example of what I mean: One writer associated with the FIC movement essentially asked the question, “How could you sit under the ministry of a man who sends his kids to the anti-Christian government schools (emphasis mine)?” In the context, he equates a pastor sending his child to public school with the disqualifying sins of gluttony, failure to properly manage the home and marital infidelity. Now, in all honesty, that angers me. Not because I send one of my children to the local public high school. My conscience is clear on that one. It angers me because it draws a dividing line between brethren on an issue not explicitly addressed in the Bible. Here’s the effect in the local church: those who meet and perhaps agree with his definition of “truly biblical” are tempted to judge and even separate themselves and their children from those portrayed as “compromisers”. This may be an extreme example. We shouldn’t judge the whole movement based upon it. But we should be careful to evaluate such assertions according to the more clear and explicit revelation of the Word of God.
So what’s the point of all this? Simply to encourage you to examine the FIC movement by the clear teaching of the Word of God. I would encourage you to begin by reading a recent critique of the FIC movement written by Pastor Sam Waldron entitled “The Relation of Church and Family.” You can find it here: http://reformedbaptistfellowship.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/the-relation-of-church-and-family/. Pastor Waldron goes beyond what I’ve said here and raises important questions regarding some of the theological underpinnings of this movement.
Where we can be helped and challenged to a more biblical perspective by our FIC brethren, let’s be helped and challenged. But let us always strive to keep the gospel the main thing and to hold our convictions in due proportion to the weight and emphasis given to them according to God’s infallible Word.
Striving together with you,