If the Family Is Central, Christ Isn't

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By John B. Carpenter, CP Guest Contributor
March 26, 2013|8:36 am

In the firestorm of the culture war, no Christian wants to sound like he's against the family. Indeed, many Christians assume that what's good for the "family" is good. Period. Hence, the "Family Integrated Church" (FIC) movement has arisen, calling for churches to be family centered. By that FIC advocates mean that families should meet together for all functions of the church. That means, no separate Sunday School classes, no "children's church" and no "youth group". The church meets as families, they say. This is so important, FIC people say, it's worth forming entirely new churches on this distinctive alone. The problems with this, as I see them, are:

(1) The sufficiency of scripture:
Protestants began the Reformation believing in "sola scriptura". I believe that the sufficiency of scripture means that scripture tells us everything that is sufficient for the essential operation of the church. Scripture does not tell us that all meetings need to be "integrated". Ironically, one of the advocates of the FIC insists that the sufficiency of scripture is the basis for keeping families together. But the sufficiency of scripture doesn't mean that people can't think and devise new ways and strategies where scripture is silent. It means that when scripture speaks, in prohibiting or commanding something, it should be followed. And when it doesn't speak it shouldn't be added to.

(2) Divisiveness:
Whole churches are organized around something that there is not one command for the church to do. The FIC believes their "family integration" is so important that it is valid to differentiate their church from others on that basis alone. If, for example, I started the "Pew Sitting Church Movement"
(PSCM); insisted that pew sitting was good enough for the church for centuries; that about the same time some churches started to use chairs the church declined (so they must be connected!); that chair sitting is "modernistic"; etc. Then I insisted that to be a sound church it must use pews; and encouraged people not to go to churches that used chairs; then, I would be, as in the common phrase, making a mountain out of mole hill. That's the FIC modus operandi applied to pews. It's not that it's wrong to sit in pews. It's just wrong to make such a big deal about it.

(3) Contradicts Scripture:
FIC people might be surprised to find that the Apostle Paul tells Titus to address distinct age and gender segregated groups (Titus 2). In one of the few passages of scripture directly about ministry in the local church, Paul tells Titus to target his ministry to separate groups, not by families.

(4) Undermines the Authority of the Offices in the church:
Ephesians 4:11 tells us that God has called particular officers ("gifts") to build up the church, namely (for our day) pastors/teachers. The FIC, on the other hand, frequently suggests that the pastor normally works through the heads of the households.

(5) The FIC Misreads Church History:
The FIC insists that the ministry of the church wasn't focused on specific demographic groups until very recently and is therefore the product of "humanistic" marketing techniques. Fact Check: In the early church, men and women would sometimes meet separately, even living separately.

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Eventually this gave rise to the monasteries and convents. Among Protestant churches sound, conscientious pastors, like Jonathan Edwards, would frequently gather the youth together for specific instruction, distinct from the rest of the body of the church. In the early 19th century, the Sunday School movement arose to organize just that kind of approach, sensing a need of the children and youth to be addressed directly.

(6) The FIC is a Cure for a Disease that's Not Prevalent:
Today, only a few mega-churches segregate into highly niche-targeted demographics. I don't know of one church in my area that does that. Also, among those that have a "children's church" during the main service, how many would adamantly require children to leave even if a father wanted to keep them in the service? Surely very few. So this is not a widespread problem that deserves an entire movement (or even distinct churches) to address.

(7) Misdefinition of the Church:
The FICM has defined the church as a "family of families". Even if they've erased that formal definition, they act as though the church is not a gathering of individual believers around Jesus but of separate families. But in the Bible, there is eventually, ultimately one family. The church is the "household of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). The Lord puts people from all kinds of families and frequently (and sadly) often there are only some people from each family that are truly converted and made part of the church. The family is a creation institution that will end with the old creation. The church, however, as the assembly of God's people, will last eternally. Making the church centered on the family, subverts the church.

(8) Familism:
The Lord Jesus pitted loyalty to the family against loyalty to Him. When He was informed that his natural family was outside and wanted to speak with Him, rather than putting "integrating" with that family as a priority, he pointed to those around Him, listening to the Word of God (the church) and said,  "Here are my mother and my brothers!" (Mt. 12:46ff.) In other words, the spiritual family of the church takes priority over the natural family. This is the practice the church is to follow. On the other hand, the FIC smacks of "familism". Familism - the making the family the ultimate loyalty - is an idol, a competitor to the Lordship of Christ; hence, Jesus tells us we must be willing to "hate" the family to follow Him. On paper The National Center for Family-Intergrated Churches (NCFIC), the main source for FIC doctrine, affirms this, "We affirm that the gospel may divide families because the gospel can "set a man at variance against his father" and that "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" and that our duty is to obey God rather than man (Matt. 10:35-37; Acts 4:19-21). We deny/reject that loyalty to the family should ever supersede obedience to God which makes the family an idol." While that would seem to answer my objection, keep in mind that errant movements usually profess, in formal doctrine, not to take their positions to the problematic extremes. Traditions that use icons in their worship, bowing before and lighting candles to them, deny they are practicing idolatry; they say they are only "venerating" images, etc. Just because people can deny what they are doing, doesn't mean that they aren't doing it. Practice and priorities speak volumes about what a group's true convictions are, notwithstanding their formal doctrinal statements. So, we must ask, if they are not making an idol out of the family, why are they making such a priority of something not at all found in scripture? Why do they think it is so important? I once had a prospective elder in a FIC church seriously suggest to me that Jesus didn't know what they know about how to save whole families; that Jesus' challenge to discipleship wouldn't be necessary if we only follow the FIC model.

Certainly, a healthy church should be creating healthy families. But a church can only be healthy if it is Christ centered. A "family centered church" is, by definition, not Christ centered and so won't be healthy and will, tragically, not create healthy families, or disciples.

John B. Carpenter (M.Div., Ph.D.) is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church ( www.covenancaswell.org ) in the Danville, Virginia area.
 

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