Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lack of research in Christian Post article

I stumbled across an article at Christian Post regarding family idolatry.  I was intrigued by the title first but as I read more I found the writer's primary purpose was to attack FIC's.  Here is a link to the article directly:  "If the family is central Christ isn't"  Regardless of your opinion of FIC's I hope you will notice the repeated fallacies in this article.  Since this is rather long, I was unable to post it as a response on the article's site directly.  Instead, I simply posted a link back to this.

Let me start this response post first by saying that I fully agree with author’s conclusion regarding idolatry.  Family can become an idol just as your individual wife, husband, children, marriage, home, job, pastorate, church building, ministry, job, or anything can become an idol.  Idolatry is rampant today and not just in the world.  The most prevalent and unquestioned idol is that of tradition, by which I mean practices that are not found in Scripture yet are held up as though they are.  We cling so tightly to the idol of tradition in many churches that we refuse to take a step back and fully examine whether that tradition is in violation of the commands, ordinances, godly examples, or principles of Scripture.

With this said, another issue we find which I would like to address is the commonly committed Straw Man fallacy.  A Straw Man fallacy is “(a)nother way to stack the deck against the opposition is to draw a false picture of the opposing argument…if you set up a straw man , he is easier to knock down than a real man…(i)t avoids dealing with the real issues by changing the oppositions’ views.” (p. 101 “Come Let Us Reason” by Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks)  The primary purpose of this response is to address this and what is either the lack of research or the intentional deception (which I pray it is simply the former and not the latter).  Again, the purpose of this response is solely to address the misinformation it states regarding FIC's and the NCFIC.  This is not meant to be a full treatment and biblical exposition of the issue.

Before reading any further, please take time to hear directly from the director of the NCFIC as to what drove him and others to begin questioning age-segregated ministries.

With that, let’s look at the false statements made here:

“Hence, the "Family Integrated Church" (FIC) movement has arisen, calling for churches to be family centered”

Let’s examine the title he referenced here:  Family INTEGRATED Church not Family CENTERED Church.  Is the family the center of the church from the FIC perspective?  Certainly not.  Worse still, the writer did not provide reference clearly stating this.  He simply made an assumption from faulty conclusions.  Here is a quote from “A weed in the church” by Scott Brown (NOTE:  This quote answers this issue directly by posing the question beforehand):

No church should be centered on the family.  It is the work of Jesus Christ that matters most.”  (3387-3304 Kindle version)

So, right from the pen of the Director of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches we see that the author is clearly mistaken in his statement.

"FIC people say, it's worth forming entirely new churches on this distinctive alone."

The author again gives no reference for this claim.  While I have no direct quote to cite the contrary of this statement I can personally attest to its falsity.  In January of 2011 I visited the NCFIC office in Wake Forest, NC after being invited by Scott Brown.  I was struggling with an issue regarding sending my children back to junior church (I was the Associate Pastor of the church at that time).  I told him I loved my church but was given an ultimatum by the Senior Pastor (I will address this further in the post).  Scott told me to submit to my Senior Pastor but let him know that if I believed my children should remain with my wife and I in the service that was my decision to make as their father.  He reminded me to do this all with a loving heart.  He encouraged me to not cause division and stick it out in my church.  This church was the antithesis of an FIC yet not once was I ever advised or told to leave an work to form another church.  Clearly the author was unaware of this position by the NCFIC Director or else he would not have made such a statement.

"Scripture does not tell us that all meetings need to be "integrated"."

This is known as an argument from silence.  It is akin to saying “The Bible doesn’t say I can’t live with my girlfriend so it must be alright.”  We do not read Scripture looking for specific “do” and “don’t” commands with our specified wording. 

"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."

This argument falls into the same trap as the quote above.  How specific must Scripture speak to a particular situation?  Scripture doesn’t say that we can’t have a trapeze artist giving the sermon from the high wire every Sunday but does that mean it is a biblically wise and appropriate thing to do?  Scripture doesn’t say to hold services on a Sunday morning.  So does that mean every church which does is speaking where Scripture doesn’t and adding to it as the author supposes of FIC’s?  These are simply logical conclusions one must draw from these statements if the author is to be consistent with his assertions.

"The FIC believes their "family integration" is so important that it is valid to differentiate their church from others on that basis alone."

Here is a link to the NCFIC site where you can find a variety of FIC’s from different denominations:

Evidently, just being an FIC is not the sole “basis” of how these churches differentiate.

Now here is a link to the 9 Marks ministry page where you can look up church who hold to the 9Marks statement:  (NOTE:  I agree fully with 9Marks and am only using this to show that FIC’s are not the only extra-denominational classifications among churches.)

Does the author also think that 9Marks and the churches affiliated with it are wrong in their differentiation as well? 

"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."

There is a key word in this quote:  “suggests”.  Just how the FIC suggests this is unknown to the reader since the author does not state or quote the reference.  This statement makes it seem as though there is no submission of the family to the teaching/equipping authority of the local church.  Step into many FIC’s and you will find families gathered together under the teaching of the Word and not simply preaching to the fathers as supposed here.

"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."

While I understand that an Elder of a small church such as myself is likely not on the author’s interviewing radar, I think a few minutes with me would have shown him how too broad of a statement this is.  As indicated previously, I was serving as an Associate Pastor when I began to examine the biblical validity of age-segregated ministries.  I had no intentions of changing the church in which I pastored and willingly submitted to the leadership of my Senior Pastor. But I was given an ultimatum that I either send my children back to children’s church or I would not be accepted into the other ministries of the church.  This warning was given to me twice.  I was soon called into a meeting with the church deacons where I was screamed at and demeaned by a brother I once called a friend simply because my kids stay in the sanctuary with my wife and I.  The Senior Pastor did not stop the verbal onslaught during the meetings and I later figured out that that was by design.  I resigned peacefully and my family and I began searching for other churches.  We found a solid Reformed church in our area and began attending, still keeping our kids with us in the worship service.  After 6 weeks the Pastor approached me and said that while he appreciated my convictions our kids would need to join their children’s church so they could free up the chairs for others.  You read that correctly.  My kids were taking up too much space which could be used for adults. 

All this occurred within a series of 6 months and I am not the only one with a similar story.  I truly wanted to stay in my original church and it breaks my heart every time I think of the people we had to leave.  I submitted to the leadership but that was not enough for him.  There are numerous churches out there that are “adamant” about not having children in the worship service…and I can personally attest to it.

"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."

The error here is a little more subtle.  The position could be summed up this way “The church is eternal.  The family is temporal.  Stop focusing so much on the temporal and focus more on the eternal”.  The first two sentences of this syllogism are correct but the conclusion is a generalization.  This quote also concludes with the fallacious Straw Man that FIC’s/NCFIC are trying to make the church centered on the family, to which I have already answered in correction.

"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."

Without realizing it the author has just created a hierarchy system not found in Scripture.  Is the spiritual family of the church in a higher priority than the natural family in this world?  Try telling that to the Pastor whose wife rarely sees him because he is in countless meetings and counselings with little time for his family.  Without directly addressing the passage of Scripture referenced, one only needs to examine the context to know that the point Christ was making was not to demean the family as the author has.  The family does submit to the church but not in the way which this writer expresses here.

"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"

AMEN!  This is absolutely correct…it’s just not what FIC’s/NCFIC is trying to do.  This is the repeating Straw Man of the article…making it sound like FIC’s are making the family the center of what the church is about. 

"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."

Let’s answer these first two questions.  The priority is on defining the roles of the family and the church and how the two are to function biblically together.  It is so important because many in the church have taken on the role of the parents and many of the parents have willingly allowed it to happen.  As for his exchange with the prospective elder in an FIC, since his previously statements were not well researched or cited I find it hard to believe the accuracy of his quoting of this other brother.  However, I will admit that there are FIC’s out there who are not functioning biblically.  Yet this does not mean that they are representative of them all.  If I attend a Reformed Baptist church, which I believe the writer is pastoring in, and that church treated me like dirt would I then be accurate in stating that all RBC’s treat people like dirt?  No.  That is a generalization and unfair to other RBC’s which likely desire to love God and their neighbors.

"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"

And we conclude this article with the same Straw Man.  It is repeated enough times that it is evident that the definition is completely constructed from the author’s perspective.  In summary, the article shows an uninformed bias toward FIC’s which seems more akin to a personal attack (possibly an ad hominem fallacy) than actual research.  In a day when we can Google answers, respond to social media posts in seconds, and rely on Wikipedia for authority, true Berean –type research and discernment has fallen by the wayside.  Understandably though, the author’s own church has a youth group and other age-graded ministries which make him somewhat bias in how he would examine and deconstruct the workings and biblical precedence for FIC’s.

So I challenge you reader.  Study this issue for yourself.  Go to the NCFIC site, buy the “A weed in the church”, watch the free movie "Divided" online , and spend a little more time than a few days digging through this issue.  Voddie Baucham and other ministries such as Vision Forum have numerous articles and sermons dealing with family-integration in our churches.  It took me months of prayer and study before I was even able to begin understanding this issue and almost a year before I fully grasped it.  Take it from some who created an entire Children’s ministry department from scratch, worked directly with the youth group, and was one of the most outspoken advocates for age-segregated ministries, sometimes we just need to put aside our assumptions and traditions in order to see the real issues at hand.

And to the author, brother I appreciate your zeal and apparent passion.  I respect you as a fellow Pastor and your humility to shepherd the flock to which God has appointed you.  Since your church is only a little over 2 hours away from where the NCFIC office is in Wake Forest I would highly recommend at least setting aside some time to actually talk to the people you are writing about, especially since they live so close by!  I am sure that Scott would be love to have you come to the NCFIC office and spend as much time as needed to answer any of your sincere questions.  I would recommend getting a copy of his book as well.

May God grant you the wisdom to seek  to glorify Him.