There are various other problems with the confession: vague generalizations, undefined terms, simplistic proof-texting, questionable assertions and the like. These alone would prevent me from signing the confession. But throwing all churches under the evolutionary-secular-unbiblical bus for practicing age-segregation goes too far. Whatever a church or Christian believes about the FIC movement as a positive or negative, all should agree that the NCFIC in particular has certain definable and public views that are codified in this confession.
There are a number of reasons I will not sign the online family integrated church confession. And it has nothing to do with animosity. It has to do with principled objections to the substance, nature, purpose, and effects of this confession.
Substance: The National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC), which wrote the confession over a decade ago, is not simply another organization concerned with the decay of the Christian family but an organization that is concerned about a specific, perceived problem: family-segregation and age-segregated meetings. They are so concerned about this issue that their confession boldly asserts the following:
“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” (Article XI).
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 conclusion is reinforced through the words of their leaders, their book and their movie as demonstrated in the following points.
- The original founder and current board member, in his lecture on the history of Sunday school, Mr. Phillips, declares “[that today’s church has]. . . an entirely new hierarchy of social groups based on age: . . . dayschools . . . adolescence . . . PMS for women of certain age . . . these are all variations of evolutionary hellish thinking.”
- The current president, Mr. Brown, approvingly summarized the sin of age-segregation as “…the church has usurped authority from the family by training youth through Sunday schools and youth groups, whereas the Bible commits the training of children to their parents.”
- Mr. Brown further states, “We maintain that man sins by adding to or subtracting from the ways that the Bible says that youth are to be gathered, evangelized, and instructed.” Age-segregation is a “serious matter,” a “serious error.”
- The defining book of the NCFIC, A Weed in the Church, written by Mr. Brown, is an extended treatment of this serious charge.
- The movie, Divided, produced by the NCFIC, “discovers the shockingly sinister roots of modern, age-segregated church programs….” With fewer nuances than the book and greater rhetorical flourish, the movie apparently condemns any church program not in alignment with its own views.
To understand how strongly the NCFIC stands against age-segregated activities, consider the president’s allowance of “exceptions” in the NCFIC’s flagship book, A Weed in the Church. Even with a healthy church and strong youth ministry, Mr. Brown affirms that as “little as one hour a week” of age-segregation is “problematic” for those wishing biblical felicity.
In other words, 1/168 of a week is still too radical to contemplate. That is .006% of a child’s week! There is virtually no exception allowed in this type of thinking.
Since the substance of the confession includes such a radical view, and those who wrote the confession publicly confess such radical views, I cannot sign it.
Nature: In the modern digital age, Christians sign many and sundry contracts and statements such as when they start a new email account, download Adobe reader or otherwise purchase items online. Whenever they check the “yes, I agree” option, they have given their word.
And the nature of a confession is a public declaration of important issues common to those who have signed it. So when the NCFIC asks the churches to be in “substantial agreement with the NCFIC Confession” and check off the “yes” option, they have signed the confession. They have agreed with the substance of the confession. As the organization stated in the FAQ section: “We hear from time [sic] of a church that may not completely reflect everything in the confession. While we wish this were not so, we encourage churches to be honest about their true convictions and practices.”
And part and parcel of the substance of this confession, the NCFIC, and its leadership is that age-segregation is “based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking.”
Because I cannot agree with this substantive issue, and the nature of signing this public confession is to confess this substantive issue, I cannot sign this confession.
Purpose: The NCFIC’s stated purpose includes laudable goals such as stabilization of the family. However it includes a dogged propagation of this sectarian viewpoint as follows:
- Founder, former president and current board member, Mr. Phillips, publicly called for more such churches: “So there’s been a revival that’s taking place in the heart of these homeschool families. And this revival works itself out to the local church . . . our prayer: every Christian in the world is in a family integrated church. And there should be nothing but that….”
- The confession’s introductory remarks include the prayer for more family integrated churches (FIC): “Our fervent prayer is that our God will raise up Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, family-integrated assemblies from the ashes of our man-centered, family fragmenting churches.”
- The stated mission of the NCFIC is to “facilitate church planting” and “restore the biblical pattern of age integrated worship, discipleship and evangelism.”
- Age-segregation is important enough to fashion the name of the organization; the FAQ claims “it is unquestionably a defining issue of our day.”
- As a defining issue, the NCFIC is willing to call all churches to their confession without discrimination (their church list includes 7th Day Adventists).
Since I am in opposition to their idiosyncratic view of age-segregation, I certainly cannot support their efforts to “facilitate” more churches like that. Since they are more concerned with helping families find family-integrated churches than Reformed churches, I cannot support their effort with my name or the name of my church.
Effects: The substance, nature and purpose of this confession will have necessary effects.
- It is contrary to the received practices of the church universal. A serous study of the history of Christian nurture and education reveals this fact. The NCFIC has made historical claims contrary to these facts.
- It limits Christian liberty in the area of Christian nurture and education by calling for a blanket removal of methods that are indifferent in themselves (adiaphora).
- It contains alienating language. Publicly asserting (without substantive evidence) that the practice of age-segregation is based on “unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking.” My church uses age-segregation…therefore what should I conclude from this confession? Publicly associating the “responsibility for the vulnerability of the family” to church leaders with the “bitter fruits of…fragmentation of the family.” Publicly asserting the following: “We deny that the church should continue as she has and delay dramatic reformations, or that she will escape the wrath of God for the disintegration and destruction of the family by ignoring or taking lightly biblical roles and responsibilities.”
- It has become alienating. This is especially manifested in their various talks and articles which emphasize a “we” versus “they” language and mentality. Individuals have been adversely affected by the movement. I know of young men who moved from one state to another to find an FIC church after watching the NCFIC movie. In many cases dialogue on internet sites usually shows Christians defending the NCFIC confession more readily than their own sister churches. Some churches have struggled with members mesmerized by the rhetoric of this movement. I know of two Reformed churches through personal contact that have either been split over the movement or lost members and leaders. Some FIC churches are practically and rhetorically separated from their sister churches. Sister churches are alienated in the eyes of Christians looking for FIC churches, being taught that this is a “defining issue.” The confession is the public ground for unity instead of the pre-existing confessions publicly agreed upon. The confession is the public instrument of perpetuating more said churches, with the NCFIC as a clearing house for families to find more FIC churches instead of the traditional church.
There are various other problems with the confession: vague generalizations, undefined terms, simplistic proof-texting, questionable assertions and the like. These alone would prevent me from signing the confession. But throwing all churches under the evolutionary-secular-unbiblical bus for practicing age-segregation goes too far.
Whatever a church or Christian believes about the FIC movement as a positive or negative, all should agree that the NCFIC in particular has certain definable and public views that are codified in this confession. It is my hope this essay will bring these views to bear so that churches may prayerfully reconsider their association with this confession and organization.
Shawn C. Mathis is Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Denver, Colo.