[(Part 1 here) Part 3 of Pastor Mathis’ lecture notes from the Spring 2014 Presbytery of the Midwest Seminar, “A Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement.” More information on the movement, homeschooling and the history of Christian education, see the new book Uniting Church & Family (Kindle format).]
The distinguishing element of the NCFIC
But what are the distinguishing marks of the family integrated church movement? It cannot be the belief in parental responsibility, catechetical instruction or even a desire for more family-oriented activities—as good as these are. These are beliefs common with a host of other conservative Christian parachurch organizations. What chief characteristic makes the NCFIC stand out?
It is the strident denunciation of youth ministries such as Sunday school. In particular it is any and all educational events that physically separate children from parents and use age as an organizing element. Article XI of the Center’s public confession sums up their view:
“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.”
While the confession never uses the words “Sunday school” and the like, the practice and logic is clear: 1. “age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking”; 2. 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 long-standing board member, in his lecture on the history of Sunday school, Mr. Phillips, declared 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, 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.
This is the hallmark of the NCFIC. In the public’s eye this is the face of the NCFIC . After all, the NCFIC did not aggressively promote a book or produce a movie whose titles or main themes were positive. They were both primarily critiques about age and family-segregation.
I think more quotes are in order to show the depth of this rejection and denunciation of non-parental instruction of children. It is the very essence of the organization. No individual or church can identify themselves with this movement without identifying with its distinctive.
His book, A Weed in the Church, has too many quotes to read, but this one sums up an attitude common to him and his organization: “We believe that age-segregated youth ministry is the result of apostasy in the church” (p.43).
He is too nice to say that my church has apostatized. But what other conclusion can I draw?
He argues that Sunday school is wrong because “this structure cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. It is not commanded in Scripture. It is not demonstrated in Scripture. Our modern method for training children has no basis in God’s Word.”
In one article, he offers a false dilemma between churchly and parental instruction of the youth:
“And, even when the Sunday school teacher tried to get the parents involved, it never worked. This is normal in our churches, but we need to realize that this condition causes a heinous crime to be committed against God’s order for the church and the family. God never intended for children to be trained by Sunday school teachers. He specifically gave this responsibility to fathers. The scriptures are perfectly clear: children should be trained in spiritual matters by their fathers. The father is the delivery system of the news of kingdom of God and when you bypass him, you kill the messenger. And without a preacher, how will they hear?”
In another posting he summarizes the dangers of using youth ministries and not following the positive patterns of Scripture:
“Our failure to obey the word of God in ministry to youth is of enormous significance for the prosperity of the church…we are systematically sending our young people on the path of destruction. It is fracturing our families. It is corrupting our churches. It is destroying the next generation.”
Lastly, in a little-known book, Family Reformation, Scott Brown denigrates the Sunday catechetical efforts of Calvin. He writes that his Sunday catechetical program,
“displaced the discipleship which was designed for the home…Calvin’s experience in this area reminds us of the concerns of ministers, which gave rise to modern youth ministry, when fathers did not obey the Lord in matters of shepherding their families. When fathers refuse to play their roles as the teacher and shepherds of their families, the church often does the same thing Calvin did—it steps in and attempts to pick up the slack through a class or program designed to engage the youth. Even though these practices are well-intentioned, they still overthrow the biblical methods of ministry to children. The problems of youth groups that Calvin faced are the same ones we face today. Gathering youth together without the mentorship of their parents and the relationships of the wider body of the church has always been problematic. It naturally displaces the roles of fathers and exposes the family to other unintended problems” (p.80).
This long list of quotes is also needful for the many times I have encountered pastors and ruling elders who somehow think that Scott Brown and his organization are not really about eradicating Sunday school and youth ministries. The NCFIC is dead-set against Sunday schools.