“Shawn, I read your three-part article on FIC [family integrated church, ed.] and I would like to set a time to speak with you. Please understand that I have no pugnacious intentions. I agree wholeheartedly with your concern about FIC. Thank you, Eric Wallace.”
After reading the email on my smartphone between appointments, I wondered if this was the Eric Wallace—the one who “started it all”—that movement in homeschooling circles which denounces the typical youth ministries and Sunday schools.
So, like a moth drawn to the light, I set up my phone interview with him, oblivious to the surprises to come.
Wallace’s book, Uniting Church and Home, has been blamed (or praised) for starting the “family integrated church” movement which rejects age-segregated practices like Sunday school. But he never started the movement. And he never said age-segregation was wrong. As he states in his book:
“By a ‘house-hold approach’ I do not mean moving out of the church building, nor do I necessarily mean ceasing all age-specific activities or programs.”
At the time he was a zealous young church leader, desirous to help families and churches work together in proper unity. So he published his book, Uniting Church and Home, in 1999. It was published with professional help.
As with all first-time authors, he sought out ways to get his book into the hands of those who needed it. And he found that means through an obscure, small and ambitious organization: Vision Forum. But to his dismay, shortly after selling his books, Vision Forum started the family-integrated church movement with their first national conference in 2002, entitled Uniting Church and Home.
Eric attended the event to discover what this new movement was all about. And the conference was not about what Eric was about. Doug Phillips, Scott Brown and R. C. Sproul Jr. were some of the main speakers. The speakers spoke of the error of age-segregated activities, the inherent dangers of churches with youth ministries, and the need for faithful churches to unite with this new organization.
Eric’s book was never about such a movement. He explained to me that he was simply desirous to call families and churches to re-evaluate their priorities. It was his attempt to call churches away from excessive programmatic models that did unduly divide the time and relationship between families and family members.
But his book, and the subsequent ministry that arose from it, the Institute for Uniting Church and Home, has been tarnished ever since that first conference. An otherwise biblically sound church was aggressively split a few years later with other sister churches adversely affected. Naturally, ministers were concerned and tried to find the source of this malcontent. His book became a target because of the similarity of its title with Phillips’ conferences.
The natural fall-out meant less speaking opportunities for his ministry. In the mid 2000s a few people wrote about this new movement, further cementing his relationship with a movement he wanted to avoid. Now with the latest public humiliation of the most prominent man of that movement, Doug Philips, any and all associations with the movement are poison.
Yet the history of his ministry belies any connection with this radical movement. He was so moderate that the Christian Education & Publications of the Presbyterian Church in America asked him to speak at their conference along side professor Clowney. And his book is forwarded by the moderate John H. White, former President of the National Association of Evangelicals
Naturally, if he had to do it over again, he would make some changes in his book:
“Hindsight being 20/20 with all that’s happened with FIC, I certainly would have stated a few things differently. Plus, my own message has cured over the years. But at the time, the FIC mess was nowhere on the horizon.”
But he was not able to clear his name until he recently discovered my own work on this topic. After talking with him on the phone, I reviewed his website.
The website displays nary a sign of rabid or radical declarations against Sunday school and youth ministries. Nor does it declare homeschooling and large families as key parts of God’s revival for America.
And that is because the goal of his ministry is different:
“The mission of the Institute is to help church leaders equip the church and the home to work together – to restore and maintain the biblical relationships that are designed by God to apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that lives are transformed to the glory of God.”
The ministry’s goal is to glorify God through helping church and family leaders stay focused on healthy relationships. He is deeply aware of the legalism in our hearts and integrates the call and power of the Gospel in his lectures.
Eric was quite transparent and eager to talk. In one of the typical lecture hand-outs he presents for his ministry, it states: “Heart Transformation, not mere behavioral change, should be our goal in relationships.” This means the heart should be God-centered and not idol-centered. One of his concerns is that many in the homeschooling movement have turned homeschooling, family integrated churches or large families into idols.
Reading his 40-pages of hand-outs for his upcoming lecture was actually encouraging after reporting on the FIC movement for several years. There was more gospel in his one lecture than the dozens of talks, posting and books I have researched for this movement. Christ is forthrightly proclaimed as the beginning and the end of our justification and sanctification:
“The gospel is the message/the good news of our complete redemption in Jesus Christ. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has already accomplished everything for us.”
“Our new identity and gospel promises are the keys to defeating idolatry because they remind us that Jesus is indeed all that we need. It is He who truly satisfies, therefore we have no ‘need’ for idols.”
“By faith, we apply these gospel truths to our lives (Rom. 1:17). We often think of justification by faith, but sanctification requires faith, too. This is the faith to believe and act according to what God has said…about us in Christ. We put off our idols and put on Christ (Eph. 4:22-24).”
“Who we already are in Christ (identity) is the basis and strength out of which we obey him.”
Thus his desire to unite church and home and family and singles and widows makes sense:
“We are called to integrate the spiritual values taught at church into our lives at home; and we are called to integrate the love and support of the family into the life of the local church. The church and family need each other!”
One wonders what the state of homeschooling would have been if this type of message were promoted instead of the family integrated church model. But such musings are irrelevant. What we have is what God has given us now.
And what Eric has now is an opportunity to set the record straight with this interview. He is not desirous of recriminations. His heart is for those churches that have lost their first love.
It is hoped that his message of Christ is at the center of all relationships—even age-segregated Sunday schools—and will strike a cord in the homeschooling and family integrated church communities. And that more families will support a ministry that is unequivocally Christ-centered in action and not just words.
What do others think of Eric’s ministry? One reviewer summed up the heart, face and hands of Eric’s ministry:
“From my perspective, Part Four [of the book] contains the most important chapter entitled, ‘Rebuilding On Christ And His Gospel.’ It begins with these words: ‘For the vision and plan presented in this book to have impact, we must rebuild upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must avoid the legalism that has enmeshed many churches in a guilt-induced and performance based spirituality. We must be messengers of God’s grace into the lives of others. This chapter explains who we are in Christ and how His relationship with us is the foundation for our relationship with others.’ ”
Recently, the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association wrote about keeping radical speakers from representing the homeschoolers. Perhaps with more public speakers and ministries like Eric’s, Mike Farris will not have to draw many more lines in the sand.