The Family-Integrated Church movement is getting some heat by critic, Pastor Shawn Mathis. Pastor Kevin Swanson is forced to make a choice: OPC or National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC)
by Julie Anne
The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches NCFIC began as an off-shoot from the Doug Phillips’ now defunct “ministry,” Vision Forum (I cannot type the word ministry without the quotes knowing what has gone on there). Scott Brown, director of NCFIC, was a close friend of Doug Phillips, both men being proponents of the Homeschool Movement and Christian Patriarchy Movement.
In a nutshell, family-integrated church (FIC) ideology teaches that age segregation in churches is wrong and they blame many problems in churches/society on the age-segregation model. This has led to much division within churches and has been noted especially among the Homeschool Movement community because the FIC movement started within the Homeschool Movement and has spread widely.
Scott Brown’s group, NCFIC, claims to have a network of over 800 churches.
This means those churches hold to the confessions of the NCFIC:
The common denominators for those registered in our database are: (1) all parties have expressed a basic, orthodox understanding of Christianity as defined by the Nicene Creed; and (2) all parties have formally testified to at least substantial agreement with the NCFIC Confession on issues of unity between church and family. These are the only known points of agreement among the churches and families in the directory. (Source)
Below is one of the more troubling confessions in Article XI:
“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.”
Pastor Kevin Mathis Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC), has been following this movement for quite some time and offers the following response to the above confession:
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 serious charge is echoed through the words of the leaders, their book and their movie. (Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession)
The movie Mathis refers to is “Divided” which was produced by NCFIC which promotes everything Doug Phillips promoted:
Ok, so now with that background, let’s move on to some new and important developments in the FIC world. In March, Pastor Shawn Mathis presented an hour-long talk on the FIC movement at a seminar in New Lenox, Illinois, which was hosted by the Presbytery of the Mid-West of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).
Labeled a Pastoral Response to the Family Integrated Church Movement, the talk lasted a little over an hour, presenting the history of the movement’s rejection of youth ministries, its confession, practices, goals and beliefs. (Source)
Shawn Mathis is a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, but guess who else is also connected with OPC? Kevin Swanson. Yes, that Kevin Swanson. Kevin Swanson pastors at Reformation Church of Elizabeth OPC in Colorado.
Well, it seems that the OPC was not too keen on Kevin Swanson having signed the NCFIC confession and didn’t like him seemingly straddling the fence. Through their governing presbytery, they called for Pastor Kevin Swanson to make a decision which I summarize to mean:
It’s either US (OPC) or THEM (NCFIC). Choose now, Swanson!
Karen Campbell reported:
During the hearing, Swanson was asked directly if he had both feet planted in the OPC or if his allegiance was divided–would he leave the OPC over this issue? He responded in no uncertain terms that he has both feet firmly planted in the OPC and “one little finger” in the NCFIC. He was also asked if he believed practicing age-segregated Sunday school was a sin. He unequivocally denied it was sin. Later, he was asked if such Sunday schools were “unwise or in error” as opposed to being in sin. He responded with an unclear answer to the effect that he could not answer the questions without knowing the particular churches in question.
Can you imagine Kevin Swanson having to make a public choice before his governing assembly after having promoted NCFIC and the family-integrated church models for years? Check out this video. Whoa!
He had to do it. It was either sever ties with NCFIC, or the OPC would probably be forced to sever ties with Swanson. As a result, Swanson’s church is no longer listed in the network at NCFIC. You can see that Reformation Church is not listed on the Network search in Elizabeth, Colorado.
This is a very strong statement by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church against not only NCFIC, but also the family-integrated church movement. Here is more from Karen Campbell explaining OPC’s concern:
At the April, 2014 meeting of the Presbytery of the Dakotas of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a complaint was upheld against Reformation OPC for signing an NCFIC family integrated church confession that has “the effect of charging our own congregations, and many others of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, of error without employing the process prescribed in our Book of Discipline and thereby introducing schism into our broader Church.”
The NCFIC, in its attempt to have the perfect church ideology, has marginalized other traditional churches which have Sunday schools, youth groups, college groups, etc. This is the same kind of methodology we see from high-controlling and abusive groups:
- black and white thinking
- our way is the right way
- everybody else is wrong
- our way is the biblical way
- our way is the godly way
In this kind of high-controlling environment, if you differ from these views, they will likely question what else in your belief system is off kilter. They may even question your salvation if you get too many “wrong” answers.
I give kudos to OPC presbytery for keeping this destructive ideology away from their church groups. It will be interesting to watch Kevin Swanson maneuver around this when he has been one of the loudest voices in the Family-Integrated Church movement.
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.
[Editor’s note: Original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]