A Detailed Response to Doug Brown’s Critique of the FICM
Doug Brown has joined a long list of pastors, professors, bloggers, theologians, and otherwise interested parties in writing a critique of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM).1 This critique comes from a “Fundamental Independent Baptist” perspective. His motivation is the fact that “The (FICM) is having a growing impact within fundamental Baptist churches.” Brown notes:
Since the mid-1990s an increasing number of families within fundamental churches have gravitated toward the family-integrated approach. In addition, families entrenched in the movement have been drawn to fundamental churches because of their emphasis on Biblical preaching and conservatism.”2
And of course, like other critics, Brown found an eager audience of both readers and bloggers ready to link to yet another piece pointing to the dangers of this ‘divisive’ movement.
Brown is very fair-minded toward the FICM from a theological perspective. He writes, for example:
“those in the FICM have a high view of Scripture and correctly see it as the sole authority for doctrine and practice in the church. Second, they place a high value on expository preaching. Third, proponents should also be commended for staying in the church. Their ecclesiology reflects the New Testament more closely than other family movements such as some cell churches and home churches who have virtually abandoned a full ecclesiology. Fourth, those concerned with worldliness in the church will find an affinity with FIC authors.”
Brown also gives an affirming nod to the FICm on the practical ministry/family discipleship side, noting:
“Finally, I also believe FIC proponents are essentially correct in identifying the breakdown of the family as the fundamental problem in why youth are deserting the church. Those who work with youth need to acknowledge that parents have the greatest spiritual impact. So the FICM’s emphasis on parental responsibility in the spiritual training of their own children is welcome and needed. I have personally benefited from some of their writings on family worship.”
This is both refreshing and encouraging on a number of levels. Criticism from Fundamental Baptist circles has been particularly vitriolic in the past, and I take this as a very positive sign.
After offering an overview and several commendations, Brown sums up his objections under a single heading: “The seminal problem with the FICM is the tendency for family concerns to override church ministry.”3 This is a serious charge! One would expect that Brown, having made such a charge, would back it up with specific examples. He does not. Instead, he offers three categorical objections to the FICM as evidence that the movement has a tendency to allow family concerns to override church ministry.
Reading the four objections makes it clear that Brown uses “church ministry” as a euphemism for age-graded ministries in the church. Hence, at its core Brown’s argument begs the question.4 Essentially, one has to assume that Brown’s position is the biblical one for his objections to make any sense.
Brown’s first objection is that “FIC advocates protest vigorously that since there are no explicit Biblical directives or examples for age-segregated programs, they are unbiblical.” One would expect that Brown would proceed to cite book, chapter and verse to prove that there are “biblical directives or examples for age-segregated programs...” Instead, he continues:
However, this kind of hermeneutical approach is flawed. Using this reasoning, things like church buildings, pews, musical instruments, and technological advancements, along with church officers such as clerks and treasurers, would have to be deemed unbiblical as well. FIC adherents press the Regulative Principle too far. This Reformation principle was intended to regulate corporate worship at Sunday services, not the outworking of the Great Commission in other activities.
I understand the point Brown is trying to make. However, the way he is trying to make it is dangerous. Is one to assume that the Bible is not to be consulted when we make decisions about things like church buildings, musical instruments (or how we structure our discipleship ministries).? Certainly, there are some things that are adiaphora from an ethical perspective (chicken vs. fish for dinner). However, there is absolutely no warrant for assuming that the Bible has nothing to say about the way we structure discipleship in the church (a point Brown himself makes later).
And while it is true that the Regulative Principle “was intended to regulate corporate worship,” the principle itself is an application of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura to matter of public worship. Consequently, there is every reason to be guided by the ‘spirit’ of that principle in this matter as well, since the doctrine of Sola Scripture must be applied. The Bible has much to say about the discipleship of children (Deut. 6; Ps. 78; Eph. 6:1-4, etc.), and the structure of the church. As such, it is absolutely essential that we pursue discipleship methodologies that are rooted and grounded in Scripture, and use extreme caution when attempting to apply them in establishing various ministries.
However, Brown’s objection is spot on; though not for the reason he thinks. The classic FICM argument is flawed in the way it is presented. It has chiefly been an argument ‘against’ something as opposed to an affirmative argument ‘for’ something. As a result, those entrenched in age-segregated ministries have been defensive and unyielding. Moreover, the argument against the FICM has consistently focused on this very point. The constant refrain of “They haven’t PROVEN that what we’re doing is unbiblical” is a cornerstone of every major critique.
Unfortunately, this gets us nowhere. Those of us in the FICM would do well to recognize the validity of this criticism as to the way our argument is framed. We should not identify ourselves primarily by what we “don’t do,” but by what we do (and why). An affirmative argument for age-integrated family discipleship forces those critiquing the movement to do more than argue that we haven’t “proven a negative.” In classical terms, this is expressed in the maxim, “If a person claims that X exists and is real then the burden is on that person to supply some support for that claim, some evidence or proof that others can and should examine before accepting it.”5
In other words, Brown has to prove that there is something in Scripture that would commend age-segregated ministry, and that those of us who don’t have it are failing to do what the Bible commands (or at least clearly promotes, suggests, or offers as a pattern). Of course, such an argument is impossible. Which is why NO CRITIC has ever proposed it, since doing so would mean arguing that the church has only been in compliance with this ‘biblical pattern’ for the past fifty to seventy-five years.
Brown’s second objection is a theological objection. He argues that “The mandate to “make disciples” is given to the church (Matt. 28:19, 20),” and,
This mandate is to reach all people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, or family status. The church is not required to reach individuals through their families. Although this normally may be the case, it certainly is not mandated.
There are at least four problems with this statement. First, if Brown is arguing for the segregation of people in the church by age based on the church’s “mandate...to reach all people regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, or family status,” then it would have to follow, logically, that the church would need to segregate by ethnicity (and sex, and family status, etc.) as well. One wonders if Brown would accept a church that divided its members by their ethnicity based on the argument he makes here. And if he wouldn’t, then how does he sustain the argument for segregation by age based on the same premise?
Second, the statement is incomplete. It is true that the Great Commission was given to the church. However, the discipleship instructions in Ephesians 6:1-4 was given specifically to “fathers.” If Brown’s argument were taken to it’s logical conclusion, parents would not be allowed to evangelize or disciple their own children; or their neighbors, for that matter. All evangelism and discipleship would have to take place during official meetings of the church. And worse, the Bible would be at odds with itself.
Third, Brown ignores completely the fact that children are not members of the church.6 Thus, in a very practical sense, the church has no jurisdiction over the six of my eight children who are yet unconverted. My children are present for the worship of the church, and attend other functions. However, their day-to-day care and teaching are not the church’s responsibility. Moreover, once, by God’s grace, they are converted, my wife and I will continue to be responsible for them, and they will still spend the overwhelming majority of their time with us. We will catechize them daily, lead them in regular family worship, educate them, discipline them, and keep the gospel before them.
It is impossible, logistically, for the church to have anywhere near the level of discipling influence I will exercise in my children’s lives. Hence, while it is easy to mouth the words, “The mandate to “make disciples” is given to the church,” it is quite another thing to work that out practically without acknowledging that the means and mechanism through which ‘the church’ carries out this responsibility in the lives of children under the care of Christian parents is through the home as their parents obey the clear biblical mandate to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4). This is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and mandate.
Fourth, no one in the FICM has ever argued that the church is “required to reach individuals through their families.” This is a straw man. None of the men Brown identifies has made such an argument. We all (like Brown, himself, in the next line) argue that the family is the normal mechanism God uses to reach the next generation. However, no biblically literate person would ever argue that the church must do this through families. Moreover, it is easy to disprove this accusation.
For example, none of the FICM churches (to my knowledge) forbids people to come without their families (which would be the only way to insure such a mandate). We all have single adults (and children) who come to our churches, and we all preach the gospel to them. A belief that the church is “required to reach individuals through their families” would essentially negate Lord’s Day gatherings altogether for fear that someone might encounter the gospel in a sermon, song, or sacrament, thus circumventing the family! Certainly Brown is not accusing us of this.
Brown goes on to expand his argument based on Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:7-16:
Paul wrote that God gifted the church with leaders, such as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints to accomplish the work of the ministry (4:11, 12). This work is essentially discipleship, and the heart of discipleship is teaching. So pastors are to train and equip the saints to teach. This is a principled, Biblical argument for qualified men and women to teach the body of Christ. Christian education programs are simply venues to accomplish Biblical discipleship.
Again, he gets absolutely no objection from us here. However, even he has to note that he is a few steps short of proving that segregating people by age is implicit in the text. FICM churches have gifted teachers (in home groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, Sunday schools, etc.), in keeping with this same principle. However, they do so without dividing by age,7 and in doing so, have not violated anything in the text. The text does not require, imply, or even suggest age segregation.
Finally, Brown argues that FICM’s “inflexible insistence on family integration is wrong practically.” After noting that “In my opinion, the leaders of the FICM have failed to prove that age-segregated ministries are the cause of the problem,” Brown offers a common refrain:
the family integration philosophy has actually generated divisions in traditional (nonintegrated) churches rather than unity. Families involved in the FICM tend to make their convictions a test of fellowship, choosing to disassociate with believers in their own church who do not share FIC values. Both Scott Brown and Voddie Baucham acknowledge this unfortunate phenomenon in their writings and sermons.
There are two major problems, and one significant oversight here. First, Brown states that we haven’t proven “that age-segregated ministries are the cause of the problem.” And that may very well be the case. However, we are not arguing for age integrated ministries simply because the other approach has caused problems. We are arguing for it because it’s the clear, normative pattern we see in Scripture, and the history of the church. Hence, whether we’ve ‘proven’ anything else is irrelevant. One who holds to Sola Scriptura does not need the Bible and additional proof; one needs only God’s Word.
Second, Brown actually disproves this objection himself by noting that “both Scott Brown and” I have “acknowledged this unfortunate phenomenon.” What Brown doesn’t say is that we have actually ‘experienced’ this phenomenon in our churches (as have all the FIC pastors I know). In other words, this phenomenon is not caused by the FIC!
Granted, I’m sure some people drop mine and Scott’s (and Doug’s, and Reb’s, and a host of others) names when they spew their heterodox views. However, many of these people don’t know us from Adam! I’ve had people misrepresent my work to my face, so I know they do it behind my back. What group, whether Fundamental Baptists, Reformed Baptists, or Charismatics, has not had people proclaim themselves representatives of the group while misrepresenting the teaching and/or making nuisances of themselves?8
Then there’s the significant oversight. Brown argues that FICs are causing division. However, One could just as easily argue that 1) they are actually causing unity, or 2) it is the neo-traditional churches that are causing the division. Allow me to explain.
By Brown’s own admission, there are over 800 Family Integrated Churches listed at NCFIC. Assuming that they only account for half the FICs out there (there’s no reason to believe that the majority of FICs are registered), then we’re talking about more than 1500 congregations. And hundreds of them, like ours (and the one we’ve planted) have just been planted in the last decade. Somebody appears to be uniting around something!
And what about the churches that have been impacted positively by the influence of the FICM? Churches are recognizing the need for a renewed emphasis on family discipleship, and are extremely encouraged to have a model to draw from that represents a complete departure from the norm. Brown, himself, testifies to this:
I also believe FIC proponents are essentially correct in identifying the breakdown of the family as the fundamental problem in why youth are deserting the church. Those who work with youth need to acknowledge that parents have the greatest spiritual impact. So the FICM’s emphasis on parental responsibility in the spiritual training of their own children is welcome and needed. I have personally benefited from some of their writings on family worship. (emphasis mine)
That doesn’t sound divisive at all! In fact, it sounds like the heart of the FICM resonates with Bible-believing Christians everywhere.
Furthermore, since the neo-traditional church with its age-segregated ministries is actually the newcomer, wouldn’t they be responsible for the division? How is it that churches recapturing the traditional model of age-integrated ministry are the ones causing division? And is there not a difference between division and disagreement? Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Whitefield, Wilberforce... these men were accused of causing “division” as well. However, when the dust settled, the real question was, were they right?
Of course, no critique of the FICM would be complete without a reference to the potential harm done to single adults. Brown does not disappoint:
In addition, the emphasis on family discipleship within the FIC has the potential for alienating or neglecting those outside of nuclear families (e.g., singles and broken families).
Pray tell, what ministry does not “have the potential” for alienating somebody? This objection is so common that we’ve had an answer to it on our website since our first day in existence in April of 2006. And since then, our church (like most FICs) has had a vibrant ministry to singles and broken families. However, I think this objection, itself, deserves a closer look. Brown, like virtually every other critic who has raised this objection, has actually demonstrated a key flaw in modern ministry philosophy. At its core, this is pure man-centered pragmatism.
Certainly Brown is not suggesting that churches who do not segregate by age should do so even though we find absolutely no command, pattern, or even warrant in Scripture, solely because it may offend singles or broken families. This is an unacceptable idea on myriad levels. How does Brown think single adults and broken families were ministered to in the church prior to the advent of systematic age segregation in the 20th Century? Were children worse off before Robert Raikes’ invention of the Sunday School in the late Eighteenth Century England?9
And what about those churches who simply cannot afford age-segregated ministries? The average church in America has less than 100 members,10 and no budget for multiple staff. Are they neglecting single adults and broken families? Must they strive to hire high school, junior high, children, singles and college ministers in order to avoid causing anyone to feel less than fully valued? And exactly how many of these divisions are necessary?
Ultimately, Brown’s objections are the same objections raised by Lawrence,11 exaggerated by Wallace,12 echoed by Kostenberger,13 popularized by bloggers always ready to link to any hint of criticism of the FIC, and answered repeatedly by myself and others who are leading churches that look nothing like the straw man we see tarred and feathered in public repeatedly.
In fact, the critiques of the FICM tend to focus on the issues prevalent in “Home Church” circles (not to be confused with the “House Church” movement). Brown actually alludes to these groups in his article, acknowledging the fact that the FICM is an entirely different animal, altogether. These groups lack biblical officers, ordinances, and discipline (the basic marks of a true church), and truly are ‘federations of autonomous households.’ Instead of acknowledging this distinction, critics of the FICM tend to conflate the two phenomena, then offer a caveat to the effect of, ‘Voddie Baucham, Scott Brown, and the more “moderate” representatives are not like this.14 This, however is unfair, inaccurate, and prejudicial. That would be like writing a critique of a group of rabid hyper-Calvinists and labeling it a critique of Calvinism.
There are exceptions, like the work of Brian Nelson and Timothy Paul Jones at SEBTS,15 or Sam Waldron’s considerably moderated critique.16 However, much of this has been reduced to a recycling of the same issues. The FICM can only serve as a convenient foil for so long. Eventually, someone is going to have to stop begging the question (assuming the propriety of age segregation), shifting the burden of proof (assuming that the FICM has to prove conclusively that the question has not been begged by arguing that we haven’t “proven that age segregation is unbiblical”), and give clear, biblical, hermeneutical, theological, and historical justification for age-segregated ministry, or admit that it is a purely pragmatic invention based on cultural norms and trends.
In either instance, the result will be an acknowledgement of the fact that the FICM, far from being a ‘divisive’ fad, is actually a legitimate, historical expression of biblical methodology that requires special pastoral attention (i.e., what do we do with single adults; single parents; left-handed, red-headed, blue-eyed teenagers in rebellion, and a whole host of others) just like any methodology. People need to be shepherded, and shepherding is messy. There is no paradigm that will eliminate this fact.
1 Doug Brown, “United Families Dividing Churches.” Available at http://sharperiron.org/article/united-families-dividing-churches
2 Doug Brown, “United Families Dividing Churches.” Available at http://sharperiron.org/article/united-families-dividing-churches
3 Doug Brown, “United Families Dividing Churches.” Available at http://sharperiron.org/article/united-families-dividing-churches
4 Though the phrase is misused commonly, I do not mean that Brown’s argument “raises the question,” but that he actually commits the logical fallacy of “begging the question.” see here for an explanation: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html
5 See (http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/phil_of_religion_text/CHAPTER_5_ARGUMENTS_EXPERIENCE/Burden-of-Proof.htm). It is important that we note once and for all that this is a logical fallacy. In fact, ‘burden of proof fallacy’ is one of the classic logical fallacies. “A positive statement, based on facts that have been erroneously interpreted, can be refuted by means of exposing the errors in the interpretation of the facts. It is a breach of logic to assert that that which has not been proven to be impossible is, therefore, possible.” (The Objectivist Newsletter, April 1963).
Hence, Brown, and other critics of the FICM have been allowed to get away with this fallacy long enough. The burden is not on the FICM to ‘prove a negative.’ The burden lies with those who argue in favor of age segregation to prove the biblical validity of their novel approach.
6/a> Granted, there are Presbyterian churches in the FICM who would view this differently, but that is not Brown’s contention. Fundamental Independent Baptists do not hold to a Presbyterian/Covenantal view of children.
7 Systematically, that is... despite the straw man argument that FICM does not allow for any segregation at any time for any reason, I have used the term “Systematic Age-segregation” for years in order to be clear on this point. Nevertheless, even Brown, irenic and charitable as he is, states that “Advocates of family-integrated churches (FIC) believe that families should always worship and fellowship together in age-integrated (i.e., multigenerational) services and activities.” (emphasis mine) This is simply NOT TRUE. Especially when it comes to fellowship.
8 What if the shoe were on the other foot. Take, for instance, three issues common to Fundamental Baptists: Drinking, dancing, and KJV onlyism. Does Brown view Fundamental Independent Baptists who come to a new town, walk into a new church, and rail against the use of “modern” translations as divisive? How about those who show up at a Presbyterian church (or some Baptists in Europe) service where there’s actual wine served during the Lord’s Supper? Is disagreement with other Christians on these issues divisive? or would our Fundamental Baptist brethren consider them important issues worthy of debate?
9 Of course, Raikes’s program was 1) for children ‘outside’ the church, 2) not segregated by age in any manner resembling modern Sunday Schools, and 3) was never intended to impact those whose parents would have been excommunicated had they failed to catechize their own children in Eighteenth Century England.
10 Actually, the average is 75. http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html
11 http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-family-driven-faith-voddie-baucham Note: Michael Lawrence’s critique was specifically of Family Driven Faith. Moreover, Lawrence was much more thorough and theological in his critique, and has served as a catalyst for greater clarity in my communication of FIC ideas.
12 interestingly, the Master’s Thesis that served as the foundation for much of Kostenberger’s critique is no longer available at http://reformedbaptistfellowship.org/2010/06/14/a-critique-of-the-family-integrated-church-movement/
13 See his addition to God, Marriage and Family here (http://www.crosswalk.com/11634402/?p=0), my response here (http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/voddie-baucham-ministries/blog/response-andreas-kostenberger-fic-2010-08/), his rejoinder here (http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/rejoinder-to-voddie-baucham/), and surrejoinder here (http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/surrejoinder-to-voddie-baucham/)
14 Paraphrasing Sam Waldron’s “Open Letter” (http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/voddie-baucham-ministries/blog/sam-waldrons-open-letter-fic-repost-response-chall-2011-01/)
16 Compare his initial critique (here: http://reformedbaptistfellowship.org/2009/09/09/the-relation-of-church-and-family/) to his most recent one (here: http://www.ncfic.org/weblogmodule/view/id/868/src/@random493e73d2154bd/)
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