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Fighting Confusion and Misrepresentation in the FIC

As a pastor in a Family Integrated Church, I grow weary of answering the same questions over and over again. This is especially true when I have to answer the same questions by the same people! Some people are either unwilling or unable to wrap their minds around the FIC concept. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered the, “Don’t you elevate the family above the church?” question, or the, “Doesn’t that just work with intact, single-income, upper middle class, highly educated white families?” question. It also seems that every person who has an aberrant view of the church and/or the family is lumped in with all things Family Integrated.

Then there are those groups who call themselves Family Integrated Churches, but are actually not churches at all. Some have no biblical officers (elders/deacons), others do not administer biblical ordinances (baptism/Lord’s supper), and many do not pursue a gospel-centered vision (proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations). Nevertheless, FIC opponents love to point to these groups as evidence that the “movement” is unbiblical. That’s like people who point to the “Baptist” church my family and I visited while we lived in England (where the pastor was preaching through Orwell’s 1984... that’s right, he was preaching the gospel according to Orwell!) and saying, “Baptists don’t believe the Bible”.

There are hundreds of Family Integrated Churches. Most of these churches are completely unaware of each other. There is no organized, centralized, or standardized FIC philosophy, methodology, or theology. Family Integrated churches are Baptist, Presbyterian, Charismatic, and everything in between. They are elder led, pastor led and congregation led. Thus, as much as people want to be able to lump every church without a youth group, and every pastor who has ever uttered the word ‘patriarch’ in reference to a man outside of the book of Genesis as part of a monolithic, racist, Kinist, isolationist quasi-cult, such efforts are naive at best, and willfully dishonest at worst.

One of the legitimate charges lodged against some Family Integrated Churches is that they sometimes develop an unhealthy view of the church and the authority of church officers. Unfortunately, This is especially true in the area of the Lord’s Supper. Some FIC allow fathers to usurp the role of elders in administering the Lord’s Supper. We do not engage in such practices at GFBC. We believe the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, not a family ordinance. As such, we believe the officers of the church, not fathers, should serve the elements and protect the table. However, we realize that this is not a conviction shared by all. Recently, R.C. Sproul, Jr. wrote about this matter in his “Kingdom Notes” periodical. His comments are worth noting:

The “pastors” in our homes do not replace the pastors that God has given us in the church. That God deals with us in families does not change the reality that He creates new families in the church, nor that we do in the end relate to the God of heaven and earth one at a time. One way we fall off this side of the horse is when the father, or the parents of a given family determine when and if a child should come to the Lord’s Table. This ought not to be. As we have argued in another ask RC, the job of welcoming and warning with respect to the table falls upon the elders of the church who, in a very real sense, serve as the “fathers” of the “family” that is the local church. We forget and neglect the important role of the elders when we leave this decision in the hands of parents.

That said, one of the advantages of the parents is that they are aware of the immediate circumstances in the life of the child. A parent, rather than an elder, will know if a given child has acted in rebellion all morning long, if the child is not at peace with his or her brother or sister. It certainly may be fitting for a parent to occasionally suggest that a child should not partake of the supper. When a parent does so, however, they should expect to be questioned by the elders.

Years ago in the church where I serve, at the table a parent asked that I not serve his eldest daughter. I followed his request. After the service I asked the father what was going on in the family. He explained some of the sin issues the daughter was dealing with that very morning. I went to the daughter, however, as her elder, and reminded her of several important truths. I told her first that she needed to repent of her sins, and that the table was the best place to do that. I reminded her last, however, that I as her pastor loved her and would be praying for her.

I must admit that I do not know R.C., Jr. very well. We’ve only met a couple of times at events where we both happened to be preaching and we haven’t had much time to sit and talk. As a Baptist, I know there are several areas where our theological convictions would diverge. R.C. alludes to some of these in his article. However, this is an example of one of those areas where FIC leaders, regardless of their particular theological differences, face the same problems, and fight the same battles.

As FIC pastors we often find ourselves playing the role of double reformers. We are part of a grassroots movement reforming the neo-traditional church (i.e., the age-segregated church) on the one hand, and various reactionary groups that call themselves Family Integrated on the other. In the aforementioned article, R.C., Jr. is playing the latter role. For that I applaud and thank him. However, the unfortunate reality in FIC life is this: There are people out there who will dig up something R.C. Jr. said or did in the past and groan, “How can you use a quote from such a man?” (I’m not exaggerating; this really happens) For example, I know that R.C. Jr., has often used quotes from a theologian who justified slavery (a major ‘sticking point’ for critics of the so-called ‘patriarchy’ movement).

Let me be clear. I have said before, and I will say again that racism is sin. Chattel slavery in the United States and elsewhere was, and is sin. However, racism and slavery are not the only sins. In fact, they are not the worst sins. There are theologians who supported the anti-Semitism that led to the holocaust (a charge often levied against Luther). And there are myriad other issues where men who wrote masterful theological treatises were flat-out wrong. Does that mean we dismiss everything else they wrote, and castigate anyone who refuses to do the same? I hope not.

By the way, that theologian whom R.C. Jr. has quoted in my presence not only justified slavery; he was a slave owner. His name was Jonathan Edwards... in Massachusetts of all places! (see here). I also have friends who have quoted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were slaveholders. And I can’t begin to count the number of my friends who have quoted the man who said:

"I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man."

You’re probably asking yourself, “Who’s the white supremacist who said that?” Some will recognize this quote immediately, but since it is often tucked away and hidden in an effort to maintain certain ideals, most people are not aware that this is a quote from none other than Abraham Lincoln. (Source: Fourth Lincoln/Douglas Debate, Charleston, Illinois, 1858 in, Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858, p. 636) The reason people hide such Lincoln quotes is quite ironic. The unwritten rule says racism/white supremacy is the unpardonable sin. Therefore, since we want to view Lincoln as a hero, but are not allowed to think or speak well of racists/white supremacists, many simply choose to hide or ignore the fact that Lincoln, like most men of his day, was a white supremacist (as the aforementioned quote demonstrates quite clearly). I believe we must condemn the sin of racism wherever we find it. This is part of our biblical responsibility to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV)

However, I don’t believe we should go hunting for sin, or that we should necessarily distance ourselves from the work of every theologian (or politician for that matter) who has ever been guilty of a particular sin. To do so is to commit the “genetic falacy” (i.e., Lincoln was a white supremacist, therefore anything the Republicans say must be rejected out-of-hand) The tricky question is, when is it my job to expose the sins and/or misdeeds of others? Do I have to make a comment about Edwards’s position on slavery every time I quote him on the issue of revival? Is it my job to castigate Washington and Jefferson every time I quote the Declaration of Independence, or Farewell Address? Should I just leave America altogether since our Republic is built on the foundation of such ‘racist scoundrels’? Do I have an obligation to check out every theologian’s position on slavery, intermarriage, and white supremacy before I choose to use a quote of theirs to elucidate a particular (unrelated) point? I sure hope not. I’d have to burn an awful lot of books.