Responding to FIC & Doug Philips message - "the Role of Children in the Meeting of the Church."

 Response to Douglas Phillips (Vision Forum) message on
“The Role of Children in the Meeting of the Church”

I would like the first say that I appreciate anyone who takes the Scripture seriously and desires to obey all the commands of Christ.  Teaching people to observe all that Christ has commanded is a divine means in the Great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to make disciples as Christ commanded.   In light of Christ commands and Lordship over our lives, I desire to see the preeminence of Christ and the fulfillment of all things in Him.  He is the one we exalt and not our selves, a method, a technique, or a particular ministry philosophy. 

Christians must learn to preach Christ and His Cross and not get sidetrack with issues that may be good, but can lead one off track when a particular issue becomes greater than Christ and the Gospel.  With the formal principle of our faith (inerrancy of Scripture) established, the Gospel and all the doctrines that are central to it (such as election, effecutal call, regeneration, justifical by faith , substitutionary atonement, sanctification, glorification, etc.) sit at the heart of the material principle of our faith - "The Gospel".  While it is necessary to understand theological triage (or a taxonomy of beliefs) in our dialogues with others with different theological perspectives, making Christ and the Gospel central to life are areas we can agree on.  The Gospel is revealed in scripture alone and declares that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone unto the glory of God alone.  It is with this in mind that I am dealing in this short summary my understanding of the Family Integrated Church Philosophy in the context of making Christ and His Gospel preeminent. 

I listened to the message several times, taking notes.  (I have also listened to and read other literature concerning Family Integrated Philosophy of Ministry).

I.        I found myself agreeing with Mr. Phillips on many points.

A.     Parents, especially fathers, should be the primary influence in training children.

B.     Family instruction and devotions are the most important training ground for children in Christian families.

C.     Youth groups and children’s programs are sometimes abused.  Parents often abdicate their responsibility by relying upon these programs to train their kids.  These programs often resort to worldly methods to attract kids.

D.     It is good for even small children to be in the church services.  We do not offer anything for children above the age of five during church services.  We encourage families to train their children to sit in the service before they reach six years of age.  We believe children benefit from being in the worship service, even if they don’t fully understand everything.

E.      It is wrong for mega-churches to forcibly keep children out of the service.  Even when we provide programs/nursery, it is always the parents’ choice as to whether to use these programs.

F.      It is unreasonable to expect complete silence from infants (or old or handicapped people) in worship.  Others should make allowances for those who are in the process of training their kids.

G.     We also are for the inerrant and fully sufficient authority of Scripture and the regulative principle of worship.

H.     We believe ministry should be carried out primarily by the church, as opposed to the parachurch.

I.        Families are very important in God’s program for His people.

J.       We are also against evolution, secular humanism, humanistic psychology, etc.

K.    We agree that too many church activities can harm the family.

L.      The reformation brought a revival of family worship which is worthy of our imitation.

M.   The church consisting of people of all ages should not be separated when in worship (i.e. an old folks traditional service and a young folks contemporary service).  The mixing of ages and life situations in the church is very healthy.

N.    Sunday should be a special day for the family because we worship God together. Fathers should prepare their children in advance for attending the church service.

II.    Mr. Phillips is careless and insensitive in many of the statements he makes.

A.     He falsely assumes that if you agree with the above that you will oppose all age segregated ministries of the church.

B.     He repeatedly creates a false dichotomy between parents training their own kids versus the church usurping the parental role through Sunday School.  He implies that if you send your kids to Sunday school your are letting the Sunday School raise your kids. We believe there is another option: Parents can train their children throughout the week and have the family together during the worship service. Then the parental instruction can be supplemented and reinforced by a Sunday school class.

C.     He tars all churches which have age segregated programs with the same brush.   He implies that if you have aged segregated Sunday school then you deny the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, the regulative principle, and patriarchy in the home.  Furthermore you are basing your programs on humanistic psychology and evolutionary theories of child development.  And you are also being influenced by the Roman Catholic denial of the Priesthood of all believers.

D.    He is not careful to distinguish between the worst case, and a program like ours which recognizes parental responsibility and authority.

E.      He uses hurtful inflammatory language.  Pastors who encourage the use of the nursery are like Pharaoh.  They are keeping the children from Jesus.  Age segregated programs are straight from the pit of hell.  Churches who have such programs are embracing Dewey and Darwin, and are building our family-destroying programs on paganism and selfish pragmatism.

III.   His historical argument does not prove that the current use of age segregated programs is wrong.

A.     The origin of something does not necessarily prove that its present use is invalid. Most would agree that Christmas (Saturnalia) is an example of this principle. Another example would be music (which sprung from the godless line of Cain Genesis 4:21).  Our use of Sunday School is very different from the original uses of Sunday Schools and should be evaluated on its own merit.

B.     Luther and Calvin both spoke of non-family members (i.e. ministers) catechizing and teaching children at their level.  Apparently this instruction was outside of the worship service.  This was centuries before Dewey and Darwin; therefore, such instruction did not originate with their faulty worldview.

IV.  His Scripture texts do not prove his premise that infants are always to be with their parents during worship, and that age segregated Sunday school is wrong. 

A.     Luke 1:39-44 When John was moved in the womb by the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, this was an extraordinary event in the history of redemption, not normative.  We are never taught in Scripture to expect such things to happen to our children (or unborn children).  It was not in the context of a worship service.  It is a major stretch to apply this passage to worship. Of course, if you believe your children are born into the covenant, you don’t have to stretch as far.

B.     The Old Testament texts which speak of families all being together at crucial occasions in Israel’s history, including the reading of the law are his best texts (Exodus 10:9 Deut. 29:10-13 Josh. 8:35 II Chron. 20:13 Neh. 12:43) They do not, however, prove as much as he claims.  Example is not command.  These were not the usual worship services of God’s people.  He doesn’t have biblical grounds to explicitly prove that the family must always be together in every church activity and to condemn what we are doing. 

C.     On the other hand, Nehemiah 8:2-3 seems to say that on at least one occasion the entire family was not present, but only those who could understand.  I hasten to add that when I preached this text, I used it to emphasize why BCBC wants the children in worship services.  More significantly, Nehemiah 8:13 describes a meeting which the men only, excluding women and children, attended.  Using the logic Mr. Phillips applied to the texts in B above, in which examples are used to prove the whole family must be in worship (no nursery!), this example would form the basis for some worship services being for men only.  Such reasoning is invalid, however because this was an exceptional meeting of God’s people under the Old Covenant, not a worship service.  Nor are we commanded to hold such meetings.

D.     Many of his New Testament texts (Mt. 11:25 18:1f) speak of children used illustratively, not literally.  They are not speaking of actual children.  On the other hand, we would not deny that children can come to Christ by childlike faith.  My guess is, however, that Mr. Phillips’ view of the covenant is that Christian infants are already in a sense part of the covenant community.

E.      I would agree with his use of the passage about allowing the children to come to Jesus (Mt. 19:13f) as support for children being in the worship service.  This text does not, however, disprove instructing children in other contexts. Nor does this text prove that infants must be in the worship service.

V.     He fails to make a distinction between children in the worship service and a Christian education program (Sunday School).

A.     We are much closer to his position regarding the worship service.  We want all who can understand present and haven’t offered classes for school aged children and youth during the worship services.

B.     Sunday school classes (and men’s and women’s groups, and youth groups) are not worship services. We believe that separate classes based upon ability to understand or interest can be beneficial as a supplement to what goes on in the family and in the worship services.

C.     Most families participate in other activities based upon age, and sometimes gender, outside of church: i.e. soccer, dance classes, etc.  Too many of these can be bad for the family, but one cannot say they are absolutely wrong.  The same thing could be said for church groups.

D.     Mr. Phillips does allow for age/maturity appropriate training t from non-family members when he mentions that tutorials are sometimes legitimately used by home schoolers.  Also, I noticed that Vision Forum sponsors activities which temporarily divide the family for a beneficial purpose: i.e. Father-daughter retreats, etc.  I have no problem with these, but I find them inconsistent with his radical condemnation of anything which separates the family (i.e. Sunday School for an hour a week).  I feel that I could use most of his arguments against these retreats.  One more thing I noticed is that the father-daughter retreat covers a Sunday which keeps the father and the daughter out of church (Heb. 10:24-25), and prevents the family from worshiping together.

VI.  Bottom Line: We hope the families of Brea Center Baptist Church will be able to agree upon these basic principles

A.     The family, led by the father, is the primary place where children are to be trained and socialized.
B.     Families are free to choose to which outside influences they will subject their children.
C.     The use of nursery and Sunday School programs is a matter of Christian liberty.  The church is free to offer such programs.  Members are free to use or not use such programs.
D.    Age integrated classes and age segregated classes are equally valid options, biblically.

The problem with Mr. Phillips’ message is that he doesn’t regard age segregated Sunday School and nursery programs as a matter of Christian liberty.  He condemns such programs with harsh language.  He says that we should put away such paganism and idolatry. We are not saying that we have to have a nursery and a Sunday School, just that we are allowed to.  He implies we are in sin, but does not prove his point.

For those who are sympathetic with his viewpoint: imagine how you would feel if the Elders condemned your position with half of the vigor that he attacks ours.

While he says many things with which we can wholeheartedly agree, and makes some valid points in favor of keeping the family together in worship, we believe way he expresses himself is both wrongfully divisive. Because of this, we could not encourage people to listen to this message.   We would encourage those who agree with us that these are matters of liberty, to find more gracious means to put forward their viewpoint.

We have appreciated that those who have chosen not to participate in nursery and Sunday school have exhibited a very gracious spirit, and have treated those who differ with love and respect, in keeping with the basic principles listed above.

Please also read  my article on:

Strengthening Family Discipleship (Households essential role in Disciplemaking)Family Driven Faith Book

To learn more about Family Inegreated church Ministry and philosophy I would suggest you read "Family Driven Faith" by Vodie Baucham