Posted on Oct. 21, 2010
Here is a resource I am super exhilarated about. (Coming soon to the NCFIC store.) We have just completed an audio recording of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. It includes a 20 minute introduction that I give and then follows with the reading of the entire confession. One neat thing about it for me is that my father is doing the reading. He is 87 years old now and this will be a wonderful contribution to the church in his latter years. Another notable blessing is that one of the young men in our church, Timothy Orr, both recorded my father and edited the audio.
My prayer is that this would be put in the CD players of cars and be included in the educational plan of parents for their children and that churches and families would be strengthened.
Many of you who follow the ministry of the NCFIC know that we believe that churches without historic, time-tested doctrinal statements are vulnerable and that we actually discourage people to go to churches without such doctrinal clarity.
Posted on Oct. 21, 2010
On Sunday, we spoke of God’s requirement for perfect obedience to the law on pain of eternal damnation, yet God the lawgiver also provided the law keeper - the Lord Jesus Christ, who kept the whole law for us so that we might escape the wrath of God.
In that same vein, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled “Justification by Grace” in which he captures one of the most stunning aspects of the love of God for sinners - He drank the poison cup for us.
“The whole of the punishment of his people was distilled into one cup; no mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip. When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter, he well nigh spurned it—“Let this cup pass from me.” But his love for his people was so strong, that he took the cup in both his hands, and
“At one tremendous draught of love
He drank damnation dry,”
for all his people. He drank it all, he endured all, he suffered all; so that now for ever there are no flames of hell for them, no racks of torment; they have no eternal woes; Christ hath suffered all they ought to have suffered, and they must, they shall go free. The work was completely done by himself, without a helper.”
Posted on Oct. 20, 2010
Having considered Dr. Kostenberger’s discussion of the theological and ecclesiastical questions concerning the relationship of church and family (see part 1), we now turn to his second question: “How can churches today strengthen families?” (p. 249). He seeks to answer this question under three headings: “The Church and Family Ministry” (pp. 256-258), “The Family-Integrated Church Approach” (pp. 258-260), and “Contributions and Possible Limitations of a Family-Integrated Approach” (pp. 260-262). It is evident, however, that his main concern is to answer the question, “How, then, can the church support the family?” (p. 256) in reference to the FIC perspective. That is, he seeks to use the FIC as a foil to discuss his own views on the matter. The fact that he chooses the FIC to do this service is significant in a number of ways. First, it indicates the impact the FIC is making in the churches with which he is associated. For some reason, he chooses the FIC model as the basis for exploring the ministry relationship between church and home instead of another model. It is our opinion that he is approaching the question this way because he is under pressure to respond to the challenge the FIC presents to the modern evangelical church which has followed a completely different philosophy for years. Second, it indicates that Dr. Kostenberger takes the FIC perspective seriously. If the FIC were a fringe movement of no consequence, it would never have garnered more attention in the book than, perhaps, a footnote. Instead, Kostenberger puts it front and center. We think that he does so because he is dissatisfied with the evangelical church’s current approach to family ministry and finds much that appeals to him in the FIC. Yet, it is also clear that he is not willing to endorse the FIC perspective. Third, it indicates that he thinks the context of the debate over how the church should minister to the family is between the FIC and all other models of church ministry.
Before we begin our review of and response to this part of Dr. Kostenberger’s chapter we should make three additional observations. First, we appreciate his obvious desire to see the church improve in the way that it ministers to families. Clearly, He is not pleased with the current state of things in most evangelical churches. He has a word of rebuke for pastors who seem oblivious to the way in which their churches are actually undermining the family, and a word of exhortation to them to take seriously their duty to structure their church and ministry in such a way that it will “strengthen marriages and families” (p. 257). Dr. Kostenberger is a friend of the family and has a passion to see the family restored to its biblical foundations so that the Christian family will not only survive in the hostile setting of our times but will also thrive.
Second, in spite of what we consider a mischaracterization of our theology and ecclesiology on his part, and in spite of his negative assessment of various aspects of the FIC, we are grateful for the areas of agreement that we share with him over against the current evangelical models of church and family ministries. Although this was not his intention, it is our opinion that this chapter and this section of the chapter may do more, in the end, to advance the argument in favor of FIC ministry than to discredit it. How so? It has provided us the opportunity to clarify our position against common misunderstandings. Additionally, it makes the case for the great need of churches to rethink their whole approach to family ministry, and it makes this case along lines that are similar to the emphasis and principles of the FIC.
Third, it is not our intention in this part of our review to interact with the criticisms that we have already answered in part one, i.e., that we believe in a “family of families” ecclesiology, and we do not maintain a careful distinction between the family and the church and would, in fact, collapse the church into the family. We direct our readers to the relevant sections in part one to read our response to these erroneous charges.
Church and Family Ministry
We are pleased that Dr. Kostenberger says that “the church should do everything it can to strengthen the marriage bond and family ties” (p. 257). We agree with him that the church cannot focus solely on ministry to family units, but needs to recognize that there will be some in the church who will remain single. And with him, we affirm that all believers, regardless of their family status, are part of the body of Christ, and we need to “integrate them fully in the life of the church” (p. 257). We believe that Kostenberger’s rebuke of the church for failing to do a good job nurturing marriages and families, for failing “to affirm the husband’s headship in the home the father’s central role in the family,” and for joining forces with the unbelieving world to “weaken the biblical foundation for marriage and the family in our culture” (p. 257) is right to the point and ought to be heeded. His admonition that churches respect the need for families to have time together at home and stop running the family ragged by a calendar filled with events and programs receives a hearty, “Amen!” from the men who promote an FIC perspective on church ministry.
Kostenberger then states that the church must stop contributing to the disintegrative forces that are tearing the family apart and begin “to conceive of its mission in terms that strengthen marriage and families” (p. 257). This need is clear to Kostenberger, but what is less clear in his mind is how the church can do this. The goal of the FIC is to articulate a biblically based means for doing what Kostenberger says needs to be done. We seek to provide the church with a biblical plan (i.e., one based on a firm foundation of theology and ecclesiology) for reformation of the church’s ministry to the family which will not only strengthen our families but also revitalize the church itself.
However, in spite of sharing many similar concerns and perspectives with us, Kostenberger cannot endorse the FIC because he is blinded by his false conception of our ecclesiology. We call on him, therefore, to recognize that he has failed to understand us, and on the basis of the clarifications we have offered in various places (including part one of this response) to listen again to what we are saying (here and elsewhere), judge it by the Scriptures, and consider whether or not we have the mind of Christ on the matter. In his book, he himself presents no viable alternative to the current evangelical debacle in family-fragmenting, family-weakening church ministries and does little more than make suggestions here and there on what we need to do better. He is like a doctor who is good at diagnosing a disease but can recommend no specific remedy for a cure.
He also asserts that a distinction between theology and method must be made in trying to rectify the church’s problems in family ministry, and warns against judging others “who differ from us in method with being unbiblical simply because they do not agree on the specific remedy” (p. 258). There is a measure of truth in what he says here, but overall his perspective is not only faulty, but also dangerous. The first problem is that he seems oblivious to the fact that methods do not appear from out of nothing; methods are the offspring of specific philosophies and worldviews. There is no neutrality in any aspect of life, and every method is based in certain presuppositions that are either biblical or unbiblical. A method is the means devised, the procedure established to achieve a specific end. What is essential to understand is that the method has to be in harmony with the end desired because not just any method will do! To achieve the end in view specific methods have to be followed; otherwise the end will not be realized. This is particularly true of the work of the church and its ministry. For example, Jesus chose a very specific method for preparing His disciples for ministry (cf. Mark 3:14). Would anyone care to say that the method He chose was one among many that would have achieved the same results? This is not to say that there can only be one method in every situation. However, each method must be carefully scrutinized to see if it is consistent with biblical doctrine and example. Even in the realm of method, Scripture is sufficient. The FIC calls the church to carefully evaluate its methods of discipleship and family ministry in the light of God’s perfect revelation that is sufficient for doctrine and practice (practice includes our methods!). We challenge the church to discern if such methods as age-segregated teaching of children and youth group “discipleship” programs are methods based in biblical doctrine, biblical wisdom, or biblical example, or are based in a non-Christian philosophy or worldview.
The second problem here is Dr. Kostenberger’s contention that it is wrong to attach the label “unbiblical” to any “specific remedy” we disagree with. Upon analysis, this is an astonishing statement. Is he really of the opinion that the church or its teachers must refrain from giving the label of “unbiblical” to anything other Christians or churches propose as a remedy to the problems confronting the church? “Unbiblical” is an adjective that ascribes a quality to an idea or action. Does Kostenberger believe that the adjective “unbiblical” should never be used to describe a method that other Christians are using or promoting? We of the FIC place all things in the church under the authority of Scripture, and believe that many things in both doctrine and practice can be “unbiblical”; we are not ashamed to call those things that cannot be justified by appeal to Scripture as “unbiblical.” Therefore, we will continue to charge those who depart from a biblical standard in their methods as being unbiblical in what they are doing. If these brethren take offense at the charge, we suggest they do one of two things: demonstrate that their method is not unbiblical, or simply admit that the Bible is not the standard for determining or evaluating their methods.
Dr. Kostenberger concludes this section with one of the most troubling statements in his entire chapter. He writes:
. . . [T]he local church leadership has the right and the authority to devise ways to disciple its members, including young people, that may legitimately involve gathering them together and instructing them in peer group settings. Using a peer group structure does not necessarily mean that the natural family structure is subverted but may helpfully complement and supplement it (p. 258).
This pronouncement, with its staggering implications for church ministry, is made without any support from any source, least of all from Scripture. Because the statement “. . . [T]he local church leadership has the right and the authority to devise ways to disciple its members. . . .” is not qualified in any way, it gives blanket authority to local church leaders and pastors to devise whatever means they choose “to disciple” their members. The Roman Pope has no more authority than this. The words that open his statement are an essential declaration of human autonomy, i.e., that man is a law unto himself and churches may do whatever is right in their own eyes. It was this mind-set that destroyed that covenant people of God in the Old Testament (Jer. 7:23-24). They failed to obey the fundamental law of ministry and worship: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:32). We of the FIC perspective reject human autonomy in every sphere of life and in every aspect of Christian ministry. We believe that the Word of God is the only true source of knowledge for determining the ways (means) for discipling the people of God (Isa. 8:20; Prov. 3:5-7). We deny that the elders of a local church have the right and authority to devise any means they chose to disciple others (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We affirm that they are to search the Scriptures to determine the means that God has appointed for this great task. Therefore, we oppose ministry and discipleship models that are based on “a peer group structure” because there is neither precept nor example in Scripture to support this method of discipleship. Because it is not authorized in Scripture, we also believe that it will have negative consequences for both the family and church. We believe that God is wiser than we are, and the ways that seem right unto man are the ways of death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).
Furthermore, this statement by Dr. Kostenberger (in conjunction with others he has made) reveals a significant aspect of his ecclesiology and his view of the relationship between church and family: he believes that the church stands over the family. Therefore, if the leaders of the church determine that they want to gather the children and young people of the church into “peer group settings” for instruction, then this must be right, and a Christian father, because he is to submit to the church, does not have the authority to excuse his own children from that method, even if he considers it to be unbiblical. This is where the doctrine of the supremacy of the church leads. It undermines the authority of the father and gives the church direct jurisdiction over a man’s wife and children. It confuses God’s order because it sets aside the authority of the husband over his wife and the father over his children (Eph. 5:22-24; 6:1-2; Col. 3:18-20; 1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12). But even in the context of the church, the husband is the head of his household and his wife is responsible to submit to him and his children are responsible to obey him. The FIC does not teach the supremacy of the church over the family, but treats them as equals and labors to find the proper balance of authority between the elders who govern the church and husbands/fathers who govern the family.
The Family-Integrated Church Approach
Here, we finally come to the section that specifically addresses the FIC. However, since the entire chapter is inspired by Dr. Kostenberger’s desire to respond to the FIC and critique it and much of what he said in the earlier parts was in reference to the FIC, most of what he has to say about the FIC has already been said, and we have already responded. Hence, our comments on this part will be selective.
As in other places, Dr. Kostenberger expresses his sympathy with FIC’s concerns and makes it clear that he shares many of the same concerns. He also observes, “The beliefs and practices of a family-integrated church approach are not uniform” (p. 259). These two aspects create for him some difficulty in evaluating the FIC. On the one hand, he does not want to be too critical of an approach that he can applaud in some areas, but on the other hand, he does not want to actually endorse the FIC. Furthermore, he wants to appear moderate and suggests that his main problem is with “the more reactionary and at times even extreme core tenets of family integration” (p. 259), although he does not specifically identify what these extreme tenets are. Supposedly, these extreme views include opposition to age-segregated, peer based youth ministry, which he himself endorses (p. 258).
What is striking about this section is that Dr. Kostenberger makes no reference to the NCFIC’s “A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family” in his review of the FIC. Here is a confessional statement drafted by leaders of the FIC and endorsed by hundreds of elders and churches that identify with the FIC, and yet it is not mentioned. What would have been significant is a critique and evaluation of the FIC by specific reference to this document. Because he does not do so, his critique is random and rather beside the point.
His main contention is that the FIC is wrong because it “has elevated the family to an unduly high status that is unwarranted in the light of the biblical teaching on the subject and that its view of the church as a ‘family of families’ is not sufficiently supported by Scripture” (p. 259; italics in original). Since we have already answered this contention in part one, we will pass on to his summary of the perspective of the FIC. He points out four areas that he thinks define the FIC. First, he says that, “The central plank in the family-integrated approach is usually the contention that families ought to worship together at church and stay together as they study the Scriptures, fellowship, and engage in other worship-related activities” (p. 259). This is an important feature, but it is certainly not the central plank of the FIC! If he would have taken the time to consult the NCFIC confession he would have seen that the central plank is the sufficiency of Scripture for determining all aspects of church and family life and their successful integration. Yes, we put a high premium on families worshipping together but only because we believe that Scripture points us in that direction.
Second, he thinks that our “driving motivation” (p. 259) is to oppose the conventional way churches structure their ministry by separating the family into all kinds of age-based groups or affinity groups. Let it be known that this is not our driving motivation. Our driving motivation is to glorify God by submitting all of our thinking and all of our practice to the absolute authority of Scripture. Our opposition to conventional church practices is due to our commitment to Scripture and our belief that so much of what takes place today in our churches—including a ministry model that divides the family—has no biblical warrant.
Third, he says that in the FIC, “The heads of households (the fathers) are enjoined to be spiritual leaders in the home and the church. . . .” (p. 259), and it is our goal to restore the father to his rightful place as the spiritual leader in his home (p. 260). He further indicates that the FIC believes that the church and its leadership are built on the foundation of these men and their godly households. In these assessments, he is correct. Does Dr. Kostenberger think that we are wrong here? We don’t think so. If elders and deacons must be men who govern their own households well before they can be qualified for church leadership (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12), then the importance of men learning to be godly leaders in the home is certain and the centrality of the family unit as the training ground for leaders is established.
Fourth, he believes there is a “general lack of a thorough biblical rationale for a family-integrated approach” (p. 260). If he rejects the FIC because he thinks that it lacks a sufficient biblical rationale, what can he say in support of the conventional model of age-segregated, affinity group based ministry that dominates the church today? Where is the biblical rationale for this approach? We do not grant, however, that the FIC lacks a biblical rationale for its model of ministry that seeks to respect the authority and jurisdiction of both the family and the church; a summary of that rationale is given in the NCFIC confession.
Contributions and Possible Limitations of a Family-Integrated Approach
Dr. Kostenberger begins on a positive note by indicating that the FIC has the potential of making several important contributions to the church in a day when the church is failing to reinvigorate “families as cells where the faith of its members is nurtured” (p. 260). According to him, those contributions are, first, “this approach promises to provide a more holistic way of engagement in ministry . . .” (pp. 260-261); second, “the emphasis on the role and spiritual responsibility of the father”; and third, its teaching that “strong families are the backbone of a healthy church. . . ” (p. 261). We thank Dr. Kostenberger for recognizing these important contributions of the FIC.
Next, he registers a number of “notes of caution” concerning FIC. First, he warns against using the word “segregation” when speaking of traditional church practices because of its racial overtones. We appreciate the counsel he gives, because he seems intent on promoting better communication between those who agree with FIC and those who do not. Nevertheless, we assure Dr. Kostenberger that no racial overtones are intended in our usage of it. The term has been chosen because it is an excellent word to describe the unfortunate practice of separating the church body into various groups based on age or other criteria. The verb, “to segregate” comes from a Latin word that means, literally, “to set apart from the flock.” As the church is the flock of Christ, segregation is taking parts of that flock and setting them apart into their own group, or of taking the flock and dividing it up into many smaller groups. In English, the negative aspect in the word “segregation” is based in the idea that the separation envisioned is illegitimate and destructive to true community. We use the word, therefore, because we believe that the separation into age-based, peer-oriented groups is illegitimate and destructive to the fellowship of the church; instead of building true community, it tends to destroy it.
Second, Dr. Kostenberger claims that the FIC elevates marriage and family above the church, and tends to absolutize the family or places it above “God’s eternal kingdom purposes” (p. 261). As we labored to point out in part one of this response, these charges are absolutely false. We do not place the family above the church, but neither do we place the church over the family. Both have their own unique and essential role to play in the pre-consummation history of the kingdom of God. We heartily agree with Kostenberger when he says “the church’s central message is not family integration but the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 261). We sincerely hope that Dr. Kostenberger is not suggesting that we think otherwise.
Third, he is worried that the focus on the integration of family and church may cause the church to fail to integrate into its life and ministry those who are not in a Christian family, who are single, or in less than ideal circumstances. This is an excellent warning that all in the FIC need to consider. But it should be pointed out that the theology and ecclesiology of the FIC does not in itself lead to this problem. Any problem in this regard would be due to an imbalance in focus and a failure to apply the teaching of the New Testament on the importance of every member of the church and the oneness of all believers regardless of family considerations. In any work of reformation, there is the danger that the pendulum may swing too far in the direction of doctrine or practice that the reformers are seeking to establish (or re-establish). Those of the FIC should consider that in their attempt to restore the family to its rightful position in the estimation and ministry of the church they must not forget the importance and needs of those who are single, who are from broken homes, or who are not in a Christian family.
Fourth, Dr. Kostenberger returns to his theme that church leaders have the right and authority to institute any program or ministry structure they deem useful. We have already dealt with this supposed autonomy of church leaders and the danger of such a perspective. Here, he specifically questions why we should have a concern to keep families together at church when they can be together at home during family worship. He asks: Why should we be concerned if the church segregates the congregation (and the family) into Sunday School classes, children’s church and adult worship services, or youth groups? The answer of the FIC is simple: there is neither precept or example to support such segregation, and the only pattern of the public meeting of the church apparent in Scripture is that of the whole body of the church assembling together with family units intact. We grant that there are a limited number of texts that explicitly support a non-segregated approach to the meeting of the church for worship and edification, but we also contend that the segregation model has no biblical support by precept, example, or deduction. The practice of the whole congregation joining together in the meetings of the people of God (the church) for worship and edification is the pattern of both the Old and New Testaments (cf. Ex. 16:9-10; 19:19-25; Deut. 4:9-15; 29:10-13; 31:10-13; Josh. 8:35; 18:1; 2 Kings 23:1-2; 2 Chron 6:3; Ezra 3:1; 10:1; Neh. 8:1-8; Matt. 14:21; Mark 6:32-44; Acts 20:7-12; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:18-21; 4:16).
Fifth, Dr. Kostenberger believes that “the emphasis on male headship [in the FIC] may at times tend to diminish women’s significance and role” (p. 262). Again, this is a fair warning, but it has nothing to say against the theology of the FIC. It is simply a reminder to keep all things biblical and in balance.
Sixth, Dr. Kostenberger asks two questions. First, he wonders if the FIC is founded on biblical premises or is based on method or preference (p. 262). Our answer is that it is based on the biblical doctrine of the ministry and jurisdiction of the family and the ministry and jurisdiction of the church. The FIC is not, fundamentally, about method but about the restoration of a true biblical theology of family and church that leads to a harmonious relationship between the two where both work together for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom. The non-neutrality of method and its connection to presuppositions, theology, and ministry goals has already been discussed above. Second, he asks “to what extent the family-integrated approach is predicated upon a theology that stresses the continuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church and neglects to give proper recognition to the pronounced New Testament emphasis on individual faith” (p. 262). Again, this question was explored and answered in part one. But we have our own question to ask: To what extent is Dr. Kostenberger’s view on the FIC predicated on a theology that stresses discontinuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church and neglects to give proper recognition to the pronounced biblical emphasis on the corporate aspects of the church and the unity of Scripture?
In the conclusion to his chapter on “God, Marriage, Family, and the Church,” Dr. Kostenberger summarizes his discussion and draws a number of conclusions. The first thing to note is that nearly everything negative that he has to say about the FIC is grounded in his misunderstanding of the theology and ecclesiology of the FIC and his false perception that we desire “a straightforward transposition of the Old Testament patriarchal model onto the New Testament church” (p. 263). It is hoped that our response has laid to rest the idea that the FIC is based on a “family of families” ecclesiology, that we seek to exalt the family over the church, and that we do not recognize any significant discontinuity between the Old Testament people of God and the New Testament church.
The second thing to note is the large measure of agreement between the FIC and Dr. Kostenberger’s perspective on how the church and family should relate to one another. We agree that “the church should be family-oriented and family-friendly”; that churches need “to be more intentional in their approach to mentoring and discipleship,” equipping men to practice their faith by being spiritual leaders in their homes; that, “Every aspect of the church should be oriented toward people in their family context and include those from broken or unusual situations”; that godly families are “the backbone of the congregation”; and that “the church and the family each ought to recognize their God-given roles and to partner together in bringing glory to God and to respect and affirm each other’s respective spheres” (pp. 264-265). There are areas of disagreement for sure, and some of these are serious. But many of the areas of disagreement seem to be based on his own misunderstanding of our position, on his use of secondary sources that misrepresent us and distort our position, or on a difference in emphasis.
Dr. Kostenberger’s acknowledgment of the ongoing nature of the debate over how the family and church should relate to one another and his admission that he does not have a specific answer to the problem of how to best integrate the church and the family (i.e., he doesn’t agree with any of the existing approaches, and he has no model of his own to propose, p. 267), make us hopeful that he will carefully consider our response and review of his chapter here and in other places. At the very least, we hope that he will admit that he has misrepresented us and has based his entire evaluation of the FIC on a fundamental misconception of our ecclesiology.
The leaders of the FIC are committed churchmen. We have, most of us, spent our lives in the service of Christ’s church as pastors, elders, deacons, and church members. We love the church, and desire to see her flourish and bring glory to God. We weep over her sins and plead with God for reformation and revival in her midst. But we also love the family. We are part of a group of men who have had our eyes opened, by the mercy and grace of God, to see how far the family has fallen from its God-ordained structure and purpose; and so we weep for the family as well. We long to see the glory of God in our homes and for the Spirit of God to renew the hearts of pastors and Christian men and women to give themselves to one of the most pressing needs of the hour: the restoration of the biblical family. We believe that not only the future of the Christian family but also the future of the church itself is at stake.
Because we love the church and the family, what particularly grieves us is that the church has contributed to the collapse of the family in many ways. By making peace with the anti-Christian and family-destroying philosophy of feminism, by adopting methods of discipleship that are based in alien worldviews and non-Christian philosophies of education, by seeking to pattern the church on corporate models suited for business rather than for biblical worship, evangelism, and discipleship, by discounting the importance of the family in the kingdom of God and the centrality of husbands and fathers in the discipleship of their households, and by ignoring the needs of the family and the God-ordained government of the family in the structure and ministry of the church, the church has failed in her calling and is in dire need of repentance and reformation.
The men of the FIC do not believe that they have all the answers, but they are sure where all the answers are found: in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, we do not believe we have the luxury of waiting to see which way the debate over the FIC will turn out or of sitting on the sidelines exploring and evaluating “the most salient points raised in the current discussion” (p. 267). We are pastors with the responsibility of shepherding the flock that God has committed to our care. Souls are at stake; troubled families are in need; lost young people need Christ; the future of the family and the church rest in the balance. Therefore, we have taken definitive steps to integrate the church and family in pursuit of the reformation of both. We invite Dr. Kostenberger and all who love the church and the family to join us.
Posted on Oct. 18, 2010
It has been a while since a vigorous discussion was sparked by Justin Taylor
on the Family Integrated Church movement. Traffic was high and debate was brisk with my last count of over 100 comments the announcement for the new chapter. Voddie Baucham
weighed in. Then, Dr. Kostenberger engaged the debate on his own blog clarifying some of his statements.
I have been a promoter of Kostenberger’s book since it was published, so my comments need to be seen in that light. As someone who has been involved in this for the past decade, it was very surprising to note the lack of original source documentation in the chapter – in sharp contrast to the rest of the book. For example he did not quote the visible leaders of this movement or cite their stated positions in spite of the abundance of their public statements.
I was not sure why he neglected to refer to the NCFIC Declaration or cite our “Frequently Asked Questions
” section on our web site, where we attempt to explain critical doctrinal matters and answer some questions with some level of precision.
Perhaps one of the glaring systemic faults of the chapter is that the majority of the footnotes reference Jason Webbs masters thesis which so severely misunderstands, misrepresents and straw mans the movement that it hardly seems worthy of rebuttal. For some reason, Webb builds his entire thesis on things that are not believed by anyone I know in the family integrated church movement, and accuses us of things that don’t actually exist in the movement except perhaps in unusual situations. He pretends that the FIC leaders have what he calls “a family of families ecclesiology.” If he knew what the leaders actually believe and teach he would know how inaccurate this proposition is.
It struck me as odd that Dr. Kostenberger, otherwise known for his well documented research, would continue the “family of families” concern which has been so clearly and publicly explained by both Voddie Baucham and myself. He criticizes us for using the term, and then uses it himself in another part of the book. One blog commentator on Justin Taylors blog comments rightly said, “The opponents of family integrated churches talk a lot more about “family of families” than the proponents do, and they almost always misrepresent what is actually meant, which is simply that the family doesn’t cease to exist when it passes through the doors of the church.”
It seemed that the author did not understand some important distinctions of the various parties involved in family and church reform. In footnote #20 he seemed to be confused about various streams of thought (the difference between “family equipping” and “family integrated”). Dr. Timothy Paul Jones has pointed out some of these misunderstandings in a book review of God, Marriage, and Family, in the upcoming edition of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s, The Journal of Family Ministry. (Forthcoming at www.familyministrytoday.com)
Kostenberger seemed unaware that hundreds of churches have identified themselves with the NCFIC confesssion – something that communicates a clear vision for the centrality of the gospel, the importance of expository preaching as well as a description of the complementary roles of church and family. Many of the doctrinal elements identified in this confession refute Dr. Kostenbergers suppositions about the FIC. This has been available online since 2002.
It is commonly noted by critics that the FIC movement is not monolithic. I think that it is actually far more monolithic than people might perceive. Dr. Kostenberger picks up this same notion in his new chapter. I have a very different view. The main voices in this movement are mostly confessional baptists who are constantly communicating a very high view of the church, the power of the gospel and the centrality of the glory of God. There are also many FIC presbyterians who are confessional churchmen. About half the churches that affirm the NCFIC confession are Second London Baptist Confession churches and the other half embrace the Westminster Confession of Faith. These explain the true ecclesiology of the movement. My perception after traveling 12,000 miles around the nation this year, visiting representatives of the over 700 churches who have aligned with the NCFIC confession, is that the movement is somewhat monolithic doctrinally in the sense that they are not creating their own doctrine but rather are relying on historic doctrinal statements. In this sense, I believe the movement is monolithic.
It was encouraging to see the comments of those who tried to clarify things on Justin Taylors blog. I noticed the fellow who said that Kostenberger “is not painting the family integrated church at all. I am not sure what he is writing about. This is not the family integrated church that I know. And if there are extremes out there (as I am sure there are), it is certainly disingenuous to hold up those extreme elements as the norm.”
Another commenter did mention the identity some of of the leaders of the family integrated church movement, on Taylor’s blog, and noted that they “do not place the family over the church or neglect the gospel in their churches.”
Posted on Oct. 18, 2010
In a day when marriage and the family are under such withering attack by the forces of evil in the land and by the social and cultural climate of modern society, we rejoice in the forthright attempt of Andreas Kostenberger to set before the church a comprehensive statement of the biblical teaching on marriage and the family in his book God, Marriage, and Family (2nd edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010; page numbers in this review are from this edition). The sub-title, Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation is instructive of Dr. Kostenberger’s perspective and plan. In his opinion, the structure of marriage and the family is collapsing, and is in need of being rebuilt on a solid biblical foundation; his book is a noble effort to do just that. We are thankful for his commitment to biblical authority and his desire to call the church back to the Bible and its teaching on marriage and the family. One need not agree with all of Kostenberger’s interpretation of Scripture or all his conclusions and applications to appreciate the overall contribution he has made to the rebuilding of the Christian home on a biblical foundation.
The second edition of his book has a “new chapter on marriage, family, and the church (including an assessment of the ‘family-integrated church approach’)” (p. 14). It is this new chapter that is the subject of this review. The fact that Kostenberger thought it necessary to include a chapter on the relationship between the family and the church is indicative of our time. The Christian family is in trouble, and the church is not only doing a poor job of addressing the problem, the church is, in many cases, part of the problem. The church has followed a life of its own for the last generation in pursuit of a ministry that is based on cultural trends and seeks to appeal to contemporary society in the hopes of an expanding attendance and a growing budget. In this dash for growth and relevance, the church, like society, has either forgotten the family, redefined it and its importance, or neglected it in hopes that it can carry on, on its own. One of the tragic results of the church’s stance towards the family and its culturally-informed models of ministry is the departure of young people from the church when they reach adulthood. It is now evident that we are losing the generation of children who grew up in churches committed to models of ministry that largely by-passed the family and put their hope in Sunday Schools, youth ministries, youth pastors, and gymnasiums (or so-called “family centers”).
In response to the decline of marriage and the family and the exit of young men and women from the church, many Christians and church leaders have turned to the Scriptures to see what they have to say about the family. This is leading to a revival of the Christian family patterned on the Bible. There have been a number of significant effects of this revival. One of the more important has been the recognition of the critical role Christian parents play in the education and discipleship of their own children. Another important effect is the realization that churches are actually undermining the family, 1) by usurping the role of parents in the evangelism and discipleship of their own children; 2) by disregarding the importance of the husband/father as the spiritual leader of his home; 3) by a church calendar of events that leaves the family little time to be at home together as a family; 4) by a ministry structure that is designed to separate the members of the family so that there is no shared experience of worship or study while at church; and, 5) by harassing parents who have conscientiously sought to remove their sons and daughters from the church’s children’s ministries and youth programs. These things (and perhaps others) are the milieu out of which the so-called “family-integrated” church perspective arose. The desire for family reformation along biblical lines, and the desire for the church and family to work together, and not against one another, in the pursuit of this reformation, has been the leading motivation of those promoting family-integrated churches.
It is evident from reading Dr. Kostenberger’s book on the family and his chapter on “God, Marriage, Family, and the Church,” that he and the leaders in the family-integrated movement agree in large measure on the biblical theology of marriage and the family, and share similar concerns about the need for rebuilding the Christian family and the current relationship between the church and the family. It is also evident, however, that Kostenberger is not comfortable with the overall perspective of the family-integrated view and takes issue with what he perceives to be weaknesses in its theology and practice. Therefore, although he is generous in pointing out areas of agreement between himself and the family-integrated church approach (henceforth, the FIC), the general tenor of his evaluation is negative.
In reviewing Kostenberger’s chapter on “God, Marriage, Family, and the Church,” a few preliminary observations are in order. First, one gets the distinct impression that the entire chapter (and not just the section on the FIC) was written for the express purpose of responding to the challenge that the FIC has presented to the church—if there was no FIC, there would be no chapter 13. This is encouraging because it shows that the FIC is making a wide impact and that leaders in the evangelical church see a need to respond to it. What is disappointing is the nature and quality of Kostenberger’s response.
Second, this chapter stands in contrast to the rest of Kostenberger’s book. In other chapters, Dr. Kostenberger seems sure of his subject, is exegetically precise, and logical in his development. By comparison, here our esteemed author seems tentative and unsure of his subject; the chapter lacks the logical and biblical rigor that characterizes other parts of his book. Clearly, Kostenberger is struggling to find his way on this subject, and, thus, the reader emerges with more questions than answers as to what the author actually believes on how the church and family should relate to one another. Dr. Kostenberger does note that his purpose in this chapter is not “to settle this issue once and for all by casting our lot with one of the existing approaches or proposing a model of our own but to explore and evaluate some of the most salient points raised in the current discussion on a more foundational and theological level” (p. 267). It is good that he has admitted his own indecision on the subject so that readers understand that they are not being given a careful biblical analysis of the FIC but are being presented the musings of a theologian on a subject on which he has not yet made up his mind. The tenor of the chapter is that he neither likes the current status of church and family relations nor supports the alternative offered by the FIC perspective.
Third, the chapter contains certain statements that seem inconsistent. For example, in one place, he chides the FIC for elevating “the family to an unduly high status that is unwarranted in light of the biblical teaching on the subject. . .” (p. 259, emphasis in original). However, he later states that “strong families are the backbone of a healthy church” (p. 261, emphasis in original), and explains in another place that “godly families” serve “as the backbone of the congregation” (p. 265). Here he is using “backbone” as a metaphor to indicate that strong, godly families are the main support of the congregation and most necessary for a healthy church. This is exactly the perspective of the FIC, and its teachers are saying the same thing! Yet, apparently, when we say it we are guilty of exalting the family to an unduly high status not warranted by Scripture, but, when he says such things, it is put forward as a logical and clear deduction from Scripture.
Fourth, it is unclear who Dr. Kostenberger has in mind in his evaluation and critique of the FIC. Is he actually evaluating what we in the FIC have written or said, or is he critiquing a straw man that either he or others have built? Is he criticizing the biblically balanced and confessionally informed men of the FIC or are his criticisms directed at what he calls “the more reactionary and at times even extreme core tenets of family integration” (p. 259)? Sadly, there are no primary source quotations of a single noted FIC author or teacher in the entire chapter, or any specific interaction with the published views of any leading FIC teacher. He mentions three FIC authors, Voddie Baucham, Mark Fox, and Eric Wallace, but only in the context of their efforts to restore the father to his rightful place of spiritual leadership and authority in the home and the need of the church to build on the foundations of the households of the men who do assume their role. This failure in regard to primary sources is particularly problematic when the FIC perspective has produced a confession of faith setting forth its principles, A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family (http://www.ncfic.org/confession). Not only is this confession not cited, the author seems unaware of its existence. This is uncharacteristic for a scholar and writer of Dr. Kostenberger’s rank. His failure to interact with the actual statements and words of FIC proponents renders his critique of the FIC rather suspect, to say the least. Worse yet, the chapter gives evidence that Kostenberger’s views on the FIC are based primarily on a master’s thesis written by Jason Webb for Reformed Theological Seminary in 2009 and not on his own research and mature reflection. Kostenberger should have either left this chapter out of his book or done the research necessary to make it an accurate and important contribution to the discussion. He should have heeded the warning of Proverbs 18:13: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
Theology, Ecclesiology, Family, and the Church
Dr. Kostenberger opens his chapter on “God. Marriage, Family, and the Church” by saying that his purpose is to apply the doctrine of God’s plan for the family to the church. Although he does not say so, he must be specifically referring to the relationship between the church and Christian marriages and Christian families. The goal of the chapter is not to give a strategy on how the church should relate to non-Christian marriages and families, but how the church should relate to the married couples and the families that are a part of the church. The sphere of his discussion is the relationship of church and family within the kingdom of Christ, and my response is based on that assumption.
He states that there are two questions that he wants to answer: “How does God intend to relate marriage and family to the church?” and, “How can churches today strengthen families?” (p. 249). He says that the first question is one of theology and ecclesiology, i.e., to understand this relationship we need a proper theology and a biblical ecclesiology. We fully agree. How, though, does this work itself out in the context of the relationship between the church and family?
In regard to theology, we believe that the focus needs to be on God as Creator and Lord. As the Creator, He has established the order of creation and the place of man, woman, marriage, and the family within that order. Although Dr. Kostenberger provides a good discussion of this aspect in the earlier parts of his book, he does not give it sufficient attention in this chapter. In the creation order, marriage and family are given first place in God’s plan for the world. It is to the man and woman as husband and wife (Gen. 2:18-24) that God gives the dominion mandate, and it is to this couple that God gives the command to establish a family by being fruitful and multiplying (Gen. 1:26-28). Hence, in the creation order, marriage and family are both foundational and essential to the plan of God for mankind. It is true, that the Fall made it necessary for the establishment of the plan of redemption through the seed of the woman and the seed of Abraham, and that this plan of redemption necessitated the calling of a people through whom the Word of God and the Redeemer would come into the world. However, it cannot be forgotten that the dominion mandate was restated and committed to Noah and his sons after the flood (Gen. 9:1, 7), which, of course was after the Fall. In other words, the role of marriage and family in God’s order and His plan for the world was unchanged in terms of the dominion mandate, except for one exceedingly important factor: this restatement of the mandate was given after all unbelievers had been destroyed, and was given to righteous Noah and his sons; in other words, the post-fall dominion mandate was given to believers because only they can truly fulfill the divine mandate to rule the earth for the glory of God (cf. Ps. 8:4-9; Heb. 2:6-8). This fact establishes the importance of the marriages and families of believers in the plan of God for the order of the post-fall world, which is the order that continues to this day. We emphasize these points because Kostenberger ignores them in the chapter on church and home. He indicates that the relationship of the family and church is a question of theology—and we agree!—but he does not discuss the theology of the creation order or the dominion mandate in this chapter at all. This, on his own terms, is an omission that undermines the validity of his entire discussion.
Another important point of theology for understanding the relation between the church and the family is the structure of authority that God has established for the government of the world. God is sovereign, He rules as King over all the earth (Ps. 47:2), and His law is the standard for every action of man and every area of life (Ps. 96:13; Eccles. 12:13-14). However, God has chosen to mediate His authority through men and to govern the earth through His appointed representatives. To this end, God has established three institutions for the ordering of human society and has delegated authority to selected men within these institutions. These institutions are the family (Gen. 2:24; Col. 3:18-22), the church (i.e., the covenant people of God in the Old Testament and the New Testament; Gen. 12:1-2; Eph. 2:12-22), and the state (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-6). Each of these institutions is given a specific area of jurisdiction wherein each is responsible to apply the law of God and carry out the duties that God has assigned to it in His Word. In terms of theology, the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign establishment of three primary governing institutions is absolutely critical to understanding the relationship between the church and the family, and should form the basis for any discussion about their relationship to one another, yet this critical aspect is missing from Kostenberger’s discussion of the relationship between church and family. In our opinion, our author has failed to do what he himself said was necessary for understanding the relationship between church and home, i.e., he has failed to bring the theology of God as Creator and sovereign Lord to bear on this issue.
It is this failure that reveals a fundamental difference of perspective between Dr. Kostenberger and FIC men. Because we believe that all three institutions are important and indispensable in God’s plan, we also believe that it is not wise to debate or try to determine which is more important or more necessary than the other; this is like debating which leg of a three-legged stool is more important or necessary. Why do we bring this up? Kostenberger accuses us of exalting the family to an unduly high position. This is a false accusation. We seek a biblical balance where all three institutions are seen for what they are and respected for the role assigned to them by God.
The problem, as we see it, is that various forces have been at work for a long time to reduce the family to a position of relative unimportance. The false dichotomy of secular and sacred has undermined the family and exalted the church because the family has been assigned to the secular and the church to the sacred. This faulty distinction goes back the Romanism of the Middle Ages where the church was conceived as the most important and dominant institution of society which had rule, by divine commission, over the state and the family. Medieval thought led to the exaltation of the spiritual and ecclesiastical dimensions of life and to the denigration of marriage and family. The church has never fully escaped the contamination of medieval ideas on this matter. Furthermore, the rise of socialism and statism has led to the elevation of the state above the family and has worked relentlessly to undermine the role and jurisdiction of the family. From welfare to education, the state has claimed for its own areas that God has given to the family. And so, both church and state have waged war against the family and sought to take over many of its duties and bring it under their power.
The FIC movement is part of a determined attempt by certain men of God to recover for the family the ground that has been taken over by the church and the state. In this regard, we call both church and state to repent of their sin of trespassing on the roles and duties that God has given to the family. We seek to restore the family to its rightful place in God’s economy—no more and no less. Because the family has been pushed aside for so long, our attempt is seen as the undue exaltation of the family by those who have been doing the trespassing. However, our goal is not to exalt the family, but to articulate a biblically balanced view where the importance and necessity of the family, the church, and the state are recognized.
Dr. Kostenberger also states that the question of the relationship of marriage and family to the church is also one of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). Here we cannot fault him for failing to articulate and apply doctrine to the questions he is seeking to answer; in fact, this chapter represents a sustained attempt on his part to apply his ecclesiology to the subject of how the family and church should relate. The question here is not over the application of his ecclesiology but over the correctness of his ecclesiology, and whether or not he has accurately understood the ecclesiology of the FIC. In general, the FIC would agree with much of what he has to say about the nature of the church. However, what I read in this chapter leads me to believe that he adheres to a dispensational (or dispensationally influenced) approach to ecclesiology. If this is the case, then part of the difference between Kostenberger and the men who have founded and promoted the FIC perspective comes into focus.
The men who have articulated the FIC perspective take a covenantal view of Scripture rather than a dispensational view. Therefore, they see a unity in Scripture and a continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament in terms of the people of God and the role of the family within God’s kingdom. A covenantal view logically leads to a high respect for the family and its importance in God’s purposes in the New Testament administration of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. On the other hand, a dispensational view leads to a diminished view of the family, at least in reference to the church, because we are now in “the church age.” In the dispensational view of things, the church is the center of everything in the current dispensation and the family is reduced, theologically, to a position of relative unimportance. Marriage, family, and children tend to fall by the way side in a theology that says, 1) that only the New Testament is authoritative Scripture in the church (the Old Testament was for Israel, and only has indirect bearing on Christians) because most of the specific teaching on the nature and importance of marriage, family, children, and child training is in the Old Testament; 2) that exalts the church to a position of preeminence by teaching that the church is the reason for the existence of the current dispensation; 3) that either excludes the kingdom of God from this dispensation or collapses it into the church; and, 4) that sees little importance for having a large family and establishing a multi-generational perspective since these concepts are contrary to the dispensational view that the rapture is imminent and the current generation may very well be the “terminal generation.”
We are not saying that Dr. Kostenberger holds to all of these aspects of dispensationalism, but from what he has written it seems that he does hold to some form of dispensationalism (cf. pp. 251, 260). This may explain the charge that he levels at the FIC perspective by saying we exalt the family unduly. We do not believe that this is the case at all. We strive to give the family the prominence that the whole of Scripture assigns to it, but we do not elevate it above the church. The problem is not with our doctrine of the family and the church—wherein both find their God-appointed place—but with Kostenberger’s doctrine of the family and church that elevates the church to an unbiblical position of superiority and priority over the family.
Because we take a covenantal view of the unity of Scripture, we see a basic continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We believe that there is covenantal unity between the people of God in the Old Testament and the people of God in the New Testament (Rom. 11:16-32; Gal. 3:6-9; Eph. 2:11-22; Heb. 8:7-13; 1 Pet. 2:5-10). However, based on the establishment of a New Covenant for the administration of the promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants of promise we also recognize important elements of discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. An important area of discontinuity is the membership of the New Testament church. Therefore, we agree with Dr. Kostenberger’s contention that membership in the visible church of the New Testament “is predicated upon personal, individual repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. . . .” (p. 252); though we cannot endorse his Arminian theology that makes regeneration dependent upon man’s will. We also agree that the New Testament church is the body of Christ, the household and family of God (pp. 252-253), a spiritual house, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the bride of Christ (p. 254). We also can concur with the following statement:
. . . the constitutive principle for New Testament church membership is personal faith in Jesus Christ, not belonging to a covenant family (sometimes called “the organic principle”). It is therefore better to understand the “household” metaphor for the church as conveying the notion that analogous to the natural household, believers, by virtue of their common faith in Jesus Christ, are adopted into God’s family, the church, and thus become spiritual “brothers” and “sisters” in Christ. The important principle to remember is that this takes place on the basis of personal faith apart from family membership. This reality in no way diminishes the importance of the family, especially that of raising children to come to know the Savior. The realms of the family and the church should remain distinct, however, and should not be collapsed to the point that they become all but indistinguishable, as we will argue more fully below (pp. 253-254).
In general, this assertion by Dr. Kostenberger summarizes the view of the FIC in regard to church membership and the distinction between the church and the family. In this quotation Kostenberger seems to be taking aim at the view that says all children of covenant families are members of the church. Our Presbyterian brothers believe this, and on this basis baptize their infants. Many in the FIC are Presbyterian, and so they would hold to an “organic view” of church membership. But it should be noted that their organic view is not based on a peculiar FIC theology but on their paedobaptist theology, which is something else entirely. Those of Baptist and Reformed Baptist views in the FIC do not hold to an organic view of church membership.
Dr. Kostenberger’s discussion of the roles of the church and family (pp. 254-256) has much in it that we can agree with. We agree that the church is the ground and pillar of truth in the world, that the church is called to worship God and evangelize and disciple the nations, and that the church alone has the authority to administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We also agree, heartily, that “the family’s primary role is to care for the physical, social, and spiritual well-being of its members” (p. 255), and is “the environment for procreation and childrearing” (p. 256). In fact, it is our very belief in these things that leads us to the FIC approach to church life and ministry!
False conceptions of FIC ecclesiology
What disturbs us about Dr. Kostenberger’s chapter are the false conceptions that he has of the FIC. To begin with, he charges us with the error of failing to maintain the distinction between the church and the family and of confusing and unduly collapsing them into one entity (pp. 256, 257). We vehemently deny the validity of this charge. Although there may be some fringe elements in the FIC who have done this, the leading men who have defined and articulated the FIC perspective have been very careful to maintain a strict, biblically informed distinction between the church and the family. The separation we have taught is based on our view of the three governing institutions of family, church, and state established by God (see above). We have championed the idea of a God-given jurisdiction for each of these institutions. This means that we believe that there are specific areas of authority, function, duty, and ministry that are unique to each institution. We advocate a biblical separation, not only of church and state, but also of church and family. Our doctrine is that the family is not to usurp the role of the church or the state; the church is not to usurp the role of the family or the state; and the state is not to usurp the role of the family or the church.
The perception that the FIC wants to collapse the church into the family is utterly wrong. In reality, the FIC is a response to the widespread practice of collapsing the family (at least in part) into the church! Our concern is that the authority and role of the family in God’s economy has been forgotten, and its authority and role has, in certain respects, been transferred to the church. This has taken place due to a variety of theological, philosophical, and cultural factors. The vision of the FIC is to reverse this disastrous trend and restore to the family its God-given jurisdiction and biblical responsibilities.
Our chief objection, however, is that Dr. Kostenberger has misrepresented our fundamental view of ecclesiology. He states that we adhere to the view that the church is a “family of families” (p. 259). Therefore, he accuses us of holding to an unbiblical doctrine of the church; or as he puts it “to a ‘family of families ecclesiology’” (p. 255). This is Kostenberger’s main theological objection to the FIC, and in his view it is the reason for all that is wrong with the FIC—because a wrong ecclesiology leads to a faulty view of the church and its ministry. Six times in the chapter (this includes two references in the notes) he refers to the “family of families” view of the church because he thinks that this is the theology that drives the FIC. The problem is, we do not believe that the church should be defined as a “family of families”! The FIC does not hold to a “family of families ecclesiology”! We are confessional men; i.e., we are pastors in churches that subscribe to confessions of faith such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith or the Westminster Confession of Faith. Here, Dr. Kostenberger, and all others who accuse us of holding to an unbiblical doctrine of the church, in the words of the 1689 London Baptist Confession, Chapter 26, is an explicit statement of the ecclesiology that the leading teachers in the FIC confess as their doctrine of the church:
1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32)
2. All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted. (1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; 1:20-22)
5. In the execution of this power wherewith he is so intrusted, the Lord Jesus calleth out of the world unto himself, through the ministry of his word, by his Spirit, those that are given unto him by his Father, that they may walk before him in all the ways of obedience, which he prescribeth to them in his word. Those thus called, he commandeth to walk together in particular societies, or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which he requireth of them in the world. (John 10:16; 12:32; Matthew 28:20; 18:15- 20)
6. The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ; and do willingly consent to walk together, according to the appointment of Christ; giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel. (Romans. 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 2:41, 42; 5:13, 14; 2 Corinthians 9:13)
This is our faith, and this is our testimony concerning the nature of the church. May the false report that we define the church as a “family of families” be forever put to rest. May those who have accused us of departing from biblical orthodoxy on this important point take careful notice of what we say here and cease to perpetrate this myth any longer!
Since we have always held to confessional orthodoxy when it comes to the nature of the church, how did the idea that the FIC holds to a “family of families” ecclesiology come into being? The primary reason for this misunderstanding of our doctrine seems to be the language of the original National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, “A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family” that was written in 2001. The heading of Article VI stated, “Church is a Family of Families” and the article itself said: “We affirm that our Heavenly Father designed His church to be a spiritual ‘family of families’ where members know one another intimately, the shepherds understand the sheep effectively, and the various body parts function interactively (1 Tim. 3:15).” We agree that a casual reading of the confession could lead someone to conclude that the NCFIC and the churches affiliated with it hold to a “family of families” ecclesiology. However, a careful reading would not do so. It is clear that in the context of this confession this is not a fundamental statement of ecclesiology or of the constituent nature of the church, but an affirmation that the church needs to recover a family-like intimacy. This is made evident by the next statement in Article VI: “We deny/reject the current trend to value numbers and size more than intimacy and vitality by building impersonal mega-churches rather than the multiplication of family-like congregations.” By reading this denial it is clear that the purpose of the authors of the confession was to encourage the building of “family-like congregations” rather than “impersonal mega-churches.” Furthermore, in the final section of the confession the authors state that “we do hereby resolve to . . . [r]ecognize the church to be a spiritual ‘family of families’ who value intimacy and interaction and grow by the multiplication of family-like congregations”; further clarifying their intentions. Although we grant that the language of the confession could have been clearer, and on hindsight, “family of families” was not the best language to employ to oppose the impersonalism of the mega-church mentality, it is clear that in context “the church is a family of families” affirmation was not a definition of the essential nature of the church, but a call to develop congregations that enjoy family-like intimacy.
We do not know if Dr. Kostenberger got his idea that the FIC holds to a “family of families” ecclesiology from this original confession (he does not cite it as his source). If he did, then he displays that he did not carefully consider the context or purpose of the phrase. If he did not, then he is relying on secondary sources and perpetrating the bad scholarship of his sources (our suspicion is that he is building on the work of others [e.g., Jason Webb] who misread the meaning of the confession). Either way, his handling of “family of families” in the chapter casts a dark shadow over the validity of his entire critique of the FIC.
But there is something more troubling about Kostenberger’s use of the supposed “family of families” ecclesiology to discredit the FIC. The leaders of the NCFIC realized that their language in Article VI of “A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family” had been misunderstood and had become the occasion for unjust criticism. And so, to remove all ambiguity concerning the purpose of Article VI, in 2008 they completely removed the words “family of families” from the confession. Furthermore, certain leaders of the FIC have written about this misconception and carefully explained that we do not hold to a “family of families” ecclesiology. In spite of this, in a book published in 2010, Dr. Kostenberger not only continued to perpetrate the myth that the FIC held to a “family of families” ecclesiology, he made it the cornerstone of his critique. This is an inexcusable, if not culpable, misrepresentation of the views of other Christian brothers.
Posted on Oct. 13, 2010
Don’t forget to register for the NCFIC National Conference, Love the Church, December 9-11, 2010. Early bird registration prices of $85 for individuals and $400 for families ends on October 15.
With speakers like Paul Washer, Joel Beeke, and Joseph Morecraft, you won’t want to miss this exciting conference on the Church of Jesus Christ.
Posted on Oct. 12, 2010
There have been many reports over the last few years of manhood lost in a labyrinth of youthful pursuits, delayed maturity, inability to commit… Here, The Atlantic reports on a decline of manhood in a place you would not expect it - the workforce,
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.
Posted on Oct. 09, 2010
These historians observe that slowly, over the generations, we have surrendered the functions of family life over to institutions,
“Sociologists define the function of the modern family as twofold: the ‘socialization’ of the child, and the channeling of the adult’s sexual and emotional need. In the past, however, the family had other very important roles. It functioned as a defense organization, a political unit, a school, a judicial system, a church, and a factory. Over the centuries these functions have been surrendered one by one to the great external institutions of modern society, the State, the Church, and industry”
From Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies (married couple, respected Medieval historians) (pages 6-7).
Posted on Oct. 06, 2010
One of the central themes of our ministry is to appeal to church leaders to engage in the practice of expository preaching so that they bring the voice of God to the church and not their own. This exalts the glory of God in the church and protects it from subjection to to a particular mans hobby horse. It guards and limits men so that they do not emphasize their own favorite subjects and verses and themes and theologies and practices. Our prayer is for the whole counsel of God to fill the church of Jesus Christ so that it is His words and ways that are exalted. Our desire is to train our men to handle accurately the Word of Truth so that God is glorified. Even though we cling to this safeguard of expository preaching, we are still subject to a danger as we interpret scripture. As fallen human beings, we often cannot see everything because of our interests, callings, prejudices and spiritual blindnesses. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones offers a very sobering and cautionary note on this problem. He cautions us about approaching the Bible with a theory instead of our theory coming from the Bible. I include his words here, because it is our desire to avoid this error. As we work through scripture, we must consider the problem that Lloyd Jones reveals,
There is nothing more important in the Christian life than the way in which we approach the Bible, and the way in which we read it. It is our textbook, it is our only source, it is our only authority…You can easily read [Paul’s] Epistles and be no wiser at the end than you were at the beginning because of what you have been reading into what Paul says, wresting them to your own destruction. Now that is something which we must always bear in mind with regard to the whole of the Bible. I can be seated with the Bible in front of me; I can be reading its words and going through its chapters; and yet I may be drawing a conclusion which is quite false to the pages in front of me.
There can be no doubt at all that the commonest cause of all this is our tendency so often to approach the Bible with a theory. We go to our Bibles with this theory, and everything we read is controlled by it…If you read half a verse and emphasize over-much some other half verse elsewhere, your theory is soon proved. Now obviously this is something of which we have to be very wary. There is nothing so dangerous as to come to the Bible with a theory, with preconceived ideas, with some pet idea of our own, because the moment we do so, we shall be tempted to over-emphasize one aspect and under-emphasize another.