family integrated church confusion

Family Integrated Church Confusion

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This is an article originally posted by John Chester on on the Family Integrated Church:

The family integrated movement has much to commend it. They have rightly decried the disaster that is most youth ministry in the evangelical world, they have rightly decried the mass abdication by Christian parents of their responsibility to evangelize their children, and they have called fathers and husbands to be leaders in the home, and these are all good things. But rather than issue a call for reform or correction in the church, the family integrated movement has sought to redefine the church, and so we have to ask is the family integrated church right about the family or the church?

Initially the Family Integrated Church (FIC) was quite happy to define the church as a family of families, in fact the NCFIC wrote that phrase into their initial charter of distinctives:

Article VI — Church is a Family of Families

We affirm that our Heavenly Father designed His church to be a spiritual household — a “family of families and singles” where members know one another intimately, the shepherds understand the sheep effectively, and the various body parts function interactively (1 Tim. 3:15). [1]

But as critics began rightly pointing out that nowhere in scripture is the idea of the church being made up of families found, they sought to walk back the family of families language, so in the NCFIC’s revision of their articles they put it this way:

ARTICLE VI — The Church is a Family of Believers that Includes Families

We affirm that local churches are spiritual households that include individual family units which are separate and distinct jurisdictions that should be cared for and strengthened to fulfill their God ordained roles, not only as individuals but also as families (1 Tim. 3:15, Ephesians 5:22-33, Ephesians 6:1-4).[2]

And as they continued to revise their confession, they walked back the language even further:

Article VII – The Church and the Family Are Complementary in Role and Function

We affirm that the church and the family were designed to be complementary, compatible, and harmonious because the family is commanded to raise “godly  seed,” for the next generation, and is the proving ground for church leaders, while the church is responsible to give the family her instruction, discipline, protection, fellowship, and worship (Mal. 2:15; Acts 2:42; Eph. 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9).

We deny/reject that the church and the family have competing purposes; and that the church or family may disregard God’s commands for the church and the family in worship, instruction, discipline, fellowship, or missions.[3]

And while it may seem they move toward rejecting the notion that the church is a family of families, the very first sentence of the preface to their declaration of distinctive makes it clear that they have not only not moved away from this position, but that they see the church and the family as identical in function. As they put it:

The church and the family are the two institutions that God has created for the spread of His gospel of grace and the discipleship of His people.[4]

This to put it mildly is a massive misunderstanding of the church, the family and thebible_mag_glassrespective roles of both, and this confusion of identity and purpose no matter what kind of language it is couched in, results in a functional conflation of the church and family. And the results of this confusion can be disastrous (but we’ll get to that).

Fundamentally we know the purpose God created the family cannot be the same as the purpose creating the church, because the family predates the fall. Consider the words of Genesis 2:18-24:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”


Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.


A husband and a wife make up a family, and here before the fall, before the proto-evangelion of Genesis 3:15, when there was no gospel to declare, there was family. (And don’t miss that already a nuclear family with father, mother and child is in view.) And the family comes before any children, and before the corruption of the nature of man; there was no one to disciple. The purpose of the family cannot have been to spread the Gospel or disciple God’s people because it was established by God before there was a Gospel to declare or anyone to disciple.

So what is the God ordained function of the family? Well that is also declared in scripture before the fall. Consider Genesis 1:27-28:

 So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.


 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

While certainly the institution of the family was affected by the Fall and the coming of the curse, to say it is an institution created by God for the spread of the gospel and for discipleship is simply unbiblical. Really a much better case could be made that the family was established as an institution for more efficient agriculture.

But what of the church? Is the church an institution established by God for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship? In a word, no! The purpose of the Church, the collective redeemed people of God is to worship God. As John MacArthur put it:

“The primary reason we are redeemed is not so that we may escape hell (and I would add not so that we can urge others to escape hell)…rather we have been redeemed so that God may receive worship.[5]

This is why Paul closes the doctrinal portion of Ephesians with these words:

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The church exists to worship and glorify God. Even evangelism (the spreading of the gospel) is for the purpose of worship to God and for His glorification (Rom 1:5; 3 John 7).

As for discipleship, while it is commanded, it is also secondary to the true purpose of the church to worship God. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:

 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

And as the author of Hebrews wrote:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Notice how discipleship is done in the name of the Lord and with thankfulness to God and how it comes below drawing near to Him (in worship) and holding fast to the confession of the faith. Are believers to evangelize? Absolutely. Are we to disciple one another? Absolutely. Are either of those things the purpose of the church? Absolutely not.

confusionSo having drastically misidentified the purpose of families and the purpose of the church, it is easy to see how the FIC made the leap to confusing and conflating the identity of the church and the family. This causes a whole host of problems.




[2] ibid


[4] ibid

[5] John MacArthur Worship the Ultimate Priority 2012ed pp 53-54

The Glory of God changes everything


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