Monday, April 02, 2012

That Regulative Principle Is A Tricky Thing

I will admit that of all of the various iterations of the traditional church, the various movements and streams, I find an awful lot I like about the Family Integrated Church Movement for its emphasis on family discipleship, the responsibility of fathers to lead in the home and train their children (something I do a poor job of admittedly), etc. I actually just restarted reading Voddie Baucham’s book, Family Driven Faith, a book I am embarrassed to find that according to Amazon I purchased 3 ½ years ago and have yet to read! I say this with the usual caution of being leery of any “movement” in the church, whether it is homeschooling or house church or Reformed theology. However I do think that a lot of the points and concerns of the FICM are quite legitimate even as I believe (something I will expand on in a bit) that their solutions fall short.

Anyway this is not, or at least did not start as, a post about Family Integrated Churches, since family integration was the norm for most of the history of the church (Age segregation is a rather modern notion). What caught my attention was something someone wrote in response to the FICM and what it tells us about the so-called “regulative principle of worship” that is popular in Reformed circles. In an article titled United Families Dividing Churches, Douglas Brown of Faith Baptist Theological Seminary at first offers a limited defense of the FICM movement and then his reasons for being generally opposed. Let me say at first that the title of his article was quite striking, as it seems to set the family and the church at odds with one another. Can strengthening the family really divide the church? Anyway one line in his defense of family integration cracked me up:

Third, proponents should also be commended for staying in the church. Their ecclesiology reflects the New Testament more closely than other family movements such as some cell churches and home churches who have virtually abandoned a full ecclesiology.
Really? There is nothing more unbiblical than the church meeting in a home! Oh wait…never mind. Most of the FICM groups I am aware of hold to a traditional institutional ecclesiology and the suggestion that this model is more reflective of the New Testament requires an enormous leap. Staying in the church? As if clinging to the traditions of man is somehow the same thing as "staying in the church". Please.
But what grabbed my attention was a comment that had to do with the notion that FICM churches hold more to the "Regulative Principle of Worship" than other traditional churches and that this is something to be concerned about. This was apparently of great concern and a cause for a major source of “error”:

First, it is wrong hermeneutically. FIC advocates protest vigorously that since there are no explicit Biblical directives or examples for age-segregated programs, they are unbiblical. However, this kind of hermeneutical approach is flawed. Using this reasoning, things like church buildings, pews, musical instruments, and technological advancements, along with church officers such as clerks and treasurers, would have to be deemed unbiblical as well. FIC adherents press the Regulative Principle too far.
Ding, ding, ding! Give the man a cigar! Why, if we start looking at what the Bible actually says about the church, we might find ourselves ditching lots of stuff! There is no place in seminary for that sort of tomfoolery! I agree with Douglas except he is horrified by that suggestion and I am encouraged by it. I get why it concerns Douglas since he teaches at a seminary in the area of “Local Church Ministry” but I have found that many Christians, unencumbered or at least less encumbered by traditions, have swallowed the red pill and read the Bible with a fresh set of eyes and in doing so are finding very little of what we know as “church” anywhere in the New Testament.

Once again we get an example of how selectively many Christians apply the Regulative Principle, a "principle" that boils down to defending our traditions that we can find in the Bible and rejecting other traditions, whether they show up in the Bible or not. It is ironic that so many people claim to follow the RPW and yet insist on extra-biblical traditions like infant baptism and professional clergy led gatherings. What is even more ironic is that following the Regulative Principle of Worship to its logic conclusion will lead to the jettisoning of the RPW itself because the church in Scripture bears little resemblance to our traditional models. Simply adding children back into the pew during sermons doesn’t change the fact that there is no Scriptural precedent for buildings or pews or sermons any more than there is precedent for age segregation.

If we are truly going to turn back to Scripture to see what we should be focused on when we gather we are not going to find a defense for this tradition or that ritual but a completely different beast. I understand why those with a vested interest in sustaining the traditions of what we know as the church are threatened by the Regulative Principle and Family Integration. Once you take a step down that path, once you open that door, once you swallow that pull, it is hard to go back. Little wonder there have been a run on books that seek to prop up the walls of institutionalism written by those that desperately need institutionalism to keep chugging along.

Getting back for a moment to the FCIM. My opinion of the Family Integrated Church Movement, setting aside my general concern with any “movements” in the church, is that if anything it has not gone nearly far enough. I think they have rightly identified some issues in the church but they have missed that it is precisely the programmatic nature of sermon-centered church meetings that leads to age segregation. If you are focused on having an emotional or religious experience from singing and then trying to pay attention to a sermon for 40 minutes, certainly kids are going to detract from that. While we typically keep our eight kids with us no matter the setting, I can understand why many parents prefer to drop their kids off at “children’s church” because it can be difficult to manage a handful of little ones during a sermon.

What is underlying this discussion? Why do so many proponents of “church as we know it” find family integration, and other attempts to reform the church, so troubling? As so often is the case I think it is money and control. Frankly much of the church doesn’t trust “regular” Christians. There is a reason that so many churches try to keep small groups and other extra-curricular activities on a short leash, namely that they are afraid that without supervision people might stray off into heresy. It is ironic that I was speaking to a co-worker just this morning and mentioned that some gatherings allow and encourage the men to share their thoughts. He was aghast! His question immediately ran to authority. By what authority do they speak? What if they say something wrong? My response to him was that if you can’t trust the church to speak when the church gathers, then your pastors and elders have utterly failed in their callings and should repent and step down. He freely admitted that he liked to show up on Sunday, be relatively anonymous, watch the show and go home. That might be fine for some but it shouldn’t satisfy any of us. On the other hand there is always the love of money. Equipping fathers to lead in the home should mean that we need fewer professional “youth ministers”. Rather than paying for a youth minister or three, we could simply equip dads to this task but there are a number of institutions within the church that depend on a constant stream of job opening in professional vocational ministry, just like education departments at universities depend on a never ending and preferably expanding number of job opening to fill with education graduates.

The FICM finds itself in a no-man’s land, clinging on the one hand to the unhelpful traditions of the past while trying to reform the church to conform more closely to Scripture. You can’t have it both ways. While promoting skewed visions of “man as adventurer and conqueror”, which I find unhelpful, it also tries to reform the church while not reforming what really needs reform. Bringing kids back into the pews to sit through expository sermons is merely window dressing. Real reform, or more properly restoration, requires something far more radical. Sadly there are not many Christians who have reached that point yet but I am confident that their numbers will continue to grow. The future of the traditional church grows more dim with each passing year but the vision for Christ’s church gets brighter every day!

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