A Good Idea At Risk Of Breeding Legalism
Among the other things that Doug Phillips promotes through The Vision Forum and Vision Forum Ministries is “Family Integrated Church.” Doug Phillips originally founded the “Uniting Church and Family,” a website and annual conference for training patriarchs to start their own churches, often home churches. This idea, which he originally “borrowed” from Eric Wallace’s book “Uniting Church and Home,” was initially headed up by John Thompson. The name was eventually changed to the National Center for Family Integrated Churches and is currently headed up by Doug’s friend, Scott Brown.
Just what is a family- or age-integrated church? What makes it different from a traditional church with age-segregated programs for adolescents, teens, college-age, adults, etc.? Is it a rejection of Sunday School and youth groups? Are family-integrated churches typically only for homeschoolers? Are they all the same? Is this a new denomination? Is Doug Phillips the new pope of this movement? Do you have to have a personal invitation to get in? And what in the world do you do at a family-integrated church, since there aren’t any programs?
Several of my commenters have asked me these and other questions. I’ve also been asked to write an article describing what the family-integrated church looks like. In order to adequately address all these questions, I’ll probably have to write more than one article. For this first article, I thought what I would do is describe two different family-integrated churches, based upon my own extensive personal experiences with them: Boerne Christian Assembly and Living Water Fellowship.
First, I’ll share my own personal experiences in the family-integrated church that we were members of for five years, Boerne Christian Assembly, pastored by Doug Phillips. Next I’ll share my experiences with Living Water Fellowship, pastored by Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler. The comment section is open for others to share their own experiences, both good and bad.
On the whole, I think that the family-integrated church movement started out as a good thing. I believe that it began with good intentions. One of the reasons it came about was that men like Doug Phillips wanted to address some of the deficiencies appearing in more traditional “programmatic” churches. However, over time, I’ve noticed a troubling trend in the family-integrated church movement. Much like “Patriarchy,” the FIC movement has often proven itself to be legalistic and divisive. I’ve heard numerous reports of it even causing church splits. I’ve also heard that there are smaller churches with limited facilities that embrace the FIC model simply because their limited facilities prevent their being able to have Sunday School classes and other church programs. So they call themselves “family-integrated” merely because that’s what they’ve always had to do anyway.
With this first article on the family-integrated church, however, I’ll limit myself to my personal experiences of what it was like being in an FIC. I have many fond memories of our time at BCA, and I hope that comes out in this article. However, I’ve also come to see that there were many problems, inconsistencies, and even hypocrisies, and that too will be discussed in this article.
The first issue I shall address is the impression that at least some FICs give that they’re not particularly open and welcoming of “outsiders.” Some have gotten the impression that in order to be welcome in an FIC, you first have to meet a certain set of criteria. The criteria may often include:
- Homeschool only
- No women working outside the home
- No daughters in college
- Dress code: women in dresses only (sometimes with headcoverings), men in suit and tie only
- Courtship only
Those who don’t meet the criteria may be permitted to attend, at least for a time. However, they will often be made to feel that they don’t fit in, and that will also be reinforced from the teachings in the pulpit. They will be expected to conform. Image is very important in many FICs. I might also add to the list of criteria — “family only.” By this I mean that a divorced woman would probably be made to feel uncomfortable in many FICs, even if she had divorced for completely biblical reasons. Again, this is an “image” thing, and divorcees wouldn’t fit the image. Likewise, a college girl, especially if living away from home, wouldn’t fit the image.
Based upon my Doug Phillips’ story, and my prior descriptions of Boerne Christian Assembly, several people have gotten the impression that Boerne Christian Assembly is a “by invitation-only” church. That isn’t exactly the case, although I can certainly understand why so many people would have that impression. My own experience was such that I could not find out any information about BCA without a prior invitation. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that BCA is by invitation only. Practically speaking though, if one of the BCA members doesn’t first extend an invitation to a prospective visitor, it’s highly unlikely that they would ever find their way to BCA at all.
Doug Phillips maintains an extensive list of family-integrated churches on his Vision Forum Ministries website, with a current figure of 524 churches listed there. However, you won’t find BCA nor any of the other churches in what we BCA members called “the community,” the four churches in the San Antonio area that had all come out of BCA, listed there. I always found it odd that Doug wouldn’t list his own church with an organization that he so strongly promotes. So unless you’re extended an invitation to attend, from a practical standpoint, it would make it nearly impossible to find BCA. Even BCA’s own web site provides no contact information or directions to the church. This is a very odd practice indeed for a church to have a web site with no contact information, or even a list of church officers. Indeed, the primary purpose of the BCA web site appears to be as a blog site for posting articles in response to my own articles. Doug Phillips himself told us that he wanted to keep BCA “small.” Failing to provide contact information is certainly a useful way of discouraging church growth.
As he speaks around the country, Doug Phillips often mentions the family-integrated church, and he implies that Boerne Christian Assembly is the “model” church for Vision Forum’s “Family Integrated Churches.” Most people find out about BCA because they hear Doug speak somewhere and find out that he also pastors a church. So they call or email Vision Forum to find out how they might attend BCA, or perhaps they already know someone who attends BCA and ask if they, too, can attend. With such a system in place, it would be easy for people to get the impression that BCA is a “by invitation only” church.
Upon arrival at BCA on a typical Sunday morning, after a lovely drive through the country, you will arrive at what looks like a Hollywood set for “Little House on the Prairie.” The tiny, white, country church has a huge grassy yard with several picnic tables under the oak trees. Across the street is a one room schoolhouse, which hasn’t been used for school for many years. Down the road is Little Joshua Creek, where we all went for baptisms, full immersion-style. Most men wear suits or sport coats. Most of the women wear very modest, long and full dresses. To visitors, it must seem as if they are stepping back in time.
As we’d arrive Sunday mornings, everyone is busy bringing their crockpots into the annex building in preparation for the “pot-providence” (we weren’t allowed to use certain words like “luck,” therefore no “potluck”) that would convene after the service. Many families drove an hour or more each Sunday, so it wasn’t uncommon to see a line forming at the outhouse prior to the church bell tolling at 10:30 a.m. Inside the church building, pews fill the very tiny room, from front to back, and wall to wall, with just enough room down the middle aisle to add a folding chair to the end of each row. Once you were in your pew you needed to plan on remaining there for the duration of the service, which generally lasted several hours (if not put on a schedule, Doug can be very long-winded). So if you needed to get up for any reason, it could prove to be quite a challenge squeezing through the tightly-packed pews. Each family was jammed very tightly into a pew. Large families are common at BCA, so some families took up two full pews. Tightly packed, the church holds about 125 people.
Church services at BCA usually began with about 30 minutes of singing hymns. We would often have several homeschooled young people playing instruments such as flutes, violins, or other stringed instruments. We always had a piano player and some of them were quite good. Three different men took turns leading the worship time. One young man, fresh out of Bill Gothard’s ATI and Alert, would give us the history of at least one hymn we sang each week. Another man, when he was leading worship, would pick one hymn each week to ask the men for biblical support for what was found in the lyrics. The men were on the spot to find Bible verses on the spur of the moment, as they never knew which hymn he would ask for verses for. After a while, I found myself really searching the text of each hymn, wondering what verses this hymn came from. We would usually sing one psalm from the psalter as well. Sometimes Doug Phillips would then lead us in singing Psalm 100, Puritan-style. He would sing a line and we would repeat it back to him. It was really old-fashioned, but I loved that part. Worship was a time of great joy at BCA, as everyone fully participated and sang with their whole heart.
We would have a short announcement time afterward, and it always began with, “We believe in a plurality of elders.” I could never understand that part since we only had one elder for several years, Doug Phillips, and even Doug was only in attendance about once a month at that time. As time went on we saw even less of him. Then we introduced our guests or, should I say, the men introduced the guests.
The men took turns giving the sermon. For most of the time I was at BCA from 2000 until the beginning of 2005, we heard expository preaching through I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, and I and II Chronicles. If Doug was preaching, he might preach on the current topic he was wanting to promote at Vision Forum. They recorded those sermons and then they were sold through Vision Forum. All sermons were recorded free for church members. Depending on who was preaching, the sermon was generally one to two hours in length, followed by up to an hour for the “discussion of the men.” This was my favorite time, even though I wasn’t allowed to participate. The men were allowed to ask questions of the preacher regarding the sermon. Charity was stressed at all times, so if a point of disagreement came up, it was expected that it be handled in a gentlemanly fashion.
For several years, “discussion of the men” was a great time of iron sharpening iron; but around the time of the 2004 elections, the atmosphere of this discussion began to change into a mutual self-admiration club, with the men generally just congratulating one another on a great sermon. This deterioration was a great disappointment to me. It seemed that this small amount of accountability was losing ground. This discussion time was also open for the men to bring up any other subject they wanted to discuss, although this didn’t happen very often. It was also an opportunity for the men to share what they learned from God’s Word that week, what they taught their families during family worship time, or to share a hymn or read some Scripture. Doug strongly encouraged these aspects of the men’s discussion time, but they rarely had anything of this sort to share.
Next came the Lord’s Supper, preceded by the second sermon of the day. One of the men would talk about some aspect of communion, generally lasting about fifteen minutes in length. Communion was limited to those who had been baptized as believers, full immersion-style. Sometimes the men passed the elements down each row, but later on, the fathers usually went forward and got communion for their whole family. The grape juice was served in medium-sized Dixie cups that the whole family could share. The men would take a chunk of matzoh to share with their family as well. It was left up to the men to decide who takes communion in their family. If the father was absent or if a woman didn’t have a husband, one of her sons could bring her communion, even if the boy hadn’t been baptized and wasn’t old enough to take communion himself. If there were no males in the family, one of the deacons would serve the woman communion. If you were not participating in taking communion, it was quite obvious to the whole congregation.
The following hour was for prayer requests and prayer. Every person in every family (except Doug Phillips) came to church almost every single Sunday, unless they were sick or out of town, so this was a time for everyone to get know each family a little better. We knew details of every sickness, updates on difficult situations, and prayed for many outside the congregation as well. This was often a time of just reporting on how God was Providential in our lives that week. Again, the men (and boys) were allowed to speak during the prayer request time. If a woman had a prayer request, she could write it down and give it to another man to read. Then the men all took turns praying for all the requests. The service ended with the Doxology.
There was an annex building next door to the church where all the women would immediately gravitate to get the “pot providence” lunch ready. Visitors were allowed to go first and everyone went through the line as families. There were several picnic tables set up outside (the weather in Texas is nice enough to eat outside almost year round) which were built by some of the boys. There were several tables set up inside as well. Some families ate together, but many didn’t. This was a time when many of the young ladies would take other ladies’ babies and take care of them and feed them, if need be, for the rest of the day. Some mothers wanted a day off and they were glad for the help. Some mothers, however, wanted their older children to take care of the younger children, so the moms could have a day off as well. I thought my children worked hard all week and deserved a day off, so I chose to take care of Alicia, my youngest, myself. My daughter Natasha took care of Honor Phillips nearly every Sunday for three years.
After eating, the children would mostly play outside for the rest of the day. Balls and sports were not allowed on the Sabbath, so the children had to be creative in how they used their time. They made up games and sometimes would bring activities to do together. Some of the young ladies would read books to the younger children or just hang out with the children, trying to keep some kind of order. The adults and other young people would mostly fellowship for the rest of the day. Women were strongly discouraged from discussing theology with men at BCA, although I often did with those men who were willing to do so. While the men would often discuss theology and points of doctrine, the women usually talked about sewing and cooking and child training, when we weren’t talking about how to be more submissive. It was sometimes frustrating to me that the women didn’t even want to talk about homeschooling methods. I almost never felt challenged or stimulated in my thinking during these fellowship times. I usually felt as if I had to park my brain on Sundays. We often wouldn’t leave church until around 5 p.m. Before leaving, we would all pitch in and help clean up.
For a couple years, however, we were given one hour to eat and clean up and then we would separate into a men’s meeting and a ladies’ meeting. The children were free to join us or continue playing, unsupervised. I don’t really know what the men did, other than talk about Scripture and church business. The women would discuss making plans to take meals to those who needed them. However, we also had to first obtain our husband’s permission, so quite often our meal planning didn’t get very far. We would sign up for various clean up duties. Then we would usually talk about how to be a Titus 2 woman or a submissive wife. No matter what the topic was, that was always the angle. We studied Titus 2, word by word. We talked about how “non-normative” Abigail and Deborah and other women in the Bible were. Sometimes women would read passages from books such as “The Excellent Wife.”
Since there was an apparent lack of hospitality among church members during the week (we certainly experienced this), we studied a hospitality book. After we finished the book, we didn’t seem to have much more hospitality than we had before. It wasn’t that hospitality never happened at BCA; it did — a lot — if you were in the right circles. There were certain families that fellowshipped with one another on a regular basis, like we did with the Shorts. But there were other families who never got invited to other members’ homes. If you wanted to eat with the Phillips, you had to be in their inner circle. During the week, however, the women and children often got together for homeschool-type activities and fellowship. Some of these were formal groups and co-ops, but often we just got together with friends.
We did have lots of group activities, however, where everyone was invited. While these do count as showing hospitality and having fellowship, it’s not the same as having just one other family other for dinner. We had lots of baby showers, we had big Fourth of July events, we got together for big events at Doug’s home, often revolving around special visitors. Some people have remarked that some of the events at Doug’s home for his VIPs were just a way of showing off.
A couple events that I especially remember were the “Dinosaur Party,” where Doug showed a National Geographic film about dinosaurs, pausing every few seconds to ask questions such as “Were you there? How do you know what color the dinosaur was? Did you see it change from a bird to a dinosaur?” etc. This picture to the left is when the men got together at the beginning of the year to read the Bible for a whole day. That is my son, Joshua, taking his turn at reading. We had a big party with the DeRosas after they had worked on the Allosaur skull for a while. We had a big party when the Guenther family came to visit from Germany. They talked to us about how extremely difficult it is to homeschool in Germany, legally or otherwise. They worked with HSLDA to set up a kind of legal foundation to help homeschoolers in Germany. As long as Doug hosted these events, nearly the whole church attended.
The Epstein family liked to celebrate the biblical Feasts at that time, and we also invited the whole church several times a year for these Feasts. Everyone came at least once, except the Phillips family. BCA has very much a “not invented here” mentality. Having a successful event meant that you either had to be Doug Phillips, or you had to be part of Doug Phillips’ inner circle. If Doug didn’t come up with the idea, or if Doug didn’t personally endorse the idea, the event generally wasn’t much of a success.
“Family integrated” means keeping families together for the duration of the service. This makes for some interesting challenges now and then. Each family did this differently. Some families worked hard at training their children to sit still for the three to four hour service each week. Others chose to take their children out if they got noisy. This usually took two different forms. Sometimes the mothers would take their babies or young children next door to the annex to feed them or just let them play. Sometimes the older children would take their siblings next door as well. There was no way to hear the sermon while over there, so the women would often sit around and chat while the children played or ate. This was not considered or called a “nursery,” as family-integrated churches don’t have nurseries. And then there were the families that just gave their babies and young children to other people to take care of for them during the service. Beall Phillips, for instance, gave Honor to Natasha to take care of, not just during the service, but for the whole day every Sunday. I used this as an opportunity to teach Natasha how to train babies and toddlers. Honor was a very well-behaved baby while he was in Natasha’s care and we trained him to sit quietly throughout the service.
Family integrated churches are opposed to church “programs,” “age segregation,” and “dividing families.” “Family integrated” implies keeping the family together for the Sunday morning worship service, as well as other church functions. But practically speaking that isn’t often the case, as we experienced at BCA. It was quite common that husbands were divided from wives, such as the “men’s meeting” and “ladies’ meeting.” Children were also often divided from their parents, especially if they couldn’t remain still and quiet throughout a three to four hour service; and the reality is that there are very few babies and toddlers that can. So they would be taken out of the service, often to be taken care of by members of other families. BCA didn’t have an official “nursery” with officially designated “nursery workers.” But practically speaking, if you walked over to the annex building any Sunday, that’s what you saw.
Although there were no rules for being a part of BCA, per se, it was the unwritten rules that were the invisible foundation. It was not a requirement to homeschool, but homeschooling was preached from the pulpit nearly every Sunday. If you didn’t homeschool, you would have felt very uncomfortable at BCA. It was not a requirement for women to never work outside the home, but being a keeper at home was constantly talked about, both formally and informally. If you worked outside the home you would have been made to feel very uncomfortable at BCA (the one exception was that some of the women were permitted to work at Vision Forum, although they apparently were never “hired”). There were no rules about what to wear, but if you are a lady and you don’t wear long, full dresses, you are going to feel terribly out of place. If you visit more than once and you aren’t wearing prairie-muffin dresses, there is at least one woman who will take you aside to teach you how to dress “appropriately.”
There were no rules about how you spent your time during the week or what kinds of activities you participated in, but most families did not participate in any activities outside of BCA-sponsored activities. Our family participated in community activities on a very regular basis and we were always disappointed that others from BCA did not enjoy these activities as well. The unwritten rules even extended to certain words that were not allowed, such as “luck” (as in potluck) and “deviled eggs” (they should be “angel eggs”). As one visitor recently put it, and as I heard from several visitors, “We only visited there one time and felt such an oppression that we knew we had to flee.”
BCA does not have church membership, but they do have a covenant, which in some ways is even more binding than traditional church membership. This covenant was not in place until BCA was about three years old. At that time, the men got together to study the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, which they had to agree with before they could sign the covenant. On Covenant Sunday, Doug preached a message on why covenants were biblical. While we can all agree that covenants are indeed biblical, many people did not see that God was telling us to covenant with one another in that way as a church body and many families left that Sunday. Those men who agreed to sign the covenant all came up to front, one by one, and signed a large scroll-like document with the written covenant at the top and lots of blank space for all the men’s signatures at the bottom, similar to the Declaration of Independence. The man’s signature bound the whole family, although the wives didn’t even know what the beliefs of the church were, unless their husbands chose to share that with them. The women weren’t permitted to read the Covenant, although Doug did read it to the whole congregation. This is consistent with Doug’s view that women shouldn’t be permitted to vote. They were just expected to go along with whatever their husbands decided, even though they may not be permitted to even know the details of what their husbands determined for the entire family.
There are lots of young singles at BCA. Most of these twenty-somethings still live with their parents. A number of young men work at Vision Forum. Some live with other families and some live on their own. When a young lady was asked, “What do you do?”, every young lady was expected to answer, “I serve my father.” What that means in real life is that she lived at home, and cooked, cleaned, and helped with child care, either for her own family or for another family with lots of young children. It was considered quite prestigious to especially be able to do this for the Phillips family. While young men were allowed to work, most of them either worked at home, with their fathers, or for Doug Phillips. Getting a college education for a young man meant doing it by correspondence or through distance learning. None of the young men actually attended college. With approximately 125 people at BCA, about thirty or so were of marriageable age. Yet, weddings were few and far between. Courtship was emphasized and often talked about at BCA. Yet in spite the numerous eligible singles, we never saw much in the way of courtship happening. Perhaps it wasn’t encouraged enough in a practical way because the young ladies were considered too much of a valuable commodity in taking care of other people’s children?
Most people in the church were what we would call “like-minded.” We had the same doctrine, the same lifestyle, the same values, the same convictions. We spent lots of time together, not only on Sundays, but often throughout the week, in various church activities. So with so many eligible young people, we would have expected lots of weddings to take place. But, sadly, there were very few. In the five years we were at BCA, with an attendance peaking at 250 when BCA was about three years old, there was only one wedding within the church and only a couple more who married someone outside the church. Year after year, these young people continue to remain single. Why? Are their personal standards too high?
BCA was a legalistic environment. I have noticed with legalists that when we start with what we perceive to be a “biblical principle,” that principle tends to grow into a “biblical conviction” over time. That conviction grows until it reaches the level of “sin” if not followed exactly. At this point, the details of this conviction begin to become more and more defined, until what started as a good principle is now a long list of dos and don’ts. I have watched this process happen with many young people as well, with the detailed list of rules becoming very prevalent in their lives at an extremely young age. As they grow, they become unwilling to change at all. They are unwilling to make different choices in life in order to accommodate a potential spouse. The list of requirements becomes so extremely tight that it is nearly impossible to find a suitable mate. So we continued to see large numbers of single young people at BCA, year after year, with the number growing each year with more reaching marriageable age than those getting married each year. I still believe that courtship is much “safer” than what so many young people encounter in the dating scene. However, I do have to wonder why, if it’s a “biblical principle,” it isn’t working out any better in a church pastored by one of its leading promoters.
Not all family-integrated churches are alike, however, just as there are many differences among all other types of churches. Even in our like-minded “community” of churches that were all off-shoots of BCA, there are many differences. Since we attended Living Water Fellowship for a while as well, this is a good church to show some of the many differences.
LWF is much more “contemporary,” particularly in its liturgy and form of worship. After we all brought food in for the potluck afterward (and yes, we were free to call it a “potluck”), we began with about 30 minutes of electric guitars and drums and contemporary Christian music. Many of the women and children also participated in a circle of Davidic dance in the back of the school gymnasium, where we met for services. Men were invited to participate, but most were reluctant to do so. Davidic dance is a form of dance that is supposedly patterned after how the Israelites in the Bible, such as Miriam and David, danced to the Lord.
LWF did not have a set pattern of worship after this. There were always announcements, sometimes of classes or Bible studies or prayer times, many of which were often for certain ages or men or women only, or just for couples. They weren’t as concerned about always keeping the family together all the time. Sometimes, Little Bear Wheeler or one of the elders would give a testimony of something God had done in their life that week. Sometimes, other members would have an opportunity to talk about something God was doing in their lives as well. This was not a random testimony time, but usually was planned ahead of time. There were also times when Little Bear would ask someone to speak about something in particular on the spur of the moment, such as when he asked Mark to speak about how God was dealing with his anger. Both men and women were allowed to speak during this time. This did not happen every Sunday, but it did happen often.
Usually, one of the four elders would then give a sermon (LWF believed in and practiced a true plurality of elders). Sometimes it was topical, sometimes it was expository. Little Bear often used video clips or Power Point to embellish his sermons. We also had many guest preachers/missionaries, something which was almost non-existent at BCA. Communion was once a month at LWF, while it was every Sunday at BCA. It was very short and sweet, with each person being served a pre-packaged communion cup of grape juice with a little wafer in a plastic package as the lid for the cup. Everyone was able to decide for themselves if they wanted to take communion. Baptisms took place in the swimming pool at the home next door, which belonged to one of the attendees. I don’t remember any occasion for sharing prayer requests; I think the elders would just announce if there were any needs, which they also list on their website. They did announce prayer requests via email as well. We ended with a short prayer time and another song before getting the potluck lunch prepared.
Since LWF meets in a large gymnasium, there was plenty of room in the back for moms with noisy children or babies. You would often see moms pushing strollers around in the back during the sermon or maybe nursing their babies, but they were always able to listen to the sermon. We were also able to use the school lunch tables for eating our Sunday lunch, so everyone helped put away all the folding chairs from the service and set up everything for lunch. We tried to leave one end of the gym open for the kids to play basketball when they were done eating. It wasn’t unusual to have a ball come flying through your plate at lunchtime! And it soon became quite noisy with approximately 200 people all eating and talking and playing ball. Sometimes, the older girls would organize activities for the younger children. I remember that all the children got together one Sunday and made homemade Mother’s Day cards for all the moms. Some of the young ladies helped the little ones and my disabled daughter make cards as well. There were buckets of toys for the children to play with and there were always children practicing “Heart and Soul” on the piano to add to the delightful cacophony amidst hours of fellowship.
LWF does not believe in membership or signing church covenants. There is no statement of faith that I am aware of. In fact, although at least two of the elders are ordained, one with the Assemblies of God denomination, they don’t have a set of doctrines that I know of. The teaching leans heavily toward Arminianism and dispensationalism. Some families claim to be Reformed; however, I have some doubts that they even understand what “Reformed” means. Although there are many like-minded people at LWF, practicing things like homeschooling and affirming stay-at-home moms, there never seemed to be an emphasis on it. It is just something that most of us naturally did, but not something that we felt obligated by the elders to do, or that we even frequently talked about, the way we did at BCA. It’s entirely possible that there were some who did not homeschool and that there were some women who worked outside the home, at least part-time. College was never frowned on, for either girls or boys. Large families (“full-quiver”) were not idolized, as they were at BCA. Dress was varied. There were just as many women who came to church in jeans and t-shirts as those who wore “modest” dresses. There was no dress code and, for the most part, dress was not an issue.
The four elders made it a point to “smell like the sheep.” I would spend time talking with, and even eating with at least one, if not more, of the four elders and their wives, on any given Sunday. The elders made themselves available. The elders didn’t act like anyone special. They spent time greeting and fellowshipping with everyone who came to LWF. I remember one Sunday when I was sitting at a table with the elders and deacons and a couple other women. We were all discussing theology. I remember even openly disagreeing with their position, but they didn’t condemn me or make me feel uncomfortable for doing so. It was such a joy to be included in meaningful discussions — and with men no less! LWF seemed more “Complementarian” rather than Patriarchal.
These elders were also available day or night. Little Bear and Al both called Mark nearly every single day while we attended there. When there were serious problems, I could call those men even in the middle of the night. I remember one occasion when I was in much fear at home. I called Al (Little Bear was out of town) and he told us to come over in an hour. When we arrived at around 8 p.m., the other elders and their wives were there as well, all prepared to help us, with only an hour’s notice. They stayed with us until midnight that night. They also immediately got us into marriage counseling, with two elders and their wives and another couple who was trained in marriage counseling, meeting with us and another couple every week at Little Bear’s home.
Relationships were a little different at LWF as well. Men and women and children of all ages were able to mingle freely and fellowship with one another. The youth, however, naturally gravitated toward one another, and although there was not an official “youth” group, they definitely hung out together on Sundays, much the way that kids would at any regular church, complete with all the typical bickerings and jealousies. Even though LWF holds itself out as a family-integrated church, in many ways LWF was just a “regular” church, where just about anyone would feel welcome. LWF lacked any of the legalism that we experienced at BCA.
BCA and LWF represent for me two different extremes of the family-integrated church movement. The one was legalistic, authoritarian, and all about image. The other was about grace, with caring and nurturing shepherds, and not at all concerned about image. Looking back on it now, it seems very odd that these two very different churches could be in “community” with one another, especially considering the two very different theologies represented as well.
One of my concerns with the family-integrated church movement is that there are probably far too many of the legalistic churches involved, and too few of the “grace” churches. In fact, by its very nature, the family-integrated church movement tends to attract the former, and the NCFIC’s own Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family is representative of that. The “Confession” is judgmental and condemning of non-FICs. In my next article on the family-integrated church, I hope to address some of those issues.