At the ruling of its presbytery, Reformation Church OPC in Elizabeth, Colorado, whose pastor is well-known family integrated church apologist, Kevin Swanson, has removed its name from the National Center for Family Integrated Churches confession. Reformation OPC has removed all references to the NCFIC on their website which means that Reformation is no longer willing to be publicly identified with the NCFIC as it has done since at least 2006.
At the April, 2014 meeting of the Presbytery of the Dakotas of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a complaint was upheld against Reformation OPC for signing an NCFIC family integrated church confession that has “the effect of charging our own congregations, and many others of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, of error without employing the process prescribed in our Book of Discipline and thereby introducing schism into our broader Church.”
The Presbytery’s decision meant that Reformation OPC was required to remove their name from the list and within a week after the ruling, their name was quietly removed from the NCFIC confession. Specifically, it stated that “The Presbytery requested the Reformation session to act expeditiously to remove its name from the NCFIC website until the problems in the NCFIC ‘Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family’ are corrected.” That confession included two articles that were offered as evidence:
Article VII: “We deny/reject the modern trend embraced by many churches to undermine the purpose and government of both family and church, by substituting family-fragmenting, age-segregated, peer-oriented, youth driven, and special-interest programs, which may prevent rather than promote family unity, church unity and inter-generational relationships.”
Article XI, comprised of these statements: “We afﬁrm that there is no scriptural pattern for comprehensive age segregated discipleship, and that age segregated practices are based on unbiblical, evolutionary and secular thinking which have invaded the church (Deut. 16:9-14; Josh. 8:34-35; Ezra 10:1; 2 Chr.20:13; Nehemiah 12:43; Joel 2:15-16; Acts 20:7; Eph. 6:1-4). We deny/reject that corporate worship, discipleship and evangelism should be systematically segregated by age, and that it has been an effective method for making disciples.”
The complaint itself was made by a sister church from the Presbytery, a judicial and ecclesiastical body of regional churches in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Another church had also brought similar concerns to their attention. Initially, the sister church, over a reasonable amount of time, tried to convince Reformation OPC to remove their name from the confession. Eventually, the church brought a complaint, which is similar to a charge or accusation. Reformation denied the complaint as legitimate, thus, it went to the Presbytery to decide upon a pressing issue between sister churches.
Both sides were given 30 minutes to defend their respective positions with their pastors as spokespersons. The church that brought the complaint highlighted the negative affects of the NCFIC position, offering prima facia evidence of the wording of the confession.The body of ruling elders and pastors of the Presbytery were then given time to ask questions and debate the complaint.
Reformation’s denial of the complaint rested on various grounds including the existence of other Reformed churches on the list, the fact that 80-90% of the confession is agreeable, the equivocal nature of the points of contention, and that using the confession has helped them contact families as an outreach. Surprisingly, part of the evidence brought forward by Reformation was from the NCFIC itself. Scott Brown told Reformation in a meeting that they polled the churches on their directory and discovered that 25% of them use Sunday schools. (It is unknown if the Sunday schools are age-segregated or not.)
Reformation also had a long-standing statement on the church and family that was offered as evidence of having exceptions to the NCFIC but that has since been removed. This statement never had an explicit and unequivocal denial of the two NCFIC articles in question.
During the hearing, Swanson was asked directly if he had both feet planted in the OPC or if his allegiance was divided–would he leave the OPC over this issue? He responded in no uncertain terms that he has both feet firmly planted in the OPC and “one little finger” in the NCFIC. He was also asked if he believed practicing age-segregated Sunday school was a sin. He unequivocally denied it was sin. Later, he was asked if such Sunday schools were “unwise or in error” as opposed to being in sin. He responded with an unclear answer to the effect that he could not answer the questions without knowing the particular churches in question.
The NCFIC confession also had other offensive elements that had been brought to the attention of Reformation OPC by other sister churches. The opening introduction declares:
“Our fervent prayer is that our God will raise up Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, family-integrated assemblies from the ashes of our man-centered, family fragmenting churches.” And the last article asserts: “We deny that the church should continue as she has and delay dramatic reformations, or that she will escape the wrath of God for the disintegration and destruction of the family by ignoring or taking lightly biblical roles and responsibilities.”
Supposedly, churches that signed this confession agree with these statements. The issue was not about signing confessions but specifically signing this confession given its de facto effect of “charging [sister] congregations…of error” without confronting them in accordance to Matthew 18.
Although Reformation removed its name under a vote from a higher judicatory body, other churches have removed their names for various other reasons, some after the concern was first brought to their attention. Still others were convinced after listening to Pastor Shawn Mathis’ well-received lecture at the Presbytery of the Midwest, A Pastoral Perspective on the Family Integrated Church Movement.
Though Swanson’s views on family integrated churches were not properly the issue before the Presbytery, the extent of his involvement with FIC movement is seen in his public defense of it, his endorsement of the NCFIC’s flagship book, endorsement of the movie, multiple interviews with NCFIC president Scott Brown, as well as intimate participation in and endorsement of many NCFIC conferences over many years. In a 2012 interview with Brown, Swanson declared:
“Scott, your [NCFIC] conferences are busting out…This thing is growing. This movement is growing. I mean I see this thing expanding. God may be reforming His church even as we speak…It’s exciting. It’s a reformed experience…they are asking the right question, they are looking to the right words for the solutions…getting back to the sufficiency of scripture. And certainly rooting themselves in a Reformed way of looking at the Word of God. That it is the only sole authority…in church, youth ministry.”
For those unfamiliar with Swanson’s FIC teachings, here is some more information:
You can also watch the entire movie Divided to see what Kevin Swanson has said about the FIC movement.
What is my take away from this turn of events?
~ The fact that a well-respected denomination would challenge the NCFIC’s doctrinal positions is monumental and, I believe, signals a crack in the dike of the FIC separatist movement. Until now, to my recollection, no other denomination or church has taken a public stand in a way that actually challenges the faulty doctrines coming from the NCFIC.
~ Kevin Swanson’s turn about on at least his level of support for the NCFIC itself is pretty amazing. It appears that his church website has undergone a good scrubbing and right on the heels of some statements he has recently made regarding the patriarchy movement itself. I am still waiting for a podcast or two explaining this to his minions.
~ I am now watching and wondering if any others who have insisted the family integrated church is the only biblical way of church life will also acquiesce. Perhaps other denominations will now see the doctrinal error and follow suit. I don’t expect anything similar from those churches who see the FIC model as one of their pillars. But it does make you wonder if the same relationships will continue, i.e., via family camps, conferences, their speaking engagements, etc.
~ It is so encouraging to see an example of a church court functioning properly, a rarity in my experience. I so appreciate the work of those who have pursued this with integrity. I have no doubt that Pastor Shawn Mathis, who has been our podcast guest on this very subject, was instrumental in introducing this difficult subject to his peers to lay the groundwork.
~ I have long contended that the entire body of Christ needs homeschooling families and we need them. Perhaps this will be a start in bringing that awareness to more congregations.