NOTE: This article appears in the July/August 2006 issue of Frontline Magazine. It appears here with permission of the publisher. Edited for publication by Sharper Iron.
By David Smith
The past decade has witnessed the birth and growth of a movement that is now rapidly infiltrating Fundamental local churches all over our nation. It is known broadly as the Integrated Church Movement (ICM). ICM is championed by Vision Forum Ministries, founded by Doug Phillips. Other transdenominational organizations, such as the Institute for Uniting Church and Home (IUCAH), also exist with the same goal in mind: the preservation of the traditional Christian family. Phillips and the staff of Vision Forum, with support from men like Phil Lancaster of Patriarch magazine (now defunct) and R. C. Sproul, Jr., of the Highlands Study Center, have attempted to launch a drastic paradigm shift in evangelical church polity that is affecting Fundamentalist churches at their very core. On the surface, it would appear that Phillips and the others are right in their defense of the “traditional Christian family”(1) —Fundamentalists would universally agree that the family is under Satanic attack today more than ever. But the overarching question that must be answered by any Fundamentalist when examining a movement is, “Is the movement Scripturally correct?” And a corollary is, “If I join the movement, or those in it, will I be in violation of clear Scriptural mandate?”(2)
The basic tenet of ICM is that the traditional Christian family is under attack by the multifaceted, age-segregated ministry structure of most evangelical local churches—including almost all Fundamental churches. Phillips claims, “Many churches have taken it upon themselves to actually persecute families who want their children to worship with them rather than attending ‘kiddy church,’ or who will not participate in the church youth group or Christian school.”(3) The blame for the dissolution of the traditional Christian family has been squarely laid at the feet of the local church. Once again, Vision Forum stated in the National Conference for Uniting Church and Home, “Rather than helping in this battle, unfaithful church leadership bears the primary responsibility for the vulnerability of the family in the face of its enemies.” Such a sentiment produces in ICM’s adherents an innate suspicion and distrust of, not to mention disloyalty to, their local churches and local church leadership. Most Fundamental churches are working tirelessly to meet the needs of the family on a variety of levels. ICM’s position is that any ministry that physically separates family members from one another is evil and Satanic in origin.
Such a sentiment goes hand in hand with ICM’s emphasis on patriarchy. The Bible clearly mandates that, in the home, the father is the head and leader under Christ. In the church, God has given pastors and deacons, and the body must submit to their leadership in a congregational polity structure.(4) ICM’s position is wholly different. It emphasizes what they call “biblical patriarchy.” Its application of patriarchy is essentially the adoption of a very literal view of Old Testament Jewish customs in many areas of the family and church, to the point of strongly discouraging women from working outside the home under any circumstances and the father’s choosing of mates for his children.(5) Clearly, ICM has taken the cultural customs of a Biblical era and people group and made them normative for the New Testament Church.
Vision Forum’s statement of faith presented to the National Conference for Uniting Church and Family states in Article VI that the Church is a “family of families”: “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.” All seems well until Article VII: “We affirm that the biblical family is a scripturally ordered household of parents, children, and sometimes others (such as singles, widows, divorcees, or grandparents), forming the God-ordained building blocks of the church. We deny/reject the church’s implementation of modern individualism by fragmenting the family through age-graded, peer-oriented, and special-interest classes, thus preventing rather than promoting family unity.” As a result of twelve articles, the Conference made twelve resolutions. The seventh resolution states, “We resolve to acknowledge families as God’s building blocks for the church, and maintain family-integrated rather than family-segregated meetings.”
Such beliefs have done irreparable damage to the genius of the Church within integrated churches. The Biblical genius of the local church is that no true believer is excluded or belittled, but all are divinely gifted members of one body assembled for the glory of God, edification of one another, and evangelism of the lost. Though ICM proponents and advocates are quick to reassure all that their definition of “family” includes “singles, widows, divorcees,” etc., it doesn’t work out practically for them. There is an adoption mentality among ICM adherents: those who do not fit into their definition of family must be “adopted” by a traditional family in order to fit into their church structure. IUCAH states, “The church is a household—or God’s family… . Further, the family, as God designed it always included extended blood relatives and people who did not have a family.” Single individuals, in this paradigm, are left out unless they come under the headship of a patriarchal family leader within the church.
ICM further promotes a divisive spirit within families and churches. Throughout the materials that both Vision Forum and the IUCAH produce are statements such as, “God has established a plurality of elders to rule the local church” and “the rule of qualified elders.” They seem to adhere to an unqualified submission of the family to the local church in spiritual matters; however, there are key subtleties that must be noted. ICM adherents are perfectly content to submit to local church leadership so long as that local church is integrated. (Of course, the only biblically bona fide church in this model is essentially an integrated church.) While not overtly causing divisions in local churches, the approach of the entire movement is subversive. IUCAH has made statements such as, “We are committed to a long term strategy in helping churches make healthy transitions toward church life and ministry that biblically affirms and honors family life.”(6) As Fundamentalists we hold strongly to the autonomy of the local church; ICM’s goal is to either transition local churches into integrated churches or divide them unbiblically.
What lies at the theological core of ICM should concern every Fundamentalist. Sadly, the subtle influx of ICM adherents into Fundamental churches presents various problems. Families who have adopted the theology of ICM are not willing to participate in the various ministries most churches offer. They reject any ministry structure that separates family members from one another at any time. This is not a new concept. It is the reworking of an ecclesiology birthed as the logical outgrowth of a postmillennial theology. Repeatedly Doug Phillips states that the “Church of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of history.” Yet he equates the family with the church and vice versa in statements such as, “The family was the first institution created by God and blessed by Christ during His earthly ministry. It [the family] is God’s primary vehicle for communicating covenant promises to the next generation. It [the family] is the basic agency of dominion on earth.” (7)
Back to the questions that prompted the discussion: “Is the movement Scripturally correct?” When one examines the underlying theology of the movement, the answer must be no. The FBFI is, without apology, committed to a dispensational understanding of Scripture. It is clear that the postmillennial teaching of Vision Forum is in contradiction with the doctrinal statement of the FBFI and would be incompatible with the ministries represented by members of the FBFI.
Our corollary must also be answered: “Should I participate in this movement?” Again, the answer is no. ICM, whether in the personification of Vision Forum or the Institute for Uniting Church and Home, is a transdenominational movement. Perusal of the Vision Forum website reveals a listing of integrated churches. These churches are classified according to their particular theological, hermeneutical, or traditional distinctives, but the one thing that unites them—that litmus test for fellowship—is their integrated church philosophy. Scripture is clear that fellowship with unbelievers and false teachers is sin. Fundamentalists cannot violate the doctrine of separation by allowing ICM to infiltrate our local churches. Fellowship with Vision Forum, IUCAH, or similar groups—or so-called Fundamentalists who adopt such an errant theology and practice—should be condemned, not condoned.
(1) The phrase “traditional Christian family” conveys the ideal of a household wherein there is a father, mother, and children cohabitating together in unity according to their predetermined Biblical roles.
(2) This article is not an exhaustive analysis of the theology of ICM, its adherents, or proponents. It will, however, present salient points from the movement’s own statements as proof of its argumentation.
(3) A letter written by Doug Phillips to those in attendance at the Vision Forum-sponsored “Uniting Church and Home Conference,” July 30, 2002. Emphasis added.
(4) See FBFI Constitution, Article III Statement of Faith, Section 9.
(5) See http://www.visionforumministries.org/sections/home/doctrine/tenets.asp.
(6) See http://www.unitingchurchandhome.org/distinctivesofUCH.htm.
(7) See http://www.visionforum.com/about/.
David Smith pastors Western Avenue Baptist Church in Avondale, Arizona.