A Flaw In The Family-Integrated Movement

Many are familiar with the Family-Integrated movement today. It values and promotes the life of the family, as a family. And it speaks strongly against the modern trends of disintegration within family life. The Family-Integrated movement doesn’t have the corner on the market of promoting family, of course, but it seems to me that there is much good that has come out of this movement. But, having said that, like every movement in the life of the church, this movement also has its excesses. One excess comes to mind when I read Galatians 4:1-2.

“I mean that the heir as long as he is a child is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.” (Gal. 4:1-2)

These two verses are an illustration in the middle of Paul’s argument (3:23-4:6) about passing from one era and sphere of existence to another. Paul describes this as happening in two different, though related, ways: (1) the way God’s redemptive plan has unfolded and climaxed in the revelation and work of Christ and (2) the way a Christian who once lived as a slave now lives as an adopted son. Paul kills two birds with one stone, so to speak, when he illustrates both of these spiritual realities with a single everyday-life allusion.

The specific allusion he uses is to the universal experience of bringing up children. Children grow up under the authority of their father but the father’s authority is delegated to others who are charged with direct oversight of the child at various times. Like all good illustrations, it doesn’t have to be argued or debated. The writer and the readers both assume it to be true. This was the everyday experience of the people that Paul was writing to. That is why it can be mentioned in passing and serve to help (not hinder) Paul’s points that he is making in the passage. His argument, in other words, goes something like this: “Just as your children have been, and are at times, under various tutors and guardians, so also in God’s redemptive plan…”

Notice also that this was the experience of Christians as well as non-Christians alike. After all, Paul is writing to the churches in Galatia (Gal. 1:2; 3:1). He calls them brothers (1:11, 3:15; 4:12, 28; 5:11; 6:1, 18). Notice that Paul didn’t say “the heir is under guardians and managers…except in Christian homes where they are family-integrated and don’t do that kind of thing.” It never enters Paul’s mind that this might not be the experience of the Christians and the churches he is writing to. Furthermore, in using this illustration, Paul does nothing to discourage this reality in their lives.

This is precisely where I see one of a few flaws in the Family-Integrated movement. I want to be careful not to assume that this is true of everyone who would be somewhere under that broad umbrella. But I have seen a tendency to assert that it is morally wrong and unbiblical to do things like children’s Sunday School because it downplays, or even outright compromises the authority of the parents who are given the role of discipling their own children. While it is true that parents are given this role, and it is true that churches can, and often have intruded unhelpfully in this territory, it is also wrong and unbiblical to assert that the parents should be the exclusive influence in their children’s training. And it is wrong and unbiblical to assert that parents can’t wisely delegate their authority over their children to others at times.

As Christopher Klicka has helpfully said, ““You will find that God delegated to parents the authority and responsibility to teach and raise children. You can delegate the authority to train your children to someone else, but you never delegate the responsibility.”[1] A parent is always responsible before God for the training and discipleship that their child gets (or does not get). This responsibility is theirs in times where they maintain direct oversight and in times that they choose to delegate that oversight to others.

In conclusion, I would simply point out that there is usually more than one way to err on any given issue. Hopefully these comments will help you avoid one particular error on this issue. There is much good teaching on the family out there but you must use discernment. As a friend of mine used to say, “When you take in the teaching, you have to chew on the meat and spit out the bones!” May God by his Spirit and his Word make you skilled in the fine art of bone-spitting.

For some more help in this area you might look back at some other things I have written about children and family on this blog such as Where Does The Family Fit? or Family Togetherness in Corporate Worship or Shepherding Children In and Through The Church.

[1] Christopher Klicka, The Heart of Home Schooling, p. 5


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