Monday, August 22, 2011

One man solutions?

Professor Trueman of Westminster Eest has some good observations about the American scene, both political and ecclesiastical, here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Illogical defense of Divided the movie

Here is a summary of some typical arguments defending the new family integrated movie, Divided, and why they fall short of their intended goal.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Mr. Brown's newest nuance in defense of family integrated churches

The following is from the NCFIC blog by Mr. Brown. He is responding to counter-claims that the bible does not have cars or films just like there is no age-segregation.

My hope is that my questions will help bring differing parties together. Or at the least clarify any real differences between the NCFIC and traditional Reformed thinking.

First of all he writes,

"First, the primary argument of the NCFIC and the film Divided is not that youth ministry does not exist in the Bible...What is more important – and this is the main point we want to make – is that all the positive commands and examples in Scripture call for the practice of age-integrated worship and discipleship in the church and the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children."

First, the reader should note the careful (yet unclear) language "modern form of systematic, age-segregated youth ministry". What does this mean? In the movie, the reviewer is left with the worst possible illustration of such ministries. However, it is not youth ministry per se that is rejected but "systematic age-segregation". The NCFIC confession article uses the words "comprehensive age segregated discipleship." But it never offers a definition of these phrases.

Can a youth ministry have non-systematic age-segregation? This important question will help clarify exactly what Mr. Brown means.

Secondly, an argument from silence is used but it is a secondary argument. As such it is still invalid unless clarified by another premise. Such a premise has not been offered or proven (for example, "that which is not in the Bible is therefore suspect").

Third, it is claimed "all the positive commands and examples in Scripture call for the practice of age-integrated worship and discipleship in the church and the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children." This is not precisely true since no command states: "children should only be family integrated for instruction," neither in so many words or by syllogistic reasoning. Not one. But apparently the bible states that "children should more often than not be age-integrated for instruction" according to Mr. Brown's exceptions (see below).

Consider another important point: the commands and examples offered are not specific enough to determine exactly how the meetings of instruction were arranged. Did the wives sit with the husbands? Did nursemaids watch over the infants? Did families even sit with each other? The texts do not say, except Nehemiah 8 which is (special) pleaded away into an insignificant "exception". Yet history tells us that during the time of Christ families were separated in the temple worship. Where is the New Testament outrage for this practice?

Next he states,

"The Bible is clear about this matter, and it gives the full range of that teaching including who, where, why, what, and when....When you split youth up according to age, you are doing something that is contrary to the explicit, revealed commands and patterns of Scripture...to claim that we can set aside these scriptural methods and employ our own methods because we do things and use means not mandated in Scripture in other areas of church life is a generic fallacy."

Let me take this in reverse: "generic fallacy"--I do not know what that is. I googled it. Perhaps he means the "genetic fallacy." This is a logical fallacy of denouncing (or proving) something based upon its origins. Thus a Christian who would reject Aristotelian logic because it was formalized and expanded by an unbeliever is committing the genetic fallacy.

Even granting this is the fallacy he desired to use I am not sure how it relates to the issue at hand. On the other hand, when the movie points to Plato and Rousseau as the source of modern age-segregated youth ministries that is a genetic fallacy.

Now for the details:

"The Bible is clear about this matter, and it gives the full range of that teaching including who, where, why, what, and when."

I am not sure what this means. For instance, what is what? Is this the subject matter of the teaching? The method? It is noteworthy that how is missing in this list. But age-segregation is a how of instruction.

If the bible gives the what of teaching where is the verse that says: "learn to read, write and type"? Where are the examples? If we are counting examples and lining them up as Mr. Brown appears to do in his book, then in the bible the majority ("primary") of examples are oral examples: people speaking and memorizing. The "exception" is non-verbal.

If these are not the "full range" covered in his assertion then what is covered? This assertion only creates more questions.

Lastly, he elaborates a distinction missing in the NCFIC confession and book:

"Third, methods and means of discipleship are in a different class than microphones and computers. Discipleship methods are defined and commanded in Scripture and are matters of Law (i.e., God’s revealed will that we are to obey), while things like microphones, computers, and film are matters of technology (i.e., practical tools we can use as means to carry out the Law of God). In regard to technology and other practical aspects of church life (where we meet, the length of our meetings, type of seats we use, etc.), these are matters of liberty that are under the biblical guidelines for the practice of liberty. This means that Scripture must be consulted to see if they contradict anything that Scripture maintains."

Not a single bible passage or theological syllogism is offered to prove this point. It is completely arbitrary to assert that "methods and means of discipleship" are substantially different than "microphones and computer." For if the sufficiency of Scripture gives the "full range of that teaching including who, where, why, what, and when" then one would expect technology (a what and how of discipleship) to be sufficiently and explicitly guided by the Bible.

So, since discipleship is part of the law of God. And the "methods and means of discipleship" are matters of the Law. Therefore, these "practical tools" which Mr. Brown admits are "means to carry out the Law of God" must fall into the same category. Unless equivocation of terms is occurring.

Again, upon what biblical principle does he differentiate discipleship methods that are significant from discipleship methods that are not significant (my language)? I believe that using computers for discipleship purposes is significant because instructional time can be hampered if one is using the computer more than a human in some cases. Generally, it is not the tool itself that is a problem but the usage of the tool.

More importantly, the entire paragraph is built upon an unproven premise (as is the entire book): the regulative principle of discipleship. In my own words for clarification: all methods and means of discipleship invented by the brain of man without His own express commandment is wrong.

Now, I have never seen it written out that way. What we have instead are the elements of this premise found in Mr. Brown's posting and book. See especially the "desert isle test." He requires that "all the positive commands and examples" must limit the range of discipleship methods to just those things explicit in the commands and examples of the bible--just like the regulative principle of worship (RPW).

The Scottish reformer, John Knox, explained the regulative principle of worship as, "All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without His own express commandment, is idolatry." All Reformed creeds follow this principle for worship. Otherwise the Reformers exercised Christian liberty even in the domain of education and discipleship (read the history here).

Now to sum up, why is "systematic age-segregation" rejected? Because all the commands and examples of the bible are age-integrated. But why does a Christian need to find explicit commands and examples of discipleship before using a method of discipleship? I do not know what their answer is. Somehow discipleship (however defined) has a separate moral interpretive tool than other moral fields of everyday life.

But the matter does not end there. Mr. Brown allows for age-segregation!

"There are times when it may be appropriate for various ages of people to meet for specific purposes" (A Weed in the Church, p.231, cp.61).

Then what is the whole debate about? Why is this exception not placed at the beginning of the argument? Where is it in the NCFIC confession?

Has the entire decade long debate been over how much age-segregation is allowed? If so, how much does Mr. Brown think is allowable?

Very little it seems. "However, this is not to be the normative pattern of biblical youth discipleship, but rather an exception." A glimpse of how much is offered on page 225 where he contends that as "little as one hour a week" of age-segregation is "problematic" for those wishing biblical felicity.

In other words, 1/168 of a week is still too radical to contemplate. That is .006% of a child's week! What Mr. Brown gives in one hand is virtually taken away by the other.

At the end of the day, the article offered by the NCFIC did not bring much clarification. I do not know where this leaves the movement. But I do hope that the questions and observations of my article will bring more light than heat.

[Family integrated church series here].

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Summary of age-segregated catechizing practices of the church fathers

I was asked at puritanboard.com about the history of catechizing. Although I have focused on the broader question of how Christians educated their children over the centuries, I still have much information on this narrow question.

Below was my very short answer:

If you are referring to Divided, please see the comments at the puritan forum here. And my review here.

It is important to know that the organization behind the movie actually has two problems with the modern "youth programs": separation from parents and age-segregation. Thus the history of Christian schooling as well as catechizing are both relevant in showing the gross inaccuracies of this movement.

[To fully understand the NCFIC and her leaders please read my article, What is a Family Integrated Church? (According to a current church member of Mr. Brown's church and one-time intern for Mr. Brown and currently employed with the NCFIC, Mr. Glick, my article was accurate).]

Here is a sample of the history of catechizing (and school class divisions).

Jewish Church:

"In this period a synagogue presupposed a school, as with us a church implies a Sunday school. Hence the church and Sunday school, not the church and the district school, is a parallel to the Jewish system. The methods in these schools were not unlike those of the modern Sunday school. Questions were freely asked and answered, and opinions stated and discussed: any one entering them might ask or answer questions. Such a Jewish Bible school, no doubt, Jesus entered in the temple when twelve years old...in the apostolic period teachers were a recognized body of workers quite distinct from pastors, prophets, and evangelists (see 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29; Eph. iv. 11; Heb. v. 12, etc.). The best commentators hold that the peculiar work of teachers in the primitive church was to instruct the young and ignorant in religious truth, which is precisely the object of the Sunday school." (A Religious encyclopaedia, Schaff, 2262)

Ancient Church:

“These catechetical classes and schools were intended to prepare neophytes, or new converts, for church-membership, and were also used to instruct the young and the ignorant in the knowledge of God and salvation. They were effective, aggressive missionary agencies in the early Christian churches, and have aptly been termed the 'Sunday schools of the first ages of Christianity.' The pupils were divided into two or three (some say four) classes, according to their proficiency. They memorized passages of Scripture, learned the doctrines of God, creation, providence, sacred history, the fall, the incarnation, resurrection, and future awards and punishments..." (Schaff, ibid)

Reformation and Post-Reformation:

The Geneva Academy had two divisions: schola privata and schola publica (the Academy proper). The schola privata (the lower school) was divided into seven grades, admitting children as young as age six. Most boys stayed in each grade a year, but could advance earlier. School began at six in the summer and seven in the winter and lasted until four in the afternoon. Children went home under escort from nine to eleven in the morning. Classes were on Saturday as well and included an afternoon recess. The children sung Psalms one hour a day as well. Catechism classes were held Sunday afternoons. (The History and Character of Calvinism, John T. McNeil (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 194ff. cp. Calvin and the Biblical Languages, John Currid (Christian Focus Publications) 2007).

Article 21 of the Dutch Church Order of Dordt (1618) orders that:

"In order that the Christian youth may be diligently instructed in the principles of religion and be trained in piety three modes of catechizing should be employed I. In the houses by the parents II. In the schools by school masters III. In the churches by ministers elders and catechizers those specially appointed for the purpose." (Full quote here).

It also stated:
"That these may diligently discharge their trust the Christian magistrates shall be requested to promote by their authority so sacred and necessary a work and all who have the oversight and visitation of the churches and schools shall be required to pay special attention to this matter."

[This civil enforcement was also enacted in New England and similar oversight in Geneva. Pastor oversight was neigh universally encouraged.]

Now, for the parts more germane to the movie:

"The schoolmasters shall instruct their scholars according to their age and capacity at least two days in the week not only by causing them to commit to memory but by instilling into their minds an acquaintance with the truths of the Catechism. For this end three forms of the Catechism adapted to the three fold circumstances and ages of the young shall be used. The first shall be for the young children comprising the Articles of Faith or Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Institution of the Sacraments and Church Discipline with some short prayers and plain questions adapted to the three parts of the Catechism. The second shall be a short compendium of the Catechism of the Palatinate or Heidelberg used in our churches in which those who are somewhat more advanced than the former shall be instructed. The third shall be the Catechism of the Palatinate or Heidelberg adopted by our churches for the youth still more advanced in years and knowledge."

[Radical nuts following evolutionary though? I think not. But godly men using the light of nature to differentiate between babes, children, youths and adults--broad categories followed by many cultures.]

"John Knox devised a system of Sunday schools, at the very beginning of the Reformation in Scotland, which system has been in operation in that country more or less extensively ever since. So that the Sunday schools which now exist in Scotland are derived, not from the system of Raikes in England, but are only a revival of the old system of the Reformer. These schools are frequently referred to in the records of that Church, and in the biographies of good men connected with it. In 1647, the General Assembly recommended to all universities to take account of their scholars on the Sabbath dny of the sermons, and of their lessons in the catechism [students at "universities" could be as young as twelve]. John Brown, the godly carrier, had in his day a Sabbath school at Priesthill. It is stated, on the authority of Rev. John Brown, D. D., of Langton, Berwickshire, that Sunday schools were in existence in Glasgow, and other places, in 1707. Ihey were in operation in Glasgow, and other places, in 1759, and also in many places in 1782." (The Congregational Quarterly, 1865, p.20)

The pastors and elders of the Bohemian Unity of Brethren church would assemble the older children of the church after the worship services to examine how well they retained the sermon; “hence our ancestors held separate addresses to the different classes, the beginners, the proficients, the perfect; also to the single, and again to the married by themselves: which practice it is evident was not without its advantage.” "At the conclusion of the noon and afternoon service, the elder youths and girls remain, and are examined by the preacher (one of the elders assisting him with the former, and one of the matrons with the latter) to ascertain what attention they have paid that day in hearing the word of God, and how much each has retained. Moreover, during the Lent season, on Wednesday and Friday evening, meetings are held, termed salva (from the hymn Salva nos Jesu, rex cmli, "Save us, Jesus, heavenly King,") in which the mystery of redemption is diligently inculcated, especially upon the young." (Church Constitution of the Bohemian, 136ff.)


Early America:

The church in Norwich, Connecticut, in the Spring of 1675 covenanted together to instruct their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord: “We do therefore this Day Solemnly Covenant to Endeavour uprightly by dependence upon the Grace of God in Christ Jesus our only Saviour. First, That our Children shall be brought up in the Admonition of the Lord, as in our Families, so in publick; that all the Males who are eight or nine years of age, shall be presented before the Lord in his congregation every Lord’s Day to be Catechised, until they be about thirteen years in age. Second. Those about thirteen years of age, both male and female, shall frequent the meetings appointed in private for their instruction, while they continue under family government, or until they are received to full communion in the church.” (The Ecclesiastical History of New England, p.665 )

"It is well known that every respectable family had a regular weekly exercise in the catechism [in early New England]; and also that once a week in some towns, or once a month in others, the minister gather the children and youth of his parish, at two o’clock, on Saturday afternoon to catechize them." (The Congregational Quarterly, 1865, 21)

As late as 1808 (before Sunday Schools reached critical mass), the General Association of the Congregationalists in Connecticut, “That they [parents] require them to attend public catechisings till they are fourteen years of age, and thenceforward, during their minority, to attend seasons, that may be appointed by their pastor, for the religious instruction of youth.” (Panoplist, 1808, p.159.)

"My first acquaintance with Mr. Donnelly [early 1800s] was when I became a pupil in his school in my father's neighbourhood, in Chester District, S. C. I entered his school at an early age; and as he was my first teacher, (my parents excepted,) so he was also among the last. Under his tuition I studied the elementary branches, such as reading, spelling, etc., and recited to him the Larger Catechism. The Bible was not then excluded from the school, on the ground of its being a sectarian book…the afternoon of every alternate Saturday was spent in reciting Catechisms and portions of Scripture, which had been previously committed to memory- IIe was a rigid disciplinarian of the Old School…” (Letter, 1862, Rev. McMillan to William Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. 9, p. 26.)"

If you have any more questions please ask.