Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is the family-integrated church Biblical or traditional?

I’m about to leave town for a couple of days so I wanted to leave you with something controversial. I hope I can get some of you stirred up by this, I know I have been.

For the first question, as to whether the family-integrated church is Biblical, I want to look at both the Old and New Testament church practices.

1. Did Israelite families worship together? I don’t know that we can be certain, but it does not appear that they did. I have searched the Scriptures and cannot find specific instructions from God regarding the court of women either in His instructions for the tabernacle given to Moses or His instructions for the Temple given to Solomon. However, Herod’s temple definitely contained an outer court for Gentiles, a court for women (and children), and a court for circumcised Jewish men. The Talmud, which describes the Temple, was written between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD so it must be referring to Herod’s renovation of the second Temple that had been originally built 500 years previously. My question is, and I cannot find this answer, was the court of women an addition by men or was it part of the original plan? At any rate, in the Jewish tradition men and women have worshipped separately for a long time. Only circumcised Jews were allowed into the outer court of the tabernacle so there seems to be some Biblical basis for this, although there was no separate court of the Tabernacle designated by God for women.

It’s hard not to speculate as to why this was the case. Probably it had something to do with headship and the covenant relationship of God with Israel. Of headship, God placed the husband at the head of each individual family, the Levites He dedicated to Himself, and the sons of Aaron (who could minister in the inner court of the Tabernacle) He chose to serve Him as priests. Of the covenant relationship, circumcision, the sign of that relationship, was performed on males only. Not that women could not be in covenant relationship with God, but that only the men bore that sign, which surely reminded each Jewish male of his responsibilities to his offspring who would also fall under that covenant relationship. These are just some of my thoughts, but I would love to hear yours.

2. There also seems to be some evidence of the segregation of the sexes during worship in the early church. Perhaps this stems in part from the concern over order during the worship service (1 Corinthians 14:33-35). It seems that some women in Corinth were interrupting the service and Paul chastised them for that. Other texts in the New Testament reinforce this teaching that the roles and requirements of men and women in the church are different (1 Corinthians 11:3-15, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Of course, the first Christians were Jews and by the way, Orthodox Jewish synagogues still segregate men and women.

Again, it’s tempting to speculate as to the reason for the segregation of men and women during worship, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The point I’m making playing devil’s advocate tonight is that women and children were segregated from the men during worship in the early church. It seems even in their house churches, the women worshipped separately. I’d like to think it was a matter of mere pragmatics. The women were probably busy preparing the fellowship meal and tending to young children. But, it could also have originated out of an attempt for a less distracting worship service. Women can be distracting at times, especially by dressing in either an immodest way or a haughty manner (with fancy jewelry, etc. see 1 Tim 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3) which would attract attention to themselves instead of on the Lord where everyone’s attention should rest during worship. Women can also be distracting and even disruptive with their speech (1 Corin 14:33-35). Some women don’t know when to be quiet and others seem bent on discussing matters better left unsaid. Let me remind you at this point that I am a woman and I’m merely musing (thus the name of my blog) about why the early church may have decided women should worship separately from the men.

3. It is unclear to me when this separation of men and women in church began to change. I’ve read that even during the middle ages it was not uncommon for men and women to gather at public meetings separately. I’m not sure what the Reformers taught on this, but I would like to know. I find it interesting that the Puritans (whom I love) segregated men and women during worship. There didn’t seem to be the same distinction the Jews made of the men being closer and the women farther from the center of worship, though. The Puritans would separate right down the middle aisle with men on one side and women on the other. I read that the Amish still do this when they gather to worship together every other week.

So I hope I left you with some stimulating thoughts. I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is where did the early church fathers get it right and where did they go wrong? God certainly ordains different roles for men and women, but does not consider us different in worth or standing (Galations 3:28). We also know Jesus welcomed children to Him and praised their simple faith. I sure wouldn’t want to argue theology or church practice with early church fathers or Jonathan Edwards for that matter! And I would really like to know what Calvin taught on this. Maybe I should ask my husband- especially seeing as how I’m supposed to be learning from him! (1 Corinthians 14:35) Well, have I succeeded in totally confusing you, or are you convinced that I’m a complete freak? What do you think about this? Was the segregation of the sexes merely pragmatic? If so, why does it no longer apply? Or was there some doctrinal basis for the segregation of men and women in worship? If so, why does it no longer apply? I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about this!


  1. This is Dan, Heather's husband. Great blog. I am so glad you are honestly thinking through the FIC assumptions. Your solid 'historical thinking' is refreshing and helpful to work this issue/question.

    The FIC assumption that families always worshiped together in OT --- "just like us" -- is wrong, an anachronism, where we impose our conviction back onto our interpretation of Scripture.

    We who are FIC minded must beware of legalism on this topic. If we say it is right, the only way, that fam's have all their children with them in the service all the time, we are imposing a human standard and interpretation where Scripture is silent. Yes, I used the "L" word. If we are 'sure' of our FIC "all kids in the pew" assumption, then we are tempted to think ill of other Christians that do not keep the children in the service. We are tempted to feel morally and spiritually superior and to devalue and despise other Christians who often have not even thought through the question in the first place due to the 'church as usual' cultural conditioning.

    Your appeal to the map of the Temple is proof enough that while the Jewish family was FI at home at Sabbath family worship and Passover, they could not have been FIC at the Temple or Synogogue.

    I wish I was a Church Historian of the sociology of the Church -- the practical application of beliefs over time. I do not know when some Protestants did "kids in the service" FI worship at church. Even in the early 20th century, plenty of churches (of the more right end of the spectrum) that had men and women on opposite sides of the church house.

    Again, THANK you for offering these musings and having a place for conversation for 'us FIC minded folk' to work out these questions and problems in practical theolgy.



  2. Jake - Valerie's husband.
    Might have something to do with the curse that fell on Eve and the fact that before Christ came, died, and rose that we didn't have the Holy Spirit living within us. In Genesis 3:16, God tells Eve "and your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." This basically means that a woman will want to be in control over the man. If this is true, then in the old testament if they all came to worship together, some woman might want to try and take control over the mans role and this would cause disorder and trouble in God's holy temple. Could also be that God wanted no chance of lust developing in their hearts while they were in the temple. People in these days did not have the holy spirit dwelling within them to help them overcome such thoughts. Just some possibilities. ;)

  3. now this is really Valerie :)
    sorry, I read this to my husband and asked if he knew the answer. He talked about the difference between the temple of the old testament and the holy spirit dwelling within us now, and I said "hey you should post a comment". So he did. Hope that was what came across :)

  4. Great post.
    BTW...hope you get this soon, 'cause you won my giveaway! Get in touch with me soon so I can get those books out to you. :)

  5. Wow, I got two guys to comment on one post- this must be some kind of a record! Thanks for your feedback guys- it's always welcome. I think if we are to truly be ready to give a defense of what we believe then we have to think through these issues carefully. I'm also so grateful that God is gracious and that He looks at the intentions of our hearts, even when we botch it all up. Thank you again for your comments!

  6. I am so glad you posted on this topic. I have read all your posts but the only replies I read were on this one. So if my question has already been answered on another post please direct me there for your thoughts. I too have wanted to seek out whether the FIC is a traditional practice or scriptural. I too came to your musings/conclusion. When sharing these with other FIC-minded people it seems as though they don't really care if it is either.
    A random question: Are all FIC's calvinist?
    I totally get the fact that the FIC model, statistically, has the best success rate amongst children raised in church not straying from their beliefs. While I wasn't raised in a FIC church, when I was a teen our church was very small. There was no youth group and I was accountable to all ages of women. I also agree that people from all ages and stages of life can effectively encourage/exhort each other to have a common desire..... to grow in love and in their faith. I also find that many women in particular at FIC church more model Titus 2 as they are usually SAHM and some homeschool too. My concern with the CIF model is the fact that it is VERY suitable for people who are Christians, but not so much to the unchurched. Much of the hospitality you mentioned is done in an effort to those who are in the church, maybe a tad weaker in the faith but not necessarily brand new believers still reaking from the stench of the world. I attend a non-FIC church and have admired the FIC model for quite some time. My hubby and I are about to start a church and the one we affiliate with is not FIC. While many of our affiliates are blatent about being non-FIC, I dont think this is a stipulation. Our church affiliate is very outreach oriented, which is something I would like to keep in place. There are many people that come to our church right after getting out of jail or at the bottom of their lowest low from being beat up by the world. (My hubby is in law enforcement and gets lots of opportunities to witness and invite people to church! It is very exciting for non-christians to realize they are no different than the rest of us exept for allowing the Lord to enter thier heart. That we still sin but ask the Lord to help us not desire sin to rule over us. When the same people enter a FIC church they are not as well recieved due to the baggage that comes from being in the world. Hopefully this isn't true of all FIC churches but I have heard more than a couple tell me this. Their kids are out of control and sneared at by church goers because they do not yet have self-control or know any different. The non-FIC is attractive to the unbeliever because they don't feel as if they have to do _____, _______, and _______ before they can even attend church or be around Christians. I struggle with the fact that the FIC is mostly for the saved, who is already going to heaven when we need to be more balanced in snatching people out of the pit of hell. Not making Christianity out of reach through church styles/traditions? Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  7. In reply to the Park family-

    FICs are all over the place doctrinally, but since there is a strong link between Covenant theology and the discipling of children, many FICs will be Reformed theologically. But not all.

    In response to your point on unbelievers, let me say this. I share your heart for the lost, but in my opinion the church is not supposed to be a place where unbelievers feel at home. I believe the church should welcome anyone into the worship service in order to have the opportunity to give them the gospel, however, the church is for believers and should maintain standards of purity according to Scripture. Again, because many FICs are Reformed they will be more apt to practice church discipline (this is only done on members, not visitors). Maybe this is what you're thinking of. Our is a small baptist church and is a very unintimidating place for unbelievers, but I think it's possible to be warm to a visitor, but still adhere to strong membership guidelines. Many FICs will require new members sign a church covenant agreeing to terms so hopefully church discipline will never become an issue. I hope that helps answer your questions. Best of luck to you and your husband with your church plant. I think that's very exciting!



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.