The Puritans didn’t all segregate men and women. First off, the term Puritans is rather broad, so the sources I read before that alluded to the segregation were obviously using the term more narrowly than I was or were not aware of other practices. I’ve recently learned from talking with my husband (my favorite part of traveling together!), who loves studying the history of church architecture, that early Congregationalists (the more independent of the Puritans) filled their sanctuaries with booths from which individual families could worship. This was a hearkening back to the Festival of Booths during which time Israelites would live in booths for a week to remind them of their deliverance out of Egypt and sojourn in the desert. Anyway, I find this so interesting. We might ask ourselves why worship in booths? Maybe this allowed each family to worship together free from other distractions. You might wonder, what about widows or widowers? I think it is peculiar to the last 100 years or so for a widow or widower to live in a place without any children. It’s likely that most single adults had extended family with which they could worship. Being isolated within a booth would probably also help toddlers and small children to be more content and not so tempted to get up and stroll around the sanctuary or talk to other church members.
Anyway, the point of my sharing this with you is that according to JI Packer even the Puritans disagreed amongst themselves about Puritan forms of worship. This leads me into the concluding portion of my series on the family-integrated church. Since the Bible is silent on many details of how to worship, like where people are to sit and whether they are to sit together as a family or separate according to gender or age, there is some freedom on how a church will worship. The main thing is that we remain focused on how God desires to be worshiped and seek His will in the Scriptures. The main thing is to be about bringing glory to God and not convenience to man. The main thing is to be concerned with contrite hearts and not entertainment. However, if this could only be accomplished by one particular form, the Bible would give us more specific instructions as to what that looks like.
(I just couldn't resist this worship cartoon. They have obviously lost focus on what matters in this church!)
I’m sure that in early churches where men and women were segregated during worship, it was with the intention that this would make worship more spiritual, and less worldly. After all, when we’re in heaven we won’t be so concerned about male/female relations as we are now. Certainly co-ed worship then will be pure and free of the distractions that can interfere with co-ed worship today. Also, when in heaven, we women will have finally gained the control over our tongue that so often eludes us now. Titus 2 mentoring becomes easier in a male/female segregated church, too. At any rate, it is my suggestion that whatever forms a church adopts for worship, if the elders are desiring to be Biblical and are prayerfully searching the Scriptures, then they can accomplish this in a number of ways. Some Puritans divided the men from the women. Some provided family booths for worship. Either way they were attempting to draw the attention of the worshipers away from the things of the world and onto the things of God. God can be glorified by either form.
Although I don’t believe it’s the only Biblical or historical form, I’m still very much in favor of the family-integrated church model. Let me explain. In every generation you have a remnant that is the true church. However, the majority of the church usually goes the way of the world. This doesn’t look the same in every generation, because world cultures change. In our generation, it is of my opinion that the assault on the family has become a major cultural attack on the church and has provided a huge stumbling block to the effectiveness of the church. (When I say effectiveness I’m talking about the church fulfilling its Biblical design to glorify God and build-up believers to maturity through the preaching of God’s Word. One way to judge church effectiveness is to compare the church to the world and see how different it is. If we are truly set-apart from the world for godliness then we won’t look very much like the world.) Divorce rates are the same within the church as outside it. Feminism and homosexuality have also invaded the church. According to Barna, fewer than 10% of professing American Christian families read the Bible or pray together during a typical week (Revolutionary Parenting p. 31). The Biblical teachings of training up our children and disciplining them out of love are all but forgotten. Biblical discipleship and mentoring have been completely neglected by most modern churches, so wisdom has ceased to be passed on from the older generation to the younger. It is this void in our modern church that the family-integrated church fills.
However, many of us do not go to a FIC and for many of us it may not be possible. So, what I want to do in my next few posts is look at how we can apply some of the principles we’ve been looking at within a non-FIC. In other words, how can we fight off the cultural attack on the family within the modern church? How can we have a Sunday school program, but make it Biblical? How can we do Biblical discipleship and mentoring in a non-segregated (men and women) and non-FIC? How can we encourage Biblical fellowship and sharing of all things in a mega church? I hope you’ll stay with me for the conclusion of my series and I will especially value your comments at this time, as well. Do you go to a non-FIC? If so, what does your church do, or what do you do outside of your church or in addition to it, to encourage Biblical family life? I’m very excited about the next few posts and would like to challenge you to let go of all assumptions until we finish. Thank you for your support and participation.