How NOT to Argue Against the NCFIC Hermeneutic

This morning, I saw this post of someone representing a criticism of the NCFIC that looks an awful lot like what I have said, but there is an important distinction that needs to be made. Here is the way an objection was framed:

“Leclerc suggests in his movie that age-segregated churches are scripturally defiant. I don’t agree with that! If we are to come to the conclusion that all things not mentioned in the bible should not be incorporated into our modern churches, then we have a lot of things to change. In fact, we could make a pretty long list of the things we use and rituals we have that absolutely were not present in the early church. It seems that we would need to discontinue the use of electricity, church buildings, microphones, air conditioning, little plastic communion cups, etc. None of these things were a part of the early church, right?”

That is not the way to frame the objection. You have to discuss hermeneutical distinctions between meaning and significance first. Then you have to show that they are willing to confuse meaning and significance on one issue [the teaching ministry of the church], but they are unwilling to make that same mistake when it comes to other things [technology, plastic communion cups, etc.]. The point is that they are using one hermeneutical standard for one issue, and another hermeneutical standard for another issue, which usually means that you have some bias that you are bringing to the text.

When you point to youth groups and Sunday schools as applications of the significance of the command to teach, there is only one of three possibilities of response:

1. You can try to argue that youth groups and Sunday schools have nothing to do with teaching.

2. You can show that youth groups and Sunday schools contradict a specific command in scripture.

3. You can just be arbitrary, and allow for the meaning/significance distinction in one instance of language, but not in the other.

While there are many youth groups and Sunday schools to which #1 would apply, I don’t think there is any question that youth groups and Sunday schools *can* teach and *should* teach. Therefore, if youth groups and Sunday schools teach, you cannot use objection #1.

#2 is absolutely exegetically impossible to prove. If they try to argue this, then the refutation must be exegetical.

#3 is where most of the folks that follow this movement go. They are just simply willing to be arbitrary in their hermeneutic, and use one standard for one set of texts that they are unwilling to use for another set of texts.

Therefore, my approach has simply been to call them to be consistent. If they are going to confuse meaning and significance, then, yes, the result is syncretism, because you must confuse meaning and significance in *all* instances of a text, and the only applications of a text you can have are ones that are semantically spelled out, and thus, the significance of the text can never go beyond the context of the text. That is the definition of syncretism.

That is why I said in my criticism of Scott Brown’s post on air conditioners and microphones that he still has not dealt with the key issue of the arbitrariness of his hermeneutic. When you have to be arbitrary like that, it shows that you have unbiblical traditions that you are trying to protect-i.e., the idea that Sunday schools and youth groups are wrong.

I do want to point out something gaining traction in this movement, and that is to say to similar argumentation as was argued above: “The Bible specifically speaks to the issue of how to apply the command for the church to teach.” Of course it does. The problem is, it does not specifically speak to the application of this command alone. It speaks specifically to the application of the command to honor your father and mother, and yet, not once does it ever speak of a national holiday such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Does that mean it is wrong for us to have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? According to the logic of the NCFIC it is. The Bible also speaks specifically to how to apply the command to protect innocent human life. Yet, nowhere does it mention anything about amusement park ride inspections or railings at the edge of the upper deck of a baseball stadium.

The point is that applications that are not specifically mentioned in scripture, even applications of texts not found in scripture where specific applications are given in scripture, are not a violation of Sola Scriptura, if they are applications of the text itself. That is because Sola Scriptura deals with *doctrines* and *teachings* that define what it means to be a Christian, and not the *significance* of those doctrines and teachings. If Sola Scriptura did pertain to the significance of the text, then you would either need a book of infinite length [because the number of possible worlds to which the text could apply are infinite], or you would need to be a syncretist, as the application of the text could never go beyond the specific context of the text itself. That *would* mean that we would need to discontinue the use of electricity, church buildings, microphones, air conditioning, little plastic communion cups, etc. Certainly, the meaning and significance of the doctrines of scripture are related, but they are not the same thing, and to confuse the two is a category error.

However, if you don’t set forth the meaning/significance distinction, then you are not accurately representing the argument I have set forth. That distinction is crucial, because it shows that the arbitrariness is actually an arbitrariness in their *hermeneutic,* and language simply will not abide that arbitrariness. It shows that these folks have an unbiblical tradition [the idea that Sunday schools and youth groups are wrong] because they have to change their hermeneutics in order to come to that conclusion.

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One Response to “How NOT to Argue Against the NCFIC Hermeneutic”

  1. Laura Says:

    Hi,
    I posted this critique of the film ‘Divided’ on the website about a month ago. Thought you might be interested.
    All for Jesus,
    Laura
    A Response to ‘Divided’

    If you took the time to watch ‘Divided’, I ask you to also take the time to read this critique of some of the arguments made in the film and on the website.

    I am entering this discussion because this issue is causing disunity in the Body of Christ, which is something that I am, and God is, passionate about (Eph 4:1-3). Pastor Chuck Smith once said, “When Christ’s Body is divided, pray tell, who bleeds?”

    My purpose in writing this is that I see a misunderstanding in the film ‘Divided’ regarding the BLACK and WHITES of Scripture vs. the GREYS (areas the Bible is silent on). To have Youth Ministry or not to have Youth Ministry is NOT a Black and White issue. It is an area where we need to be led by the Spirit in our individual churches and families.

    First I must make a few disclaimers. PLEASE know my heart is not to cause division, but rather to expose an error that is hurting the FAMILY of CHRIST! Even though I feel compelled to write this, it is my fervent prayer that I do so “making every attempt to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3)

    This is written with respect, and in the love of God, for the men who produced, and appeared in, the film ‘Divided’. Also, I am NOT saying my conclusions necessarily reflect the personal views of all the family-integrated Church (FIC) proponents featured on ‘Divided’. Rather, the conclusions I have come to are based off of the presentation as a whole, as well as the information provided on their website.

    I share the concern that many youth programs have become entertainment-based instead of Scripture-based. I also wholeheartedly agree that fathers need to be the spiritual leaders in their homes (Eph 6:4). Additionally, I am IN NO WAY opposed to age-integrated worship. I truly believe the Lord is leading certain churches in that direction!

    What I DON’T agree with is saying that age-integrated worship is THE model we see in Scripture, or conversely, that “…Youth Ministry is Contrary to Scripture.”

    The Positions Of ‘Divided’
    The ‘Divided’ website states the following concerning their primary argument (emphasis and numbering is mine): “First, the primary argument of the NCFIC and the film Divided is not that youth ministry does not exist in the Bible. While we do observe in the film that the modern form of systematic, age-segregated youth ministry has neither precept nor example to support it in either the Old Testament or the New Testament, we do not rest our argument on this fact alone. What is more important – and this is the main point we want to make – is that (1) 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. Deuteronomy 4:2 commands us not to add to or take away from the teaching and commands of Scripture in this regard. (2) TO ENGAGE THE CHURCH IN SYSTEMATIC AGE-SEGREGATED YOUTH MINISTRY ADDS TO GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW YOUTH ARE TO BE TAUGHT AND TRAINED, and (3) IT TAKES AWAY FROM GOD’S COMMANDS TO PARENTS TO TEACH THEIR OWN CHILDREN (Deut. 4:9; 6:7).”

    From this statement, we see three main positions of their argument, which I have numbered and emphasized in capital letters. I disagree with each of these positions, and will deal with each one in order.

    Scripture Does Not Call For Age-Integrated Worship

    The first position I disagree with 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.”

    There are numerous positive commands in Scripture regarding the responsibility of parents to disciple their own children, and therefore, I do not disagree with the second half of their statement. However, it is significant that there is not one single positive command for age-integrated worship anywhere in Scripture.

    Clearly, the parental responsibility of discipleship is not something God wants His people in confusion over, so He has repeated the command to parents explicitly in numerous places (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4, etc.).

    If age-integrated worship was also important to God, we would expect that He would similarly instruct us with clear commands to implement it within His church. But He has not.

    It is my position that just as no set of positive commands exists which specifically call for age-integrated worship, neither does there exist a “normative pattern” of “examples” which calls for age-integrated worship as it relates to the regular weekly worship structure of the New Testament (NT) church.

    Scriptures Used In Support Of FIC

    The Bereans were noted for searching the Scriptures. Let’s be Bereans and see what “normative patterns “of “examples” might exist in Scripture of age-integrated worship.

    The ‘Divided’ movie and website claim that age-integrated worship is clearly taught and seen throughout the Bible, however, very little Scripture is provided. What follows come from the NCFIC community (in absence of references on the ‘Divided’ website) and are the only Scriptures I have seen used to support the “normative pattern” of age-integrated worship.

    Before we begin, what should be noted up front is the immediate context of each of these supporting passages. When it comes to Bible interpretation, “Context is King”. Significantly, regular corporate worship is not the immediate context of any one of these passages.

    “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31:12–13) Earlier, in v10, Moses was instructed to do this “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at THE FEAST OF BOOTHS (emphasis ours), when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God.” Notice the context: This was not their regular worship, but rather a festival. Not even a yearly one, but one that came every SEVEN YEARS. Is this passage truly in support of age-integrated worship within the Church? I don’t believe so.

    “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.” (Joshua 8:35) Here Joshua is fulfilling something Moses instructed in Deuteronomy 27:1-8: “Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people saying, Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And ON THAT DAY THAT YOU CROSS OVER THE JORDAN (emphasis mine) to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you…” Here again we do not see a pattern for weekly, corporate worship, but a celebration and memorial on a very special and never-to-be-repeated again occasion: the people coming into (to possess for the first time) the Promised Land.

    “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.” (Ezra 10:1) Here a worship service is not taking place, but rather a national time of repentance for the people having “…broken faith with our God and married foreign women from the peoples of the land…” (verse 2). Some of the women and children present here may have even been of the ones who were “put away”. Verse 3 says, “Therefore let us make a covenant with our God TO PUT AWAY ALL THESE WIVES AND THEIR CHILDREN (emphasis mine), according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the command of our God, and let it be done according to the law.” Clearly the context of this passage is not one of regular corporate worship. Rather, it is a tragic event in Biblical history, and example of the devastating consequences of sin.

    “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.” (Nehemiah 8:1–2) The footnote in my ESV Bible says concerning this passage: “In this (passage) the Book of the Law is solemnly read, the Feast of Booths is kept, and a great act of covenantal renewal is performed.” The Israelites had come back into the land after a long absence. This was a unique occasion and festival (the Feast of Booths), not a regular gathering of corporate worship.

    Yes, in each of the above passages we saw men, women and children present during the reading of the Law at three distinct gatherings (and one tragic event in Israel’s history that includes not the reading of the Law, but corporate repentance), but do these “examples” really argue for a “normative pattern” that then is to be looked at as a prescription for NT church worship?

    Let’s move on to the New Testament. These passages should be especially important, since it is the New Testament Church we are discussing.

    “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” (Matthew 18:1–5) “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13–15) Here again, corporate worship is not the context. The purpose of these passages is to teach truth regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, of which children are a precious part. Was it important that Jesus called the little children to Him? Yes! But it is not an example of age-integrated worship. They came to Him there (presumably alongside their parents) because the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was physically in their midst! Today, little children can come to Jesus in the sanctuary alongside their parents OR in a classroom with a Sunday School teacher. There are NO commands (either positive or negative) of Scripture that would lead us to believe otherwise.

    “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1) The context here also not corporate worship, it is the institution of God’s design for the Christian household (Ep. 5:22-6:9).

    “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Col. 3:20) Same as above.

    “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,” (2 John 1). The context here is not corporate worship, but rather a salutation.

    Regarding the above three verses, some have made the argument that Paul assumed that children would be present when these letters were being read. Therefore, they conclude that the “normative pattern” of the NT church was one of age-integrated worship.

    First, it should be noted that the children being present in the worship service MAY have been out of necessity (limited space) or the result of cultural norms. If cultural norms and setting constitute examples we are supposed to follow then you would also have to conclude that women must keep their heads covered during worship, that the Lord’s Supper is to be more than bread and wine (i.e. a meal), that believers are to adopt a kind of communal living based on the example of the church in Acts that had “all things in common”, and any number of false conclusions.

    But even if these three NT passages are “examples” of children being present in the worship service with their parents, it does not follow that they constitute a “normative pattern” for the NT church that then warrants a prescription for how the global Church should operate. I will make the argument further on in this post that “patterns” are not tantamount to commands, and cannot be used to determine whether something is THE Biblical way to do something (i.e. it would be sin not to do it).

    Having reviewed the Scriptures provided, it seems clear to me that there is neither a Biblical command nor a Biblical pattern for age-integrated worship. (For that matter, neither do we find a prescription for age-SEGREGATED worship). Rather, the Bible is silent on the matter. It is a Grey area.

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