Thursday, November 08, 2007

Book Review: Mark Fox's "Family-Integrated Church"

Note: Mark Fox spoke last Sunday evening at Berean Baptist Church here in Charlottesville and a friend from that church gave me a copy of his book to read.

J. Mark Fox, Family-Integrated Church (Xulon Press, 2006): 184 pp.

This self-published work by Mark Fox, Pastor and part-time Communications professor, tells the story of Antioch Community Church in Burlington, North Carolina. As the title indicates, it records in particular the church’s embrace of the "family-integrated" church model. Among other things this has meant the church’s inclusion of children in its worship services and the rejection of a typical youth groups and age graded Sunday School classes. It has also meant other areas of church reform including the development of elder leadership, meaningful spiritual oversight, and the practice of church discipline.

Fox tells the Antioch story with candor. This includes the initial high hopes for numerical growth that were never fully realized, how the church dealt with an attendee who fancied herself "the Bride of Christ" dressing in a wedding gown and standing to "prophesy" in the church’s worship services (!), and how the Antioch leaders sought reconciliation with the Pastor of the church from which they split. In many ways the book is a church history for the Antioch congregation.

I found this book to be interesting reading. Most importantly it points to a movement that is underway in evangelicalism. All across the country, churches are popping up that are struggling with authenticity and Biblical faithfulness. They are interested in genuine reform and renewal. They are seeking this not in programs but in strong families. These churches also reflect the influence of the home-schooling movement in evangelical church life, as families are seeking a level of intimacy in church life that they have discovered in home education. Antioch’s story is an illustration of this grass roots movement.

There are several elements in Fox’s telling of the Antioch story, however, that appear incomplete. One is a commitment to the regulative principle in worship. Antioch appears to be deeply influenced by the Third Wave (charismatic) movement. Fox approvingly describes things like open sharing times in worship services (and some of the inherent dangers of this, as the "Bride" episode illustrates) and even "liturgical dance" that those seeking worship regulated by Scriptural norms will find incongruent. The key missing element, however, is a stress on doctrinal and confessional boundaries. The "family-integrated" church movement, in particular, has grown among those who hold to Reformed confessional convictions, and Fox shows no clear leanings in this direction. Though Fox notes the importance of the authority of Scripture, he does not proceed to stress the importance of a church adopting a confession of faith to regulate the church’s belief and practice. Antioch is also typically "modern" in that it is "non-denominational." The question might be asked whether the place to begin real reform in the church and in the lives of believers is in reformation of family or in reformation of doctrine.

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

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