The Critical Importance of Family Worship
“We deeply want a revival of domestic religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the Puritans; but in these evil times hundreds of families of so–called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children?
Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach! Let your families be trained in the fear of God, and be yourselves “holiness unto the Lord;” so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us.” – C.H. Spurgeon
I was once a big fan of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, that is until Calvin began popping up on the back windows of pick-up trucks everywhere. In one of the cartoons I particularly remember, Calvin asked his mother what made the lamp work, and she told him to ask his father, then there is a panel where his father is kneeling down talking to him with kind of a smirk on his face, and in the next panel Calvin is turning on the lamp and saying “Look Mom! MAGIC!”
The Cartoon points out something that should be manifestly evident to all of us (other than the fact that fathers can be evil at times.) Namely, that children only know about things from either experiencing them or from having someone tell them. And when they are young, in particular, they are like little sponges. My wife and I have learned the hard way to be extremely careful about what we say and do, because we have a bunch of little mimics in the house. Nothing is more amusing than suddenly hearing one of your own particular expressions spoken with your own intonation coming from another room in your 4 year old son’s voice. Children are indeed like little sponges, and that’s one of the reasons why we have to be very careful and considerate regarding the things and the people we allow them to be exposed to. Their minds are in kind of a constant input mode and there is nothing we can do to stop them from filling up.
Now God knows that, because he built children that way, and it is His intention that we would ensure that what their minds are being filled up with things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely. That which is of a good report, that which has virtue, and that which is praiseworthy – to summarize the list of things Christian’s should be thinking about given to us by Paul in Philippians 4:8 .
God wants us first and foremost to be instructing our children in the great truths of the Christian faith, because nothing will serve them so well.
Consider if you will, that;
Firstly, nothing we can tell them will have such a positive or transformative effect on their characters as the Word of God– nothing will transform and shape them as the word of God will. And they need desperately to be trained, transformed, and shaped. Trust me they won’t need to be taught how to lie or how to hold a grudge, they come into the world predisposed towards that kind of behavior, its honesty and forgiveness that need to be taught.
Secondly, nothing we can teach them will equip them as well as scripture will, nothing has the same power to make them “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” to quote 2 Tim. 3:17.
Thirdly, nothing will teach them the way things really are and set before them the true path to happiness and contentment like scripture does. “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” the psalmist says in Psalm 119:105.
Much of the unhappiness we see in this world is caused by the fact that people believe falsehoods about the nature of the world. And when they act in accordance with those false beliefs, it’s inevitable that they don’t get the results they are seeking. There is nothing quite so pitiable as watching someone doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results every time. If we gift our children with a worldview that is true and biblical, then God willing, they won’t follow the pathways of destruction, and what’s more they may actually become the means by which other people, even their peers, are lead out of darkness and self-delusion.
Fourthly, and most importantly, consider that nothing other than the word of God has the power to save their souls. Remember that your children are born into this world dead in their trespasses and sins as Ephesians 2:1 says. Paul, in describing the state in which we are born says that we “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others”
Only by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ can our children be saved, and as Paul rightly asks, “And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” You must teach them the word of God concerning their salvation.
In Exodus 12 Moses told the people that they were to take the blood of the lamb and put it on the lintel and doorposts of their households and then the angel of death, the agent of God’s wrath would pass over that household. They would be spared from judgment on account of the blood of the lamb. He also told the people that they were to observe a memorial of this act of great act of God’s grace called the Passover perpetually, and that not only that but that they were to explain its meaning and significance to their children. They too were instructed to teach their children the word of God concerning their salvation.
In the Lord’s Supper we see symbolically displayed before us Christ our Passover, who was sacrificed for us. He is the lamb whose blood saves us from the righteous judgment of the Lord. It is my hope that all you heads of households who are reading this are doing everything you can to ensure that His atoning blood is applied to your households. Not only that, I would hope that in the course of the worship that goes on in your homes, that just as the ancient Israelites explained the meaning of the Passover meal to their children, you would be explaining the meaning of the Lord’s Supper to your own children.
Your children were not born with an understanding of the meal, and indeed for a few years they will not have the capacity to recognize the body of the Lord, nor for self-examination and reflection that this sacrament requires. But it is your God-given responsibility to do everything you can to hasten that day when they will be able to worthily come to the table of the Lord. And that means diligently instructing them. It doesn’t mean taking the course that Calvin’s father did in the cartoon, so that they would look at the table and conclude “Magic!” but rather it means patient instruction and true doctrine, and that presupposes that; a) you’ve know what to teach them, and b) you are teaching them in the course of your worship in the home.
But perhaps you are thinking even now, “How can I do that? How can I teach them to understand things like the Lord’s Supper? There is so much in the word of God, how can I possibly cut that huge feast into bite-sized pieces for them to swallow?” I have one word for you: CATECHIZE.
Teach your children either the Children’s or the Shorter Catechisms. In those documents in convenient question and answer format you have all the main and plain doctrines of scripture. If you teach your children the catechism, they will be much better prepared to understand, to teach, and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Make Catechizing part of your family worship, and someday you will see enormous dividends both for your children and for yourselves.
And remember always the importance of endeavoring to see that your children come to personal faith in the Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either met the children of believers who expected to go to heaven because their parents believed, or parents who assumed that without their ever making good their Baptism or owning the covenant for themselves by personally believing in Christ (or closing with Christ as the Puritans put it), their children would be saved. Please know that your children CANNOT BE SAVED BY YOUR FAITH, as a great Presbyterian preacher of the past, William Guthrie solemnly warned:
“Believing on Christ must be personal; a man himself and in his own proper person must close with Christ Jesus—‘The just shall live by his faith.’ (Hab. 2:4.) This means that it will not suffice for a man’s safety and relief, that he is in covenant with God as a born member of the visible church, by virtue of the parent’s subjection to God’s ordinances: neither will it suffice that the person had the initiating seal of baptism added, and that he then virtually engaged to seek salvation by Christ’s blood, as all infants do: neither does it suffice that men are born of believing parents; their faith will not instate their children into a right to the spiritual blessings of the covenant; neither will it suffice that parents did, in some respects, engage for their children, and give them away unto God: all these things do not avail. The children of the kingdom and of godly predecessors are cast out. Unless a man in his own person have faith in Christ Jesus, and with his own heart approve and acquiesce in that means of saving sinners, he cannot be saved. I grant, this faith is given unto him by Christ; but certain it is, that it must be personal.”
Even if you don’t have children Family Worship will still be of enormous benefit to you and your spouse. By attending on it, you and your spouse will grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord, and it will be a huge blessing to your marriage. If you are single, the importance of diligence in your personal devotions is even greater, because you don’t have necessarily someone holding you accountable in them.
Also, know that every member of the church – God’s covenant community – has a responsibility to assist parents in the Christian nurture of their children. You can do this in so many different ways, not the least of them being the example you set. Do children see in you examples of godliness, honor, love, charity, and virtue? Can you say to the children of the church, as Paul said to his spiritual children, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (Corinthians 11:1)?
We need to recover the biblical idea that the older members of the church, are in a real sense our examples and our teachers. By virtue of their wisdom gathered through the years they can give younger members of the church advice and instruction in the Word of God. That’s why for instance, the leaders of the church were called elders and not “youngers”. The Apostle Paul assumed that this relationship of advice, admonishment, and instruction would naturally exist, for instance, between the older and the younger women in Titus 2. I would encourage those of you who are of more mature years to start thinking of yourselves as properly called to a role of spiritual mentoring in the covenant community.
No Old School Church, no matter how vibrant it may be at present, will long continue if the next generation is not raised up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In that respect we would do well to heed the warning of Judges 2:7-12
“So the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Heres, in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger.”
In our own time we Christians are in great measure reaping a bitter harvest that has come from a continuing failure to patiently teach the fundamentals of our religion to the next generation in our homes. In far too many cases parents have expected someone else to teach their children about the Christ and His word and as a result we have seen generations raised in the church that know little or who simply do not “know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.”
Forty-five minutes of Sunday school instruction every seven days simply cannot be a substitute for daily family worship. Over a hundred years ago the Southern Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly of 1892 formally warned against such an assumption:
“It becomes the solemn and imperative duty of the Assembly most earnestly and emphatically to warn our people of the great danger from this direction [substituting parental instruction and family worship by the Sabbath school], and to use all its agencies and powers to arouse the consciences of God’s people to the solemn and indispensable duty of family worship and religious training in the household, and not to suffer even the Sabbath school itself to become a substitute for parental duty and for the religious teaching of their children in the home inasmuch as God suffers nothing, whether Church or State, to interpose between the parent and child, and relieve the former of his natural and sacred duty to the later.”
Therefore if you have not yet set about starting a program of regular family worship, I would urge you to begin today. You need not start with anything overly ambitious – in fact it has been my experience that if you do start off with too much you will quickly burn out. Start off then with a simple hymn of praise like the Gloria Patri or even “Jesus Loves Me” followed by Prayer, Scripture Reading and simple explanation and then close in prayer.
Wilhelmus A’Brakel wrote of what such a time of family prayer and devotion should look along with its blessings and benefits in his Christian’s Reasonable Service:
At this time the father—or if he is absent or unable to do this, the mother—must read a chapter, speak about it, catechize children and servants, sing a psalm together, and bow and offer a prayer—all in accordance with the ability the Lord grants each one. Joshua desired to serve the Lord with his house (Josh. 24:15), and Cornelius feared God with all his house (Acts 10:2). One must make of his home a small church, for then the Lord will bless the home. Children and servants will learn to fear the Lord and thus will experience salvation. It will beget mutual love, there will be mutual respect, restraining everyone from sin, and one will exemplify godliness to each other and follow each other in this way. We must make use of all these opportunities, and take them into consideration, both when praying and when following the example of others.
Remember also that your duty to spiritually nurture your family doesn’t end at some arbitrary age. It doesn’t matter if your children are 5 or 50, they still need and require your love, prayers, council and yes even a scriptural rebuke or two at times (remember the example of Eli and David here!) Just make sure that the advice you give them regardless of their age, is the instruction of scripture and not merely your opinions.
It is my firm conviction that nothing will do greater long-term good to our families – and in particular our children – than a commitment to return to the regular practice of family worship in our congregations. To my fellow pastors I would say, let us lead the way, both through teaching and example, in bringing about that revival of domestic religion that Spurgeon spoke of in the opening quotation.