The Shaping Influences of Family Worship (Guest Post)
You will look in vain for a section of the Bible entitled “Guidelines to Christian Parenting.” There are a few texts and they are extremely important and they fall under the general heading “Families that serve the Lord and live for him do these things.”
With regard to children, parents are to instruct their children in the ways and commands of God (Prov 22:6; Eph 6:4). Fathers in particular are to guide their children in the way of godly living. That means being able to discern ungodly living (Prov 1:8; 6:20) and giving wisdom for godly living. Instruction at home is both of the formal kind and the informal. Purposely setting aside times to teach in an incremental and age appropriate way the Christian faith is encouraged in Scripture(Prov 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15, 17).
A father’s spiritual leadership was an important part of daily Christian living (Exod 12:3; Josh 24:15). It was so important to Paul that he required men who wanted to serve as elders to be proven at home (1 Tim 3:5). As has been said, leadership in the home is the proving ground of leadership in the church.
Abraham serves as a good illustration for us. Think of all that God called Abraham to become and do. God called him out of the darkness of pagan religion and culture. Told him to leave his hometown and head out to a place where God would show him. God promised Abraham a land of his own (which he never possessed) and a people (of which he saw only one person: Isaac). Yet, Abraham and Sarah were going to give birth to a nation of kings and priests to God. They would have more descendants than could be counted. They would become the light of God’s truth to the world. Through Abraham and Sarah, the Savior of the world would be born, the mercy and refuge of the gospel would be revealed, and God’s glory would be made public.
That’s a tall order for Abraham’s “job description.” When God was about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, he knew he had to include Abraham in on his plans. Yet look at the basis of God’s choice of this man:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, [with the purpose] that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen 18:17-19)
The promises of God to Abraham – and to the whole world – rested on the unique role he would fulfill in training his children “to keep the way of the Lord.” Abraham was to become the primary teacher of practical biblical theology in his home. His students would be his wife Sarah, his wife Hagar, his son Ishmael, his son Isaac and all his servants – pagan or God-fearer. And we know that he did this faithfully. When Abraham took Isaac to offer him up to God as he was commanded, Isaac asked about the lamb for the burnt offering.
There’s a pattern to take note of. God ordained that the message of gospel hope was to be advanced in the world through the next generation in Abraham’s household. The same has been true ever since. God’s plan for spreading the gospel starts with Christian parents evangelizing and discipling their children.
Some encouragements from history
Through the 2,000 years of the church since the first apostles, we find church leaders practicing and encouraging Christians in family worship. The earliest mention comes from the church father Jerome (AD 347-420).
From Jerome’s works, we read this:
At an early hour in the morning, the family were assembled, when a portion of Scripture was read from the Old Testament, which was followed by a hymn and a prayer, in which thanks were offered up to the Almighty for preserving them during the silent watches of the night, and for His goodness in permitting them to meet in health of body and soundness of mind; and at the same time His grace was implored to defend them amid the dangers and temptations of the day, to make them faithful to every duty and enable them in all respects to walk worthy of their Christian vocation. In the evening before retiring to rest, the family again assembled, when the same form of worship was observed as in the morning with this difference: that the service was considerably protracted beyond the period which could conveniently be allotted to it in the commencement of the day.
Moving forward in history, we find similar examples from church leaders like Martin Luther. Luther was the first busy evangelical pastor. He preached almost every day, wrote numerous tracts, pamphlets, theological books and Bible commentaries. He pastored the first evangelical church in the world and taught what we’d call a seminary for missionary-pastors from all over Europe. Yet, he recognized the important role of a husband and father leading spiritually in his home. Luther wrote,
Abraham [who] had in his tent a house of God and a church, just as today any godly and pious head of a household instructs his children . . . in godliness. Therefore, such a house is actually a school and church, and the head of the household is a bishop and priest in his house.
The Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
During the 17th century, the Presbyterian and Baptist churches in England considered family worship important enough to include a paragraph on it in their respective confessions of faith. The London Baptist Confession (1689) said,
In present gospel days neither prayer nor any other aspect of religious worship depends for its efficacy on the place where it is performed . . . for God is everywhere to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; as, for instance, in the daily worship carried on in private families, in the worship in which individual Christians engage in secret, and in the worship of the public assemblies.
The Westminster Confession, which preceded The Baptist Confession by about forty-five years and heavily influenced it, was not meant to be a list of suggestions. In fact, the Presbyterian body at Westminster published a Directory for Family Worship to guide families in the practice family worship. From the introduction we read that the head of a household was to be encouraged and held accountable for such formal practice. These were the instructions:
He [the head of a household] is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the [elders] [for the exercise of his responsible] after which reproof, if he be found still to neglect Family-worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offence, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s Supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to communicate therein, till he amend.
Incidentally, our own FBC church covenant points us to the important personal responsibility of the family in the discipline. It reads, “We also pledge to maintain family and private devotions [and] to teach the Bible to our children.”
Samuel Davies (1724-1761)
Samuel Davies, sometimes called “the apostle of Virginia,” gave several strong arguments to the men in his congregations to practice family worship. In one sermon dedicated to the objections fathers presented, he implored the church this way:
If you love your children; if you would bring down the blessing of heaven upon your families; if you would have your children make their houses the receptacles of religion when they set up in life for themselves; if you would have religion survive in this place, and be conveyed from age to age; if you would deliver your own souls – I beseech . . . you to begin and continue the worship of God in your families from this day to the close of your lives . . . . [It is] your greatest privilege granted by divine grace.”
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Charles Spurgeon likely had to address the role of parents and the role of the church in a sermon. He said,
First, let us begin by emphatically declaring it is parents (fathers in particular) and not the church who are given the primary responsibility for calling the next generation to hope in God. The church serves a supplementary role, reinforcing the biblical nurture that is occurring in the home. It is not the job of “professionals” at the church to rear the children of believers in the faith.
John G. Paton (1824-1907)
I want to mention John G. Paton because of the significant role his father played in Paton’s success in ministry. Paton was a missionary to the South Pacific islands of the New Hebrides. He arrived on the island of Aniwa in November 1866. The natives were cannibals who occasionally ate the flesh of their defeated foes. They practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice, killing the widows of deceased men so that they could serve their husbands in the next world. Paton admitted fear and doubt about his life and ministry. There were many dark days of service there; Paton buried his first wife there.
In his biography, Paton attributes his courage and perseverance from the times of family in worship at home. He wrote,
How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend.
The depth of love between father and son forged in times of family worship left a lasting mark on Paton. Reflecting back on his home life after forty years on the mission field he wrote, “I watched [my father return home] through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.”
Paton’s strength to live the Christian life as a missionary came from the encouragements of faith during family worship. Paton and his wife Margaret saw the entire island of Aniwa come to Christ. He wrote in his journal, “I claimed Aniwa for Jesus, and by the grace of God Aniwa now worships at the Savior’s feet.”
There was no secret spirituality behind the discipline of these men. No father or mother has to be a theologian. The only qualification necessary is to be a parent who will do three simple things in the home on a regular basis: read the Scripture, sing a song and pray together. That is all Jerome, Luther, Spurgeon and Paton did in their families! No need to be a giant of the faith; just a dad and mom who love their children enough to form Christ in them.