A Biblical Case For Family Worship
Written by Jerrold Lewis
|Reformed Practice - The Family|
“We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children” (Ps 78:1-6).
I speak here to fathers primarily. If our fathers can be reached we have tapped into the covenant way of the Word. Why have family worship at all? Isn’t faithful church attendance on the Lord’s Day and prayer before meals enough in this regard? Some would say it is. “To do more than this is hyper-spirituality,” I have heard it said. But is this the case?
Now we must admit, even family worship can be misused. If our reason for conducting family worship is born out of a desire to adhere to old traditions or to some code of conduct in ages past, we are misguided. Further, if we have family worship to pacify our own conscience in an attempt to garner favour before God or man, we are mistaken once more. Remember, the Lord is the discerner, of the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). No, our motive ought to be singular.
The primary reason for family worship and its chief end we find summed up perfectly in the words of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). Family worship is an obedient expression of adoration to God, which displays a desire for our homes to be led by Jehovah in all things. On Christ, our families’ sun should rise and set; he alone is worthy “to receive glory and honour and power.” for he hath made us, and for his pleasure, we “are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
A Divine Principle
From the very beginning, we can see the principle of family worship in the Scriptures. Before the divine command came to us in Deuteronomy 6:7 ff,1 we had an established pattern to follow already. Consider Noah, who with his family was saved from the flood. When the waters had receded we find him building an altar and“making sacrifice unto the Lord” (Gen. 8:20). This was a family sacrifice. When father Abraham enters the promised land, he makes an altar on the plains of Moreh (Gen 10:7), and again at Hai and Bethel.
This was part of the fulfillment of the Lord’s words in Genesis 18:19, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” Jacob’s own altar at Bethel promised family worship when he says to his household, “Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Beth–el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” This he did. Job offered daily sacrifice for his family, for he “sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offering, according to the number of them all; thus did Job continually,” or as the Hebrew says, “all his days” (Job 1:4,5).
In all the great and godly examples of the Old Testament, we continually find the covenant head making familial application to corporate events. The book of Deuteronomy has much instruction by the hand of Moses, which directs us in family worship (especially chapters 6-8). David, upon returning from the temple where he blessed the people, “blessed his household” (2 Sam 6:20). This practice he no doubt learned from a godly father, who according to 1 Samuel 20:6 conducted, “a yearly sacrifice for all the family”. We must never forget the pinnacle of family worship in the event of the yearly Passover (Ex 12:11, ff.), which was celebrated in the holy convocation, and in covenant dwellings.
Even in prayerful supplication the commandment came to seek the Lord afresh as families. As Zechariah 12:12-14 says, “And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.
New Testament Practice
The New Testament does not diminish this responsibility in the least. From Aquila and Priscilla’s “church in their house,” to Paul’s command to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), the New Testament is replete with family adherence and family faith. Surely, the warning to covenant heads regarding temporal provision is not less applicable to spiritual, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8; see also Acts 10:2; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8). Philip Doddridge comments on this biblical injunction,
Family-worship is a most proper way of teaching children religion, as you teach them language by insensible degrees; a little one day, and a little another; for to them line must be upon line, and precept upon precept... Indeed were this duty properly attended to, it might be expected, that all Christian families would, according to their respective sizes and circumstances, become nurseries of piety; and you would see, in the most convincing view, the wisdom of providence, in making human infants so much more dependent on their parents than the offspring of inferior creatures are. (Extract from a Letter on Family Worship)
J.H. Merle D’Aubigne likewise, wrote in 1827,
But, my brethren, if the love of God be in your hearts, and if you feel that, being bought with a price, you ought to glorify God in your bodies and spirits, which are his, where do you love to glorify him rather than in your families and in your houses?
We are caretakers of souls, and the keeper of eternal hearts. But some, in excuse for the neglect of this duty, urge the want of time: -their families are too large -their business presses them -it is of such a nature that they cannot control their hours. This they plead that they have not time for a duty which they confess to be all-important... But when we urge the duty of allowing no day, in ordinary circumstances, to pass by without, as a family, spending ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, in the solemn worship of our Maker, and when the objection made against it is the want of time, we ask, Can men be serious when they say so?
Here is where this overview becomes all too personal. Fathers, there is great need in our modern day to once again, with the indispensable help of the Lord, create, or in some cases, rebuild the family altar. Abraham, Jacob, David, Job and Moses were, like us, sinful men. Yet in their chest beat a heart for the Word of God in the midst of their homes. Can this be said of us? Are we men of The Book, raising children of The Book, weeping for our sins, clinging to the promises, and passing on to the next generation the great principle of vital family worship? I leave you with these words from the pen of J. Wilber Chapman in 1918, from an essay, An Old Fashion Home.
“I con its pages o’er and o’er,
Its interlinings mark a score
Of promises most potent, sweet,
In verses many of each sheet;
Albeit the gilding dull of age,
And yellow-hued its every page,
No book more precious e’er may be, Than father’s Bible is to me.”
“Its tear-strained trace fresh stirs my heart The corresponding tear to start,
Of trials, troubles herein brought,
For comfort never vainly sought,
For help in sorest hour of need,
For love to crown the daily deed;
No book more precious e’er may be,
Than father’s Bible is to me.”
Rev. Jerrold Lewis is the Pastor of Pompton Plains Free Reformed Church. This article was previously printed in the FRC Messenger and has been republished here with permission.
1. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.