Family Worship – Terry Johnson

Let us assume for a moment that we all understand that the Bible commands that we conduct daily worship in homes. This was certainly the conviction of previous generations. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that worship is to be conducted “in private families daily” (XXI. 6), and the Church of Scotland included in its editions of the Westminster Standards a Directory for Family Worship, its General Assembly even mandating disciplinary action against heads of households who neglected “this necessary duty.” Indeed, many of our Reformed forefathers believed in and practiced family worship twice daily (following the pattern of the morning and evening sacrifice). Family worship, they all assumed, was vital to the spiritual development of both parents and children.

During the 19th century, as Sunday Schools began to be introduced in North America, resistance was encountered in a number of traditional Presbyterian churches. Their argument? That as the Sunday School was established, it would result in parental neglect of their responsibility for the spiritual training of their children. Were they right? Cause and effect would be difficult to determine. But if they were, it would be an example of the “law of unintended consequences,” that is typical of the modern world. Our intentions are wonderful. We mean to improve life by the creation of labor-saving devices, the development of new methods and the provision of supplementary resources. But are we careful to examine the net effect of our innovations? Do they, in the long run, really help? If the consequence of the proliferation of Christian meetings has been the neglect of daily family worship, then the net spiritual effect of those meetings has been negative.

Let us assume for a moment that we all understand that the Bible commands that we conduct daily worship in homes. Read the second chapter of my Family Worship Book for an outline of the specifics. This was certainly the conviction of previous generations. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that worship is to be conducted “in private families daily” (XXI. 6), and the Church of Scotland included in its editions of the Westminster Standards a Directory for Family Worship, its General Assembly even mandating disciplinary action against heads of households who neglected “this necessary duty.” Indeed, many of our Reformed forefathers believed in and practiced family worship twice daily (following the pattern of the morning and evening sacrifice). Family worship, they all assumed, was vital to the spiritual development of both parents and children.

But today, one does not hear much about family worship. No, instead we seem to have replaced it with small-group activities. These are the key, we hear again and again, to spiritual growth. Everyone needs to be in a small group. Or, it might be said, everyone needs to be in a discipleship group. Perhaps even, one needs to be involved in both. Maybe one needs to be involved in both, plus the church’s prayer meeting, plus visitation, plus the choir, plus committee meetings, etc. You see my point already, I assume. Protestantism has become all but silent on the issue of family worship, a near universal practice in the recent past, and replaced it with meetings that take us out of the home and away from the family. Not only have we given up a proven method of transmitting the faith to the next generation, one that has a built-in format for Bible study, prayer, and singing, but we have done so for alternatives that add to our already hectic pace of life and take us away from our spouses, children, and neighbors.

I like small-group Bible studies. I will get more involved with them at a later stage in life, when my children are not so young and my wife and I are able to attend them together. But in the meantime we have a discipleship group, and if you are a parent with children at home, so do you. Everyday little eyes are watching. Sooner than we realize, they become aware of discrepancies between what we say and what we do. The family, in this respect, is the truest of all proving grounds for authentic Christianity. Parents either practice what they preach or become the surest means of sending their children to hell yet devised by man or the devil. Daily family worship forces the issues of Christian piety before the family every 24 hours. It forces parents in the roles of preachers, evangelists, worship leaders, intercessors, and pastors. Who is adequate for this? No one, or course. He who would attempt to be so, must necessarily be forced to his knees. Children growing up with the daily experience of seeing their parents humbled in worship, focusing on spiritual things, submitting to the authority of the word, catechizing and otherwise instructing their children will not easily turn from Christ. Our children should grow up with the voices of their fathers pleading for their souls in prayer ringing in their ears, leading to their salvation, or else haunting them for the rest of their lives.

If your children are in your home for 18 years, you have 6,570 occasions (figuring a six day week) for family worship. If you learn a new Psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those 18 years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible four and a half times in 18 years. Every day they will confess their sins and plead for mercy. Every day they will intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just 15 minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 18 years? At the rate of six days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends and hour and a half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible study), 78 hours a year (about the length of the meeting hours of seven weekend retreats), 1,404 hours over the course of 18 years (about the length of the assembly hours of 40 week-long summer camps). When you establish your family’s priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon your children. Think of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after 40 or 60 or 80 years of daily family worship—all this without having to leave the home.

From Johnson, Family Worship Book, 1998; reprinted 2008 by Christian Focus Publications.

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