A Neglected Tool in Modern Reformation – Family Worship by Pastor Jerry Marcellino (to F.I.R.E. pastors)
The work of reforming Christ’s church will be our calling until the end of history.1 This was the conviction of our reformed forefathers and must be ours today. Therefore, as an overseer of Christ’s church, our chief ministerial concern and continual cry should be ecclesia reformata et semper reformata, or “the church reformed and always reforming.”
Such a conviction about, and efforts in, church reform, our Lord instructs us, will ultimately triumph: “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). Thus, we should never lose heart (Galatians 6:9) in such a great endeavor. Instead, we should always aim to strengthen each other’s hands in the wonderful work of building and reforming Christ’s church.
O brothers, let us continually commit to walk alongside of one another in the ministry—fellowshipping, praying for, and sharpening each other (Proverbs 27:17). Let us be always reminded that we are not islands to ourselves, but brothers together who are a part of Christ’s living body. May our God grant all of our churches to be known as irenic, non-sectarian, loving, and always reforming.
Each generation has its own calling from God (Acts 13:36) and ours is no different. We need wisdom in how to carry out the mission we have been given from God (1 Chronicles 12:32). We must face the present age of postmodernism with the necessary tools for modern reformation.
There are many spiritual tools that God has provided for us to engage in such present reformation. Many of these tools were recovered from the miry clay of the dark ages and then re-utilized by our reformed and Puritan brethren of the last three to four hundred years, and most recently, in the last fifty years.2 We thank the Lord that his reforming tools of expository preaching of the whole counsel of God’s Word, God-centered public prayer and worship services, biblical evangelism, and scriptural church order have been rediscovered.
However, there is a tool that could possibly do the most generational good in our reforming efforts, but it has been either lost or grossly neglected, even in reforming churches! This tool is called family worship. Family worship is the daily practice of Christian homes offering together true “worth-ship” to the living God. It is to be a purposefully-scheduled, daily worship service in every Christian home (Joshua 24:15). This God-honoring tool for reformation is one that should be given high priority by every church in its ongoing work.
Sadly, this is not the case in our day. Nineteenth-century theologian Charles Hodge once aptly remarked about the church in America that there was a “disproportionate reliance placed on the proclamation of the gospel from the pulpit as almost the only means of conversion,” and agreed that there is “a connection between faithful parental training and the salvation of children.”3 ; I fear that many of us could be guilty of such an imbalance today.
Is there a disproportionate reliance upon your pulpit instead of the gospel being properly distributed daily in the Christian homes of your church? Why do reforming pastors shy away from promoting such a powerful spiritual resource among their people? Oh yes, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17), but does this mean only by hearing from the pulpit?
I believe there are three basic reasons (besides the above) why pastors today commonly neglect to teach about family worship:
(1) Scriptural and Practical Ignorance—Some pastors have never heard of or ever experienced family worship with their own families. However, such passive or willful ignorance is a failure to respond to many clear directives in God’s Word (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
(2) The Fear of Pragmatic Man—We should not look to our congregations for approval as to whether we should train them and call them to such a holy practice. Instead, we should look to God’s Word for such warrant and then instruct our people. God warns us very clearly about fearing man (Proverbs 29:25; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). One of the great blessings of implementing this ministry in your church is that men will rise up spiritually and the families and church will mature greatly. Of course, others will cry “uncle,” claiming you’re legalistic. We should turn our ears from such bleating and teach them that resiliency, flexibility and consistency are the secret to its success. In the meantime, this will encourage them with some realistic breathing room. This practical truth, coupled with our reminding them that godliness comes only through discipline (1 Timothy 4:7), will reveal to them the real reason behind their chaffing: an undisciplined desire to live a less spiritually-ordered life (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
(3) Worldliness in the Church—James W. Alexander once quipped, “It is highly honorable to family-worship, as a spiritual service, that it languishes and goes into decay in times when error and worldliness make inroads upon the church.”4 Worldliness in the church cannot be disconnected from the pastor and elders. The pastor and elders must both model and promote godliness in the home and church. The shepherd must live by example and teach by precept that Christianity must be lived out 24/7.
Godly families are the backbone of spiritually-healthy, imperfect churches. If there is a miscarriage here, the church will be Christian only on the outside. Thus, may the warning of John Angell James be heeded by us all: “If the parent be not visibly in earnest, it cannot be expected that the child will be so.”5 Oh that all of our F.I.R.E. churches (and those of Christ’s whole kingdom) be one day marked by being thorough reformers, who utilize all of the tools in God’s reformed toolbox.
O that family worship would be part of the normal daily activity of our homes (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and also among those of our church members! I am praying for you… Your Brother, Jerry Marcellino
1By using the word “reforming,” I mean the ongoing work of thoroughly conforming our personal, family, and church lives to the pattern of Scripture. Thus, a reformer at heart is an ongoing conformer to the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; I Peter 2:2). This also means that he is one who graciously applies the doctrine of biblical accommodation because of his understanding of progressive sanctification (2 Corinthians 1:24). This concern and approach to modern-day reformation must be the soul of our ministries.
2Robert W. Oliver, A Glorious Heritage: The Recovery of the Reformed Faith in Twentieth Century England (London: The Evangelical Library), 1997.
3 David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994, 1996, 2 Vols.), 1:313.
4James W. Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998 ),13.
5John Angell James, A Christian Father’s Present to His Children (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993 ), 21.