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Family Worship: A Historic Christian Discipline for Such A Time As This
Defining Family Worship
You may not be familiar with the term family worship. We weren't when we first started our family, but soon began to see it everywhere as we dug into Reformed theology and practice. What we found is that family worship is a historic Christian discipline considered necessary and integral to the Christian home. Unlike our modern idea of family devotions being a uniquely pious practice if done regularly by a Christian family, family worship was considered a very basic duty of the Christian household. If a father specifically neglected this duty, he was considered to be in sin. Many families today that see the failings of modern church programming to keep children in the church are looking backward and adopting traditions like family worship, in an effort to follow the biblical mandate of Deuteronomy 6.
You might be asking, what is family worship and what makes it different than family devotions? Family worship is made up of four components: the reading of the Word, prayer, and singing songs of praise to the Lord as a family. We see in the Bible this principle of the family being a type of symbol of the Church with the husband as the head working to love his wife by sanctifying her with the Word (Ephesians 5:22-33), while also training His children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). This kind of patriarchal language does not fit with our modern sensibilities even within the church.
Family Worship in History
In the Bible
Family worship may be a new term to a modern evangelical Christian, but this tradition is one of the oldest within historic, orthodox Christianity and beyond. How else would Adam and Eve have disseminated the information given to them by God if they had not been telling it to their children, and to their children's children?
Throughout the Old Testament, we see the principle both mandated and applied that fathers were to teach their children how to know God and follow him. In Genesis chapters 31 and 35 we see God's plan is that Abraham would be the spiritual leader of his household. In Exodus 12-13, the Law requires fathers to answer questions from their children concerning the meaning of Passover.
We see in the time of David, Asaph in the Psalms 78:1-6 writing these words:
"Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children."
Paul and the other apostles only continue to affirm these principles as displayed so clearly for us in the Old Testament in the New Testament. The role of the husband is to shepherd the family. With such an abundance of teaching on this matter in the Bible, why are so many families farming their children's spiritual lives out to the Church for the care of their souls? This sad truth is not new in the history of the Church.
In Ancient History
The early Church Fathers just continued what the apostles had mandated, and the Scriptures had confirmed concerning the father's responsibility to the spiritual life of his family. Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and John Chrysostom all reference the need for Bible study and prayer in the home with the husband shepherding the family as their spiritual head facilitating these holy disciplines.
Kerry Ptacek, in his A Brief History of Biblical Family Worship, says this:
"John Chrysostom (347-407), Bishop of Constantinople, witnesses to the continuation of the Biblical view in urging that every house should be a church, and every head of a family a spiritual shepherd. However, in the western church married men gradually were removed from church leadership by canon law. Celibate clergy supplanted the father’s role as a spiritual leader."
The Rise of Catholicism
During the rise of Roman Catholicism, the spiritual headship being centered in the home was slowly eroded as the Roman Catholic Church subverted the authority of God's Word claiming the Church alone was the sole authority on Biblical interpretation. The vast majority of people were illiterate at this time in history, and the Bible was read to them in Latin, a language they did not know. So the common man was not hearing the Word of God, but the word of man claiming the authority of God while regurgitating the Church's propaganda.
You also see a shift in teaching concerning tiers of holiness. The most pious of Christian men and women were considered to be those who devoted themselves to God alone while casting off the desires of the flesh, like marriage which required consummation and childbearing. This might be a necessity to the furthering of humanity, but those who married were considered less than clergy or ascetics in their status in eternity because they lacked self-control. This shift in the Church's teaching had no biblical basis and the tentacles of these lies reach even into modernity.
The Protestant Reformation
This is just a small portion of the corruption that sparked the Protestant Reformation, but it is this Reformation that caused a revival of principles based in Scripture concerning the value of men and women, the purpose of marriage, the role of fathers and mothers in the training of children in God’s Word. With the advent of the printing press, the common man could read God’s Word for Himself and the agendas of the Church could be both examined and exposed.
The Protestant Reformation also brought a revival of family worship due to supplying God’s Word directly into the hands of the family. The earliest Protestant confession, the Bohemian, included a catechism to equip fathers to perform their spiritual duties in the home. Specifically, from the Protestant Reformation on, we see a strong emphasis on catechisms being a teaching tool inextricably linked with family worship.
In the 1677 resolution of the members of the church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the Puritans resolved to do the following:
"To reform our families, engaging ourselves to a conscientious care to set up and maintain the worship of God in them and to walk in our houses with perfect hearts in a faithful discharge of all domestic duties: educating, instructing, and charging our children and our households to keep the ways of the Lord." (As cited in Leland Ryken’s, “Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were,” pp. 80)
The Advent of Sunday School
This disciplined approach to family worship in the home and spiritual instruction was commonplace in Puritan communities. It was not until the 19th century and the advent of Sunday School that we see yet another shift. Where the Protestant Reformation spurred a revival of biblical ideals, including the Apostolic teaching that spiritual instruction in the home was to be centered primarily under the headship of the father with accountability to the church.
The period following the Industrial Revolution, for a myriad of reasons including the breakdown of the home economy, caused the reins of spiritual discipleship in the home to be passed from fathers back to the modern Church. Due to this cataclysmic shift in society, there was a decline in the practice of family worship across much of Christendom.
Listen to the Podcast Episode 7: The History and Value of Family Worship
In this episode of the Reformed Faith and Family Podcast, we tackle both the history and value of family worship.
There is much need for parents to be concerned with the spiritual welfare of their children. As the head of the home, men specifically are tasked with this role to care for the souls of his wife and children. Family Worship is a biblically mandated practice as well as a historic norm within pious Christian homes. It is a discipline that needs to be reclaimed by the modern Christian desiring to train his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. So we encourage you to listen in as we discuss this discipline, as well as our personal experiences. We also give tips and tricks we've learned along the way with seven children. We pray it is a blessing to you!
The Revival of Family Worship
We have already discussed how detrimental this shift in roles of family and church has been to Christendom as a whole. You can read the full article, The Case for Family Integrated Church here. To review, we are seeing the effects of methods and programming saturated in entertainment and novelty. It has proven over and over again that it doesn’t work. Children are leaving the church in droves, and to counteract the disastrous results of the last century, families are looking to the Bible and to history to see how Christians addressed these matters. Therefore, we see a return to the historic discipline of family worship in Christian homes today.
Family Worship is not a singular practice extracted from history and adopted by modern Christians, however. Instead, we are witnessing the hopeful beginning of a new reformation of sorts. Christian parents are recognizing the faults of modern evangelicalism and returning to the Bible as their sole authority on all matters of life. Christian fathers are reclaiming their place as head of the family, and Christian parents see the need to catechize their children and control their education. The principle is true, if you aren’t catechizing your children, then someone else will do it for you. So, we see this paradigm shift taking place in Christian communities around the globe, a shift back toward preserving biblical principles and upholding orthodox disciplines to reclaim what has been lost.
The Value of Family Worship
The discipline of family worship is not a cure, in the same way no spiritual discipline promises salvation or next-level holiness. The practice itself will not save your children. Family worship led by fathers who are otherwise not seeking the Lord will only reap what they sow – children who think they are hypocrites. Yet, if a father and a mother show eagerness to know the Lord and live their lives unto him and seek to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, this will leave the ground fertile for which the Holy Spirit to work in his timing through his power.
So, fathers and mothers, we commission you to seek the Lord’s will in these matters. Church traditions and practices do not come out of a vacuum. There is always a history to be traced. It is important that we know exactly why we do what we do, and that we ask ourselves the question, “Is it biblical?” Our children are too important to leave to chance. Our culture is not a friendly territory. We must be strategic and arm ourselves for what is to come. If we do not, we will suffer the consequences like generations before us. Determine now to build your legacy to the glory of God and his Kingdom.
Tools for Family Worship
Here at Reformed Faith and Family we have built a special Recommended Resources wing of our website for our readers. We highly recommend you check out our Family Discipleship page. This has all the tools we personally use and enjoy for our Family Worship time.
Those resources we use at every Family Worship session without fail though are as follows:
- The Bible
- Valley of Vision
- The Family Worship Bible Guide
- The Baptist Catechism (also called Keach's Catechism)
If you are just starting out, the Bible is the only absolute necessity for family worship, but these tools and others are very valuable as well.
Help Your Kids Learn and Love the Bible
Help Your Kids Learn and Love the Bible will prepare you to teach the Bible to your kids. You’ll learn:
- How to overcome major concerns about teaching the Bible to your kids.
- To successfully develop a consistent family Bible reading habit and plan.
- How to interpret and apply the Bible rightly.
- Skills for hosting meaningful Bible discussions with your kids.
- To be prepared to answer tough questions.
- Age-appropriate ways to share the gospel.
- To prepare for tough and busy days with unique ways to focus on Scripture.
- Tips and tricks for making the Bible fun and engaging.
- Tools for Bible memorization.
- To structure Bible activities and discussions to your child’s God-given strengths.
Packed with useful information and with practical application in each chapter, Help Your Kids Learn and Love the Bible is the tool you need to equip you to join a generation of parents committed to teaching their kids God’s life-giving Word.
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Lindsey Stomberg is wife to Caleb Stomberg and co-author here at Reformed Faith and Family. She is a work-from-home, homeschooling mom of seven children. Lindsey has enjoyed blogging for over a decade. Lindsey is the former owner of The Road to 31 Blog and author of The ABC’s for Godly Children Bible Curriculum. She enjoys reading, writing, and graphic design. Her favorite pass times are family read-aloud time, snuggling with her babies, and going on walks with her family.