Some problems are unique to our age. I once heard about an Indo-American youth who was busy rattling off on his computer at home, when his mom told him about his aunt’s ill health. The bug never bothered him, and he continued without missing a keystroke and nonchalantly replied, “Oh, that’s ol’ news. Gran’ma shared it with me a week ago”. You see, Gran’ma was 8000 miles away in India, but the lad was “deeply connected” with his sassy-savvy Gran’ma through Facebook. Pity the mom, she was too late to catch up with her next room son. Often times, in our virtually connected world with ironically compartmentalized homes, each one of us have become private bees having enormous public lives in our workplace and in the online space, such that we are too busy for our family. Some of us catch up with Scripture reading while running to catch a bus and fast our family meal times for fast-food times. It would be surprising in our day and age to witness a family sitting together peacefully at the breakfast table and sharing a meal together. It’s simply unthinkable. Given this context, talking about Family worship would be such a taboo. However, I pursue this uphill task of presenting you with a prospect for Family worship because I believe the lack of it is the reason for the brokenness of our homes. Someone once said, “A family that prays together, stays together”. And that is true to this day.
What Family worship is not.
A few clarifications are due before I get into the details. Firstly, Family worship does not imply worship of the family. I am not advocating a preoccupation with the institution of the family and family religion at the expense of our involvement with the church. Nevertheless, I affirm that family religion is indispensable for the healthy life of the church. The local church and the family are not independent but co-dependent institutions. Just as how families come together to form the church community and affect a local church’s doctrine and life (Rom 16:10; 1Cor 16:15,16,19) ,so too, leaders of the church influence and instruct heads of households in their upbringing of their families (Eph 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-21)
Secondly, family religion does not obliterate the scope of personal religion within the context of the family (for eg. Having personal “quiet times” even after you are a husband or a wife). It should rather encourage it. With these stakes in place, let’s move on.
For those of us who love proof texts, here’s a fair warning: Scripture nowhere explicitly states ‘Thou shall worship as a family daily’. However, the concept of family worship is finely woven into the warp and woof of Scripture.
The reason why we give short shrift to it is because we live in a day and age where it’s all about me. We assume that God is only interested in individuals whereas Scripture speaks of God’s dealings with families and nations corporately. In order to appreciate the practice of Family worship, one needs to grasp the underside of this tapestry in Familial headship and God’s covenantal relationship with families through the representative head.
Familial headship and Divine Covenants
Throughout the redemptive history, God has had covenantal dealings with families. Although Noah was found righteous, his whole family was saved (Gen 6:18). Not only did Abraham, the man of faith, receive the sign of circumcision, the seal of the righteousness he had by faith, but his entire household received it (Gen 17:7, 9-13; Gen 18:19; Rom 4:12). When Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled against God and Moses, their whole household was swallowed up by the wrath of God (Num 16). When Achan stole the household gods, his household was stoned to death under God’s command (Josh 7:1, 11, 20, 24-25 ). Interestingly, Achan’s sin was also considered by God as Israel’s sin, showing how a little leaven in one family is counted as a corporate sin of his holy people. The same principle is employed by Paul while putting off the sexually immoral from the assembly of God’s people (1Cor5:1-7). Conversely, when Eli’s sons sinned against the LORD, God counted that sin against Eli, and wiped out his progeny from the priestly office (1Sam 2:12,13,17,29). Such intertwined cause and consequences between people are their associated institutions confirm that God deals with his people through the covenants He makes with them through an intermediate representative head. This isn’t just an Old Testament, cultural, patriarchal concept as some may assume.
Notice how the representative principle is used when Matthew narrates the accounts of the feeding of four thousand and five thousand. The heads of the households were counted (Matt 14:21; Matt 15:38). When Zacchaeus comes to faith, the Lord Jesus declares that salvation has come to his household (Lk 19:9). Likewise, the promise of salvation when first declared at Pentecost was given to the believers and their children (Acts 2:39). The same principle is in operation in 1 Corinthians 7:14 when Paul regards the children of at least one believing parent as ‘holy’ and ‘clean’. All of these clearly imply the continuation of Old Testament principles regarding God’s covenantal dealings with families.
Familial headship and Worship
Not only did God deal with families according to the covenant made with the familial head, God also received corporate worship through the familial head. A long time before the institution of the Levitical system, men of God worshiped the LORD by building altars and sacrificing offerings. Even so, patriarchs such as Noah and Job, made offerings to God for their entire family, thus displaying familial solidarity (Gen 8:20-21; Job 1:5). In Joshua 24, we see another instance of familial solidarity. This chapter begins with a clarion call to the entire nation of Israel to serve the Lord their God after witnessing God’s outstretched arm in dealing with their fathers i.e the patriarchs. In verse 15, we see Joshua’s unilateral decision for his household:
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. ~ Josh 24:16
There are a couple of things to be noted here: First, the covenantal head of the household – the man – takes a singular, corporate decision on behalf of his whole family. This practice is almost forgotten in our times because of the infiltration of Feminism and Individualism, whereas the Bible clearly portrays man as both the Federal (Hos 6:7, Rom 5:12-14 ) and Familial (Gen 3:16, 1Cor 11:3, Eph 5:22-23, 1Tim 2:11-15) head whose decisions are effective and binding on his family . Second, the Hebrew word for ‘serve’ here ( âbad ) also means ‘worship’. In OT times, worship of the LORD was intricately tied to service in the temple of the LORD, However, their servitude to Yahweh was an outflow of their heart worship to Him. Here we see Joshua defying the de facto standard of his day by setting a precedent for households to worship Yahweh. Joshua’s decision to serve the LORD irrespective of the national decision demonstrates the clear demarcation of the jurisdictions of family and state, although either may affect the other positively or negatively. By implication, God expects a Christian household to be accountable to Him and worship Him, irrespective of the spiritual state of the local church.
Duties of the Familial head
Having established the role of the representative head in the covenant dealings of God, we see the enormous obligation that men have towards God to secure their family in the faith. To this end, God expected Abraham to bring up his children and his household in the fear of God (Gen 18:19), and God expects the same with us too (Eph 5:25-27; Eph 6:4; 1Cor 14:35). If a man cannot nurture a godly, pure, self-controlled wife and bring up godly children after him, then God immediately disqualifies him for leadership in his Church (1Tim 3:4,5). So, where does the training start? It begins at home with Family worship – when the man leads the wife and children in the knowledge of God and in the practice of worship and holiness. Ps 78 is a splendid affirmation of the believer’s obligation to teach his children the works and words of God, and you can begin doing so with the corporate worship of Christ in your home.
Soch ka bhoj
When Moses was delivering the Deuteronomy to the second generation of Israelites post the Exodus, none of their fathers were alive, except Caleb and Joshua. Why? Because they showed God to be holy amidst their corrupt brethren. Caleb and Joshua’s family line was preserved. Their children had a father they could look up to. At that time, God made repeated mentions to the second generation Jews to not only keep the Law wholeheartedly but also teach the Law diligently to their children after them, to talk of them at all times and at all places (Deut 6:7, Deut 4:9,10; Deut 11:19; Deut 31:12,13). Joshua, as we saw earlier, made up his mind to keep God’s commandments and teach his household God’s precepts, that they may worship Him. All the days of his life, Israel prospered because they saw the wonders God had done (Jud 2:7). But Israel failed, miserably. They did not teach God’s ways to their children, nor imprinted on their hearts the fear of the Lord. Within just one generation, Israel fell (Jud 2:10-15). Their sin? Gross idolatry. The cause? Lack of knowledge of God. Now you can do the math and figure the rest.