Before we take a plunge into the practice of Family Worship, it’s important to understand the necessary intersections and differences between corporate worship in the common assembly of God and in the family. Many have sought to replace one with another calling a Sunday morning worship at the breakfast table as “church” or making sunday school a replacement for sound teaching that should begin at home.
The Family, as we saw in my earlier post, is not an independent, cocooned institution. The family is the substance of the church and the society. Thomas Manton, a wonderful Purtian author who prefaced the Westminster shorter and larger catechisms called the family a “seminary of Church and State” and “if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth”. Mathew Henry, another Puritan commentator, called the family a “little church” and Richard Baxter, a compassionate Puritan pastor characterized the home as “a church… a society of Christians combined for the better worshiping and serving God”. Almost all of our faithful church fathers regarded the family as 1) a divine institution 2) a preliminary training ground for leadership in the church and societal affairs. By implication, worship within the scope of a home is to prepare young minds and hearts for worship and service in the larger contexts of the church and society. If you can but barely peek as through a pinhole yet capture the blessed vision that entails such a responsibility, then we may well agree that family religion is to be that mustard seed that buds and blossoms your progeny as tomorrow’s leaders who put out their branches so that all people may find rest under their shade.
Elements of Family worship
Once we see the family as a “little church”, we can almost guess what elements would constitute the time of family worship. If we were to crystallize the various activities that happen during worship, they would all fall under three functions derived from the threefold office of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah: Prophet, Priest and King.
Typically, when Israel worshiped God in the temple, the King led the procession of sacrifices and singing (2Chro 29:20-30), the Priests made atonement for the people ( 2Chron 35:10-14) and the Prophet, who was also from the Levites proclaimed the word of God (Ez 7:1-6,10; Neh 8:1-3,7,8).
A pastor as an under-shepherd and minister unto God reflects this three-fold office fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the prophesying or preaching of the word, interceding with prayers and offerings, administering the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and leading God’s people in praise and worship. So too, the head of the household – the husband or father – is to lead these three functions in a ‘limited’ capacity during the time of family worship. I say ‘limited’ because the head of a family does not have the authority to administer the sacraments. Both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be a “visible word” along with the preached word pointing to union with Christ. Both of them unite and strengthen the church as a community and cannot be tampered with in private (1Cor11:17-22). I know I’m opening up a can of worms for discussion but for now, let’s stick to this principle and move on (If your curiosity kills you and you need further understanding, you can read a good discussion on Puritan Board on this topic or read an explanation in the Westminster Confession of Faith on the topic of Sacraments. Given this context, a typical time of worship in the family consists of the following:-
- Instruction in God’s Word (Deut 6:6-7)
Although not every husband or father is expected to be a Greek or Hebrew major in order to interpret the word of God accurately, he needs to regularly and systematically pore over the Scriptures so that he can be a faithful teacher at home. Care must be taken that one does not end up becoming a theological island, expecting the Holy Spirit to illuminate him in all of Scripture, for many have fallen into unintended heresies owing to this practice. We must acknowledge that the Holy Spirit uses faithful teachers who’ve gone before us to exegete difficult portions of the Bible and build on their achievements. Such men have themselves studied the original languages, discussed and debated with their peers and depended on their forefathers for enlightenment. Commentaries, study bibles, bible studies, conferences and sermon notes can greatly enrich your own personal study. In Deut 6:6-7 the exhortation to familial heads is to teach all that is commanded diligently to your children -making it incumbent on fathers (and sometimes mothers) to teach the whole counsel of God diligently. Ps 78 tells us that we are not to hide the wonders, works and precepts of God from our children lest they become disobedient like the previous ungodly generations. The Psalmist unashamedly teaches the successes and failures of his fathers to his children. Are we unashamed in teaching our children all the righteous standards of God, even when we don’t line up to them?
- Prayer (Lk 11:1-4)
Oftentimes we let the pastor do all the praying in the church and the sheep are left wondering if they can ever talk to God that way. Prayer seems so simple to someone who walks closely with God, but to a little child yet learning the ways of the Father, it’s seems ornate, complicated and perhaps impossible.
Just as how Jesus and John the Baptist taught their disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1-2), we too can teach our children the pattern of prayer that is pleasing to God as tabled in Lk 11:1-4. Remember that prayer is not some routine list that we teach our children to dish out. Prayer is perhaps the most painful and humbling aspect of worship since during this time you expose your sins to your family, seeking their forgiveness and God’s forgivenss (Lk11:4). I often find this part of worship most unifying for my marriage especially when I’ve blown the top. I’m laid bare and humbled as I repent of my foolishness and seek the other’s forgiveness. This time is also useful to teach our children to pray for others. You can keep a prayer diary with topics for each day around which you can make supplications. For eg: you can set apart a day for praying for the churches in India, specifically your own church, then another for unbelieving friends and families, also for persecutions around the country, etc. Doing so helps you remember those in need continually.
- Singing unto God (Ps 118:15)
Singing today has become synonymous with “feeling and experiencing God’s presence” whereas God’s purpose for ordaining singing was for praise and prayer unto God as well as for exhortation and encouragement to the soul. The Psalms are painted with songs embracing all these four aspects, why, Jesus himself took Psalm 22 on his lips when he cried out from the cross ( Matt 27:46 ). We see from Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 Paul’s exhortation to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” for mutual encouragement and teaching. Singing at home too is for expression and instruction. Both these aspects need to be kept in mind whenever we choose songs for singing. Let me draw your attention to just the aspect of “singing as a means of instruction” since we are dealing with instructing and preparing children through Family worship.In Deut 31:19-22, God inspired the prophet Moses with a song that He commanded to teach the whole of Israel in order to confront and be a witness against them. This song was to be taught generationally so “it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring” (Deut 31:21) Now, couple of things are to be noted in these verses: The song was inspired by God, and not the invention of Moses or any other man (however great he may have been), and only this song was commanded by God to be passed on to their children. Secondly, the song instructed Israel in the Law, i.e. the word of God (Deut 32:44-46). The purpose was to help them “remember and obey” the word of God. If you are a mother, you’ll quickly realize the connection, since children memorize best when words are put to tune. God taught His children too to learn the substance of the Law through a song which He Himself gave. Tuning the word of God to praiseworthy music can help children ( and adults too! ) remember the precepts of God and obey Him. You don’t have to be a musician to try and put parts of the Bible to music to teach your children. You can start by singing the Psalms – the Divine Songbook – and you’ll find the tunes and a metrical Psalter handy at Crown and Covenant Publications so you can start right away. In our family, we started singing the Psalms for family worship and now we sing and listen to them almost all the time! I’m also planning to post a psalm a month with teaching, tune and words for your benefit. Additionally there’s a team out there that’s trying to put God’s word to tune, so you can now start singing the words of God and instructing them in song.
In my next post I’ll talk about some of the practical aspects of family worship and share a personal story about the impact of the same.