The Precedent of Family Worship
Before discussing the precedent of family worship we should define what is meant by the term. Family worship is the gathering of a household to turn their attention to encountering and responding to God together. It is the regular practice of believers gathering in the place where they live to read and apply God’s Word, sing His praises, and pray together. It is a practice that is constantly under attack from our suburban lives. We face the unspoken pressure to fill our schedules so that we might measure up to those around us and live productive lives that serve and honor God in various ways. But far too often we buy in to the world’s definition of productivity instead of remembering what Jesus taught Martha in Luke 10.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
This encounter demonstrates our tendency to get so busy accomplishing our own ideas of how to serve God that we neglect our basic priority to hear from God. And it’s in our times with God that we allow Him to re-adjust our priorities and redefine what serving Him should look like in our lives. Martha’s attitude is applicable not only to private worship but also to family worship. We can allow our family lives to become so busy that we are distracted from what the Lord is calling us to do – faithfully show and teach our children what devotion to Jesus should look like in our lives. Consider the command we are given in Hebrews to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We cannot live the Christian life from day to day alone and should take full advantage of the Christian communities God has placed most of us in – our household. Whether that means a married couple with no children yet, a couple with young children, older children, an extended family living together, or simply friends who are roommates, many of us have other Christians around who we can encourage and be encouraged by. Think of your household as a kind of “extended family” – family worship isn’t just for immediate families.
While the Bible does not have direct teaching on the frequency, nature, and extent of family worship, it has plenty of examples both directly and by implication. As James W. Alexander put it in his book Thoughts on Family Worship, “There are some duties so plain that they are rather assumed than commanded in the Word of God.” Consider Adam and Eve, the first humans, who must have worshipped God as a family. The same goes with Noah, who if he publicly worshipped God at all on the ark must have done so with his family. When God commanded Jacob to build an altar at Bethel he obeyed by including his family as well (Genesis 35:1-3). When Joshua charged the nation of Israel to be faithful to their covenant with God he declared his commitment to serve (worship) the Lord along with his household, not just by himself. (Joshua 24:15) When King David returned from blessing the nation in public worship he blessed his household in like manner. (2 Samuel 6:18-20) In the New Testament we have the example of Cornelius, the devout Jew who converted to Christianity with his household after hearing Peter preach the gospel. Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household.” (v. 2) When Peter arrived Cornelius declared that they were all ready to listen to the message from God (v. 3) and when they heard it, they responded together in faith and were baptized. Cornelius’ conversion was a family affair!
Family worship also played a prominent role in Church history particular during the time of the reformation and even today in some reformed denominations. During the reformation many of the local churches worshipped in a foreign language and taught an unbiblical gospel, that of salvation by works. If children were to hear the message of salvation through Jesus’ blood they could only hear it at home. The “divines” who wrote the Westminster confession of faith in the 17th century (and the similar London Baptist Confession which is our statement) thought it important enough to include in the statement itself. Of private and family worship they wrote:
God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his word or providence, calls thereto.
May we as reestablish the precedent of family worship for future generations!
Next week we will discuss the priority of family worship, that is, how and why it must rank highly on our list of God-given priorities.