For my contribution to this rubric in the next few installments I intend to write a few articles on the important subject of family worship. By family worship is meant the regular worship of God in a covenant marriage with husband and wife, or in the covenant home with the family together, parents with their covenant children. Such worship is simple in form, including the obvious elements of reading a portion from the Bible, some discussion of what is read, singing, and prayer. It should also include some instruction in doctrine and application of the truth of the Word of God to the life of the family. Ideally, this worship should include some spiritual conversation among the members of the covenant family. It is a good time for dealing with issues of daily living, including sin in the life of the family. Family worship is also greatly enhanced when it includes the regular singing together of the psalms and hymns (see). Singing promotes the joy of the Lord in the home.
Above all these things, family worship is the worship of God. The greatest reason for family worship in our covenant homes is that in it we worship our God, the God of our salvation. In the way of worshiping God together we bring down upon our families, by the grace of God, the favor and blessing of God.
Anyone who has knowledge of the state of Christendom in our day will know that family worship is practiced in very few homes professing to be Christian. Regular, truly spiritual family worship is absolutely essential for a strong covenant home and for one that has the accompanying blessedness of closeness, joy, and unity among the members of the family. Do we not confess that the covenant of God is a personal, living friendship between the blessed covenant Triune God and His people? Then surely the spiritual reality of the covenant must thrive in the practice of family worship in the covenant home.
Family worship is the prime time for husband/father to exercise his spiritual headship of his marriage/family. Through family worship the husband/father establishes the authority of the Word of God in his home and applies this Word to the lives of himself, his wife, and his children. At the time of family worship father instructs his wife and children in real piety and godliness.
The covenant wife/mother is present in family worship as the one who is the keeper of the home and has devoted herself to the care and nurture of her husband and children. This will be heard and seen in the comments she makes, the motherly advice she gives, and in the humble and loving devotion she has as an example to her children. The godly wife/mother greatly improves herself for family worship by her own personal study of the Word of God and by her daily living of it.
All the covenant children should be present at family worship. This should be insisted on. Very young children, school age children, teenage children, and young adults, when God gives these, should be present. Few excuses should be allowed for absences. Young adults should not imagine that, because of their age, they can busy themselves with their own pursuits and entertainment instead of being part of family worship.
Family worship should be regular and consistent. The most convenient time will obviously vary depending on the age of the children. We must make room for it in the busyness of the daily routine of our lives. We will do so only when we give it the high priority it deserves, making the necessary personal sacrifices to maintain this practice. In most Reformed families, family worship usually takes place at meal times. Sadly, regular family meals together are becoming rare in many homes. In many homes everyone fends for himself at a time suited to himself. Sometimes maintaining family worship can only be accomplished by the whole family rising from bed early in the morning before all go their separate ways. Sometimes the best time for family worship is in the evening before everyone retires. Whatever may be the best time, the necessary discipline of the home for its practice ought not to be considered unrealistic or overly demanding.
One of the psalms that gives a beautiful example of regular family worship in Israel is. “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” Notice how this psalm speaks of regular times. Another psalm that seems to give a beautiful example of private family worship is : “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Those who are familiar with the Psalter and who love its rendering of the psalms will remember with deep appreciation the words of Psalter #386, especially the first three stanzas:
O Lord, make haste to hear my cry,
To Thee I call, on Thee rely;
Incline to me a gracious ear,
And when I call, in mercy hear.
When in the morning unto
Thee I lift my voice and bring my plea,
Then let my prayer as incense rise
To God enthroned above the skies.
When unto Thee I look and pray
With lifted hands at close of day,
Then as the evening sacrifice
Let my request accepted rise.
The inspired writer of Psalm 141 was obviously a godly man. And he was a man who had regular private devotions, every day, whether by himself or together with his covenant family. And from the record of Daniel’s life in Babylon contained in the Scripture, we can conclude that Daniel had been raised in a covenant home where the firmly established practice of family devotions took place.
I conclude this article with several passages from Scripture that at least allude to the practice of family worship. It would be saying too much to insist that family worship is definitely referred to in these passages. But we have some significant and beautiful passages that support this blessed practice in our homes.
Early in the development of mankind there is reference to God’s people coming together to call on the name of the Lord. Inwe read after the mention of the birth of Seth: “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” As soon as there were more than two people on earth, God’s people were drawn together to worship the Lord and call on His name.
We read in the book of Job what this great man of God did for the good and salvation of his children. He “sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually” ().
God said concerning Abraham His friend, that Abraham would surely become a great nation, and all the families of the earth would be blessed in him. For God said: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (). God’s covenant purposes would be realized with Abraham and his seed in the way of father Abraham instructing his children.
In Genesis 35 we read that Jacob gathered his children with him at Bethel to make an altar to the Lord and appear before the Lord in worship.
In his lengthy discourse with Israel just before he died, Moses gave this urgent commandment to the children of Israel. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and shalt talk of them when thou sitteth in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou risest up” (). This passage speaks clearly about God’s people talking with their covenant children when they were sitting in their houses in fellowship.
Joshua, in his farewell discourse to the elders of Israel before his death, made the famous covenantal vow, “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” ().
The Psalms in several places speak of the homes of God’s people as the place where parents daily teach their children. Psalm 128 was probably written by the inspired psalmist shortly after the return from the Babylonian captivity. At this time God’s people were a small remnant surrounded by heathen nations. How urgent it was for them to be strong and to continue in the fear of the Lord! The picture that Psalm 128 gives of the home of the God-fearing is that of a man and his wife and their children sitting around the table. Clear from the psalm is not only that the family would eat their meals together, but also that they would be instructed by father, and in that way experience the blessing of God’s covenant fellowship together.
In Zechariah’s day, the Bible speaks of God blessing His people after the return from the captivity by pouring out on them the Spirit of grace and supplication. Then Zechariah prophesies that the land shall mourn every family apart. Imagine the day when covenant families gathered together to mourn the state of the church and to hope for her salvation.
We have such allusions to family gatherings and worship also in the New Testament. In connection with his instruction to God-fearing husbands to dwell with their wives, Peter makes specific reference to their praying together (see). Family worship takes places already at the beginning of marriage when there is only husband and wife.
We also have the beautiful example of Cornelius, a proselyte, already before the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ was brought to him. We read of Cornelius that he was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people and prayed always” (see). After Peter brought the truth of the gospel to the house of Cornelius, he and his house believed and were baptized.
One more passage will suffice. In Colossians 3 the inspired apostle Paul gives extensive instruction to Christian husbands, wives, and their children. Immediately before this instruction, the apostle admonishes Christians: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also you are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (). In light of the fact that this whole passage speaks of marriage and the family, we may say that the admonition in verses 15 and 16 is given also specifically to the Christian family.