The origin of family worship is very beautifully described in Genesis, the book of Beginnings. The Covenant People were a family and divine worship was family worship. Hence, as the Book of Beginnings describes the beginning of heaven and earth, it also depicts the beginning of that blessed relation of love between God and His people and that is a relation of worship. For worship is love in action. And therefore there is also such a thing as family worship, the love of God in the family induces the family to worship, where that love is lacking family worship is absent.
The origin of family worship we find in, when it says: “Then began men to call on the name of the Lord.” On the strength of the Hebrew preposition, men have contended that this verse should read “began men to call in (by, with) the Name of the Lord; or others said it must be translated “then men began to call themselves by the Name of the Lord.” but we are of the opinion that the English translation is accurate and we shall let it there as is.
That statement now is significant.
First, it is clearly a family which is doing this.
Gen. 4 tells us about two families, the family of Cain, the murderer, is set before us in, while immediately thereupon begins the register of the family of Seth. There you have the two families. The family, which under the leadership of Cain has erased the name of God and apostatized from His service and on the other side the family which under the leadership of Seth knows the Lord and loves Him. The one the family of sin, the other the family of grace. Step into the one family and God is absent from their family life while the home is cluttered with strange idols, step into the other home and you find family worship. And according to the one pattern or the other all families even until this clay live.
Secondly, notice the striking contrast between these two families. The one family, under the leadershipof Cain goes out and builds itself a city and called the name of that city after the name of a man (who hath wisdom let him read his number, it is six-six-six) the city which finally becomes the great Babylon. The other family, what does it do, what does it build, what does it perform? . . . . IT CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD. Do you see the contrast? The one centers his life and the life of his family around the building of the sin-and world-city, the other centers his life around the worship of the Lord. The one systematically denies the name of the Lord and lives as if there is no God, the other calls on the Name of the Lord. The one lives for the things which are below, the other worships the Name.
Thus, in the Book of Beginnings we find the origin of family worship and its antithesis.
That the godly race not only began but also continued to worship the Lord in the family is evident also from subsequent notices. The very name the fathers gave their sons was an expression of their worship of the true God and how highly they held that worship in reverence. I know there was a great apostasy in this family worship, an apostasy which culminated in the judgment of the flood, but within the very Ark we once again find the family in worship. And in Shem’s line we once more find family worship. Until Abraham appears, who sets up an altar and around it he builds the worship of God for his family. And God says of Abraham that He knows him that he will command his children and his household after him and they shall keep the ways of the Lord. And so on in the lives of the families of the patriarchs. How many commands Moses also gave anent the family worship, hove fathers shall instruct their children in the fear of the Lord and shall bring offerings and sacrifices, each father as head of the family. How Job prays for his children and how he rises up betimes and makes burnt- offerings “according to the number of them all”, and how Joshua exclaims “as for me and my house we shall serve the Lord.”
That original family developed into Church. Yet within the church that sacred unit shown as the family holds a high and lofty position. The family unit may not and cannot live apart from the church, for then the family would be like a branch cut loose from the tree, no matter how many leaves it have on it, it is doomed to die because it is not attached to the church and Christ. But likewise a church must pay close attention to the family, for the church grows family-wise and deterioration of family life is as sure to effect the life of the church as the root-louse is bound to effect the plant. We might even dig up that old adage “a chain is as strong as its weakest link” and vary it a trifle to read “ a church is as strong as its weakest family”.
From these things we may see how important family worship really is and why the church is also vitally interested in fostering it. An added reason why we champion annual family visitation.
But now we ought to pause a moment and ask ourselves what family worship really is.
In answer to this let us consider three things.
First, family worship is worship of God in the presence of the family. This undoubtedly implies that the parent (parents) must conduct this worship publicly in the presence of the family. There is a time that the parents individually worship God, but there is a time that the parents must take the family with them and go worship God at Bethel. It is sad when families live as so many individuals. It is the duty of the parents to bring the family together in the worship of God. The family head is free to choose his methods of worship, but to the family worship there will have to belong public prayer at the table and otherwise, public reading of the Bible and public explanation thereof. To that could also be added family singing. What could be more appropriate then to sing a psalter number after the meal? But each is free, provided he accounts himself bound of God to worship Him family-wise.
Secondly, family worship is worship in which the family members also take part. I think sometimes that we are quite guilty on this score. We proceed with our family rituals without asking ourselves whether the family is worshiping with us. It is not enough to worship in public, the family has to be exhorted to join in the worship and take part in it. It is not enough for father or mother to pray aloud, the family must pray with them. It is not enough to read the Scriptures, the rest of the family must read it with them. It is not enough that the parents worship God in the presence of the family, but the family must take part in the worship also. This involves various things. It certainly involves that the parents pray in such a manner that the family can understand and can pray along. The parents must pray in a language which the family can understand and follow and use words which the children also can grasp. The same thing applies in reading the Bible. The parent is not reading for himself, he reads for the family and he must so read that the family can get along with him. He must read and explain and give the sense of that which was read. In families with little children this brings up difficulties, if various of the family have to (have to) eat at different times it also brings difficulties, but with careful and well-planned regulations much can be done to foster family worship even then.
But, finally, I should not wish to confine family worship to the habitual three-times-a-day service at the table. This is a major part of it, no doubt, but this is not all of it and neither must we limit it to that. I would add finally therefore that family worship is this, that the worship of God become the very life of the family. Family worship must not be an addenda to an already full book, neither must it be a little diversion, variation or interruption to the family life. That is what it is in many a family. They really live earthly and carnal, they seek the things which are below, but at intervals the family life is INTERRUPTED a bit with some worship. The interruption is endured with varied expressions of impatience and disinterest and there seems to be a shout of relief when it is all over. This is not true family worship. For the family worship ought not to be an interruption or a variation of the course of the family life, but it should be the very essence of the whole of the family life. The family should always worship God. The worship of God should characterize the tenor of life in the home, the things which are done in the home, the papers which are read there, the radio that is heard there, the language that is used there and the friends who enter there. The entire world and life-view of the family should be that of worshipping God.
That is family worship.
It were carelessness not even to ask ourselves in how far our own family life is patterned after it. It were recklessness to brings up a family which knows not the Lord nor His worship. Rather let us be diligent and say:
O come and let us worship now,
Before our Maker let us bow
We are His sheep and He our God
He feeds our souls in pastures broad.