Previous article in this series: January 15, 2016, p. 181. In our last article we opened the subject of family worship.
By family worship we mean worship at set times together as a family, with all of its members—young and old—present. Family worship is disappearing in many Christian homes. Neglecting regular worship together as a covenant family will have serious consequences. Family worship is central to real covenant life in our homes. It promotes true spiritual life and unity among the members of the covenant family. We may not allow the busyness of life (as important as the activity may be) to crowd out our regular family worship.
It belongs to the father’s role as head of the covenant home to maintain and preserve as well as to lead family worship in his home. Even sending our covenant children to good Christian schools during the day cannot make up for a lack of family worship in our homes. There must be order in our covenant homes to maintain family worship. There must be enough time devoted to it. Family worship is not something that can be done hurriedly, as a short formal religious ritual before family members hurry off to their own daily pursuits. It almost goes without saying that the reading of the Word of God must be central to our family worship. Everything else depends on this. The Word of God must be read with the purpose of fostering the love and fear of God as well as the knowledge of and love for His truth in the hearts of our covenant children.
The proper reading of God’s Word with our covenant children begins already with instilling in our small children the proper attitude towards God’s Word. From early youth on our covenant children must learn that, when God’s Word is being read, God is in reality speaking. Father must insist that his children pay undivided attention. They may not be preoccupied with other things. They must be taught to listen with the purpose of understanding, even in simple child-like faith. Such reverence when the Word of God is being read in the home will teach our covenant children the proper attitude and behavior in church when the Word of God is read and the sermon is preached.
The regular reading of God’s Word in our homes can be an amazing thing. There should be sufficient time given to this reading. We should be reading through the entire Bible as much as possible during the short time that our children are home with us. The knowledge of the Scriptures, what they actually say and mean, should in large measure be taught by extensive regular reading of the Bible with our families. What a blessing it is for young people and for adults in their later life to have a thorough knowledge of the Word of God! Such knowledge will help to make them strong in the Lord and His truth. Such knowledge will equip them to be able to refer to God’s Word in the whole course of their life. I have found in some catechism children amazing knowledge of the Word of God; but I have also found in others a grievous deficiency of such knowledge. The latter is usually to be blamed on poor or irregular practices of family worship.
Repeated reading of the Word of God with our children will familiarize them with the Word. I recently visited with an elderly widow who testified that in their home father regularly required his children to memorize parts of the Word of God. By means of regular Bible reading in their homes our children will learn to take the Word of God with them in their minds and hearts as they go through their daily lives. I have also found that where there is regular reading of the Word of God there will be a realization of the inexhaustible riches of the meaning of the Word of God. Each time we read God’s Word, we find in it something new, often something we never before understood. In family Bible reading parents should often speak to their children of new truths they themselves have learned, new depths of understanding. This kind of reading of the Bible fosters in children a love for the Word of God and for its comfort and blessing for life. It may also be good to read a short commentary at the time of family devotions, but we ought never underestimate the power of reading the Bible itself, and doing so over and over again.
As a father, together with my wife, we have watched seven children grow up in our home. We have ourselves learned a lot about raising children. I am thankful to God for the gifts He has also given to my wife, exercised and developed through the experience of having children in our home. We look back with profound fondness to those days after we now are ‘empty nesters.’ A proof of whether we have been ‘successful’ as parents in raising our children is whether they will remember the things they learned at the time of family devotions. We trust that they will remember these things with joy and thankfulness to God. This also will give them a pattern for the raising of their own covenant families.
One of the things about child development and pedagogy that we have experienced is the fact that the knowledge of Bible history is foundational to learning Bible doctrine in the later years of our children. While on the mission field, where we had the exciting opportunity of instructing new converts of the faith, I often encouraged these new converts to read Bible history books and even Bible story books to help them build a foundation in the knowledge of Bible history. Many followed this advice for their great benefit and improvement in understanding the truth presented in pre-confession classes and in the regular hearing of the preaching of the Word of God in church.
We have promoted a proper appreciation for the Word of God in the minds and hearts of our children when they are eager to hear the reading of ‘Bible Stories’ to them. This is often done while children are sitting in the laps of their mother and enjoying her loving embrace. We have found that the reading of good Bible story books during the younger years of our children was very beneficial. There are a number of good Bible story books, including Come, Ye Children by Mrs. Gertrude Hoeksema. We have done ‘a good job’ in our family devotions if we have seen the fruit of this in the attitudes of our little children. They love these stories more than any others. There is a lot of competition for the attention of our children today, not only from books they love to read but also from television and videos and the Internet. In our family devotions, we have to work very hard as parents to keep alive in our children’s hearts and imaginations a great excitement for Bible history and the revelation of God’s wonders.
Bible reading must include a measure of instruction for understanding the meaning and sense of the Word of God. It must include meditation on the Word of God. It must include application of the Word of God to our lives and the lives of our children. It must include pointing out examples of sins in the lives of Bible characters and impressing on the hearts of our children the admonitions of the Word of God. In connection with the reading of the Word, there must be warnings against sin and helping our children to condemn the world. They must learn from the Bible what it means to live a true, holy life devoted to God, along with the great blessings of God on such a life. And more than all of these, our Bible reading must include hearty encouragement of our children in the hope and joy of salvation, and in personal love and thankfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ who has fully accomplished that salvation. Yes, our children must be brought with us to church to hear the preaching of the gospel. But the reality and wonder of the gospel and our salvation in Christ must be talked about in our homes and especially at the time of our family worship.
As our children grow up, they must be taught a doctrinal understanding of the Word of God. We ought not minimize the great importance of this. We are thankful to the Lord for the catechism instruction we have in our Protestant Reformed Churches. Very few churches today have doctrinal instruction for their young people. I often tell our young people that the ‘Essentials in Reformed Doctrine’ class they are sitting in will probably be the only time in their life that they have a complete systematic course of instruction in Bible doctrine. In the catechism room ministers can build on the diligent labors of parents in their family worship with great benefit for our covenant young people.
Doctrinal instruction will give our young people a sense of the truth of God that takes into account the whole of God’s Word and compares Scripture with Scripture. It will help keep them from heretics who often hang their false teaching on a text of Scripture taken out of its context and twisted in its meaning. Under the blessing of God doctrinal instruction in the home will equip our young people to live in a world of increasing apostasy and false teachings. Our Lord has warned us over and over about the times in which we are living, that there will be many false teachers. Our young people need to be strong in the knowledge of the truth. Not all have the same gifts of God for doctrinal understanding, but all of our covenant young people need to be trained in their homes to be able to distinguish truth from error. One of the most distressing things I have experienced in my ministry is the departure of some of our covenant young people from our churches.
One of the most common reasons for this is worldly attachments and friendships, especially in the course of seeking their life partner. I have seen too many cases when young people have been drawn away by boyfriends and girlfriends who sometimes belong to churches quite doctrinally diverse from our churches. In doing this, they have sometimes shown themselves to be ill-equipped to distinguish truth from the lie. They easily go to a church of another denomination. Some of these leave the Reformed church with the naïve imagination that most churches in our day are much the same, with perhaps only a few minor differences in emphasis. Sometimes they learn the bitter consequences of this in their marriages later in their lives.
It makes me wonder with great sorrow sometimes, how could some of our young people raised in Reformed Christian homes among us be so easily led away?