Family Worship–Then and Now, Part 1
About the Guest
Why is family worship important? Today on the broadcast, author Don Whitney, associate professor of Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, illustrates the need for family worship by telling stories of how family worship changed lives.
Don WhitneyDon Whitney has been Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY since 2005. Before that, he held a similar position (the first such position in the six Southern Baptist seminaries) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, for ten years. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. Don grew up in Osceola, Arkansas where he came to believe in Jes...more
Don Whitney illustrates the need for family worship by telling stories of how family worship changed lives.
Family Worship–Then and Now, Part 1
Don: We sometimes hear children of Christian parents who do not grow up in the fear of the Lord, and we ask how it is that they turn out so badly. And many, very many cases, I fear, there is such a neglect of family worship that it's not probably that the children are at all impressed by any piety supposed to be possessed by their parents.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to hear today how the spiritual life and the spiritual development of our children all begins at home.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. I had a friend of ours send me a CD recently. You know Don Whitney, right?
Dennis: That's right, he's a professor up at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Bob: He's been on FamilyLife Today talking about spiritual disciplines and about how we can diagnose our own spiritual health, and he had recently preached a message in a church about family worship, and anytime there is a message on that subject, I come under great conviction for my own failures as a husband and failure in this area.
Dennis: You know, Bob, if I'd had a message like this that equipped me to truly lead my family when we were first starting our family and beginning our traditions, this would have been of enormous help to me and benefit to Barbara and just to our kids, because most of us start our families, we do not know how to truly lead family worship.
Bob: I didn't see it in my home, it wasn't practiced, and so I started with a blank slate. In fact, I didn't start with anybody even saying this is a good idea. It wasn't until we'd had kids, and we were a few years down the path that somebody said, "So tell me about how you guys do family worship," and I went, "What are you talking about?"
So we thought it would be a good idea to let everybody know what we're talking about when we talk about family worship and how you can engage your family in this spiritual practice, and that's the subject of the message we're going to hear today from Don Whitney.
Don: I was in England some time ago and heard a report on BBC Radio that according to a government study there, as a result of television and technology and the like, families rarely spend time together. "Conversation," they said, between family members, "has degenerated into an indistinguishable series of monosyllabic grunts."
What's the answer? Well, the government, according to the BBC, should teach a series of classes – classes instructing families how to talk and play together. Now, two of my responses to this report are, number one, things are really bad in the family when the government says that the family is in trouble and, number two, God has a better plan for family time together than classes taught by the government.
Contrast that with a letter sent to me by a friend who described what he and his four siblings did at their family's – at the parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration. He said, "All five of us children decided to express thanks to our father and mother for one thing without consulting each other. Remarkably, all five of us thanked our mother for her prayers, and all five of us thanked our father for his leadership of family worship. My brother said," a brother who in later years – for many years – be far from the Lord before returning – "my brother said, 'Dad, the oldest memory I have is of tears streaming over your face as you taught us from 'Pilgrim's Progress' on Sunday evenings, how the Holy Spirit leads believers. No matter how far I went astray in later years,'" and he did go far astray, "I could never seriously question the reality of Christianity, and I want to thank you for that."
The latest figures I've seen from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention tell us that 88 percent – that's 9 out of 10 of churched youth – 9 out of 10 teenagers who regularly attend Southern Baptist Churches – not just on the church rolls – who regularly attend, leave the church once they finish high school. Research at George Barna's statistics are only slightly better. When asked to estimate the likelihood that they will continue to participate in church life once they are living on their own, levels dip to about 1 out of 3 teens. In other words, they are predicting in advance, "When I get out of here, I'm not coming back." And 2 out of 3 say they're not coming back and, in reality, 9 out of 10 do not.
One of the many troubling things about these numbers is that, unlike that once wandering brother who confessed at his parents' 50th wedding anniversary that it was the father's leadership of family worship that helped bring him back to the Lord, a lot of these kids don't have those sweet, lifelong memories that might prevent their leaving the faith in the first place or be there as God's means to bring them back.
Similarly, the great British Baptist preacher of the 1800s, Charles Spurgeon, said, "Brethren, I wish it were more common. I wish it were universal with all those who profess religion to have family worship." We sometimes hear children of Christian parents who do not grow up in the fear of the Lord, and we ask how it is that they turn out so badly. In many, very many cases, I fear, there is such a neglect of family worship that it's not probable that the children are at all impress by any piety supposed to be possessed by their parents.
In this message I want to declare to you one main point, and here it is – God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families. God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families. And I want to begin this way that the Bible clearly implies that. The Bible clearly implies that God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families. There is no direct, explicit commandment in the Bible for family worship, but it is so implicit throughout the Bible that, to quote Spurgeon again, "I trust there are none here present to profess to be followers of Christ who do also practice prayer in their families. We may have no positive commandment for it, but we believe it is so much an accord with the genius and spirit of the Gospel, and that it is so commended by the example of the saints that the neglect thereof is a strange inconsistency."
So let's turn to the Bible now and see how these passages clearly imply family worship. To begin with, turn to Genesis, chapter 18, and verses 17 through 19. Genesis, chapter 18, verses 17 through 19 – this is where the Lord and two angels have appeared to Abraham in the form of dusty travelers. Abraham provides some hospitality for them and, in the process, it begins to dawn upon Abraham who these guests really are, especially when the Lord says that Sarah will soon find herself expecting the child that He promised to give this old, barren couple years ago.
As the three are leaving and heading down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, where the Lord will bring destruction, the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed. For I have chosen him so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him."
We have no reason to believe that much true worship of the true God existed in Abraham's day. In fact, after the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11 where the Lord confuses the languages of the people and scatters them, you'd be hard-pressed to identify one person in the Bible who loved God. Like He did centuries later with Noah, God graciously chose Abraham and revealed Himself to him, and He did so, in part, we are told here, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, and I ask you when would Abraham have done this? When would he have commanded his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord? He didn't have the ministries of a local church to depend upon for this. The only way Abraham could have commanded his children to keep the way of the Lord was at home.
Let's turn to Deuteronomy, chapter 6, now, for one of the best-known passages in the Bible about the responsibility of parents teaching the things of God to their children. Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 4 – "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."
Now, there is much more here than family worship. Family worship would only comprise a part of obedience to this command. Parents should teach their children the things of God at every opportunity, and we should do so with our children both collectively and individually. But the best time to do this on a consistent basis with all the children would be in a time of family worship.
Now, have you ever considered how seldom congregational worship existed during nearly all of the centuries that comprise the Old Testament? Even after the tabernacle and the temple were built, the entire body of believers did not gather together to worship God as often as you may have assumed. Only after the Babylonian exile and late in the Old Testament history did Solomon build the temple – or hundreds of years after Solomon built a temple, did the local synagogues, the local synagogues developed, and people began to worship God congregationally on a regular basis. So it's only deep in the Old Testament do they begin to have any sort of regular congregational worship on a weekly basis.
But God was as worthy of worship then as He is now, and true lovers of God then, from Moses to Joseph to Joshua to David and all the characters of the Old Testament who loved God, they wanted to worship God then like believers do now. Keep that in mind as we read the famous words of Joshua. In chapter 24, the book that bears his name, this great successor of Moses has led them into the Promised Land. He has been the leader of the people of God for decades, but now he is nearing the end of his life, and he is exhorting the Israelites to remain faithful to God after his departure.
In Joshua 24:15 he says, "It's disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living but, as for me, my house, we will serve the Lord." And, once again, I ask you – how would he have done that? How would he have carried out, in practical terms, this resolve to serve the Lord? Well, part of serving the Lord then for them just like serving the Lord for us now, part of that is to worship the Lord – same then as now. But in a day when congregational worship is so infrequent – after all, it usually involved a trip of several days to get up to the tabernacle or eventually the temple – regular family worship would have been a part of how they carried out this resolve – "we will serve the Lord."
Over in the New Testament we read these words, these familiar words in Ephesians, chapter 6, in verse 4. Ephesians 6, verse 4 – "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." You don't expect others to do this for you, do you, dads? It's addressed to fathers – "bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." You don't expect to just hand your children off to the church to do that in your place, do you? No, they assist you in that. The church has a unique role in that but, nevertheless, fathers, your responsibility is to bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and only part of that would be bringing them under the preaching of the Gospel at the church and the congregational praises of God and prayers of God together with the body of Christ in the local church – that's a crucial part, an essential part, without which we do not have Christian family, we do not have Christian church and Christian living.
But fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord does not mean you hand them off to anyone else as the primary discipliner and teacher in the things of the Lord. It's a command given as the direct responsibility of the father. So, again, I ask you when, dads, when do you do this? Yes, you do it when you bring them to church. Yes, you do it when you converse with them incidentally as you're walking in the way, when you rise up, when you sit down, as Deuteronomy talks about. Yes, when, by example, you live a Christian life in front of them. Yes, you are bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Sure, it will happen throughout the day in unplanned and serendipitous times. No doubt that's all a part of this, but you know as well as I do without some regularity and structure and intention, it doesn't happen as much as we think. No, you don't bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord incidentally and occasionally. No, it has to be done purposefully, or it's done much less than we think.
The great old Bible commentator, Matthew Henry was right when he said "the way of family worship is a good old way, no new thing but the ancient usage of the saints." But that's not only true of the saints in Scripture, as we've seen here that the Bible plainly implies, God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families. But this has also been the example of the saints since Bible times.
So, second, I want to say this – that the lives of our Christian heroes testify – not only does the Bible plainly imply this, but the lives of our Christian heroes throughout history clearly testify that God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families. The first generations of Christians worship God daily in their families. A man named Lyman Coleman, who is a patristics scholar – that means he studies the fathers of the church, we call them, the first two or three, four centuries of the church wrote in a book called "The Antiquities of the Christian Church," about family worship practices among the first Christians after the Apostolic times.
At an early hour in the morning, the family was assembled, and a portion of Scripture was read from the Old Testament, which was followed by a hymn and a prayer in which thanks were offered up to the Almighty for preserving them during the silent watches in the night and for His goodness in permitting them to meet in health of body and soundness of mind. At the same time, His grace was implored to defend them amid the dangers and temptations of the day; to make them faithful to every duty; and to enable them in all respects to walk worthy their Christian vocation.
In the evening, before retiring to rest, the family again assembled. The same form of worship was observed as in the morning except that the service was considerably protracted beyond the period which could conveniently be allotted to at the commencement of the day.
In his classic work, "The Worship of the English Puritans," a man named Horton Davies speaks of the high esteem in which family worship was held by the Puritans, and he talks about how Richard Baxter spoke much of this, and he paraphrases him and speaks of how Baxter gives a large place to this in his Christian directory. And says, "Then, after supper, the head of the family is requested to examine the children and the servants on what they had been taught during the day. Then the religious duties of the day conclude with family prayers and praises." Baxter says this – "And now I appeal to reason, to conscience, and experience whether this employment be not more suitable to the principles, ends, and hopes of a Christian than idleness or vain talk or cards or dice or dancing or alehouse haunting or worldly business or discourse or TV or" – wait, I'm sorry, it's not in there.
Persons coming into such a family with a serious tincture of mind might well cry out, 'This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.' A man born 50 years after Richard Baxter, who became just as well known to the church for his commentary on the Bible, Matthew Henry, had this written by his biographer – "Matthew's conduct in his family was in a great measure regulated by the example of his pious father. He was never tedious, always full and comprehensive, performing much in a little time, which seldom exceeded half an hour. When the whole was ended, his children came to him for his blessing, which he gave with solemnity and affection."
Matthew Henry himself wrote, "If, therefore, our houses be houses of the Lord, we shall, for that reason, love home." Do you want your family members to love home? "For that reason, they shall love home, reckoning our daily devotion the sweetest of our daily delights. And I can testify to you that is the sweetest time of my day, bar none.
Bob: That is Don Whitney with a reminder for all of us that there is power, there is wisdom, in the parenting practice that includes some kind of family worship, some kind of involvement in the Scriptures as a family.
Dennis: You know, some of these quotes that he gave – looking back at some of those great saints in times past, I wish we had some videos of their family times, because I have a feeling that they had kids who were shooting peas across the table …
Bob: Do you think Jonathan Edwards' kids wiggled when he taught them?
Dennis: They were children, you know? But it was the habitual, disciplined practice of reading the Scripture and of constantly bringing the children into contact with God, with who God is and what God's like and the experience of God on a daily basis. You know, a lot of people listen to a message like this, and we think we have to do it perfectly. No, we don't have to do it perfectly; we just need to do it. We just need to pick a method, whether it be reading a passage of Scripture around the island in our kitchen, as our kids get ready for school. Perhaps it's a passage of Scripture at night around the dinner table before we retire for the evening.
The idea, Bob, is to pick a method of passing on the truth about God and your experience of God to the next generation, because they need the training.
Bob: One of the things that we did when the children were still young was to read stories. We would read "The Chronicles of Narnia," or stories that had a spiritual center, because we found that kids will pay more attention to a story, to narrative, than they sometimes will to ready a passage of Scripture. We didn't exclude that, but we would supplement it by reading stories.
We had a picture book that was for young children that was an adaptation of "Pilgrim's Progress," and I know some families have used the original John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" for family devotions. We just came across a paperback book that is called "Little Pilgrim's Progress," that's an adaptation of John Bunyan's classic work that would be a great tool for parents to use as a part of family worship. We've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
And then many of our listeners are familiar with a book that Joni Eareckson Tada and Bobbi Wolgemuth put together called "Hymns for a Kid's Heart." This book has the story behind a dozen different hymns. It has the piano music and the guitar chords for those hymns, and there's a CD in the back so that families can sing together with the CD or with the piano or with the guitar and learn about these hymns and make that a part of your family worship.
Again, we have all of these resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click on "Today's Broadcast," and that will give you all the links you need for resources, or if you'd like to review a transcript of today's program, that's available on the website as well – FamilyLife.com. And if you're interested in both the "Little Pilgrim's Progress" book and the "Hymns for a Kid's Heart" book, we can send along at no additional charge the CD audio of the message we're hearing this week from Don Whitney.
Once again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and if it's easier for you, you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we can have somebody make sure you get these resources out to you. Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
Well, if you are looking for some additional practical help on launching this discipline of regular family devotions or family worship, be with us tomorrow when we're going to continue part 2 of the message from Don Whitney, and he's got some great counsel for us. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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