Published on October 13th, 2014 | by Josiah Batten0
Family Worship: Its Content
In my first post in this series, we discussed the nature and necessity of family worship. Family worship, as we defined it, is the cultivation of love for the Triune God, through singing, prayer, and reading and instruction in Scripture, as a husband and wife (and children when applicable). This post will be more practical, discussing the content and structure of family worship. It answers that nagging question, “what do we do in family worship?”
First, family worship should involve praying together. This has at least two important effects: First, it will draw the family closer together as a unit. Second, it will teach individual family members how to pray and that prayer is the appropriate means of demonstrating trust in God. A family that fails to pray together is saying, in effect, “We can live our lives without God.” That is idolatrous.
Scripture is, of course, full of references to prayer. Prayer is so common, in fact, that I’m not even going to try to give a comprehensive overview here, since that would require a book. Instead, we’ll just look at some general patterns. First, when Nehemiah had a need, he prayed (Nehemiah 2:4). There is no family without needs, so families should pray. Second, prayer is the appropriate response to sin (Ezra 10:1). When sin had infiltrated the families of Israel, they had to confess as families. According to Ezra 10, the men, women, and children were all together in their repentance. I suspect that no family is perfect, so all families need to regularly repent of sin. Third, prayer is a source of spiritual blessing and growth. Look at the things Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9-11, for example. Every man should pray that for his wife, every wife for her husband, and husbands and wives for their children.
For these reasons, prayer should be a major focus of family worship. Family worship without prayer is spiritually anemic. You may pray at the beginning and end of family worship, or just at the end. What is important is not when or how many times you pray in family worship (we’re not legalists), but that you pray together as a family.
Instruction in God’s Word
This is perhaps the central focus of family worship: Teaching your family to obey all that Christ has commanded. If we’re to teach all nations to obey everything that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20), then surely our families are included in this “all nations” category.
Instruction in God’s Word should involve at least three things: Reading Scripture together (so everyone hears what God’s Word says), understanding Scripture (exegetically and doctrinally), and applying Scripture to daily life (practically).
One of the great neglects in our day is doctrinal instruction. Many people simply don’t know what the Bible actually teaches about various topics. The doctrine must be biblical, of course (hence why everyone should read Scripture together and be exposed to the Bible first-hand). Once we’ve determined a text actually teaches a doctrine, we need to teach that doctrine, and we don’t do this by skipping immediately to application. There has to be a doctrine for us to apply, and we need to know what that is.
For example, suppose your family has just read Hebrews 9:22. An application of this passage might be “Your sins are forgiven through the spilling of Christ’s blood.” But without understanding something of the broader scheme, including the idea of substitutionary atonement, this application will be rather anemic. A child needs to understand why Christ’s shed blood means his sins are forgiven, not merely that it means that.
Now, a father can do more to make sure his family is rightly instructed in God’s Word, including catechizing his children or working through a simple book on doctrine with them (more on this in a future post). But at a minimum a father needs to make sure he is exposing his family to God’s Word, teaching them what it teaches, and helping them live it out.
I would have titled this section “Worship,” but really the whole thing together is a form of worship. So I’m using the term “praise” to refer to the fact that families should exalt God together. As the entire book of Psalms indicates, this is normally done by singing.
I know many readers will be self-conscious at the idea of leading their family in song. Of course, this is an opportunity for sanctification. Praise is about how great God is, not about how good (or bad) one’s voice is. Biblical family worship recognizes who God is, what He has done, and offers an appropriate response of humble adoration.
The right song or hymn will reinforce and complement instruction in God’s Word. It will help family members remember a doctrinal truth (who forgets a song?). It will teach family members that God is to be adored and magnified for who He is and what He has done. It will give the heart expression for what the mind has apprehended. This should not be a show, it should be sincere.
I cannot emphasize enough here that modern Christians need to avail themselves of the great hymns of the past. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with modern music (though in some cases, there is). Rather, I’m saying that there are hymns that express certain truths in an elegant and currently unrivaled way. We would deprive our families if we exposed them only to modern music, and we would in effect teach a pattern of chronological snobbery that does not serve one well in understanding doctrine (the Bible is, as it turns out, quite old).
The song(s) chosen should be doctrinally sound. In addition, they should be sung in a way befitting of God’s majesty. There is no aesthetic reservation in the inauguration of a king, and there should be none in the worship of the Triune God. God is worthy of blaring trumpets, booming voices, and clashing cymbals. He is also worthy of humble respect. I’m not saying worship must always be loud (something can be loud and bad), I’m saying it should be worthy of the God who it seeks to magnify. A celebratory hymn, a solemn chant, and an anthemic chorus can be equally appropriate as long as they are done sincerely in accord with the nature and character of the Triune God.
Prayer, pedagogy, and praise compose the fundamental content of family worship. Whatever else one does in family worship, these three elements should not be neglected. To honor God as a family require that all of them be done as a family.