Read the series.
Having considered the decline of family worship and some biblical support for its practice, we look now at some positive benefits, which in turn supply another argument for its restoration. As Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do, we’re to do all to the glory of God.” However, we need not view God’s glory and our benefit as mutually exclusive. I believe there are a number of benefits and blessings that result from the practice of family worship. Even if there were no passages of Scripture to support the practice directly or indirectly, the potential of these blessings would certainly commend it.
The Eternal Good of Each Family Member
When the apostle Paul wants Christians to know that he’s concerned for their eternal welfare, he often uses the analogy of a parent’s love for a child.
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us…. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children (1 Thess. 2:7-11)
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you (Gal. 4:19)
Paul longed for the spiritual good of his spiritual children. And he knew that he could best promote their eternal welfare by faithfully preaching to them the gospel of Christ. In the same way, parents, one of the best ways that you can promote the salvation of your children is to teach and preach the gospel to them. To take some time on a regular basis and instruct them in the word of God, just as Paul did his spiritual children.
Someone may object, “Life is too busy for family worship. We have too many irons in the fire and not enough time for family altar.”
My answer: You need to seriously consider what you may “give-up” in order to make time for family worship. Once again, the apostle Paul is a good parental example. As a loving spiritual father, Paul was willing to endure much hardship and to give up many Christian liberties so that he might do what was necessary to secure the salvation of his children! Note his example:
What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more…. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some (1 Cor. 9:18-19, 22)
Fathers and mothers, how far are you willing to go in order to secure the salvation of your children? Are you willing to give up some of your liberties and hobbies in order to insure that family worship is practiced in your home? Are you willing to make family worship a priority over television viewing? Are you willing to give greater priority to the spiritual training of your children than to golf, or shopping, or yard work, or sewing?
The mark of a godly parent is a commitment to make personal rights and convenience subservient to the salvation of the child’s soul. Mom and Dad, are you truly committed to seek the eternal good of your child’s soul? If so, how then can you deprive them of the benefit and advantage of family worship?
I conclude this point with the appeal of Philip Doddridge. In a sermon entitled, “The Important Subject of Family Religion,” he appeals to parents:
Let me entreat you, then, my dear friend, to look on your children the very next time you see them, and ask your own heart how you can answer to God and to them that you deprive them of such advantages as [family worship] …. For what is prosperity in life without the knowledge, fear, and love of God?… It is, with respect to the eternal world, the greatest cruelty to your children to neglect giving them those advantages [of family worship] which no other attentions in education, exclusive of these, can afford; and it is impossible that you would ever be able to give them any other equivalent. If you do your duty in this respect, they will have reason to bless you living and dying; and if you neglect it, take care that you and they come not, in consequence of that neglect, into a world where (horrid as the thought may seem) you will be forever cursing each other!1
The Overall Health of the Family
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “The family that prays together stays together.” That saying contains a measure of truth. Provided that it is not marred by gross hypocrisy, family worship has the tendency to promote the general health and welfare of the family.
Order and Structure in Family Life
A family’s approach to worship often reflects a family’s general approach to life. Where there is a lack of discipline, planning, and formality to worship, there will be a corresponding pattern of life in the home. J. A. Alexander describes some of the features of such a home:
Such is the custom of late and irregular rising, agreeably to which the yawning inmates of a house straggle down to a breakfast-table, which stands for hours, awaiting the successive approaches of the solitary and moody participant; and that other custom, of passing a long evening, as it is called by the courtesy of the fashion, at the theatre, the card-party, the ball, or the not less unseasonable [late night] supper, or assembly.2
The scene Alexander describes reminds me of my own home when I grew up, especially in my teen years. We did very little together as a family, not even eating together. In fact, our home may have resembled a house full of boarders rather than a house with a family.
I think we all agree that an undisciplined approach to life is not good. Yet, that is the way many families approach family worship. They have it whenever they get around to it, which is rarely at all! On the other hand, the regular and systematic practice family worship tends to promote overall order and structure in the home. As Alexander goes on to say, “It is not the least of the advantages of domestic prayer that it stands in open daily protest against [the lack of order and discipline in the home].”3
Moral Order and Decency in the Home
Where the law of God is not continually proclaimed and enforced, moral disorder and decay will eventually result. Our homes are like gardens that must be constantly weeded. If we neglect them, they will soon be overrun with sin and riot. However, where God’s law is continually preached and applied to the conscience there will generally be restraint and moral decency.
Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law (Prov. 29:18)
Fathers (or in some cases, mothers), the family altar provides you, as head of the home, with an excellent pulpit. It provides you with an excellent opportunity to address unrighteous attitudes and behavior, and to exhort the family regarding moral duties.
A Heavenly Climate in the Home
Apparently, there used to be a customary practice in Greenland whenever a stranger would knock on someone’s door. When the person inside the house would ask, “Who’s there?” the stranger would reply, “Is God in your house?” If the answer was “yes,” the stranger would be admitted into the house.4 Can it be said, “God is in our home”? If a stranger visited our home, would he leave with that impression? If we cannot answer “yes,” then what can we do to change the godless climate of our home into a godly climate?
I believe that 1Corinthians 14:25 gives us some help. According to that passage, when an unbeliever enters a church where the word of God is being clearly proclaimed and where there is decent and orderly worship being offered, “he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” In the same way, when family worship is faithfully practiced in the home it will promote a sense of God’s presence in that house.
The Well-being of the Church and Society
Our Puritan forefathers were convinced that the spiritual health of the family would have a profound effect upon the church and society. Cotton Mather wrote, “Well-ordered families naturally produce good order in other societies. When families are under an ill discipline, all other societies [will be] ill disciplined.” James Fitch warned, “Such as families are, such at last the church and commonwealth must be.”5 Thomas Manton, in his preface to the Westminster Confession of Faith, argued that “a family is the seminary of church and state and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth.” For this reason, Richard Baxter exhorts us, “Keep up the government of God in your families: holy families must be the chief preservers of the interest of religion in the world.”6
The Well-being of the Church
When William Cartwright was asked why children should be catechized at home, he replied, “Because houses are the nurseries of the church?” I believe what Cartwright means is that family worship is a means to prepare children for church worship.
People used to ask us how we got our children to sit still and be quiet in church. (Of course, I confess that they didn’t always do this perfectly.) But the answer to that question is that we trained them at home. We used family worship as the classroom to prepare them for church. We tried to teach them at home “to sit up,” “to sing out,” and “to close their eyes” when they prayed, so that when they came to church, they knew what to expect. This profits the church in several ways:
- It minimizes potential disruptions in the church service.
- It makes a good impression on visitors to see well-ordered families in the worship service.
- It prepares our children to be potential church members.
The Well-being of Society
The Puritan William Gouge said, “All will be well with the commonwealth where families are properly regulated.”7 Perhaps that’s overstating the point. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that there is a direct correlation between the health of the family and the health of a nation. As we’ve already argued at the beginning of this study, much of the vice and godlessness of this society can be traced to the neglected practice of true religion in the home:
Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a disgrace to any people (Prov. 14:34).
Mom and Dad, do you realize that one of the best contributions that you can make to your country is to promote the righteousness of God in your home. And one of the best ways to do that is to restore and practice family worship.
Why should we restore family worship? For the good of each family member’s soul; for the good of the family as a whole; and for the good of the church and society. These worthy ends are all arguments for the practice of family worship. In our final installment (Part 4), we’ll offer some practical guidelines for conducting family worship.
1 Cited in The Godly Family, pp. 58-59.
2 Thoughts on Family Worship, p. 250.
3 Ibid., p. 250.
4 I found this in Jerry Marcellino, Rediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship, p. 7.
5 Both cited in Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, p. 74.
6 Both cited in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, p. 270.
7 Cited by Ryken, p. 74.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.