“Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” said the Saviour (Matthew 4:10). As surely as each individual is to worship God in private, so we are to worship Him together in public. Surely, then, we might expect God to call on families to worship Him in the privacy of their own homes. We are not explicitly commanded by God to engage in family worship, but the duty may be deduced from Scripture “by good and necessary consequence”.
“There are some duties so plain, that they are rather to be assumed than commanded in the Word of God,” says James Alexander in his Thoughts on Family Worship. “We are not to wonder, therefore, if we find, even in the New Testament, no separate and explicit injunction to worship God in the family. But we cannot fail to discern the principle of family worship, appearing and reappearing [in Scripture] as a familiar thing in the remotest periods.”
It is especially the responsibility of the head of the home to ensure that the worship of God is observed in the home by the family every day, morning and evening. To that end, he (or she) should be well instructed in the Christian faith. “It is an uncomely sight to behold men in years babes in knowledge; and how unmeet are they to instruct others, who need themselves to be taught which be the first principles of the oracles of God, Hebrews 5:12.” So wrote those Westminster Divines who penned “The Epistle to the Reader, Especially Heads of Families”, which prefaces The Westminster Confession of Faith.
As for instructing those under their care, there are some heads of families, say those divines, “who because of their ignorance cannot, others because of their sluggishness will not perform the duty. To the former we propound the method of Joshua, who first began with himself, and then is careful of his family. To the latter we shall only hint, what a dreadful meeting those parents and masters must have at that great day, with their children and servants, when all that were under their inspection shall not only accuse them, but charge their eternal miscarrying upon their score.”
How important it is then, that parents would always conscientiously observe this most profitable practice of gathering the family together to worship their Creator, Lawgiver and Judge, seeking to glorify Him especially as He is the God of Salvation. It is therefore stipulated in our Confession of Faith that “God is to be worshipped every where in spirit and truth, as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself,” (ch. 21, sect. 6).
It is true that those who are not familiar with this practice may find it difficult, when the duty is laid upon their conscience, to decide how to go about it. It would be very helpful for such to study the Directions of the General Assembly, Concerning Secret and Private Worship, and Mutual Edification, for Cherishing Piety, for Maintaining Unity, and Avoiding Schism and Division. This directory of four pages is bound up with most editions of the Confession of Faith, and gives guidance about family worship. It states, for example:
“The ordinary duties comprehended under the exercise of piety which should be in families, when they are convened to that effect, are these: First, prayer and praises performed with a special reference, as well to the public condition of the kirk of God and this kingdom, as to the present case of the family and every member thereof. Next, reading of the Scriptures, with catechising in a plain way, that the understandings of the simpler may be the better enabled to profit under the public ordinances, and they made more capable to understand the Scriptures when they are read; together with godly conferences tending to the edification of all the members in the most holy faith: as also, admonition and rebuke, upon just reasons, from those who have authority in the family.”
Another paragraph gives this good advice: “In every family where there is any that can read, the holy scriptures should be read ordinarily to the family; and it is commendable that thereafter they confer, and by way of conference make some good use of what hath been read and heard. As, for example, if any sin be reproved in the word read, use may be made thereof to make all the family circumspect and watchful against the same; or if any judgment be threatened, or mentioned to have been inflicted, in that portion of scripture which is read, use may be made to make all the family fear lest the same or a worse judgment befall them, unless they beware of the sin that procured it: and, finally, if any duty be required, or comfort held forth in a promise, use may be made to stir up themselves to employ Christ for strength to enable them for doing the commanded duty, and to apply the offered comfort. In all which the master of the family is to have the chief hand; and any member of the family may propose a question or doubt for resolution.”
Those of us who are parents and have taken baptismal vows have promised to observe family worship. May we be fully resolved as Joshua was: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
[Editorial, Free Presbyterian Magazine, June 1998]