The family that worships together, stays together—this quirky little phrase is packed with truth. The triune God of creation and redemption works through families. This is true in both testaments of the Christian church. But unlike a quickly turned phrase, the family that worships together in these modern times is not so easy to make. There are many distractions before us that believers in ancient times never faced. Not to worry, twenty-first-century Christian, there are many helps out there. One such help comes from Reformation Heritage Books—the Family Worship Bible Guide.
This book will be a welcome addition to any family that is eager to gather for a daily time of worship. The editors have done a splendid job with the Bible’s sixty-six books and its chapters, paired with minimal commentary and thought-provoking questions. A few things, however, the book is not. It is not a full outline of what family worship is. In other words, it is not a step-by-step guide on how to perform family worship. In Reformed terms, it does not lay out the elements and circumstances of a family worship time. For example, you might be thinking that this guide would lead you, start to finish, through any particular night of family worship. What elements are involved (i.e., singing, reading, and prayer)? What circumstantial issues might be involved? Should family worship occur at the dinner table? Before or after dinner? How about before bedtime? The point of this book is not to be the one-stop shop of all family worship planning.
The introduction, however, does discuss some of these issues. When seeking to undertake the command to lead our families in the Lord, we consider the time and place in our homes. Another consideration is the duration of family worship. What materials and sources will we use? With all of these considerations, the editors make sure to tell us not to take the task too lightly, but that family worship “will require some preparation. You should pray for God’s blessing upon that worship. Have your Bibles ready and a Scripture passage selected. Catechisms and books of questions and answers for children are very helpful.”1 Well, another help in this task is the book itself.
The editors make the case for three necessary elements in family worship. One is the centrality of the Scriptures—God’s Word should be read and discussed. The Word can also be illumined via song and prayer. In fact, singing and praying make up the other two elements, but reading the revelatory Word of God comes first and is central throughout. After all, this is where faith is born (Rom 10:17). In family worship, we instruct each other, and especially our children, in divine revelation. Early in the introduction, such perennial Scriptures on the importance of family instruction in God’s Word are quoted, such as Joshua 24:15 and Deuteronomy 6:6–7.
Within the dedication to Bible reading and instruction, the editors supply a short list of eight things to keep in mind while leading our families in the worship of our triune God: 1) have a reading plan; 2) involve the family; 3) be plain in meaning; 4) encourage family dialogue; 5) be pure in doctrine; 6) be relevant in application; 7) be affectionate in manner; 8) require attention.2 This will involve some work and patience, but will reap bountiful rewards in your home. Each family dynamic is different, so some of the circumstances, such as time and place, will also look different.
The second necessary element, still tied to the first, is prayer. Not only should prayer be an integral part of family worship, but it should also precede and follow the time of worship. The family should be soaked in prayer. This is a spiritual practice to be worked on by the parents in their own lives, but the editors give us some helpful tips on leading and guiding prayer during family worship: 1) be short; 2) be simple without being shallow; 3) be direct; 4) be natural yet solemn; 5) be varied.3 Not only do we intercede for our friends and families, supplicate our Lord for our churches and missionaries as well as nations and authoritative figures, but we also call upon, glorify, and adore with thanksgiving this great God who bids us to pray.4
The third element is singing. Singing praises to our Creator and Redeemer and Consummator is good and right. The editors reference the psalter as the church’s early and divinely appointed hymn book— “Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous” (Ps 118:15a). Indeed, the Lord of heaven and earth and all things seen and unseen is the Christian’s song (v 14). We are to sing about the truth of the goodness of God and many such psalms help us do just that. There are, however, many other helps in our singing unto the Lord that the editors indicate. Throughout the history of the church, many faithful men and women have sought to express their praise through written word and note. A good psalter and hymnal should be a family staple in the home.5
Our editors give us three tips of advice in singing to our glorious God: 1) sing doctrinally pure songs.6 This should be obvious but could be tempting to side-step for something more popular or easier to sing. A song may be catchy with a beat or chorus that simplifies praise and stimulates our rote memory, but if it is out-of-bounds of orthodoxy, it should not be used (probably should not be listened to at all). Next, 2) sing psalms.7 Yes and amen; no further explanation needed. The new Trinity Psalter Hymnal is an excellent resource here.8 And, 3) sing heartily and with feeling.9 Our children should be able to feel our heartfelt joy in singing praise to God who alone is worthy.
Every chapter in every book of the Bible is covered in this wonderful guide. Whether you plan to go through the canonical order of Scripture, or pick one book at a time, or take a topical approach to family worship, the helpful background and commentary along with the probing questions of each chapter will assist significantly.
To give but one example: let us say you choose to go through the Gospel of John or take the daunting task of a topic such as God’s love, you can access some help in John chapter 3. Though specific verses are not explicitly referred to in this guide—rather whole chapters—it is hard to miss John 3:16 in this commentary: “God’s sending of His Son to save the world from condemnation is the greatest display of love in all of human history. God gave His best, His unique Son who shares His very nature, for those who hate and reject Him. Christ was lifted up on the cross to die so that guilty sinners could live forever in relationship with God. What love is this!”10 Reading through the text of Scripture is elemental to family worship and this Bible guide helps keep the conversation moving.
To further the dialogue on John 3, the guide uses questions to finish the comments. Here the question is asked, “Why should His love move sinners to trust in Him?”11 Because even while we were yet sinners, Paul says, Christ died for us. In this way, not only is the mind provoked, but the heart is touched with God’s great grace in Christ. The only proper response to such love is faith. And it is the desire to propagate and nurture faith that is widely apparent throughout the pages of the Family Worship Bible Guide to the families that utilize it as a means to engage our blessed triune God together in worship.
- Family Worship Bible Guide, Joel Beeke, et al, eds., (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), x.
- Ibid., xii–xiv.
- Ibid., xiv–xv.
- Ibid., xv.
- Ibid., xvi.
- Ibid., xvi.
- Ibid., xvi.
- The Trinity Psalter Hymnal is a joint venture between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches of North America, published in 2018.
- Ibid., xvi.
- Ibid., 719–20.
- Ibid., 720.
© Charles Vaughn. All Rights Reserved.
Family Worship Bible Guide. Editors Joel R. Beeke, Michael Barrett, Jerry Bilkes, Paul Smalley, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books) 2016.
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