As part of my own 2016 Reading Challenge, I decided to purchase a copy of Donald Whitney’s Family Worship (Crossway, 2016). It helped that Crossway unceasingly advertised this book on my Facebook feed (it goes to show you how impressionable I am, I reckon). And I am glad that I both purchased and read it. The theme of this book is that there ought to be a planned, routine, established time of worshiping God as a family through the reading of the Bible, praying together, and singing praises to God together.I was taken aback during and after reading Family Worship because, to my surprise, this little book packs a punch in the form of heritage and exhortation in just sixty-four pages. Whitney addresses the theme of the ages and one of the celebrated tenants of Christianity, namely, that God deserves our worship. He both deserves and delights in our worship, as individuals and as families who are a part of his Church (Psalm 96:7,8).
From a heritage standpoint, the book gives a quick rundown on the spiritual disciplines of men like Abraham, Job and Joshua in the Old Testament as well as mandates for husbands and fathers from the likes of Paul and Peter in the New Testament. In addition, Whitney generously refers to respected men of the faith down through history, from Tertullian, Luther, the English Puritans, Spurgeon, as well as Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Piper. Their words add a rich perspective to the argument that our families ought to have purposeful, regular time set aside for worshiping God at home in addition to assembling with other believers in our local churches.
A little more than midway through Family Worship, Whitney shares some serious words from J.W. Alexander, a Presbyterian minister from New York in the first half of the nineteenth century, who wrote a book called Thoughts On Family Worship. In the last chapter Alexander wrote, “Laying aside all flattering words, I may say plainly that I regard the neglect of family worship as springing from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion.” To be fair, Whitney adds his own anecdote.
But, that’s not true if people have never learned about family worship. You can’t expect Christians to do what they’ve never been taught to do. I once taught a class of 115 seminary students, in which I asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where family worship was practiced?” Only seven raised their hands. Then I asked, “How many have visited in homes where you have seen family worship taking place?” No one raised their hand. In a conservative, Bible-believing seminary which attracts some of the most devoted, gospel-zealous Christians on the planet, people preparing to be pastors and missionaries, only one out of sixteen students in a class on spirituality had any familiarity whatsoever with family worship.
What does that say about the situation regarding family worship in our own churches, the kinds that are blessed to produce such committed young believers? What is the likelihood that students who have never even seen family worship would go into the ministry and teach people to practice it and how to do so? Of course, if they were not first taught about family worship themselves, we would never imagine them teaching it to others.
Here is what I mean when I wrote that I was taken aback. I was personally convicted, as Whitney meant to accomplish in telling this story. Based on the personal experience of 115 devoted young seminary students, he finishes with this:
So we can’t agree with Alexander that “the neglect of family worship [springs] from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion” if people have never heard of it. But, in reading this book, now you have.
It is in this part of the book where all my failed spiritual aspirations as a husband and father came calling. But where many popular “Christian living/ family” books perhaps may leave their readers feeling guilty and demoralized, thankfully Whitney’s book did not do so to me. In it, he encourages his readers, husbands and fathers first, to resolve to lead their families in purposely worshiping God together (through Bible reading, praying and singing) instead of dwelling on past negligence or failed attempts at family devotions. Families, single men and single women, and empty-nesters are also addressed.
Above all, Whitney makes a good case for family worship in his little book, but he is careful to distinguish this practice of family worship from the Christ of the gospel, who alone is the source of salvation. He makes it clear, “We are not made right with God by practicing family worship, or by how well we love and provide for our families, or by anything else we do. The gospel—the message that can lead to being right with God—is the truth of what God has done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
But what good does it do our families if we never exemplify the gospel, by living it out every day, or by communicating God’s worth? My resolve was strengthened as well as inspired by reading this small tome. I’ll finish this post with something Whitney wrote at the end of Family Worship. “Blessed is the family where the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ is declared, day after day, generation after generation.”