Question and Answer

Family Worship

Question:

What is the OPC position on family worship? In chapter II of the Directory for Public Worship of God, there is a reference to "private worship" to distinguish the practice from public worship, but nowhere in the directory (that I could find) is the subject of private (individual or family) worship addressed with the exception of private "exercises" on the Sabbath. Although the Westminster Confession in Chapter XXI states that "God is to be worshiped...in private families daily," it appears that the OPC does not emphasize this element of Christian "piety." Although most Presbyterian denominations have not adopted the historic Directory for Family Worship, even the PCA adopted a position in its BCO under the title of "Christian Life in the Home." Is this merely another example of the difference between the Northern Presbyterians (OPC) and Southern Presbyterians (PCA)? An additional question would be the OPC's position on Christian piety which clearly influences the overall position on family worship (confessional standards aside).

Answer:

You ask some probing and worthy questions. In answer to your question about family worship in the OPC, notice that our directory is "The Directory for the Public Worship of God." So private and family worship are not addressed, although they ought to be. The reason for the absence of family worship is not that it is not practiced in many OPC homes, but that our modern culture has made it difficult to assemble whole families for worship because of the divergent schedules of households with two working parents and teen-agers who hold down paying jobs. It's like pulling hen's teeth to get them all together at one time, except on the Lord's days. This is the scourge of our time. Perhaps it has contributed to our times being called "post-Christian."

I am the product of a Christian home where family worship was a settled practice. I was the sixth child of seven in my Iowa farm family. My father died in 1964. And after his death my mother's youngest brother (who had been a teen-ager when my folks were married and spent a lot of time in their home) wrote me a letter telling me that my father couldn't read when he was married (Dad had to work on the farm, since his father had died due to an accident during Dad's boyhood), but Dad set it as his goal to learn to read in order to lead family worship (we called it "the family altar"). So my mother, who was well educated, taught him to read.

I was born long after that, but my father led family worship invariably as long back as I remember. We each had a Bible and read verse by verse in turn in the order of our ages and reversed the process on Sunday mornings. Nothing was allowed to displace our reading and my father's carrying us all to the throne of grace in his prayers. Ours was a Presbyterian USA Church, which didn't do well with settled pastors. I can remember only two resident ministers. It was not "modernistic" or "liberal," but it was never a strong influence in my life, so I credit family worship for a solid Christian upbringing.

As I've already stated, the OPC homes that I know well do practice family worship. In fact, they do well. But it is neither mandated nor universally practiced in the OPC. I wish it were; and in my fifty-five years in the pastorate, I have advocated it. The result has often been generations of youth raised in the Word. The foundation unit of the visible church is the Christian home.

I've been in Dutch homes where Scripture and prayer follows every meal. Their children didn't know when their father would close the reading, so they were required to repeat his final words or be reprimanded for their inattention. I've been in pastors' homes in which singing of hymns and Psalms was added. Many of them included memorizing the Catechism. What a revolution in the church would come with the return of family worship! When you become members of an OPC, use your influence to encourage family worship! And may God's blessing rest firmly on you and yours.


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