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Author: Family Bible time key to children’s spiritual growth

ORMOND BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Christian men must lead their families in worship at home if they expect to convey the faith to their children in a way that will make them into lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ, author and professor Don Whitney told attendees of the 23rd annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference July 12 at Riverbend Community Church in Ormond Beach, Fla.

Christians must regularly attend a solid, Bible-teaching church, but mere church attendance is not enough for children to form a comprehensive biblical worldview, Whitney said.

Citing a survey by Christian researcher George Barna, Whitney estimated that two-thirds of the children who regularly attend church will bolt from the church never to return once they graduate from high school. A large part of the problem is the lack of a steady diet of biblical teaching in the home, he said.

Whitney is author of several books, including “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” and also serves as professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The Founders conference theme was “The Gospel and the Family.”

“Having your children in a good, Bible-teaching local church is one crucial aspect to Christian parenting, but it is not enough for conveying your faith to your children,” Whitney said. “Moreover, it is unlikely the exposure to church once or twice a week will impress your children enough with the greatness and glory of God that they will want to pursue Him once they leave home.

“So little family worship exists in Christian homes, it is probable that even in most of our best churches, most of our best men do not lead their wives and children — if they have them — in family worship.”

While family worship is not directly commanded by Scripture, Whitney pointed out that it is clearly implied in both the Old and New testaments. Weekly corporate worship did not become a reality until late in Old Testament times with worship in the temple and synagogue, he said.

But for hundreds of years prior to the reality of regular, corporate worship, God’s people wanted to worship Him just as they desire to do today. The biblical evidence implies that fathers taught the things of God to their children and wives at home, Whitney said. Relevant verses include Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and Joshua 24:15. Part of the Old Testament ministry at home would have included sacrifices — worship — with the family present, such as the sacrifice offered by Jacob in Genesis 35:2-3, Whitney said.

A New Testament text applicable to family worship is Ephesians 6:3, which commands fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of Christ. Whitney contended that family worship is one of the most consistent and measurable ways fathers can fulfill this God-given duty. But if the father is not present, the mother has the responsibility to teach her children the truths of Scripture, he said.

Family worship is also a measure of fitness for the pulpit, Whitney said. In 1 Timothy 3:4-5, Paul makes a man’s faithfulness in teaching his family one of the qualifications for the position of elder or pastor, Whitney said.

“If you can’t manage worship in your own household, how can you manage worship in the church?” Whitney said. “If you can’t lead family worship how can you lead church worship? It’s a part of that concept of managing the household as the proof that one is able to manage the household of God.”

While Scripture strongly implies family worship, Whitney said that, above all, God deserves to be worshiped daily in Christian homes.

Family worship has been practiced by scores of great men in church history, Whitney said, citing illustrations from the early church fathers to examples from more recent centuries, such as the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Whitney said. In fact, Edwards said, “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church.”

Whitney outlined three primary parts that compose family worship:

— Bible reading. The younger the children, the more Christians may want to stick to narrative passages or shorter sections. The daily, systematic reading of Scripture is the backbone of family worship, he said.

— Prayer. By praying aloud, the father teaches his family how to pray, Whitney said. He recommended praying through a passage of Scripture, such as taking the words of a Psalm and adapting them to a person’s life.

— Singing. The Christian man should get a hymnal for each family member and sing a different song each night, Whitney said. Some families sing one hymn for an entire week to teach their children the great hymns of the faith, he said.

Additional options include teaching children biblical truths through the use of catechisms and Scripture memory, he said. Catechisms are instruments used to teach biblical doctrine in question and answer format. Baptists have written and used catechisms to teach their children throughout their history, Whitney noted. Other useful tools for family worship are Christian books — such as “Pilgrim’s Progress” — or a biography, Whitney said.

Family worship should take place at the same time every day — perhaps in the morning or evening at the dinner table or just before bedtime — while every member of the family is gathered together, Whitney said. It should also be brief so it will not become an exercise in tedium for young children, he said.

“Parents should teach their children the things of God at every opportunity,” he said. “We should do so with our children both collectively and individually, but the best time to do this on a consistent basis with all the children would be in a time of family worship.”

While the regular attendance of corporate worship is essential for every Christian, children will not likely know God in a deep and meaningful way unless they are intentionally taught in the home, Whitney said.

“Fathers, you have the responsibility to bring your children under the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” Whitney said. “Although part of that would be bringing them under the preaching of the Gospel in the church and into the congregational praises of God with the body together in the local church…. [it] does not mean you hand them off to anyone else as the primary discipliner and teacher in the things of the Lord.

“Without some regularity and structure and intention, it doesn’t happen as much as we think. You don’t bring the children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord incidentally and occasionally. It has to be done purposefully or it is done much less than we assume.”

Founders is an organization founded in 1982 for the perpetuation of historic Calvinistic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention often referred to as “the doctrines of grace.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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