White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

This is not your neighbor’s “Youth Group”

The following is by Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ URC in Santee, CA and is used with his permission. Rev. Brown blogs at The Blog of Christ URC


The only “youth program” your kids need: some thoughts on family worship and catechesis

When my wife and I were introduced to Reformed Christianity, one of the things that stood out vividly to us was the practice of family prayer or “family worship.” In the revivalist, evangelical church in which I grew up, this practice was never emphasized. To be sure, the church in which I was raised encouraged important devotional acts such as praying and reading one’s Bible, but I can’t ever remember a pastor emphasizing the necessity and importance of regular family worship during the week. Instead, there was a full array of programs and small groups offered, each tailor-made to every member of the family: Jr.High group, high school group, college-and-career, men’s group, ladies’ group, young marrieds, married-with-children, empty-nesters, etc., etc. Not that everything in all of these groups was always bad. It’s just that there seemed to be an emphasis upon separating the family as a unit during the week in order to “minister” to each person’s needs.

Oddly enough, Sunday worship wasn’t much different. My family would arrive at church only to split up into our segregated groups for worship: I, a “youth pastor,” would go to the high school “worship service,” while my wife went into the main service with the adults, and my daughters went to “children’s’ church” with the toddlers. The first time we worshiped together as a family was the first Sunday we visited a confessional, Reformed church (!).

Coming to Reformed Christianity, my wife and I not only learned the sobering truth about the means of grace and what actually happens during the Divine Service on the Lord’s Day, we also learned about the vital importance of regular family worship throughout the week. Clearly, this was a practice far more biblical (and historical) than the compartmentalized, hustle-bustle of a busy week at church. The ancient paths God carved out for families to walk in long ago were new to us. We learned how he designed the family to be a worshiping unit, an entity that would engage in prayer, praise and instruction in the course of ordinary, daily life. We learned how Christian parents have the covenantal responsibility-both toward God and their children-of bringing up their little ones as disciples in the historic Christian faith. Suddenly, all those passages about training up your children began to come into color:

Deut 6.4-9: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Eph 6.4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”

Passages such as these, however, cannot be reduced to mere proof-texts for sending our children to Christian schools or buying Christian home-school curriculum. They require of us something far more vital than that. In the first place, they require the indispensable practice of the “family pew,” that is, a commitment of bringing our children to corporate worship every week. In worship, our children – no less than us – are summoned by God to receive his good gifts, confess their sins, and bring him praise and honor as the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

But these commands also require a commitment to daily catechesis so that our children will know what they believe and why they believe it. This is precisely why the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, as well as the seventeenth-century Puritans who followed them, wrote rich catechisms and strongly advocated the practice of family worship. They understood each family to be a ‘little church,’ in which the father was called to be priest and spiritual head of his home under Christ.

It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that worship is to be conducted “in private families daily” (21.6). This was taken so seriously by our fathers in the faith, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland not only included in its editions of the Westminster Standards a “Directory for Family Worship,” but even mandated disciplinary action against heads of households who neglected “this necessary duty”!

Hughes Oliphant Old describes the rhythm of family worship in Puritan life:

What the liturgy of the hours was for monks of the Middle Ages, the discipline of family prayer was for the Puritans. The typical Puritan home of seventeenth-century England may not have looked much like the splendid cloisters of Cluny, but there was something in common. The daily life of both Catholic monk and Puritan family man was ordered by a rhythm of prayer and praise. With Cistercian solemnity, the Puritan household would gather around the dinner table, father, mother, children, a maiden aunt, perhaps servants or an apprentice. A metrical psalm was sung. Then the head of the house would open up a great leather bound family Bible and read a chapter. This finished, the father would lead in prayer. The Puritans, whether on the Connecticut frontier or in the heart of London, whether they were Cambridge scholars or Shropshire cotters, gave great importance to maintaining a daily discipline of family prayer.

So what happened in the church that we have lost this vital practice? Why have we forgotten the wisdom of these ancient paths? As with most questions in historical theology, there is not one easy answer. There are several contributing factors that led to the corrosion of this practice. One of them, however, must certainly be the rise of American pragmatism.

As Americans, we have an unquenchable thirst for knowing the cash value of something. It may seem to many American Christians that investing in the rigorous daily duty of family worship is too costly. After all, getting a family in 2008 to meet together regularly around a table and take out thirty minutes of the day may seem almost impossible. It would require reordering and restructuring our daily lives. It would require slowing down a little bit. It would require turning off the television a little more (gasp!).

The fact of the matter is, family worship is a great investment. In fact, it is a no-brainer. It pays such high dividends that it is – to use the modern vernacular – like stealing money. In fact, I cannot think of many things in life that pay greater dividends than the ordinary practice of daily family worship. Let me quote Presbyterian minister Terry Johnson to give you an idea of what I mean:

If your children are in your home for 18 years, you have [over 5,600] occasions (figuring a 6 day week) for family worship. If you learn a new Psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those 18 years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible 4.5 times in 18 years. Every day they will affirm a creed or recite the law. Every day they will confess their sins and plead for mercy. Every day they will intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just 15 minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 18 years? At the rate of 6 days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends an hour and a half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible study), 78 hours a year (about the length of two weekend retreats), and 1,404 hours over the course of 18 years (about the length of eight week-long summer camps). When you establish your priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon your children. Think of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after 40 or 60 or 80 years of daily family worship. All this without having to drive anywhere.

The family is essentially a discipleship group. In praying and reading the Bible together (and maybe singing too), the whole family is being spiritually nurtured as the truths of the historic Christian faith are pressed before them each day. Parents are humbled as they are constrained to assume the role of priest for their family. They are driven to their knees in a sense of inadequacy of such a task. They are forced to adjust their lifestyle in order to carry out the responsibility of raising their children in the Lord. And they are confronted with the reality of appearing either consistent or inconsistent in the eyes of their little ones.

In the meantime, children are growing up watching their parents humble themselves before the Lord. They are learning of Christ’s claim and Lordship on their lives. They are absorbing Scripture and realizing its authority. They are provided with a medium for reinforcing memorization of Scripture, catechism questions, creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And they are seeing how they are different than the world in that God has set them apart as his own special people. All of this has a great effect on covenant children: it is part of the means God uses to bring them to faith.

But as you read this, you may be thinking, “Fine. I agree. Consistent family worship seems indispensable. But where do I begin? How do I do family worship?” Let me offer a few recommendations:

First, FIND A TIME that works well for your family. For many, this will be the dinner table. Believe it or not, it is actually very simple to transition from eating a meal together (an invaluable and neglected practice in itself) to having family worship without ever leaving the table. On the other hand, maybe bedtime will be more conducive for your family. Whatever the case, just find a time in which everyone in the family is together for at least 15-20 minutes a day. If no such time exists for your family, then you desperately need to make one! Settle on a time that will become as fixed a routine for your family as getting dressed or brushing teeth. Settle on it and guard it! When the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up. Instead of being enslaved to technology, let it serve you!

Second, KEEP IT SIMPLE. There is no reason to make family worship long or complex. You can keep it as simple as these three elements: Scripture reading, catechism and prayer.

With regard to Scripture reading, try reading a chapter a day, working your way through particular books of the Bible. Perhaps on certain days, read the passage that was preached in worship the previous Lord’s Day. This will help your family to review what you heard and hopefully develop a practice of meditating on it during the week.

For catechism, work on memory with your children. Teach them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. Then move on to Heidelberg Catechism Q.1, breaking it down into parts until they have the whole thing mastered. Move on from there to these essential questions: ##2-5, 21, 27, 60, 65, 69, 75, 86, 116. It will take a while (maybe years), but despite what you might think, they can do it. Be patient. Think long term. Don’t give up.

With regard to prayer, teach your children how to pray by modeling it for them. Conclude family worship with the simple acrostic A-C-T-S: adoration of God, confession of sins, thanksgiving for all he has done and given, and supplications for those in need. This is a great opportunity to pull out the bulletin and look at the particular prayer needs in the congregation, teaching our little ones to intercede for others in the household of God.

You may also consider singing a Psalm or hymn together before reading Scripture. But whatever the case, family worship should only take about 15 or 20 minutes. Seriously. There is no reason to turn this into a massive ordeal. In fact, fathers, resist the temptation to do that! Once in a while, you may find your family engaged in an extended discussion over a particular doctrine or theological question. It is a beautiful thing when this happens spontaneously and naturally. But don’t force it. Ask a few questions, keep it simple, and conclude. If your family comes to expect a forty-five to sixty minute Bible study from dad, they may begin to dread the exercise.

Third, GET STARTED! To borrow an old slogan from Nike, “Just do it!” Don’t procrastinate and put it off. Each day your children get a little older. Redeem the time given to you.

Fourth, BE CONSISTENT. When you miss a day (or two or three!), don’t throw in the towel. Get back on track and go. Too much is at stake to give up.

Finally, Dad, Mom, BE SUPPORTIVE OF ONE ANOTHER. Satan is against you in this, so be prepared. He wants nothing more than for you to pick at one another during family worship, become frustrated and quit. He wants you to leave the Bible and catechism book on the shelf and reach for the remote at the time you have designated for family worship. He wants wives to be resistant and husbands to be lazy. So, encourage, support and be respectful of one another as you engage in this daily practice.

Family worship is a joy, but it takes work. It usually requires some rearranging of our priorities in daily life. And if you are getting a late start with your kids, it will probably be met with some resistance. Pray for one another with regard to your duties in this simple, but awesome practice.

Dad Rod Thursdays – “Gift?”

How do we come to faith in Christ? How is that faith sustained and grown? How are we able to have a desire for Christ and to worship and glorify Him?

They’re relatively simple questions, but the correct answer is a tough one for sinners. It is tough because we sinners get no credit whatsoever. We receive our faith and its benefits—including the maintenance of our faith and any outward signs—purely as God’s gracious gift.

But we sinners don’t like that. The old Adam in us wants credit for something in regards to his faith and works. We much prefer to think that even if God comes most of the way to help us, that we are still “keeping our end of the bargain” in some way, as though we could in any way do even one single instance of it without God’s gifts.

The truth is that we don’t get credit for any part of our faith and Christian lives; just as the bones spoken to in the Desert Bonesvalley get no credit for rising up and getting flesh back on their skeletons; just as Lazarus got no credit for rising from the dead. That’s tough for sinners to swallow. So the old Adam in us works like crazy to find something… anything for which he can get some kind of credit.

We only bring one thing to the bargaining table in the courtroom of judgment: sin. The trouble is Christ Himself makes clear that the law demands that we “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect”. Sin once and it’s over. You can’t be “even-more-than-perfect” to erase the sin and then go back to being plain ol’ perfect again.

Dr. Rosenbladt tackles some of this in a sermon he once gave for Reformation Day, entitled, “Gift?”. It is a simple discussion between a sinner and God. But he minces no words when it comes to revealing exactly how much desire for God there is in the sinner’s heart. That is: none.

Dr. Rosenbladt offers this caveat regarding this sermon: “Don’t let anybody tell you I don’t hold to Sola Scriptura. This is strictly a literary device, no more!” Below is an excerpt. You can read the entire sermon at New Reformation Press.

God: I told you. I hate religion. Religion was your idea – not Mine. You have forgotten what Anselm said: “You have not yet considered the depth of your sin.”
Sinner: But I want to show you I have. I really have. I know it is really deep. Talk to me. Teach me sanctification.
God: I told you. You aren’t ready for sanctification yet. You just imagine that you are ready. You are arrogant and you don’t know it.
Sinner: What do you mean? I am ready.
God: You are not. If you were, you wouldn’t be talking like you are talking.
Sinner: Well, what then?
God: Just sit there. Sit there for a long while.
Sinner: And do what?
God: Consider the shed blood. Consider that the blood was enough. Think about the fact that it isn’t your repenting that has saved you. Think about the fact that it isn’t your faith that is saving you.
Sinner: Can’t I just, as you said, just think about my sin and the depth of it?
God: That is a start. But you like doing that. You like it too much.
Sinner: This makes no sense. What are you saying?
God: I am saying that you like atoning for yourself by feeling guilty. And you like atoning for yourself by thinking about your faith.
Sinner: Well, what else is there?
God: There is Jesus Christ – but you don’t consider Him. You are not used to gifts. You don’t think much about them. Gifts make you nervous and tense. You don’t know what to do, so you jump to trying to impress Me. I am not impressible.

Dark Days for Scotland

From the Associated Press (November 23, 2010)

A true Scotsman is said to never wear anything under his kilt. But now Scots are being warned that the sartorial tradition could be both indecent and unhygienic. The organization charged with maintaining standards in Highland dress, the Scottish Tartans Authority, is supporting kilt rental firms that want to banish the age-old custom of “going commando.” On Tuesday, Brian Wilton, a spokesman for the group, said: “We are saying, please use common sense and decency, as it can be unhygienic and it can be offensive. If you are out and about in a kilt, then remember to show some decorum. If you are hiring a kilt, then wear underwear because some of them are left in a horrible state.”

This on the heels of word that the Free Church has voted to allow musical instruments and hymns. Scotland may never be the same.

The Apprentice’s Sorcerer

Friend of the Inn and Modern Reformation contributor Doug Powell has a new CD out titled, The Apprentice’s Sorcerer. Doug’s music was last heard on the White Horse Inn on October 3. Listen here to get a taste and then go here to pick up his new CD.

After getting his new CD, read Doug’s article from our November/December 2009 issue, “Illusion, Confusion, and Solution: Apologetics in a Postmodern World.”

WHI – 1025 | Textual Narcissism

According to Michael Horton, an alternative title for this broadcast could be, “You’re so vain, you probably think this psalm is about you.” On this special program recorded live at the Desiring God Conference in Minneapolis, the hosts discuss the predominance of me-centered Bible interpretation. Featuring numerous readings from best-selling evangelical books and devotional guides, the hosts argue that most Christians today are not engaging in proper biblical exegesis, but rather are reading themselves and their own stories into the text of Scripture. Sitting in for Ken Jones for this program is Steven Nichols, author of Ancient Word, Changing Worlds and Jesus: Made in America.

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Zack Hicks

WHI-1024 | The Sufficiency of Scripture

According to sixteenth-century Roman Catholics, the Bible was a dark and obscure book that required an infallible interpreter. Given many of the abuses and interpretive mistakes made by Rome, the Protestants were unconvinced and began to argue for sola scriptura, that the Scriptures themselves were clear on the central points of law and gospel. But what are the implications of this view? Does it mean that each of us has the right to private interpretation? What about the role of creeds and confessions? that’s what’s on tap this week at the White Horse Inn

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Sola Scriptura
Godfrey & Sproul
Scripture Alone
R.C. Sproul
The Shape of Sola Scriptura
Keith Mathison

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Andrew Osenga

Get Justified!

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification is NOW AVAILABLE for purchase!

We’re very proud of this first book, published under the Modern Reformation imprint. Our hope is to release a new volume every year, combining the best of our classic articles with new chapters written to address the important theological and ecclesiological issues of the day.

For the next five days, you can use a special discount code to get the book at 50% off its normal retail price. Just enter XFPM89VW in the discount code box. This discount is only available through Friday, November 19th.

Once you’ve purchased and read the book, let us know what you think!

WHI-1023 | The Parables of Jesus (Part 6)

When Jesus returns will he separate the sheep and the goats based upon good works? How are we to understand Jesus’ teaching about this in Matthew 25? What about the parable of the wedding banquet; how does this story relate to our view of last things? On this edition of White Horse Inn the hosts will discuss these questions and more as they wrap up their series on the Parables of Jesus.

RELATED ARTICLES

Exploring the Parables of Jesus, Pt 6
Michael Horton
Thy Kingdom Come
Kim Riddlebarger
WHI Discussion Group Questions
PDF Document

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Parables of Jesus
David Wenham
The Parables
Simon Kistemaker
A Case for Amillennialism
Kim Riddlebarger

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Zack Hicks

An Impotent Symbol of Cinema Secularism

Crystal Cathedral“He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.”

This sage warning from William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the mid-20th century, is especially poignant with the recent announcement that an Orange County, California landmark, the Crystal Cathedral, has filed for bankruptcy. According to this recent article in The Guardian, the demise of the famous church founded by televangelist Robert Schuller is illustrative of the deeper and broader weaknesses of American evangelicalism.

A telling quote from the article:

So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.

Dad Rod Thursdays – “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church” In Video

We are proud to announce that the video re-recording of Dr. Rosenbladt presenting his seminal work, The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church, has now been made available by Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano Beach, California.

As usual, please enjoy and feel free to pass along to friends or embed in your blog or Facebook. This is a different recording than the MP3 currently available for free on New Reformation Press, but he uses the same exact text that is also available there in PDF (both regular full-sheet and booklet).

Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church” from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

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