Book Review of “Family Worship” by Donald S. Whitney
Copyright Date: 2016
Available: On Amazon for around $8
Length: 67 pages (not including endnotes)
At a glance
This work is better described as a booklet and is hardly intimidating. Even those who are not accustomed to reading or do not read particularly well can consume this small volume in a few evenings.
The back cover, where we always begin to judge a book, is a collection of the who’s who within Southern Baptist circles. As a professor at SBTS, Whitney needs the nod from the king maker Albert Mohler and the approval of the poster child Russell Moore (who ironically has done more to undermine the family than strengthen it) before anyone will buy his book. Lucky for Whitney, he was able to obtain the necessary endorsements.
This book will truly put to test the old adage, “never judge a book by its cover.” Judging from the back cover I have some reservations. But let’s judge this volume by its content.
The five short chapters are really divided into two parts. Chapters one and two attempt to convince the reader that family worship is a biblically and historically supported practice. The final three chapters give advice as to what worship in the family setting looks like.
You’ll be happy to know that Dr. Whitney does understand family worship to have a biblical and historical precedent. The Bible is full of explicit commands (Deut. 6) and implicit understandings (Joshua 24) that clearly articulate the responsibility of fathers and husbands to teach their families the things of God.
Moving from the biblical record, Whitney looks at church history and examines a common thread running from the 2nd century through the reformation and beyond. That is, Christians reading their Bibles, praying, and singing praises to God as a family.
Moving from precedent to practice, Whitney encourages the reader to implement worship within their own families. The three elements Whitney identifies are scripture reading, praying, and singing. He encourages all Christian homes to find a time to read, pray, and sing together.
On the whole, I completely embrace Whitney’s work and encourage every Christian family to begin worshiping together as a unit. But what we must understand is that there is no option for the family to choose. Parents, particularly the father, are commanded to teach their children the scriptures. Family worship is not an option for super Christians; it’s a command that amounts to sinful rebellion when neglected.
Yes, that’s right; to neglect teaching your children the Word of God is a direct violation of His command and is therefore sin.
Whitney is very thoughtful in how he presents his suggested practice and clearly desires families to want to worship together. But it is not at all helpful to fail to tell them that they are currently in rebellion against God’s design for them and must repent. Is this not what we would say to anyone who is living in open rebellion? Why is the family any different?
What is at stake?
Whitney gets close to the heart of the problem when quoting Jonathan Edwards. “Every Christian family ought to be” says Edwards, “as it were a little church.” Sadly both Edwards and Whitney are looking through the telescope backwards.
As I have already written and preached, the family is not a little church so much as the church is a large family. The church is built upon the exact same foundation as the family with the same form (one head, one bride, many hands) and the same function (represent and reproduce). The assembly (the church) is a collection of individual families. It should not be hard to understand that faithfulness and vitality flow from the roots up. In other words: there is no such thing as a faithful church that is made up of unfaithful families. Until families begin to function as they are designed, the church will continue to resemble a harlot instead of a bride.
This book, unfortunately, is absolutely necessary in our modern day. In a time when families are left fatherless (whether by absence or neglect), children are left directionless, and wives are left leaderless, something has to give. It is my hope and prayer that fathers and husbands repent from their self indulgence (in the form of sports/hobbies and whatever else prevents them from leading their families) and bring their families under the authority of God’s Word in worship. Because until they do, the church WILL continue to decline. If individuals continue to neglect obedience, if families continue to neglect obedience, then the church will never regain obedience.