Saturday, October 07, 2006

Jeff Pollard on the Puritan vision of family worship

Jeff Pollard was a member of First Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana, back in the mid-1990's when my family and I arrived as walking wounded from a very ugly church split elsewhere. Jeff had a long spiritual resume in those parts a decade ago, as his Baton Rouge Bible study was credited with leading numerous people to the Lord -- and their future spouses! He now pastors a church but the name escapes me this instant. His presentation on Puritan family worship was powerful and convicting.

“We live in dangerous times," Jeff opened. "Why is there such a decay of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Why is there such an obvious impotency in modern professing religion?”

These are not new questions. The Puritans faced them, but while they understood there were numerous enemies on the outside, they saw the heart of the problem was inside the home.

The Puritan Oscar Haywood wrote “The worship of God in families has a direct tendency to public reformation.” Writing of the “inundation of profaneness” he said “I know of no better remedy than family piety. ... In vain do you complain of magistrates and ministers while you as householders [neglect your charge] ... complain not so much to man as to God. Plead with Him for reformation.”

“From his perspective," said Jeff, "the cause of decay was not drugs, perversion, public schools, wicked politicians, television, or any of the modern culprits we rail against everyday. These are symptoms, not the cause. ... In other words, the path to spiritual reformation is family worship.”

Family worship consists of three things -- prayer (Puritans often referred to family worship simply as “family prayers”), the Word of God, and songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. “If under the leadership of the head of the home we offer up these things in Jesus Christ, then we are practicing family worship.”

“So what fueled the Puritan father for family worship? We can't understand this without understanding their view of the family. It sprang from their fervent study of the word of God and the writings of the reformers. Luther was truly the pioneer of the modern family; he fought mightily for a biblical view of the family. John Calvin strove for the same ideals.

“Their understanding of the first three chapters of Genesis gave them the unshakeable conviction that the purpose of the family was the glory of God. This radical concept, if truly taken to heart, shapes everything about the family. If you believe everything that takes place in the relationships between you and your wife and your children involves the glory of God, you have to start thinking biblically.”

The same thing applies to God's command to be fruitful and multiply. The Puritans believed that marriage and bearing children were high callings. "It did not cross their minds to farm their children out to someone to teach them the glories of Christ; it was to be done right there under their roof."

Their homes were to be “little churches, Yea, even a kind of paradise on earth,” wrote another Puritan. Eph 2:5 (loved and gave himself) and Eph 6.4 were the foundation of the doctrine of male headship. “It gave them eyes to see husbands and fathers were the key to the spiritual condition of the wives and children; it wasn't the preacher's duty, it was Dad's.”

“The Puritans loved children and saw them as gifts from God, to be trained up for Him. Some of the most solemn warnings and stinging rebukes were for parents who neglect to train up their children for Jesus Christ.” Richard Mather painted a picture of Judgment Day of children who addressed parents who neglected to train them. “You should have taught us the things of God, and did not ... Woe unto us, that we had such carnal parents!”

The underlying doctrine guiding the Puritan view was radical depravity and original sin. Benjamin Wadsworth wrote that children “naturally an evil treasure from which proceed evil things ... their hearts are unspeakably wicked and estranged from God.”

Robert Cleaver and John Dodd wrote “The young child who lieth in the cradle is both wayward and full of affections ... [with a great heart] altogether inclined to evil. If this sparkle is allowed to increase, it will rage and burn down the whole house.”

It was a command of God, rooted in Gen 2, Eph 5, 1 Cor 11. They studied Abraham and the Patriarchs. Oliver Haywood pointed to Abraham and said “Even the poorest man that has a family is a prophet, priest, and king in his own house.”

Matthew Henry said “Masters .. must go before the household in the things of God, ... and as such must keep up family doctrine ...”

If you read these sermons, they have long lists of reasons in great Puritan fashion. One wrote that you should pray daily in your families
  • because we receive daily mercy from God
  • because there are sins committed every day in your family
  • because there are many daily needs which none but God can supply
  • because of your family's daily employments and labors
  • because you are all, every day, liable to temptations
  • liable to daily hazards, casualties, and afflictions,
  • for otherwise the very heathen will rise up against you and condemn you.
What greater happiness can you have than your family united in the worship of the Almighty? And to hear your children sing with you the songs of Zion, rather than the songs of the tavern?

D'Aubigne saw the consolation of “domestic piety” in times of trial. “If it is in the habit of meeting to invoke the holy name of God from whom comes every trial as well as every gift, how shall it be raised up!”

“Brethren, it is because we do not fervently love these things that our children often do not have a taste for them," Jeff said. "There is a firm foundation in Christ when they are daily lifting their voices in prayer and praise and adoration; that's where you go when you are suffering!”

Haywood wrote, “Sirs, have you not sin enough of your own, that you must draw upon yourself the sin of your whole family? ... I cannot judge that man a fit communicant at the Lord's table who maintains not such worship in his family.” The Church of Scotland actually excommunicated fathers who would not lead their family worship. How many of our fathers would be missing today?

The Particular Baptists in the 1689 LBC touched on the same thing. “May not the gross ignorance and instability of many ... be charged on the parents ...?” How many Baptist documents today begin like that? They considered this a major cause of the spiritual decline of England.

No wicked things of the world outside the home compared to a father who would not maintain family worship in the home.

Do you see that pastors are often pointing at the wickedness outside the church, but the true wickedness is within the home. The congregation at Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1677 covenanted in part, for “educating, instructing, and charging our children in our households to keep the way of the Lord.” Cotton Mather wrote, “Before and above all, it is the knowledge of the Christian religion which parents are to teach their children ... it is a million times more necessary [than other instruction] ...”

Your children need to see more than mouth religion. They need to see the love of Christ so burning in your heart that you repent of your daily sins. We are not perfect and we should not pretend in our pride that our flaws are not there. But do our children know that we need the Savior and that is why we preach him to them?

Children need to hear you pray for their souls. They need to see you trusting in Christ in trials and tragedies so they know there is an anchor for the soul. They need to see you walk in holiness.

Benjamin Wadsworth wrote, “Be sure you set a good example for your children. Other methods of instruction will probably not do much good if you do not set a godly example. ... If your instructions are good and your examples are evil, they are more likely to be hurt by the latter than helped by the former.”

“The link for uniting church and family is daily, fervent family worship. That unites church and home.” Without it, the health of the church will continue to decline, and we will look for programs and preachers to make up the difference, Jeff said.

Spurgeon, who inherited the Puritan vision of family worship, said, “We deeply lack a revival of family religion. In these evil times, hundreds of Christian families have no family worship, no restraint on growing sons and no wholesome instruction. How can we expect God's kingdom to advance ...”

Jeff concluded with a blessing and prayer. "May the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be pleased to raise up a generation of godly fathers and mothers to establish daily family worship in their homes for the glory of Jesus Christ and the expanding of His Kingdom. This is the Puritans' vision; may it be ours. Amen."

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