Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 4, 2008

The Family Worship Book, Terry L. Johnson

May I recommend a  resource for times of family worship?  Writing from a Reformed perspective, Terry Johnson has put together a slim volume on the importance of the Christian family’s participation in both public and private worship, The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions (Christian Focus Publications, 2007).  On the one hand, he makes a case for the family attending church consistently, and for the family remaining together in worship services.  On the other hand, Johnson commends a regular time of family worship, as well as the catechizing of one’s children.  He is particularly interested in making an historical and biblical case for regular family worship.

Johnson suggests setting a regular time for family worship, where possible, and typically including certain elements: singing, prayer, confession of faith, teaching.  He includes resources such as a family Bible reading record, a Presbyterian Catechism for Young Children from 1840, fifty suggested “great passages” for memorization as a family, and some historical resources: a condensed form of Watts’ A Guide to Prayer; Thomas Manton’s “Epistle to the Reader,” which was associated with the Westminster Confession and particularly urged diligence in family religion and catechizing; and the Church of Scotland’s Directory for Family Worship.  He ends the volume with a collection of metrical psalms and hymns, most taken from the Trinity Psalter and Trinity Hymnal; this section concludes with a suggested 10-year calendar schedule for learning psalms and hymns.

 As a criticism, Johnson’s Reformed perspective is evident in his lack of differentation between the church and Israel.  So, for example, he makes, I believe, an unwarranted connection between the Sabbath commands in the law and our practice as believers today, seeing the Lord’s day as the “Christian Sabbath” (6-7). In another case, he states that “the original church was the family”; I understand his point, but the language he uses is at best potentially confusing, and at worst, simply wrong.

Disagreement with the way Johnson makes his case in certain regards, however, does not make the volume of little worth.  On the contrary, Johnson brings together a number of pious voices from church history which commend private family worship, and provides a number of valuable ideas resources for the practice.  

Some quotations from the book:

What we hope to demonstrate in the pages ahead is that by returning to the practices of previous generations we may be able to revitalize the family and the church of today.  The “ancient paths” of Sunday worship, Sabbath observance, family worship, and catechizing are where spiritual vitality for the future will be found. (3)

The most important single commitment you have to make to ensure your family’s spiritual well-being is to regular, consistent attendance at public worship. . . . That public worship is not generally recognized as playing this central role in spiritual devleopment demonstrates the degreee to which modern individualism has rotted the core out of our commitment to Christ. (3)

If the consequence of the proliferation of Christian meetings has been the neglect of daily family worship, then the net spiritual effect of those meetings has been negative. (9)

 I like small-group Bible studies.  I will get more involved with them at a later stage in life, when my children are not so young and my wife and I are able to attend them together.  But in the meantime we have a discipleship group, and if you are a parent with children at home, so do you. (10)

 There a number of good [practical] reasons for having daily family worship as well:

i) it gives parents a daily opportunity to model humble dependence upon God;

ii) it ensures daily intercessory prayer on behalf of the family’s needs;

iii) it provides a daily setting for reading and instruction from the Bible;

iv) it provides a forum for reinforcing the memorization of the fixed forms of public worship (e.g. Creeds, Doxology, Lord’s Prayer, etc.);

v) it draws the family together at least once daily, no mean achievement in today’s hectic and fragmented world. (16)

And from Thomas Manton’s Epistle to the Reader of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms:

“Wherever you go, you will hear men crying out about how bad youth are.  But indeed the source of the problem must be sought a little higher: it is bad parents that make bad children!  We cannot blame children so much for their unfuliness, for the greater weight of the blame lies in our own negligence in their education.” (109)

“If parents would begin immediately, and labor to affect the hearts of their children with the great matters of everlasting life, and to acquaint them with the substance of the doctrine of Christ, and when they find in them the knowledge and love of Christ, bring them then to the pastors of the Church to be tried, confirmed, and admitted to the further privileges of the Church, O what happy, well-ordered Churches we might have!  Then one pastor [need not] be forced to do the work of two or three hundred or thousand governors of families, to teach their children those principles which they should have taught them long before.” (111)

 “Parents have raised so many that are unruly, that ministers have hardly any to deal with but the unruly.  And it is because of this lack of laying the foundation well at first, that so many believers themselves are so ignorant.  This is why so many, specially of the younger sort, swallow down almost any error that is offered to them.  How they follow any false prophet that will entice them with earnestness and plausibility.” (111)



  1. I own this book and was a bit disappointed with it because I did not realize that it was written from such an extreme Reformed position. It does have some good things within it, but I felt blind-sided and it was my fault for not doing enough due-diligence before placing the order.

    I think that Don Whitney’s book on Family Worship is much better and it is written from a Baptist perspective.

  2. […] If you’re new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. You can also subscribe by e-mail. Thanks for visiting!Chuck Bumbgardner recommends a resources for Family Worship. […]

  3. Really enjoyed reading over your article. I’m going to bookmark your site and and it to my new favorites.

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