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A Neglected Grace
July 16, 2013
Family worship. For some it evokes a sense of dread, memories of long, boring, tiring times sitting around a table while listening to dad drone on and on. For some it evokes a sense of guilt, false starts and failures and giving up. For a few it evokes joy, sweet times of family fellowship and memories of seeking the Lord together.
Almost every book begins by describing a problem and then goes on to propose a solution. This is, after all, one very good reason to read: to find solutions to our problems. My books are no exception; I have addressed the problems of the neglect of spiritual discernment, addiction to pornography, and thoughtless dedication to digital technologies. In the opening pages of A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, Jason Helopoulos says he must address the problem of family worship because it has very nearly disappeared. “If it were an animal, it would be on the endangered species list. We have not only stopped doing it, but we have stopped talking about it.”
That may be true in some contexts, but it does not describe my experience. I grew up in a home in which we read the Bible, discussed the Bible and prayed together. We tried to do it every night around the dinner table, though like most families we succeeded at times and failed at others. Meanwhile, almost every other Christian family I knew was likewise engaging in family worship, each in their own way. Though it took some time, my wife and I, after we were married, picked up and carried on the tradition. Today we see families in our church doing the same.
Yet I was still eager to read this book. Why? Because family worship is like prayer and evangelism and so much else in the Christian life in that it has a way of exposing and highlighting inadequacy. I know of few families who would say they have consistently excelled in this area. I know of far more who have tried and failed, who have tried again and failed again, or who have tried and kept on, but without that sense that they are succeeding. My experience encompasses all of that.
It is helpful to know that Helopoulos has the same story. “I am not an expert on family worship. My wife and kids can testify to that. My family and I continue to learn how to do family worship better, more faithfully, more consistently, and with more joy.” He writes as a fellow traveler on this journey, not as someone who has figured it all out and who has reached the destination.
Helopolous spends a few chapters explaining the importance of family worship and placing it within that triad of worship that extends from private worship to family worship to corporate worship. He shows that, though there is no direct biblical command saying “Thou must engage in family worship,” such worship is modeled in Scripture and is a crucial part of every parents’ calling to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Beyond the biblical reasons he also provides a host of practical reasons, supplemental benefits that may be ours if we take advantage of this joyful responsibility.
Having built his case, he gets practical. The essence of family worship is reading Scripture and praying together, but these may be augmented by many other practices including singing, Scripture memorization, the use of creeds and catechisms, and so much else. There is freedom here for each family to make their own way and to do what best suits their situation.
Helopoulos is careful to show that family worship must not be seen as a burden but as a delight, as something we do because we have received God’s grace rather than something we do to earn his favor. “Family worship is not something we have to do. Our right standing before God is not impacted by whether we lead our families in worship or not. Christ has already accomplished all for our salvation. Rather, family worship, like other spiritual disciplines, becomes something we want to do.”
A chapter titled “Helps for the Journey” provides tips and pointers about the particulars—when, where, how long, and so on—while another chapter, “But, What If…”, addresses areas of struggles or difficult scenarios such as single-parent families, families where only one spouse is a Christian, or families who are new to the faith and lack deep biblical knowledge.
A Neglected Grace strikes just the right balance between theory and practice. It is authoritative without being over-bearing, and it models humility, coaching the reader, yet without demanding a particular method. Whether the idea of family worship is new to you, whether it’s familiar but neglected, or whether you have been doing it for years, this is a book you will enjoy and one that with benefit both you and your family.
A Neglected Grace