"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - St Jerome

Monday, July 08, 2013

Book Review: A Neglected Grace

“God is worshipped everywhere, in spirit and in truth, as, in private families daily…” –Westminster Confession 21:6.

The scene is idyllic. A family gathered around the father in the living room or at the dinning table, with Bible open, hymns or psalms being sung, and prayers being offered by all. I say idyllic, because many of us have never seen this Christian Norman Rockwell scene. The practice of family worship has a strong and influential history in Reformed and evangelical homes, but the practice today has become so rare as to expect that such a scene is expected to be found only in a museum.

This does not have to be the case, nor ought it be the case. Jason Helopoulos, Assistant Pastor at University Reformed Church in Michigan, offers readers a challenge and also great helps in recovering this important and necessary practice in the raising of our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. “A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home” is a book I wish existed before it did. Our church made a push for families to begin the practice of family worship, however when looking at the resources available many seemed, although thorough and well grounded, also overwhelming to a layman. Family Worship with complicated orders of worship or long justifications do not keep the attention of the average reader. In this book, Pastor Helopoulos gives an extremely readable and even at points humorous look into simple family worship. I read the book in two or three short sittings and then gave the book to my wife who began to read and enjoy it as well.

The book begins with a helpful look at the different “spheres” of worship. The author identifies corporate, private (or individual), and also family worship. With three spheres of Christian worship, the reader is instructed that “A Christian will find it most beneficial to practice secret worship, corporate worship and family worship.” (27) Such a distinction was helpful for this pastor who typically has collapsed those spheres to two: private and public.

After establishing the legitimacy of the sphere of family worship, the author then quickly moves on to the “why?” - Why should we engage in family worship. Rather than merely emphasizing the duty and command of family worship, or merely the benefits, he combines the two: “It is our joyful responsibility!” Such a response fits the mood and theme of the book, family worship is not a mere burden or another item in the list of responsibilities of a head of household, it is a blessing and a grace that if skipped, we miss out on.

Thankfully, immediately after establishing the joyful duty of Family Worship from Scripture, the book moves on to the important question of “how?” I have several volumes on my shelf that suggests several deep and intricate orders of family worship to resemble a Sunday morning worship service. These have guaranteed that they may look good on paper, but are rarely tried. Pastor Helopoulos suggests something eminently more reasonable: simplicity. Family worship can be simple enough to just contain three simple elements: Scripture, prayer and song. Although additional elements are suggested for later, if it is too complicated, it will distract from intention of the time: the simple worship of God.

Much of the rest of the book is what makes this a unique offering and why I wish it was available to our church sooner. The rest of the book wrestles with the practical overcoming of difficulties, written by a father and husband who has practiced family worship and learned the hard way what to do with energetic small children and disappointing nights when it seems like the entire venture was a waste of time.

At the end of the book, I must warn you, you will be out of excuses. You will have a clear picture of family worship, and it will become a possible reality rather than a wistful fantasy. You will flip through the appendixes and find sample simple worship orders you can follow without handing out trifold bulletins to your 4 year old. And what's more, it will get you excited to reclaim the grace most Christian families have neglected unnecessarily.

I’d recommend this book to most all Christian families, as well as to churches as a resource. The price makes it easy to grab a dozen copies for a church book table or to have it available to give during pre-marital counseling, to aid couple in understanding the importance of family worship early on.

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