Southern Presbyterians on Family Worship (1873-1912) by General Assembly of the PCUS

By April 9, 2011Family Worship

Family worship led by the male head of the household was in decline among Presbyterians in the latter half of the 19th century. Nevertheless, many strong statements on family worship continued to be issued by the Southern Presbyterian General Assembly well into the 20th century. The following are some excerpts from statements of the General Assembly of the PCUS:

‘We think that it is plainly inculcated in the word of God, as well as in our standards, that the children of pious parents are integral parts of God’s Church, and that their certain and early conversion is to be secured by faithful instruction in the principles of the Christian religion…

‘This is heaven’s appointed way for securing the early conversion of your children. But we greatly apprehend that this solemn duty is often deferred too long, and sometimes neglected altogether. The children of the Church are suffered to grow up uninstructed and unwarned; no efforts are made to inflame their hearts with love for the Redeemer or for His blessed kingdom. God’s appointed way for saving them is thus abandoned; the most propitious time for effecting the desired end is lost, and the most powerful means are left unimproved; while parents indulge a vague and languid hope that in coming years, by the improvement of some extraordinary means, their salvation will be effected. We most affectionately warn you beloved brethren against such neglect. God’s ways are ever best; follow after His appointments if you would be blessed by the early conversion of your children. Around your own happy hearthstone talk to them of the love of Christ; of their relation to God and to His Church, and the consequent duties devolving upon them’ [Pastoral Letter, 1873, pp. 335-336].

‘From the Narratives of the Presbyteries, either by explicit statement or through a silence as significant, it appears that family worship as a duty has greatly declined, and as a privilege has lost its hold on the affections of our people which once gave it such power over the habits of our households, that it became a distinguishing mark of our Presbyterian ancestry.

And we at the more urged ‘to stir you up by putting you in remembrance,’ because we find the same humiliating confession made with a mournful unanimity in the Narratives of preceding Assemblies. And in the reiterated admonitions of the Church in the past, we find abundant precedent for addressing you as to importance and immanence of fidelity in this sphere of Christian practice’ [Pastoral Letter, 1884, pp. 459,460].

‘God requires in the home daily instruction of the children in the Scriptures and the training of the children in all forms of Christian service. God lays on the man, as the head of the family, the chief responsibility for the performance of these requirements.

‘In a true sense God has constituted man prophet, priest and king in the home, and will not sanction the delegation of this responsibility to the wife, the Sabbath school, or to any other agency. From the foregoing it is evident that the time has come for the Church through its officers and courts to engage its largest energies in the most important and vital work of establishing the family altar in every Christian home and encouraging faithful, systematic home-training in the Scriptures and Standards of the Church. For this we most earnestly plead.

‘The family altar is the determining factor in the security, perpetuity and efficiency of family life. Family worship is a test of the faith of parents and the reality of religion. It is the union of precept and example in the instruction of children’ [Pastoral Letter on Family Religion, 1909, pp. 122-123].

‘Our beloved Church has always stood for family religion as the sine qua non of the Christian home, and of scriptural Church life. The lamentable fact is shown in the reports which come up from our Presbyteries that there is not only no decided improvement among our people with regard to family worship, but in some instances there seems to be a positive decline’ [Report of the Standing Committee on the Sabbath and Family Religion, 1912, pp. 69-70]’

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