He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, … Psalm 78:5

The Directory for Family Worship, used by the Presbyterians argued that family worship was necessary to secure “the power and practice of godliness, amongst all ministers and members.” A weekly church service was not adequate. Daily grounding in prayer and Scripture, the parents reading it and living it out were critical to the health of the whole community. Three forms of prayer and worship were acknowledged: 1. Public or corporate worship – under the auspices of the session. 2. Family worship led by the father. 3. And private devotions, prayer and worship. All three were considered critical and distinctive of the Christian home.

By 1733, the Synod of Philadelphia expressed concern over the general decline of godliness in the American Colonies. Their solution was a campaign recommended “to all our ministers and members.” Pastors were to visit the homes of their parishioners, and “press” family and secret worship. If a man did not lead his family in prayer – he would be required to appear before the Session. Further failure, and he would not be administered communion – and his children would be forbidden baptism.

George Whitefield warned about a “spirit of piety” that did not have a critical counterpart – “a revival of primitive family religion.” No public revival would last, unless it was tethered to regular daily family habits of prayer and seeking God. Whitefield believed that each father was bound to serve as a teacher of the Bible to his children. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) noted that the spiritual education and order of the home was a chief means of grace. It was, in his opinion, the critical link. “If these fail [spiritual efforts in the home], all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.”[1]

The role of family prayer may have been the deciding factor in spawning the first Great Awakening. This is not a commonly held position.

God, forgive us as fathers – for prayerless homes.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Farewell Sermon,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1, p. ccvi.

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