The agenda to possess the nations is aimed at transforming every sphere of society with values and principles of the Kingdom of God. These targeted spheres include Government and Politics, Business and Economy, Education and Science, Media and Culture, Sports, and Entertainment. The family remains the foundation of society. It is derived from marriage – the union between a biologically male species (man) and a biologically female species (woman). To possess the nations, therefore, there is the need for critical attention to be paid to the institution of marriage and the family.
Marriage is one of the oldest institutions in the world. Marriage predates Christianity and thus existed before Christianity began. God ordained marriage for humanity (Gen. 2:18-24; Mt. 19:3-11). As a result, a person does not necessarily have to be a Christian to experience a successful or fulfilling marriage. All married couples living by the rules of love and understanding can make successful partners. However, in the case of the Christian, marriage becomes no ordinary union. It is a sign that speaks to the world about the mystical union of Christ and the Church, and one whose foundation is Christ Himself (Eph. 5:31). Success should therefore not be the only indicator for measuring Christian marriage and family. Christian marriage and family must also speak of the goodness of God.
When two Christians walk to the altar to be joined in holy matrimony, Heaven rejoices because their union is strategic, and God expects godliness and godly offspring from them, as intimated by the Prophet Malachi, (Mal. 2:13-16). This calls for intentionality on the part of parents and guardians to raise these children and the entire household in the fear of God. One of the effective ways to raise godly children is by “raising” family altars in Christian homes.
To achieve this task, we have a great deal of lessons to learn from the life and times of the Puritans, particularly on how they view marriage and family life. The Puritans were church reformers who lived in England in the 16th and the 17th centuries. Even though they originated from England, some later moved to North America. The life of the Puritans was characterized with a strong quest for purity hence the nickname: Puritan. The Puritans also had a strong desire to pursue godliness in all their endeavours, including marriage and family life.
2. THE FAMILY LIFE
The family is a crucial institution because it serves as the conduit through which God blesses His people. The actions and inactions of the family is critical because it could cause God to release or withhold His blessings for them. Malachi’s contemporaries were distressed because God refused to accept their offerings, by withholding His blessings from them. Malachi explains that God was acting as a witness against husbands who were unfaithful to their wives:
Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15 Has not [the Lord] made them one? In flesh and spirit, they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 16 “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith (Mal 2:13-16, NIV).
This suggests that the relationship between husband and wife is more than a commitment between two persons. Marriage is a covenant, a three-way relationship in which the couple is accountable to God who acts as a witness. God adds the spiritual dimension to the marital relationship and transforms the relationship into a powerhouse of strength. A generational blessing is guaranteed if the entire household is included in this relationship.
This is well exemplified in the life of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), a clergyman and his wife Sarah who bequeathed a godly legacy to their eleven (11) children and future descendants. At the turn of the 20th century, American educator and Pastor, A. E. Winship decided to trace the descendants of Jonathan Edwards, almost 150 years after his death. His findings were astounding. Jonathan Edward’s godly legacy includes:
- 1 US Vice- President
- 3 US Senators
- 3 Governors
- 3 Mayors
- 13 College President or VCs
- 30 Judges
- 65 Professors
- 80 Public Office holders
- 100 Missionaries
The import of these outcomes is not necessarily the high social ladder Jonathan Edwards’ descendants climbed in the American society, but the foundation on which they stood. This impressive achievements of the various generations of the Edwards’ family are traced to the puritan upbringing of Jonathan Edwards with its strong Christian vision to life.
Edwards’ life is worth emulating, for it teaches us that leaving a godly legacy to our children should be our ultimate goal as Christian parents. Admittedly, the faith and godliness of children is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, but I equally believe that God often uses the influence of parents to make a great impact on their children.
2.1 The Puritans View of Marriage and Family Life
The Puritans set before their marriage partners the idea of wholehearted mutual love. Richard Baxter, one of the great Puritans, enumerates the common duty of a husband and wife:
- Entirely to love each other and avoid all things that tend to quench their love.
- To dwell together, and enjoy each other, and faithfully join as helpers in the education of their children, the government of the family, and the management of their worldly business.
- Especially to be helpers of each other’s salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works; to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations; to join in God’s worship in the family and in private; to prepare each other for the approach of death, and to comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal.
- To avoid all dissensions (quarrels, contentions, strong disagreements) and to bear with those infirmities (physical weakness or ailments, or a moral weakness or failings) in each other which cannot be cured.
- To keep conjugal chastity and fidelity, and to avoid all unseemly and immodest conduct with another, which may stir up jealousy; and yet to avoid all jealousy which is unjust.
- To help one another to bear their burdens such as poverty, crosses, sickness, dangers, and to comfort and support each other.
It is this mutual sharing of love and burden, and the drive for couples to support one another’s salvation that flows into the Puritans’ understanding of family life. To the Puritan, “family” is more of an extended model in contrast to the nuclear family. The Puritan had a broader view of the family. Family was not only limited to the core membership of parents and children. It included all the servants; elderly relatives being looked after and all other members of the household. The Puritans also saw the family as “the basic unit of the society and a little church in itself.”
2.2 The Family Life: Two Other Views of the Puritans
The Puritans held two other views of family life. For the Puritan family life is a “calling” and it is also seen as a “church and seminary.”
2.2.1 Family Life as a “Calling”
The Puritans held that marriage and family life is a calling. It is a call to be a husband and father, a wife, and a mother. They believed that one is called to marry and to have children as God’s way of maintaining the human race and within that race, the church. As part of their calling, parents were expected to teach their children obedience to God and to themselves (parents).
Puritans believed that children were also called, and they were to be taught that they were called to be obedient to their parents and masters and to do what they commanded them in the Lord. Puritans’ view of life as a calling was expanded to other areas, such as their domestic lives (marriage and family life) and public lives (work and business in the community). As a result, the Puritan expected the generality of their members to be the best in all human endeavours: the best husbands, best wives, best children, best masters, best servants, best magistrates, best subjects etc. In so doing the doctrine of God might be adorned not blasphemed (Titus 2:7-10).
2.2.2 The Family as a Church and a Seminary
There was a high expectation from the parents of the Puritan family especially the father when viewed against the Puritan’s idea of the family as “the seminary of church and state”, where children were to be well principled.
The word church lends itself to a lot of interpretations. But in the context of our study, the church includes the children, servants, helpers, elderly relatives and whoever dwells in the home are brothers and sisters in the Lord. The entire household is seen as a community of believers who have accepted Jesus as Lord. For the Puritans, God is the father of the parents and to every member of the household, hence as members of the family they are all brothers and sisters in the Lord (Mt. 6:9; Jh. 20:17).
Again, to the puritans the home (where the family dwells) must be seen as a place where active worship service goes on with Christ at the centre. According to John Geree, the typical “old English Puritan” saw the family as a church both regarding persons and exercises, admitting none into it but only those who feared God and laboured that those that were born in it, might be born again to God. This family church had the husband as its pastor and the wife as an assistant pastor.
The home of the Puritan was also seen as the first seminary, a special school providing education in theology, religious history, aimed at preparing the household for the priesthood, or any ministry or service with values and principles of the kingdom of God.
The Puritans saw the family as “the seminary of church and state” where children were to be well principled. This is instructive because with the family as a seminary, the spiritual formation of children and the other members of the family are prioritised, and this was beneficial to the health of both the family and the state.
Within this context of the family as a seminary, the husband-pastor was responsible to channel the family into religion; to take them to church on the Lord’s Day, oversee the sanctifying of that entire day in the home; to catechize the children, and teach the faith: to examine the whole family after each sermon, to see how much had been retained and understood, and to fill any gaps in understanding that might remain; to lead the family in daily worship, ideally twice a day and to set an example of sober godliness at all times and in all matters.
It is not enough to give birth; you need to raise him or her well. The caring is as important as the giving birth. This is a responsibility the Puritan parents took seriously. The statement/enquiry made by Samson’s father Manoah to the man who appeared to the wife seems to confirm this view:
The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!”11. Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, “Are you the man who talked to my wife?” “I am,” he said.12. So Manoah asked him, “When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule that governs the boy’s life and work?” (Jdg. 13:2).
Manoah enquired of the man as to how he should raise the boy when his word is fulfilled.
Unfortunately, in our time we do not approach family life the way the Puritans did. The occasion when father and mother would gather children around them, sing together and read a verse of the scriptures is just about unheard of. Morning and evening prayers was once an established institution in Christian homes but it sadly missing on our calendar of daily activities. As the number of domestic prayers decreases in our homes, so do our problems increase, especially problems emanating from our busy life schedules and how it is affecting our core mandates of raising healthy families and godly children. The fact that we are seasoned, and experienced Christians is not a guarantee that we will succeed in our parenting responsibilities. There were devout men of faith who lived in the biblical times who failed as parents.
2.3 Samuel, a Great Statesman but a Poor Parent
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sam. 8 :1-5, NIV).
If the sons of Samuel turned after dishonest gain, then maybe the children were not started off well (Pro. 22:6). It could be that their training was not good, or they never had any at all. Though Samuel served Israel well, it seems it was at the neglect of his home (1 Sam. 7:15-17). His house was not a church and a seminary like the puritans advocated. Samuel’s busy schedules as a priest, judge and a prophet of Israel could have been the reason he might have neglected his primary church and never made the home a seminary. It is expedient to guard against being too busy serving other interests to the detriment of our homes. Christ must be Lord of every department of our life.
But the irony of the situation is much worrying. How come that Samuel repeated the same mistake Eli made which caused God to cut off Eli’s descendants from the priesthood and the sad fate that happened to his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Sam. 2:12-26).
I agree with my good friend Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu that the old man Eli had tried to act by talking to his children but that was not enough, for he knew the behavior of his sons would attract the anger of God, for which reason he should have been more decisive and firmer in his response.
Samuel’s children never followed his godly lifestyle, they turned after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. Israel therefore rejected Samuel’s sons as judges. Though Samuel was displeased it was too late for him to correct his children and this is aptly reflected in Fredrick Douglass famous words: “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” This was a great mistake that should not be repeated in any Christian home.
The case of Samuel provides a compelling reason for parents to be intentional in raising their children in the fear of the Lord. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, made great effort and sacrifices to raise him for God and the nation of Israel (1 Sam. 2:18-19). Samuel on his part, however, could not cause his children to follow him in godliness. His example teaches that parents could be strong Christians but if they are not deliberate in raising godly children, they would not have them to follow Jesus Christ.
The Puritans passion to please God expressed itself in an intense devotion for order. Their vision of a good and godly life was of a well-thought-out flow of activities in which all obligations were met, and time set for every activity: personal devotions, family devotions, domestic and public tasks. They also found time for intimacy with spouse and children, for attendance to church on the Lord’s Day, for sabbath rest and for whatever task one’s calling required.
2.4 Children, our Greatest Treasure
God hopes in parents to raise godly men and women from the heritage He has graciously given them (Ps. 127:3). In the long run, the grace of God plays a role in raising godly children, but parents should do their part and God will honour it. Our children are our greatest treasure, a heritage from God. Our divine providence could be linked to how we raise them for the Lord as revealed in Genesis 18:18-19 concerning Abraham:
Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.19. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.
The promise of God could be trans-generational. However, the role of children in seeing to the fulfillment of these promises cannot be overlooked. Eli’s priestly line was cut short because of the behavior of his children (1 Sam 2:27-36). Parents ought to know that the priceless gift(s) they can give humanity is a child or children they raise to serve God and the state in righteousness. Raising children is work but raising godly children could be harder, yet it is worth all the effort. One of the effective ways of raising godly children is by raising family altars.
3.0 RAISING FAMILY ALTARS OR HOME WORSHIP
3.1 Defining an Altar
An altar is a raised area in a house of worship where people can honor God with offerings. It is prominent in the Bible as “God’s table,” a sacred place for sacrifices and gifts offered up to God (Gen 12:7-8; 13:8). Altar, in religion, is a raised structure or place that is used for sacrifice, worship, or prayer. In this presentation I will use the phrase “family altar” to refer to the place in the house dedicated to the family to worship or pray. I may also use the phrases “family devotion” and “home worship” interchangeably to refer to family altar.
3.2 How to Conduct a Family Devotion or Home Worship (Family Altar)
3.2.1. Who leads the family devotion?
The father-pastor and the mother-assistant pastor should lead the home church, all things being equal. Where the husband is deceased or is an unbeliever, the wife who is a Christian should lead. In a case where there are no parents, the elderly sibling, or the most mature Christian amongst them can organize the worship.
3.2.2. Where do we begin?
Raising family altars is made easy when the father-pastor and the mother-assistant pastor have the habit of praying together. Spouses may have a private and personal devotions but beyond that they should often meet to study the Bible and pray aloud unto God. This is one of the best means of improving marital health. A marriage can be completely transformed when couples regularly seek the face of God in prayer. Going day after day, week after week, month after month without praying together has undermined many marriages in our generation.
Below are some tip-bits for conducting family worship
- Schedule a convenient time (that suits family members). The greatest commodity and the most precious that God has graciously given all equally is time. Let us seize it to raise our household for him.
- Home worship may include worship, testimony, Bible reading, recitations, Bible study etc.
- Teach without preaching (it is a seminary).
- Tell Biblical stories, especially when the children are young.
- Talk to God together on issues; this should include thanksgiving, intercession etc.
- Each member of the household should actively play a role.
- Keep worship time brief especially when children are young.
- Occasionally follow a pattern of teaching that would help solve specific problems, meet specific needs, and answer some questions.
- Set some periods aside when the family waits upon God in retreats and tarry meetings.
- The family worship must be consistent. Consistency is one of the strongest ingredient or components in achieving success in all endeavours.
- Do your best to avoid distractions.
3.2.3. Relating to distant grown-up children
There is the need to underscore at this point that even when children are grown-up and are miles away from home, they need to be discipled. It does not matter how old the children are, parents, ought to check on their relationship with Jesus. For example, through their prayers and epistles, the apostles continued to disciple their children in the Lord (1 Pet. 1:1-2; Jam. 1:1-3; Col. 1:9-12).
Contemporary communication technology has even made this simpler. Distance should no longer be a barrier. The family devotion with distant grown-up children should not be done daily because they may be pre-occupied with other equally important matters in their lives. Rather, a convenient schedule should be sought for this activity.
3.3 The Importance of Family Altar
There are so many reasons why raising family altars is important. One of it is that it is mutually beneficial to all members of the household. It is not only targeted at raising godly children, but the elderly people also learn godly experiences. Constant communion amongst family members builds healthy relationships. But the most important of all is that our children do not grow up in pagan ignorance of Christ – that there will not rise a generation in our descendants who do not know the Lord. Asaph buttresses the need to train the children in the laws of God in Psalm 78:1-11:
My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.2. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—3. things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.4. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.5. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,6. so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.7. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.8. They would not be like their ancestors — a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.9. The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle;10. they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law.11. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.
Asaph seems to suggest here that the laws of God should not be hidden from descendants and that one generation would have to teach the next generation so that the succeeding generations will not be like the ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation whose hearts were not loyal to God.
3.4 Evaluating the Effect of Home Worship
The members of the household must be given a compelling reason to attend the family worship. Successful worship is not likely to be achieved until one understands that worship is not just being present at the assembling point but getting involved in mind and spirit.
The design of the home worship is to enable the household experience God in a tangible, practical, and highly spiritual way.
Here are a few common ways worship time can be assessed:
- members of the household are eager to return for another Holy Spirit encounter in the presence of God.
- There’s an undeniable presence of God
- Individuals experience a deep need to repent before God
- The exhortation provided a biblical impetus for members to clarify their worldview
- Emotional or physical healing of some discernible nature occurred
Beyond all these the character of members of the household should be changing from glory to glory.
3.5 Hindrances to Effective Home Worship
- Busy schedule – this is where parents occupy themselves with so many obligations in and outside the home at the expense of home worship. Whether steeped in a busy schedule or not, God’s command remains – we are to imprint God’s Word on the hearts of our children.
- Finding a convenient time that suits all family members. Finding a convenient time that suits all family members could sometimes be difficult. However, it is always better to start from somewhere, beginning with those who are available at a set time.
- Poor spirituality of parents and guardians: This relates to a situation where parents are not inclined to spiritual things. The resultant effect is that the value they place on spiritual exercises such as home worship is always questionable.
- Fast life in the cities. Fast life in the cities can sometimes be overwhelming. However, a quality family time with the Lord in worship must be safeguarded against all other priorities.
- Spousal conflicts: This is where the state of tension or stress between marital couples takes away the joy of meeting together as a family in worship. Our ability to deal with conflicts as couples as they arise is a mark of Christian maturity.
- Poor relationship amongst members. Effective family worship requires oneness of heart. The absence of this in many households hinders the ability of the family in coming together.
- Lack of dedication to family worship and consistency in meetings may eventually end up taking away the joy of meeting together as a family.
- Competing interests and distractions such as watching TV programmes could also hinder family worship in the home.
- Mixed-faith marriages – religious training in homes of mixed-faith couples could be a major challenge in hindering family worship. Building consensus on doctrines and practices could be very difficult. Eventually, the children may reject both doctrines and religious practices of the parents which could lead to rebellion.
- Inconsistent lifestyle of parents and guardians. Children expect parents to live a life consistent with what they profess. The absence of this takes away the sincere joy of joining parents for any effective family worship.
4.0 BE AN EXAMPLE
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;3. not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:2-3, NIV).
Parents are admonished to heed to Peter’s admonition to church leaders, they are to play the role of overseers in their family worship. The parent leader ought to be an example to the flock that are under his shepherd staff.
A consistent religious pattern of behaviour in the home is a vital key to successful spiritual adjustment. The attitude portrayed in the home is a true reflection of the real self. Young people expect their parents to live a life consistent with what they profess.
D. L. Moody once said, “A man ought to live so that everybody knows he is a Christian and most of all, his family ought to know”.
Christians ought to reflect Christ in their marriage and family lives. In so doing, they would be setting good examples for the world to emulate and that is the target; thus, to prove that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the way, the truth and the life and was indeed sent by God.
The boy whose parents never attend church and are not born again and who makes no pretense about being spiritual will excuse the parents’ behavior as it is consistent with their irreligion. But the youngster who sees the father who profess Christianity, accept leadership position in church and then come home and put-up behaviors such as yelling, blaming, embittering children, abusing wife, do not organize any devotions at home will find it difficult to accept the double standards.
4.1 Parents/Guardians should be a Praying People
Parents should constantly be standing in the gap for the people in the household, distance children and relatives in prayer beyond the home worship. Job’s purification prayers for his sons illustrate this point. The offering Job made on behalf of his children was a form of prayer. The Bible says, “this was a regular custom” (Job 1:5). Job was a “go-between” God and his children. He was their priest. (Job 1:1-5, NIV). The Apostle Paul was constantly bearing his children (the congregation) up in prayers (Gal. 4:19, Col 1:7-12, Eph. 3:14-19, Heb. 13:20-21).
Reviving the institution of marriage and family is possible in this perverse generation. Parents should not despair on their children, couples on their spouses or any member of the household. Parents do not have to sack their recalcitrant children from home. Rather, intercessory prayers should be made for the whole household, wayward children, and absentee parents.
The aim of this presentation has been to reawaken the need for the raising of family altars, which is organizing family devotion or home worship. Drawing from the understanding that the possessing the nations agenda could be made easier if attention is given to marriage and family as the basic unit of society. Using the Puritan view on marriage and family life as an example, it has been understood that the family should be seen as a calling and a seminary and intentional efforts should be made to raise children as priests just as Hannah did for the boy Samuel.
It must be stressed that no matter the busy schedules, parents have a responsibility to disciple their immediate children and the entire household, for the sustainability of the promise of the family legacy cannot be attained without the role of the children that are raised in the Lord. This is achievable when great premium is placed on the family altar. Parents will be held accountable for how they raised their children, how they handled God’s heritage he graciously gifted them. Children will not escape God’s judgement for how they responded to their parents’ instruction
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