A Pastoral Letter on Family Worship, from the 1884 PCUS General Assembly

This summer I’m teaching a Sunday School class on three forgotten habits of family discipleship – catechism, family worship and the Lord’s Day. At the same time, I have been reading through minutes of the Southern Presbyterian Church’s General Assemblies from the late 19th century doing some ThM research. That research has demonstrated that Presbyterian families were struggling then in these areas, even as we do today. Indeed, these habits have been forgotten for a very long time. Consider these words from the 1897 PCUS General Assembly Minutes:

Some anxiety, and evidently with good ground, is expressed with regard to the attitude of our people toward Sabbath observance. It is an unquestioned fact that some of our members do not observe the Sabbath as they ought. This holy day is being more and more secularized, and the time has undoubtedly come for the regular pastorate to preach with renewed fidelity to the people, especially to the young of our congregations, set discourses on the divine origin of the day; its relation to man’s spiritual interests and to his material and physical well-being, as well as to the nation’s and church’s prosperity and peace.

Just in this connection one thing pains us to note, and a mere statement of it will carry its own lesson and afford food for the whole church’s prayerful consideration. It is the almost general decadence of family worship. One narrative, in speaking on family worship, says: ‘No increase’; another, ‘sadly neglected,’ and after a careful scanning of some fifteen narratives, representative in character, we are constrained to join in and quote the exact language of one of them: the neglect is simply ‘appalling.’

We see, too, a common, and, if we mistake not, a growing practice on the part of parents to delegate to the Sabbath-school teacher nearly all of the Bible and catechetical instruction of the children of their homes.

Family worship had been an issue for many years previous to 1897, as shown by this pastoral letter on the topic of family worship, written by the 1884 PCUS General Assembly. For those in my class, and for anyone else who desires a shot in the arm to spur them on as they seek to learn these habits, I commend to you this wise counsel and admonishment, and pray that the Lord would only grow us in our daily worship of Him in our families.

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