Family Visitation (concluded)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. G. VandenBerg in the April 1, 1956 issue of the Standard Bearer.
The interrogation of family visiting must cover every phase of life. In addition to the civil and social sphere, discussed in our last writing, the following should be considered:
(2) The Family Life: “Dwell on the condition of family life. Begin with the head of the family and then you might ask whether family worship is faithfully maintained, family prayers uttered, the scriptures read at stated times each day with the family and its truths commented upon and considered. If the answers to these inquiries is negative, there is room for admonition. Bind upon his heart his calling in this respect and encourage him as much as possible to fulfill it.” (G.M.O.)
In this connection it may be well to point out the importance of true, spiritual family life. The Christian home is the center in which the seed of the covenant are to receive their basic training. Where this fails, further attempts to train by other agencies will generally prove fruitless. Hence, fundamental to the establishing and maintaining of a Christian home is the thorough understanding of such scriptural matters as, “Parental Responsibilities” and “The Subjection and Obedience of Children.” The rights and duties of parents and children must be defined from the word of God and not according to modern, humanistic philosophy. When family relationships are not harmonious with the word of God, the whole of life grows out of kilter. Family visiting may serve to bring to remembrance some apparently forgotten but nevertheless very fundamental truths respecting the home as further suggested in, these “Notes” by Rev. Ophoff:
“Inquire further after the spirit that prevails in the home. Do the parents put forth the proper effort to make it truly Christian? Do they walk together in true Christian love and respect for each other, setting an example of love, patience and forbearance so that it is evident to the children that their parents are in the Lord? Are the children taught to obey their parents for the Lord’s sake and is this obedience evident in the home? It may be necessary to explain to the family group what this means—obeying parents for the Lord’s sake and what it means that children are under father and mother. This matter can also be put to the children. Call attention to and explain the promise fixed to the commandment.”
“Inquire next after the religious training of the children. Is the vow that was made by the parents at the time of their presenting the children for baptism being properly and faithfully kept? Are the children sent to the Christian school and if not, why not? Explain the importance of Christian instruction and show conclusively from the word of God that it is the Lord’s will that we establish wherever possible schools for positive Protestant Reformed instruction. Such is our parental calling without any doubt.”
(Just as I was writing this article I received a phone call, in answer to an objection I had registered, from the school where three of my children attend. My objection had been to the teaching of the song “Jesus Is Calling” containing the following: “Jesus is waiting, O come to him now—waiting today, waiting today: . . .Jesus is pleading, O listen to his voice—Hear him today, hear him today.” The principal said to me, “What’s wrong with that? We aren’t singing this to those outside but only in the class of covenant children.” I replied to the effect that this made no difference to me, the point is not in who sings it or to whom it is sung but rather in the fact that the song is the lie—thoroughly Arminian, and I proceeded to tell him that it denies the efficaciousness of the calling and presupposes free will. The outcome of our conversation was that although he knew that we “Protestants” objected to the song, it need not be barred from the school since he agreed with me that it was consistent with the First Point of ‘24; good Christian Reformed since Rev. H. J. Kuiper had also included it in his hymn book. To this I submit for what else can I do but I ask, “How much Arminian poison will they feed our children before all our people awaken to the NECESSITY of schools for Protestant Reformed instruction?” And this is but one of many samples that can be easily furnished.)
“Inquire as to whether the parents cooperate with the ministry with respect to the catechizing of their children? Do they see to it that the children faithfully perform the assigned work and do they assist especially the younger ones? Point out the importance of such cooperation and explain the good results that follow when this work is properly done and what may be expected when it is neglected by the parents.”
“Delineate on the fact that religious training must begin and end at the home. Explain that of all the teachers a child has, the parents are by far the greatest influence either for good or for bad in the child’s life; the reason being that there are no people whom the children trust so implicitly as their parents and that, therefore, it is especially the parents by whom the children are willing to be led, instructed, admonished, and trained, and whom they take as examples. Explain then how necessary it is that parents walk together in the light and in unity of faith before their children and this matter may properly also be impressed upon the hearts of the young people of the family who stand at the threshold of marriage.”
And so there are countless matters that, according to varying circumstances, may be considered in relation to the family and family life. It is not impossible that the whole family visitation be concentrated about this single point. It is well worthwhile in our generation which is witnessing the rapid abolition of the home.
(3) Personal Spiritual Life: Also this matter is of greatest importance and involves so many things that it is impossible to enter into detail here. Inquiry must be made into the matter of consciousness and assurance of salvation. If this is lacking further inquiry must be made into the reason or reasons. The whole matter of the well-being of faith, spiritual growth and daily sanctification should be seriously considered. Do we exercise ourselves consciously day by day in those obligations of the covenant of grace which are so beautifully expressed in our baptism form: “That we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.” What is our personal reaction toward the preaching of the word and how are we affected by it? Do we receive spiritual nourishment from the word so that we may grow thereby? And in this connection it is well to inquire somewhat into reading habits. Concerning this we quote the following paragraph of Rev. Ophoff:
“What is being read by the family? Is it Christian or worldly; edifying or soul-destroying? Of course, we do not tell our people that they may not or should not read the daily newspapers but it should be also stated that God’s people do not turn to the newspaper or any other secular literature for food for their soul. Explain that the soul of a child (individual) can be poisoned by what it reads as well as the body can be poisoned by food unfit for human consumption. The man of God is in need of wholesome spiritual food and this food is Jesus Christ as revealed in the word.”
Is the word then diligently and personally studied? And in connection with it, are such supplements to the word as the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights faithfully used? If not, why not?
But in our day the eye is no longer devoted to reading and studying as in former times but now is engaged in picture seeing. This, especially since in our day television has found a prominent place in many of our homes. Inquiry may be made into the use that is made of that device since the godless world itself admits its morally destructive power. What is being observed on the screen? Is it conducive to our growing in spiritual stature? Is it detracting from other activities which positively tend to spiritual growth? This is a fine practical matter for an honest, serious self-analysis in the presence of God!
(4) Church Life: In general this sphere includes not only participation in the institutional functions of the church but also voluntary participation in those spiritual activities which rise out of the organic life of the people of God as they are united by the Spirit through the bonds of faith to mind the same things. Concerning this Rev. Ophoff writes:
“Further inquiry must be made after church life. Is faithful use being made of the sacraments and the preaching of the word on the meetings of public worship by the church institute as it functions through the teaching ministry instituted by Christ for the feeding of his people? Make plain the sin of neglecting this ministry. Emphasize that there is no salvation for anyone who forsakes this ministry even though that one may be ever so pious in his own way and engage in all Bible reading and prayer. The reason being that to forsake the ministry is to forsake Christ and the means that Christ has instituted for the feeding of his sheep. In this way the great necessity of regular church attendance will become apparent. Stress also that regular use of the Lord’s supper must be made. Ask the sheep if they participate in the church society life? Do they live along with the congregation? Are societies, congregational meetings, etc. well attended? Explain that it is their duty that members in the church, alive to the interest of God’s kingdom, will attend these meetings."
In light of all this one wonders then why family visiting is limited to once a year. Practical reasons no doubt prevail. Certainly it is advantageous to be stirred up in these things constantly. Let it be remembered, too, that all of the above is only intended as suggestions and directives to follow and by no means as a complete and exhaustive plan of family visiting. To this much more can easily be added. However, if such a general plan is followed, those performing this work will have no difficulty remaining with the spiritual purpose of their visit. Neither will they suffer from a lack of material but will rather find the time of their visit too short. Furthermore, having investigated the spiritual conditions of the home and having spoken the word of God with comfort, encouragement, exhortation and rebuke, they may profitably conclude their visit by calling upon God, invoking his benediction upon the labor performed. And the fruits shall redound to his eternal glory through the upbuilding and strengthening of Zion.