Household Religion

The Reformed tradition regarded every household as a religious community, a conviction which Anglicans shared (de Waal 1983:145-6). 'A Christian family', says Baxter, echoing many others, 'is a church.. .a society of Christians combined for the better worshipping and serving God' (Baxter 1830: IV, 75), and Puritans quoted Augustine: 'what the preacher is in the pulpit, the same the householder is in the house' (Bayly 1669:158n.). Though like George Herbert they were aware of religious advantages in the single life (Martz 1986:200), marriage was certainly no inferior spiritual state. In this they had been anticipated by Wycliffites and other reforming Catholics (Tripp 1991:77n.). As much as Catholics and Orthodox they believed that all prayer, wherever offered, alone, in family, or in public worship, was one. The praying individual or group was primarily a member of the Body of Christ. In this tradition, prayer should be twice daily and corresponded to the temple sacrifices under the old covenant. It was the continuous burnt offering of Leviticus 6:13, a passage applied to Christian devotion in Matthew Henry's commentary and echoed in Charles Wesley's hymn:

O Thou who earnest from above

The pure celestial fire to impart

Kindle a flame of sacred love

On the mean altar of my heart.

It was the incense which ascended to God (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 8:3, 4).

Domestic spiritually was holistic in that it encompassed 'not only worship but instruction, governance, discipline, and the exercise of charity and justice'. Fasting was practised regularly. Household religion was inclusive of women. Many treatises regard women as deputy household priests able to take over should the male default (Tripp 1991:77-82). Children were integral members of the people of God. Their instruction began almost at birth and precocity in religion was not unusual, even though it might be difficult to distinguish 'playing church' from a real devotion. Servants were taught to read the Bible and were always included with the children in daily prayers. The Christian week more than the Christian year was the focus of devotion and all was an extension of worship in church on the Lord's Day, so that this spirituality was often liturgical in form, using prayer books of various kinds. The Lord's Day itself was 'the schoolday, the faire day, the market day, the feeding day of the soul', the day of sublimest recreation when the sheep heard Christ's voice and found pasture (Wakefield 1957:59-63). This tradition was strong in nineteenth-century evangelical spirituality, but it often became didactic and moralistic. The sacrificial and mystagogical elements were lost in evangelical pedagogy and the young frequently became embarrassed by the desire to capture their souls through family prayers. As the family itself gradually declined, so there departed with it the religion of which the aim was to be 'true to the kindred points of heaven and home'.

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