Naked and Clothed Worship: Communion with God in Quarantine

Do you ever have moments where you see, hear, or read something that instantly makes you think, “I need to write a blog post on that”? Well maybe not, but it happens to me frequently, though I usually do not take the initiative to write said blog post. Just such an incident happened recently, and since I am in quarantine, I figured I would actually write it.

In his classic work Communion with God,[1] the 17th c. theologian John Owen reflects on the general concept of communion stating that it “relates to things and persons,” and that it entails “a joint participation in any thing whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions” (Works 2.7). Closely connected with the concept of communion is that of union. The latter is the foundation of the former. Owen utilizes the example of David and Jonathan, saying that the union of love which they had for each other resulted in the communication of acts of love (Works, 2.8). With this distinction in mind, Owen offers a definition of communion with God:

“Our communion, then, with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him” (Works, 2.8-9).

Owen goes on to argue that believers have distinct communion with each person of the Trinity: “That is, distinctly with the Father, and distinctly with the Son, and distinctly with the Holy Spirit” (Works, 2.9). The distinct communion we have with each person is seen in the distinct distribution of gifts (see 1 Cor 12:4-6), and in our distinct approaches to God:

“Our access unto God (wherein we have communion with him) is διὰ Χριστοῦ, ‘through Christ,’ ἐν Πνεύματι, ‘in the Spirit,’ and πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα, ‘unto the Father;—the persons being here considered as engaged distinctly unto the accomplishment of the counsel of the will of God revealed in the gospel” (Works, 2.10. See Eph 2:18).

When Owen argues that Christian worship is given to each person of the Trinity (Works 2.11-14), he states an interesting distinction in regard to Christian worship. Our worship can be either “purely or nakedly moral” or “as further clothed with instituted worship” (Works 2.11). In talking of the worship which is given to the Father he states, “These graces [viz. faith, love, and obedience] as acted in prayer and praises, and as clothed with instituted worship, are peculiarly directed unto him” (Works 2.12). What Owen means by “naked” (or “natural,” “moral”)[2] worship is the worship which the believer renders to God on a day-to-day basis, whereas “clothed” worship is in reference to more formal worship (such as Lord’s day worship) which God has additionally instituted. Whether we are talking about naked or clothed worship, these are the means by which we have communion with God. Here is how Owen puts it:

Faith, love, trust, joy, etc., are the natural or moral worship of God, whereby those in whom they are have communion with him. Now, these are either immediately acted on God, and not tied to any ways or means outwardly manifesting themselves; or else they are farther drawn forth, in solemn prayer and praises, according unto that way which he hath appointed (Works, 2.11).

One thing that this peculiar time of nationwide quarantine has demonstrated to us is that human beings are communal. We often like to conceive of ourselves as independent individuals who are able to pick and choose where, when, and how we enter into social engagements. But times like these show us how much we depend on others to supply us with things which are fundamental to our daily existence (food, drink, clothing, medical care, and, perhaps, sanity). It seems to me that now is a good time to consider the concept of communion.

While we reflect on communion, I hope that we do not terminate our reflections on the daily human interactions to which we (rightly) long to return. May our souls long and faint for the courts of our Lord (Ps 84:2), but may we also remember that because of Christ, we can sing a song of Zion, even next to the river of Babylon (Ps 137:1, 4). For the moment, providence has stripped us of public worship, but we can still worship and commune with God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Communion with other humans is a natural and very good part of life, but communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, is life (John 14:16-23; 17:3).

[1] All citations of this work will be from William H. Goold, ed., The Works of John Owen, vol. 2 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009).

[2] Words such as “moral” and “natural” should not put us on guard when we remember that these are graces worked in the hearts of believers which flow from their union with Christ.


Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

An Open Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear Reader,

This morning I read a recent article posted by the conservative writer, Rod Dreher. It included some very insightful comments about the nature of certain people’s responses to Coronavirus described in a couple letters he received. His analysis of what was written to him is the most convicting line in the article. It is what I hope you will take away from this open letter to think about as we approach the Lord’s day. He says, “This, my friends, is what apocalypse does: it reveals.”

After I read this, I instinctively asked the question: how is my time of isolation revealing a preparedness for the coming of the Lord, or how is it not? What am I grasping at?

I must confess that my heart has been in desperate search for comfort, security, and a sense of normal routine. I find that the desire for this, and its highly regarded place in my life, often serves as a mask which hides the state of my soul from myself and others. I think this is the case for many Christians in America. We let our work define us. We do it in such a way that the presence of sin and the necessity of faith routinely sit on the back burner of our minds. Because of this, a sad irony persists in our lives. The irony is that too little attention is paid to who we presently are before God, even though our presence before God is what will finally be established when we step past death into eternity, or when Christ comes again. This will be what lasts of us.

In this crisis my sin appears to be more evident, and my resolve against it seems to be in short supply. However, I don’t think this is actually the case. My sin was always evident, and my resolve against it has always been in short supply. The only difference between the recent past, and the ongoing reality of life during Coronavirus, is that I am more aware of it because I have more time to think and less distance to put between me and my thoughts. Stated bluntly, not having what I want shows me what I really want.

Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). This is my heart’s desire that emerges from a cluttered mind: when the end of this pandemic comes (and it will surely come), I want to have passed through it by faith, as I want to pass though the rest of my life and death by faith.

Repentance means living a life that corresponds to hope. I know what I hope in, and I hope in a Christ who promises to sustain His Church through all seasons of life. In the slowness of my soul I am “slouching towards Bethlehem” to find a vision of life in the apocalyptic turbulence of these times. I hope that this is your desire and pursuit as well.

I will end this letter with the opening question from the Heidelberg Catechism: “what is your only comfort in life and death?” I leave it to you to look at the catechism for yourself and prayerfully appropriate the answer as we approach the Lord’s day. I will do the same.

May God be with you,

Stephen

 


Here is the complete article by Rod Dreher. I suggest you read it: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/are-we-christians-the-rich-young-ruler-covid-19/

I think the 3b is an accurate definition of apocalypse: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocalypse

I quoted a line from “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43290/the-second-coming

Here is the Heidelberg Catechism for those who do not own a physical copy: https://students.wts.edu/resources/creeds/heidelberg.html

The Quarantine of the Soul During Coronavirus

The Advantage of Quarantine

When I first heard about the Coronavirus, I was wondering how big of an impact it would have upon my school, work, relationships, and my personal life. There has been a great deal of information being circulated about the virus that has led to much fear, doubt, and sadness. Many are afraid because of how the disease has ravaged Italy, China, and more close to home, N.Y. Since the spread of this virus, and its emergence in America, my work has shut down, my classes have gone online, my relationships have had to accommodate life in quarantine. Everything has been turned upside down and the freedoms that were so easily taken for granted now become deeply cherished in their absence. Normally this would be a cause for stress and anxiety, but I find that this is an excellent time to remember how frail and temporary my life is and to ask myself why I get up each morning. This requires me to persevere through a laundry pile of fears that typically lie buried beneath my regular routine of busyness –  a routine that I can no longer easily appeal to quiet my thoughts. Honestly, the ability to pause and to question is a freedom that is often taken for granted in normal circumstances; it is a freedom that emerges in the midst of our national quarantine that can serve as a refreshing turn of events to those who would take advantage of the time they have alone.

I would like to offer some suggestions on how to spend your time and value the quarantine.

Keep a Journal

Around the advent of our nation’s response to Coronavirus, I began to keep a journal about the things that I value in life, how to increase my pursuit of those things, and also how I take them for granted. I find that during a time where life is so obviously frail, it is a comforting discipline to reinforce my own life with meaning about how to live presently well for the future. Sorting through my own thoughts has been a challenge, a joy, and a comfort during this time. This discipline has been a sort of momento mori for me. Not in a morbid sense, but a sense that recognizes that the value of something is more clearly seen from the vantage point of the end. The Greek concept of happiness was something that was not informed by the moment, but by its completion. Our lives should be lived with a reverent respect for our end that informs our daily attitudes and decisions.

Talk to People

Pick up the phone. This is a good time to talk to people in your life that you haven’t talked to in a while. It is a good time to mend broken relationships, and to see how much the people around you mean. A time of crisis can be the best way to encourage a compassionate approach to those who we may be at odds with. This time can enforce a decision to love. It can also be a way to really, and kindly approach elderly people that you may know that are affected most by this quarantine. Give them a call. If you do, you may find that you are the one who is filled with comfort and warmth from the interaction.

Talk to God

With more time comes more reflection, and with more reflection you sometimes see more of yourself than you regularly want to see. Give thanks to God for His kindness toward you, and confess your sins. Learn to see that every day is a gift. Gratitude and sincerity are more visible in a time like this. I cannot say enough about this which is why I will be brief and ask you, who do you have in the end but God? Gratitude and confession are life changing. In a time of quarantine, no one is without God. He will not leave you or forsake you. Thank Him for it.

Use the Quarantine 

Many in the Christian tradition have made solitude a regular part of their Christian experience. The reason for this was so that they could cultivate the interior space to listen to God and inform their own hearts. They did this in order to have a sense of grace as they approached the difficult challenges of their lives either within themselves or out in the world. Quarantine presents itself as a difficult challenge to our lives, but a lack of external freedom is an opportunity to pursue freedom of the soul. What is important at all times, even if it is a more apparent necessity in the quarantine, is to listen to God and inform our own heart by what He says in order to virtuously meet whatever difficulty we encounter. As you spend this time alone, order your mind and resolve to do what is right by listening with a compliant heart to what God says. Seasons like this can provoke us to anger, or other passions that cause harm to ourselves and others. However, we can meet these attitudes of the heart with a sense of grace which I think is fair to call the faith of the saints. In this way use the solitude you have been given to strengthen your faith and to dialogue with God and others during this time of crisis. May you find this time of solitude that has been given to you to be a fruitful opportunity to dialogue with yourself through journaling, with others over the phone, and with God by praying His word.


PC: Photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash

 

Thomistic Metaphysics (Podcast)

This segment is a part of the broader discussion which focuses particularly on the Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas’s Metaphysics is thick and, at first, hard to understand; yet wading through his thought is well worth it. Thinking Metaphysically is, according to Thomas, the highest form a thought Philosophy can manage.