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

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