By: Rev. Rob Patrick, Moderator

Selecting the “Moderator’s Theme” is among the early responsibilities of the Moderator-Elect. Months before Synod meets, there is an expectation of a theme for the year, a challenge based on that theme to be presented at the meeting of Synod, and then monthly emphases to be placed before our denomination throughout the year, principally through articles in the ARP Magazine. I’m not particularly creative by nature. That fact can make something like selecting a Moderator’s Theme difficult. But this responsibility was not at all difficult, thanks to Moderator Bill McKay. His theme, “Advancing the Gospel,” provided a strong challenge last year and an encouraging, edifying reminder, month by month, of God’s will, declared and directed by His Word, that we live and proclaim the good news of the gospel throughout our lives.

In his book Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper famously states, “Missions exists, because worship doesn’t.” His point is that evangelistic endeavor is a God-appointed means to an end, and that end is not primarily the depopulation of hell. Rather, it is the magnification of the worship of our God now and eternally. The great outcome of the advance of the gospel is the salvation, sanctification, and glorification of sinners whose chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forevermore. After a year of Moderator McKay’s wonderful emphasis on advancing the gospel, its seems natural, then, that we should turn our attention to The Priority of Worship.

Another reason motivated the selection of The Priority of Worship as this year’s theme. While Covid is no longer front and center in news reports or public concern, its effects are still being felt throughout our culture, including the church. Covid exposed some weaknesses in the church’s understanding of the priority of worship. We still have congregations and church families struggling to regain full participation in what used to be typical patterns of engagement and participation in public worship. It is my hope that our focus on the priority of public worship may serve to help in these situations and prove to be a blessing to the ARP Church.

Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4, includes His profound statement regarding worship: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  In those two sentences, Jesus declares what His Father seeks, and how it is to be offered: He seeks worshippers, and worship that is offered in spirit and in truth. In Jesus’ conversation, He is contrasting true worship with the Samaritan woman’s erroneous understanding of worship. Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim, believing it was the holy place where God was to be served. There was a long history behind the Samaritan mongrelized understanding of God, gods, and worship, tracing all the way back to the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jesus’ statement to her not only addressed the error of Samaritan worship, but also the proclaimed the transition from Old Covenant regulation of Israel’s worship to the worship offered in the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.

As New Covenant believers, we don’t understand worship as ritual tied to a particular geographical location. No longer do we present the blood of sacrificial animals in our worship, or depend upon the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood in our approach to God. But, empowered by the Holy Spirit, through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, we call upon our God with confidence, knowing that our great High Priest intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Through faith, we believe that we, our prayers, and our worship are accepted by God our Father as that of dearly loved children, because we have been adopted into His family and been made heirs with Christ of the riches of His glory.

God’s claim upon our worship now extends to every area of our lives. We live to glorify and enjoy Him in an ongoing demonstration of His matchless worth in our lives. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices. We offer Him the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name. We honor Him with the attitudes of our minds, the words of our lips, and our actions and behaviors. We are called to worship Him privately, to serve Him with our families in devotion in our homes, and He calls us to gather in sacred assembly on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship as His people. Our private and family worship throughout the week serves to prepare us and thus enrich our corporate worship when we come together weekly on the day of His resurrection.

Throughout the year ahead, the Moderator’s Challenge is to grow in our grasp of the priority of worship in all of life and in faithfulness in serving our one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the worship that is His due; worship in rendered in spirit and in truth. Month by month, there will be a variety of aspects of worship presented in the form of instruction and challenges for our growth in faithfulness.

With Synod and World Focus now behind us, we do well to remember the reason for both. Ultimately it is worship: The declaration of the praise of the God of our salvation! This is the great purpose of the church, and so this purpose underlies all we do, including our meetings in the courts of the church. Church planting and missions likewise have as their ultimate aim the increase of the worship of God on the earth now, and forevermore. Are you eager to grow in your sense of the priority of worship in your life? Are there areas where you know you need to grow in faithfulness, zeal, and delight? This is our challenge and aim for the year. Let us seek the face of our God together and offer Him what He seeks; true worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth.