Means of Grace within the Church – Chapter 48
Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – Chapter 48: What are the different activities within the life of the church that God uses to bring blessings to us? What do we miss if we neglect involvement in a local church?
This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.
Synopsis of Chapter
In this chapter on the means of grace, Wayne Grudem explores the ways God blesses his people. Grace is undeserved blessing. Theologians have traditionally identified particular areas where God has blessed his people as means of grace. The means of grace are “any activities within the fellowship of the church that God uses to give more grace to Christians.”
There are several ways to segment the means of grace from a Protestant perspective. The simple way is to limit the means of grace to the preaching of the Word, and the two sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), with the possible addition of prayer. However, Grudem expands the list to 11 means of grace and considers a twelfth means (footwashing), but ultimately rejects it.
In Catholic theology, they also teach different means of grace. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Catholic view and the Protestant view on the means of grace. In the Catholic understanding, it is a “means of salvation” that makes people more fit to receive justification from God. That teaching strikes at the heart of justification by faith. In addition, these means of grace are restricted to Catholic clergy, whereas in a biblical understanding these means are spread throughout the church.
1. Teaching of the Word
The Word of God is a means of grace to the church. David said, “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). Jeremiah wrote, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). And Paul called the gospel, “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). God’s word is instructive, powerful, and can save people. The Bible is the primary means of grace to God’s people.
Jesus commanded his church to baptize disciples (Matthew 28:19). Water baptism is an outward symbol of inward spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit. It does not save people, but it is a way God blesses his people. Baptism is an act of obedience for the one being baptized (Acts 2:38). It is also a way to publicly confess Jesus as Savior which blesses the church and testifies of the grace of God to the world.
3. The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is another means of grace in the church. In a similar way as baptism, the Lord’s Supper is an outward symbol of an inward spiritual reality while Christians eat bread and wine (or juice) as symbols of the body and blood of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a sharing in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). In addition, it should be done carefully. If a believer eats and drinks without concern, they may eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)
God has also given prayer as a means of grace to the church. Prayer is direct communication with God. Prayer is one of the ways God’s people invites God’s action on the earth and a way that God blesses his people. The author of Hebrews instructs believers, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).
Worship is another means of grace given to the church. Jesus said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23). So worship involves both a physical action and a spiritual experience. In addition to prayer, worship is another way God comes near to his people (James 4:8).
6. Church Discipline
Church discipline is a way the purity of the church is advanced and holy living is encouraged. Without church discipline, sin grows unchecked and God ultimately may abandon the church as he threatened in Revelation (Revelation 2:5). However with church discipline, God removes the unrepentant people from the church and cleanses his people so they will walk before him in fear and holiness (1 Timothy 5:20).
Giving is another means of grace whereby God blesses his church. Paul wrote about giving, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) God reserves a blessing for people who give to the Lord’s work. This blessing is not an automatic quid pro quo exchange, but a regular means God uses to bless the church.
8. Spiritual Gifts
Spiritual gifts are a further means of grace for the church. Properly exercised, these gifts build up the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). Spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge, gifts of help, etc (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are not intended to operate only with individuals, but as a way to strengthen the entire body of Christ. In addition, spiritual gifts are not just for the clergy or leaders, but are also given to every Christian (1 Peter 4:10).
Another way God blesses the church is through fellowship with other believers. The author of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) So we are commanded to meet together and God will bless us as we meet and fellowship together like the early church (Acts 2:42).
Evangelism is sharing the good news that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Those who evangelize share the grace of eternal life with those who are not Christians, and God blesses those who evangelize with his presence (Matthew 28:19-20).
11. Personal Ministry to Individuals
Though all of the previous means of grace are important, we can never neglect the final means whereby God blesses the church: personal ministry to individuals. This category includes many things including admonishment (Colossians 3:16), giving to the needy (James 2:16), praying for the sick (Mark 6:13), and laying on of hands (Acts 28:8).
Application: God Blesses His Church
In application, we should remember God’s concern for us regarding these means of grace. When Jesus ascended to the Father, he did not leave us as orphans alone to fend for ourselves (John 14:18). Instead, he gave his Holy Spirit to lead us and several means of grace by which he blesses his people. God loves his people and daily cares for us with many types of unmerited favor.
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)
- extreme unction
- holy orders
- laying on of hands
- means of grace
Resources: Wayne Grudem
- Wayne Grudem: Book: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
- Wayne Grudem: 148 Lectures on Systematic Theology at Scottsdale Bible Church
- Louis Berkhof: The Means of Grace in General
- Luke Stamps: Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality
- David Mathis: Put Yourself in the Path of God’s Grace
Image credit: Worship Hands by JacksonDavid