Grace is supposed to be of the Amazing variety. Just like the song says, right?
But are we sometimes bored by it? Do we take it lightly or have too low a view of it? I think we do. How so? I think we often find the outward and ordinary means of grace a bit too, well, ordinary for our liking.
Acts 2:42 tells us that after 3,000 souls were added to the church on the day of Pentecost, they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In other words, they devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the means of grace!
What are the means of grace? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a helpful definition:
Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption? A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
The four (4) things that we see here in v.42 are simply the means of grace. They are the way (the “outward and ordinary means”) that our Lord Jesus Christ communicates or imparts to us the benefits of redemption.
In other words, these things (and not our own inventions, innovations or ideas) are how we grow in the faith; these things are the divinely-ordained way that we grow in grace. If we neglect these things in favor of our own ideas or marketing strategies, we may very well fill the pews (or comfy chairs) on Sunday and increase our budget, but we will not be a part of Christ building His church. And where are these means of grace primarily found? These are things that are found, first & foremost, primarily in the public worship of the church on the Lord’s Day.
Christianity these days is often wrongly viewed as a private matter. Christianity is most definitely personal, but it is not private – it was never intended to be private. In their book, With Reverence And Awe, Darryl Hart and John Muether write,
American Protestants generally overlook the communal, and therefore churchly, character of their faith. They commonly practice what some have dubbed “churchless Christianity,” where church membership and worship attendance is incidental to the Christian life. Religious polling data have shown that large majorities of American Christians believe that they should arrive at their religious convictions independent of any church. (p.139)
As our text here in Acts clearly shows us, corporate worship, both public and private, was anything but “incidental” to the lives of the Christians in the early church. It was their lifeblood; it was the thing that they devoted themselves to immediately after their conversion!
The public, corporate worship of God’s people is, and has always been, the primary source of the means of grace. Another way of saying that is that we cannot grow in the faith or in grace the way that God intends without the church. To try to go it alone is not only foolish and doomed to failure, it is just plain garden-of-Eden variety disobedience. As Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “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.”
I know what you’re thinking – sounds too simple, too ordinary, doesn’t it? But isn’t that the point? That’s exactly what the Shorter Catechism calls them – the “outward and ordinary means.” There is nothing impressive on the surface, is there? It seems as if many of us have lost confidence in the outward and ordinary means of grace that God has appointed for our benefit. We try to build churches (and so build Christians!) by all kinds of other means, don’t we? – more exciting means, fancier, flashier means, more attractive means, more entertaining means. Those things may attract a crowd; they may fill the pews on Sundays; but we are not called to build an audience – we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Is it really any wonder why we so often attend worship on a regular basis for years and yet sometimes see so little growth in Christ-likeness & growth in grace? Why is that so often the case. It happens because we take lightly or even look down upon the very means that our heavenly Father has given to us to build us up in Christ – things like the teaching of Scripture, the fellowship with one another, the Sacraments, and the prayers.
Are you a believer in Jesus Christ? Do you want to grow in the faith & see God at work in your life? Then by God’s grace do what those first Christians did – devote yourself to the outward and ordinary means of grace in the church, in worship. That is where you will find God at work.
And may we see the same kind of results as well – the Lord adding day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). To Him be the glory. Amen.