The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of the “outward and ordinary means” of grace. It says:
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 of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
The outward and ordinary means of grace are the Lord Jesus Christ’s own ordained means of building up His people – His church – in grace.
This points to something that is increasingly a foreign concept to many professing Christians today – the vital importance of public worship. The means of grace are, by definition, primarily aspects of the corporate worship of God’s people. These are not things that you do by yourself in the prayer closet. These things are not personal spiritual disciplines.
Individual Christians can certainly pray, read the Scriptures, sing songs of praise – all good things. But that is a far cry from corporate prayer, hearing the preaching of the Word of God, and observing the Sacraments. (There is to be no such thing as taking the Lord’s Supper privately – it is called Communion for a reason.)
And yet these very things (Word, Sacrament, and Prayer) are the very things that more and more churches seem to be drifting away from – and in many cases they are doing so in order to make their churches grow! (How exactly should we define “church growth” anyway?) In doing so, they may be filling the pews on Sundays (certainly not a bad thing in itself), but leaving their congregations impoverished and undernourished in the process.
As churches, do we rightly understand and emphasize the vital importance of the outward & ordinary means of grace in public worship, or do we primarily look for growth through other means? Is the preaching of the Word of Christ central? Are the Sacraments an afterthought? Do we minimize prayer in worship?
And as individual Christians and families, do we too rightly understand and appreciate the vital necessity and importance of the means of grace in public worship on the Lord’s day? Do we let other things keep us from it? Do we look forward to it, prepare for it, and diligently attend to it?
If we truly and sincerely desire to grow in the grace of God, we must avail ourselves of the means of grace that God Himself has ordained for our benefit. The means may seem all too ordinary, but the grace is anything but that.
No wonder we see in the book of Acts that the early church was so devoted to public worship. In Acts 2:42, Luke writes,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)
See you on Sunday!