Last week I introduced you to the ordinary means view of Christian growth and discipleship. The basic premise of this view is that God has appointed some means in his word whereby he ordinarily applies all of Christ’s benefits to us. God uses means to accomplish his ends. We pay attention to these means and leave the work ultimately up to God.
This week we engage the means of grace in instituted worship. I say instituted worship because all of life is worship in some sense. But instituted worship has to do with the worship in the worship services on Sunday morning and evening when the church comes together to render worship to God and hear His word. This is different from natural worship which is the whole life devoted to the Lord’s service. (I take this distinction from the puritan theologian, William Ames in his Marrow of Theology). I think this is a helpful division because it fits what the scripture tends to say about the Christian life. There are two modes of worship. We are either worshipping God during the week by our work and family life, or we are worshipping Him on the Lord’s Day. Further, it also makes sense of the fact that there are several things the Lord Instituted to be done in the context of the formal worship service, but which are not to be done at the workplace, such as the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, or Preaching of the Word in a solemn assembly. So in the next few weeks we will focus on the parts of the worship service. After that we will move into private devotion.
The Larger Catechism Q/A 154 says,
Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.
All of the ways we express ourselves to God which he has laid down in scripture are good for our usage. This includes Bible memory, study, and all other legitimately Biblical means of grace. Still, the Word, Sacrament, and Prayer are three things said “especially” to be the means God uses. These are not all God calls us to do, but these are the big ones. Word, sacrament, and prayer make up the dialogue we have in worship. God speaks, and we respond based on word and prayer. And by this means he actually applies and brings forth the effect of what he says.
The early church saw this, and so they attended to the means of grace. For example Acts 2:42 reads, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And verses 46-47 go on “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The Lord added to their numbers. The Lord added to their favor. The Lord added to their sincerity of heart in worship. How? By the ordinary means!
Further, notice that these were formal means of grace. They were not just eating meals, but the Greek should be translated “The Meals” that is the Covenant meal of the Lord’s Supper. They were not just attending to prayer, but the Greek should be rendered, “The Prayers” which refers to the morning and evening worship services. They were coming together both in public, “the Temple,” and in homes. They were not just studying the doctrine of the Apostles, but when it says “attending to the Apostles’ doctrine” Acts 2:46 refers to the preaching ministry of the 12 Apostles who were called to be Jesus’ witnesses (1:6-11). And this ministry of preaching guides the whole rest of the book of The Acts of The Apostles. In fact, it could be said that the title of the book would be better, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Preaching of the Apostles.” When the church grew into the whole of Asia, Luke explained it as, the “Word of the Lord spread” in all of Asia! (Acts 19:10, 20) God used these means to grow his church in sincerity, unity, and numbers. May he do the same with us as we attend to the means God has given us in his word.