Reformed Theology teaches what are known as the “means of grace.” What are the means of grace? A website defines the means of grace in this manner:
[The] Means of grace are instruments that God uses to convert and bless people, like the reading and preaching of the word, prayer, singing (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; Acts 16:25; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, baptism, and the Lord’s supper.
Means of Grace. Theopedia.com. Retrieved from: http://www.theopedia.com/means-of-grace.
The means of grace are described in Q & A 64 and 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism; a confession that is used in most Reformed churches all over the world:
It is through faith alone
that we share in Christ and all his benefits:
where then does that faith come from?
A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts
by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it
by the use of the holy sacraments.
What are sacraments?
A. Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and seal that promise.
And this is God’s gospel promise:
to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life
because of Christ’s one sacrifice
accomplished on the cross.
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the Holy Spirit produces faith in a person, and the sacraments (specifically the Lord’s Supper and baptism) “confirm” the faith of the Christian. Although it is helpful, and indeed true, the Lord’s Supper and baptism highlight the reality of what Christ has done, I respectfully disagree with my Reformed brothers in this area. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are not means of grace, but rather they point to the mean of grace, which is Christ. There are three reasons for why this is the proper way of observing these sacraments.
In Reformed Theology there is confusion as to what the means of grace are: When it comes to the means of grace there are many perspectives as to how many means there are. For example, the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism mention two means of grace (Lord’s supper and baptism). Yet in the definition above, given by Theopedia, there are six means of grace mentioned (i.e., preaching, prayer, singing, enjoying God’s creation, baptism, and the Lord’s supper). In the song titled, “Means of Grace” written by Timothy Brindle and Shai Linne, two prominent Reformed Hip-Hop artists they mention four means: the apostles teaching (the word of God), the breaking of bread, the fellowship, and the prayers (Acts 2:42). John Piper, mentions the Christian who guides another believer in a small group is a mean of grace. He even says that neglecting this particular mean could be “dangerous for your soul” when he writes:
I do not say that you can’t be saved without belonging to an organized small group. But I do say, and I believe it is the word of God, that if you have no such cluster of comrades in the faith, then you are neglecting one of the means appointed by God for your preservation and endurance in faith. And to neglect the means of grace is very dangerous for your soul.
John Piper. Stregthen Each Others Hands In God. Retrieved from: http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/strengthen-each-others-hands-in-god.
When it comes to the means of grace it appears there is variation on what the means of grace are. Some who adhere to Reformed theology say the means are baptism and the Lord’s Supper, while others say it is fellowship and enjoying the creation of God.
In Reformed Theology there is a conflict in how God works through the means of grace: Not only is there indecision as to how many means there are, but there seems to be confusion as to how God works through them. The Westminster Confession states the Holy Spirit works within these sacraments (specifically the Lord’s supper and baptism). However as to how the Holy Spirit works through these means is somewhat of a mystery, as Ligonier notes:
The sacraments are mysteries in that we cannot explain fully what God accomplishes through them.
Means of Grace. Ligonier.org.Retrieved from: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/means-of-grace/.
For example, in the song “Means of Grace,” Pastor Lance Lewis says this about God’s work in the means of grace:
There are not many roads, or paths for God’s people to grow. God has used one. His ordinary means, or method, of grace, used in the past to build His people, and now through the church to grow his people. The ordinary means of grace, they focus us on Jesus Christ, and they are ordinary, in that everyone can make use of them, and yet God will do extraordinary things through them in the lives of His people.
Pastor Lance Lewis, “Means of Grace.” The Restoration.
Reformed Theology confesses that God works through these means. They also know that God’s working through these means are extraordinary. However, how God works through these means concerning His people, is somewhat of a mystery. This brings me to my third point of examining the means of grace below.
In Reformed Theology arguments supporting the means of grace come primarily from the Reformed confessions: When Reformed Theology attempts to make a case for these means being other than a memorial, they offer an explanation from the confessions rather than Scripture. Ligonier comments:
The sacraments are mysteries in that we cannot explain fully what God accomplishes through them. We do know, however, that they are more than memorial observations. They become effectual means of grace to those with faith by the working of the Holy Spirit (WLC , Q. 161).
Means of Grace. Ligonier.org.Retrieved from:http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/means-of-grace/
The author mentions they are means the Holy Spirit works through those who believe. However the reference the author gives is not Scripture, but the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) as proof God works through these means. In addition, the Scriptures that are provided as evidence for these means (i.e., Acts 8:18, 23; 1 Cor. 3:6-7; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 3:21) have nothing to do with the means of grace when read in context. For example, take the verse from 1 Cor. 12:13:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (NASB).
There is mention of the Holy Spirit in this verse. There is also mention that all people, Jews and Greeks who trust in Christ, have the Holy Spirit. Yet, there is no mention of the means of grace anywhere in this passage. In fact, the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians explains gifts that were given by the Spirit (vs. 4-11), how the church is one body (vs. 12-13), and how the church, with the picture of the body, was supposed to function with the gifts the Holy Spirit distributed (vs. 14-31). It seems the defense for these means are found in the pages of the Westminster Confession, and not within Scripture.
There are things Scripture describes that give grace to the believer in an objective manner. For example, the word of God is described as “the word of His grace” (Acts. 20:32), because it has been given to us by God Himself (v. 32b), it is able to build up the Christian (v. 32b), and it is able to give the Christian an inheritance among the saints (v. 32b). The Holy Spirit is known as the “Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29) because this is an undeserved gift that has been given to the saint for their sanctification. A Christian can come to the “throne of grace” approaching Christ with cares and struggles of this life, because He is able to sympathize with the Christian (Heb. 4:16). The abilities that Christ gave to men, to lay the foundation of the church, to equip the saints for the work of service, and expand the church across the world were also described as “grace” (Eph. 4:7). Yet there is not one Scripture where the Lord’s supper and baptism are described in such terms.
However, These things the Lord has instituted point the believer to Christ and His gracious work for the Christian. When a Christian partakes of the Lord’s supper they proclaim Christ’s death until He appears (1 Cor. 11:26). When a person is baptized they identify with Christ being their Messiah (Acts 8:25-38). The Lord’s supper and baptism, point to the mean of grace, which is Christ Himself, whom through His death, burial, and resurrection has dispensed grace to the Christian (Jn. 1:17). All other works that a believer does (prayer, observing God’s creation, fellowship, etc) are not done as a method, or mean, of grace. They are done because a person has already received grace, and this grace that a believer has received is expressed in the good works a Christian does to the glory of God (Eph. 2:8-10).
Reformed theology desires to honor the things that were given by God. Reformed theology also desires to keep believer’s eyes, and consciences, fixed on Christ. However, when it comes to the means of grace there are many variations as to what these means are, a mystery as to how God works through these means, and the explanation for these means come from teachings of the Reformed Theology, rather than a plain reading of Scripture. There are things have been given by God that give grace to the Christian, however the Lord’s supper, and baptism are not mentioned as means of grace; however they are acts that a believer because they have received grace from God. Let us, as Christians continue to stand in a Biblical worldview rather than trusting in statements of man-made confessions.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!