Wayne Grudem defines means of grace within the church as “activities within the fellowship of the church that God uses to give more grace to Christians.” Grudem believes there are also personal means of grace such as personal prayer, worship, Bible study and personal faith. But in chapter 48 of his Systematic Theology, as part of his discussion of the church, he examines the means of grace for believers through the local church.
Is it possible for God to give us spiritual strength and blessing just by attending church?
There are three important distinctions between Protestant and Roman Catholic means of grace. First, the sacraments are the Roman Catholic’s means of grace that merit justification. What Grudem states that the Protestant means of grace are not salvific. The following seven sacraments are means of saving grace for Roman Catholic:
3. Eucharist or the Lord’s supper
5. Extreme unction or last rites for a dying person
6. Holy orders (ordination of priests and deacons)
Another difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic means of grace is that Roman Catholic means of saving grace can be administered only by ordained priests while Protestant means of strengthening grace can be administered by all believers through the local church.
A third difference is the necessity of faith on the part of the recipient of strengthening means of grace in Protestant churches whereas no faith is necessary in the Roman Catholic for the recipient to receive saving grace.
The Lutheran Church holds a similar view to the Roman Catholics as seen the Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article II:
“Likewise, we reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts who imagine that God draws men to Himself, enlightens them, justifies them and saves them without means, without the hearing of God’s Word and without the use of the Sacraments.”
The following are Grudem’s means of blessing for believers through the local fellowship of believers:
1. Teaching of the Word
3. The Lord’s Supper
4. Prayer for one another
6. Church Discipline
8. Spiritual gifts
11. Personal ministry to individuals
The first and most important means of spiritual blessing through the local church is the Teaching of the Word of God. Grudem quotes Isaiah 55:10-11:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
The Book of Acts connects the word of God with the growth of the church: “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied” (Acts 6:7).
As far as the ordinance of baptism, Grudem explains how it is a means of grace: “Since Jesus commanded his church to baptize (Matt. 28:19), we would expect that there would be a measure of blessing connected with baptism, because all obedience to God by Christians brings God’s favor with it.”
At the end of the chapter, Grudem asks Questions for Personal Application. Here a few:
As you look over the list of means of grace, are there some areas in which people are not actually experiencing ‘grace’ or blessing in your own church? What could be done to increase the effectiveness of these weak areas as means of grace in the life of your church? Are there some that have become rather mechanical, and that you are performing only as an outward or physical activity, without any real participation in your heart? What could you do to increase the effectivensess of those means in your life?
As you look over the list of the means of grace again, name one or more in which you could begin to help the church be more effective in bringing blessing to its people.