Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Defining the Means of Grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 4, 2011 at 5:54 am

media gratiae: means of grace; i.e., Word and sacraments as the means by which the grace of God is operative in the church. The term is used by both Lutheran and Reformed orthodox, although the Lutherans often substitute a stronger term, organa gratiae et salutis (q.v.), instruments of grace and salvation. The identification of Word and sacraments as media gratiae does not intend to exclude a general or common operation of grace but rather to indicate the function of both Word and sacraments in the regeneration (regeneratio, q.v.) and sanctification (sanctificatio, q.v.) of man as the instruments or objective channels of special or saving grace (gratia specialis). Word and sacraments are thus instrumental both in the inception of salvation and in the continuance of the work of grace in the Christian life. In addition, Word and sacraments are the sole officially ordained or instituted instruments or means of grace. God has promised the presence of his grace to faithful hearers of the Word and faithful participants in the sacraments. Thus the right preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments are the marks or identifying features of the true church (notae ecclesiae, q.v.). The Lutherans differ with the Reformed in rooting saving grace more totally in Word and sacrament. Without denying the efficacy of grace in Word and sacrament, the Reformed can argue the nonreception of that grace and also the ineffectual calling of the external Word (Verbum externum, q.v.) in the case of the nonelect or reprobate. – Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985). 187-88.

The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ 1in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptisme, and the Lords Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthned. – The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, 14:1.

.Dr. James Renihan delivered a helpful message concerning this topic titled “Defining the Means of Grace” at the 2011  ARBCA General Assembly.  Listen here

  1. Very important subject and sermon by Dr. Renihan.

  2. This technical and historical definition of the “ordinary means of grace is helpful in certain ways. I’m not sure I agree with the tendency (evidenced in the Confession) to restrict the “ordinary” means of grace to the “ministry of the Word,” i.e., the sermon preached by the clergyman.

    I can see that more limited application of “ordinary” to a sermon delivered by an ordained minister if the term “ordinary” is being used in the sense of “official” (which was one use of the term in the 17th century). But most Reformed folk I’ve interacted with use “ordinary” as pertaining to that which is usually or common.

    History and experience (including my own experience) suggest that the communication of the Word by agents other than ordained “pastor-teachers” and in venues other than the gathered church or formal evangelic meetings has been used to convert and sanctify as many if not more of God’s elect. At the very least, the simple reading the Bible or good Christian literature, the communication of the Word through music, and the testimony or gospel witness of a layperson all can play a vital and “ordinary” role in the conversion and sanctification of sinners.

    More important is the biblical data. When we survey the New Testament, we find God’s Word being communicated by ordained and non-ordained people in formal venues and informal venues. All of this together should be included under the definition of the Word as an ordinary means of grace.

    I’m not sure if Dr. Renihan deals with this in his lecture. Haven’t listened to it yet but hope to soon in preparation for an article on the ordinary means of grace according to the NT.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Bob,

    Along with Dr. Renihan’s I think you will find Tom Lyon’s message helpful.

    http://reformedbaptistfellowship.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/preaching-the-ordinary-means-of-grace/

  4. Bob

    I would have thought that regardless of our experience and regardless of our interpretations of what we observe taking place in the early Church as recorded in the NT that a text such as Romans 10 teaches us both the primacy of preaching in the Church and evangelism and that therefore it is the ‘ordinary’ in the sense of usual/most frequent means used to gather in the lost.

    Romans 10:14-17 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    Faith comes by hearing, but Paul chooses to highlight the hearing of the preached Word.

    Paul Wallace
    Mageherafelt RBC

  5. There is a danger – mentioned by several men at the ARBCA GA – of defining the means of grace too narrowly. Even Dr. Renihan agreed later that there is a danger of creating a false dichotomy between the ministry of the Word publicly on Sunday and the ministry of the Word at any time and any place.

    While there was much helpful in Tom Lyon’s message, in my opinion, Tom overstated the case in several places or left undefined the proper application. Tom had great historical quotes. But for a message on preaching, his message was more based on quotes than actual biblical exegesis.

  6. Paul,

    Do you think we can make a definitive case that “preaching” in Rom. 10:14-17 is restricted to formal preaching? I haven’t studied this out thoroughly, but my impression is that the semantic range of this word and others like it makes it difficult to be definitive about whether a broader or narrower use is in view. Consider, for example, that two different Greek words are used in this passage for preaching, and one of those words (euangelizo) is used for indiscriminate proclamation by laypeople in Acts 8:4.

  7. Stan

    As a matter of fact, I’d probably agree with your suggestions. I was mainly referring to where Bob wrote the following,

    “At the very least, the simple reading the Bible or good Christian literature, the communication of the Word through music, and the testimony or gospel witness of a layperson all can play a vital and “ordinary” role in the conversion and sanctification of sinners.”

    If we take ‘ordinary’ to mean what it ‘ordinarily’ does then what Bob writes would surely be to make music, testifying, and reading the Bible equal in efficacy, design and purpose with preaching the Word, or at least the verbal communication of the Word via speech/proclamation. I don’t think we can do that with regard to Roman 10:14ff.

    I think that the semantic range of kerygma would include the communication of the Word in a wider sense than the formal preaching in a church setting. I’m not however convinced that this text and the semantic range of the word would include simple reading (though of course this is a means of grace), nor the communication of the Word through music, there were words Paul could have used for that. Likewise ‘testfiying’ is not necessarily the same the heralding the truth.

    Again I agree that all these things as Bob writes can and do play a role in the conversion and sanctification of sinners. What I am contending is that the verbal, speech mode of communicating the Word apart from these other modes is the most frequent and normal and main way God draws in His people, and I think on the basis of this text we must draw that distinction.

    So I’m not arguing that these other things can be and are used by God – just that on the basis of this text we should still maintain the confessional distinction.

    I would also note that our confession does also state that preaching need not be restricted to ordained officers.

    BCF 16:11
    11. Although it be incumbent on the Bishops or Pastors of the Churches to be instant in Preaching the Word, by way of Office; yet the work of Preaching the Word, is not so peculiarly confined to them; but that others also gifted, and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved, and called by the Church, may and ought to perform it.

    Paul Wallace
    Magherafelt RBC

  8. >>>not sure I agree with the tendency (evidenced in the Confession)>>

    Bob,

    Just to clarify, are you saying that you do not agree with the teaching of the Confession?

    Thanks

  9. Here are some helpful comments by one Reformed Baptist pastor,
    “It seems that a distinction should be made in this discussion between the means of grace that the church, as church, engages in and those things that individual Christians engage in. A failure to make this distinction results in the assumption that an emphasis upon one thing implies the elimination of another thing. It seems that when some hear the statement “preaching is the primary means of grace,” they also hear “therefore don’t read your bible in private.” Or if it is emphasized that “the pulpit is the primary vehicle for evangelism,” this translates into “you shouldn’t tell your neighbor about Jesus or give him a gospel tract.””

  10. THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good. The Second Helvetic Confession. A.D. 1566.

  11. David,

    Along with the Second Helvetic Confession, I would add the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 25:

    Question 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?
    Answer: From the Holy Ghost, (a) who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments. (b)

    The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
    14:1 The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptisme, and the Lords Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened.

    And Keach’s Catechism:
    Q. 96. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
    A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation. (Ps. 119:11,18; 1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Peter 2:1,2; Rom. 1:16; Ps. 19:7)

    This is historic Reformed Christianity, and the teaching of our Confession of Faith. I honestly find some of these responses rather troubling. This is a vital doctrine in relation to the local church and her ministers. Ligon Duncan nailed it when he wrote:

    “Ordinary means of grace-based ministry is ministry that focuses on doing the things God, in the Bible, says are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people, and which aims to see the qualities and priorities of the church reflect biblical norms. Ordinary means ministry is thus radically committed to biblical direction of the priorities of ministry. Ordinary means ministry believes that God has told us the most important things, not only about the truth we are to tell, but about the way we are to live and minister — in any and every context. Hence, God has given us both the message of salvation and the means of gathering and building the church, in His Word. However, important understanding our context is, however important understanding the times may be (and these things are, in fact, very important), however important appreciating the cultural differences in the places and times we serve, the ordinary means approach to ministry is first and foremost concerned with biblical fidelity. Because faithfulness is relevance. The Gospel is the message and the local church is the plan. God has given to his church spiritual weapons for the bringing down of strongholds. These ordinary means of grace are the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

    They may seem weak in the eyes of the worldly strong. They may seem foolish in the eyes of the worldly wise. But the Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation, and the Gospel means are effectual to salvation. These are the Spiritual instruments given by God with which Christian congregational Spiritual life is nurtured, the Spirit’s tools of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible.

    So, when we say ordinary means of grace-based ministry, we mean a radical commitment to following the direction of God’s Word as to both the message and the means of gathering and perfecting the saints. Ordinary means ministry has a high view of the Bible, preaching, the church, the ordinances or sacraments, and prayer. Ordinary means ministry believes that the key things that the church can do in order to help people know God and grow in their knowledge of God are: First, emphasize the public reading and preaching of the Word; second, emphasize the confirming, sanctifying and assuring efficacy of the sacraments, publicly administered; and third, emphasize a life of prayer, especially expressed corporately in the church. These things are central and vital but sadly often under-emphasized, under-appreciated, and undermined.”

    If a pastor, local church or institution for training men for ministry, does not have this truth firmly established, it will always be adrift in the sea of worldly pragmatism.

    Steve

  12. That last paragraph by Duncan is very good.

    “…a high view of the Bible, preaching, the church, the ordinances or sacraments, and prayer. Ordinary means ministry believes that the key things that the church can do in order to help people know God and grow in their knowledge of God are: First, emphasize the public reading and preaching of the Word; second, emphasize the confirming, sanctifying and assuring efficacy of the sacraments, publicly administered; and third, emphasize a life of prayer, especially expressed corporately in the church. ”

    This is Christian culture. Someone quoted Lloyd-Jones on a site I was reading today, who apparently said, “The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” Interesting.

    In John Jefferson Davis’ “Worship and the Reality of God,” he says, “The early church historian Robert Louis Wilken, in an interview in Christian History, stated forcefully that this sense of distinctiveness from the surrounding culture, exemplified and celebrated in the Eucharist [Davis just said that the early church dismissed unbelievers prior to the Lord's Supper], was in fact one secret of its spiritual strength. Rather than having its primary focus impact on the culture, the early church, he said, “was itself a culture and created a new Christian culture.””

    Our Lord’s Day liturgy is both a culture in itself and culture-transforming. This is what ordinary means ministry is and does.

  13. [...] more information on a Reformed Baptist view of the means of grace listen to Dr. Jim Renihan's talk here and a brief overview of another talk by Dr. Renihan here. On the issue of authority. Again, let [...]

  14. […] Defining the Means of Grace by James M. Renihan; see also Defining the Means of Grace, as outlined by Tom Hicks Jr. […]

  15. […] Defining the Means of Grace by James M. Renihan; see also Defining the Means of Grace, as outlined by Tom Hicks Jr. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,418 other followers

%d bloggers like this: