Summary: In our lesson today, we learn about the means of grace that God has provided to enable believers to grow in Christ.
This is our third “Sunday Seconds” service. When the Session considered topics for the Sunday Seconds’ sermons, one of the topics suggested was: “What are the means of grace? That is, how does a Christian grow?” So, that is tonight’s topic.
After the Apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, about three thousand people believed the gospel, were baptized, and added to the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41). The question I am sure that the apostles asked each other was: “What do we now do with all these believers? How do we help them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 3:18)?”
So, what Luke wrote next is very instructive. Luke tells us what the first-century Church did to help Christians grow. I would like to read Acts 2:42-47, and although I am not going to do an exposition of this text, I do want to use it as the backdrop for what we will learn this evening.
Let’s read Acts 2:42-47:
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:40-47)
In this message I am relying on two sources. The first is of course Scripture, “all of which is given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” And the second source is an article written for the Gospel Reformation Network by Ligon Duncan, the Chancellor/CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary that is titled, “The Ordinary Means of Growth.”
Ligon Duncan writes the following:
We are living in a confused and confusing time for confessional Christians (Christians who are anchored by a public and corporate theological commitment to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching on faith and practice as expounded by the great confessions of the Protestant Reformation). We are witnessing the final demise of theological liberalism, the rise of Pentecostalism, the beginnings of the so-called emerging church movement, the breakdown of evangelicalism, and an utter discombobulation about how the church is to conduct its life and ministry in an increasing “post-Christian” culture. All around us, in the name of reaching the culture with the Gospel, we see evangelical churches compromising (usually without intending to) in both message and methods.
It is not uncommon today to hear certain buzz-words and catch phrases that are meant to capture and articulate new (and presumably more culturally-attuned) approaches to ministry: “Purpose-driven,” “missional,” “contextualization,” “word and deed,” “ancient-future,” “emerging/emergent,” “peace and justice.” Now, to be sure, there are points, diagnoses, and emphases entailed in each of these terms and concepts that are helpful, true, and timely. Sadly, however, the philosophies of ministry often associated with this glossary are also often self-contrasted with the historic Christian view of how the church lives and ministers. That view is often called “the ordinary means of grace” view of ministry.
The fundamental assumption underlying these new approaches is that “everything has changed,” and so our methods must change. I would want to dispute both parts of that equation. Whatever the entailments of our present cultural moment, constituent human nature has not changed (as R.C. Sproul often reminds us). And thus the fundamental human problem has not changed. Neither has the Gospel solution to it. Nor have the effectiveness of God’s Gospel means. Furthermore, one of the things that has always marked faithful and effective Christian ministry in every era and area of the world is a confidence in God’s Word, both in the Gospel message and in Gospel means. Faith still comes by hearing.
In sum, there are basically three views of Gospel ministry. There are those who think that effective cultural engagement requires an updating of the message. There are those who think that effective ministry requires an updating of our methods. And there are those who think that effective ministry begins with a pre-commitment to God’s message and methods, set forth in His Word.
Thus, liberalism said that the Gospel won’t work unless the message is changed. Modern evangelicalism (and not just in its “seeker-sensitive” and postmodern permutations) has often said that the Gospel won’t work unless our methods are changed. But those committed to an “ordinary means” approach to church life and ministry say the Gospel works, and God has given us both the method and the message. This is vitally important in a time where one of the dominant story-lines in the churches has been that of methods unwittingly, unhelpfully, and unbiblically altering both the message and the ministry.