What are the ordinary means of grace? And what important role do they play in the life of the church? Today, Burk Parsons helps us understand the centrality of these means in worship and in our Christian lives.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Today on the Ask Ligonier podcast we’re joined by Dr. Burk Parsons. He’s the Senior Pastor at Saint Andrews Chapel here in Central Florida. Dr. Parsons, what is meant by ordinary means of grace ministry?
DR. BURK PARSONS: Grasping the importance of ordinary means of grace ministry is really one of the most foundational things that we can do as Christians because when we rightly understand the role of ordinary means of grace in the church, we will really begin to have a better understanding of our role in the church—what we do, why we do what we do, and even many of the decisions that we make in our churches.
Ordinary means of grace ministry is really very simple: it is ministry that is governed by the ordinary means of grace that God has established. And those outward and ordinary means of grace—as the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer 88 describes—these outward and ordinary means of grace are the Word of God, prayer, and the ordinances or the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. And these outward and ordinary means of grace are those that are appointed by God.
Now, we all believe, and we confess, that God is sovereign. And believing that God is sovereign means not only that we believe He is sovereign over the ends of all things but that He’s sovereign over the means of all ends. Simply put, we believe that God is sovereign both over the ends and the means. And the good news is that God has not just left us to our own devices. He has not left us to our own ways and schemes and tactics; rather, He has given to us ordinary means.
And these ordinary means are to govern what we do and how we do what we do as a church in corporate worship—but not just in corporate worship—but really in all the things and ministries that we do as a church. We, as God’s people, are to look to God’s Word to direct us, to guide us, and to help lead us into what we as a church should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing.
The church is the place of worship. It is the place of discipleship. It is the place of fellowship. And all of those things are governed by God’s Word. When we look to God’s Word, we not only see God’s ordaining these ordinary means, but also demonstrating for us throughout history how these ordinary means were used by the Holy Spirit to mature His people and to grow His church.
One of the most significant examples of this is in Acts 2, and we read in verses 41 and following:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 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 2:41–47)
What these Christians were doing in gathering together, and breaking bread, and devoting themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and doctrine and the fellowship and the prayers, as baptisms were taking place, as they were feeding on Christ to the Lord’s Supper—in all of these things as they gathered as the church of Jesus Christ, the Lord grew them both in their spiritual maturation and He grew them numerically.
As God’s people, we are called to be faithful to the ordinary means that He has provided us. That means we don’t have to come up with our own programs and our own schemes and tactics. We don’t have to be attractional or seeker sensitive. We simply need to rest faithfully on the ordinary means and make sure that we are attentive to them and training up His people in them so that, as we go out from our churches, as we evangelize, as we make disciples, as we fulfill the Great Commission in our communities and around the world, churches grow—because where the Word of God is preached, the church grows.
Where the Spirit is working through the faithful preaching of the Word of God, through faithful, thoughtful, not just perfunctory prayers, but rich, deep, authentic prayers, the fellowship of God’s people as the Spirit works in and among us, and through our proclamation of His gospel in our communities, God adds to our number those whom He is saving. And He does this all for His glorious, sovereign ends and all according to His sovereign, ordinary means.
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