I’ve been thinking a lot about worship lately and this is the second offering in this blog-series (!) Anyway, I mentioned in my first blog that true Christian worship is not about us doing something for God but about God doing many things for us. Today I want to think about how He does for us in the worship service.
First, God has chosen to work through what we call the means of grace. The means of grace are the Word preached and read, and the sacraments. There are many other things that are good gifts from God, but they are not means of grace. For example, confession is not a means of grace. The absolution given after confession is a means, but it is so only because it is drawn directly from God’s revealed Word in Scripture. An absolution that requires some work to be done, such as found in Roman Catholicism, is not a means of grace because it is not an application of grace but an application of Law. Neither is prayer a means of grace, but rather a means of communication. Of course prayer can give us comfort, but the grace of God shown forth in justification comes by the revealed Word only.
We must remember that what we know of God is only what He has chosen to reveal to us. His method of revealing Himself is in His Word found in Scripture. And therefore the written and spoken Word must be at the very center of all true worship. While I see true and God given grace at work in the services of our Reformed brethren, I find it somewhat sad that the only text read in many of their churches on a Sunday is the text the preacher is expounding. The Word of God from Genesis through Revelation is the means God uses to bring us to faith. And the Holy Spirit uses the preached Word to bring faith to people. “But how are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10: 14, 17)
The Sacraments of Baptism and Communion are also means of grace because they apply the Word of God through external means to enact and strengthen the faith of God’s elect. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16) “Baptism … now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:21) The question of why some who are baptized are not saved is always a sticky one until we learn to think about it rightly. Baptism, the Word and water, saves because it works faith in the heart of the elect through the Holy Spirit. It does not save those who are not elect. In the same way Holy Communion strengthens faith in the hearts of those elect who believe, but it also works to the condemnation of those who receive it without faith. That is why Communion is only for the baptized.
So God, who has elected those who will be saved, has also chosen those means through which their faith will be birthed and strengthened. There are no other ways because God has chosen only these.