The Ordinary Means of Grace

At our monthly reading group last night we were thinking together about means of grace – in particular the sacraments and what reformed theology has often termed ‘the ordinary means of grace.’ In using the term ordinary they mean ‘as opposed to extraordinary,’ rather than ‘dull.’ Bavinck (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4) discusses the possibility of extraordinary works of grace in, for example, those who die in infancy. However, he argues that God has given us ‘ordinary’ means whereby God converts and grows. For Bavinck these ‘ordinary means’ are the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments (Matt 28:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26). Bavinck is clear that Christ is the mediator of Grace, but that he has chosen to gift us with regular means through which he is pleased to work. In Grudem’s Systematic Theology he broadens out the ‘means’ to include things like prayer, fellowship, and personal ministry among other things. What was encouraging for us, as we talked it through, was some of the applications of this idea. Here’s a few the group came up with:

  1. If God chooses to give grace through his ‘ordinary means’ it means they are, in another sense, quite extraordinary. The gathering of the church to worship, pray, hear from God’s word and partake of the sacraments is always a special thing.
  2. If God uses ‘ordinary means’ it means we should make the most of them personally. We should make regular Sunday attendance a priority.
  3. If God uses ‘ordinary means’ it means we should have more confidence in inviting our friends to church. Courses are great too, but let’s not under-value the potential power of simply taking a friend to church.
  4. If God works through the ‘ordinary means’ then it puts into perspective the latest programme, tool, course, or slick approach. All of these things may be helpful, but the ‘ordinary means’ encourages us to trust in those things God has already gifted to his church.
  5. It’s humbling for those of us who are church leaders to recognise that God works through his means, not through our methods.
  6. It’s reassuring for those of us who are church leaders to recognise that God works through his means, not through our methods.
  7. And just to throw a grenade into the mix, I suggested that if God uses his ‘ordinary means’ we perhaps then ought to think quite carefully before taking children out and away from them (that generated some good discussion!)

What else might you add to this list of applications of ‘the ordinary means of grace’?

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