“Means of grace” are the things in which God uses to grow us in grace and sanctify us together with the rest of the church. The means of grace within gospel community (the church) are vast and vital to the Christian life. Many in the past have seen baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and sometimes prayer as the only official means of grace within the church, but there are several others that should also be considered. These include the teaching of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer for one another, worship, church discipline, giving, spiritual gifts, fellowship, evangelism, and personal ministry to individuals. Many of these things can be done alone, but when they are done in the context of a local church they come with increased blessing and benefits.
The teaching of the Word builds up the body and draws the members deeper in their walk with the Lord. Baptism is the public sign of the gospel and how it has transformed the new believer’s life and often results in substantial spiritual growth and encouragement in the church. The Lord’s Supper is similar in that it pictures the gospel and the nourishment that the gospel brings to the one with saving faith. Prayer for one another not only builds up those who are participating, but it also accomplishes powerful things in the body. Worship brings much glory to God and like the preaching of the Word brings about sanctification in the believers who worships in spirit and in truth. Church discipline, though it can seem like the opposite of a means of grace, when it is done properly can unify the church, protect it from impurity, and lead to the repentance of a straying brother or a false convert. The financial giving of the church body also blesses the church and brings God’s blessing on those who are cheerful givers. Spiritual gifts by their very nature build up the body along with the fellowship of the church. Evangelism brings about the blessing of adding more worshipers bringing the church to see God’s power and grace better. Finally, as members care for one another in personal ministry while using their spiritual gifts, the church will be built up in love leading to added blessings.
Though the entire life of the Christians should be considered worship, the scriptures most often use worship to refer to the activity of glorifying God in his presence with our voices and hearts. This activity is primarily done in the context of the church and this is why it is addressed here while looking at the doctrine of the church (though the life of a christian is a life of daily worship). As a matter of fact, one of the primary reason why God redeems and gathers his people is that they may know and worship him (Ex. 7:16). Is that not amazing? We are saved for the sake of worship! Worship is the direct outworking of what we personally and corporately were created to do (Isa. 43:6-7, Eph. 1:12). The purpose of worship is to call attention to God and for us to praise him as he deserves for who he is.
Joy from Worship
There are several results to genuine worship. We first of all delight in God as he delights in us. The Psalms are so full of this reality that the presence of God is where joy is and as we worship God, we enter his presences and his is glorified in our amazement in him. This brings delight to both us and him. Furthermore, we draw near to God in worship and he draws near to us. When we worship, Hebrews 12:18-24 says that we are not alone as we sing. We are worshiping with those who have gone before us, the “spirits of just men made perfect and to Jesus”. Moreover, as we draw near to God, his presence blesses us in joy and song. This also is an aspect of him ministering to us. Even though worship is ultimately about God, we are built up by it as the church. Doing worship is also the will of God and has eternal value as it is spiritual in nature.
How Do We Worship?
The final aspect of worship that needs to be addressed relates to how to enter into spiritual worship. Jesus tells a Samaritan woman at a well that true worshipers of God will worship him in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). This means that worshiping is not a heartless action or duty but a heartfelt reality that is expressed physically. Furthermore, the words we sing must be full of “truth.” Pastor Wayne Grudem says “Unless our spirits are worshiping God we are not truly worshiping him” (Systematic Theology p. 1011). Worship is our response to the Glory of God. As Hebrews 12:28-29 says, we worship God because he is a consuming fire. Worship is simply our heartfelt response to who God is, and it is the only rightful one at that. In light of this we need to approach worship rightfully, preparing for it through prayer and repentance, that we might worship God in spirit and in truth.
In our day there is much confusion in and outside the church about what in the world the church is. In this series, we seek to explain in detail most every aspect of the Church. Today we focus on the nature and purposes of the church. This teaching is not meant to be exhaustive, but simply an introduction to what the Bible teaches about the church. If there is any topics on the church that you wish we would address, please tell us in the comments.
A simple definition of the church is “all true believers for all ages” yet this definition must be refined when dealing with some instances of its usage in the New Testament. To start, the Church is invisible yet visible. With the definition given above, it is obvious that as of right now, the entire universal church is not gathered together at one time (therefore is invisible). Yet the church is also visible in that it gathers into local churches where they can be seen by the world. This also leads to the next reality of the church; it is local and universal. Sometimes a biblical author refers to the universal church (Eph. 5:25) and has in mind the entirety of believers over all time. Most often though, NT writers refer to the local church (Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1 etc.) which is the regular gathering of believer in a particular location to worship, hear the word preached, and practice the ordinances (baptism & comunion). There are also many metaphors for the church. The church is referred to using family images (Eph. 3:14), agricultural images (John 15:5, Rom. 11:17-24), as a new temple (1 Peter 2:5) priests (1 Peter 2:5) and finally, as a body (1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 1:22-23, 4:15-16, and Col. 2:19). These metaphors help us understand God’s intention for the church.
The church’s relationship to Israel is also important and has been given much attention in our day. Dispensational pastors/theologians see much discontinuity between the Old and New Covenant and argue that Jews and Christians are both God’s people but they are separate in God’s plan of redemption. Covenant pastors/theologians see more continuity between the Old and New Covenant people of God and say that those in Christ are now part of Israel and that God has one plan for his one gathered people consisting of both Jews and Christians. This explanation is quite simplistic though as there is in actual a spectrum of opinion on this topic with dispensationalism on one end and covenant theology on the other. The final aspect of the church here is the relationship between the kingdom of God and the Church. The Kingdom is different than the church though the Church is the means in which God brings about his kingdom.
Completing this discussion on the church, we cannot pass up a discussion on the marks of a healthy church and the function of the church. Since the reformation, Christians have seen the Biblical marks of a healthy church as a church which has rightful preaching of God’s word and a right practice of the ordinances. The church exists to worship God, nurture believers, and evangelize the world.
I pray that these blog posts help you gain a more Biblical understanding of the church and grow your hunger for Biblical truth and for church community. These posts on the church will come out every Sunday morning for the next few months.