Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

6 Mar 2013

The Rites of the Gathered Church as Ordinary Means of Grace


In Reformed life, one commonly hears reference made to the “ordinary means of grace,” a category that typically includes the reading of Scripture, prayer, the “ordered” ministry of the Word, and other rites/functions of the gathered church. In my previous post, a review of Kevin DeYoung’s book The Hole in Our Holiness, I made a positive reference to these ordinary means of grace, prompting a query about the propriety of a Baptist implying that the Lord’s Table is a “means of grace.”

By saying that the Lord’s Table is a “means of grace” one might possibly be affirming (as the Romanist does) that the Lord’s Table is a “means of salvation.” This is emphatically not what I am saying. No Baptist (or Protestant, for that matter) can rightly claim that the Table imparts saving grace so as to make up what is lacking in the sacrifice of Christ. I would even deny that there is in the act of eating a mystical/spiritual feeding upon Christ that acts to aid faith (as the Reformed suggest). Instead, with most Baptists, I argue for a symbolic/memorial function of the Lord’s Table. But it does not follow therefrom that the Lord’s Table cannot be a means of grace.

Peter tells us that the means of divine grace are “manifold” in nature (1 Pet 4:10), and include prayer (Heb 4:16), the exhortation of fellow-believers (Eph 4:29), giving (2 Cor 9:8), and the use of spiritual gifts in the context of the local church (1 Pet 4:10). These are “ordinary” means of grace in that they are “ordered” by God for the “ordinary” benefit of believers as they develop in their sanctification. Baptists have long appealed to the Lord’s Table in this very way—as an aid to maintaining a pure and holy church membership.

The Lord’s Table is not a miraculous or “extraordinary” means of grace (such as we see in justifying/regenerating grace or in dubious proposals of “second works” of grace common to Wesleyan/Holiness models). But the regular functions of self-examination, remembrance, and anticipation that occur at the Table certainly seem to qualify the Lord’s Table as an ordinary means of grace.