Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Means of Grace vs The Spiritual Disciplines

There has been dispute over whether what we need as Christians are the means of grace, the spiritual disciplines, or both. One main aspect here is the individual versus the corporate approach to God.  From what I can see, Scripture demands both.  We are individually required to know, understand, and do God's word (Hebrews 5:11-14; Colossians 3:16; Psalms 1:2).  We are also required to test things by the Word of God, which implies we need to know it (Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20; Acts17:11).  Further, we are commanded to pray individually (Matthew 6:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17,18; Philippians 4:6,7). We are also given promises and admonitions to encourage us to do so (1 John 5:14,15; Matthew 7:7-11; James 4:1-3).

But we are told God has given us leadership to instruct and watch over us (Ephesians 4:11-15; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13).  And they are commanded to carry out this charge (2 Timothy 4:1-4; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:26-31).  Also, we are commanded to gather together to build up one another (Hebrew 10:24,25; 12:12,13; 1 Corinthians 14:26).  We are told we are part of the same body and need one another (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4-5; Colossians 2:19).  Therefore, we are not to conclude that we can leave everything to public worship and not be involved ourselves, nor can we think we can go it ourselves without the help of others.

One important element here is the ordinances.  I see no basis in Scripture for the idea that the validity of the sacraments depends on who administers them, but rather on the faith of the recipients (Romans 4:12,13; Acts 22:16; 2:38).  But they are a proclamation, so it makes sense that they be done in public (Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 11:26), and it makes sense that they be done in connection with proper leadership to see they are done and understood Scripturally (1 Corinthians 14:40; 11:27).  Further, the Biblical example connects them to corporate worship (1 Corinthians 11:17; 10:16-17).  While I would not forbid private taking of the ordinances, the Scriptural emphasis is on their public celebration. The one thing that is clear is that the sacraments are required by Scripture and cannot simply be evaded (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

But there is between these two views a difference in emphasis.  The means of grace view emphasizes the idea that we approach based on God's grace and His invitation (Hebrews 4:16; Romans 5:1,2). But the spiritual disciplines view emphasizes the need for our involvement (1 Timothy 4:7,8; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Both of these are legitimate aspects, but either taken alone can produce a distortion. We should not see ourselves as passive recipients to the point that it negates the need of our effort for growth in Christ.  Nor should we start to see the things involved as something we do to merit something from God.  But while we need to evaluate any particular procedure to see if it is Scriptural, both concepts involve actual Biblical commands.

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