Q: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation
Acts 2:41-42 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Recently at Proclamation, our youth Sunday School class did a series on "The Worship of God's People". During that series, we talked about how our worship services need to be services of "Word and Sacrament", soaked and saturated in prayer. And why? Because these are the very means that God has chosen to communicate his grace to us, his people. These are the very means by which God applies the benefits of redemption, reminds us and feeds us with the gospel of Jesus Christ, reminds us that we are part of God's covenant people, and through the working of the Holy Spirit as he works in and through these ordinary means, molds and conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. Listen to what Starr Meade says about this section of the catechism:
The Lord Jesus paid fully to redeem his people when he died on the cross. Nothing more needs to be done to redeem them. But the benefits of being redeemed need to be brought to God's people. The Lord Jesus has chosen ways to bring those benefits to us. This answer lists those ways. The Word of God, the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), and prayer are the 'ordinary, external ways Christ has chosen to bring us the benefits of redemption.' As we read and hear God's Word, as we pray, and as we receive baptism and communion, we enjoy the benefits of redemption Christ bought for us.
This is God's plan for Christian discipleship! This is the ministry of Christ's Church. The Christian cannot thrive without these means of communicating God's grace, and this should be at the heart of every Christian church's "discipleship plan". Whatever else the local church does to disciple her people, at the center of it all needs to be the Word preached and read, the right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer. Everything else is negotiable. Everything else is an add-on. Everything else, quite frankly, is unnecessary. God's plan for feeding his people, for communicating his grace, for "applying the benefits of redemption", for raising up disciples, revolves around these "ordinary means" of grace, and if a church is grounded in the Word, in the sacraments, and in prayer, then that church is doing its job. Your local church may not have all the programs you desire. They may not have the youth group or the VBS or the women's Bible study or the men's fellowship group or even a small group ministry. But if she is saturated in the Word read and preached, if she feeds God's people with the sacraments, if she is steeped in prayer, then your local church is doing her job in discipleship. She is being faithful in her call because she is making use of the God-ordained means by which the "benefits of redemption" are communicated to us, God's people!
Please understand, I'm not saying these other "programs" are bad. In fact, they can be ways by which churches can feed their people and provide more opportunity for the Word to be read and taught and for God's people to join together in prayer. And they can certainly provide ways for the people of God to enjoy fellowship and encourage one another. These are good things! But we've come to a place in Evangelicalism where, in our consumer culture, we decide whether a church is giving us what we need or not based upon the "extras". The reality is, a church can have wonderful programs for babies up through seniors. A church can have every financial resource in the world. A church can provide you with an activity every single night of the week. But if the church is not feeding you with the Word, the sacraments, and with prayer, then that church is not giving you what you truly need as a son or daughter of the Living God.
If you are attending a church that is failing to feed you with these means of communicating God's grace, with these means of communicating the benefits of Christ's redemption to you, then I encourage you to find a church that is faithful in this call. Even if that church does nothing else, if they are faithful in reading and preaching the Word, in administering the sacraments, and in prayer, then you can have the assurance that that church is providing you with what you need as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
And if you belong to a church that is faithful in feeding you with Word, sacrament, and prayer, then praise the Lord! Whatever else you may feel that church lacks, you can rejoice in knowing that God is indeed communicating the benefits of redemption to you, and that through these ordinary means your faith is being fed and you are faithfully being discipled!
Just one final note. We've been talking about the role that the means of grace play in our gathered, corporate church life, but there is a personal side to the means of grace as well. Apart from the sacraments, which are signs and seals given to the church and have their meaning within the context of the covenant community (which will be discussed in coming weeks), believers should be making full use of these means of grace in their personal and family lives. The reading of the Word and prayer should be staples in every believer's life, and for parents, we should be striving to make use of the reading of the Word and prayer in our homes as we seek to raise Godly children. And we can trust that, just as God has given these means of grace to the gathered church for Christian discipleship, these means of grace will continue to communicate the benefits of our redemption in Jesus Christ in our personal and family lives.