Criticisms of the Category, "Means of Grace"

The fact that the phrase “means of grace” is not found in scripture makes any doctrine of “means of grace” one very important step removed from being well founded, or at least from being well tested, as a biblical category of thought. I say this because our only way to know what is essential biblical doctrine is to employ a method that asks not, “what can men teach from the scriptures?” but instead asks, “what is actually (explicitly) taught in the scriptures?”

One important stage in such an approach is the examination of how the authors of scripture used the specific words that may be associated with any particular doctrine. When they used these words were they teaching our doctrine or something else? When we begin with this very conservative approach we must allow assumed or “implied” doctrines to be set to the side. For instance it may be that to most closely follow the thought in the scriptures we should refrain from assuming that the authors had or desired us to have a category: “means of grace,” in mind.

Historically the category “means of grace” has been a part of, or used to explain, “sacramental doctrines.” When we assume a category “means of grace” then logical but problematic steps of doctrinal development might seem natural. But even without this further development of thought, the category “means of grace” may in itself blur our view of the biblical term,“grace” and obscure the nature of our relation to “it.”

Perhaps it would be more biblically sound to simply understand “grace” as the generosity of God, and then to see God’s generosity in uniting us to Jesus Christ, in a relationship of faith and faithfulness. This direct communion with God through Jesus Christ is integral to, and a wonder of, the New Covenant in Christ.
The question may be asked: are not “church attendance1,” “Bible reading2,” or even a conversion inducing “altar call,” are these not means of grace? I am saying that the best answer is: “No, they are not means of grace.” Many helps may be extended to you by God in His gracious relationship to you. However, grace- that is to say God’s generosity, should not be de-personalized. We don’t get at God’s generosity except by getting at God, personally. A good relationship with God unfolds because God personally draws us. He gives us to His Son. Salvation begins and ends in God’s generosity. Again God’s grace or generosity never becomes less than His disposition toward us, and neither He nor His generosity are impersonal objects which we or others manipulate.

Perhaps there are many expressions of God’s grace, or even fruits of His grace, but no mediating “means of grace.” Isn’t this fitting to what we know? We do not stand in relation to God through angels. He has communicated with us in these last days, not through messengers, but in the Son. If we hear the word of life, we hear Him. Therefore if we either cling to old shadows, or make for ourselves new shadows, then we set ourselves in opposition to His true generosity. We become an affront to His grace.
1 See Revelation chapters 2 and 3 for a distinction between God’s generous disposition and church membership.
2 See John 5:39, 40 for a distinction between a gracious relationship with God and familiarity with the Bible.

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