Recently we had the joy of seeing our two oldest kids make their profession of faith before the elders and then the congregation. It has been a joy to give God thanks for blessing His Word to their hearts and bringing them to this point. While we give credit to Him alone, both of their testimonies made it clear how powerfully God uses His church as a means of communicating His grace for our salvation and sanctification.
For both our son and daughter, it was vital for them to have people they looked up to outside their family, especially college students who modeled Christian faith, giving visible validity to what they had been learning at home and from the pulpit.
The ministries of the church are also playing a big role in their faith. Sunday school classes, presbytery youth conferences, youth groups, youth Bible studies...God has used each at different times to win, warm and instruct their hearts.
Our church's prayers have also been used of God for their salvation. One friend approached me after worship and said, "We know how hard it can be to be a pastor's kid, so we've been especially praying for this day as long as we've been in this congregation." Not only was this incredibly encouraging, it's clear evidence of the importance our church family has in our kids' lives, even when we don't see it.
None of this is to deny God has used our covenant home, the preaching of the Word, and the sacrament of baptism as means of communicating saving grace to our kids. Neither am I arguing against the more narrow, classic view of the means of grace. Rather, it's to make this point: the local congregation in its entirety, where each has been gifted by the Spirit for the benefit of others, is regularly used by the Spirit for our salvation and sanctification in Christ.
Which means, to use Ed Welch's simple formula, we are both more needy and more needed than we often realize. You don't just need good preaching and communion. You need the gospel community good preaching creates. You need a church family to whom you are joined in communion. You need them to uphold your weak faith, to walk with you during hard times. You need the church's help, their friendship, prayers, meals, examples, and teamwork.
And they need you. Yes, you. If you can sincerely confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), then you have at least one Spiritual gift to use for the benefit of your church family (1 Cor. 12:7). If you don't know what that might be, talk to your friends and elders. And then use your gift! You standing on the sidelines of the church weakens her, making her get along with one of their most important assets: you.
If speaking of the church as a means of grace seems problematic, consider Louis Berkhof who, while recognizing the narrow (Word + sacrament) view begins this way: "The Church may be represented as the great means of grace which Christ, working through the Holy Spirit, uses for the gathering of the elect, the edification of the saints, and the building up of His spiritual body." (Systematic Theology, p604)
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