For the past week my family and I have been reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading Chapter 48, “Means of Grace Within the Church,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).
“Means of grace” are the ways used by God to bestow His grace or free and undeserved favour on mankind. Some theologians restrict the number to three–the preaching of the Word and the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper–but others, including Grudem, add other activities. He lists and comments on these eleven ways accessible to believers within the church:
1. Teaching of the Word
3. The Lord’s Supper
4. Prayer for one another
6. Church discipline
8. Spiritual gifts
11. Personal ministry to individuals
Performing the activities, even the first three, doesn’t automatically convey God’s grace. He conveys it only when they are performed with faith and obedience to Him.
In considering item 11, personal ministry to individuals, Grudem specifies and comments on various forms that it can take: “words of encouragement or exhortation or wise counsel…giving to assist the material needs of a brother or sister in need…anointing with oil [and] laying on of hands” (page 959).
I found particularly interesting what he says about the laying on of hands. He gives several examples of Jesus laying his hands on people to heal them and of people’s asking him to lay his hands on sick people. He also gives examples of early Christians laying on hands to heal, to empower people for ministry, and to impart a spiritual gift. As well he notes that Hebrews 6:1-2 includes the laying on of hands among the foundational doctrines, indicating its importance.
Since the activities generally occur within the church, we should not neglect “to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25). Grudem warns, “Those who neglect the fellowship of the church willfully cut themselves off from most of the ordinary means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to his people” (page 963).