"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: The Community of Faith

The process of sanctification is inseparable from the context of the church community. Early Church Father Ignatius, on his way to martyrdom, recognized this reality. He would often speak of a desire that “my spirit be sanctified by yours”1 or “I require to be sanctified by your church of Ephesus.”2

I say this because I wish to submit that the christian life "happens" through the church, and I wish to explore those avenues. The means by which one is exposed to the word is by ministry of the word given to the church, in the preached word and the sacraments. The word cannot properly be applied outside of the church, for it was to those in the church that God through Paul commissioned those who equip the saints for service.3 The ministry of the word is not found outside of the church, therefore the church is a necessary vehicle by which Christians are sanctified, where salvation is realized.

In fact, Cyprian once wrote "there is no salvation out[side] of the Church." Catholics like to cite this quote, and with some consternation find a Protestant accepting of the concept:

"Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), ...[is] the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."

That wording is from the Westminster Confession on the Church. But how can Protestants say this? Do they mean it? They mean it because the church is the arena of the means of grace in the ministry of the word, and the means of grace do not only convert, but sanctify.

The ministry of the word can be expressed alternatively as the ministry of word and sacrament. Primary in this formulation is the word. Paul expressly teaches that God condescends to use preaching as the means by which the message is conveyed in Romans 10:13-15. In using the term “word” we mean primarily what Paul means in telling Timothy to “preach the word.”4 This is how Paul sees Timothy fulfilling his ministry to the church.5 The “word” to Paul stands in for his other phrases he uses, such as gospel, or preaching Christ crucified.6 Paul means by “word” the message of Christ, his Person and work. This gospel message is not merely for unbelievers, but as Christ said, the means by which God sanctifies his people.7

So looking at the sanctifying mission of the church, we look to word and sacrament. To look at the means of spirituality and growth, we look at the means of grace. As the Larger Catechism puts it:

Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation .

Thus, I wish to take a look at the Word, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, tackling some thoughts on the main doctrine on Monday at the beginning of the week for each, then moving on to some reflections, implications and perhaps just worship thoughts through the rest of the week. This is for myself, mostly, in simply organizing doctrine in way that can be communicated for others to understand.

1 Ignatius Epistle to the Trallians. Chapter 13. (as translated in A.Cleveland Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.
2 Ignatius Epistle to the Ephesians. Chapter 8 (as translated Ibid.)
3 Ephesians 4:11-13
4 2 Tim 4:2 ESV
5 2 Tim 4:5
6 cf. Romans 1:15, 1 Cor 1:23
7 cf. John 17:17

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