Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Means of Grace — Those instruments of God’s favor that God uses as the means by which God accomplishes His people’s conformity to Christ and growth in the Christian faith.
Means of Grace — Word & Sacrament
Two Sacraments — Baptism & Eucharist
We see all these present in Acts 2:38f
A Sacrament is not merely a symbol as if baptism and the Lord’s Table merely represented something else as a flag might stand as a symbol for a nation. The Sacraments are not mere visible jogs to the memory to remember something larger. In a Biblical understanding of the Sacrament the reality of what is being pointed to is contained in the symbol and for those who participate by faith the sacrament is what it symbolizes and so does what it promises.
Illustration — Sign saying Lansing is 25 miles away.
But what if the Sign was made of that which is Lansing? Maybe of a peculiar type of tree that grew in Lansing. And maybe the dye that formed the letters on the Sign was of a dye that was peculiar to Lansing. There would be a sense then that the sign to Lansing, as a symbol for Lansing, had Lansing in it.
Just so with the Sacraments. God, in His sovereignty, has put the reality of forgiveness, cleansing, and eternal life into the Word and Sacraments themselves and for those who come to the Sacraments full of Faith in Christ alone the Sacraments give what they symbolize. For those who do not come in faith then the Sacraments remain only empty symbols that at best jog the memory.
This explains why throughout much of our Church History God’s people have so desired the means of Grace and why Church attendance was such a given. God’s people understood that in the assembled community of God’s saints there they would be fed with Eternal life and drink the promises of God’s favor. In the assembling of the saints, Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, the weary and battered people of God would come and be built up and strengthened by God’s favor preached.
Illustration — The means of Grace, Word and Sacrament, then is like Josh’s Pickle juice after fighting in his 90 pounds of armor in the hot sun when he does his Medieval Knight re-enactments. Worn out and weary with the exertion of fighting I am told that Pickle juice revives and vivifies almost instantly.
Just so with the means of Grace. We gather Lord’s day by Lord’s Day, weary and exhausted with contending for the crown rights of the Lord Christ in battle — whether that battle is with foes external or internal or both. Where will we find the refreshment for our souls and the invigoration to continue? The Church has always taught the place that is found is gathered worship … in the means of Grace … in Word and Sacrament…. in God’s pickle juice for spent warriors.
Illustration — Popeye and Spiritual Spinach
II.) Means of Grace (Baptism) Teaches a particular Anthropology
Because of their belief in Covenant Theology Reformed people have always inclined towards being Conservative with its impulse of seeing that human nature is corporate before it is individual. Liberal thought, as expressed most clearly in Anabaptist circles, has always seen the individual as having pride of place over the community. The individual precedes and the community depends upon the collection of individuals. This has meant that the sovereign self is the prime integer in Anabaptist Christianity. This is not so for those who are Biblical Christians…. for the Reformed.
The Reformed never gave up on the individual but in its Covenant theology it could never tolerate the radical Anabaptists with their hyper and atomistic individualism. Covenant theology teaches us that all of God’s people through time are one organic people. We belong to our forbears before we belong to ourselves and we belong to God along with our forbears. This is a different view than that which is espoused at the heart of the organizing motif of Western culture with its social contract theory. The Christian faith at this point lies in contradiction to the official anthropology of the West which at its heart is indeed liberal.
We see biblical anthropology in our Baptism services when the Generations assemble at the Baptismal font in order that a member of their family may be ratified in their place in the covenant of grace. This covenant into which they are being announced is a covenant in which their forebears were placed through the centuries and it is a place where the Baptized infant’s generations to follow will also be announced. Also, the very nature of Federal Theology with its idea of Federal Headship pushes Reformed people in a conservative direction. The teaching of Scripture where we find man created as incomplete apart from woman suggests that the individual is not the primary building block of society but rather the community is apriori to the individual. Likewise the idea of the fifth commandment pushes Christians towards being conservative in their disposition. Family is to be honored. Even the very idea of the God as Triune having Eternal community pushes the Biblical Christian towards conservative commitments.
Infant Baptism then is radical break with our non-Christian, hyper-individual Anabaptist culture. In our Church culture we have individuals walking the sawdust trail. We have individuals “askingJesusintotheirhearts.” In our Western Church culture we talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” We talk about datable conversions … our “born on date,” as if this was a matter of our choosing and and not God’s. All those, when spoken about apart from a covenantal context mitigate against a Biblical anthropology which normatively finds man coming to Christ as a member of a community that has come to Christ by God’s sovereign election.