Hilary of Potiers and the Church Growth Movement, A Sermon by Rev. Toby Byrd (LMA)

(Toby is a regular contributor. He represents the Lutheran Mission Alliance (LMA) which works to plant new confessional churches. They are one of the many confessional groups that post regularly here on the BJS site. You can see all their posts by clicking on the Regular Columns button. The sermon was delivered at Toby’s “winkel” meeting in February. Winkel is a German word for group and is often used to refer to monthly pastoral circuit meetings.)

 

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and may our Lord and Savior sanctify you in the truth, for His word is truth. Amen

 

Winkle, February (2009)

                                                                                                                                             

Abiding in God’s Word                                                                                                                                   Rev. Toby Byrd

 

1 Cor. 10:23 (ESV)  

      “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

 

In refuting Arianism, Hilary of Poitiers wrote, “A multitude under delusion can only be approached with difficulty and danger. When the crowd has gone astray, even though it knows that it is in the wrong, it is ashamed to return. It claims consideration for its numbers, and has the assurance to command that its folly shall be accounted wisdom. It assumes that its size is evidence of the correctness of its opinions; and thus a falsehood which has found general credence is boldly asserted to have established its truth.”

 

As I read this I could not help but think of the strong push by many of the clergy and leadership within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to run from our Lutheran roots, seeking the theological stubble of the Reformed and Anabaptists. In the name of “adiaphora” they seek to mold Lutheran worship and practice into a more politically correct, dumbed-down, go along to get along, socially acceptable, assembly of theologically challenged pew sitters.

 

Far too many Lutheran congregations have fallen prey to the theology of the Willow Creek crowd, pursuing “Church Growth” methods to fill their pews with people who seek entertainment in opposition to the Christian practice of worshipping God in reverence and awe. Like drug addicts, these congregations are addicted to the philosophy of “Church Growth” and they fail to see the deteriorating effects on their bodies. They fail to see that following such practice affects doctrine and soon what was once orthodox Lutheran because heterodox at best and heretical at worst. Rather than adherence to true Word and Sacrament ministry, these congregations turn to feel-good homilies that are nothing more than self-help messages, they eagerly embrace open communion, their pastors fail to catechize, they endorse unionism and syncretism and other forms of heterodox doctrine, and the list goes on and on, and soon, such congregations are no longer Lutheran. Oh, to be sure, they are in name, but truly, in name only.

 

Moreover, today, the leadership of the LCMS endorses mission starts that openly reject confessional Lutheranism in favor of outright American Evangelicalism. Missions are being sponsored by districts that suppress the word Lutheran in their congregational name. Oh, their constitution makes some vague reference to being affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but they are no more Lutheran than the Baptist church down the street. With such un-Lutheran bodies embedded within Lutheranism, what is a confessional Lutheran pastor to do?

Obviously, he can remove himself from any semblance of association with these heterodox assemblies and simply concentrate on teaching and preaching God’s Word in all its truth and purity. However, the question must be asked, does this mean he must leave the LCMS? This is one alternative, but not necessarily the only alternative. Rather than abandon ship, which I must admit I have considered at great length, I am bolstered by Athanasius and Hilary of Poitiers stance against Arianism. Surrounded on all sides by this soul destroying false doctrine, and in the case of Athanasius even being deposed (seven times I believe) and exiled, neither he nor Hilary of Poitiers gave in to the heresy, but strongly defended the truth of God’s Word that Jesus Christ was indeed the only begotten Son of God, both human and divine.

 

As I witness the decline of orthodoxy within the LCMS I am more than ever committed to defending the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church against an ever encroaching adoption of what has become commonly known as a MethoBaptoPentocostal approach to worship and doctrine. Such an approach will have serious negative affects on what we believe, teach, and confess regarding the sacraments. It cannot be otherwise for the “Church Growth” movement does not subscribe to a Lutheran understanding of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. They reject the truth that these are mysteries by which God has joined His Word of promise to a visible element in which He offers gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ. Moreover, they reject the presence of our Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion, calling it simply a memorial of His death. Therefore, unless this encroachment of non-Lutheran doctrine is stopped, we can rest assured the LCMS will be no more confessional than our sister synod, the ELCA.

 

Therefore, what to do? I can only speak for myself and some of you may not agree with my analysis or method, but be that as it may. I will only seek communion with those congregations and pastors within the LCMS who in doctrine and practice embrace confessional Lutheranism. That is, believe, teach, and confess the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, who hold that the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church are in agreement with God’s written Word because they are taken from the purity of God’s Word in Holy Scripture, and practice traditional Lutheran, liturgical worship.

 

I have no option but to confess the faith to which God has called me, and thus we confess by communing and by what we say.   We confess by stating clearly that the body and blood of Christ is present in and under the bread and wine and we confess by reciting creeds, by praying prayers, and by subscribing to written confessions of faith. Moreover, this confessional subscription must be unconditional, “quia” as the Latin term states.

 

St. Paul warns us, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17 ESV). Again, regarding the emphasis on correct doctrine, St. Paul says, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14 ESV). In his letters to Timothy and Titus, St. Paul constantly urges them to hold fast to the true doctrine and to teach only what accords to true doctrine (Titus 2:1). Then and only then can we ensure the souls in our care will hold to the teaching of Our Lord Jesus who says to us, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

 

What Hilary of Poitiers saw some 1500 years ago, we see today: “A multitude under delusion can only be approached with difficulty and danger. When the crowd has gone astray, even though it knows that it is in the wrong, it is ashamed to return. It claims consideration for its numbers, and has the assurance to command that its folly shall be accounted wisdom. It assumes that its size is evidence of the correctness of its opinions; and thus a falsehood which has found general credence is boldly asserted to have established its truth.” This, I believe is the present condition of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and as long as I am a pastor within her ranks, I will do all within the powers God has gifted me to bring her back to orthodox Lutheranism, which is orthodox Christianity.

 

I take great comfort knowing my Lord has called me to pastor His people. However, I am also reminded that because of that call, He will judge me with a greater strictness (James 3:1). Therefore, I am compelled to strive with all my ability to ensure that I am faithful to His Word. Faithful knowing that He has said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26 ESV). Amen.

 

May the Peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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