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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Hilary of Potiers and the Church Growth Movement, A Sermon by Rev. Toby Byrd (LMA) — 11 Comments

  1. Dear Brothers-
    while we spend time giving critique of members of the LCMS who use methods contrary to our confession of faith, we ought not be afraid to have such critique come our own way as servants of Jesus Christ.

    This sermon would not do well on the Issues Etc. sermon disgnostic. How often is Jesus mentioned? Is Jesus the subject of the verbs? What are those verbs? (The Jesus who does it all for you – life, death and resurrection). What is the problem/diagnosis – and what is the answer – the forgiveness of sins/Christ alone.

    Preaching is no easy task, it is hard, especially when hard things need to be said, and rightly said they were in this sermon. We still preach Christ crucified, and I pray that the brother who produced the sermon would receive this criticism fraternally from a brother who knows how hard it is to preach and say the hard things, knowing that Christ must always shine forth in the words we say.

    Pr. Ball+

  2. Oh Ben, you’re just one of those goofy Nagelites. 🙂

    Seriously, that is a good point.

    Whenever I finish writing a sermon I always ask myself: Does it point to Christ (Nagel), does it preach the law that is peculiar to this text (my home pastor taught me this one the first time I preached there) and does it preach faith into their hearts (this is from Walther in “Law and Gospel”)? It is amazing how many times I have to edit what I thought was a finished sermon based on those simple criteria.


  3. Thank God for men like Pr. Toby Byrd who are willing to stand firm on the word of God and our Lutheran confession. As a layman, I greatly appreciate the message Pr. Byrd delivered at this Winkle.

  4. Kind ironic, don’t you think, that this sermon’s failure to preach Christ crucified is a classic example of not all things being helpful/edifying–the very text it seeks to expound.

  5. Thank you Pr. Ball for the critique and normally I do not preach without a greater emphasis on the Gospel. However, you had to be there to understand the circumstance.

    I am reminded of the words of Luther from the Table Talk recorded by John Mathesius: ““Doctor, many men think and say that the law should be emphasized often for the sake of the profane common people, lest they abuse the gospel. Others say that the common man ought not to be cited as a reason but only the command of Christ, who wishes that the goodness of the Father may become known through the gospel. Which of these opinions is the better?”
    The doctor [Martin Luther] replied, “This shouldn’t and can’t be comprehended in a fixed rule. Christ himself preached [the law and the gospel] according to his circumstances. As a passage or text indicates, therefore, one should take up the law and the gospel, for one must have both. It isn’t right to draw everything into the gospel alone; nor is it good always to preach the law alone. The Scriptures themselves, if properly adhered to, will give the answer.”

    Luther, M. 1999, c1967. Vol. 54: Luther’s works, vol. 54 : Table Talk (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

    It isn’t always right to emphasize the Law, but sometimes it’s what’ called for. Depending on the response, the Gospel can be applied.

  6. Rev. Byrd,
    I appreciate what you have written here, but I am not sure if it is appropriate as a sermon or not. We hard hearted Christians surely need to be clobbered with the blunt force of the law just like faithless heretics, but can a sermon without emphasis on Christ and His Gospel benefit anyone? Should the Gospel be withheld in certain sermons (i.e. before a multitude under delusion), or is emphasis on the Gospel of Christ always needed so that the hearts of men may be changed? The law kills and this is most certainly necessary, but then the Gospel of Christ is needed because it gives life and is the very power of God unto salvation. Please help me to better understand the correct distinction between law and Gospel and how to apply it in certain situations.

  7. Dear Truth Seeker:

    You had to attend the conversation section of the winkle to see the Gospel applied to these words. The homily was meant to spark debate and interest within our pastoral ranks of the decaying effects of the CGM within the LCMS.

  8. The preaching of Law that is so prevelant in the LCMS today is due in part, I think, to a lack of faith in the power of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, applied correctly. I’m afraid too many pastors have drifted into the mode of moralizing, and giving the Gospel as information only. I can’t fault Pr. Byrd, altho I did think his sermon a bit law-focused. If the kind of preaching that I hear more and more continues apace, I’m afraid our synod will wither on the vine, regardless of who sits in the purple palace. Building up of faith will have ceased.

  9. While I agree with some of the critiques that Pastor Byrd’s message would not necessarily be helpful as a sermon to one’s flock of lay people (would make a great newsletter article, though!), the more important point is that we have become infested with a cancer called CGM/TCN that will be very difficult to remove without causing major damage to the tissue of confessional Lutheran Christianity. Some of our healthy cells will die from the surgery, the chemo, and the radiation of strong preaching, catechesis, and (sadly) excommunication.

    We are a considerably conservative, liturgical, hymnal-and-lectionary, confessional, closed-communion congregation, in a community where few LCMS churches can or will say that (if they admit to even being… shhhh, Lutheran). Just recently, I was having a discussion with one of our more prominent lay people. He thought we need to add more “programs” and “events” and “groups” and “activities” to be more attractive to people. I’d agreed that some of those things might get people’s attention, but that true disciples were made only through preaching and teaching, resulting in trust in God’s gifts given in Word and Sacrament. Nevertheless, my position was largely dismissed because, “it’s a numbers game,” and “if we don’t get people in the door, our congregation won’t grow.” I was further flabbergasted to have these ideas authoritatively supported by a quote from “The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples” by Win and Charles Arn. Kyrie Eleison!

  10. Someone’s been talking to your “prominent layperson”.
    Who does he know in the district office?

    Some of our healthy cells will die from the surgery…

    The surgery in Texas is largely being performed on Pastors, (which was the reason for my question.)
    I have a hard time believing the removal of so many (most with a Kieschnick contingent in the pew) is coincidental.

    But I’m a cynic, I was told once.
    [A cynic is an idealist who’s been clobbered by reality, BTW. I was told I was one of those, too, quite awhile ago.]

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