On Tuesday, November 10, 2020, the consistory of Byron Center PRC passed a motion to “require Rev. Lanning to resign as the editor of Sword & Shield.” (The committee’s recommendation is here. My protest against the decision, which lays out my principle objections to the motion, is found here.)
The consistory had faced the question of Rev. Lanning’s involvement in Sword & Shield in the past.
Six months previous, a committee had been formed to bring advice to the consistory regarding Rev. Lanning’s role in the group working toward a new publication. (The advice that was brought and adopted by the consistory is here.)
Making an issue of the fact that Rev. Lanning did not ask for approval for this particular role within the magazine was disingenuous. The consistory knew that Rev. Lanning was going to write for the magazine. What brought the firestorm of opposition was not the fact that Rev. Lanning put together each issue of the magazine, or copy edited articles when they came in, or whatever it is that the editor-in-chief does, but it was his writing. This, which was the real issue, the consistory studiously avoided in the decision to declare that he erred in not obtaining the consistory’s approval.
What this motion from five months prior did, however, was to make clear that, going forward, Rev. Lanning had the approval of the consistory in serving as editor of the magazine. This is clear from recommendation two, where it provides the grounds that could be used to remove Rev. Lanning as editor in the future. If Rev. Lanning’s work suffered in the congregation, then he would be instructed to “remove himself from this responsibility.” This is made even more clear in recommendation three. A committee was assigned to “monitor whether the work of being editor is causing the work of being pastor to suffer.”
Rev. Lanning could continue as editor as long as his work in the congregation did not suffer. The matter was settled. Or so we thought.
And now, out of the blue, comes a motion requiring Rev. Lanning to remove himself as editor of Sword & Shield.
Did his work suffer during that time period that required his removal?
Never once in the time between June 17 and November 10 did it come up at a consistory meeting that Rev. Lanning’s work among the congregation was suffering. All of Rev. Lanning’s pastor’s reports were received with no objections, and each motion to approve his work received unanimous support. The Pastoral Oversight committee (of which I was a member), did not even meet with Rev. Lanning over that time period, much less bring a report recommending his removal as editor.
Why then did the consistory pass the motion five months later to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor of Sword & Shield?
In a word: pressure.
A consistory stands at a crossroads at every meeting. There is a question that must be answered at each meeting, but not in so many words: “Shall we submit to Christ or man?”
The answer to that question will determine where a consistory turns for help. Christ? Or man? Under which yoke will a consistory place itself? The yoke of Christ? Or the yoke of man?
This question, “Shall we submit to Christ or man,” is answered by the consistory’s response to many things, but to trouble especially. When trouble arises, help is needed. “We are in trouble here, and we need help! We need to do something!”
The consistory felt itself to be in trouble.
It wasn’t really.
To that point, with a few exceptions, the consistory had decided matters based, not on expediency, but on principle. What is meant by principle? “Principles, real principles, not imaginations of our own heart, are eternal, inviolable verities, not determined by man, by society, by the state, by conditions or circumstances, but by the Most High God Himself” (Hoeksema, Living from Principle).
When you rule based on principle, you are in the safest position in the world. You are standing on the word of God, and what then can move you? If Satan and all of his hosts cannot reach you there, what is there to be troubled by?
Trouble is not having a few men angry with you. Trouble is not even having the entire world angry with you. Trouble is having Jehovah God set his face against you (Ezek. 15:7).
I am asked by those who have read through the January 2021 classis material, “What happened to Byron’s consistory between the time you sent the response letter to the SB editors and the time you passed a motion to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor of Sword & Shield?”
In other words, how can a consistory write this in June…
“Having witnessed Rev. Lanning’s behavior in the church, we can assure you he is an example to the church “in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (Form for Ordination of Ministers of God’s Word). He is faithful in his oversight of the church and that by the grace of God. Not only has Rev. Lanning been faithful in this, he has also been faithful to his vow to “feed, guide, protect, and rule the flock committed to his charge.” His meek and humble spirit coupled with his unflinching love for the truth of God has been a wonderful example to us as officebearers, and to the flock of Christ as a whole. Rev. Lanning preaches faithfully the full counsel of God in all of its power, to the edification of the flock at Byron Center, and to the resounding glory of God’s good and perfect name” (BCPRC Letter to SB Editors, March 3, 2020).
…and then five months later pass a motion a ground of which states by implication that Rev. Lanning is not doing his work, after all?
What happened is that consistories change. In June new elders were elected, and to paraphrase Judges 2:10, a new consistory arose that knew not principle.
We were learning something as a consistory. Submitting to Christ meant following a road that was narrow, tight, and treacherous. Walking down that road was proving to be costly. It meant losing the respect of men. It meant losing our reputations and our names. It meant losing friends. It meant dying.
Submitting to man, on the other hand, would involve following a road that was broad, exceedingly broad. It would mean smiles and handshakes at the basketball games and at the assembly meetings, claps on the back, and hail fellow well met. It meant saving our lives.
The pressure had been building on Byron’s consistory. Although this will be proven in more detail in future posts, suffice to say that from the time we decided to gather for worship despite the governor’s mandate forbidding it, to the time that charges of sin against Rev. Lanning were received from the group of editors of the SB, to the time that Sword & Shield appeared, we as a consistory were being pressed hard. This pressure came from a small but very vocal and influential minority at Byron Center and from an overwhelming majority of people outside Byron.
The way became too difficult.
The crossroads were there.
All it takes is one meeting to place yourself on a easier road. And it’s not always easy to hear the hiss of the serpent as you listen to the arguments why the broad road is to be preferred.
So we took ourselves off the narrow road and placed ourselves, and our congregation, on the broad road.
The consistory craved the approval of men, and they got it. They enjoy that approval today.
The elders chose to follow the fickle feelings of men and let Jesus Christ go begging.
But Christ does not beg.
And judge us he did.