The decision taken by the Byron Center PRC consistory on November 10, 2020, to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor from Sword & Shield was a bad decision.
But it was more than just a bad decision.
It was cruel.
Comparisons are odious, but imagine that your boss calls you into his office and says, “Looking over the records, I believe you took one more vacation day last year than you were allowed.” You try to make clear that you took it unpaid and had previously discussed it with a manager, but he is insistent, “You took one more day off than you were allowed.” So he rebukes you for it.
You don’t agree with the rebuke necessarily, but what’s done is done, so you move on with your work knowing the issue is settled.
Five months later, however, he calls you back into his office.
He tells you that he is going to demote you. The reason he gives is this: “You took one more day off last year than you were allowed.” Not only that, but he also tells you he is going to inform everyone via company-wide email that you are now demoted, and the reason given is that you have been delinquent in your work, and you took that extra day off last year.
Such a boss would be described as capricious and cruel.
The matter regarding the editorship of Sword & Shield had been settled on June 17, 2020.
Five months later, it reappeared.
As if the June 17 decision never took place.
That was bad.
The fact that the consistory lied to the congregation with this decision was worse.
By adopting ground one of the decision to remove Rev. Lanning as editor, the consistory lied to the congregation about Rev. Lanning’s work in the congregation.
Rev. Lanning worked harder than anyone else we knew. His work put ours to shame.
For example, a committee of elders had been assigned to work on a case having to do with church attendance. Someone was not coming to church regularly and had no good reason for it. The committee assigned to the case went many months, perhaps three or four, with not one committee report. This was a true dereliction of duty. A member of the committee acknowledged it. The committee never received a rebuke. To then pass a motion that publicly rebukes Rev. Lanning because his labors as editor “reduces the important time spent with members of his own congregation” added hypocrisy to our cruelty.
There had never been an instance at the consistory level where Rev. Lanning’s work, work ethic, or labor in the congregation was called into question.
The consistory also lied by saying that Byron Center PRC was “fragile” and in “turmoil.”
It is simply a fact that a small minority of upset people doth not a fragile congregation make.
That wording showed the lack of spiritual depth of the consistory. One protest which we received against this decision put it well:
We have never heard of the state of the church referred to as “fragile”. We could not find this subjective description of the church in the Bible or creeds. The word “fragile” echoes of human wisdom found in worldly psychology textbooks. We do not believe this is a descriptive word that should be used of Byron Center PRC or any other church.
In contrast Byron Center PRC is by faith united to Christ the head. The invigorating life of Christ flows into her through this bond of faith, as the life of the vine flows to the branches. The Holy Spirit is working in her and through her week by week, through the word preached. Byron Center PRC is very much alive and well! Thanks be to God!
We did not even know what we meant by the words, but we used them as grounds. The Sunday after the decision was taken, a member of the congregation asked an elder, “Can you define for me what is meant by ‘fragile’ and ‘turmoil?’” The response? “I will have to check with the consistory.” No definitions were ever provided.
There was nothing fragile about Byron Center PRC. It was said in the consistory room by an elder at one point that the spiritual state of BCPRC had never been stronger. He was right.
Any turmoil we were facing should not have troubled us either. Rev. Lanning was preaching the pure word of God. There was unrest among a few, but as Martin Luther said, such turmoil will always be in the church, “especially when the doctrine of the Gospel flourishes.”
The horror of this, however, is not that a “boss” acted unfairly. That is where my earlier example breaks down, and breaks down almost entirely. Elders are not at all like earthly bosses. Elders are to stand in the place of and represent Jesus Christ to their flock. Truly was it written about the man elected to the office of elder; “Behold one who is like unto Christ, whom we have chosen to teach us about Christ and to bear rule over us in Christ’s name.”
“Behold one who is like unto Christ.”
Behold this one lying to the flock of Jesus Christ.
What does it mean when men who are called to represent to us Christ lie to us and even press the word of God into the service of that lie? How can we describe such behavior? This way: blasphemous.
How could the men pass such advice? How could they deliberately deceive the congregation by passing this motion?
This decision was simply a means to an end. Our strength was small, and we fainted in the day of adversity (Prov. 24:10). Some people were unhappy, and the pressure was too much. We had to do something, anything, even if that meant sacrificing truth on the altar of expediency.
Rev. Lanning had to go.
This was the start.
The problem the consistory faced—that they refused to reckon with—is that when you despise the word of God and misuse his prophets, God’s wrath will arise against you until, finally, there is no remedy (2 Chron. 36:16).