Did Rev. Lanning militate against his consistory?
In the advice brought to Byron’s consistory, which advice Byron’s consistory adopted wholesale, the church visitors wrote, “Rev. Lanning militated against the settled and binding decision of his own consistory.” As evidence, they provided the following:
a. The Byron Center consistory decided on November 11, 2020 that Rev. Lanning must resign as editor-in-chief of the Sword and Shield and so informed the congregation.
b. The next Sunday, November 15, Rev. Lanning preached the Jeremiah 23:4&14 sermon, claiming that the Sword and Shield is the only voice consistently speaking out against the devil’s theology in our churches.
Where do you hear condemnation of the devil’s theology as the devil’s theology? Is that the message you hear pouring out of the Protestant Reformed Churches today? Is that what you read in letters from consistories to congregations warning against a magazine? Is that what you hear – rejection of the lie? I don’t hear it. I don’t hear it. Except in one place consistently. One magazine.
c. The timing of this sermon with its negative evaluation of the PRCA and the claim that the Sword and Shield is the only voice that is consistently exposing the devil’s theology that has gripped the denomination is a thinly veiled criticism of his consistory’s decision designed to undermine the consistory’s credibility. This is especially evident from the fact that the sermon was based in part on the same passage the consistory used to explain their decision, viz., Jeremiah 23:4.
Does their evidence prove their charge?
The answer is no.
The only proof the church visitors brought was an appeal to what they considered “thinly veiled” criticism of the consistory. The only proof they could bring was an inference about Rev. Lanning’s motives.
It is safe to say Rev. Lanning did have criticisms of his consistory. But he did not air them publicly, thinly veiled or otherwise.
Nowhere in the sermon did Rev. Lanning even hint at the decision that required him to resign as editor. Sure, Rev. Lanning spoke in defense of Sword & Shield, but the consistory had never taken a decision condemning Sword & Shield.
Rev. Lanning readily admitted that the text of the sermon was “occasioned” by the decision of the consistory, but the burden is on the church visitors to prove their charges.
Which they failed to do.
But did Rev. Lanning disobey his consistory? Many people believe that he did.
There might very well be times when a minister would have to disobey his consistory. The rules set down by a consistory are not in themselves inviolable.
A consistory does not have absolute authority over the minister. The consistory may not tell a minister what car to drive, where to go on vacation, and the consistory may not intrude into the minister’s office by dictating to him the texts from which he must preach.
When a consistory puts the minister under a law of its own creation, it not only lords it over the minister and his office, but it tries to entangle that minister in the yoke of bondage. This would rob him of the liberty in which Christ has made him free (Gal. 5:1).
Neither must the minister himself give up that liberty by asking the permission of the consistory for those things that he is free to do or not to do. He can inform the consistory, but he must not ask permission. To do so would be to forfeit his liberty.
If a consistory tells a minister to do something or forbids him from doing something, and if that something would be a trampling of the liberty of the minister or a violation of the minister’s vows before God, that minister must not obey that rule. He must disobey the command of the consistory so that he can obey God (Acts 5:29).
This would not be dishonoring his consistory. The consistory derives its rule and authority from God and his word. When they depart from that rule, they no longer operate on authority given them from God. From then on, the rules they pass and the decisions they make will be the wisdom of man, which is earthly, sensual, and devilish (James 3:15).
Insofar as a rule contradicts the word of God, it must not be obeyed.
But it never came to that point with this decision. Rev. Lanning never had to make that choice, whether to obey or not to obey this decision of his consistory.
A week after the consistory passed the motion requiring him to resign as editor, Rev. Lanning informed us that he intended to protest the decision. This allowed for the possibility of Rev. Lanning continuing to serve as editor while his protest was being answered by the consistory.
(The possibility of delaying the implementation of a decision until a protest is heard is spoken of by Van Dellen & Monsma in their commentary on Articles 22 and 31 of the Church Order.)
To this—the delaying of the implementation of the decision—not one elder objected.
Therefore, Rev. Lanning would continue as editor until his protest was heard—with the elders’ concurrence.
Rev. Lanning behaved himself in a church orderly manner with his consistory regarding the decision to remove him as editor of Sword & Shield.
If only his consistory had dealt in such a manner with him and with their congregation.