A secret meeting took place right out in the open.
Although after church that evening of November 15 I noticed the elders gathered together in the corner of the narthex, I didn’t think much of it. A few members of the congregation noticed too, with one of them commenting on the fact that the elders, sans Elder Van Baren and me, were gathered in the corner of the narthex talking.
It became clear three days later at our official consistory meeting what had gone on at that unofficial meeting on Sunday night.
A decision was made in that brief meeting in the narthex.
We must call in the church visitors.
Later that evening, an elder emailed the consistory informing them that he was working on a motion that we could discuss on Wednesday.
That motion was sent out on Tuesday morning, November 17. It read as follows:
- That we cancel the Council meeting and Special Council meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, (11-18-20) and replace this meeting with a Special Consistory meeting, to determine action for the calling of help from the Church Visitors.
- a. That we convene as a consistory to discuss seeking the advice of the Church Visitors in regards to our decision of: “Removing Rev. Lanning as editor of the Sword and Shield.”
Grounds: We are divided as a consistory on our decision and have charges of sin brought before us within our own consistory against the 9th commandment.
b. Request advise from the Church Visitors, regarding the sermon preached on the morning of 11-15-20, “Shepherds to Feed You” Jeremiah 23:4, 14, with regards to direction for going forward.
When we met on the 18th to discuss these motions, I asked where this motion was even coming from, because we as a consistory had never discussed the idea of bringing in church visitors.
The response? A group of us elders had discussed it Sunday night.
Not only had they discussed it, but they had also decided it.
It also came out at that consistory meeting on Wednesday that an elder had already contacted a church visitor a few days earlier, on Monday.
Once those elders had decided on that Sunday night to bring in the church visitors, it was a foregone conclusion. The church visitors were contacted the next day, and the wheels were turning, before it ever made it to a consistory meeting.
Which meant we were going to abdicate our office.
To abdicate means to “fail to fulfill or undertake (a responsibility or duty).”
The elders had a responsibility. That responsibility is found in the Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons: “It is also the duty particularly to have regard unto the doctrine and conversation of the ministers of the Word.”
How is this work to be done? “For the performance of which the elders are in duty bound diligently to search the Word of God, and continually be meditating on the mysteries of faith” (Ordination Form).
(My protest, which lays out my principle objections to the decision, is found here.)
We never searched the Word of God. We never assigned a committee to come with advice. In fact, the only conversation we had had about the sermon prior to the motion being sent to the consistory was positive.
The vow we had taken was to “search the Word of God,” not call in human help.
We broke our vow.
What started out as disorder turned into us simply handing oversight of Byron Center PRC to Classis East, which is who the church visitors represent.
We took our Christ-appointed office of elder and despised it.
But perhaps all hope was not lost.
We belonged to a denomination of churches, and one of the great benefits of denominational life is mutual oversight and care. According to Church Order Article 44, a duty of the church visitors is to “take heed whether the minister and the consistory faithfully perform the duties of their office.”
Were we? It is indisputable that this consistory was not observing “in all things the adopted order,” and if ever there were a time to “fraternally admonish” those who had been “negligent,” now was the time (CO, 44).
The consistory had not done any work.
We had no business calling in outside help.
But the church visitors could help us. Set us back on the right course. Point out to us our responsibilities. Give us good, biblical advice and counsel.
5 thoughts on “Secrecy”
23 These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgement.
24 He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him:
25 But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.
26 Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.
To your first question, there had been no official objections received by the BCPRC consistory when the motion was received to call in outside help. That makes your second question all the more compelling. Why call in the church visitors when no objections had been raised, from outside the consistory or from within?
You are also correct that before matters may proceed to a broader assembly, the work must be completed at the local level. I hope to address this issue in a future post, God willing.
The reference here is to the letter dated 5/13/20 that the BCPRC consistory sent to the SB Editors, which read in part, “You state in your letter that it is not your intent to harm Rev. Lanning. Yet certainly you know that if your effort bears its bitter fruit you would put Rev. Lanning out of the gospel ministry, and indeed out of the kingdom of God. We tell you again-Rev. Lanning is not guilty of slander or schism. You have not proven this from your letters or the document that you provided us. Rev. Lanning is defending the truth as he is called to do before the face of God, and he does so in a manner that exhibits the wisdom of James 3:17, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” This matter you are pursuing is unnecessary and will lead to further division and unrest in our churches. We urge you to drop your charges against Rev. Lanning and respond to the letter from these men directly, as well as by using the proper channels available through the RFPA.”
Little did we know how “bitter” that fruit would be.
As I read through this, and I am trying to comprehend the order of events, I wish to seek two points of clarification, if I may. This blog post suggests that the grounds for calling in the church visitors was two-fold…to seek advice about the decision to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor and also to ask what should be done about the Jeremiah sermon. I have two questions: 1) am I understanding correctly that this Wednesday meeting was the first official objection to the Jeremiah sermon and that no formal action had previously been taken within the consistory regarding that sermon? and 2) in such a case, why would the church visitors be needed? It is my understanding that according to the church order, matters must FIRST be dealt with at the consistory level before they may appeal to a higher assembly. I am certainly not as well versed as I ought to be in church polity, but it does seem to me that calling in the church visitors was skipping some steps.
The “bitter fruit” prophesied by that earlier consistory was coming to pass. (read the Classis East Agenda 2020) May the editors of the SB forever hear the anguished cries of this suffering BC congregation.
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