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.