The responsibility for what happened at Byron Center will be required at the hands of their elders.
But there will be others held responsible.
We called in our churches’ “oldest, most experienced, and most competent ministers” (CO, 44) to help us.
They could have, by their “advice and assistance,” helped the consistory of Byron Center PRC. They could have saved us from ourselves.
As a consistory, we simply were not qualified to do the work. I know we were not qualified because we refused to do our work according to the word of God.
A man wrote that “the raging spiritual infection within the fevered body of Christ that has left so many churches weak, flaccid and ineffective, can be traced directly to the loss of the Biblical understanding and practice of the office of elder” (Sittema, With a Shepherd’s Heart, 3).
Byron Center Church had within it a raging spiritual infection.
The church visitors could have come with a prescription to heal that infection.
The prescription would have been simple: Do your work according to the word of God and the confessions. If you need assistance after that work has been completed, we stand ready to provide additional advice and counsel.
But they didn’t.
They came in with an agenda that they pursued ferociously.
They were not there to advise. They were there to rule.
There are two church visitors appointed by Classis East to provide advice and counsel to the churches in the classis. There are also two alternates who will, presumably, fill in as needed.
Five men showed up.
It was never explained to us why five ministers had come to our meeting.
We had to learn that when the Classical Committee gave its report at the meeting of Classis East.
When that report was read on the floor, the consistory learned, for the first time, that after we had requested help from the church visitors, the church visitors in turn had written a letter to the Classical Committee. In that letter they had informed the Classical Committee that Byron had requested help from them. However, two of the church visitors had “charges” of sin against Rev. Lanning, so they were requesting a man from the Classical Committee to replace the two men who had those charges against Rev. Lanning.
(It is interesting to note that after the Classical Committee had read its report, a church visitor, Rev. Haak, had immediately objected. He said that the church visitors had not said that two of the men had “charges,” but they had used some other word. A member of the Classical Committee, to his credit, immediately shot that idea down by informing the classis that the letter—which he had in his hands—had indeed used the word “charges.”)
One delegate asked why all five men had signed their names to the documents when the fifth church visitor had been requested to replace the two men who had the charges against Rev. Lanning.
One would think that the purpose of requesting help from the Classical Committee was so that the two men who had charges against Rev. Lanning would recuse themselves.
One would be wrong.
Five ministers showed up—Rev. Slopsema, Rev. Koole, Rev. DeVries, Rev. Haak, and Rev. Spronk.
With no mention made of the charges or the request of aid from the Classical Committee.
They were going to show Byron’s consistory how things were run in the PRC by illustrating for us the effectiveness of argumentum ad baculum.
Twice in the course of the meetings the church visitors had to be reminded by an elder of Article 84 of the Church Order, that they must not lord it over the consistory of Byron Center PRC.
The church visitors threatened the consistory that if we did not do things exactly the way they demanded, they would leave the meeting and not give us any advice.
It is difficult to express the corruption and bullying that took place in our meetings with the church visitors. I could weep thinking about what the church of Christ was transformed into during those meetings and the meetings that followed.
Whatever it was, it was an “abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
The church visitors never brought us the word of God. In fact, most of them didn’t even bring Bibles to the meeting. When the vice president opened with devotions at the first meeting, an elder had to go to the Bible rack in the room and hand out Bibles to most, if not all, of the church visitors so they could follow along.
The fact that almost all of them forgot their Bibles is not in itself significant.
The fact that they never used their Bibles for any of their work with our consistory is tragic.
But they had an agenda. Whether that agenda was agreed upon by the church visitors and some of the elders before the meeting ever started is known to God.
One church visitor was not careful enough, however.
Early in the discussion, before the naïve ones among us knew what was afoot, one of the church visitors, Rev. Koole, blurted out, “You called us here for suspension!”
We had called them in for advice.
What we ended up getting, was bullied.