The church visitors could have helped Byron’s consistory.
Instead, they used us.
The church visitors wanted Rev. Lanning off the pulpit, but they knew they had to work through a consistory to get that done.
How convenient that Byron’s consistory called them in for help.
At our regular church visitation earlier in the year, the church visitors, Rev. Slopsema and Rev. De Vries, had informed Byron’s consistory that Rev. Lanning’s preaching and writing was the problem in the PRC.
The problem was not false doctrine. The problem was not the compromise of justification by faith alone or the displacing of Jesus Christ. The problem was not consistories’ and classis’ tolerating and defending false doctrine. The problem was not four of the leading men in the PRC drafting a doctrinal statement that corrupted the truth of God’s word. The problem was not Rev. Van Overloop—the leading minister tasked to help Hope PRC understand that fellowship with God is unconditional—preaching that fellowship with God is conditional.
The problem was the man bringing the rebukes.
Small surprise then that when we called them in for advice, they immediately called for Rev. Lanning to be off the pulpit.
On Thursday, November 19, the consistory approved bringing in the church visitors for advice on the Jeremiah sermon “with regards to direction for going forward.”
Less than 24 hours later, we had a recommendation from the church visitors advising us to take Rev. Lanning off the pulpit.
First, I ask you, if you are called in to give advice on something, wouldn’t you want to ask a few questions first? In this case, meet with the consistory once, maybe even a few times, before coming back with advice?
Imagine sending an email to your doctor telling him you have some pain on the right side, and you are looking for advice with regards to direction for going forward. Less than 24 hours later, without ever having a meeting, you get a message back that says, “Your right arm needs amputation.”
Second, we were not the only church in the last few years the church visitors had been called in to help. They had also been called in to help Hope PRC. If you run across one of the church visitors, you should ask him how long it was from the time that they were called in to help Hope before they brought advice to remove the minister who was preaching false doctrine.
They never called for the discipline of the minister who was preaching false doctrine from the pulpit. They may have, eventually, after more than a year, called for him to remove himself according to Article 12 of the Church Order.
They would not show such patience with Rev. Lanning.
The church visitors had no interest in giving advice to Byron’s consistory. They had an agenda, and that was to remove Rev. Lanning.
But they made two mistakes. They advised us to remove Rev. Lanning according to Article 14 of the Church Order, and they gave the consistory time to study the recommendation.
At the first meeting, when an elder pointed out to the church visitors that Van Dellen & Monsma only speak of this article being used for a minister who requests a leave of absence, and the elders then act in a consenting role, a church visitor made a demeaning remark about VDM and said that other commentators allow for it.
In response, another elder said he had consulted Jansen, Van Oene, and Bouwman, and none of them speak of Article 14 being used to remove a minister from the pulpit against his will.
The church visitors did not appreciate this questioning of their advice.
One responded that he knew of many examples where this article had been used to take a man off his pulpit, and “case law trumps the commentators.”
(When asked to give a specific example of when this article was used to remove a minister, the example he used was when a minister had requested leave to pursue a mission trip. Which none of us found helpful).
An elder even pointed out that the instruction given in our own seminary about this article is that Article 14 is non-operative and does not have application to our churches.
Arguing objectively did not seem to be working for the church visitors.
So one of the senior statesman then turned to argumentum ad hominem, “We assumed there are those here who understand these principles.”
So unconvincing were the church visitors with this advice that not even the elders who wanted Rev. Lanning off the pulpit could find it within themselves to even bring this motion to the floor for a vote.
Reader, I encourage you to study Article 14. Does this article support a consistory forcing a minister off the pulpit against his wishes? Or was the argument of the church visitor’s sophistry?
Was the document that was to be used to depose Rev. Lanning twisted and contorted to support a desired outcome?
The church visitors now recognized the second mistake they had made.
They had given the consistory time to study the matter.
They would not make the same mistake twice.
The following week we had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to again meet with the church visitors to discuss their next piece of “advice.”
Which advice we would not see before the meeting.
We were informed we would receive hard copies of the advice at the meeting, giving us no time at all to prepare.
It was at this meeting, when an elder suggested that the consistory be given space to do its work without outside pressure, that Rev. Koole snarled that if the consistory did not at that moment make the motion to approve their advice, they were going to leave.
So much for Prof. Gritters counsel about the work of our deliberative assemblies, “Preferably, written advice is presented far in advance of the meetings…Delegates must not be required to ‘answer a matter’ before they ‘hear’ it” (SB editorial, 9/15/20).
We should have shown them the door.
Instead, we did their bidding.