Article 31

“Can Rev. Lanning explain why he doesn’t want to use the assemblies?”

This was one of the first questions a delegate put to Rev. Lanning at the recent meeting of Classis East.

This question reflected the popular opinion of the day: Rev. Lanning refuses to follow the church orderly way of protest and appeal as laid out in Article 31 of the Church Order.

We were taught to think this way.

In their article, “The Proper Understanding of Article 31 of the Church Order,” Profs. Gritters and Dykstra wrote the following: “A recent issue of ‘Sword and Shield’ attempts to justify the position that it is lawful to criticize and even condemn decisions of the broader assemblies rather than to protest them.”

But is that what Sword & Shield taught? That the writers believed they could criticize decisions of the assemblies and not protest them?

This is what I read in the issue referred to by the professors: “Sword & Shield’s right to publish the truth does not ignore or supersede the duty of an editor or writer to protest and appeal erroneous decisions of ecclesiastical assemblies” (Rev. Lanning, Sword & Shield, November 2020, p. 7).

(My question is, “What rank does a man need to have in the PRC before he is able to disseminate information that falsifies a man’s words without being afraid of any repercussions?”)

But did Rev. Lanning just follow the article in word only, and not in deed?

He sent in a protest to Synod 2017, which protest correctly identified the error jeopardizing the PRC long before many of us even recognized there was a threat. That protest is worth rereading.

“I believe that this case introduces a new threat to the Protestant Reformed doctrine of the covenant. The new threat is to make man’s conscious experience of covenant fellowship conditional upon man’s obedience” (Lanning protest).

Prescient are these words indeed when you listen to the sermon preached by Rev. VanOverloop some two years later: “If any man will hear my voice…he is talking about not the condition to establish a union but he is establishing a condition that deals with communion. Not union, that’s grace, it’s all grace, only grace, but communion, fellowship.”

Rev. Lanning sent in a protest to Synod 2018 objecting to Synod 2017’s melding of the law and the gospel. Martin Luther wrote that to mix law and gospel is to “overthrow the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians commentary, 51). It was through the protests of Rev. Lanning and others that this fundamental distinction was preserved in the PRC.

At the time of his deposition Rev. Lanning was protesting two decisions of his consistory, a decision of synod, and a heretical sermon.

The strongest proof that someone can come up with that Rev. Lanning militated against a decision of a broader assembly was that he described the doctrinal error plaguing the PRC in stronger language than that used by Synod 2018.

(I disagree with the premise of this argument. Synod 2018 said that Jesus Christ was displaced. You cannot use stronger language than that. According to the Belgic Confession Article 22, to displace Christ—to say he is not enough—is “too gross a blasphemy.”)

Rev. Lanning honored Article 31, both in its letter and its spirit.

So did the congregation of Byron Center PRC.

Many of those members, who have since been driven out of the PRC with the deposition of Rev. Lanning, labored faithfully over many years—in the face of stiff opposition from Classis East and the membership of the PRC—to honor Article 31 and to bring their grievances to the broader assemblies through protest and appeal.

God used members like Neil and Connie Meyer and others to preserve the truth in the PRC. The thanks they received from the denomination was persecution, mockery, and name calling, officially sanctioned by The Standard Bearer. (This wasn’t the first time something like this had taken place).

When the consistory of Byron Center made the decision to remove Rev. Lanning as editor of Sword & Shield, the congregation of Byron Center, although no doubt weary to the bone with protesting and appealing, again took up Article 31 as the way to address grievances in the church.

They submitted beautiful protests, filled with the word of God and the creeds, laying out why they were convinced the decision taken was erroneous.

They honored Article 31.

The consistory did not.

The consistory decided to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor of Sword & Shield. Now that protests started coming in, what will you do? Will you do the work of answering the protests, and thereby honor Article 31?

When we saw the protests start coming in, we dishonored Article 31, by refusing to do our work, and by calling in outside counselors.

Did those counselors honor the article?

They ignored it.

What a mockery was made of Article 31.

If the church visitors honored the church orderly way of protest and appeal the way they say they did, they would have advised the consistory, “Answer the protests!”

Instead, the advice the church visitors gave to the consistory was to ignore the protests that had been received, until after Rev. Lanning had been suspended. They were insistent on this point, repeating it several times. They wanted no part of the protests of the congregation.

Byron’s consistory had first asked the church visitors for help regarding the decision to remove Rev. Lanning as editor of Sword & Shield before help was asked for on the Jeremiah sermon.

The church visitors completely ignored the matter of the Sword & Shield editorship. They ignored the protests.

They wanted Rev. Lanning gone, for good. The decision about the editorship would not get them there. But deposition over a sermon would.

What about the rest of the denomination? Was what happened at Byron just an isolated incident?

There are ministers who are preaching and writing that our obedience obtains with God, which is completely contrary to Synod 2018.  They have been able to write and preach what they have and there has been no outcry raised about their militating and agitating against decisions of the broader assemblies.

There are those militating against the decisions of the assemblies.

But they represent the power structure in the PRC, so they need fear no opposition.

But why did the church visitors have no fear in simply ignoring the article of the Church Order about which we had all been told—by Profs. Dykstra and Gritters, by consistories, and by so many others—was the issue of the day—Protest and appeal! Protest and appeal!

Prof. Gritters answered that for us in his editorial in the May 15, 2017 issue of The Standard Bearer. There he wrote of some churches who had been “compelled to leave their denomination because, although the process of protest and appeal was still permitted in their denomination, the process had a ‘form of godliness,’ but only the form.”

A form of godliness, but only the form.

2 thoughts on “Article 31

  1. You raise good points that I want to explore. I would like some clarification on this statement: “God used members like Neil and Connie Meyer and others to preserve the truth in the PRC. The thanks they received from the denomination was persecution, mockery, and name calling, officially sanctioned by The Standard Bearer.”

    I read the article mentioned. Would you be willing to pinpoint where there was persecution, mockery, and name calling?

    An article about radicalism is not out of line. Disagreements do not equal persecution. I couldn’t find a statement where anyone was mocked. The article identified radicalism, but it didn’t “name call” anyone. Name calling is abusive language and insults. I do understand it could be insinuated that certain people would be considered “radicals” after reading this article, but I did not read any abusive language or insults in the article you cited.

    1. CJ, thank you for your question. It is a good one.

      In June of 2018, Synod spoke, and it spoke loudly. Ministers, consistories, and classis’ of the PRC had compromised justification by faith alone, the gospel of grace, and had displaced Jesus Christ.

      This came after three years of controversy. The narrative that dominated the denomination to that point was that the problem we had was not false doctrine but troublemakers.

      (To this point, The Standard Bearer had provided absolutely no leadership for the PRC except to say in the editorial leading up to Synod 2018, that protests were too long, and perhaps a study committee should be assigned to discuss the issue.)

      Synod 2018 said otherwise.

      The problem was doctrinal. And not just a minor matter, but we had compromised justification by faith alone. According to Martin Luther, this was the article on which a church stands or falls.

      Three months after Synod rules on the issue, we get an article on … radicalism in the church of Christ.

      What did we read there? “It seems to me that the PRC have had more than their share of radicals.”

      We needed a series of editorials admonishing us to repentance for the entirely wicked reaction of most of us in the denomination to this controversy. We needed a series of editorials instructing us in the truth of salvation by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, including the truth of unconditional fellowship with God. We needed a series of editorials developing the grand and beautiful truths that Synod 2018 had laid out for us so clearly.

      Instead, we heard about the danger of radicals.

      Instead of developing truth and leading the PRC in the way of that truth, The Standard Bearer officially sanctioned name-calling, giving the members of the denomination license to continue to identify the “real” problem in the PRC – radicals.

Leave a Reply