Relief of Duties

ax in the stump

Imagine you are a deacon.

You sit down for a meeting, and you find there is just one motion on the agenda: “The committee recommends that we swindle the elderly members of our congregation out of their life savings.”

You protest. You plead. You warn. You argue as strenuously as you know how.

To no avail.

The vote is taken, and the motion passes.

The diaconate by majority vote has just decided to break the 8th commandment of God’s law.

Such a scenario would never take place.

But it did take place regarding the 6th commandment.

Byron’s consistory, by a vote of 6–2, voted to break the 6th commandment by killing the faithful prophet God had given to our congregation.

Saturday, November 28, 2020.

The day when the Protestant Reformed Churches was rent.

The day when the consistory took upon Byron Center PRC the unmistakable mark of the false church according to the Belgic Confession, Article 29.

A few months later, the denomination would take that mark upon itself officially.

Elders Harlow Kuiper, Ed Hekstra, Jim Hauck, Tim Block, Terry Kaptein, and Josh Lubbers voted in favor of the motion to suspend with a view to deposition.

Elders Bryan Van Baren and Dewey Engelsma voted against the motion.

Depose is such a clean word. Clinical. What the consistory voted for was ecclesiastical murder. Reading through church history, it used to be a lot messier killing a prophet.

This vote came after many months of the corruption that I described in the previous blog posts.

And now the time came to pray. The vice president asked a church visitor to close this portion of our meeting in prayer.

I raised my hand. “Mr. Chairman, I know there will be ramifications for what I am about to say, but I am going to excuse myself; this consistory has the blood of a prophet on its hands, and I cannot lift my hands in prayer with them.”

So I stood up, gathered my things, and left the meeting.

Although I didn’t realize it until a few minutes later, Elder Van Baren also stood up and left the meeting.

I would not fault a man if he had opposed the motion but had stayed in the meeting. These things are up to a man’s conscience.

For me, it was not a question. How could I stay and ask God’s blessing on the great wickedness that had come to a head in the suspension of a righteous pastor?

In the parking lot Elder Van Baren and I prayed together and left.

After Bryan and I left the meeting, the church visitors recommended to the consistory that we be relieved of our duties. The consistory, which had already abdicated their office, dutifully took the advice and passed the motion.

That evening, both Bryan and I received phone calls informing us that we were relieved of our duties.

We sat with our families in church the next day.

Cue more deceit.

This time though, they put the lie upon the lips of Prof. Huizinga, who had been called in to preach in the place of the now-suspended Rev. Lanning.

“The consistory informs the congregation that we have relieved Rev. Lanning of his ministerial duties to have sufficient time to consider the material and recommendations from the church visitors.”

That was not true.

They did not need more time to consider the recommendation. The recommendation had come to the floor. The vote had been taken. The motion had passed.

You consider the material before you vote on it. Once you vote on it, you are no longer considering it. The action has been taken.

As you can imagine, this announcement caused great confusion. Many of those questions had to do with why two of the elders were sitting with their families.

(An announcement regarding our de facto discipline was not made until a week later.)

That question was asked by an officebearer in the consistory room before church as to why Bryan and Dewey were not present.

The response? “Those men relieved themselves of their duties.”

The members of the congregation asked this question of the elders after church in the parking lot. “Why were Bryan and Dewey sitting with their families?”

“Go ask them.”

“Go home and read Article 31 of the Church Order.”

“They relieved themselves.”

That was more deceit. Read the motion that was passed. We were relieved of our duties by a majority vote of the consistory. Yet the people were told the opposite.

The relief of duties would continue for over five weeks.

During this suspension, as the work between Byron and Trinity proceeded, Elder Van Baren asked Trinity PRC if they would be willing to give us an audience. The response to Byron’s Consistory regarding Bryan’s request was cold. “We are of the mind that we don’t need to speak to them. We heard from your consistory last night as represented by you 6 men. They could have been present if they hadn’t forfeited that right.”

“They could have been present if they hadn’t forfeited that right.”

Did it not occur to Trinity’s consistory to examine the fact that the only two men who had registered their negative votes and were opposed to the motion to suspend had been removed from their office?

(Speaking of those negative votes, they have been on quite a journey. They were not included in the material that was sent to classis due to an “oversight.” They were distributed at classis during the deliberations, yet they never made it into the official documents that were distributed publicly. Strange.)

It is one thing to be in favor of deposition, as Trinity’s consistory clearly was. It’s another thing altogether to connive at the act that removed elders from their office without any basis in the word of God, the creeds, or even in the One Document To Rule Them All, the Church Order.

All of the deliberations that took place and the decisions that were made over that five–six week period were taken in the absence of two elders who had been unjustly relieved of their duties.

Just prior to the meeting of classis, the consistory apologized to us for relieving us of our duties and reinstated us to our positions. They also gave us a letter of explanation defending their actions.

We accepted their apology.

(A church visitor, Rev. Slopsema, also apologized to me at the meeting of Classis East, confessing that the advice to relieve us of our duties was not good advice.)

Although the objections I had laid out in a letter and protest were not answered by the consistory, this allowed us to take up our work once again as elders.

Being reinstated would allow us to see how a classis that had consistently been wrong over the last five years would exhibit its sorrow for its past decisions. Having the one man before them who had stood on the right side of the issue from the beginning and who had rebuked us for our errors would provide a sterling opportunity for all to see just how “sorry” Classis East was.

Because as we have heard from so many, Classis East was really, really sorry for its errors over the last five years.

7 thoughts on “Relief of Duties

  1. The order of the events is somewhat confusing or unclear from the minutes. The minutes provided by the Consistory to Classis do not include a mention the prayer by Rev. Spronk, or the motion to “relieve of their duties” you and Bryan. Where do these events fall in the minutes? Ordinarily, I understand that a prayer is made after a motion to adjourn. Was this the case here?
    Second, did the consistory provide you with the minutes for any actions that they took while you were unjustly removed? Did they give you the opportunity to speak against any actions that they may have taken during this time? In your opinion, were the actions taken during those 5 weeks even legal, due to the consistory refusing to allow some of the elders to attend the meetings?
    Finally, I am impressed by the speed at which the lie that you and Bryan had voluntarily removed yourselves from the office of elder was propagated. The Sunday that the suspension of Rev. Lanning was made public, in the conversation in the back of church at Crete it was asked “What about Bryan and Dewey?” The response of several was that they had voluntarily not walked in with the consistory and sat with their families instead. Thank you for exposing this falsehood.

    1. Dan, I believe the prayer by the church visitor would have come either after (g) or (h) in the minutes. The motion to relieve us of our duties would have taken place between the information found in Article 1 and Article 2.

      Yes, the consistory provided us the minutes for the meetings that were held in our absence. There was no holding back of any information that we know of or treating us poorly when we were reinstated. There was a breach between us, as you can imagine, and things were not the same as they were before, but we all made an effort to work together as best we could.

      Regarding the legality of the decisions taken while we were relieved, I do not know the answer to that question. Perhaps in the secular courts, such decisions would be thrown out, but I don’t know about the ecclesiastical courts.

      Your reference to the speed at which the lie spread confirms the truth of the saying that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

  2. That announcement that Prof. Huizinga read that morning was also read to the council before worship. A Deacon asked to read a portion of Isaiah 30 in response. In God’s providence, this was the same text that Rev. Lanning had also read to the church visitors and consistory prior to this Sunday.

    “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion… Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.”

    We had some knowledge of what was happening behind closed doors. Dewey and Bryan being relieved as elders called into question many decisions that had been made prior to that point.

    Of the decisions that were soon to be made by the consistory, Trinity PRC, and Classis East, God’s Word echoed in my heart, “Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see”. And so, by God’s grace, I dared to compare, I dared to think… and in the end, for many of us, that meant leaving the church we love.

  3. Elder Dewey, can you answer a few more questions about the Consistory Meeting Minutes of November 28, 2020?

    When I was a member of the council of the PRC I served in it was practice that in the minutes the names of the elders and deacons present were recorded. This was usually in the first article. This was so that any motions that were taken in the meeting would indicate who had been present to vote on them. I don’t see the names of the BC elders recorded in the consistory meeting minutes of November 28. Was this omission deliberate or was this the normal practice? Another practice of the PRC council I was a member of was to record when anyone entered or left the meeting. This would show if a member of the council was late for a portion of the meeting (usually with notice) or if others had entered for other purposes such as for a confession of faith for instance. I note in the consistory meeting minutes of November 28 that the church visitors left the meeting for a time. I do not see when they returned to the meeting but they must have at some point if one of them was asked to pray. I am more than a bit alarmed when I see no mention of when you and Elder Van Baren left the meeting. This concerns me greatly as it leaves the impression that you were present during the entire meeting and voted on all of the motions taken. Was this omission deliberate? I also note that you and Elder Van Baren had registered your votes but again as you had noted in the blog they are not included in the minutes. There is a reason why they are called registered votes as they are to me recorded in the minutes with the names attached as any registered vote indicates the very serious nature of the decision to vote in such a manner. Was this omission also deliberate? The largest omission from the meeting minutes is the decision taken against you and Elder Van Baren. Not only is the impression left that you were present in the meeting the whole time, did not register negative votes for any motion, but if a congregation member asked for a copy of the minutes there would be no indication you had been relieved of your office. How is this possible?

    I find all of this very disturbing. I have one last question. Was a passage read at the beginning of the meeting and was the meeting opened with prayer? There is no mention in the minutes of this.

    1. Hello David, looking through past minutes, I can see that it was normal practice to list who was present at the meeting, but I believe that if a member were not present, that would be noted. So in other words, this was normal practice and everyone was assumed to be present, unless otherwise noted.
      I don’t know why the full minutes were not sent to Classis, but I can only assume that this was the normal practice, that only the minutes that were deemed relevant to the case be included. Looking at the full minutes, it was recorded in those minutes when we left and when the church visitors joined and left, etc. so that information was included in the minutes.
      Our negative votes as I said, was due to an “oversight” by the clerk, and when I told them I thought that was relevant material, the Clerks agreed (Clerk, and assistant Clerk) and sent the information on to Rev. Spronk, the Clerk of Classis East. What happened to those votes then is noted in the blog.
      If a member of the congregation asked for the minutes, they would be sent a copy of the full minutes which would have much of the information you asked about in your question.
      Yes, passages were read at the beginning of the meetings and prayer was offered. That is recorded in the full minutes.

  4. Dewey,

    You did write, “…and we accepted their apology”, correct? If so, why are these men being excoriated here in this blog? Where is the meekness that bridles a self-righteous spirit that wells up in a brother who feels wronged by another?

    Could it be that this ongoing lust for polemics has spilled from your heart to your keyboard? Let it be so no longer. It is not a contradiction for a man to fiercely defend the truth, without compromise, while preserving a sincere love for peace and unity in the church.

    Todd

    1. Todd, I am not excoriating these men. But your reminder to meekness is a good one, and one that I have often to remind myself of, because pride is never far below the surface with me.

      Re-read their apology. It did not address the things with which I took issue. They apologized for the manner in which they relieved us of our duties. What happened with two men being removed from their office went far beyond just the manner in which we were removed. I tried to address those weightier matters in my blog.

      I don’t have a lust for polemics. I do desire polemics. I consider what Sword & Shield does to be polemics, and I am thankful for it. I agree with Prof. Hoeksema that “it is simply a fact that there never is and never has been positive development of the truth without polemics” (H.C Hoeksema, Vol 60, Issue 08 1/15/1984, Editorial).

      I’m not sure that what I am doing can be described as polemics, though. I have always understood polemics to be a defense of a theological truth over against the lie that hates that truth. That’s not really what I am doing.

      However, let’s not be quibble over semantics.

      Your point is that I am just angry and lashing out with my sword (in the shape of a keyboard).

      I disagree. I consider what I am doing to be bringing out into the light what has, to this point, thrived in the darkness.

      I appeal to John 3:19-21.

      “And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

      That which was done was evil.

      Which is why it desired darkness.

      I am trying to bring that out into the light.

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