Rev. Lanning was deposed, we are told, because he did not follow the church-orderly way of protest and appeal. It was not doctrine! It was behavior!
What exactly did he do that warranted the charge of schism?
Rev. Lanning was deposed because he was said to have charged men with sin from the pulpit rather than taking those charges to the assemblies.
This is what we were told by the church visitors, Trinity PRC, and Classis East.
“It is our contention as church visitors that Rev. Andrew Lanning’s sermon on Jeremiah 23:4&14 is in violation of Articles 31, 74 and 75 of the Church Order and the Formula of Subscription and as such is schismatic. Rev. Lanning deliberately makes serious charges of sin in his sermon against officebearers of the PRC and indeed the entire denomination” (Church visitors’ advice, Classis East Deposition Case, 28).
“We as church visitors judge that in his Jeremiah 23:4&14 sermon Rev Lanning committed the sin of public schism in the Byron Center PRC and in the entire denomination in violation of Articles 31, 74 and 75 of the Church Order and in violation of the vows taken by signing the Formula of Subscription. Rev. Lanning committed the sin of public schism when in violation of Articles 74 and 75 of the Church Order he publicly charged consistories and ministers of the PRCA with failing to repent of the devil’s theology that he claimed they embraced in the January-February 2018 meeting of Classis East and instead have minimized their great sin” (31).
Reading through the letter that Rev. William Langerak and Trinity’s consistory drafted, their entire case was built on the fact that Rev. Lanning made charges of sin from the pulpit.
“In a sermon on Jeremiah 23:4, 14, Shepherds to Feed You, preached in Byron Center PRC on 11/15/20, Rev. Lanning made serious public charges of unrepentant sin against ministers and office-bearers of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and against the entire denomination” (Trinity document, Deposition Case, 48).
“Rev. Lanning committed the sin of public schism by making the aforementioned charges in violation of Articles 31, 74, and 75 of the Church Order, and contrary to his vows of ordination and Formula of Subscription. This is schism because the Church Order is the way of order and decency appointed by Christ to maintain, nourish, and preserve concord and unity in His body. This judgment of public schism has nothing to do with the truth or falsity or even the seriousness of his charges. The issue is that Rev. Lanning publicly made these charges in a manner that violates the Church Order, which is schism within the body of churches (denomination) that is regulated by that Church Order” (52).
Classis East agreed.
“Rev. Lanning’s schismatic actions of publicly charging office bearers with sin are contrary to the teaching of the Church Order in Article 74, which is built on the foundation of the Scriptures and Confessions quoted above” (Deposition Case, 5).
“If an accusation is to be leveled against an elder, pastor or deacon, it must not be published to everyone in the church but must be carefully proven to the elders of the church.”
“This is true even when dealing with an accusation of heresy. If an accusation of heresy is preached from the pulpit rather than following the way of protest and appeal through the ecclesiastical assemblies it is a failure to follow the word of God in Titus 3:10, “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject” (5).
“All charges of sin are to be brought to the consistory as the sole court Christ appointed to judge and treat such sins. There are no other options” (5, 6).
But something remarkable happened only a few months after the deposition.
A minister charged an officebearer with sin.
From the pulpit.
Antinomianism takes the form of supposing that as long as my cause is right, I’m standing for truth and right, I can promote that cause in absolutely any way I please. Whether in speaking or on social media. On a blog post, for example. Recently this was defended as freedom. This is freedom, that I may say whatever I want on a blog post, no matter that it’s half-truth, no matter even that it’s completely even filled with untruth. That’s freedom! That I may say absolutely anything I want in public.
Prof. Cammenga was referring to a recent blog post by Rev. VanderWal.
Antinomianism is heresy.
For a minister, the charge of heresy is especially serious. It is listed as the first ground for which a man can be suspended and deposed from office according to Articles 79/80 of the Church Order.
Prof. Cammenga made that charge from the pulpit. He did not make that charge by following “the way of protest and appeal through the ecclesiastical assemblies.” He did not bring that charge to Rev. VanderWal’s consistory, which, according to Classis East, is “the sole court Christ appointed to judge and treat such sins.”
This is shocking.
Prof. Cammenga just did exactly that for which Rev. Lanning was deposed.
Except Prof. Cammenga did what Rev. Lanning did not do.
Rev. Lanning did not charge any man, consistory, or assembly with sin. Rev. Lanning warned the PRC that they were guilty of minimizing the error into which the PRC had fallen.
What comes next?
According to the schedule that was used for Rev. Lanning, by now Southwest PRC should have already called in the church visitors, and by this week Saturday, April 10, they will pass a motion to suspend Prof. Cammenga.
But that won’t happen.
There will be no uproar. There will be no outcry.
All of those who clamored so loudly for Rev. Lanning’s deposition will remain silent, painfully and shamefully silent.
This shows where things really stand.
It has been about the respect of persons.
That explains why a popular preacher can preach conditional fellowship and only after a year and a half make a public apology. But when an unpopular man brings a rebuke from the pulpit, he is suspended within two weeks.
That explains why nothing will happen to Prof. Cammenga.
As a leader in the denomination, he is untouchable.
The rules apply to some and not others. What is freedom for Prof. Cammenga meant deposition for Rev. Lanning.
Had Rev. Lanning simply sprinkled some heresy into sermons here and there, he would still be a minister in good standing in the PRC today.
All he had to do was point out the error of other denominations and ignore the errors in the PRC.
But he could not do that. He condemned the errors. He refused to allow his position, or his name, or his reputation, or any other earthly consideration get in the way of his defense of the truth of God’s word. He had made a vow before God to exert himself to keep the PRC free from doctrinal error, and with God strengthening him, he was faithful to that vow. He wasn’t successful, but he was faithful.
Very few people in the PRC will be concerned about Prof. Cammenga’s sermon.
They will find a reason to excuse it. They always do. Prof. Cammenga is on the right “side,” after all.
This sermon does serve a purpose, however—a vitally important purpose.
What is now exposed for all to see is the utter hypocrisy of the last few months in the deposition of Rev. Lanning.
The deposition of Rev. Lanning was never about behavior. It was never about manner. It was never about Article 31. It was never about the church orderly way of protest and appeal.
It was about ridding the PRC of a man who would not stop rebuking her for her errors.