Pressure from the rest of the denomination started months before the deposition.
It started with Byron’s response to COVID.
As churches, the PRC floundered.
It wasn’t that the Bible is unclear about the command to gather for worship.
What made things difficult was our fear of man.
And I stumbled because of it.
When we would vote to keep church open, or to continue worshipping, or to not obey the governor’s orders, those votes were taken with a sense of dread. “What would men say about this?”
For me, there was one vote that I took during that entire period about which I felt a sense of relief, and that was when I voted to cancel church for three consecutive Sundays.
Looking back, the reason was absurd, although it did not seem so at the time. We canceled because a member of Byron had an employee who possibly had COVID.
The reason I felt relief with this decision was because it would put us back in line with the other churches in our denomination, after we had worshipped the previous week, while they had not. The unwanted and critical attention directed toward our consistory and church would stop, if not altogether, then at least for a while.
Imagine that. An elder feeling relief, not because he knew he was doing the will of God, but because he was not going to face the anger and scorn of man. I have repented privately of that sin, and I confess and repent of that sin here publicly. It was shameful and cowardly and unbecoming of an elder in Christ’s church.
When Byron decided to worship, the response from the PRC was swift and severe. That response came from letters, emails, and phone calls, from within and without our congregation, all exerting pressure on our consistory to fall into line with the rest of the denomination.
(It is interesting to note that Prof. Cammenga did not first come to Byron’s consistory with his concern or correspond with Byron’s consistory at all before sending this email to every minister in the denomination.)
However wrong and misguided Prof. Cammenga’s email was, to have a professor in our seminary sending out an email of this nature to all the other ministers brings a tremendous amount of pressure on a consistory. Who wants that kind of attention?
It would continue.
In a letter to its congregation, the council of Redlands PRC called out Byron’s consistory as “the only one exception” who was continuing to worship, not only in our denomination but also in the “broader church world.”
Another correspondent, who carried weight in the denomination, said our decision was “foolish” and a “bad witness” to our community. In fact, he went so far as to say our decision was a “blot” on God’s name and the church’s reputation. And then, in an ironic and prescient twist, he asked if we had consulted with other consistories or “even sought the help of the church visitors for such a weighty and influential decision.”
A letter from Zion PRC only intensified the pressure on our consistory.
Which letter was abysmal.
It gave more credence to “the consistent message coming from qualified medical professionals” and the example of other churches than it did to the word of God. It made the argument that public worship should not continue until a vaccine was developed and that the final authority on this matter was the civil rulers (“that decision has been taken out of our hands by the civil rulers”).
Zion was not alone in their convictions.
When the time came to make a decision about worship, almost all of the churches in the PRC looked to the latest government mandate, or to the health professionals, or to the “example of Christianity worldwide,” instead of looking to the explicit instruction in the word of God, “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
We obeyed man rather than God, and we did so unapologetically.
The “example of Christianity worldwide” is increasing apostasy. It is the great falling away spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
And we used those churches as our example.
We did give a witness to the world. That witness was that while Ace Hardware was essential and could stay open, the worship of Jehovah God was not, and it must stop.
Looking back at our response, it is just as clear what our response today should be to the decisions made in early 2020.
We should repent.
When the pressure was on, where would the church look? Where did they look?
They relied more upon man, than upon Christ.
Looking back, who could defend such a thing?
Well, the pastor of Zion PRC, for one.
In a letter of response to an article in Beacon Lights magazine that rebuked the PRC for her sin of following the governors’ mandates over the word of God, Rev. Joe Holstege defended the “thought and careful consideration of biblical principles that went into that decision.”
He wrote in his letter, “As a consistory, we were always prepared to disobey government orders if we judged those orders became an infringement on the right and calling of the church to worship God publicly.”
If you cannot see that a government that forbids the public gathering of the church is “an infringement on the right and calling of the church to worship God publicly,” then I am not sure where even to begin. One thing is for certain: with smooth words like these, no one will ever repent.
Instead of defending the indefensible, Rev. Holstege should follow the example of the man he voted to depose, Rev. Andrew Lanning. In a sermon preached on November 8, 2020, Rev. Lanning apologized for and repented of his role in the closure of church earlier in the year. (If the recording sounds different than others, it’s because Rev. Lanning had COVID at the time and was preaching from his study.)
Other churches and pastors are facing persecution and the threat of arrest for faithfulness to the command of God not to forsake their gathering together. Meanwhile, the PRC is congratulating itself on its response that kept them safely from danger and mirrored the response of almost every other church in the world.
Reading the email from Prof. Cammenga and the letter from Zion, it becomes clear that the PRC must again look elsewhere for leadership.
At the very least, having erred so grievously in their response to COVID, going so far as to send a letter rebuking those who were acting faithfully to the clear command of God, the consistory of Zion PRC and Rev. Holstege should not now hold themselves out as our instructors on these things.
All of this makes one thing clear.
The Protestant Reformed Churches do not do repentance well.
Or do it at all.
The PRC have not repented for their decisions regarding worship.
Neither have they repented of their sins committed during the doctrinal controversy.
Despite the claims to the contrary.