Pressure from the rest of the denomination started months before the deposition.
It started with Byron’s response to COVID.
Although some in the church world are now giving good, godly advice in articles and books about the proper response to COVID, early on that was not the case.
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.
Prof. Cammenga sent an email to all the ministers of the denomination excoriating Byron Center for its decision, found here and here, calling that decision extreme and inconsistent.
(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”).
Our response was not able to convince them otherwise.
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.
6 thoughts on “COVID”
Todd, I was there in the room for the deliberations. I freely confess that the pressure we received from outside our consistory room had a very large impact on me. It did on my fellow consistory members as well. However, Byron’s consistory at that time was resolved to do right, and we did the right. Did I criticize my fellow consistory members anywhere in my blog for not doing the right? I ask you, where in my blog post did I “launch a shameful attack” on those with whom I served? I honor the consistory of Byron Center PRC for how they behaved during the COVID pandemic. We faced tremendous pressure, and, except for those three weeks, continued to worship. We could have folded, but by the grace of God, we didn’t. In fact, the only one of our consistory who I accused of stumbling because of the pressure was myself.
I again appreciate your reminder about the true goal of polemics. But if we can’t engage in spiritual warfare to defend the church’s right to worship over against the decree of the state, when can we?
We have those who are telling us that the state is looking out for the best interests of the church. I reject and repudiate that sentiment.
I agree with James Bannerman who wrote, “Judging from the nature of the Gospel and of human society together, or judging from the actual history of the facts, we may lay it down, as a position not to be controverted, that when the civil magistrate does not own the truth and recognize it as a friend, then he will view it and treat it as an enemy. The state cannot be neutral; if it is not professedly Christian, it will, directly or indirectly, be the persecutor of Christianity…The magistrate himself has a human heart within him, which, if it does not own and love the truth of God, will assuredly deny it and hate it; and if not decidedly the friend, he will be decidedly the enemy, of the Gospel (The Church of Christ, 151-152).
It is my firm conviction that the PRC does not indeed, repent. It uses words that sounds good, like lament, but true repentance is clear to everyone who sees it. And it is clear the PRC does not repent.
If God wills, that will be the subject of my next post(s).
No, it’s not. You wouldn’t do that.
Fair enough. To be clear it isn’t all mockery, right?
Hi Todd, I think you are referring to the fact that I haven’t replied to a few of your comments yet. I apologize that it has taken me so long to get to them. You aren’t the only one, as there are other good questions that I want to get to. However, I have to confess that replying to comments is not my first priority. And that’s not because the comments and questions aren’t good ones. I just think it is more important for me to post the blogs that I have remaining so I can be done with this. We are probably agreed that the sooner this blog can be finished the better. I am giving a witness and testimony about what went on in the PRC. You can malign it, mischaracterize it, or ignore it, but that is not my concern. What someone does with my blog is up to them. I can assure you I don’t want to relive this history. It’s ugly. As ugly a piece of business as I have seen. I just feel constrained to tell the members of the PRC what went on. So I ask for your indulgence, as I did in the first blog, “Suffer me that I may speak; and after that I have spoken, mock on” (Job 21:3). (In other words, you aren’t supposed to mock until I am finished : )
“Elder” Dewey. The council was not afraid of men. There were numerous discussions regarding the potential implications of civil disobedience and there was a sense of resolve to do right – not dread fear of Governor Whitmer, or anyone else for that matter. You know this because you were there. And yet again, you write to twist truth and turn a clever phrase or two to launch a shameful attack on those you so recently called brothers in Christ. This time stating that an entire denomination refuses to repent of anything.
I realize this is an echo chamber and my words will be seen by no one but you. Even so, I ask again as I did in my previous unposted response, remember that polemics is not war for the sake of war! It is spiritual war for the honor and glory of Christ! All else is vanity.
Testing the sectarian echo chamber. Will this be posted?
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