**Post written by Elder Bryan Van Baren & Elder Dewey Engelsma**
The consistory of Byron Center PRC is trying to rewrite history.
In a letter dated May 12, 2021, and addressed to the delegates of Classis East, the elders of Byron Center PRC take issue with several statements made in two protests, here and here, that were brought to the May meeting of Classis East.
(We do not enter into the sheer disorder of Classis East receiving and distributing this letter. Other than to point out that apparently anyone who receives an agenda and disagrees with something written in a protest can draft a letter that will then be sent out to all consistories, regardless if the protests themselves are declared illegal and that the protestant has no opportunity to defend his position.)
This letter got our attention.
Against one statement of a protestant, the consistory wrote, “Since the protestant was not in the room, we would not expect him to know that.”
Both of us, however, were in the room.
We can do nothing about the consistory continuing to walk in lies (Jer. 23:14).
But we are convinced it is our duty to do something about their attempt to rewrite the history of this case.
The consistory is guilty of misrepresenting the protestant and lying to the classis.
The protestant wrote the following: “The consistory of Byron Center PRC then called in the church visitors whose advice was to depose Rev. Lanning. Knowing that advice and the high probability it would be adopted, Rev. Lanning knew he had one or two more opportunities to bring the Word of God to the flock at Byron Center as a watchman on the walls of Zion.”
The protestant was exactly right.
But Byron’s consistory twists his words and throws up a smokescreen.
They write, “The Church Visitors initial advice was for Byron Center to relieve Rev. Lanning….” They go on to write about the church visitors’ first bit of advice, which was to relieve Rev. Lanning of his duties according to Article 14 of the Church Order.
But the protestant never said anything about “initial” advice. He wrote that the advice of the church visitors was to depose Rev. Lanning, which was precisely their advice.
In their second piece of advice, the church visitors advised “the Byron Center consistory immediately to suspend its pastor, Rev. Lanning, according to Articles 79 and 80 of the Church Order for the sin of public schism…” These articles call for suspension, with a view to deposition, for various gross sins, which include public schism.
For Byron’s consistory to write that “at the time” there was no mention of deposition is disingenuous. Rev. Lanning knew, and every elder knew, that Rev. Lanning’s time on the pulpit of BCPRC was waning quickly. That is why the protestant was correct when he wrote that “Rev. Lanning knew he had one or two more opportunities to bring the Word of God to the flock at Byron Center as a watchman on the walls of Zion.”
The consistory then writes about Rev. Lanning’s words from Isaiah 30 that were addressed to the consistory having to do with Rev. Lanning’s correct observation that the consistory—in calling in the church visitors—was going to the prophets of Egypt for counsel.
The matter having to do with the consistory going to the prophets of Egypt is important only to the extent that history has proven the words of Rev. Lanning to be true. The consistory did go to the prophets of Egypt for counsel, and it has been to the absolute and utter shame of the consistory.
The most significant example of the elders trying to rewrite history, however, has to do with our calling in the church visitors.
A protestant wrote that the decision to suspend was “not truly the decision of Byron Center’s consistory.”
Byron Center’s consistory declares that this is “perhaps the most egregious incorrect statement.”
The protestant was correct.
In their letter, the elders write that there “were hours and hours of discussion regarding this sermon.” They then defend themselves by noting that “the assertion that the Byron Center consistory abdicated the responsibility of their offices and simply left it up to the Church Visitors is wrong.”
No, it is not wrong. It is correct. Let us examine the facts and the timeline of events. Because they continue to defend themselves, we now include names so those who are left in the PRC who are yet concerned with truth and right can confront these men with the truth.
- On Sunday, November 15, 2020, during the morning service, Rev. Lanning preached a sermon on Jeremiah 23:4, 14 with the title, “Shepherds to Feed You.”
- Immediately after that service, Elder Ed Hekstra asked for an emergency meeting of the elders to discuss the sermon because, according to his own confession, he was humbled and repentant on account of the sermon.
- During that meeting, not one word of criticism was uttered about the sermon.
- During his closing prayer at the end of the meeting, Elder Jim Hauck prayed that God would speed the sermon throughout the denomination.
- After the evening service, a group of elders—that did not include Elders Van Baren or Engelsma—met in the narthex of church and discussed and agreed to bring in the church visitors for help. (This is not deniable because during a consistory meeting later in the week, an elder asked the men where the motion to bring in the church visitors was coming from since we had never before discussed doing that. The response from Elder Hekstra was that this matter had been discussed by a group of elders after the evening service.)
- Later that Sunday night, Elder Ed Hekstra sent out an email to the consistory informing us that he was working on a motion for the elders to consider.
- On Monday, November 16, Elder Ed Hekstra contacted a church visitor, Rev. Slopsema.
- On Tuesday, November 17, Elder Hekstra emailed two recommendations, one of which was to “Request advise from the Church Visitors” regarding the sermon preached, “Shepherds to Feed You.”
The consistory had never assigned a committee to come back with advice, and any discussion on the sermon had only lasted a few hours.
There is absolutely no way someone can make the case that Byron’s consistory did its work.
The protestant is absolutely correct when he writes that the consistory “did not deliberate, study, and formulate a recommendation and grounds and then seek advice of the church visitors.”
The protestant is absolutely correct when he goes on to write that the consistory “turned to the church visitors to do their work for them, and the church visitors readily complied.”
The elders lie when they give the impression that the consistory did its work before calling in the church visitors.
The history is clear. The facts are clear.
Byron’s consistory accepted and adopted, without one change, the advice of the church visitors to suspend Rev. Lanning. It was never the consistory’s work. We simply put our rubber stamp on the church visitors’ work and shuffled it off to classis.
In their letter to the May classis, the consistory also takes issue with the statement of a protestant that Byron’s consistory was under duress.
This statement is absolutely correct.
It has already been well documented what went on in the consistory room with the church visitors.
But the consistory again walks in lies.
In this letter, they write, “Never was the consistory under duress from the Church Visitors. Never was the consistory bullied by the Church Visitors, and never did they consistory simply acquiesce to the will of the Church Visitors.” They go on to claim that the “Church Visitors never sought to impose their will upon the consistory.”
It is an undeniable fact that the consistory of Byron Center PRC adopted, without adding so much as a comma, the advice of the church visitors to suspend Rev. Lanning. What is this but to “simply acquiesce to the will of the Church Visitors”?
Regarding the matter of duress or the fact that the consistory was bullied, in this too, the protestant is correct.
Ask any of the elders if Rev. Koole said that if the consistory would not bring the motion to the floor then the church visitors would leave.
Rev. Koole threatened that the church visitors would leave if the consistory would not do what the church visitors were demanding that they do. This is to “impose their will upon the consistory.” This is the very definition of duress.
Duress – noun – /duːˈres/: threats used to force a person to do something.
It is absurd that many would point to the fact that the current consistory of Byron Center PRC says they were never bullied or under duress and that they never felt threatened.
Of course they are going to say that.
Do you expect them at this point to admit, yes, we simply were bullied into doing the will of the church visitors, and we just adopted their work wholesale?
These men needed the church visitors to do what they as elders did not have the courage to do.
The elders abdicated their office and turned it over to the church visitors, and the “church visitors readily complied,” as one of the protestants correctly states.
If you doubt this or you are inclined to dispute this, answer us this question: “What part of the document that Byron’s consistory adopted to suspend Rev. Lanning was a product of their own work?”
We are saddened and ashamed that these men, with whom we once enjoyed sweet fellowship and communion as fellow elders in the church of Christ, would defend themselves in this manner.
We loved the men with whom we served.
We loved them enough to warn them.
They were warned in two letters, here and here, written by Elder Van Baren and read to them the afternoon of November 30. They were warned in a letter written by Elder Engelsma and emailed to them early on January 15, the day classis was going to vote to depose.
Our warnings have fallen on deaf ears, to our utter grief and dismay.
We love them to this very day. We are grieved by what has become of them.
May Jehovah God work repentance in their hearts, lest the prophecy of Jeremiah prove to be true of them, as it was for the “rebellious children” of Israel before them.
“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12).