What a scene.
There sat the entire, august body of Classis East: ministers, elders, and visiting professors. All were sitting in judgment of one man, Reverend Andrew Lanning, who sat alone at a table near the front, with only his Bible and a few pages of typed notes.
He sat as a man being judged.
As he was.
The scene was that of a courtroom: accused, accusers, and judge. Except that in this courtroom, there were many judges, all standing in judgment of one man.
The president, Rev. Cory Griess, read 2 Chronicles 19:6 to remind the men of this fact.
They were to judge a man. They were to judge a man’s theology, his doctrine, his conduct, and his behavior.
But the man being judged was in no danger.
Not before the proceedings began, not during, and not even after the final verdict of guilty had been sounded.
Because Rev. Lanning stood on ground that his accusers did not.
He was standing firmly on the word of God, which is unshakeable and immovable.
The accused was in no danger, but the accusers and judges certainly were.
Rev. Griess should have read Deuteronomy 19:10.
“That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.”
Who were the accusers in this case?
The accusers were not the elders of Byron Center PRC, although the case came to the classis from this consistory. They were playing only a bit role in this dramatic scene. The case had to come through a consistory, and they were the ones who allowed themselves to be used in this manner.
This explains why, during the meetings with the church visitors and during the meeting of classis (and no doubt with Trinity), the elders who were in favor of the deposition had almost nothing to say. In fact, during the meeting with the church visitors and then again at classis, other men pleaded with the consistory to say something in favor of the motion. Rev. Spronk, for example, only a short time before the vote to depose was cast, said he would like to hear from the six elders at Byron who were in favor, ostensibly, of the deposition. He pleaded with them to stand up for themselves. After a moment of silence—deafening silence—he went on to try and make their defense for them.
But they did not make that defense themselves.
They could not. It was never their case.
The accusers of Rev. Lanning were the church visitors. The charges were theirs.
But the church visitors, in making and bringing these charges, represented their classis very well.
As would be seen throughout the proceedings.
It is not normal that church visitors bring charges of sin against a minister, but a lot of abnormal things would happen with this case.
Who are the church visitors? They are, according to Article 44 of the Church Order, a classis’ “oldest, most experienced, and most competent ministers.”
Their advice and counsel, then, would prove to be a fulfillment of Isaiah 29:14.
“Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”
Having been called in to provide help, the church visitors did far more than just give advice. They ran roughshod over the hapless consistory that had made the rash and hasty decision to request their help.
From the very beginning, these five men, the church visitors, would have their way.
This unruliness of having five church visitors is being contested today. I marvel at it. I thought if there was one thing everyone could be agreed upon, it was that the whole business of five church visitors would be roundly criticized, if not condemned.
At least have the decency to blush at it.
But now ministers are excusing it at their public lectures, and even classis is defending it.
Which involves playing fast and loose with the facts.
At the May 2021 meeting of Classis East, one of the grounds for a decision reads as follows: “As a matter of accuracy, there were not two, but one man on the committee of five who was involved to the point that he should have recused himself” (May 2021 Classis minutes, Article 32–D–1).
Compare that to the testimony of the church visitors themselves in their letter which was read at the January classis, when they had requested a man from the Classical Committee. Why did they request another man? “The trouble is that both Rev. Koole and Rev. Haak are involved in pursuing charges of slander and schism against Rev. Lanning” (church visitors’ letter to the Classical Committee).
Perhaps there are some in the PRC who are troubled by the corruption evidenced in the work of the church visitors.
Have no fear. Classis East is looking into the matter.
“It is moved that those men who served as church visitors in January produce a report to the next Classis clarifying or correcting any confusing or incorrect information – CARRIED” (Classis minutes, 18).
If Classis East were running a barnyard, I can picture the motion they would adopt.
“It is moved that the foxes produce a report explaining the disappearance of several chickens – CARRIED.”
Yet, what came to classis was the decision of the church visitors, passed along by Byron’s consistory.
And what a decision it was.
Completely void of the word of God.
Completely void of wisdom.
As it had to be.
Jeremiah 8:9: “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?”
But who were these accusers of Rev. Lanning, these church visitors whose advice the consistory had simply rubber-stamped and passed on to classis?
Two of them, Rev. Koole and Rev. Haak, had ongoing charges of sin against Rev. Lanning.
Two of these men, Rev. Haak and Rev. Slopsema, were authors of the doctrinal statement. The doctrinal statement that taught that “one can have fellowship with the holy God only through a sanctifying faith.” This statement that displaced the perfect work of Christ and compromised justification by faith alone.
This statement that none of us have ever heard any of its authors apologize for or repent of.
For all we know, and in fact the most logical position to take, every single one of these men still believes the theology taught in the doctrinal statement, theology that Synod 2018 condemned as a displacing of Christ’s perfect work.
The church visitors included a man, Rev. Koole, who continues to teach that if a man would be saved there is that which he must do.
The church visitors included a man, Rev. Haak, who on the floor of Synod 2018, after synod had condemned the doctrinal statement, said that he has always believed the theology of the doctrinal statement and would continue to teach it.
There would be no impartial advice or judgments coming from these men. Only this: an intense pursuit for deposition and the slaying of a prophet.
Amos 1:11: “he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity.”
In this courtroom, the kangaroos were having a heyday.
What about the men sitting in judgment? What about the delegates of Classis East, who now sat in regal splendor as judges?
This was Classis East.
The same assembly that in February of 2018 had committed the same thing in the eyes of the Lord as sodomy (Jer. 23:14).
The same assembly that had misrepresented a protestant and then refused to apologize for it.
The same assembly that year after year sent men as delegates to synod who had consistently, blatantly, openly, and unapologetically been wrong on the fundamentals of the Reformed faith.
Classis would have us believe they are sorry.
Trinity PRC, struggling to understand the difference between a statement of fact and true repentance, would have us believe they were sorry.
Were they broken by their sin? Were their confessions of sin sincere, for what they had done only three years earlier? What about the pastor who appeared on Byron’s pulpit during Rev. Lanning’s suspension, stating how sorry he was for his role in replacing Christ’s perfect work with man’s dung?
Would classis as a body give evidence of sorrow of heart according to 2 Corinthians 7:11?
If ever there were a time to prove their sorrow, this was the chance.
Because the one thing that a man who is genuinely sorry for his sin does not do, does not do even in the slightest regard, is lash out at the one who exposed his sin to him.
There would be no clearing of themselves at this meeting of classis (2 Cor. 7:11).
The verdict was in before the discussion had even begun.
Classis East dealt with many matters during the several days that it met. Every single piece of advice on a meaningful agenda item had been, at some point, recommitted to the committee to be reworked. This is standard procedure—if something is unclear or incorrect, it is sent back to the committee for reformulation so that such committee work is not done on the floor.
Every piece of advice except one.
The advice to depose Rev. Lanning, although incredibly biased and shoddy, with misrepresentations and outright falsehoods, and with holes in its argumentation you could drive a truck through, was never once resubmitted to the committee.
This work could not be delayed.
Isaiah 59:7: “Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood.”
What about the advice? Surely the committee of pre-advice would bring good, solid advice for the body to consider. Surely they would be righteous in judgment.
The advice was filled with half-truths, lies, misrepresentations, and grounds that you would not use to slap a man’s wrist, much less to suspend and depose him.
Which is to say, the advice was consistent with advice brought by committees of years past.
It was already shown by Synod 2018 how classis did its work in early 2018.
“In trying to demonstrate its point, Classis misquotes Mrs. Meyer” (2018 Acts of Synod, 77).
“Classis omits the most critical words of Mrs. Meyer’s statement, namely…” (77).
“Classis goes on to misquote Mrs. Meyer” (79).
Showing how truly sorry they were for that, Classis East made the same man, Rev. Bruinsma, who had chaired the committee in 2018, the chairman of this committee that was tasked with bringing advice regarding the deposition.
Rev. Bruinsma, consistent, if nothing else, again led a committee to misrepresent one of God’s children.
Examples could be multiplied, but these will suffice:
Regarding Rev. Lanning’s quoting of a Standard Bearer article, the advice of the committee was the following: “Also in his sermon on Jeremiah 23 he denounced rashly and unheard by consistory, classis or synod, a professor of our seminary and editor of the Standard Bearer as promoting statements from Satan.”
This is what Rev. Lanning said in the sermon after quoting from that SB editorial: “That’s minimizing the sin of that false doctrine.”
Does saying that a church was guilty of “mimimizing the sin of that false doctrine” sound the same as “promoting statements from Satan”?
(The fact that classis amended this after I brought it up on the floor does not change the fact that the committee brought it in the first place.)
Another example: In their recommendation, they write that Rev. Lanning in his sermon “publicly charges ministers and office-bearers of the PRC with unrepentant sin” (II-A-1).
The question which I raised at the meeting of classis, and pose now to everyone reading this, is “Where? Where did he do this?”
Read the material that follows that statement of the committee of pre-advice, which advice was adopted by classis. They provide no grounds or proof for their charge and even write, “At the very least he casts suspicion on the doctrinal orthodoxy of most of the ministers and elders of Classis East without ever bringing formal charges of sin, protests, or appeals to any assembly.”
So because of “suspicion” you will vote to suspend and depose?
Classis East is no stranger to rejecting a protestant because they did not “prove” their case. Many protests and appeals have been turned away for lack of proof, but now classis can depose a minister because “at the very least he casts suspicion”?
Although they go on to spend a lot of words proving that charges should not be made publicly, they never prove that Rev. Lanning did what they accuse him of.
(And just to answer the question, what has cast suspicion on the doctrinal orthodoxy of most of the elders and ministers of Classis East has been the sermons, decisions, statements, and writings of the elders and ministers of Classis East.)
Regarding Rev. Lanning’s sermon on Ecclesiastes, the committee writes that Rev. Lanning did not promote the honor and good character of the church visitors. But Rev. Lanning said nothing about the church visitors. He said, “The essence of the church visitors’ advice to this church is that the rebuke against our sin as a church and as a denomination of displacing the perfect work of Christ is not allowed in this pulpit.” He spoke against the advice—and never mentioned the men behind the advice.
Adding insult to injury, classis threw sand in the eyes of the members of the PRC when it decided that “Rev. Lanning judges and condemns the Protestant Reformed denomination as embracing the lie when such a lie can be found nowhere in the minutes of the assemblies of our churches” (II-B-1-E).
This perpetuates the myth that the mark of a standing or falling church has to do with the minutes of the assemblies of those churches. To properly identify the marks of a true or false church, the members of that church should look to what is written in its papers, what is accepted by the people, and most importantly, what is preached from her pulpits.
The committee of pre-advice brought advice that was terribly biased. Read the information section of their advice and ask yourself if that simply brought the objective facts of the case to light or if it tried to make the case even before the recommendation was read.
Not only was their advice biased, but it also misrepresented and twisted the facts into a horrible caricature, and then the committee tried to pass that off as truth.
(Not every member of the committee of pre-advice is guilty, however. One delegate from the committee of pre-advice brought a minority report. The report was objective in its presentation of the information and history of the case and was clear in its advice. You would think that the PRC would pay special heed to minority reports, but this one was completely ignored.)
The fix was in, as they say.
Habakkuk 1:4: “Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.”
Classis East had never shown any signs of repentance, and now that they had Rev. Lanning where they wanted him, they would show no mercy.
I stand amazed that the members of the PRC cannot see how corrupt and how rigged these whole proceedings were. Classis East has been consistently deciding wrongly on this theological issue, and now they are asked to stand in judgment of a man who has been rebuking us for our errors?
What do you think they are going to say?
And because an assembly like this would not be complete without it, the hypocrisy ran deep.