The word comes from the Greek word having to do with an actor or a stage player. Such men would wear masks to indicate the character they were playing. This allowed them to be different people at different times.
It was only after a number of years that the word came to mean “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”¹
Some of Jesus’ harshest condemnations were reserved for those he identified as hypocrites.
Those who condemn or judge others but are blind to those very faults in themselves (Matt. 7:1–5).
Or someone who says one thing but does another (Matt. 15:1–9).
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were hypocrites. Those who bound heavy burdens on others but would not move those burdens with one of their fingers (Matt. 23:4).
On such, Jesus pronounces a curse.
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13).
According to Charles Spurgeon, ministers are especially susceptible to this sin. “It is a terribly easy matter to be a minister of the gospel and a vile hypocrite at the same time.”
What about ministers and elders in the Protestant Reformed Churches?
We shall see.
The reason Rev. Lanning was deposed, we are told, is because he made public charges of sin against officebearers. There were differences in the three documents created along the way by three different parties—the church visitors, Trinity PRC, and then classis. One difference was that the church visitors and Trinity PRC pressed the charge that Rev. Lanning violated his Formula of Subscription vow. Classis never made mention of that vow.
But one thing was true with all of them: Rev. Lanning must be deposed for making public charges of sin.
“In these sermons he publicly charges ministers and office-bearers of the PRC with unrepentant sin” (church visitors).
“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 PRC).
In these sermons he publicly charges ministers and office-bearers of the PRC with unrepentant sin. The statements in his sermons and his subsequent actions are enumerated by the BC consistory, the advice of the church visitors, and set forth clearly by Trinity PRC consistory in the supplemental material (agenda, p. 125-179)” (Classis East).
It is no exaggeration to say that this was the reason Rev. Lanning was deposed. Apart from this charge, there is no deposition.
In addition to never proving that Rev. Lanning made charges, the men who convicted him had just done what they deposed him for.
(We saw in a previous post that this is not the first time we have seen this hypocrisy).
How can someone do that, you ask?
Put on a different mask.
On June 6, 2020, the consistory of Georgetown PRC mailed out a letter to its congregation responding to the distribution of Sword & Shield.
In this letter, Rev. Haak and the consistory of Georgetown PRC made public charges of sin against Revs. N. Langerak, Lanning, and VanderWal and the other men responsible for Sword & Shield. The charge made was lying and schism.
How then was it possible for Rev. Haak—as a church visitor—to formulate this charge and then press it in the service of the deposition of Rev. Lanning? “Article 74 requires that any charges of public sin ‘shall be reported to the consistory,’ and it makes this step for charges of public sin, as necessary as the steps of Matthew 18 with regard to private sins. The way appointed by Christ is not to bring charges of sin to the court of public opinion, not even public sins. All charges of sin are to be brought to the consistory as the sole court Christ appointed to judge and treat such sins” (church visitors’ advice).
Not hard at all. Put on a different mask.
Soon after Sword & Shield appeared, Unity PRC sent out a letter to its congregation charging the editors and promoters of the new magazine with lying, promoting division and unrest, and finally creating schism.
What does it mean then when the delegates depose a man from the ministry of the word and sacraments for the exact same thing they did in their public letter to their congregation? “Rev. Lanning’s schismatic actions of publicly charging office-bearers are contrary to our Confessions. a. He has not followed in his preaching or conduct the sixth commandment as explained in the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 107, “But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner above mentioned? No; for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies” (minutes of Classis East, 24).
It means they are good actors.
Hudsonville PRC sent out a letter to its congregation in late July stating, incredibly, that there was no controversy, but also that Sword & Shield was divisive in the PRC. Certainly, by late July, they could have gone to the consistories of the editors and promoters of Sword & Shield. Did they not truly believe that the consistory was the “sole court Christ appointed to judge and treat such sins” and that there were “no other options” (minutes, 24)? Or was this grievous burden only one to be borne by Rev. Lanning and not the consistory of Hudsonville PRC?
(One elder delegate cleared himself of guilt in this matter by arguing and then voting against the deposition. Such a man that lives by principle does not need a mask, in fact, refuses to wear one.)
But what about the synodical delegates, the minister delegates from the West?
Was it unrealistic to hope that deliverance would come from the West?
Rev. Steven Key was one of those delegates.
There would be no help here. Instead, his own sword would devour this prophet, like a destroying lion (Jer. 2:30).
Rev. Key should have been more careful.
On December 6, 2020, the day the announcement of Rev. Lanning’s suspension was read in the churches, Rev. Key preached a sermon titled “The Shepherd and His Sheep.”
In this sermon, he publicly charged “some ministers” with the “grievous error” of “taking a bullwhip” to their flocks.
He was referring to Rev. Lanning and Rev. Langerak.
His congregation knew exactly what he was referring to as well. Within a few hours of the sermon being preached, I, as well as about forty-five others, received an email from a member of Loveland PRC bringing our attention to this sermon as “in the last 15 minutes or so he addressed the situation in Byron Center.”
From his pulpit, he publicly charged ministers in his denomination with “grievous error.”
Rev. Key did not bring these charges to Byron Center PRC or Crete PRC.
He made these charges publicly from the pulpit.
Ignore the monstrous implication that Jeremiah himself was guilty of grievous error for bringing the rebukes that he did, or that any minister today would be guilty as well for bringing the admonitions and threatenings of the gospel required of any faithful pastor.
Not five weeks after making this public charge of sin from his pulpit, Rev. Key voted to depose a man for making public charges of sin from the pulpit.
(I was able to stop Rev. Key in the narthex of Grace Church as he walked from the sanctuary to the room where he and the other synodical delegates were going to vote on the deposition. I asked him how he was not guilty of hypocrisy for preaching that sermon and then later voting to depose Rev. Lanning. There was no answer. Because there is no answer.)
What can you say about an assembly like this?
That without any shame walks in the grossest hypocrisy.
That blasphemously calls upon the name of God to bless such a wicked act.
That exhibits corruption that would make an earthly court blush.
It was never about public charges. Half the men there had done the same thing.
It was about a denomination that has made its living out of pointing the finger at other denominations but is unable to bear that finger pointed back at itself.
(When the rebuke came against herself in the sermon on Jeremiah 23:4, 14, many people were taken aback. In fact, some even felt the stirrings of sorrow for sin and repentance. Within a week they were able to gather themselves and decide, with a vengeance, that this troubler of Israel must go.)
The very things that the PRC has condemned in others, it refuses to see in herself.
It prides itself on the purest manifestation of the truth, refusing to realize it only has the purest manifestation of the form.
And then a few ministers showed up who refused to be cowed.
Who refused to be bought off by whatever passes for plum positions in a small denomination.
Who refused to flee the cross-bearing that must come when one follows Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:24).
Who worked along with other men in the denomination to form a magazine where they could, in faithfulness to their vows, defend and promote the truth and repudiate the lie.
One by one, those men who “incessantly and faithfully [fought] every new appearance of [the] heretical and monstrous notion that there is righteousness acceptable to God that is based upon some work, some merit, some obedience, some holiness, or some good in man” were put out of the denomination, or will be (Huizinga, Keeping the Sword Drawn, 25).
Instead of just writing about keeping the sword drawn, they did it, and it cost them.
The outcome of the meeting of Classis East was never in doubt.
The outcome never is with a “bureaucratic institution full of self-important and ruthless men.”
Those who voted for the deposition were warned.
One delegate warned them just before the vote to depose that if this was approved, they would be deposing a righteous prophet, a man in whom there was no guile, and it would be to the shame of the denomination.
But it is to more than just the shame of the denomination.
Toward the end of the sham proceedings, Jeremiah 26 was read to the delegates.
“But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears” (Jer. 26:15).
They brought innocent blood upon their heads and upon the denomination they represented.
And the man who felt compelled to speak last?
Who was not satisfied with all of the attacks, slanders, and abuse that had been heaped upon Rev. Lanning to that point?
Who wanted to make sure the final nail was pounded deep into the coffin?
That was Rev. Lanning’s father-in-law, Rev. Steven Key.
The man who had done the exact same thing only a few weeks before.
And now synod is upon us.
Which means it’s time for these men to reach for another mask.
Charles Spurgeon was a man ahead of his time.