Byron Center PRC

Byron Center PRC will have its next pastor installed on Sunday.

How striking that in the providence of God their next minister, Prof. Russell Dykstra, is not only the editor of a Reformed periodical but also a professor at the seminary and the president of what must be one of the busier denominational committees, the Contact Committee.

As all of us know, Rev. Lanning was required to resign as editor. He was required to do so because the consistory said the flock at Byron was “fragile.” He needed to spend more time with the congregation because his workload of being an editor, we were told, was getting in the way of his other work. “Being an editor reduces the important time spent with members of his own congregation, getting to better understand her concerns and needs and being more involved in shepherding the flock.” His resignation as editor was necessary, as “the additional time gained from not being editor would allow this aspect of his ministry to more greatly flourish.”

We know from the testimony of one current officebearer that Byron Center PRC is a “battered congregation.”

It will no doubt then be a priority of the consistory that Prof. Dykstra resign as editor, and as instructor in the seminary, and from all denominational committees so that his focus can be “on the preaching of the Word and care of the congregation.”

Although there is the similarity of both men serving as editors of magazines, there is a stark contrast between the pastor who was deposed and the pastor who will be installed this coming Sunday.

It does not have to do with style. It does not have to do with manner. It does not have to do with tone. It has nothing whatsoever to do with things indifferent.

It has to do with their response to false doctrine.

On Sunday, June 23, 2019, heresy was preached at Faith PRC, where Prof. Dykstra was a member.

How did Rev. Lanning and Prof. Dykstra respond?

In early July 2019 Rev. Lanning informed his consistory that, after speaking with Rev. Van Overloop, he was going to be protesting the sermon to Grace’s consistory.

In his protest, Rev. Lanning condemned the false doctrine and called for it to be repented of and repudiated.

What happened to this protest?

At the consistory meeting, an elder raised the question as to why it always had to be Rev. Lanning alone addressing these matters of false doctrine. Why could it never be elders and consistories of the PRC themselves taking up the sword against false doctrine?  

After discussion, a motion was made for Byron’s consistory to make this protest her own, and apart from two abstentions, this was unanimously approved and the protest was sent to Grace PRC from the consistory.

That protest then went on to die a slow and painful death as the consistory, over the course of the next 12 months, lost all courage and succumbed to the pressure that was being exerted against her. So that in the end, as had been the case in the PRC to that point, it fell to another mother in Israel to stand up and fight for the truth of God’s word at Classis East. Only one minister protested that sermon, and that minister was put out of the denomination. It is no longer a wonder to me that conditions in a church could devolve to such a point that would require a Deborah to arise and put the men to shame. We’ve lived it.  

Rev. Lanning acted faithfully to his vow to “exert” himself to keep the church free from errors (Formula of Subscription). Rev. Lanning’s protest also further exposes as slander the claim that he did not use the ecclesiastical assemblies.

What about Prof. Dykstra?

Not only was he bound by the Formula of Subscription, but he had promised at his installation as professor to “caution [the students] in regard to the errors and heresies of the old, but especially of the new day.”

The error of the “new day” was clear. Conditional fellowship.

And now a sermon explicitly teaching the heresy of conditional fellowship was preached.

In his church.

What was his response?

This was his response.

In an email sent to all of the PR ministers a week and a half after the sermon was preached (which email was included in the September 2018 agenda for Classis West), Prof. Dykstra came down as hard as he possibly could…on those who would dare to share this sermon with others.

For those who dared to share this sermon was reserved the condemnation that they were guilty of violating the 9th commandment. And far more.

What warranted this email with its full-on assault, was not the heresy which was dividing the PRC, not the ministers who continued to trouble the church by teaching and preaching error, but “radicals” and those who listened critically to sermons to “determine whether the minister said everything exactly according to their extra-confessional formula.”

(Let us stop here for a minute. Extra-confessional formula? Synod just one year before had pointed out that Hope’s minister, Hope’s consistory, Classis East, and four of the leading ministers in the denomination had displaced Christ, compromised the gospel, and compromised justification by faith alone, and now the leading minister in the PRC had just taught conditions explicitly, and this is what we get? That some are insisting on their own “extra-confessional formula”?)

The strongest language that Prof. Dykstra could muster against the heresy preached in his church and in his denomination was that it might “raise an eyebrow or even stir the Reformed antennae.”

Stir the antennae? Raise an eyebrow?

A statement teaching conditions at any time in the PRC should cause an uproar, but especially so in the middle of a controversy on this very issue.

Ominous for the denomination was Prof. Dykstra’s line, “You need not even get the context.”

In other words, when a man preaches a conditional covenant that is not all of grace, you must get the context. Had Prof. Dykstra forgotten that this appeal to “context” was also made by De Wolf and his supporters in 1953? Which argument was answered by the minority report from Classis East in 1953 that properly explained how such statements should be viewed. And how they should be treated.

(The pastor of Cornerstone PRC takes a different approach, as he said on the floor of Classis East that he hoped Rev. Van Overloop was not sorry for preaching the sermon. He said that he hoped a minister would not be sorry for preaching a good sermon that had a bad statement.)

Prof. Dykstra went on to write, “But God in His mercy and by His grace has kept the PRC faithful to the confessions and to the Reformed doctrines entrusted to our care.”

No, the PRC has not been faithful to the confessions and to the Reformed doctrines. Compromising the gospel of grace, the unconditional covenant, and justification by faith alone is not being faithful to the confessions and Reformed doctrines.

Prof. Dykstra is consistent, however. For those who are paying attention, this reaction mirrors very closely his response to Synod 2018 when he came down, not on those who taught or defended false doctrine, but on those who might try to characterize the error taught as heresy.

So now Byron Center PRC has a new pastor.

They disobeyed the command of Psalm 105:15 with their last minister (“Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm”).

Why was Rev. Lanning deposed?

It was not because he was guilty of of making charges of sin from the pulpit or creating schism or any of the other trumped-up charges that the bureaucratic institution came up with.

By being faithful to his vow to reject and repudiate the lie and to expose and rebuke error, Rev. Lanning had brought unwanted attention and criticism on the church and on the consistory.

The members, for a time, had to bear reproach because of Rev. Lanning’s stand for the truth of God’s word. The members, but especially the consistory, could only endure that for a brief season, at which point they had to expel him from the church through deposition.

That will not happen with their next man.

They will no longer have to fear leaving a worship service with a broken and contrite spirit on account of hearing the rebuke of God’s word. They will no longer have to “endure” the sound doctrine of Rev. Lanning’s preaching (2 Tim. 4:1–4).

From this day forward, smooth words and rebukes pointed outwards will ensure a safe and peaceful existence within the PRC.

There will be long faces and tears for a while. Sadness. Anger because of the radicals that so troubled the church.  

But that will not last.

Before too long laughter will be ringing from the narthex and from the consistory room and from the lips of the members.

There will not need to be any more tears.

Because there will be no more rebukes.  

Byron Center PRC has gone to the house of feasting.

6 thoughts on “Byron Center PRC

  1. I was able to spend a couple of hours attending Synod 2021 earlier this month. I was present for one of the protests which objected to the speed with which Rev. Lanning’s deposition took place. Part of the advice explaining why the speed was not inappropriate was that Rev. Lanning and his consistory were at a clear impasse, one example of which was that Rev. Lanning stated that he continued to stand behind the Jeremiah 23 sermon “100%.”
    Speaking to this advice, a minister took the floor to address that matter of standing behind the sermon “100%.” He suggested that in his own preaching, there is no sermon that he could say that about, since there is always something that could have been improved or made more clear, and therefore always something that could be apologized for. So for Rev. Lanning to say this revealed a brazenness that demonstrated that the impasse was clear. (Note that this is my summary of his statements and by no means a direct quote, but I believe it accurately captures the sentiment he expressed.)
    I bring this up because I was intrigued by your account of the words from the minister of Cornerstone, that he hoped Rev. VanOverloop would not feel sorry for a good sermon with a bad statement.
    Setting these two comments side by side, I’m left puzzled. Which is it? Is it the case that every sermon is imperfect and therefore contains something worth apologizing for? Or is it the case that a minister should not feel bad for a good sermon, even if it contains bad statements?
    (This also leaves us with the question, “What is a ‘good’ sermon?” For instance, we all know Rev. Lanning was not deposed for false doctrine. If his sermons therefore were sound doctrine and the true gospel, were they “good” sermons? On the other hand, Rev. Van Overloop’s statement in that sermon was objective heresy, yet the suggestion is made that it was a “good” sermon and a fellow minister hopes he does not feel sorry for it.)
    I don’t know that I have any profound insights to make here, but it appears to me that throughout the controversy, standards have not been applied consistently. This strikes me as a case in point.

    As long as I am commenting anyway, could I ask for a bit more of an explanation of what became of Rev. Lanning’s protest, which BCPRC took on as their own? You mention it dying a “slow and painful death” and that the consistory “succumbed.” It evidently was not at classis January 2021 where the other protest of that sermon was dealt with. What became of it?

    1. Thanks for this comment, Ryan. There is a story behind Byron Center’s protest, but it is so sad (pathetic, really) I wasn’t going to get into it. But it could be a case study of how “protest and appeal” really works in the PRC, so maybe I will write more about it in the future. In short, we got locked into a correspondence bog, where letters went back and forth, accomplishing nothing, and eventually it got to the point where a response letter to Grace would only be approved when a sufficient number of elders could be assured that by sending this letter, it would not yet go to classis. Had Rev. Lanning not been deposed, we would still be drafting meaningless letters while the heresy that was preached hung out there like a rotting fish.

  2. Thank you Dewey for your continued witness of the truth in these matters. The hypocrisy of it all is almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious. The sheer silence of those that oppose us is damning. If you are lying as they charge where is their refutation? Must be that a simple majority is required to pronounce the truth of a matter. Thanks for your Godly witness. History will show who stood for truth and who sold their birthright for a bowl of soup.

  3. Hosea 7:8, “Ephraim is a cake not turned.” I read this chapter and particular verse a few days ago and was reminded of it again tonight when reading your most recent post.

    A “cake not turned”, scorched on one side and dough on the other, is good for nothing on either side. So it is when a man (any man) becomes so blackened with fervor for a truth he believes he has received to the exclusion of others, even fellow believers. Even members of Byron Center PRC.

    Consider that there is a time, even in the heat of spiritual battle, when it is prudent to let our “burnt sides” cool, reflect on our own weakness and praise our heavenly Father for His wondrous give of sanctification in Christ alone.

    1. Hi Todd, thanks for the comment. Your explanation of Hosea 7:8 is interesting, if not novel.

      I like what Calvin offers as a possible interpretation of the text, “The meaning of the words may then be this, That Ephraim was like a cake, which was not turned on the hearth, because he had been sharply and severely chastised, but without any benefit; being like reprobates, who, though the Lord may bruise them, yet continue obstinate in their hardness. They are then on one side burnt, because they are nearly wasted away under their evils; but on the other side they are wholly unbaked, because the Lord had not softened their perverseness.”

  4. Wow. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Prof. Dykstra, he spoke very eloquently and lovingly. He is absolutely right when he says that these behind the back texts weren’t an appropriate way of confronting a brother in Christ. The way that was handled was malicious and slanderous and cowardly.

    You seem to claim that context isn’t important. You even go so far as to say so in a way that implies that Prof. Dykstra shouldn’t need the chance to explain the wording that was problematic to you, which would involve him providing context. Context does matter. You have to be pretty assuming and narcissistic to believe that you’ve never said something that was taken the wrong way because the listener didn’t have the whole context or the whole story. It’s a pretty petty and, frankly, rude thing to suggest that the only part of the sermon worth addressing is the part you find problematic. It’s easy to cherry pick things when you already have a biased heart looking for reasons to be angry.

    It is perfectly okay for you to have a belief system that is different from others’. But it’s a pretty sinful thing to tear another down, to criticize and pick and attack a person based solely on a difference in beliefs. Not only that, but such doesn’t even appear to be your entire agenda. You attacked his personal choice to defend himself, against people who definitely did not handle their problem with him in the manner drawn out by Jesus Christ.

    If what you believe is the truth. If it’s really God’s Word that guides your writings and your teachings and your choices. I don’t think it’s necessary to adopt such an attitude of spite. Christ said: love yourself, love God, love your neighbor — ABOVE ALL ELSE. It’s a very powerful thing that Jesus uses this as a summary of the ENTIRE law. If you can’t do that. If you can’t love. Don’t even try to do the rest.

    And no. “Love” is not personal attacks against individuals.

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