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.