black bird perched on bare tree

My family spent 15 years in a wasteland.

Those were the years we spent sitting under the ministry of Rev. Koole.

We vexed our souls in that place.

It is no exaggeration to say that for the last five years in that church, we were in almost continual anguish.

The reason we were not in anguish for the first ten years is because carnal creatures have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear.

The anguish was not because of the people.

They were nice people.

Some of the nicest you’ll ever meet.

It was because of the preaching.

At some point, God took the scales from our eyes and unstopped our ears.

We labored to know what it was that was causing our anguish.

It did not take long to realize that when a Christian is deprived of Christ, his soul suffers.

We tried to do something about it. With God as my witness, for the last five years before we left, before a man finally told me it was time for us to leave—because nothing was going to change—we tried to do something about it.

My wife was right there next to me.

I know some men just cut and run, even though they knew how terrible the preaching was.

But I couldn’t do that.

I wish I could say it was because of some noble virtue in me, but I can’t say that.

The reason I couldn’t just pack my bags and leave was because of my naivete.

I was stupidly and inexcusably naïve.

I thought, if I just go to Rev. Koole and pour out my heart to him (which I did), he will change (which he didn’t). He will hear what I am saying and either tell me I am wrong (which he didn’t), or he will work on correcting it (which he didn’t).

Well, Rev. Koole disabused me of my naivete.

I went to Rev. Koole. I told him something was wrong. Was it just me and my wife? Perhaps. Was it his preaching? I was beginning to think so. We talked for an hour or so, and I left.

Over the course of the next year, however, I read everything I could get my hands on about preaching. It did not take long to realize what was missing from the preaching of Rev. Koole.

Jesus Christ was missing.

So I drafted a letter to send to the consistory. I took counsel of my father, who said I should go back to Rev. Koole—even though I had gone to him once, and I was not obligated to go to him again—and just give him another chance. So, hat and letter in hand, I went back to Rev. Koole.

We met, he read the letter and stated how serious it was, and then he asked me not to send the letter to the consistory. He said he would work on things. He said to give him the summer, and he would ask me at the end of the summer if I thought things had improved. I agreed to that and did not send the letter.

Two years went by, and I never heard from him.

So I sent a different letter to the consistory.

After having been disabused of my naivete about preachers in the PRC, it was then that I learned a valuable lesson about elders in the PRC.

They are double-tongued.

They would tell me in private that they agreed with me, but then in the consistory room and in the correspondence they would send, they would say something entirely different.

But through all of this I was becoming frantic.

I was a young man trying to lead his family. Seeing my wife weeping most Sunday nights after church showed me how deadly serious all of this was.

But was I the only one who thought this about the preaching? Was I imagining it? Was there another reason for the anguish of our souls?

I didn’t know what else to do, so I went to Rev. Kortering.

I picked Rev. Kortering for three reasons.

First, as a minister of the word, he would be able to tell me if the preaching we were hearing at Grandville was good preaching. Who would know preaching at Grandville better than an emeritus minister? Second, I had never had a conversation with him. The extent of our interactions was an occasional “Hello” or “Goodbye.” In other words, there was no personal relationship, so he could not be construed to be “on my side.” Third, and most importantly, if anything, not only would he not be favorably disposed to me, but there was also a possibility that he would be ill-disposed to me. I couldn’t formulate that into words exactly, but I had the impression that he and my father were on opposite sides regarding the matters that had transpired in Singapore, and as Prof. Engelsma’s son, perhaps Rev. Kortering would carry some animosity towards me. That’s a stretch, I know, but my entire point was to go to someone who would have no bias toward me at all. What I wanted, which I had not to that point received, was someone to rebuke me, to tell me I was dead wrong, that the preaching was exactly as it should be; or if not that, then at least that it was acceptable, and I should just shut up and be fed.

 I told Rev. Kortering I wanted to meet with him.

I am sure he was curious why this young man of the congregation with whom he had never had a conversation wanted to meet with him, but he was kind enough not to ask, and we simply set up a meeting at his home.

You can imagine my trepidation in walking up to his door and into his living room.

If you think about the reason I was there, it was because I was looking for a rebuke from a man who I thought might be more than willing to provide it.

Why would he be any different than any other member of the congregation who seemed to think, as far as I could tell, that nothing was wrong with the preaching at Grandville PRC?

He was different.

He was honorable.

He received me graciously and listened patiently as I told him how deeply troubled I was by Rev. Koole’s preaching. I poured out my soul to him, a man to whom I had never before spoken.

When I had finished laying it all out for him, I finally stopped.

It was now his turn to speak.

And it was time for me to be rebuked.

But the chastisement never came.

He confirmed for me my worst fears.

The preaching at Grandville PRC was as bad as I had thought it was.

In fact, he went further than I did (and rightfully so) in condemning the preaching.

He called into question the state of Rev. Koole’s soul as an explanation for how any man could preach the way that Rev. Koole preached.

He said, if it were not for Sermon Audio, he did not know what he and his wife would do.

Rev. Kortering gave me good advice on how to proceed, which advice I followed.

I thanked him and his wife, who had received me and comforted me.

I don’t have my notes from those meetings, but I will never forget his closing prayer.

As a token of my gratitude, I gave Rev. and Mrs. Kortering a book as a gift, with this note.

Rev. Kortering was not the only one who knew that the condition of the preaching at Grandville was abysmal.

I was also blessed to share church membership with Mrs. Lois Kregel. Mrs. Kregel showed herself to be a Berean in her hearing of the preaching. She was able to identify bad preaching and was not so cowardly as to sit by and doing nothing about it.

When Rev. Koole preached a sermon on the dimensions of the temple where 95% of the sermon (no exaggeration) was comparing the dimensions of the temple to the dimensions of the Grandville PRC church building, Mrs. Kregel objected. She was rebuffed, of course, but she objected.

At one point she must have seen the anguish on my face, or perhaps she knew that I was being tortured by the preaching, because one day she caught me in the narthex and said—as a means of encouragement—“Dewey, you will hear other preaching in your lifetime, but this will be the only preaching that I hear for the rest of my life.”

It was indeed encouragement for me, but my heart broke for her.

My thought was, “Where are her elders?”

Mrs. Kregel died in 2016, fulfilling her prophecy that she would never hear any other preaching than that of Rev. Kenneth Koole.

There are members of Grandville PRC who have accused me—not to my face, but behind my back—of being a liar. “Everything Dewey is writing is lies!”

They slander me when they say that.

I have not lied, not even once, in any of the posts or in any of the thousands of words I have written.

But because those members will take issue with me writing about Grandville PRC and accuse me of more lies, then I point them to a man to verify this. They should go ask Leon Kamps. He was my elder at Grandville. He was the one elder in the many years we had family visitation who finally, at the end of my stay at Grandville, asked me about the preaching. I told him that if he wanted me to answer that question, I would have to first have my children leave the room. He said he did want me to answer, the kids went to the basement, we closed the door, and I told him what I thought about the preaching. I sent Leon this letter when Dawn and I finally made the decision to leave.

His response to those who ask to verify what I say regarding the preaching at Grandville PRC will say much about his character and whether my praise of him was warranted.

(Re-reading the letters I sent shows me just how spiritually sick I was. Looking back at our time at Grandville PRC and considering what has taken place since, again shows me how foolish I was to place my trust in any man).

The preaching at Grandville PRC was garbage.

More precisely, it was like a landfill.

Most of it was trash, but you could pick away at it and occasionally find a morsel to eat.

There will be howls of outrage at that, of course.

“How dare you?!”

I wish I could take credit for that phraseology, but like every other good turn of phrase I may have ever used, I borrowed it from someone else. The description of some preaching as a landfill comes from the book Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon. There he writes, “As starving children in Manila sift through the landfill for food, Christians in many churches today have never experienced genuinely soul-nourishing preaching, and so they just pick away at what is available to them, trying to find a morsel of spiritual sustenance or helpful counsel here or there” (17). 

But what made Rev. Koole’s preaching so abominable? Was it that it was impossible to follow? Or that it became painfully evident within minutes of the start of every sermon that he had put almost no time into preparing for the sermon? For a long time I thought those were the reasons. I thought that if only Koole would exert himself, or if he could be (re)taught how to write a sermon, all would be well. My use of the quote from James Daane in one of the letters illustrates that.

I was wrong.

Rev. Koole’s preaching was garbage because it did not have Christ. Rev. Koole fed his congregation a steady and constant dose of Man. He preached and taught the lie about God, about Christ, and about salvation. He continues to do that to this day. That made, and makes, his preaching worse than garbage. It makes it dung.

There is no one who can honestly say that Rev. Koole desired to know nothing among his congregation save Christ and him crucified.

He didn’t preach Christ.

And I cannot think of a more damning indictment of a man’s ministry than that.

So what’s the point?

Why bring this all back up again?

Maybe I am just bitter and have a bone to pick with Rev. Koole and Grandville PRC. Maybe I have secretly harbored a spirit of bitterness and malice for many years and now finally—finally!—I have a chance to vent my spleen.

Although that might make for a nice narrative, it’s not true.

I don’t have a shred of bitterness or anger in me about those years. I can see now that God led me and my family through that wilderness so that when we finally heard the gospel, when we finally heard Christ, we would cling to him with everything we had.

The real question here is, “What does the PRC do with a man like Rev. Koole?”

Rev. Koole was a known quantity—an unspiritual man who did not have Jesus Christ in his heart, so that he could never find Jesus Christ in the text.

Although the unfaithful elders and unspiritual members of Grandville PRC were able to tolerate this wickedness, what about the denomination as a whole?

What do the Protestant Reformed Churches do with such a man?

What do they they think of such a man?

The PRC considered Rev. Koole to be one of their most “competent” ministers. We know that because they made him a church visitor.

The PRC nominated and then called such a man to be the professor of dogmatics so he could train the next generation of preachers.

It made him the editor of the church magazine.

It allows him to keep preaching his false doctrine all over the denomination.

Ask yourself, what does that say about a denomination that will place Rev. Koole in all of those positions of authority and instruction?

This is what it says.

The PRC is a dead letter.

It is spiritually bankrupt.

It doesn’t matter what a man teaches.

After he has put in his time, it is time for a promotion.

So much so, that when Rev. Koole declined the nomination for professor, the PRC nominated Prof. Cammenga. Prof. Cammenga too was a known quantity, as a man who didn’t understand the gospel from the very beginning of his ministry.

A man who could actually frame to say the words, “It is not enough that there is a Jesus.”

But Grandville PRC was no aberration.

It fairly represented the condition of the denomination.


Post Script

And now Rev. Koole has something to say about the “delegation” from the RPC that is going to Singapore. You can find his remarks here and the entire sermon here.

(As an aside, it should be noted that there is no “delegation” from the RPC going to Singapore. Rev. Lanning is in Singapore to preach and give lectures in Singapore at the request of Berean Reformed Protestant Church. Three members of his congregation at their own behest are accompanying him on this trip.)

Rev. Koole’s judgment is that the group is going to Singapore to “stir up mischief.”

Of course that is his judgment.

Rev. Lanning is going to Singapore to preach the gospel.

That is not something Rev. Koole would understand.

But what should the members of CERC make of this visit?

My answer is much different than that given by their Session.


2 thoughts on “Wasteland

  1. Elder Engelsma, thank you for these words here. The PRC is crumbling from the inside out, not the outside in, because they have thrust Christ out of the church. They have stripped him of his glory. And the consequence of this is complete apostasy of every sort. When you take away Christ you are left with man and man cannot save. Man only destroys. It is deadly serious when a man’s theology points to himself as “that which man must do” to be saved. This theology they teach will be the same theology under which they will be judged. The theology of man doesn’t need Christ and therefore is one of hell. Does anyone hear?! Does anyone understand?!
    Give me Christ and only Christ! The doctrine of man is oppression and spiritual death!
    You have used this public space in a pleading effort to sound the warning. It is my prayer that God remove the scales off the eyes of those whose hearts have been hardened against Jesus Christ.

    To Mother Denomination of the PRC:

    Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
    1 Corinthians 15:34

  2. Your distress because of the preaching in Grandville is similar to what we experienced in Peace. I’m impressed with the fact that Rev. Kortering agreed with you, but didn’t take action. To me that says volumes.

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