On Sunday, July 1, 2018, Prof. Russell Dykstra preached a sermon at Hope Protestant Reformed Church titled “Made Free by the Truth.”
This sermon was preached ten days after Synod 2018 had adjourned.
Synod 2018 declared that Classis East had “failed to deal with doctrinal error contained in sermons Mrs. Meyer protested to Hope’s consistory” (2018 Acts of Synod, 61). Those sermons were preached at Hope PRC. Further, synod had declared that this doctrinal error “compromises the gospel of Jesus Christ, for when our good works are given a place and function they do not have, the perfect work of Jesus Christ is displaced” (70). Synod went on to conclude that “Necessarily then, the doctrines of the unconditional covenant (fellowship with God) and justification by faith alone are compromised by this error” (70).
Further, synod had passed a motion that would require a Formula of Subscription examination of the minister of Hope PRC who had taught these doctrinal errors. That examination was to take place two months later, in late August.
What did Professor Russell Dykstra have to say about what was being taught from the pulpit of Hope Protestant Reformed Church?
This: “The truth is preached here. I know it is. The truth of sovereign particular grace that God saves his people through Jesus Christ. The truth is preached here. Even if there have to be some corrections made, the truth is preached here. That’s why our covenant youth must stay here and embrace that truth.”
Synod 2018 had just said that the truth was not spoken from the pulpit of Hope Protestant Reformed Church. It had said the lie was being preached from the pulpit of that congregation. It was the lie that compromised justification by faith alone.
What Professor Dykstra did was to call evil good, and good evil. There is a word of God for Professor Dykstra. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).
What Professor Dykstra did was to militate against a settled and binding decision of an assembly of his denomination. Before the ink was even dry on the minutes, he militated against that assembly meeting. Where the assembly said “false,” Professor Dykstra said, “true.”
Synod did not say “corrections” needed to be made. It said the gospel was compromised. It said the man who taught that error was worthy of a Formula of Subscription exam. When was the last time a Formula of Subscription exam was required in the PRC—70 years?
Here is something you need to know about Professor Dykstra.
He is a hypocrite.
In late 2020, Professor Dykstra, along with Professor Gritters, wrote an article defending his view of Article 31 of the Church Order. In this article, Professor Dykstra wrote that if a man is opposed to a decision of an ecclesiastical body, he “must not publicly write or speak against a decision.”
Professor Dykstra tells his people to do one thing, but he himself does not do that thing (Matt. 23:3).
And no one in the PRC will care or do a thing about it.
For a very long time I labored under the conviction that things in the PRC mattered—that the truth mattered, that men’s words mattered, that men’s actions mattered, and that the word of God mattered. I thought that if men were exposed as hypocrites, or Christless in their theology, or profane in their actions, that the church of Jesus Christ would take notice.
That they would not be able to tolerate it, not even for a second.
The joke was on me.
In this blog, I thought if I could just lay things out for the reader about what went on at Byron Center PRC and later in the denomination as a whole, then there would be a great hue and cry demanding justice. Surely justice should be a cornerstone of the bride of Jesus Christ?
What I did not realize was that none of this really mattered.
Membership in this particular institute was the end in itself.
Like what a church historian said about Rome also goes for the PRC, “Whatever its problems, it was the only church there was, or could be” (Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters, Hart, 69).
It doesn’t matter what goes on there; just stay there.
Think of it like “playing church.”
As a member of the PRC, I was given latitude to play church as much or as little as I wanted. This right was given to each of the members. For some, they did not see a reason to play church all that much. Those members never attended a Bible study, they were inconsistent in their church attendance, and they paid no attention to what was going on in their congregation or their denomination.
Others took a different approach. They loved playing church. Those members would read the minutes from the assembly meetings, they were faithful in their attendance at Bible studies and the weekly worship services, and they read many books.
Either approach was permissible.
I chose the latter route, and played the game very well.
I knew the rules and had no objection to them.
It became clear over time what worked in the PRC and what did not work. Playing church was the way to advancement. Play your game correctly, and you would be up for deacon or school board member or, maybe someday, even the vaunted position of elder.
But a line from the book by Donald Whitney on spiritual disciplines always stuck with me. In speaking about hypocritical leaders in the church, he wrote, “They may desire the recognition of applause, public acknowledgement, appreciation via social media, assured results, honor for their example, or most subtle of all, development of a reputation as holy, sacrificial, or exceptionally spiritual” (Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 149).
That was me.
Especially the last part about wanting to be viewed as “exceptionally spiritual.” (If reading that makes you think less of me, then good, you ought to.)
But at some point, God had had enough.
He took a pompous Pharisee, and he put the love of Jesus Christ in his heart.
I don’t know exactly how to characterize what happened in my life and, more importantly, what took place in my soul. I would need a theologian to help me put the right terms to it.
All I knew is that I wanted to feed on Jesus Christ.
I have laid out in previous posts how that then manifested itself.
And things developed so rapidly in the PRC that I wrote this blog about developments in the denomination as a whole.
I was convinced that no one would be able to abide those developments.
Turns out, the people have no problem abiding them.
The fact that so many in the PRC can read what took place and be unmoved says something significant.
It says that almost everyone was in on the joke.
But what else does it say?
Let me answer that this way.
Imagine, for whatever reason, you have to spend a few weeks in a new city. You’ve never been there, and you don’t know anyone who lives there.
Your path crosses with someone, and you talk to him about your faith and the anguish of your heart in not being able to attend worship services at the church where you are a member. His response, eager evangelist that he is, is to invite you to his church this coming Sunday. “You should come to my church! We are a small, conservative Reformed denomination that holds traditional worship services and reads from the KJV, and we even sing from the Psalter!”
Thinking this might work, you ask him about what the church believes. “Tell me about the doctrines that are taught in your denomination.”
And this is what he says.
We believe that if you want to be saved, you have to do something. That ties in closely with the truth we teach that Jesus, Himself personally, did not accomplish every aspect of the work of your salvation. That’s what makes him a controversial Savior! In fact, we believe that it is not enough for salvation that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. It is not enough that there is a Jesus. Man has to do something in order to be saved. In order to appropriate salvation, in order to appropriate justification, a man must do something. You could put it this way: when it comes to the gospel, the choice is man’s in the end.
When a man does good works, it is not Christ who is doing the good in him. It is man who does the good, who lives in obedience to God’s law, because man is no longer totally depraved.
God has many good gifts, but in order to get those things, man must do something first, and then God will do something. That is important to understand. For example, there is a vitally important sense in which, in our salvation, our drawing nigh to God precedes God’s drawing nigh to us. You could put it this way: God waits to give you something until you do something first.
In order to be forgiven, you first have to repent, and you first have to show forgiveness to others.
If you want to enjoy more and more of God’s love and fellowship, then you need to perform more good works. Think of it like this: the more a child hugs his mother, the more the mother will then hug the child. Right? So the more good works you perform, the more love and fellowship you will get from God. If you want to prosper in the enjoyment of God’s love, not just “get along” but really prosper, then you need to obey God’s law more. Put differently: by how much one is more holy, by so much more he is pleasing to God.
We believe there are two rails leading to heaven, and those two rails are God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
If you want to obey God’s word to get all of these things, then we have to talk about grace, because all of this is by grace. We call it available grace, and we put the question to our people: how are you going about getting that available grace?
Grace is given by the gospel, and grace is given by the law. Although Luther in his commentary on Galatians wrote that anyone who mixes the law with the gospel is a perverter of the gospel and an apostle of the devil, we do teach that the preaching of the commandments is a means of grace to you. You are saved by the sovereign grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and God continues to add grace to you in your life through the preaching of the commandments. That’s why at one point our assembly taught that properly done, the preaching of the law is the preaching of the gospel, and the preaching of the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Although we overturned that to appease some cranks in our denomination, the leaders in the denomination never stopped teaching it.
As regards faith, we identify faith as a condition, since faith is necessary. The other thing to know about faith is that faith is not God’s act, but faith is your act. Although some in the Reformed community have identified the abiding in Christ found in John 15:4 as faith, we teach that abiding in Christ involves both faith and works.
As to assurance of our salvation, God does not just drop that out of sky on us so that now we have it forever, and it can never be taken away from us, and we never have to worry about the matter of the assurance of our faith. No, in order for us not to worry and to be sure that it will never be taken away from us, we have to obey the ten commandments.
Regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we believe that there are two grounds for divorce: adultery and desertion.
And when it comes to the preaching of the gospel, we set the gospel offer before all who hear the preaching. We believe that Christ is graciously set before all men.
“Well, will I see you on Sunday?”
The answer, of course, would be no.
And you would walk away in disbelief that there is a denomination of Reformed churches that blasphemes the name of Jesus Christ in that way.
What an absolute corruption of the simple gospel.
What a glorification of man and a despising of God.
If the man would ask you about their doctrine, you would reply, “You have a weak and pathetic god, and I want nothing to do with him.”
You will notice that in the above example I did not say one word about the corruption or the abuse that is rampant in the PRC. Those things are symptoms. The root problem is their theology.
The theology of the Protestant Reformed Churches is perfectly encapsulated by this phrase: It is not enough that there is a Jesus.
When a man in the PRC taught that, he was soon chosen to be the professor of dogmatics.
If Jesus is not enough, that means the void has to be filled by something else.
For the PRC, that void is filled by man.
What must you do if Jesus is not enough?
You will rely on yourself.
Whether that reliance is on your faith or on your obedience, you will rely on yourself.
The Belgic Confession, Article 23, tells us that “if we should appear before God, relying on ourselves or on any other creature, though ever so little, we should, alas! be consumed.”
Anyone who believes the theology taught in the PRC will be consumed.
How is it that members of a denomination can be indifferent to the corruption and wickedness and lies about God that have characterized the last seven years of this controversy? How can they continue to live in such a denomination?
Some love the doctrine of man. They would never put it that way, but they love to quickly acknowledge God’s role in salvation and then immediately go to what man must do to be saved. They believe the lie from hell that will condemn them. And just as the serpent beguiled Eve with his subtilty, so the ministers and professors beguile and deceive their members with their subtilty, which is the subtilty of the devil (2 Cor. 11:3).
As for the rest, I would say many, if not most, of the members of the denomination are completely indifferent to the false doctrine and corruption that characterize their denomination. Church for them is just a social club. Like someone might belong to a golf club, so they belong to a church. Their friends and family are there, their work is closely tied to their church membership, and life is good. Whereas a good golf club might cost tens of thousands of dollars, their church only costs them $50/week.
In that light, then, the only person who is not welcome is someone who disrupts the peace. That person needs to be kicked out, and quickly. Truth? What does truth matter when the high school team is on the brink of winning the championship? This explains the elder who became furiously angry at my letter to his consistory but was completely ignorant of his minister’s penning a document that displaced Christ.
His minister only taught false doctrine.
I was disrupting his peace.
That’s why the false doctrine and corruption are no big deal. There is nothing a minister could say or do that would cause them to rise up and reform their church or form the church anew.
The church for them is not the pillar and ground of the truth.
The church is the pillar and ground of a nice, easy, and smooth life.
I was right there with them.
God used the controversy to shake me awake.
My synod told me this was about justification by faith alone.
Yet the doctrine taught after that synod was the same as the false doctrine condemned by that synod.
Well, what are you going to do about it?
For the vast majority of the denomination, the answer was this: “Nothing. We aren’t going to do a thing about it. The social club that is my church is working quite well for me, thank you very much.”
I see that now.
Nothing will persuade or convince them that they are in grave danger, that their church is false and is the object of the judgment of God. They would not be persuaded even if one rose from the dead.
They are indifferent to the fact that wolves have entered the sheepfold—as Paul promised they would—men who speak perverse things against God and his word (Acts 20:29–30).
I certainly cannot convince them. That has become clear.
Neither will the ministers in the PRC convince them.
They are busy putting any remaining members who might have questions back to sleep.
That work started immediately after the split.
Listen to Rev. Garry Eriks in the Q&A session sponsored by Unity PRC soon after the Act of Separation was distributed (full lecture can be found here).
Not one person will ever repent of their sins that they committed during the controversy when you have a man like Rev. Eriks speaking like this.
Some hear a man’s voice.
I hear the hiss of the serpent in his response.
Rev. Eriks put his name to a doctrinal statement that compromised justification by faith alone. Justification by faith alone is the heart of the gospel. Corrupt that doctrine, and you have no gospel. Men go to hell with a compromised confession of justification by faith alone on their lips.
The synod of the PRC said that Rev. Eriks’ document compromised justification by faith alone.
Rev. Eriks had a chance to confess his sin for leading his sheep astray.
He had a chance to tell his sheep how deceitful, how wicked, and, yes, how subtle false doctrine truly is. He could have used himself as an example: how he was led astray so that it actually took place that he, Rev. Garry Eriks, put his name to a document that displaced Christ. He could have pointed out Paul’s instruction that there will be false teachers among them who would be so subtle, so convincing, that even the elect would be led astray, if that were possible (2 Pet. 2:1, Mark 13:22).
He could have quoted 2 Corinthians 11:3 and told his flock that just as the serpent beguiled Eve through subtilty, so too he was beguiled through the subtilty of this false doctrine.
But he didn’t.
He mocked the fact that the error had been identified as subtle.
He made sure that not one person in his congregation will ever repent and turn from their sin.
He flung the doors of Unity PRC wide open for the devil and his hosts to spread the lie without any fear of resistance.
Imagine one day there is a visitor in attendance at Unity PRC, and he hears false doctrine preached. So he brings it to the consistory. “Men, I heard false doctrine. It was subtle, but I heard it.”
The response will be, “You heard the lie? And it was subtle? Maybe it was so subtle that it wasn’t even there.”
What about the next generation? What are they being taught?
Here is an article on polemics that was published in the September 2021 issue of Beacon Lights, the magazine for the young people of the denomination.
Reading this description of polemics makes one think of a picnic at the park. You pack a basket with some cheese and crackers, perhaps a submarine sandwich, and something nice to drink; and then you sit down across from the one who is teaching the lie, and you say, “Okay, I am now ready to engage in some polemics with you.”
“These are brothers and sisters in the church, and thus, the manner in which a writer composes his polemic matters enormously.”
That position set forth by the editor of Beacon Lights—which is the position of the denomination—is in large part why the Protestant Reformed Churches have been consumed by the lie.
Where the editor turned to Brad Littlejohn, he should have turned to Martin Luther.
I will tell you what will happen to the young people of the denomination when they take that article with them into battle.
They are going to be overrun.
The grievous wolves who arise in their congregations will eat them alive (Acts 20:29).
Here is what the young people of a Reformed denomination need to hear about polemics.
Love God. Love his truth. Love him so much that you hate and damn the lie. Love him so much that a zeal for his house and for his truth consumes you—like it did for Jesus Christ, who has saved such an unworthy worm as you—and you find it intolerable to hear anything false about God.
Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor so much that you are willing to rebuke him for his errors. Love him enough to not couch your rebuke in uncertain terms. Love him so much that you rebuke him even though he casts out your name as a wicked thing and removes you from his fellowship for the rest of your life.
Read. Start with Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Follow Luther’s example when he writes, “So whatever doctrine teaches anything other than that we are all sinners and are justified only by faith in Christ must be false, wicked, blasphemous, accursed, and devilish; and so are those who either teach it or accept it.”
Pray. Pray that God would teach your hands to war and your fingers to fight. Pray that God would remove your cowardly heart that is so utterly deceitful that you can’t even begin to fathom the depths of its wickedness. Pray that God would preserve you so that you do not turn back in the day of battle like the craven children of Ephraim.
Trust. In all these things know that you are not capable of even one parry of your sword except God do it in you. Trust in him and in him alone to work all these things in your life.
Give thanks. Give thanks that the curse that should fall on you for continually keeping back your sword from blood fell on one who never kept back his sword from blood. Out of thankfulness then for that one, contend earnestly for the faith.
There is only one thing that will wake up the members of the PRC, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the word.
It is the power of God unto salvation. It is how God saves.
God comes in his word and rebukes his people and makes them nothing. God comes in that same word and fills his people with Christ so that they turn to Christ for all of their salvation.
But the members of the PRC will not hear that word.
They heard it for a very brief period of time, and they hated it.
They damned it as an evil thing and cast out the men who preached it.
The preaching that remains in the PRC is powerless.
Why was it that for 40 years of my life I never heard the call to repent and believe? Why was it that for 40 years I was never rebuked for the wickedness in my life and for the unbelief in my heart? Why was it that for 40 years I never heard the law preached to me as something that exposed my sin and misery and as something that I could not perform, so that when I heard the law say, “Do this and live!” my soul would respond, “But I cannot!”? Why was it that after I should have heard the law’s condemnation of me—Sinai thundering so my conscience would quail within me—I was not then taught the gospel that would say to me, “You cannot keep the law, but there is one who did”?
Why was I only ever affirmed in the preaching?
Don’t you know that the preaching I heard turned me into the most wicked, proud Pharisee that ever lived?
And that for others, their souls were crushed and destroyed by it?
I am no longer bewildered.
When the bewilderment stops, then the blog born of bewilderment must also stop.
I have not lied to you in this blog. I have not misled you. I have written what I have out of love.
But my approach has never been to please men.
I read a quote in a religious periodical that struck me, and that has informed my own writing in this blog. My paraphrase of it goes like this: I will receive praise with thanksgiving and criticism with humility, but at the end of the day, I write for a readership of One. God is my tower. Bring on the whirlwind (CT, Editorial, 12/22/19).
Things are clear for me now.
I don’t want anything to do with the doctrine of the PRC or that which passes for preaching in the PRC. I don’t want it for me or my family.
There is one thing I desire, and that is for us to be fed on Jesus Christ.
The PRC points me to my works.
About that I, along with John Calvin, confess, “For what will a person find in his own works except matter for doubting and at last despairing?”
I want Jesus Christ and him crucified.
I want my pastor to know nothing among me and my family other than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
We have that now.
We lie down in green pastures and are led beside still waters.
Our souls are restored.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen” (Ps. 41:13).