Disorder

forest photography

The work of the consistory was now characterized by disorder.

It started when we passed a motion requiring Rev. Lanning to resign as editor. This was not a principled decision, as has been shown. One ground dredged up an old decision for the sake of expediency, and the other ground lied to the congregation about the work of our pastor.

Once a consistory no longer makes decisions according to principle, which is to say the word of God, it will no longer act in an orderly manner. It cannot because God is a God of order, and when a consistory no longer relies upon God, it will rely upon man.

Take a look around at society, and you see what kind of confusion results from the wisdom of man.

That type of wisdom was about to be put on full display in the weeks to follow.  

On Sunday, November 15, 2020, Rev. Lanning preached a sermon titled “Shepherds to Feed You,” based on Jeremiah 23:4, 14.

I dare say none of us have heard a sermon like that before.

I dare say none of us have ever walked out of a sanctuary and been confronted so clearly by the two-fold response to the word of God: belief and unbelief. This was characterized by the repentant, humbled spirit of some and the angry, hardened response of others.

Some hearts had been prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive that word of rebuke and to respond with anguish of heart for their complacency and apathy to the truth of God’s word. The word fell upon such fertile soil and produced fruit. It produced the blessed fruit of repentance and sorrow for sin.

Other hearts were hardened against that word. Those men and women stormed out of the sanctuary, their faces set against the sermon and against the instrument of God who had delivered the sermon.

One man posted on Facebook shortly thereafter, “Zero edification for the flock. Unless you were there to support the Sword & Shield, in which case you really got your kicks. 85% of the content was a speech, not a sermon…Literally saw a handful of the BYRON congregation wiping tears of frustration from their eyes after we were dismissed. BCPRC was clicking along just fine up until about a year or so ago…when things started to get VERY political and agenda-driven.”

A few days after the Jeremiah sermon was preached, the consistory received a letter from a member of the denomination who had a different response to the sermon, “I didn’t understand what the controversy was all about. In my spiritual apathy I kept my head in the sand. Until last Sunday. I listened to learn. What I walked away with was a holy awareness of the gravity of this issue. Indeed the issue is unresolved. I see now that our denomination can not move forward and prosper under the blessing of God if we shove this into the vault never to be dealt with appropriately. It is very much unfinished.”

How to explain this two-fold response?

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21).

But then, curiously enough, there were those who were broken by the sermon, repentant and humbled, but then just a short time later were hardened against the sermon.

That describes the consistory.

Immediately after the morning service, an elder—which was neither Elder Van Baren nor me—gathered all the other elders for a meeting to discuss the sermon. This elder was, in his own words, humbled by the sermon. He had never heard it preached like that before, and he was moved to repentance and humility by the sermon.

So the consistory met immediately after the service.

Not one word of criticism about the sermon was uttered that morning.

The elder who had called the meeting was emotional, wondering how we should proceed. Other elders agreed, and the consistory discussed possible ways forward.

The elder who closed that meeting with prayer—which was neither Elder Van Baren nor me—prayed that God would “speed” the sermon throughout the denomination.

But the seed of that sermon had fallen on stony soil in the hearts of those elders.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matt. 13:20–21).

They were only able to endure for a few short hours.

An elder, just a few days later would excoriate Rev. Lanning in a consistory meeting, calling him a “Howard Stern shock jock.”

I will never know what happened between the time of that meeting after church and what transpired later that day and especially later that week.

Because only a few short hours later—which attitude was confirmed a few days later—those very men who had earlier been broken by the sermon were hardened against it.

What kind of persecution or tribulation arose to cause them “by and by” to be offended by that word?

They had no root, so the word was easily plucked from their hearts and souls.

Whatever happened, things looked a whole lot different when some of the elders gathered for a secret meeting that night after church.

Good Order

black hanging bridge surrounded by green forest trees

Did Rev. Lanning militate against his consistory?

In the advice brought to Byron’s consistory, which advice Byron’s consistory adopted wholesale, the church visitors wrote, “Rev. Lanning militated against the settled and binding decision of his own consistory.” As evidence, they provided the following:

a. The Byron Center consistory decided on November 11, 2020 that Rev. Lanning must resign as editor-in-chief of the Sword and Shield and so informed the congregation.

b. The next Sunday, November 15, Rev. Lanning preached the Jeremiah 23:4&14 sermon, claiming that the Sword and Shield is the only voice consistently speaking out against the devil’s theology in our churches.

Where do you hear condemnation of the devil’s theology as the devil’s theology? Is that the message you hear pouring out of the Protestant Reformed Churches today? Is that what you read in letters from consistories to congregations warning against a magazine? Is that what you hear – rejection of the lie? I don’t hear it. I don’t hear it. Except in one place consistently. One magazine.

c. The timing of this sermon with its negative evaluation of the PRCA and the claim that the Sword and Shield is the only voice that is consistently exposing the devil’s theology that has gripped the denomination is a thinly veiled criticism of his consistory’s decision designed to undermine the consistory’s credibility. This is especially evident from the fact that the sermon was based in part on the same passage the consistory used to explain their decision, viz., Jeremiah 23:4.

Does their evidence prove their charge?

The answer is no.  

The only proof the church visitors brought was an appeal to what they considered “thinly veiled” criticism of the consistory. The only proof they could bring was an inference about Rev. Lanning’s motives.

It is safe to say Rev. Lanning did have criticisms of his consistory. But he did not air them publicly, thinly veiled or otherwise.

Nowhere in the sermon did Rev. Lanning even hint at the decision that required him to resign as editor. Sure, Rev. Lanning spoke in defense of Sword & Shield, but the consistory had never taken a decision condemning Sword & Shield.

Rev. Lanning readily admitted that the text of the sermon was “occasioned” by the decision of the consistory, but the burden is on the church visitors to prove their charges.

Which they failed to do.  

But did Rev. Lanning disobey his consistory? Many people believe that he did.

There might very well be times when a minister would have to disobey his consistory. The rules set down by a consistory are not in themselves inviolable.

A consistory does not have absolute authority over the minister. The consistory may not tell a minister what car to drive, where to go on vacation, and the consistory may not intrude into the minister’s office by dictating to him the texts from which he must preach.

When a consistory puts the minister under a law of its own creation, it not only lords it over the minister and his office, but it tries to entangle that minister in the yoke of bondage. This would rob him of the liberty in which Christ has made him free (Gal. 5:1).

Neither must the minister himself give up that liberty by asking the permission of the consistory for those things that he is free to do or not to do. He can inform the consistory, but he must not ask permission. To do so would be to forfeit his liberty.

If a consistory tells a minister to do something or forbids him from doing something, and if that something would be a trampling of the liberty of the minister or a violation of the minister’s vows before God, that minister must not obey that rule. He must disobey the command of the consistory so that he can obey God (Acts 5:29).

This would not be dishonoring his consistory. The consistory derives its rule and authority from God and his word. When they depart from that rule, they no longer operate on authority given them from God. From then on, the rules they pass and the decisions they make will be the wisdom of man, which is earthly, sensual, and devilish (James 3:15).

Insofar as a rule contradicts the word of God, it must not be obeyed.

But it never came to that point with this decision. Rev. Lanning never had to make that choice, whether to obey or not to obey this decision of his consistory.

A week after the consistory passed the motion requiring him to resign as editor, Rev. Lanning informed us that he intended to protest the decision. This allowed for the possibility of Rev. Lanning continuing to serve as editor while his protest was being answered by the consistory.

(The possibility of delaying the implementation of a decision until a protest is heard is spoken of by Van Dellen & Monsma in their commentary on Articles 22 and 31 of the Church Order.)

To this—the delaying of the implementation of the decision—not one elder objected.

Therefore, Rev. Lanning would continue as editor until his protest was heard—with the elders’ concurrence.

Rev. Lanning behaved himself in a church orderly manner with his consistory regarding the decision to remove him as editor of Sword & Shield.

If only his consistory had dealt in such a manner with him and with their congregation.

Deceit

The decision taken by the Byron Center PRC consistory on November 10, 2020, to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor from Sword & Shield was a bad decision.

But it was more than just a bad decision.

It was cruel.

Comparisons are odious, but imagine that your boss calls you into his office and says, “Looking over the records, I believe you took one more vacation day last year than you were allowed.” You try to make clear that you took it unpaid and had previously discussed it with a manager, but he is insistent, “You took one more day off than you were allowed.” So he rebukes you for it.

You don’t agree with the rebuke necessarily, but what’s done is done, so you move on with your work knowing the issue is settled.

Five months later, however, he calls you back into his office.

He tells you that he is going to demote you. The reason he gives is this: “You took one more day off last year than you were allowed.” Not only that, but he also tells you he is going to inform everyone via company-wide email that you are now demoted, and the reason given is that you have been delinquent in your work, and you took that extra day off last year.

Such a boss would be described as capricious and cruel.

The matter regarding the editorship of Sword & Shield had been settled on June 17, 2020.

Five months later, it reappeared.

As if the June 17 decision never took place.

That was bad.

The fact that the consistory lied to the congregation with this decision was worse.

By adopting ground one of the decision to remove Rev. Lanning as editor, the consistory lied to the congregation about Rev. Lanning’s work in the congregation.

Rev. Lanning worked harder than anyone else we knew. His work put ours to shame.

For example, a committee of elders had been assigned to work on a case having to do with church attendance. Someone was not coming to church regularly and had no good reason for it. The committee assigned to the case went many months, perhaps three or four, with not one committee report. This was a true dereliction of duty. A member of the committee acknowledged it. The committee never received a rebuke. To then pass a motion that publicly rebukes Rev. Lanning because his labors as editor “reduces the important time spent with members of his own congregation” added hypocrisy to our cruelty.

There had never been an instance at the consistory level where Rev. Lanning’s work, work ethic, or labor in the congregation was called into question.

The consistory also lied by saying that Byron Center PRC was “fragile” and in “turmoil.”

It is simply a fact that a small minority of upset people doth not a fragile congregation make.

That wording showed the lack of spiritual depth of the consistory. One protest which we received against this decision put it well:

We have never heard of the state of the church referred to as “fragile”. We could not find this subjective description of the church in the Bible or creeds. The word “fragile” echoes of human wisdom found in worldly psychology textbooks. We do not believe this is a descriptive word that should be used of Byron Center PRC or any other church.

In contrast Byron Center PRC is by faith united to Christ the head. The invigorating life of Christ flows into her through this bond of faith, as the life of the vine flows to the branches. The Holy Spirit is working in her and through her week by week, through the word preached. Byron Center PRC is very much alive and well! Thanks be to God!

We did not even know what we meant by the words, but we used them as grounds. The Sunday after the decision was taken, a member of the congregation asked an elder, “Can you define for me what is meant by ‘fragile’ and ‘turmoil?’” The response? “I will have to check with the consistory.” No definitions were ever provided.

There was nothing fragile about Byron Center PRC. It was said in the consistory room by an elder at one point that the spiritual state of BCPRC had never been stronger. He was right.

Any turmoil we were facing should not have troubled us either. Rev. Lanning was preaching the pure word of God. There was unrest among a few, but as Martin Luther said, such turmoil will always be in the church, “especially when the doctrine of the Gospel flourishes.”

The horror of this, however, is not that a “boss” acted unfairly. That is where my earlier example breaks down, and breaks down almost entirely. Elders are not at all like earthly bosses. Elders are to stand in the place of and represent Jesus Christ to their flock. Truly was it written about the man elected to the office of elder; “Behold one who is like unto Christ, whom we have chosen to teach us about Christ and to bear rule over us in Christ’s name.”

“Behold one who is like unto Christ.”

Behold this one lying to the flock of Jesus Christ.

What does it mean when men who are called to represent to us Christ lie to us and even press the word of God into the service of that lie? How can we describe such behavior? This way: blasphemous.

How could the men pass such advice? How could they deliberately deceive the congregation by passing this motion?

This decision was simply a means to an end. Our strength was small, and we fainted in the day of adversity (Prov. 24:10). Some people were unhappy, and the pressure was too much. We had to do something, anything, even if that meant sacrificing truth on the altar of expediency.

Rev. Lanning had to go.

This was the start.

The problem the consistory faced—that they refused to reckon with—is that when you despise the word of God and misuse his prophets, God’s wrath will arise against you until, finally, there is no remedy (2 Chron. 36:16).

Crossroads

On Tuesday, November 10, 2020, the consistory of Byron Center PRC passed a motion to “require Rev. Lanning to resign as the editor of Sword & Shield.” (The committee’s recommendation is here. My protest against the decision, which lays out my principle objections to the motion, is found here.)

The consistory had faced the question of Rev. Lanning’s involvement in Sword & Shield in the past.

Six months previous, a committee had been formed to bring advice to the consistory regarding Rev. Lanning’s role in the group working toward a new publication. (The advice that was brought and adopted by the consistory is here.)

Making an issue of the fact that Rev. Lanning did not ask for approval for this particular role within the magazine was disingenuous. The consistory knew that Rev. Lanning was going to write for the magazine. What brought the firestorm of opposition was not the fact that Rev. Lanning put together each issue of the magazine, or copy edited articles when they came in, or whatever it is that the editor-in-chief does, but it was his writing. This, which was the real issue, the consistory studiously avoided in the decision to declare that he erred in not obtaining the consistory’s approval.

What this motion from five months prior did, however, was to make clear that, going forward, Rev. Lanning had the approval of the consistory in serving as editor of the magazine. This is clear from recommendation two, where it provides the grounds that could be used to remove Rev. Lanning as editor in the future. If Rev. Lanning’s work suffered in the congregation, then he would be instructed to “remove himself from this responsibility.” This is made even more clear in recommendation three. A committee was assigned to “monitor whether the work of being editor is causing the work of being pastor to suffer.”

Rev. Lanning could continue as editor as long as his work in the congregation did not suffer. The matter was settled. Or so we thought.

And now, out of the blue, comes a motion requiring Rev. Lanning to remove himself as editor of Sword & Shield.

Did his work suffer during that time period that required his removal?

Never once in the time between June 17 and November 10 did it come up at a consistory meeting that Rev. Lanning’s work among the congregation was suffering. All of Rev. Lanning’s pastor’s reports were received with no objections, and each motion to approve his work received unanimous support. The Pastoral Oversight committee (of which I was a member), did not even meet with Rev. Lanning over that time period, much less bring a report recommending his removal as editor.

Why then did the consistory pass the motion five months later to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor of Sword & Shield?

In a word: pressure.

A consistory stands at a crossroads at every meeting. There is a question that must be answered at each meeting, but not in so many words: “Shall we submit to Christ or man?”

The answer to that question will determine where a consistory turns for help. Christ? Or man? Under which yoke will a consistory place itself? The yoke of Christ? Or the yoke of man?

This question, “Shall we submit to Christ or man,” is answered by the consistory’s response to many things, but to trouble especially. When trouble arises, help is needed. “We are in trouble here, and we need help! We need to do something!”

The consistory felt itself to be in trouble.

It wasn’t really.

To that point, with a few exceptions, the consistory had decided matters based, not on expediency, but on principle. What is meant by principle? “Principles, real principles, not imaginations of our own heart, are eternal, inviolable verities, not determined by man, by society, by the state, by conditions or circumstances, but by the Most High God Himself” (Hoeksema, Living from Principle).

When you rule based on principle, you are in the safest position in the world. You are standing on the word of God, and what then can move you? If Satan and all of his hosts cannot reach you there, what is there to be troubled by?

Trouble is not having a few men angry with you. Trouble is not even having the entire world angry with you. Trouble is having Jehovah God set his face against you (Ezek. 15:7).

I am asked by those who have read through the January 2021 classis material, “What happened to Byron’s consistory between the time you sent the response letter to the SB editors and the time you passed a motion to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor of Sword & Shield?”

In other words, how can a consistory write this in June…

“Having witnessed Rev. Lanning’s behavior in the church, we can assure you he is an example to the church “in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (Form for Ordination of Ministers of God’s Word). He is faithful in his oversight of the church and that by the grace of God. Not only has Rev. Lanning been faithful in this, he has also been faithful to his vow to “feed, guide, protect, and rule the flock committed to his charge.” His meek and humble spirit coupled with his unflinching love for the truth of God has been a wonderful example to us as officebearers, and to the flock of Christ as a whole. Rev. Lanning preaches faithfully the full counsel of God in all of its power, to the edification of the flock at Byron Center, and to the resounding glory of God’s good and perfect name” (BCPRC Letter to SB Editors, March 3, 2020).

…and then five months later pass a motion a ground of which states by implication that Rev. Lanning is not doing his work, after all?

What happened is that consistories change. In June new elders were elected, and to paraphrase Judges 2:10, a new consistory arose that knew not principle.

We were learning something as a consistory. Submitting to Christ meant following a road that was narrow, tight, and treacherous. Walking down that road was proving to be costly. It meant losing the respect of men. It meant losing our reputations and our names. It meant losing friends. It meant dying.

Submitting to man, on the other hand, would involve following a road that was broad, exceedingly broad.  It would mean smiles and handshakes at the basketball games and at the assembly meetings,  claps on the back, and hail fellow well met. It meant saving our lives.

The pressure had been building on Byron’s consistory. Although this will be proven in more detail in future posts, suffice to say that from the time we decided to gather for worship despite the governor’s mandate forbidding it, to the time that charges of sin against Rev. Lanning were received from the group of editors of the SB, to the time that Sword & Shield appeared, we as a consistory were being pressed hard. This pressure came from a small but very vocal and influential minority at Byron Center and from an overwhelming majority of people outside Byron.

The way became too difficult.

The crossroads were there.

All it takes is one meeting to place yourself on a easier road. And it’s not always easy to hear the hiss of the serpent as you listen to the arguments why the broad road is to be preferred.

So we took ourselves off the narrow road and placed ourselves, and our congregation, on the broad road.

The consistory craved the approval of men, and they got it. They enjoy that approval today.

The elders chose to follow the fickle feelings of men and let Jesus Christ go begging.

But Christ does not beg.

He judges.

And judge us he did.

A Strait Betwixt Two – Introduction (2)

What will this blog do, and what will it not do?

What this blog will not do is give a full history of the controversy. I disqualified myself from writing that history. I did that by behaving myself wickedly when the controversy first arose. Instead of reading the documents and trying to understand the issues, I made foolish, spiritually immature, and just plain wretched judgments.

I swallowed the narrative, hook, line, sinker.

A debate at Hope Church about doctrine? Easy: Neil & Connie Meyer are wrong, and Hope is right. I also threw in some slander about the Meyers for good measure.

I still shudder to think of it.

Neil & Connie have forgiven me for what I did. They were as gracious as I was ungracious. God has forgiven me those sins. He has blotted out my sins for his own sake (Isa. 43:25).  

But I cannot forget how quickly I was willing to slander and heap scorn on a fellow saint. I tell you, I hate the thought of what I did. I could weep to think about it. I murdered fellow saints and strengthened the hands of the evildoers, and I did it without a second thought. I was the simple man according to Proverbs 14:15. It does not make me doubt my salvation because I look to someone else for that, but I know what “scarcely” means in 1 Peter 4:17.

What this blog will do is talk about current events.

Events in which I was engaged.

It will speak in favor of an action that has to this point only been publicly condemned. It will defend that action.

This blog will reveal documents that have heretofore not been revealed.

(It will use words like heretofore because words are like tasty morsels, and some are tastier than others. And what bold wordsmith had the audacity to take three words and cram them together into one word?)

This blog will not convince some, maybe even most.

For many, the PRC and the words “true church” are synonymous and will be until the day Christ returns, and no evidence to the contrary will convince them otherwise. No other church has lasted 100 years without apostatizing, but the PRC is different. It just is.

This blog will not reach, or try to reach, those who are not reading about the controversy.

They may read this blog post, but it will not mean anything to them. They unsubscribed from Sword & Shield, have only read the Standard Bearer sparingly, and have not come anywhere near the agendas or minutes from ecclesiastical assemblies.

Those people will die from lack of knowledge. Simply being in the orb of a church won’t save them. They will die. And the ironic thing is that although they give their kids every earthly delight, their children will die too. God promises in Hosea 4:6 that that will happen to them: “because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…I will also forget thy children.”

The formula is simple: If you don’t read, you can’t have knowledge. You may have a very good golf game, your vacations may be the envy of all around, your business will thrive so it is worth millions and millions of dollars, and you will have friends galore, but you will die. And your children will die. You rejected knowledge.  

So this blog will not reach very many, and of those it reaches, it will not convince most.

Sounds like a failure waiting to happen.

But our calling is not to be successful. Our calling is to be faithful.  

So, by the grace of God, I will blow the trumpet (Jer. 6:1).

The disposing thereof is of the Lord.

A Strait Betwixt Two – Introduction (1)

Here are words I never thought I would say: “I am not Protestant Reformed.”

Bewilderment.

Anxiety.

Fear.

Turmoil.

How could this happen?

Paul, in Philippians 1:23, writes, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”

To be in a strait is to be in a pinched, narrow place. It is to be in a place of trouble and difficulty.  

For Paul, the strait was to be torn between a desire to be in heaven with Christ, which would be far better, and to remain on earth and minister to the saints of Philippi.

Paul’s desire tore him. It pressed hard upon him. He wanted to be with Jesus Christ. But he knew God’s sheep needed him. He was in a strait between two choices. He was “hard pressed” between them (ESV).

My strait cannot be compared with the apostle Paul’s.

But I had a strait. There was that which pressed upon me, and not only me.

This blog will provide an outlet for me to write about that strait.

The thought of starting a blog is loathsome to me. It still makes me feel uncomfortable. “Who do you think you are? You think you are so important and that what you have to say is so vital that you have to start a blog? How pompous.”

My conscience is always my own worst assailant, but I know that’s what my critics will say.

But I didn’t ask for this.

God placed me in the position he did. He placed me into the office of elder at Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church, where from the very first consistory meeting there was contention. Strong contention. That contention built until a year and a half later we as a consistory voted to suspend and depose our pastor.

Which left me outside of the denomination that I loved. That I still love.

There is a story that must be told.

So I intend to tell it. 

And I make the words of Job my own.

“Suffer me that I may speak; and after that I have spoken, mock on” (Job 21:3).