Pressure from the rest of the denomination started months before the deposition.

It started with Byron’s response to COVID.

Although some in the church world are now giving good, godly advice in articles and books about the proper response to COVID, early on that was not the case.

As churches, the PRC floundered.

It wasn’t that the Bible is unclear about the command to gather for worship.

What made things difficult was our fear of man. 

And I stumbled because of it.

When we would vote to keep church open, or to continue worshipping, or to not obey the governor’s orders, those votes were taken with a sense of dread. “What would men say about this?”

For me, there was one vote that I took during that entire period about which I felt a sense of relief, and that was when I voted to cancel church for three consecutive Sundays.

Looking back, the reason was absurd, although it did not seem so at the time. We canceled because a member of Byron had an employee who possibly had COVID.

The reason I felt relief with this decision was because it would put us back in line with the other churches in our denomination, after we had worshipped the previous week, while they had not. The unwanted and critical attention directed toward our consistory and church would stop, if not altogether, then at least for a while.

Imagine that. An elder feeling relief, not because he knew he was doing the will of God, but because he was not going to face the anger and scorn of man. I have repented privately of that sin, and I confess and repent of that sin here publicly. It was shameful and cowardly and unbecoming of an elder in Christ’s church.

When Byron decided to worship, the response from the PRC was swift and severe. That response came from letters, emails, and phone calls, from within and without our congregation, all exerting pressure on our consistory to fall into line with the rest of the denomination.

Prof. Cammenga sent an email to all the ministers of the denomination excoriating Byron Center for its decision, found here and here, calling that decision extreme and inconsistent.

(It is interesting to note that Prof. Cammenga did not first come to Byron’s consistory with his concern or correspond with Byron’s consistory at all before sending this email to every minister in the denomination.)

However wrong and misguided Prof. Cammenga’s email was, to have a professor in our seminary sending out an email of this nature to all the other ministers brings a tremendous amount of pressure on a consistory. Who wants that kind of attention?

It would continue.

In a letter to its congregation, the council of Redlands PRC called out Byron’s consistory as “the only one exception” who was continuing to worship, not only in our denomination but also in the “broader church world.”

Another correspondent, who carried weight in the denomination, said our decision was “foolish” and a “bad witness” to our community. In fact, he went so far as to say our decision was a “blot” on God’s name and the church’s reputation. And then, in an ironic and prescient twist, he asked if we had consulted with other consistories or “even sought the help of the church visitors for such a weighty and influential decision.”

A letter from Zion PRC only intensified the pressure on our consistory.

Which letter was abysmal.

It gave more credence to “the consistent message coming from qualified medical professionals” and the example of other churches than it did to the word of God. It made the argument that public worship should not continue until a vaccine was developed and that the final authority on this matter was the civil rulers (“that decision has been taken out of our hands by the civil rulers”).  

Our response was not able to convince them otherwise.

Zion was not alone in their convictions.

When the time came to make a decision about worship, almost all of the churches in the PRC looked to the latest government mandate, or to the health professionals, or to the “example of Christianity worldwide,” instead of looking to the explicit instruction in the word of God, “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).

We obeyed man rather than God, and we did so unapologetically.

What wickedness.

The “example of Christianity worldwide” is increasing apostasy. It is the great falling away spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

And we used those churches as our example.

We did give a witness to the world. That witness was that while Ace Hardware was essential and could stay open, the worship of Jehovah God was not, and it must stop.

Looking back at our response, it is just as clear what our response today should be to the decisions made in early 2020.  

We should repent.

When the pressure was on, where would the church look? Where did they look?

They relied more upon man, than upon Christ.

Looking back, who could defend such a thing?

Well, the pastor of Zion PRC, for one.

In a letter of response to an article in Beacon Lights magazine that rebuked the PRC for her sin of following the governors’ mandates over the word of God, Rev. Joe Holstege defended the “thought and careful consideration of biblical principles that went into that decision.”

He wrote in his letter, “As a consistory, we were always prepared to disobey government orders if we judged those orders became an infringement on the right and calling of the church to worship God publicly.”

If you cannot see that a government that forbids the public gathering of the church is “an infringement on the right and calling of the church to worship God publicly,” then I am not sure where even to begin. One thing is for certain: with smooth words like these, no one will ever repent.

Instead of defending the indefensible, Rev. Holstege should follow the example of the man he voted to depose, Rev. Andrew Lanning. In a sermon preached on November 8, 2020, Rev. Lanning apologized for and repented of his role in the closure of church earlier in the year. (If the recording sounds different than others, it’s because Rev. Lanning had COVID at the time and was preaching from his study.)

Other churches and pastors are facing persecution and the threat of arrest for faithfulness to the command of God not to forsake their gathering together. Meanwhile, the PRC is congratulating itself on its response that kept them safely from danger and mirrored the response of almost every other church in the world.

Reading the email from Prof. Cammenga and the letter from Zion, it becomes clear that the PRC must again look elsewhere for leadership.

At the very least, having erred so grievously in their response to COVID, going so far as to send a letter rebuking those who were acting faithfully to the clear command of God, the consistory of Zion PRC and Rev. Holstege should not now hold themselves out as our instructors on these things.

All of this makes one thing clear.

The Protestant Reformed Churches do not do repentance well.

Or do it at all.

The PRC have not repented for their decisions regarding worship.

Neither have they repented of their sins committed during the doctrinal controversy.

Despite the claims to the contrary.


photo of tunnel

Rev. Lanning was deposed, we are told, because he did not follow the church-orderly way of protest and appeal. It was not doctrine! It was behavior!

What exactly did he do that warranted the charge of schism?

Rev. Lanning was deposed because he was said to have charged men with sin from the pulpit rather than taking those charges to the assemblies.

This is what we were told by the church visitors, Trinity PRC, and Classis East.

“It is our contention as church visitors that Rev. Andrew Lanning’s sermon on Jeremiah 23:4&14 is in violation of Articles 31, 74 and 75 of the Church Order and the Formula of Subscription and as such is schismatic. Rev. Lanning deliberately makes serious charges of sin in his sermon against officebearers of the PRC and indeed the entire denomination” (Church visitors’ advice, Classis East Deposition Case, 28).

“We as church visitors judge that in his Jeremiah 23:4&14 sermon Rev Lanning committed the sin of public schism in the Byron Center PRC and in the entire denomination in violation of Articles 31, 74 and 75 of the Church Order and in violation of the vows taken by signing the Formula of Subscription. Rev. Lanning committed the sin of public schism when in violation of Articles 74 and 75 of the Church Order he publicly charged consistories and ministers of the PRCA with failing to repent of the devil’s theology that he claimed they embraced in the January-February 2018 meeting of Classis East and instead have minimized their great sin” (31).

Reading through the letter that Rev. William Langerak and Trinity’s consistory drafted, their entire case was built on the fact that Rev. Lanning made charges of sin from the pulpit.

“In a sermon on Jeremiah 23:4, 14, Shepherds to Feed You, preached in Byron Center PRC on 11/15/20, Rev. Lanning made serious public charges of unrepentant sin against ministers and office-bearers of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and against the entire denomination” (Trinity document, Deposition Case, 48).

“Rev. Lanning committed the sin of public schism by making the aforementioned charges in violation of Articles 31, 74, and 75 of the Church Order, and contrary to his vows of ordination and Formula of Subscription. This is schism because the Church Order is the way of order and decency appointed by Christ to maintain, nourish, and preserve concord and unity in His body. This judgment of public schism has nothing to do with the truth or falsity or even the seriousness of his charges. The issue is that Rev. Lanning publicly made these charges in a manner that violates the Church Order, which is schism within the body of churches (denomination) that is regulated by that Church Order” (52).

Classis East agreed.

“Rev. Lanning’s schismatic actions of publicly charging office bearers with sin are contrary to the teaching of the Church Order in Article 74, which is built on the foundation of the Scriptures and Confessions quoted above” (Deposition Case, 5).

“If an accusation is to be leveled against an elder, pastor or deacon, it must not be published to everyone in the church but must be carefully proven to the elders of the church.”

“This is true even when dealing with an accusation of heresy. If an accusation of heresy is preached from the pulpit rather than following the way of protest and appeal through the ecclesiastical assemblies it is a failure to follow the word of God in Titus 3:10, “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject” (5).

“All charges of sin are to be brought to the consistory as the sole court Christ appointed to judge and treat such sins. There are no other options” (5, 6).

But something remarkable happened only a few months after the deposition.

A minister charged an officebearer with sin.

From the pulpit.

In a sermon preached at Southwest PRC the evening of Sunday, March 28, 2021, Prof. Cammenga publicly charged Rev. Martin VanderWal with the sin of antinomianism.

Antinomianism takes the form of supposing that as long as my cause is right, I’m standing for truth and right, I can promote that cause in absolutely any way I please. Whether in speaking or on social media. On a blog post, for example. Recently this was defended as freedom. This is freedom, that I may say whatever I want on a blog post, no matter that it’s half-truth, no matter even that it’s completely even filled with untruth. That’s freedom! That I may say absolutely anything I want in public.

Prof. Cammenga was referring to a recent blog post by Rev. VanderWal.

Antinomianism is heresy.

For a minister, the charge of heresy is especially serious. It is listed as the first ground for which a man can be suspended and deposed from office according to Articles 79/80 of the Church Order.

Prof. Cammenga made that charge from the pulpit. He did not make that charge by following “the way of protest and appeal through the ecclesiastical assemblies.” He did not bring that charge to Rev. VanderWal’s consistory, which, according to Classis East, is “the sole court Christ appointed to judge and treat such sins.”

This is shocking.

Prof. Cammenga just did exactly that for which Rev. Lanning was deposed.

Except Prof. Cammenga did what Rev. Lanning did not do.

Rev. Lanning did not charge any man, consistory, or assembly with sin. Rev. Lanning warned the PRC that they were guilty of minimizing the error into which the PRC had fallen.  

What comes next?

According to the schedule that was used for Rev. Lanning, by now Southwest PRC should have already called in the church visitors, and by this week Saturday, April 10, they will pass a motion to suspend Prof. Cammenga.

But that won’t happen.

There will be no uproar. There will be no outcry.

All of those who clamored so loudly for Rev. Lanning’s deposition will remain silent, painfully and shamefully silent.  

This shows where things really stand.

It has been about the respect of persons.

That explains why a popular preacher can preach conditional fellowship and only after a year and a half make a public apology. But when an unpopular man brings a rebuke from the pulpit, he is suspended within two weeks.

That explains why nothing will happen to Prof. Cammenga.

As a leader in the denomination, he is untouchable.

The rules apply to some and not others. What is freedom for Prof. Cammenga meant deposition for Rev. Lanning.  

Had Rev. Lanning simply sprinkled some heresy into sermons here and there, he would still be a minister in good standing in the PRC today.

All he had to do was point out the error of other denominations and ignore the errors in the PRC.  

But he could not do that. He condemned the errors. He refused to allow his position, or his name, or his reputation, or any other earthly consideration get in the way of his defense of the truth of God’s word. He had made a vow before God to exert himself to keep the PRC free from doctrinal error, and with God strengthening him, he was faithful to that vow.  He wasn’t successful, but he was faithful.

Very few people in the PRC will be concerned about Prof. Cammenga’s sermon.

They will find a reason to excuse it. They always do. Prof. Cammenga is on the right “side,” after all.

This sermon does serve a purpose, however—a vitally important purpose.

What is now exposed for all to see is the utter hypocrisy of the last few months in the deposition of Rev. Lanning.

The deposition of Rev. Lanning was never about behavior. It was never about manner. It was never about Article 31. It was never about the church orderly way of protest and appeal.

It was about ridding the PRC of a man who would not stop rebuking her for her errors.

Relief of Duties

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Imagine you are a deacon.

You sit down for a meeting, and you find there is just one motion on the agenda: “The committee recommends that we swindle the elderly members of our congregation out of their life savings.”

You protest. You plead. You warn. You argue as strenuously as you know how.

To no avail.

The vote is taken, and the motion passes.

The diaconate by majority vote has just decided to break the 8th commandment of God’s law.

Such a scenario would never take place.

But it did take place regarding the 6th commandment.

Byron’s consistory, by a vote of 6–2, voted to break the 6th commandment by killing the faithful prophet God had given to our congregation.

Saturday, November 28, 2020.

The day when the Protestant Reformed Churches was rent.

The day when the consistory took upon Byron Center PRC the unmistakable mark of the false church according to the Belgic Confession, Article 29.

A few months later, the denomination would take that mark upon itself officially.

Elders Harlow Kuiper, Ed Hekstra, Jim Hauck, Tim Block, Terry Kaptein, and Josh Lubbers voted in favor of the motion to suspend with a view to deposition.

Elders Bryan Van Baren and Dewey Engelsma voted against the motion.

Depose is such a clean word. Clinical. What the consistory voted for was ecclesiastical murder. Reading through church history, it used to be a lot messier killing a prophet.

This vote came after many months of the corruption that I described in the previous blog posts.

And now the time came to pray. The vice president asked a church visitor to close this portion of our meeting in prayer.

I raised my hand. “Mr. Chairman, I know there will be ramifications for what I am about to say, but I am going to excuse myself; this consistory has the blood of a prophet on its hands, and I cannot lift my hands in prayer with them.”

So I stood up, gathered my things, and left the meeting.

Although I didn’t realize it until a few minutes later, Elder Van Baren also stood up and left the meeting.

I would not fault a man if he had opposed the motion but had stayed in the meeting. These things are up to a man’s conscience.

For me, it was not a question. How could I stay and ask God’s blessing on the great wickedness that had come to a head in the suspension of a righteous pastor?

In the parking lot Elder Van Baren and I prayed together and left.

After Bryan and I left the meeting, the church visitors recommended to the consistory that we be relieved of our duties. The consistory, which had already abdicated their office, dutifully took the advice and passed the motion.

That evening, both Bryan and I received phone calls informing us that we were relieved of our duties.

We sat with our families in church the next day.

Cue more deceit.

This time though, they put the lie upon the lips of Prof. Huizinga, who had been called in to preach in the place of the now-suspended Rev. Lanning.

“The consistory informs the congregation that we have relieved Rev. Lanning of his ministerial duties to have sufficient time to consider the material and recommendations from the church visitors.”

That was not true.

They did not need more time to consider the recommendation. The recommendation had come to the floor. The vote had been taken. The motion had passed.

You consider the material before you vote on it. Once you vote on it, you are no longer considering it. The action has been taken.

As you can imagine, this announcement caused great confusion. Many of those questions had to do with why two of the elders were sitting with their families.

(An announcement regarding our de facto discipline was not made until a week later.)

That question was asked by an officebearer in the consistory room before church as to why Bryan and Dewey were not present.

The response? “Those men relieved themselves of their duties.”

The members of the congregation asked this question of the elders after church in the parking lot. “Why were Bryan and Dewey sitting with their families?”

“Go ask them.”

“Go home and read Article 31 of the Church Order.”

“They relieved themselves.”

That was more deceit. Read the motion that was passed. We were relieved of our duties by a majority vote of the consistory. Yet the people were told the opposite.

The relief of duties would continue for over five weeks.

During this suspension, as the work between Byron and Trinity proceeded, Elder Van Baren asked Trinity PRC if they would be willing to give us an audience. The response to Byron’s Consistory regarding Bryan’s request was cold. “We are of the mind that we don’t need to speak to them. We heard from your consistory last night as represented by you 6 men. They could have been present if they hadn’t forfeited that right.”

“They could have been present if they hadn’t forfeited that right.”

Did it not occur to Trinity’s consistory to examine the fact that the only two men who had registered their negative votes and were opposed to the motion to suspend had been removed from their office?

(Speaking of those negative votes, they have been on quite a journey. They were not included in the material that was sent to classis due to an “oversight.” They were distributed at classis during the deliberations, yet they never made it into the official documents that were distributed publicly. Strange.)

It is one thing to be in favor of deposition, as Trinity’s consistory clearly was. It’s another thing altogether to connive at the act that removed elders from their office without any basis in the word of God, the creeds, or even in the One Document To Rule Them All, the Church Order.

All of the deliberations that took place and the decisions that were made over that five–six week period were taken in the absence of two elders who had been unjustly relieved of their duties.

Just prior to the meeting of classis, the consistory apologized to us for relieving us of our duties and reinstated us to our positions. They also gave us a letter of explanation defending their actions.

We accepted their apology.

(A church visitor, Rev. Slopsema, also apologized to me at the meeting of Classis East, confessing that the advice to relieve us of our duties was not good advice.)

Although the objections I had laid out in a letter and protest were not answered by the consistory, this allowed us to take up our work once again as elders.

Being reinstated would allow us to see how a classis that had consistently been wrong over the last five years would exhibit its sorrow for its past decisions. Having the one man before them who had stood on the right side of the issue from the beginning and who had rebuked us for our errors would provide a sterling opportunity for all to see just how “sorry” Classis East was.

Because as we have heard from so many, Classis East was really, really sorry for its errors over the last five years.

True Faith

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The division that just took place was doctrinal.

That is denied by many.

It often is in the history of church reformation.

Take J. Gresham Machen’s suspension, for example. “Was Dr. Machen’s trial a fair one? Ecclesiastical lawyers maintain that no question of doctrine is involved. In the more adequate view there are doctrinal differences which run into the heart of the entire problem”.1

Instead of listening to today’s “ecclesiastical lawyers,” we must examine the evidence.

That evidence is clear. There are “doctrinal differences which run into the heart of the entire problem.”

The PRC, by official decision, made a conscious choice as to which doctrine would be its own.

It did not do that by adopting a “three points” of false doctrine.

That day will come, but not soon. Shrewd behavior will keep that at bay for many years.

That was driven home at the recent meeting of Classis East.

A matter was brought to the floor that had to do with a protest against the sermon by Rev. VanOverloop that taught conditional fellowship that is not all of grace.

A motion was made to condemn as heretical the statement that explicitly taught conditional fellowship.

It was apparent that the classis was opposed to the motion. There was no appetite to label the statement heresy, not because it wasn’t heretical but because it would reflect poorly on the man who had originally preached it.

One delegate expressed outright that the classis must guard Rev. VanOverloop’s reputation.

As it came closer to the time for the chairman to call for the vote, the clerk of Classis East pointed out that if they were to fail this motion it would look like they were unwilling to call the statement heresy. The motion would need to be withdrawn so there would be no evidence that it had existed or that the classis was unwilling to call it heresy.

So political maneuvering and wrangling ensued that had nothing whatsoever to do with the glory of God’s name and God’s truth but had everything to do with preserving the reputation and name of man.

It is this type of shrewd thinking that will keep false doctrine from being officially adopted by the broader assemblies of the PRC.

But the PRC did make a conscious choice as to which doctrine would be its own, and they did this by never disciplining the teacher or defender of the lie and by repeatedly disciplining those who exposed the lie and defended the truth.

The membership of the PRC has been making that choice consistently over the last five years as well by slandering the defenders of orthodoxy and defending the men who taught, tolerated, or defended error.

So is there a doctrinal difference between the new church and the PRC?

To use the words of Luke 16:26, there is a “great gulf fixed” between them.

The difference was put into stark relief on Sunday, March 14, 2021.

In the providence of God, two ministers preached on the same Lord’s Day. One minister is the Professor of Dogmatics in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The other minister was recently deposed from the PRC for rebuking her for her errors.  The transcripts are found here and here. You can watch each sermon here and here.

The sermons were on Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Q. 21     What is true faith?

A. True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”

The Lord’s Day deals with faith. True faith.

According to Ursinus, the Lord’s Day has to do with “justifying” faith.

How else do dead sinners receive “remission of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation” if not through justifying faith?  

Where would each pastor lead his flock?

The Lord’s Day itself is not unclear.

 How are you assured of your salvation? “Only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”

“Only” means to the exclusion of everything else.

It would take work to use this Lord’s Day to rob the flock of their assurance.

Which is exactly what Prof. Cammenga did.

Twenty minutes into a sermon on a Lord’s Day that never mentions works, Prof. Cammenga went there. “Scripture and the Reformed Confessions teach that though faith assures of salvation, that faith is confirmed by a life of good works.”

He took a Lord’s Day that teaches pure gospel, and he dragged his congregation to the law.

“What he’s [Peter, in 2 Peter 1:10] describing is a life lived in obedience to God’s 10 Commandments. God uses that in order to confirm in us the assurance of our election and salvation.”

Reader, I ask you, where in this Lord’s Day does it mention the law? Where does it introduce man’s works? Where does it mention man’s obedience?

It does not.

Why, then, would a minister go to man’s works in a Lord’s Day that never mentions them?

L.D. 7 is clear when it teaches us that salvation and the blessings of salvation (“assured confidence”) “are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”

Prof. Cammenga corrupts this clear instruction on faith when he preaches, “Although God works the assurance of faith under the preaching of his word, we are active in this whole matter of the assurance of faith. God does not drop assurance out of the sky on us, and now we have it forever, can never be taken away from us, and we have nothing to worry about as regards this matter of the assurance of our faith, but God’s people are active, busy in this whole matter of the assurance of their faith.”

This type of corruption has taken place before.  

“So it is for us. We see. We look at our good works in the same way. Never of any value to make me be declared righteous before God, but always of help in finding and maintaining assurance that God has justified me through Christ and Christ alone” (Overway, Justified by Faith, L.D. 23, 6/8/14).

Synod 2018 condemned that theology.

“If we are truly justified by faith in Christ alone, then true faith cannot look to its works to help find or maintain the assurance that is found in Christ alone…Good works have a proper place and function in the Christian life but they do not function as helps for finding and maintaining assurance of our justification” (2018 Acts of Synod, 69).

Prof. Cammenga’s theology in this sermon is the same as that condemned by Synod 2018.

This may help to explain why Hope Church could never extricate itself from this error. Prof. Cammenga was appointed in 2018 to a committee to help Hope “understand and implement the decisions of Synod 2018” (church visitors’ report to the March 17, 2020, meeting of Classis East).

Fourteen miles from where Cammenga preached his sermon, another sermon was preached on true faith.

This is what was taught there about the “assured confidence” of Lord’s Day 7:

“This confidence is the assurance that salvation is for me, that God’s grace is for me, though I am wholly unworthy of it, though I have forfeited every gift that God may give to me, and though I deserve to be cast into hell for my sin. God has revealed in his word his love in Jesus Christ, and God, by the Spirit of Christ in my heart, works that assurance that this salvation is mine.”

“There’s your assurance, and there’s mine—not that you’ve done enough but that the Holy Spirit, who is God, is sovereign and powerful to give you this assurance and work this assurance by the gospel in your hearts.”

“The second implication of the truth that faith is assurance is that your assurance and mine does not depend on how good you are and does not depend on your working. It has nothing to do with your working.”

One pastor faithfully taught the Lord’s Day and brought his flock to Christ and kept them there. The other took his flock to the law and kept them there.

One preached God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. The other preached man.

The doctrinal difference was stark and obvious.

In only one of those churches was the “pure doctrine of the gospel” preached (Belgic Confession, Article 29).


rectangular wooden frame mirror

What I have laid out, to this point, is the corruption that took place in the deposition of Rev. Lanning.

But corruption is not a reason to separate from a denomination of churches.

Despising the word of God is such a reason.

It is the only reason.

What the church visitors said about the preaching, both in the consistory room and at Classis East, and what Trinity’s consistory wrote in its document, shows the estimation they have of the word of God today.

The church visitors were at pains, right from the beginning, to make clear that the Jeremiah sermon was sound doctrine.

A church visitor stated that the sermon was “good exegesis on the passages, but that isn’t the point” and, we are not contending that the sermon was not “exegetically correct.”

About the rebuke in that sermon a church visitor said, “We are not entering into the validity of his charge!”

So, an elder asked, if the sermon was faithful to the text, “Does that mean Jeremiah was schismatic?”

One church visitor refused to answer the question, saying it was a “misdirection” and “a bunny trail,” and he would not answer it at that meeting but would answer it “off-line.”

Another church visitor recognized the unsatisfactory nature of that answer and said that no, Jeremiah was not a schismatic because Jeremiah was in the Old Testament, and we are not. He went on to say that God had given Jeremiah a burden, but because we are in the New Testament, Christ has given us another way, and that is the Church Order way. Today, we were told, the proper way is consistories, and now Christ works through bodies of men. He said that if Rev. Lanning had a burden about other churches, he could speak about that—for example, the Christian Reformed Church. He gave as an example the years after 1924, when ministers would preach against the errors of the CRC. But such a minister may not preach against the errors of his own denomination.  

When an elder pointed out that Ezekiel was sent not to “a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel” (Ezek. 3:5), a church visitor responded strongly, “Yes! To the house of Israel—to the assemblies!”

One church visitor made clear his view on where the churches must look for help: not to the pulpit, but to the assemblies. “Let elders and ministers, who represent biblical, apostolic wisdom, make a judgment.”

On the floor of classis, a church visitor declared that one of Rev. Lanning’s errors was for him to say that even his application was the word of God, and when Rev. Lanning said that, he was claiming something that only the Old Testament prophets could claim.

The message was clear: the rebuke issued by Rev. Lanning must not come from the pulpit. It must only come through the assemblies, by way of protest and appeal.

Examine where this leaves us. Part of a sermon is the word of God, part is the word of man, and in order to bring a rebuke, you must go to the assemblies.

This view leaves the preaching impotent. The application is not the word of God? If this is what preaching is, I would never step foot into a church building again. I do not care what a man thinks. I am sick to death of man’s opinion. It must be the word of God, in its entirety, or it must be nothing.

When the church visitors said that rebukes must come through the assemblies and not through the preaching, they denied the power of God in the preaching. That is to deny the power of God himself, for God has decreed that he will have his word preached through men. “For God wanted His word to be always received from the mouth of men no less than as if He had Himself openly appeared from heaven” (John Calvin on 1 John 4:1).

It is the word of God, the word that brings the rebukes and admonitions, the word that empties a man of man, that works faith in the heart of the child of God and works the fruit of faith which is repentance.

 It is the word of God, not the minutes of Classis East, that brings salvation to the child of God.

The power of God unto salvation is the preaching of the gospel, which preaching works repentance (Rom. 1:16).

Most decisions of synod and classis end up sitting unread on a man’s shelf. Even if they are read, what can they do about the condition of that man’s heart? The answer is nothing, because they are not the power God has ordained to work repentance or sorrow for sin.

What does work such repentance and sorrow?

God’s word! The preaching of the word of God “as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

God’s word is a power. God’s word is like a fire that burns within a man until he has nothing left of self, and God’s word is like a hammer that crushes the hard rock of that man’s heart and leaves him broken and contrite (Jer. 23:29). God’s word will break the hard heart of a man so the only thing he can do is to cry out, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

In their advice, which was wholly devoid of the word of God, the church visitors declared that God’s word was powerless and must be muzzled, while the assemblies of the church were to speak in its place.

Trinity’s consistory, rather than providing the type of aid that could have helped Byron’s consistory and the denomination, also exalted the work of the assemblies over that of the word of God.

“By making charges of public sin and demanding repentance without bringing such charges to a consistory, Rev. Lanning also rejects the good way that Christ appointed in Article 74 to effectually work repentance and reconciliation, and thus to nourish, promote, and preserve the unity of the body of Christ, rather than to destroy, fracture, and harm it” (Trinity consistory, Agenda of Classis East, p. 166).

Is this the way that Christ has appointed to work repentance in the hearts of his people—the decisions of the ecclesiastical assemblies?

Let’s hear Christ in his own words: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

Not: “From that time Jesus began to draft protests and appeals, and to write, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John the Baptist likewise: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1–2).

Christ again: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

Read the document that Rev. William Langerak and Trinity’s consistory drafted regarding the deposition of Rev. Lanning. For them, the power of God to work repentance is found in the assemblies of the PRC. This explains why you can search high and low in their document for a Bible verse and find…only one.

They did not need to use the Bible. They had the Church Order.

But what about the verses that teach that the faithful minister is commanded to preach repentance for sins (Isa. 58:1, 2 Tim. 4:2), which preaching will cause men to repent of those sins (2 Cor. 7:9)?

A church visitor had an answer.

“The church has developed. We have a Church Order now.”

Article 31

“Can Rev. Lanning explain why he doesn’t want to use the assemblies?”

This was one of the first questions a delegate put to Rev. Lanning at the recent meeting of Classis East.

This question reflected the popular opinion of the day: Rev. Lanning refuses to follow the church orderly way of protest and appeal as laid out in Article 31 of the Church Order.

We were taught to think this way.

In their article, “The Proper Understanding of Article 31 of the Church Order,” Profs. Gritters and Dykstra wrote the following: “A recent issue of ‘Sword and Shield’ attempts to justify the position that it is lawful to criticize and even condemn decisions of the broader assemblies rather than to protest them.”

But is that what Sword & Shield taught? That the writers believed they could criticize decisions of the assemblies and not protest them?

This is what I read in the issue referred to by the professors: “Sword & Shield’s right to publish the truth does not ignore or supersede the duty of an editor or writer to protest and appeal erroneous decisions of ecclesiastical assemblies” (Rev. Lanning, Sword & Shield, November 2020, p. 7).

(My question is, “What rank does a man need to have in the PRC before he is able to disseminate information that falsifies a man’s words without being afraid of any repercussions?”)

But did Rev. Lanning just follow the article in word only, and not in deed?

He sent in a protest to Synod 2017, which protest correctly identified the error jeopardizing the PRC long before many of us even recognized there was a threat. That protest is worth rereading.

“I believe that this case introduces a new threat to the Protestant Reformed doctrine of the covenant. The new threat is to make man’s conscious experience of covenant fellowship conditional upon man’s obedience” (Lanning protest).

Prescient are these words indeed when you listen to the sermon preached by Rev. VanOverloop some two years later: “If any man will hear my voice…he is talking about not the condition to establish a union but he is establishing a condition that deals with communion. Not union, that’s grace, it’s all grace, only grace, but communion, fellowship.”

Rev. Lanning sent in a protest to Synod 2018 objecting to Synod 2017’s melding of the law and the gospel. Martin Luther wrote that to mix law and gospel is to “overthrow the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians commentary, 51). It was through the protests of Rev. Lanning and others that this fundamental distinction was preserved in the PRC.

At the time of his deposition Rev. Lanning was protesting two decisions of his consistory, a decision of synod, and a heretical sermon.

The strongest proof that someone can come up with that Rev. Lanning militated against a decision of a broader assembly was that he described the doctrinal error plaguing the PRC in stronger language than that used by Synod 2018.

(I disagree with the premise of this argument. Synod 2018 said that Jesus Christ was displaced. You cannot use stronger language than that. According to the Belgic Confession Article 22, to displace Christ—to say he is not enough—is “too gross a blasphemy.”)

Rev. Lanning honored Article 31, both in its letter and its spirit.

So did the congregation of Byron Center PRC.

Many of those members, who have since been driven out of the PRC with the deposition of Rev. Lanning, labored faithfully over many years—in the face of stiff opposition from Classis East and the membership of the PRC—to honor Article 31 and to bring their grievances to the broader assemblies through protest and appeal.

God used members like Neil and Connie Meyer and others to preserve the truth in the PRC. The thanks they received from the denomination was persecution, mockery, and name calling, officially sanctioned by The Standard Bearer. (This wasn’t the first time something like this had taken place).

When the consistory of Byron Center made the decision to remove Rev. Lanning as editor of Sword & Shield, the congregation of Byron Center, although no doubt weary to the bone with protesting and appealing, again took up Article 31 as the way to address grievances in the church.

They submitted beautiful protests, filled with the word of God and the creeds, laying out why they were convinced the decision taken was erroneous.

They honored Article 31.

The consistory did not.

The consistory decided to require Rev. Lanning to resign as editor of Sword & Shield. Now that protests started coming in, what will you do? Will you do the work of answering the protests, and thereby honor Article 31?

When we saw the protests start coming in, we dishonored Article 31, by refusing to do our work, and by calling in outside counselors.

Did those counselors honor the article?

They ignored it.

What a mockery was made of Article 31.

If the church visitors honored the church orderly way of protest and appeal the way they say they did, they would have advised the consistory, “Answer the protests!”

Instead, the advice the church visitors gave to the consistory was to ignore the protests that had been received, until after Rev. Lanning had been suspended. They were insistent on this point, repeating it several times. They wanted no part of the protests of the congregation.

Byron’s consistory had first asked the church visitors for help regarding the decision to remove Rev. Lanning as editor of Sword & Shield before help was asked for on the Jeremiah sermon.

The church visitors completely ignored the matter of the Sword & Shield editorship. They ignored the protests.

They wanted Rev. Lanning gone, for good. The decision about the editorship would not get them there. But deposition over a sermon would.

What about the rest of the denomination? Was what happened at Byron just an isolated incident?

There are ministers who are preaching and writing that our obedience obtains with God, which is completely contrary to Synod 2018.  They have been able to write and preach what they have and there has been no outcry raised about their militating and agitating against decisions of the broader assemblies.

There are those militating against the decisions of the assemblies.

But they represent the power structure in the PRC, so they need fear no opposition.

But why did the church visitors have no fear in simply ignoring the article of the Church Order about which we had all been told—by Profs. Dykstra and Gritters, by consistories, and by so many others—was the issue of the day—Protest and appeal! Protest and appeal!

Prof. Gritters answered that for us in his editorial in the May 15, 2017 issue of The Standard Bearer. There he wrote of some churches who had been “compelled to leave their denomination because, although the process of protest and appeal was still permitted in their denomination, the process had a ‘form of godliness,’ but only the form.”

A form of godliness, but only the form.

Article 14

herd of sheep on field

The church visitors could have helped Byron’s consistory.

Instead, they used us.

The church visitors wanted Rev. Lanning off the pulpit, but they knew they had to work through a consistory to get that done.

How convenient that Byron’s consistory called them in for help.

At our regular church visitation earlier in the year, the church visitors, Rev. Slopsema and Rev. De Vries, had informed Byron’s consistory that Rev. Lanning’s preaching and writing was the problem in the PRC.

The problem was not false doctrine. The problem was not the compromise of justification by faith alone or the displacing of Jesus Christ. The problem was not consistories’ and classis’ tolerating and defending false doctrine. The problem was not four of the leading men in the PRC drafting a doctrinal statement that corrupted the truth of God’s word. The problem was not Rev. Van Overloop—the leading minister tasked to help Hope PRC understand that fellowship with God is unconditional—preaching that fellowship with God is conditional.

The problem was the man bringing the rebukes.

Small surprise then that when we called them in for advice, they immediately called for Rev. Lanning to be off the pulpit.

On Thursday, November 19, the consistory approved bringing in the church visitors for advice on the Jeremiah sermon “with regards to direction for going forward.”

Less than 24 hours later, we had a recommendation from the church visitors advising us to take Rev. Lanning off the pulpit.

First, I ask you, if you are called in to give advice on something, wouldn’t you want to ask a few questions first? In this case, meet with the consistory once, maybe even a few times, before coming back with advice?

Imagine sending an email to your doctor telling him you have some pain on the right side, and you are looking for advice with regards to direction for going forward. Less than 24 hours later, without ever having a meeting, you get a message back that says, “Your right arm needs amputation.”

Second, we were not the only church in the last few years the church visitors had been called in to help. They had also been called in to help Hope PRC. If you run across one of the church visitors, you should ask him how long it was from the time that they were called in to help Hope before they brought advice to remove the minister who was preaching false doctrine.

They never called for the discipline of the minister who was preaching false doctrine from the pulpit. They may have, eventually, after more than a year, called for him to remove himself according to Article 12 of the Church Order.

They would not show such patience with Rev. Lanning.

The church visitors had no interest in giving advice to Byron’s consistory. They had an agenda, and that was to remove Rev. Lanning.

But they made two mistakes. They advised us to remove Rev. Lanning according to Article 14 of the Church Order, and they gave the consistory time to study the recommendation.

At the first meeting, when an elder pointed out to the church visitors that Van Dellen & Monsma only speak of this article being used for a minister who requests a leave of absence, and the elders then act in a consenting role, a church visitor made a demeaning remark about VDM and said that other commentators allow for it.

In response, another elder said he had consulted Jansen, Van Oene, and Bouwman, and none of them speak of Article 14 being used to remove a minister from the pulpit against his will.

The church visitors did not appreciate this questioning of their advice.

One responded that he knew of many examples where this article had been used to take a man off his pulpit, and “case law trumps the commentators.”

(When asked to give a specific example of when this article was used to remove a minister, the example he used was when a minister had requested leave to pursue a mission trip. Which none of us found helpful).

An elder even pointed out that the instruction given in our own seminary about this article is that Article 14 is non-operative and does not have application to our churches.

Arguing objectively did not seem to be working for the church visitors.

So one of the senior statesman then turned to argumentum ad hominem, “We assumed there are those here who understand these principles.”

So unconvincing were the church visitors with this advice that not even the elders who wanted Rev. Lanning off the pulpit could find it within themselves to even bring this motion to the floor for a vote.

Reader, I encourage you to study Article 14. Does this article support a consistory forcing a minister off the pulpit against his wishes? Or was the argument of the church visitor’s sophistry?

Was the document that was to be used to depose Rev. Lanning twisted and contorted to support a desired outcome?

The church visitors now recognized the second mistake they had made.

They had given the consistory time to study the matter.

They would not make the same mistake twice.

The following week we had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to again meet with the church visitors to discuss their next piece of “advice.”

Which advice we would not see before the meeting.

We were informed we would receive hard copies of the advice at the meeting, giving us no time at all to prepare.

It was at this meeting, when an elder suggested that the consistory be given space to do its work without outside pressure, that Rev. Koole snarled that if the consistory did not at that moment make the motion to approve their advice, they were going to leave.

So much for Prof. Gritters counsel about the work of our deliberative assemblies, “Preferably, written advice is presented far in advance of the meetings…Delegates must not be required to ‘answer a matter’ before they ‘hear’ it” (SB editorial, 9/15/20).

We should have shown them the door.

Instead, we did their bidding.


pawn chess piece

The responsibility for what happened at Byron Center will be required at the hands of their elders.

But there will be others held responsible.

We called in our churches’ “oldest, most experienced, and most competent ministers” (CO, 44) to help us.

They could have, by their “advice and assistance,” helped the consistory of Byron Center PRC. They could have saved us from ourselves.

As a consistory, we simply were not qualified to do the work. I know we were not qualified because we refused to do our work according to the word of God.

A man wrote that “the raging spiritual infection within the fevered body of Christ that has left so many churches weak, flaccid and ineffective, can be traced directly to the loss of the Biblical understanding and practice of the office of elder” (Sittema, With a Shepherd’s Heart, 3).

Byron Center Church had within it a raging spiritual infection.

The church visitors could have come with a prescription to heal that infection.

The prescription would have been simple: Do your work according to the word of God and the confessions. If you need assistance after that work has been completed, we stand ready to provide additional advice and counsel.

But they didn’t.

They came in with an agenda that they pursued ferociously.

They were not there to advise. They were there to rule.

There are two church visitors appointed by Classis East to provide advice and counsel to the churches in the classis. There are also two alternates who will, presumably, fill in as needed.

Five men showed up.

It was never explained to us why five ministers had come to our meeting.

We had to learn that when the Classical Committee gave its report at the meeting of Classis East.

When that report was read on the floor, the consistory learned, for the first time, that after we had requested help from the church visitors, the church visitors in turn had written a letter to the Classical Committee. In that letter they had informed the Classical Committee that Byron had requested help from them. However, two of the church visitors had “charges” of sin against Rev. Lanning, so they were requesting a man from the Classical Committee to replace the two men who had those charges against Rev. Lanning.

(It is interesting to note that after the Classical Committee had read its report, a church visitor, Rev. Haak, had immediately objected. He said that the church visitors had not said that two of the men had “charges,” but they had used some other word. A member of the Classical Committee, to his credit, immediately shot that idea down by informing the classis that the letter—which he had in his hands—had indeed used the word “charges.”)

One delegate asked why all five men had signed their names to the documents when the fifth church visitor had been requested to replace the two men who had the charges against Rev. Lanning. 

One would think that the purpose of requesting help from the Classical Committee was so that the two men who had charges against Rev. Lanning would recuse themselves.

One would be wrong.

Five ministers showed up—Rev. Slopsema, Rev. Koole, Rev. DeVries, Rev. Haak, and Rev. Spronk.

With no mention made of the charges or the request of aid from the Classical Committee.


They were going to show Byron’s consistory how things were run in the PRC by illustrating for us the effectiveness of argumentum ad baculum.

Twice in the course of the meetings the church visitors had to be reminded by an elder of Article 84 of the Church Order, that they must not lord it over the consistory of Byron Center PRC.

The church visitors threatened the consistory that if we did not do things exactly the way they demanded, they would leave the meeting and not give us any advice.

It is difficult to express the corruption and bullying that took place in our meetings with the church visitors. I could weep thinking about what the church of Christ was transformed into during those meetings and the meetings that followed.

Whatever it was, it was an “abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

The church visitors never brought us the word of God. In fact, most of them didn’t even bring Bibles to the meeting. When the vice president opened with devotions at the first meeting, an elder had to go to the Bible rack in the room and hand out Bibles to most, if not all, of the church visitors so they could follow along.

The fact that almost all of them forgot their Bibles is not in itself significant.

The fact that they never used their Bibles for any of their work with our consistory is tragic.

But they had an agenda. Whether that agenda was agreed upon by the church visitors and some of the elders before the meeting ever started is known to God.

One church visitor was not careful enough, however.

Early in the discussion, before the naïve ones among us knew what was afoot, one of the church visitors, Rev. Koole, blurted out, “You called us here for suspension!”

We had called them in for advice.

What we ended up getting, was bullied.


man holding brown rope

It is the effort of these blog posts to show the unrighteousness of the proceedings leading up to the deposition of Rev. Lanning.

Many of the events leading up to and including the deposition were characterized by deceit, hypocrisy, hierarchy, and duplicity.

In the last few years alone, Classis East has rejected many protests and appeals. It has done so on the basis that these protests and appeals were not finished at the local level. They were said to be illegal.

The protestant had not permitted, so we were told, his consistory to do their work.

There is a church orderly manner that must be followed.

Our leadership has instructed us how consistories and the other assemblies must work. What follows are quotes from the editorial in the September 15, 2020, Standard Bearer by Prof. Gritters (in italics), along with notes about how the consistory of BCPRC behaved:

“Because decisions must be made after careful deliberation, our assemblies are known as ‘deliberative assemblies.’ To be deliberate about something is to proceed slowly, think carefully, act only with thoughtfulness…Patiently, carefully, and with a thoroughness some might describe as plodding, they look at all the angles, consider consequences, but especially analyze the question in the light of God’s Word.”

Previous blog posts have shown that this matter of the deposition of Rev. Lanning took place with lightning speed. There is no one who, in good conscience, can say that Byron’s consistory proceeded slowly, thought carefully, acted with thoughtfulness, looked at all the angles, considered consequences, and especially that they analyzed the question in the light of God’s word.

“Our entire formal system of church life is built around the reality that our assemblies are deliberative in nature. This explains many things: the length of some consistory meetings, the careful formulation of motions supported by logical and biblical grounds…”

The motion to bring in the church visitors for help had no grounds at all, much less grounds that were logical and biblical. The motion itself was entirely unclear when it said we should bring in the church visitors “with regards to direction for going forward.”

“The most basic principle to govern deliberative assemblies is that Jesus Christ rules His church by His Word. All ecclesiastical business must be governed by Scripture, as that Scripture is understood and spelled out in the church’s confessions and Church Order…Thus, a delegate to an assembly must be scriptural both in what and how he speaks. And a delegate must listen to and be persuaded by Scripture.”

Byron’s consistory certainly did not use Scripture. But then again, neither did the church visitors or the consistory of Trinity. In all that advice, you can look high and low and find…only one Bible verse. That the advice brought by the church visitors and adopted by Byron’s consistory was woefully lacking in Scripture was not lost on us, however. Just prior to voting to suspend Rev. Lanning, an elder asked, “Should we add a Bible verse somewhere?”

“Nor should delegates attend (consistory or otherwise) with the hope that others will be able to tell them what is proper.”

Just before the vote to call in the church visitors, an elder no doubt spoke for some of his fellow elders when he said the reason we needed to call in the church visitors was, “I want to know where I stand.”

“Preferably, written advice is presented far in advance of the meetings…Delegates must not be required to ‘answer a matter’ before they ‘hear’ it.”

More will be said about this, Lord willing, but this rule was ruthlessly trampled underfoot. Consider the following:

    • On Thursday, November 19, 2020, the consistory voted to bring in the church visitors for advice.
    • One day later, we received advice from the church visitors advising us to take Rev. Lanning off the pulpit according to Article 14 of the Church Order.  
    • The next day, Saturday, we met with the church visitors to discuss that advice. The advice was so bad that none of the elders, not even those who wanted Rev. Lanning off the pulpit, could find it within themselves to bring the motion to the floor for a vote.
    • The following week, on Tuesday, November 23, we received an email from a church visitor informing us that we would not be receiving their next piece of advice before our meeting on Wednesday. Instead, he wrote, “We plan to come with printed copies of our advice for all the consistory members.”
    • At the meeting on Wednesday, an elder suggested that the church visitors present their advice, and then the church visitors could leave while the elders discussed how they wished to proceed. A church visitor responded with a threat: If you do not bring this motion to the floor right now “we are going to leave!”
      • Remember, the consistory was seeing this advice for the first time, and instead of being permitted to do their work without outside pressure, we now were being dictated to (“lorded over” according to Article 84 of the Church Order) on how our meeting must run.

If our “entire formal system of church life is built around the reality that our assemblies are deliberative in nature,” then the entire formal system of Byron Center PRC’s church life came crashing to the ground.

The responsibility for what happened at Byron Center PRC will ultimately fall on the consistory that brought all of this on itself.

But what about the church visitors?

These are our “oldest, most experienced, and most competent” ministers (CO, Art 44). They know the “church orderly” way because they have been the ones who voted illegal many of the protests and appeals that appeared before them at previous meetings of Classis East.

What about Trinity PRC’s consistory? Did they never think to ask about the process or the manner or the work that Byron’s consistory had not done? Why would they not want to protect their brothers on Byron’s consistory by admonishing them that they had followed none of the fundamental rules of how our deliberative assemblies should work?

What about Classis East? In a room full of church polity experts, including Prof. Gritters who was granted advisory vote, did not one of them think to make an issue of the fact that this work was disorderly to the extreme?

Did everyone forget how Prof. Gritters concluded his editorial?

“The manner in which the church does Christ’s work is no less important than the work she does.”

It turns out “manner” is just a club with which to beat others, and not something that must be followed by those in power.