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.


forest photography

A secret meeting took place right out in the open.

Although after church that evening of November 15 I noticed the elders gathered together in the corner of the narthex, I didn’t think much of it. A few members of the congregation noticed too, with one of them commenting on the fact that the elders, sans Elder Van Baren and me, were gathered in the corner of the narthex talking.

It became clear three days later at our official consistory meeting what had gone on at that unofficial meeting on Sunday night.

A decision was made in that brief meeting in the narthex.

We must call in the church visitors.

Later that evening, an elder emailed the consistory informing them that he was working on a motion that we could discuss on Wednesday.

That motion was sent out on Tuesday morning, November 17. It read as follows:

  1. That we cancel the Council meeting and Special Council meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, (11-18-20) and replace this meeting with a Special Consistory meeting, to determine action for the calling of help from the Church Visitors.
  2. a. That we convene as a consistory to discuss seeking the advice of the Church Visitors in regards to our decision of: “Removing Rev. Lanning as editor of the Sword and Shield.”

Grounds: We are divided as a consistory on our decision and have charges of sin brought before us within our own consistory against the 9th commandment.

b. Request advise from the Church Visitors, regarding the sermon preached on the morning of 11-15-20, “Shepherds to Feed You” Jeremiah 23:4, 14, with regards to direction for going forward.

When we met on the 18th to discuss these motions, I asked where this motion was even coming from, because we as a consistory had never discussed the idea of bringing in church visitors.

The response? A group of us elders had discussed it Sunday night.

Not only had they discussed it, but they had also decided it.

It also came out at that consistory meeting on Wednesday that an elder had already contacted a church visitor a few days earlier, on Monday.

Once those elders had decided on that Sunday night to bring in the church visitors, it was a foregone conclusion. The church visitors were contacted the next day, and the wheels were turning, before it ever made it to a consistory meeting.

Which meant we were going to abdicate our office.

To abdicate means to “fail to fulfill or undertake (a responsibility or duty).”

The elders had a responsibility. That responsibility is found in the Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons: “It is also the duty particularly to have regard unto the doctrine and conversation of the ministers of the Word.”

How is this work to be done? “For the performance of which the elders are in duty bound diligently to search the Word of God, and continually be meditating on the mysteries of faith” (Ordination Form).

(My protest, which lays out my principle objections to the decision, is found here.)

We never searched the Word of God. We never assigned a committee to come with advice. In fact, the only conversation we had had about the sermon prior to the motion being sent to the consistory was positive.

The vow we had taken was to “search the Word of God,” not call in human help.

We broke our vow.

What started out as disorder turned into us simply handing oversight of Byron Center PRC to Classis East, which is who the church visitors represent.

We took our Christ-appointed office of elder and despised it.

But perhaps all hope was not lost.

We belonged to a denomination of churches, and one of the great benefits of denominational life is mutual oversight and care. According to Church Order Article 44, a duty of the church visitors is to “take heed whether the minister and the consistory faithfully perform the duties of their office.”

Were we? It is indisputable that this consistory was not observing “in all things the adopted order,” and if ever there were a time to “fraternally admonish” those who had been “negligent,” now was the time (CO, 44).

The consistory had not done any work.

We had no business calling in outside help.

But the church visitors could help us. Set us back on the right course. Point out to us our responsibilities. Give us good, biblical advice and counsel.

Or not.


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.


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).