The schism in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) affects life “all around us.” Much more significant than any other issue is the rift that has taken place in our churches, separating very friends and families from one another. While the leaders of the schism call it a “reformation,” I call it what it is: a sinful division in the church of Jesus Christ.

The schism is being kept active by ratcheting up rhetoric. Rhetoric is “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing.” To ratchet something up is “to increase repeatedly and by small amounts.” Such we have seen “all around us,” as accusations against the PRC become increasingly shrill. The effect, if not the purpose, is to keep the followers of the schism devoted to the cause while raising doubt in the minds of others.

A brief history

The controversy in the PRC was occasioned by the preaching of a former pastor, whose sermons were protested because “the believer’s good works [were] given a place and function out of harmony with the Reformed confessions’’ (Synod 2018). This doctrine condemned at Synod 2018 was called the “devil’s theology” in a now infamous sermon on Jeremiah 23, for which another former pastor, one of the leaders of the schism, was deposed.

Synod 2018 had identified error, error for which the preacher apologized, but had not labeled the error as “heresy,” “federal vision,” or “the conditional covenant.” Synod 2018 did say, however, “The doctrinal error of the sermons then compromises the gospel of Jesus Christ, for when our good works are given a place and function they do not have, the perfect work of Christ is displaced. Necessarily then, the doctrines of the unconditional covenant (fellowship with God) and justification by faith alone are compromised by this error.” Our synod took the error seriously. Synod also did not charge the former pastor with deliberately compromising the gospel, the unconditional covenant, or justification by faith alone, or with deliberately displacing the perfect work of Christ. Synod 2018 was preceded by meetings of Classis East, which treated objections against the preaching of that former pastor. In the Jeremiah 23 sermon those meetings of Classis East were characterized thus: “The whole Classis rose up and excused it [the devil’s theology].” By this explanation one might have imagined that the error was ignored and even approved by Classis East. He might even have concluded that the whole Classis gave a “clean bill of health” to the former preacher with respect to his preaching, and that they praised the consistory for its work in overseeing their former pastor’s preaching. In fact, while the protest was not upheld because Classis did not judge the former pastor guilty of the charges brought against him (heresy, federal vision, conditional covenant, and the like), the preaching, preacher, and consistory were criticized, a criticism to which the preacher and his consistory submitted.

Willful misrepresentation

“The whole Classis rose up and excused [the devil’s theology]” is, therefore, not an honest evaluation of the events that took place pre-Synod 2018. Classis did not want conditional theology; the consistory of the former minister and the former minister himself did not want conditional theology. Synod judged that classis had failed to recognize and deal with doctrinal error, and then synod evaluated and corrected the error.

Even the preacher of the Jeremiah 23 sermon acknowledged this at the time. On August 19, 2018, he preached, “We thank God at the synod this year, the synod laid out the pure Reformed doctrine according to the confessions built upon the word of God.” Later he said, “I want to be clear here. I mentioned a minister’s name earlier in the sermon. I am not saying that the minister is a wolf. Do not take that to be my meaning.”

Classis East, at her September 2018 meeting, confessed that she had erred in her decisions of January/ February 2018, something that the since-deposed pastor also recognized, for on September 16, 2018, he preached, “Classis East said, ‘We erred. We erred when we did those things back in January and February. That was a mistake. That was wrong of us to do those things and take those decisions.’ Thank God, thank God that the Protestant Reformed Churches are working hard to correct the mistake that we have made. That’s a cause for great thanksgiving.”

Significantly, in the prayer after that sermon this same preacher said, before the face of God, thus acknowledging that the PRC did not willfully and intentionally compromise the gospel, “We thank Thee…that the churches have identified the error, have set it forth clearly, that Classis East has identified error and rejected it…. We love the gospel. We love it. We have never meant to compromise it. Forgive us, Father.” While the error preached by the former pastor compromised the gospel, neither that man, nor his consistory, nor Classis East intended to do so. Intention is always key when determining whether or not a man is a heretic.

In another sermon, the matter of intention exposes the since-deposed pastor’s exegesis and application of Galatians 1 as flawed. The heretics who troubled the churches of Galatia willfully perverted the truth. To say, as he did, in his sermon in September 2018, “Our churches have committed the worst sin that a church can commit. What is that sin? We compromised the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and then to apply Galatians 1 to that situation, is inappropriate. In Galatians 1:7 Paul warned the churches, “There be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” That word “would” indicates intention: “There are some who want to pervert the gospel” or “there are some who will to pervert the gospel” is the idea. No one in the Protestant Reformed Churches, whether the former pastor, his consistory, or Classis East willed or wanted to pervert the gospel. When the error was pointed out, when the implications of the statements made were explained, the preacher who made those statements reacted appropriately: “I never meant to teach that!” Of course, that will be the reaction of a man who loves the truth, but who has inadvertently preached that which is false. Such a man, who submits to all ecclesiastical admonitions and works with all ecclesiastically-appointed committees, is not a heretic, although he might be, as in this case, judged unsuitable for the ministry due to his lack of aptitude to teach. Therefore, he was, with the approval of Classis East and the concurrence of the synodical deputies, released under Article 12 of the Church Order, not deposed under Articles 79-80.

Creating a false narrative

Those who spearheaded the schism have ratcheted up the rhetoric, alleging, first, that the gospel was deliberately corrupted in the PRC, and, second, that the error was minimized and covered up. The now-deposed pastor, in his sermon on Jeremiah 23, accused a former editor of the SB of minimizing the error exposed at Synod 2018. But he knows that the editorial in question said, “The issue was doctrinal, and it was significant. Synod judged that statements in a minister’s sermons were wrong. However, synod did not declare this error to be heresy.” He knows that the editor urged the members of the PRC to study the decisions. He knows, but failed to point out in his sermon, that the former editor in response to two follow-up letters reiterated the seriousness of the error. The schismatics are offended because the former editor refused, rightly so, following the judgment of synod, to call the error “heresy” or the former minister a heretic. That is because the Reformed faith has a careful definition of heresy and heretic, which do not fit in this case.

Rhetoric such as “the devil’s theology” and “the lie from the pit of hell” sound more exciting than the more careful and accurate “this error gives a place and function to our good works that is out of harmony with the confessions.” But be warned, falsifying a man’s words by sinfully representing what he said in order to justify schism is a serious transgression of the ninth commandment.

False accusations of “devil’s theology” and “works principle” are only the beginning. Ratcheting up the rhetoric against the Protestant Reformed Churches, the schismatic leader now calls the Protestant Reformed Churches, her pastors and elders, and the schools that our people support “the whore,” “vipers and murderers,” and “snares of Satan.”

Take, for example, our good Christian schools. The schismatics have now taken the position that, because the schools require parents and students not to militate against the schools, but to promise to use a lawful process if they have grievances, parents who give such assurances are guilty of placing an institution above the truth. Although the schools have always required this of all parents who wished to enroll their children in the schools, this is now labeled “a grievous snare,” something the leaders of the schism failed to see, so that their failure to blow the trumpet supposedly put their people in grave danger. In grave danger of not being permitted to tell one’s classmates that they belong to the whore?! In grave danger of having to do all things decently and in order?!

To make sure that the members of the schism understand that militating against the schools is a must, the now-deposed pastor loudly proclaimed that the PRC are the whore, even the whore of Babylon. This led to another speech, in which the warning was given, “We are at a crossroads.” (By the way, that rhetoric is important and frequent: they are often at a “crossroads;” in other words, be careful, for this is the point of no return. That is how you make sure that the people follow you further into schism and radicalism. It is impossible, unless God is gracious, for such a man and his followers to back down.)

Although some were undoubtedly taken aback by such language, they were warned, “You must go that far [to call the PRC the whore]” and “If we draw back [from that confession], we become the whore.” By such propaganda people are manipulated so that they react in fear: the schismatic leaders appeal to people’s fear that the gospel is being lost; that they might be cut off in their generations if they stay in the PRC; that they might be swallowed up in God’s judgments which will come, sooner or later, upon Babylon; or simply that they might miss out on God’s supposed reformation of His church.

Faulty exegesis and Scripture-twisting

The outlandish claim that the PRC denomination is a whore comes from a faulty exegesis of the Old Testament prophets that makes, not willful, persistent idolatry but any doctrinal departure the equivalent of the whorish worship of Baal. The departure of which the PRC are supposedly guilty is this: “There is something that man must perform which in his experience must come before the activity of Jehovah,” and “The moment man’s activity, no matter how he came to that activity [that is, even if God graciously works it in him], comes before the activity of God, there you have a prerequisite.” The point is not proven, just asserted. The PRC have not embraced conditions in the covenant, unless the schismatics’ novel redefinition of conditions is accepted.

Solomon did not teach “the devil’s theology” when he placed man’s repentance before the reception and experience of mercy: “He that forsaketh [his sins] shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). David did not teach “the lie from hell” when he taught the church to sing, “I acknowledged my sin…and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5). Fact is, and the since-deposed former pastor should know this, a condition is something that man must perform on which salvation depends. Whether man’s activity precedes the reception of a blessing of God or not is not decisive in identifying it as a condition.

The leaders of the schism are deliberately burning all the bridges, undermining the schools in the minds of the people (separating children and young people from their friends, thus distressing the lambs of the flock), maligning the PRC and their ceremonies, and warning people not to “join themselves to the whore” in hearing the preaching, attending the baptisms, confessions of faith, and more in the PRC. As for the ministers of the PRC, they are called vipers and murderers, because the schismatic leader tries to draw a parallel between the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23 and the former colleagues of the now-deposed schismatic; and tries to argue that lawfully deposing a man for public schism is the same thing as stoning him to death. Again, if you claim something with enough rhetorical flourish, many people will not examine your assumptions, which do not flow from solid exegesis, but are based upon a sinful misrepresentation of the neighbor and a shameful twisting of God’s holy Word.


I cannot predict what the next step in the rhetorical ratchet will be (we have already been called the departing/apostatizing church; but now we must be called the apostate, false church, the very Babylon from which all believers with their children must flee), but the rhetoric, without substance, will continue. We should not respond in kind, as tempting as it is. Sinful invective has no place on the Christian’s tongue or on his pen. But we should not be naive either: we should see through the rhetoric and teach our young people and children to see through the rhetoric, lest they, too, be deceived by it.

The leaders of the schism are eloquent and gifted; how tragic, therefore, to see their gifts being used to destroy the church that they once professed to love. Let us “with all lowliness, and meekness, with longsuffering, [forbear] one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2- 3). Let us “be pitiful, be courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (I Pet. 3:8-9). Let us pray for the repentance of our dear brothers and sisters who walk in this grievous sin of schism, many of whom are deceived by such sinful rhetoric. And let us open our hearts, lives, and churches to any who express desire for reconciliation with us.