Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

About Answering Error Covenant Life

Excommunicated

By on

11 minutes to read Facing false charges in a judicial process that denied the presumption of innocence, the right to be fairly tried before being condemned, and the right to speak in my own defense, I was found guilty of slander, false teaching, and division, and excommunicated from Trinity Reformed Baptist Church.

…and have no part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather even expose them.

On Saturday, August 29, I was excommunicated from Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in Hamilton, New Zealand. I believe it would be less than forthright of me not to openly acknowledge this, since it is a public declaration by my church about me. Therefore, I must make a public declaration about it. Moreover, I am conscience-bound to expose it. I have written this statement as a record to help anyone wishing to assess the validity of my excommunication; as a case study to instruct anyone potentially facing a similar situation in their church; and as a testimony to warn anyone considering attending Trinity.

In any situation like this, there is a large amount of history. This statement will simply note the key steps of the excommunication procedure, so that you can assess its overall validity. A fuller outline of the backstory is included in my response to the charges brought against me. You can read this here:

My response to the false charges brought against me by Trinity Reformed Baptist Church

The following account represents my own opinion, and is an accurate and true summary of my experience to the best of my recollection. Please refer back to the fuller response above if you would like further detail about the history, or the nature of the charges.

October 2019

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. Leviticus 19:17

The precursor to the events of 2020 was a meeting that my wife and I called with our pastor, Ryan Vinten, to ask why he had been shunning us at church for months. He replied, in essence, that it was because I am a heretic, having previously disagreed with his antinomian view of the place of works in salvation. He made it clear that we should leave Trinity.

In response, hoping that reasoning together was still an option, I sought the opinion of two theologically-apt men in our church. I shared an explanation of my position, with quotes from well over a dozen of the greatest Reformers and post-Reformation theologians saying what I say. They agreed that I was orthodox.

I therefore told Ryan that we would not be leaving Trinity. I shared this document with him, and expressed my desire for someone to mediate between us on this matter. He never acknowledged this request, nor the quotes or arguments I had provided. (In the end, mediation was requested at least six times by myself and others, and ignored or rejected every time.)

February–March 2020

In early 2020, Dafydd Hughes, the pastor of Crosspoint Church in Palmerston North (a member of the Fellowship of Reformed Baptist Churches NZ), censored my book, The Spine of Scripture. Dafydd had not read my book, nor spoken to me about it.

To protect my reputation as the ninth commandment requires, I asked Ryan to speak to Dafydd on my behalf. Instead, Ryan told me that there were still “serious and unresolved issues” to be dealt with on my side—both doctrinal and non-doctrinal—and asked to meet. I requested instead, as more appropriate, a written response to my written explanation of my views. He implied that he had not seen this document before, and then ignored it again. (He never has acknowledged it to me, as it straightforwardly proves that he has excommunicated someone from his supposedly Reformed church for holding to demonstrably Reformed doctrine.)

Ryan then told me, speaking on behalf of Trinity’s eldership—himself and Greg Kitt—that I was guilty of slander, false teaching, and division. They demanded that I either (1) close down my blogs (including It’s Good To Be A Man, which is not mine), and submit for mentoring; or (2) resign my membership at Trinity.

March–July 2020

Under counsel which I believed was naïve, but wanting to be submissive to the wisdom of older men and to demonstrate every charity toward Ryan, I renewed the process of trying to reason with him. When this failed, I then tried to walk through Matthew 18 with him. This was hampered by COVID-19 lockdown, and also by the fact that Ryan appeared to think that witnesses were anyone in a position of power in the church who would agree with him, rather than people who actually knew what was going on. We were therefore unable to agree to a meeting. He wanted me to come alone and face a panel of the elders and deacons—who had no first-hand knowledge of the situation—while claiming that my guilt was a foregone conclusion. I wanted to meet with qualified witnesses—including my partner at It’s Good To Be A Man, Michael Foster, who Ryan had also accused—while maintaining that the charges were mistaken.

At this time I also tried to proactively communicate with the deacons and point out the anti-biblical process Ryan was involving them in. This was met with silence. It became clear that Ryan was maneuvering the church to push me out. He openly denied the presumption of innocence, recruited the deacons as pseudo-elders to support his cause (deacons have no authority over regular members at Trinity), and then preached a sermon on Matthew 18 that again denied the presumption of innocence—directly before announcing a church discipline meeting.

First church discipline meeting

Does our law judge a man, unless it first hears from him personally and knows what he does? John 7:51

At this meeting, Ryan presented “evidence” to show that I was guilty of slander, division, and false teaching. I have embedded the PDF of this evidence at the beginning of my response document so you can examine it for yourself.

I had not been given the opportunity to know what this evidence would be in advance of the meeting, despite asking; much of it I had not seen before. However, since I was denied the right to respond to any of it in the meeting, this didn’t really matter. It ranged from cherry-picked quotes of tongue-in-cheek remarks I had made, spun to look like insults; to comments on gendered piety and sexuality, which sound shocking if you don’t know what I was talking about; to scathing remarks about key figures in the #ReformedDowngrade androgynist fifth column, like Todd Pruitt and R. Scott Clark. The crème de la crème was a quote about me being skeptical that there’s anything wrong with rough sex. Ryan earnestly and sincerely, in his best pastoral voice, presented this to the congregation in such a way as to suggest that I really like marital rape—neglecting to quote my very next paragraph where I strictly warn that causing harm in sex is absolutely impermissible. (No direct accusation was made, of course—like all spiritual abusers, Ryan is a master of grooming people and steering their assumptions using implication and tone.)

The meeting was firmly controlled by the men prosecuting me, and no allowance was given in the agenda for me to defend myself or to present my side of the story. Attempts to discuss the evidence as it was presented were immediately shut down. The congregation was apparently expected to see the deluge of carefully-massaged quotes, be overwhelmed by it, and then vote me out immediately. Most of them saw nothing amiss with this. However, some people in the church who know me and were concerned about the situation raised repeated objections to the obvious railroad, and pushed for time to examine the evidence. The elders were therefore compelled—with clear reluctance—to defer voting to a second meeting.

Since they could not prevent me from talking to people in the meantime, they grudgingly granted a motion that I be allowed to send a written defense by email—but only to congregants who wanted to hear it. Again, no objection was raised by the congregation to people voting without hearing both sides of the story; this in itself will tell you much about the biblical literacy, the Berean spirit, and even the basic moral intuitions of members at this church.

The interim

You shall not spread a false report. Do not join your hand with the wicked to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil. You shall not testify in court to side with a multitude to pervert justice. Exodus 23:1–2

I compiled my response to the charges and sent it to everyone. I assume most church members did not read it, or otherwise did not care for the facts presented in it. Nearly no one discussed it with me, despite the efforts of myself and a minority of supporters to encourage them. My wife and I attempted to dialog with some of the deacons and their wives, since they had previously been close friends, but we were met with responses ranging from craven silence, to sentimental hand-wringing about how “hard” it all was (for them), with no recognition of the seriousness of Ryan’s scandalous conduct, to close-minded and cult-like hostility.

Another man in our church met with me to carefully examine me, and then contacted the elders privately with a very firm run-down of how weak their case was, how badly they were handling the situation, and what their specific and grievous sins were in this matter. This had no effect either.

The whole time, not a single person on the opposing side engaged with my defense.

Second church discipline meeting

If a malicious witness rises up against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Yahweh, before the priests and the judges who shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness is a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother; then you shall do to him as he had thought to do to his brother. So you shall remove the evil from among you. Deuteronomy 19:16–19

The second meeting was held August 29, 2020, to deliberate the charges. As I understand it, no actual deliberation took place. I cannot testify first-hand, because, steered by the elders and deacons who obviously were afraid to face me directly, the congregation voted by a narrow margin to not permit my attendance. My wife therefore had to face the meeting alone and fight on my behalf. This was the most despicable and cowardly treatment of a woman I have ever witnessed first-hand, throwing her into a show-trial to fight futilely on her husband’s behalf against men who were callously set on manipulating a guilty verdict regardless of the facts, and congregants who were willfully ignorant and implacably self-righteous in their opinions. She returned from the meeting in tears, almost unable to believe what she had seen.

None of the evidence supposedly proving my guilt was examined during this meeting. It apparently did not occur to the congregation that this was necessary—and the elders and deacons certainly did not suggest it. Much time was spent discussing how poisonous I and my teachings were, with no concrete examples given. The meeting was again strictly controlled, so my wife was seldom allowed even to speak at all.

Having no apparent knowledge of the actual facts, a 77% majority then voted to excommunicate me. They needed 76%.

I was waiting in the adjacent building. No one even had the courage to tell me to my face.

Where I stand now

Men of evil do not understand justice, but seekers of Yahweh understand completely. Proverbs 28:5

Trinity Reformed Baptist Church has bound itself to antinomian and anti-patriarchal doctrine, and loosed itself from the Reformed tradition. In doing so, and especially in how it did so, in my view it has marked itself as a synagogue of Satan. If any man does not uphold the presumption of innocence and the right to be fairly tried before being condemned, he is worse than an unbeliever—for even godless secular courts recognize principles as basic as these (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2–3). Trinity’s members neither know nor care for God’s law, and are apparently content to be led by liars, cowards, and hirelings. Paul’s description in 2 Timothy 3:2–7 is apt:

For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away. For of these are they that creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

In short, Trinity Reformed Baptist is a spiritually abusive church. Each of its members who facilitated my excommunication treated the law of God with contempt—whether through apathy and ignorance, or intentional malice. But this law defines what it means to love God and neighbor (Mt. 22:40; Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:10), and so by repeatedly rejecting it, falling in with the wicked to pervert justice, and bearing false witness against their neighbor—despite all pleas—they have repeatedly hated both God and my family (John 14:15). The phrase they used against me is ironically apropos for them: characteristic unrepentance. Although I have good reason to hope that some of them are regenerate, and therefore to long for restoration and reconciliation, in obedience to Scripture I must now turn away from them and regard them as unbelievers.

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17; cf. Galatians 1:8–9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10)

If you are looking for a church in Hamilton, New Zealand, I must strongly urge you to avoid Trinity Reformed Baptist, and sadly these men in particular:

  • Ryan Vinten (pastor)
  • Greg Kitt (elder)
  • Nelson Khor (deacon)
  • Scott Alison (deacon)
  • Philip Van Der Wel (deacon)
  • David Chang (deacon)
  • Sam Ward (deacon)
  • Neville Hablous (meeting chair)

In his grace, the Lord has given me peace about what has happened. I have encountered serpents like Ryan before, as well as the malakoi who enable them, so I had no illusions about what would transpire, and plenty of time to prepare. I am very grateful to the men and women who did support me, even when they disagreed with my views on patriarchy and polemics. They exhibited a true spirit of catholicity, and I am certain the Lord shall reward them for their many troubles. I have also been grateful simply for the experience, inasmuch as it has taught me a great deal, and readied me for what I expect will be far more difficult struggles as the war for the West progresses. A soldier without combat experience is good for little. I am learning to count it genuine blessing to be refined in fire, and to have some small part in the sufferings of my spiritual forefathers—and of the Lord Jesus himself.

They shall put you out of the synagogues… Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. John 16:2; Matthew 5:11–12, 14–16

 7 comments

Toni

I’m sorry you had to go through that, and I praise God for sustaining and strengthening your faith through this trial.
I hope you will find a new church family soon.
I’ll pray for you, Brother.

Patrick

1. Sorry to hear all this Bnonn. Not that it’s much consolation, but I stand with you.

2. One of the ironies is someone who is a pastor (Ryan) but less theologically aware let alone astute than you are as a layperson. Nothing else seems to explain why Ryan is unable to grasp how the Reformed have always maintained genuine saving faith results in good works. That’s basic Reformed theology. At a minimum, Ryan needs to study or reacquaint himself with good Reformed systematic theologies (e.g. Turretin, Bavinck, Berkhof, Frame).

3. I suspect Ryan would have sought to excommunicate John Calvin given Calvin’s polemics.

4. It sounds like Trinity Reformed Baptist has let the prevailing left-leaning culture of New Zealand infect their theology.

5. That may also be related to why the church leadership is at odds with your confident masculinity.

6. The ultimatum about stopping your online work is ridiculous. Apologetics is crucial to the Christian faith, and apologetics is intertwined with evangelism, which itself receives a direct command from the Lord, viz. the great commission. If anything, local churches ought to support the work of their members who seek to engage in good apologetics online or elsewhere. Not seek to censor or silence them.

7. If nothing else, even if you were guilty (arguendo) of one or more of the charges leveled against you, the fact that the trial was such an unethical shambles should mean you deserve a re-trial under fair judges and fair terms.

8. Much more could be said, but I’m thankful for how you’ve conducted yourself through this. I trust you’ll emerge as gold refined in fire.

Frank Quijada

You are in good company, as church history will attest that the church has shunned men of whom this world was unworthy. God bless you, my friend. Praying.

Daniel Hines

I want to thank you for your ministry, and express deep sympathies undergoing this excommunication debacle. Your Notion notebook shows a true dedication to the church of Christ (it’s like your immortal soul depended on it or something…), which I’ve never seen from anyone on the receiving end of excommunication.

I can’t imagine the strain this is putting on you and your family. I pray God’s sustaining grace for you, and that He would reconcile you and your church.

And, as several have said, you’re in good company with faithful saints of old. Athanasius was exiled 5 times! Yet now his creeds are a test of orthodoxy.

Diana

I’m so sorry this mess has occurred. Sadly, it’s so common for the church to act like this. Thanks for sharing.