Meeting in the final of six trial sessions on April 17, 1999, Illiana Presbytery deposed the Rev. Mr. Burke Shade from the ministry. The court took the action after finding him guilty on three of the four charges which had been presented against him.
A Request for Transfer
Meanwhile, the Synod of the Federation of Reformed Churches (FORC), which had examined and received Mr. Shade as a ministerial member on April 3, 1999, requested Illiana at its April 10, 1999, stated meeting to transfer him along with the trial transcripts, with the intention of continuing the trial under its auspices. Illiana declined to do so; according to an observer, one of the presbyters stated: "We can't really transfer Burke to FORC, because General Assembly doesn't know who FORC is. In their minds, it would be like transferring him to the Klingon Empire." The court proceeded with the remainder of the trial the next week. The FORC Synod had counseled Mr. Shade to continue to submit himself to the trial, which he did. He was present in person and was also represented by his counsel, the Rev. Mr. John Owen Birkett, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Owensboro, Kentucky.
Charges had been filed against Mr. Shade following a series of disputes among members of the Session of Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Carbondale, Illinois, where he had pastored since 1992. What brought matters to a head were two issues: Sessional action to require that elders other than the Pastor read Scripture in public worship, and a petition to the Session that a congregational meeting be held to consider whether one of the church's ruling elders should remain on the Session.
In the first instance, the Session had voted 2-1 to require that ordained elders other than Mr. Shade take turns reading the Scriptures. Mr. Shade had complained that action; and, when the complaint was denied, took his complaint to Illiana Presbytery, which also denied the complaint.
In the second instance, the Session had declined to call a congregational meeting, despite receiving a petition from a significant portion of the congregation. (The Book of Church Order, 24-6, says, "The ruling elder or deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. . . ." The Constitution also mandates that a congregational meeting be called when a certain percentage of the communicant members petitions for such.)
The elder in question, Mr. Randy Moore, contended that the petition contained allegations against him, and therefore was inappropriate under BCO 24-6. Complaint was lodged by Mr. Michael Marshall, one of the petitioners, against the Session's failure to act. After Mr. Shade had been suspended from office in the fall of 1998, the Session voted, 2-0, to deny the complaint. The two ruling elders present were Mr. Moore and Mr. Joe Kessler. Moderating the meeting was the Rev. Mr. Wyatt George, former pastor of the Carbondale church and one of the men who brought charges against Mr. Shade.
The Charges and the Trial
The fact that Mr. Shade had been aware of this petition was one more factor in the decision to bring charges against him. He was accused of the following: erroneous views of baptism and of evangelization; spreading injurious reports against two of the church's ruling elders; failure to be in subjection to lawful church authority; and "countenancing activity on the part of both some members and some officers of the congregation . . . that disrupted the peace of the church and divided it."
He pled "guilty" in November, 1998, to two of the specifications, believing that he had to do so because he had already privately confessed to these matters before formal charges were brought. The court on that basis voted to suspend him from office and the Lord's Supper.
The court later found him guilty of "apparently" holding to an erroneous view of baptism, and of countenancing an un-Biblical view of evangelism. He was censured by admonition, and by being instructed not to teach on those matters until a Presbytery committee could counsel with him. At the April 17th session, the Presbytery found him guilty of the fourth charge ("countenancing activity . . . that disrupted the peace of the church and divided it"), and voted to depose him from office. The court dropped the third charge completely (regarding failure to be in subjection to church authority) and ended the trial. It also denied a complaint brought by Mr. Moore, that sought to revise the language in which the censure was couched with regard to the defendant's views on baptism. Elder Moore wanted the court to rule that Mr. Shade's baptismal views were "un-Confessional."
New Congregation Formed
In the meantime, a majority of Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) decided to leave and form a new church. In January, members of this majority group had petitioned for a congregational meeting to consider withdrawing from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). By this time, a temporary Session, appointed by the Presbytery, was governing the congregation. The petition was granted, and the congregational meeting was held on February 10th. But by then, many in the majority faction had decided simply to walk away rather than try to pursue either an amicable division of assets, or a withdrawal from PCA jurisdiction. (The threat of a potential civil lawsuit by one of the officers of the minority group was a factor which, according to members of the majority group, intimidated some of them from dealing with the matter any further.) Cornerstone Reformed Church began meeting in February in DeSoto, Illinois, a suburb of Carbondale, in a church building located on property owned by Mr. Mark Akin, who had been a ruling elder at EPC. The first occasion of worship drew about 100 people. Over the past two or three months, average attendance has been around 90. (The total communicant membership of EPC had been 153.) Already the new congregation has more than $40,000 in its bank account.
More Charges Processed
Mr. Akin and Mr. Wayne Sutherland, who had been a deacon at EPC but had also previously been ordained to preach, serve as the governing board for Cornerstone. Members of EPC who wished to join the new church were examined by Messrs. Akin and Sutherland, and a letter was sent to the EPC temporary Session, indicating who had been received and asking that their names be removed from EPC's roll.
According to members of Cornerstone, the temporary Session at first signaled that everyone had been dismissed except for Mr. Akin, against whom charges had been filed (but no action taken by the court) in December, 1998, and Mr. Marshall, against whom charges had also been filed (but again with no action taken by the court as of the time when he was received by Cornerstone). The temporary Session has reportedly more recently indicated that Dr. Dan Doolittle, who had with Messrs. Akin and Marshall sponsored the petition seeking the removal of Mr. Moore from the Session, also is being retained. According to Dr. Doolittle, when the request for his name to be removed was given to the EPC temporary Session, no one had informed him that any charges had been brought against him.
Pastor Will Hesterberg, Chairman of the EPC temporary session, has stated that "our desire more than anything else is to try to bring everyone together at the same table. We want to try to avoid a charged atmosphere. Maybe it's simply a matter of misunderstanding. Maybe there has to be forgiveness." He hopes that the matters can be handled in a "less combative" manner than that of judicial process.
The Book of Church Order, 38-3, provides that when a member of the church attempts to withdraw from the PCA by affiliating with some other branch of the visible church, "if at the time of the attempt to withdraw he is in good standing, the irregularity shall be recorded, his new membership acknowledged, and his name removed from the roll. But if at the time of the attempt to withdraw there is a record of an investigation in process (BCO 31-2), or there are charges (BCO 32-3) concerning the member . . ., the court of original jurisdiction may retain his name on the roll and conduct the case, communicating the outcome upon completion of the proceedings to that member. . . . If the court does not conduct the case, his new membership shall be acknowledged, his name removed from the roll, and, at the request of the receiving branch, the matters under investigation or the charges shall be communicated to them."
[The question of jurisdiction over Mr. Marshall is perhaps even more complicated. He had taken his complaint against the failure of the Session to call the congregational meeting with regard to removing Mr. Moore from the Session, to Illiana Presbytery. According to the Presbytery Stated Clerk, the Presbytery voted to deny the complaint, and also to rule that he was not a member of the PCA in good standing. The PCA Constitution apparently does not authorize a church court to exercise oversight of a person who is no longer under PCA jurisdiction.-Ed.]
Campus Ministry Sacrificed
The Rev. Mr. Derick McDonald has been ministering at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale since his ordination in 1991. Because of the situation that has recently transpired at the Carbondale church, the denominational Reformed University Ministries (RUM) counseled him in March that he should not remain at SIU. He has subsequently been transferred to work with international students at the University in Texas in Austin, under RUM auspices.
Memorializing the Assembly
The Federation of Reformed Churches, several of whose ministers have a PCA background, has continued to try to work through the situation. The FORC Synod has now sent a "memorial" to the 27th General Assembly, which is slated to convene in Louisville, Kentucky, in June. The communication asks the Assembly to explain to the Synod the actions of Illiana Presbytery. The document also petitions the Assembly to counsel the Synod as to whether its actions regarding Mr. Shade were correct; and, if in error, to give the specific answer to the Synod's concerns in the matter.
As of press deadline, Mr. Shade had not given notice of appeal of the judgments against him. An appeal would be heard by a panel of the General Assembly's Standing Judicial Commission.
What is the FORC?
The Federation of Reformed Churches (FORC) began a decade ago as the Fellowship of Reformed Churches. The notion of a "fellowship" soon proved to be unfeasible, and a federation, patterned much after a continental Dutch Reformed model, was adopted.
FORC holds to standard orthodox creeds. It is Calvinistic in terms of soteriology. It also practices paedo-communion.
There are presently six FORC churches: Harrisonburg, Front Royal, and Willis, Virginia; Jupiter, Florida; Williamsville New York; and Akron, Ohio. Two of the churches were in the PCA. The Williamsville congregation (Church of the Savior) withdrew to independency after Ascension Presbytery had determined to dissolve the church. It was out of this church that the "Chen" judicial case, which dealt with the nature of church membership, originated. The Jupiter church withdrew after a series of complaints in which the minister it was trying to call, Dennis Slack of Great Lakes Presbytery, was denied entrance into Southern Florida Presbytery over his alleged "theonomic" beliefs. The next man to fill the pulpit, Dr. Stephen Fast, was licensed and approved as a ruling elder supply. But he was told that unless he changed his views, the Presbytery would never approve him to be ordained as a minister.
The Akron church was formed by some people who had been members of Faith Presbyterian (PCA) in the same city. The Willis congregation is now pastored by a former PCA ruling elder and two former PCA ministers: Richard Telling, Phil Lancaster and Joseph Foreman. Mr. Foreman, who comes from a long line of Southern Presbyterians, is a son-in-law of Dr. Edmund P. Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary. A long-time pro-life activist who has spent time in jail, Mr. Foreman was one of the twelve defendants in the lawsuit in Portland, Oregon, federal court which resulted in a $108 million judgment rendered against them earlier this year. Until recently, Mr. Foreman was pastor of Foothills Presbyterian Church, San Bernardino, California, and Stated Clerk of Pacific Presbytery. Over the last several months, about half of the California congregation has moved with him to rural Virginia, out of concern over the Y2K problem.
The Memorial to the 27th Assembly
[The following memorial has been sent to Dr. L. Roy. Taylor, Jr., Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.]
Dear Dr. Taylor,
Greetings in the Name of our Savior Christ. We trust that our common purpose in declaring the Gospel of the One Who died and rose for our salvation, and Whose Name we bear, binds us together as fellow bondservants of this Lord of Glory.
We are sending this letter to you in accord with Rules for Assembly Operations, 10-1. We hereby bring to the General Assembly's attention, by way of memorial, the matter of our reception of the Rev. Mr. Burke P. Shade by our Synod. We had informed Illiana Presbytery on April 10, 1999, of our reception of the Rev. Mr. Shade on April 2, 1999. At the same time, we had requested the transfer of Mr. Shade along with a transcript of the trial to date (Presbyterian Church in America vs. Burke Phillip Shade) and the remaining untried charges and specifications. Though we have not received the transcripts to date, we anticipate receiving them.
To the extent that we have been able to learn of the decisions rendered in this case by the court of
Illiana Presbytery, we do have some questions about the propriety both of some of the charges and some of the verdicts. For instance:
1. Re: Charge I.A. Mr. Shade was found guilty of apparently teaching an erroneous view of baptism.
Our question: Though this seems irregular to us, i.e., finding one guilty of "apparently" teaching a particular doctrine, is this terminology actually considered appropriate in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?
2. Re: Charge II.A.3. Mr. Shade was convicted of spreading injurious reports in a legal document written for the court in response to the denial of a complaint. Our question: We believe that a reasonable indulgence should be allowed in this type of legal response to a complaint, i.e., if the facts presented are pertinent to the case, they should not be considered a basis for action against the accused. Is this belief on our part counter to PCA policy?
Beyond the technicalities it appears to us, from the outside, that there are additional questions regarding the attitude of the court in dealing with these matters. A few of these follow:
1. That a trial of this nature should be held in closed session.
2. That in regards to Mr. Shade's salary in April, we were assured (even though we did not ask concerning this) that it and his insurance were paid for April, when in fact this was not so.
3. That Illiana Presbytery took no decisive action with regard to the congregation of which Mr. Shade was pastor, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Carbondale, Illinois, despite being informed by a significant number of people of an attempt amicably to divide the congregation because of the irreconcilable differences. A communication to the Presbytery also indicated that there was even the threat of a lawsuit, if the congregation voted to withdraw from the PCA (which was one of the proposals set forth).
4. That as a result of Illiana's inaction, approximately two thirds of the congregation at Carbondale left to form a new congregation without taking any of the assets of the old congregation with them, even though that majority could have voted the congregation out of the PCA.
5. That the PCA by these actions has lost most of the largest (in attendance) congregation in the Illiana Presbytery and, as well, the international student ministry at University of Southern Illinois.
6. That in the trial there appeared to be witnesses examining other witnesses.
7. That Mr. Shade was convicted of supporting a view of evangelism which he had preached against on a number of occasions.
8. That Mr. Shade was charged with countenancing and "apparently" countenancing certain views and/or actions of others, rather than being charged himself with erroneous views.
In sending this memorial, we are not asking for reversal or redress by the General Assembly of the PCA of the actions of the court in question, but rather that the General Assembly itself exercise its own authority in reviewing our questions in this matter. We bring before you our action in this matter (noted above in second paragraph) and request the judgment of the General Assembly as to our action in receiving Mr. Shade as a minister in good standing. It is because we respect the unity of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and acknowledge that discipline is not a sectarian matter, that we seek your counsel. If the General Assembly has no response to make, we will assume that we have the blessing of the General Assembly upon our own actions.
We thank you for your kind consideration of our memorial and look forward to hearing from you.
In His service,
Dave Shank/Nicholas Kozel
for the Presbytery of Covenant Reformed Church, a member congregation of the Fede