Monday, March 1, 1999

Trial of Illinois Pastor Being Held in Executive Session; Illiana Lifts Gag Order, But Still Keeps Trial Closed

Congregation Considered Withdrawing from PCA, But Decides to Stay; Lawsuit Purportedly Threatened if Church Had Voted to Leave
P&R News, Volume 5, Issue 1, March 1999

A long-simmering internal dispute among the members of the Session of Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Carbondale, Illinois, came to a boil last fall with three significant matters. The first was a complaint by the church’s pastor, Burke Shade, against action by the Session which mandated that elders other than the teaching elder do the Scripture reading every other week in public worship. The second was a petition circulated among the congregation, and signed by more than the requisite number of the communicants to force the Session to call a congregational meeting, asking for a vote on whether one of the three ruling elders should be removed from the Session. The third was a judicial case brought against Mr. Shade, alleging erroneous views on baptism and 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.” Among the specifications in the last charge is that the pastor had advanced knowledge of the planning process for the petition regarding the ruling elder, and failed to inform the ruling elder.

The Major Players

  • Burke Shade — ordained in 1992 by Illiana Presbytery to become Pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Carbondale; married to the former Ruth Elizabeth Thoburn; six children; graduate of the Naval Academy and former member of the U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Mark Akin — ruling elder at EPC; a widower, married to the former Jane Winecoff, widow of a PCA minister; a total of twelve children between them; employed by the electric company.
  • James R. “Randy” Moore — ruling elder at EPC; lawyer.
  • Joe Kesler — ruling elder at EPC; President, First National Bank, Carbondale.
  • Wyatt George — organizing Pastor at EPC, serving there 1970–87; son-in-law of theologian-philosopher Gordon H. Clark; one of the two persons who brought charges against Mr. Shade.
  • Brian De Jong — Assistant Pastor at EPC, planting a daughter church in Marion, Ill.; the other person who brought charges against Burke Shade; appointed by Presbytery as the prosecutor; son of Professor Norm De Jong.

The Prelude
A prelude to the current series of disputes was a resolution of the EPC Session, adopted on January 2, 1998. The resolution asked Illiana Presbytery to investigate alleged complaints which had been received about Pastor Shade’s counseling, “inquire into the validity of the complaints, determine whether it is advisable or appropriate for Pastor Shade to receive training as a counselor, and determine whether, in the interim, he should continue counseling.”

On February 13, 1998, one of the three ruling elders on the Session wrote a letter to the Presbytery, calling its attention to several matters. Mr. Mark Akin, who was Clerk of Session, wrote that no specific complaints had been presented to the Session that night (January 2nd), and that “it appeared that people were mentioned, who had not even complained at all to anyone about Pastor Shade’s counseling.” Mr. Akin also alleged that, in contrast to the statement in the resolution, there had been no “prayerful consideration” of this matter in the Session. “This pious-sounding statement, about the ‘prayerful consideration’, is simply false. How can we pray about something we have not discussed?” At the end of his letter, he concluded: “I would humbly submit that we as a Session should perhaps receive training in the office of Ruling Elder, in order to better perform our duties as shepherds of God’s flock.”

Illiana Presbytery’s Shepherding Committee looked into the matter in February 1998, and apparently the only action it took was to appoint TE Tom Jones to look further into Mr. Shade’s counseling. According to an informed source, Mr. Jones stated at the October 17, 1998, Presbytery meeting that the Shepherding Committee would no longer inquire into this matter.

The Initial Complaint
On June 10, 1998, a motion passed the Session which directed Pastor Shade “to involve a ruling elder in the worship service to lead worship on alternate Sabbaths, from the call to worship to immediately preceding the sermon; that Pastor Shade deliver the sermon and conclude the service on those Sabbaths, and further, that teaching elder, Derick McDonald [campus minister at Southern Illinois University — Ed.], be included in the rotation of ruling elders on those alternate Sabbaths, and that on the alternate Sabbaths when ruling elders or teaching elder, Derick McDonald, were not involved in leading worship, Pastor Shade should conduct the entire service.”

Two ruling elders — Joe Kesler and James R. “Randy” Moore — voted “aye,” and one ruling elder — Mark Akin — voted “no.” The motion would have failed on a 2-2 tie vote, except that the Moderator, Mr. Shade, did not vote because he believed he could not vote since he was named in the motion.

Pastor Shade complained this action; and the Session denied the complaint. On September 8, 1998, he took his complaint to Illiana Presbytery, arguing that the Session’s action prevented him from the full exercise of his ministerial office. On October 17, 1998, Illiana Presbytery denied the complaint, 18-7.

The Petition to Remove an Elder
Subsequent to the October stated meeting of Illiana Presbytery, a petition was circulated which asked for a congregational meeting “to discuss and vote by private ballot on the following request: that the Session of EPC dissolve the official relationship between the church and Elder Randy Moore, without censure, in accordance with the BCO.” Dated October 20, 1998 (three days after the Presbytery meeting), the petition stated:

“It has recently become public knowledge that conflicts leading to an unacceptable tension are present among the members of the Session of EPC, and has progressed to the point that resolution of these conflicts in a reasonable and timely manner is no longer feasible without changing the current membership of the Session. Sadly, the end-result of these conflicts is that Pastor Shade, whom this congregation extended a calling to in accordance with BCO 20-6, believes that his ministry has been greatly hampered by frivolous attacks on his theology, unreasonable demands to elaborate his positions outside of the realm of personal discussion and conflict resolution, and an unwillingness to spiritually and financially support him — so that despite great patience and perseverance on his part during these last several years, his work here has become untenable under the circumstances.”

At the Session meeting on October 21, 1998, the Chair ruled that Mr. Moore could not vote on the matter, since he was the subject of the petition. However, the Session did not take any action, since the Chair believed that a second to a motion could not come from the Chair. (Of the two ruling elders besides Mr. Moore, Mr. Akin supported the petition; while Mr. Kesler, who did not, declined to second the motion to call a congregational meeting.)

Mr. Moore subsequently complained even the receiving of the petition. Among reasons given in his complaint were the following:
  • “The Complaint is an attempt to depose the undersigned from office”
  • “It was improper for Moderator, TE Burke Shade, to rule on the Petition since TE Burke Shade was one of the initiators of the Petition, and thus a party to it”
  • “Moderator, TE Burke Shade, incorrectly rules that the undersigned could not vote on whether the Petition was in order, and made numerous similar erroneous rulings in an apparent attempt to deny the undersigned from participating in the process pertaining to any rulings on the Petition”
  • “The principles of Matthew 18 were violated in that the undersigned had no advance notice of the Petition. The only notice given to the undersigned was a vague phone message left with the secretary for the undersigned.”
At a Session meeting on December 30, 1998, his complaint was upheld, 2-0. The meeting was presided over by TE Wyatt George, former pastor at EPC, since Illiana Presbytery had suspended Mr. Shade during his trial on a variety of charges (see below).

At the same Session meeting, the court ruled a complaint from Mr. Mike Marshall out of order. This communicant member had complained against the failure of the Session to call a congregational meeting within thirty days of a request from a sufficient number of communicants. Mr. Marshall subsequently took his complaint against the Session for failure to act to Illiana Presbytery. At its meeting on January 30, 1998, the higher court assigned the complaint to a commission.

The Judicial Case Against Burke Shade
Illiana Presbytery began a judicial trial against TE Burke Shade on November 9, 1998. At that first meeting, the court voted to proceed in closed session, even though none of the allegations involved a morals charge. It also at that time imposed a gag order, forbidding anyone involved in the case from discussing it with anybody else (other than a spouse).

On November 30, 1998, Mr. Shade pled “guilty” to two of the specifications, which dealt with statements he had made. One was before Presbytery’s Shepherding Committee in the midst of his trying to defend himself against allegations regarding his counseling activities. The other statement was made in the course of conversations dealing with problems in the church. He pled guilty because he had already confessed to these matters privately.

After accepting the guilty pleas, the Presbytery, on December 19, 1998, rendered a verdict of suspending the pastor from the sacraments and from his office. The court determined that he had not yet displayed sufficient sorrow for his sins. The matter of restoring him was referred to a commission.

Presbytery has also found him guilty of the specification that he “has apparently taught that in the sealing aspect of water baptism the Holy Spirit initiates, actualizes, brings about, and causes to occur our saving relationship to Christ.” The sentence meted out for his apparently teaching erroneous views was an admonition. The trial continues on the other charges. The proceedings are still being held behind closed doors, but the gag order was lifted, permitting the distribution to the Carbondale congregation of the findings already made.

Congregational Discontent
There has been an intense response by many members of the congregation to the judicial proceedings against their pastor, as well as the internal controversies. A January 6, 1999, letter was sent to Illiana Presbytery by numerous members of the church. Regarding Pastor Shade, the letter states:

“we have been witnesses of his personal integrity, dutiful family leadership, self-sacrificing devotion to his flock, zeal for evangelizing our community at Carbondale and overall love for the Lord.”

The communication continues:

“We are now deeply disturbed by recent developments within the life of this church. Charges have been brought against another Officer [Mark Akin — Ed.] of our church and have been threatened against members of the congregation. Our session has not addressed concerns initially raised by the petition to the congregation in general and has appeared to act in a closed and secret manner. This is evidenced by a recent session meeting which was called on short notice, announced to select individuals only and although dealing in part with the petition itself, members who signed the petition were not specifically invited. . . . We implore you, for the glory of God and the good of this church, to take whatever swift, direct and appropriate measures necessary to restore the mutual love and confidence of this congregation and its courts that must necessarily exist.”

That letter was designed to be received by Illiana at its meeting scheduled for January 9, 1999. But inclement weather forced the postponing of the winter meeting until January 30.

Meanwhile, another request was sent to the Session, signed by fifty-two of the 153 resident communicant members. Dated January 10, 1999, this request asked for a congregational meeting to vote by private ballot on the following matter:

“that the congregation (corporation of Evangelical Presbyterian Church) withdraws and severs any affiliation or connection with the Presbyterian Church in America (Session of Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Illiana Presbytery, and General Assembly of PCA).”

The purpose of this petition was to effect what a previous petition had been unable to do, viz., the removal of one or more of the ruling elders from ruling over the congregation when many members of the congregation have lost confidence in their ability to rule. The petition was also apparently borne of frustration with Illiana Presbytery which, to many of the petitioners, had through the whole series of events also lost credibility.

Holding Out Hope for a Peaceful Solution
Members who have asked for a congregational meeting to consider denominational affiliation have tried to work for an amicable division of the congregation. A January 25, 1999, letter to the Session of EPC asked for such a peaceful solution.

Proposal for Amicable Division
That letter reads as follows:

To the Session of Evangelical Presbyterian Church:

Because we believe there to be significant differences between us and some of our Christian brethren at Evangelical Presbyterian Church, we request that you respect our desire to peaceably separate from Evangelical Presbyterian Church. While we recognize that the unity of Christ’s Church is commanded by the Lord, we believe that in this case unity is best served by this course of action. We also believe that recent events have made this division inevitable. Our express desire is to pursue all avenues for the reconciliation of our differences as a separate local Church in the Carbondale area. We also intend to seek PCA affiliation. Whatever the long term outcome of this action, we hope to continue to enjoy the fellowship and mutual Christian Love of you and all of our Brethren at Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

To this end, and considering the large number of families who have agreed to this, we propose the following:

  1. We agree to transfer our memberships to our newly formed Church.

  2. We request financial help toward our effort in the form of a cashier’s check in the amount of $70,000.

  3. We request one half of the following: Trinity Psalters and Hymnals; Folding chairs; Padded chairs; Tables.

  4. We also request: Yamaha grand piano; Computer and printer in Burke’s office.

  5. We request that Evangelical Presbyterian Church agree to dissolve its relationship with Pastor Burke Shade immediately, allowing us to call Pastor Shade as Pastor of our newly formed Church. We understand that he would be ministering “out of bounds” pending final decision of Presbytery.

  6. We request that Evangelical Presbyterian Church support our plans for affiliation with the PCA.

  7. We request that any charges currently pending or being considered against any members of this congregation either in church court or civil court be dropped, and that a commitment be made to not bring any future charges, either in church court or civil court, against any members of this congregation for any perceived or alleged actions surrounding or leading up to this current situation.

  8. We request that within the next six months, the group known as the “Peacemakers” be brought in to assist us all in reconciliation and restoration of relationships. The cost will be split by the two congregations.
Thank you for your graciousness and desire to consider this proposal in the effort to maintain peace here in our Christian community. The following heads of household have expressed their agreement in this matter as of 1/25/99: Mark Akin; Randy Akin; Phil Bankester; Michael Barber; Rick Davis; Dan Doolittle; Joel Duff; Mary Graff; Shawn Jack; Mike Marshall; Tom Miller; Bob Osinga; Doug Osinga; John Rendleman; Wayne Southerland; Scott White. The following families, though not members of EPC, have also expressed their agreement: Mark Engel; John Bollig.

Efforts Thwarted, Lawsuit Threatened
Efforts to have an agreement in place before the January 30, 1999, meeting of Illiana Presbytery broke down. A January 29th letter from members of the congregation was delivered to the Moderator of the Presbytery at that meeting, which asked the higher court to exercise its power under BCO 13-9 to divide the congregation. The proposed division would have left the minority in possession of the property, worth approximately $250,000, while the majority would receive the money that had been in the bank account, approximately $70,000. (The bank funds were recently reduced by $6,000, when the Session voted on January 13, 1999, to give that amount to the church secretary to help her with a diaconal need: the purchase of the trailer in which she lives. The Session, approximately three years ago, had co-signed with her in order to remove her from government housing and reduce her monthly mortgage costs. This motion passed unanimously.)

The letter noted that a congregational meeting had been set for February 10, 1999, to consider withdrawing from the PCA. The letter states:

“Some members of our congregation are hesitant to pull out of the PCA, but recognize that our church is already clearly divided over various doctrinal, practical, and interpersonal issues. We believe that remaining together as one body will practically engender bitterness and strife that will detract from the work of Christ’s Church in Carbondale. We recognize that divisions are never pleasant but sometimes necessary for the advancement of God’s kingdom, as in the manner of Paul and Barnabas.

“We also believe that a congregational meeting for the stated purpose may be hostile and lead to civil litigation against us. A deacon in our church has stated to us that we would likely be tied up in Jackson County Court with over $100,000.00 of legal fees if we attempt to remove ourselves from the PCA and keep control of the church building and assets!

“We have therefore submitted to the Session of EPC a proposal for an amicable division that would allow us to worship as separate PCA Churches in Carbondale (pending your approval) and thus enable us to pursue the work of the church while continuing the process of personal reconciliation over time. We believe this is a prudent option that will ensure the best opportunity to keep peace in the community. We have tried to make sure that the proposal was more than fair to the minority of the congregation which would stay with the building at EPC, leaving them with the vast majority of the assets. At this point our Session has not given its support of this effort.

“As a majority of the members of the congregation of EPC, we ask you, Illiana Presbytery, to assist us in a prompt and orderly division in accordance with the enclosed proposal that was first submitted to our Session. . . .”

The letter was signed by several heads of households, representing 69 communing members.

The deacon mentioned in the letter, Paul Wood, has stated that the reason why he made reference to civil court was because, if EPC left the PCA, “the lawsuit is the only thing I would have left to have my grievances aired in.” Mr. Wood flatly denied mentioning any figure such as $100,000: “whoever quoted these figures in there didn’t quote me.”

Contacted two weeks after the Presbytery meeting, Elder Moore expressed surprise about the existence of this letter of January 29, 1999. He stated that “the Session was not even aware of such correspondence.”

At the January 30th meeting, Illiana Presbytery did not accede to the request for a prompt and orderly division of the congregation. Instead, without the contents of the letter being read, the court committed the matter to a commission. In referring this matter, Illiana Presbytery was clear that the commission does not have authority to speak and act on behalf of Presbytery. This commission has also assumed original jurisdiction over the church, per the request of the Session. The ruling elders at EPC have not resigned, but merely stepped aside from the active ruling of the congregation. Indeed, the native Session at EPC continues to have authority over its daughter mission church, Providence Presbyterian in Marion, Ill., where Mr. De Jong is the organizing pastor.

Congregational Meeting
Just prior to the congregational meeting on February 10th, three members of Illiana’s Commission — Will Hesterberg, Alan Mallory, and Carlo Hansen — met with some of the members of the congregation who had petitioned for that congregational meeting. Sympathy was expressed towards the idea of the congregation having separate worship services. The commission members were told that some people were already refusing to return to church at EPC — that is, that they did not want to step foot in the doors of the building again.

At the congregational meeting, the congregation voted, unanimously, to remain in the PCA (see below). However, the future of Illiana Presbytery’s largest congregation (in terms of average attendance) remains uncertain, in that a substantial majority appears ready to walk away from the edifice on Oakland Street. On February 14th, Elder Akin and Deacon Wayne Sutherland led in worship approximately 100 people who had gathered for worship at a church building located on property owned by Mr. Akin in DeSoto, Ill. According to members of that group, whether that significant number of people will stay in the PCA will depend in large measure upon how the Presbytery deals with the matter.

The Conduct of the Congregational Meeting
[The following account is based on information supplied by two of the members of the congregation present at the congregational meeting on February 10th. — Ed.]

The Rev. Will Hesterberg convened the meeting and read from several Scripture passages, including verses from Matthew 18, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, and I John 4. After a time of silent confession, the congregation turned to Psalm 32, which was read responsively. The convener read Galatians 4:25, and gave the ground rules for discussion. He made the suggestion that children should leave. Upon motion, the body approved that suggestion.

Mr. Hesterberg talked about why the commission, which was acting as an interim session, wanted to secure an interim pastor for the church. He pointed to the need for growth, healing, and reconciliation.

Mr. Hesterberg was elected Moderator, and the Rev. Mr. Alan Mallory was elected Clerk of the meeting. The Moderator then started to go through the proposal for peaceable division. Mr. Randy Moore and Mr. Mark Akin noted that the purpose of the meeting was to vote on whether to remain in the PCA or not.

Almost immediately, the question was called. Voting by ballot, the congregation unanimously decided not to withdraw from the denomination.

The meeting started at about 7:00 PM, and lasted about 45 minutes.

[Editor’s Note: It would appear that preventing communicant members under the age of 18 from voting was improper. Under the PCA’s Book of Church Order, all communicant members have the right to vote on matters in congregational meetings. As a matter of fact, there was a recent attempt to amend the Constitution to allow churches to set a voting age for congregational meetings. The 1996 Assembly approved the measure, as did the requisite number of presbyteries; but the 1997 Assembly voted it down, thus defeating the amendment. — Ed.]

Facts and Figures Regarding Illiana Presbytery
  • Located in Southern Illinois, Southwestern Indiana, and three counties in Northern Kentucky.
  • Thirteen organized churches and one mission congregation
  • Membership (1997 statistics): 1,181 communicants, 219 non-communicants, 23 ministers (1,423 total)
  • The only Presbytery which, upon Joining and Receiving with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod in 1982, contained no churches which had originally been in the PCA
  • Three of its ministers are faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary, including its President, Bryan Chapell
Comments by Illiana’s Stated Clerk and Moderator
Mr. Dale Eisenreich, Stated Clerk of Illiana Presbytery, stated that that there had never before been a trial in Illiana Presbytery, from the days that it was in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod; but that in 1998 two trials of ministers (including the present one) had been held. “It is a sad commentary on the young pastors who are tearing up the church and creating schisms,” he declared. In his opinion, the young ministers are “splitting people”; and he “wouldn’t want to be in their shoes” on the day of judgment and have to face “Almighty God.” When asked about Mr. Shade being convicted of “apparently” holding to an erroneous view of baptism, he replied, with regard to Mr. Shade: “It sure seems funny that people can speak out of both sides of their mouth.”

P&R News asked the Moderator, Mr. Scott Levy, How can someone be convicted of “apparently” doing something (in this case, teaching erroneous views on baptism)? He commented: “Based on what the witnesses presented, it seemed that he preached that sermon, but based on his own testimony he did not believe that.” He said that folks of the congregation “interpreted” Mr. Shade’s views on baptism as being erroneous.

Teaching Elder Burke Shade employed these grounds in his complaint:
  1. The motion was unconstitutional. Although the Book of Church Order gives the Session authority over the time and place of public worship (Chapter 12), it reserves to the minister the duties of reading, expounding, and preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments (Chapter 8). Mr. Shade argued that throughout the BCO, “it is not only assumed but clearly stated that the Pastor is to lead public worship on a regular and weekly basis. That motion that was passed is in direct contradiction to our Book of Church Order and denied me the ability to perform my calling.” He also cited BCO Chapters 18, 19-21, 24, and 52, in support of his making a distinction between ministers and the other church officers.

  2. The motion was unconfessional. “Question 156 of the Larger Catechism affirms that all ‘are not to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation,’ and in its scriptural footnotes, quotes Deut. 31:9, 11–13, Nehemiah 8:2–3, and Nehemiah 9:3–5, all of which state that it is the priests or Levites who may read the Scriptures.” After citing the Form of Presbyterial Church-Government and the Directory for the Publick Worship of God of the Westminster Assembly, the complainant stated: “The Reformed understanding of worship is that I may use others in the worship service, to read or pray, but the preponderance of the leadership rests upon me, and at my discretion as Pastor because of my office. It is my responsibility to delegate when I desire, but the Session may not delegate for me as they have done in this motion [, which] impedes my ability to fulfill my office. Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders are equal (BCO 8-9) but not interchangeable in function (BCO 8-5).”

  3. The motion was unbiblical, violating I Timothy 4:13–14 (“give attention to the public reading of the Scripture”).

  4. The motion was improperly passed as a motion, because the Session’s understanding at the time that he could not vote was erroneous.

  5. The motion was uncharitable: “It is . . . personally hurtful to me to have my calling, my duty, my responsibility, my desire, taken from me.”