Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Another Church Court Vindicates Burke Shade

P&R News, May – June 2001, Volume 7, Issue 3

As reported in P&R News, in spring 1999, Illiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted to depose and suspend from the Lord’s Supper the Rev. Burke Shade (see “Illiana Deposes Carbondale Pastor,” March 1999, pp. 25–26). He had been charged with erroneous views on baptism and evangelization; spreading injurious reports against two of the church’s ruling elders; failure to be in subjection to 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” (see “Trial of Illinois Pastor Being Held in Executive Session; Illiana Lifts Gag Order, But Still Keeps Trial Closed,” June 1999, pp. 26–27). At the time of the discipline, Mr. Shade had been the Pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Carbondale, Illinois.

Before the conclusion of his trial, he was examined and received by the Federation of Reformed Churches (FORC), a denomination which adheres to historic Reformed creeds but which also practices paedo-communion. The FORC presbytery, after hearing from a presbyter who had personally talked extensively with both sides in the matter, vindicated Mr. Shade. Subsequently, the elders of Covenant Reformed Church of Harrisonburg, Virginia, a FORC congregation, sent a communication to the 1999 PCA General Assembly, asking some pointed questions about the manner in which the Shade case was conducted by Illiana Presbytery.

A significant portion of the congregation of Evangelical Presbyterian Church peacefully left and formed Cornerstone Reformed Church, a congregation which eventually affiliated with the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals (CRE). This confederation was founded by Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho, which is associated with the magazine Credenda/Agenda and New St. Andrews College. When Cornerstone Reformed Church, which is pastored by Burke Shade, applied for membership in the CRE, the elders of Christ Church looked into the matter. As is clear from their report, that church court also has vindicated the minister deposed by the PCA.

What follows is the initial report from the Christ Church elders; a reply from Illiana Presbytery; and a response from Christ Church. Indications are that Illiana has decided not to issue a further response, thereby effectively closing the matter.

Report on the PCA vs. Burke Shade Trial for CRE Evaluation
(Adopted August 17, 2000 by the Elders of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho)

THE ELDERS OF CHRIST CHURCH, MOSCOW, IDAHO HAVE DETERMINED TO COMMEND Cornerstone Reformed Church, Carbondale, Illinois to the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals (CRE) for admission into membership. This commendation is noteworthy because the pastor of Cornerstone Reformed Church, Burke P. Shade, was “deposed and indefinitely suspended from the sacraments” by Illiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Our respect for that body compels us to publish this explanation of our commendation of and support for Pastor Shade. To our brothers in the Illiana Presbytery, we continue to extend the right hand of fellowship. We desire to strive for like-mindedness with that body and to pursue the purity and peace of the whole Church of Jesus Christ. We do so especially in regard to the present matter.

We thank Illiana Presbytery for giving consideration in their January 2000 business meeting to our request for the PCA vs. Shade trial documents and for forwarding those documents to us. Among the materials we received were the transcript of the whole trial and all exhibits that were introduced during the course of the trial. Illiana Presbytery delivered these materials to us in good faith, understanding that we would use them “only for the purpose of adjudicating Cornerstone’s entry into the CRE Denomination.” It was for this very purpose that we studied these documents. In November 1999, Cornerstone Reformed Church asked Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho, to consider recommending them for membership in the CRE. To answer that question, we had to evaluate the trial record. Since we have no formal governmental connection to the Illiana Presbytery of the PCA, we could neither remand the case to them or serve as an appellate court. With that lack of connection, we had to answer the question on the basis of basic principles of biblical justice which all presbyterians share. And since the PCA is a faithful presbyterian church, we began evaluating the case by assuming the correctness of the Illiana decision, with Shade having the burden of proof.

And yet, after examining the case, we do recommend affirming Pastor Shade’s qualifications as a minister of the Gospel. This we could never do had Shade been justly tried and convicted by a legitimate ecclesiastical authority, one such as Illiana Presbytery. But the trial of Shade before Illiana Presbytery fell well short of scriptural standards of justice, as we shall explain below.

We continue in peace with the Illiana Presbytery and with the whole PCA communion, so far as it depends upon us. This bond includes but is not limited to the fact that we accept baptisms performed by PCA ministers, we admit new members on the basis of transfer from the PCA, and we invite PCA members in good standing to sit with us at the Lord’s table and partake of the bread and cup. Yet, we have had to conclude that the Illiana Presbytery of the PCA judged Shade unjustly in its trial of him from December 1998 through April 1999, so we cannot support their judgment in that instance.

Note the following background summary followed by our particular criticisms of the case:

Summary of Events Leading to the Trial
In broadest terms, this trial grew out of a large theological paradigm difference within the session of EPC. On one side stood the pastor, Burke Shade and ruling elder, Mark Akin; on the other stood ruling elders Randy Moore and Joe Kesler. As in most such paradigm conflicts, at various points along the way, both sides started losing personal trust in the other and started reading in or began noticing more malicious motives and moral failings.

For some time before the trial, various disagreements simmered on the session, including a counseling case (January–February 1998) and pay concerns (April 1998), but most of the developing disagreements stemmed from a creeping suspicion with Moore and Kesler that Shade was leading the church away from a more Scottish, regulativist presbyterianism toward a more Roman Catholic/Episcopal expression. From the Shade-Akin angle (though not expressly stated by them), the disagreements stemmed not from a creeping Roman Catholicism but from an attempt to be more richly biblical within the Westminster Confession tradition in contrast to a more intellectualistic, gnostic-leaning American presbyterianism.

Within this broad clash of paradigms, two doctrinal issues finally stood out by the time of the trial, namely, the nature of baptism and eldership. In the session’s attempt to sort through some of these issues in mid-1998, the air between them became especially charged. After the Moore-Kesler side moved to require more ruling elder involvement in worship or exclude the pastor from parts (June 10, 1998), Shade filed a formal complaint against the session which was denied and appealed to presbytery (September 1998). Subsequently, the presbytery denied the complaint (October 17, 1998). In the sessional discussion that ensued on this complaint, the Moore-Kesler portion of the session asked Shade to address the Roman Catholic/Episcopal drift that they perceived. Shade preached a sermon on baptism in July 1998, and Moore-Kesler viewed this as Shade’s response to their questions. This sermon later provoked parts of the final charges.

Drawn into the midst of this controversy were two other teaching elders of the Illiana presbytery, namely, Wyatt George, former pastor of EPC, and Brian DeJong, an EPC-sponsored church-planter in Marion, Illinois. By October, several members of the EPC congregation, with Shade’s knowledge, compiled a petition seeking to ask the EPC session to call a congregational meeting (in their perspective, something in accord with the PCA Book of Church Order) to consider the removal of Randy Moore as a ruling elder of EPC (October 20, 1998). In the midst of all this, George and DeJong became allied with Moore and Kesler, and they all claimed Shade had committed several personal sins which warranted formal charges against him. George and DeJong finally formulated and filed two specifications of sin against Shade. The Illiana presbytery formally received these on November 9, 1998 and proceeded in closed session. By the next meeting, DeJong expanded the initial two specifications into four charges (1. “doctrinal views” in “violation” of presbyterian standards, 2. “spreading injurious reports,” 3. “failure to be in subjection to lawful church authority” [dropped], and 4. “countenancing” schismatic activity) with sixteen specifications.

At the next meeting, November 30, 1998, Pastor Shade pled “guilty” to two of the sixteen specifications, the two dealing with speaking injuriously about a fellow elder. He did this, he claimed, because he had already repented of those sins at a private meeting with another elder and Randy Moore (August 31). At that meeting, according to Shade, Moore declined to grant Shade forgiveness, or according to Moore, Shade “offended in his excuse.”

The actual consideration of testimony for the charges began at the presbytery meeting of December 18, 1998. And there, after denying a complaint from Shade that objected to the presbytery including specifications he had already sought to rectify, the presbytery censured Shade for the specification he pled guilty to by imposing an indefinite suspension from the sacraments and his pastoral office until a commission of presbytery could be convinced of his repentance.

The trial continued through six meetings, ending on April 17, 1999. In the end, the Illiana presbytery, with DeJong as prosecutor, found Shade guilty of ten specifications, acquitted him of one, and dropped the remaining five. Though the prosecution sought stronger language concerning Shade’s view of baptism, the presbytery declined to convict him of theological error, and in effect altered Charge One, saying that Shade “does not presently appear to hold heretical views about the efficacy of baptism.” Nonetheless, they “admonish him for the way in which he has upset the peace and purity of the Church by his teaching in a manner in which he approached the teaching of that doctrine.” After the guilty verdicts, the presbytery imposed the censure of deposition from office of teaching elder.

Critical Failings of the Case
  1. The Illiana Presbytery never kept formal minutes of any of the six trial meetings.
    Carefully approved minutes provide a publicly agreed upon basis by which outsiders can examine specific authoritative judgments of a group. Minutes specify such things as the roll of legal voters and the means by which a higher court can review specific judgments, citations, etc.

    The PCA Book of Church Order explicitly states that “Minutes of the trial shall be kept by the clerk, which shall exhibit the charges, the answer, written record of the testimony, as defined by BCO 35-7, and all such acts, orders, and decisions of the court relating to the case, as either party may desire, and also the judgment. The clerk shall without delay assemble the Record of the Case which shall consist of the charges, the answer, the citations and returns thereto, and the minutes herein required to be kept” (BCO 32-18; emph. added).

    Though the PCA BCO requires minutes as a distinct part of the “Record of the Case,” the Illiana Presbytery and/or its trial judicatory did not do so (or include the required witness citations), though the clerk of presbytery has replied to us that “the trial was conducted per PCA/BCO 32.” Instead of minutes, the presbytery received poorly corrected and incomplete transcripts. But incomplete transcripts are not publicly approved minutes. Moreover, due to technical problems, the transcripts omit various court actions, several testimony blocks, attendance records, many speaker identities, etc. They also reveal a lack of familiarity with some of the basic theological vocabulary in contention (the defendant, for example, is several times accused of tending toward a ‘sasserdodialist’ position, rather than ‘sacerdotalist’). Nevertheless, the presbytery itself received the record of the case and approved it for distribution (January 2000).

    Without the protection and authority of publicly approved minutes, an accurate history of the case is simply nonexistent. Even if the defendant had wanted to appeal the case, the higher court would not have had a specific, clear record by which to judge irregularities or even the attendance roll to examine who was voting on the charges.

  2. The Prosecutor and the Illiana Presbytery acted in gross haste in bringing and receiving charges of theological error (Charge One).
    The charges concerning doctrinal errors (baptism/eldership) show up at presbytery for the first time at the November 30, 1998 meeting, with adjudication and testimony to follow only three weeks later. The presbytery had no precedent or easy familiarity available to categorize the alleged errors. In addition, the trial testimony revealed that other leading PCA teachers held similar views, views grounded in the language of the Confession, Charles Hodge, and John Calvin. Moreover, the errors were not blatant, such as a denial of God’s omniscience or the reality of hell, and the accused embraced the teaching of the Westminster Confession and openly denied that he held to baptismal regeneration or evangelism-by-pastors-alone.

    The charges involved far more subtle background and historical knowledge than any normal individual could grasp in several years, let alone adjudicate within weeks. In fact, the trial testimony revealed a clear lack of historical and theological breadth needed to evaluate the doctrinal questions involved (even the key expert witness admitted as much under cross-examination; see below).

    Before rushing to adjudicate such charges, the presbytery ought to have instituted a broad commission to evaluate the claims far more carefully and report back to presbytery before receiving any charges. “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14).

  3. The Illiana presbytery acted rashly at the first trial meeting (December 18, 1998) in imposing the sentence of indefinite suspension from the sacraments as a response to the defendant’s claim that he had already repented for the two specifications in question.
    The trial testimony reveals that the defendant confessed his sin (of saying that an elder had “run off” the former pastor) and sought forgiveness from the elder concerned, as well as those to whom it was relayed. But the presbytery determined that Shade had not given “satisfactory evidence of repentance” and suspended him from the sacraments indefinitely.

    The presbytery made this determination upon hearing the prosecutor’s own assertions which failed biblical standards of evidence. It allowed the prosecutor to represent the words of others rather than calling these others to speak for themselves (Joe Kesler, Randy Moore, Wyatt George, Tom Jones, Moore’s and George’s representation of Tom Jones, a tape recording, and even unidentified “reports”). After this, the presbytery heard the prosecutor, who had yet called no witnesses, conclude, “I offered you not merely my personal private opinion, unsubstantiated. That would be inappropriate. I brought this with the testimony of two witnesses, myself, TE George, and in some respects TE Tom Jones” (T2-6).

    Instead of accepting Shade’s attempts to seek forgiveness or even investigating the issue more thoroughly before censure, the presbytery immediately suspended him from the sacraments and then from office in January.

  4. The prosecutor and the Illiana presbytery permitted unwieldy specifications and testimony of a vast array of events that no court could justly adjudicate, including petty events tangentially related to the specifications, including but not limited to piano playing, movie attendance, church check policy, and sexual annulment.
    By allowing such broadness of testimony and specifications, the presbytery showed such unreasonable sloppiness that it could not have sufficient knowledge to adjudicate all the facts and charges justly — “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). At the same time, the judicatory members repeatedly complained about the lack of time, even though they approved such broad array of evidence. Wisdom would have required narrow, specific charges and precluded multiplying the charges just prior to the trial. Even assuming the prosecutor of this case is innocent of “padding the charges,” the presbytery should have been very wary and protective of his reputation, since it is common in conservative presbyterian circles to file as many charges as possible so that at least some will stick.

  5. The prosecutor and presbytery acted confusedly in calling church members to testify as to their understanding of Burke Shade’s understanding of various theological points.
    In one of the more bizarre turns in the trial, the prosecution called, and presbytery permitted, numerous witnesses to testify about their understanding of the beliefs of Shade. At times, several presbyters noted the oddness of this process, but it continued and was allowed as evidence in a trial of theological error. Since Shade was the focus, the prosecution needed to limit his proof to relevant testimony, namely, Shade’s testimony and writings, not lay interpretations of the same.

    In response to questions from our trial committee, the prosecutor (Brian DeJong) explained that the doctrinal charge “was not about what TE Shade believed but what he taught (past tense). . . . Did he teach it? Yes he did: the fact is established by the testimony of more than two witnesses.” But this response clearly fails to answer the objection of witnesses speaking for the defendant. Whether regarding belief or some “belief-absent” teaching, the lay witnesses are still being asked to explain the subtleties of Shade’s views.

  6. The prosecutor and presbytery erred in allowing the trial to turn into a debate over words and individual interpretations of words.
    In charge after charge, the trial descends into a debate over personal meanings and the scope of a word’s meaning. And yet this course was evident upon reading the initial charges. When this becomes the central focus of a trial, the judicatory is forced into countless subjectivities that remove it from sound judgment. A wiser court would demand, up front, better evidence than the testimony of conflicting personal interpretations. Adultery, theft, and property are charges more easily adjudicated in the public realm. A court should only agree to delve into the more vaporous world of words when the case can be made not on the basis of conflicting subjective interpretations but on more easily verifiable patterns of public documentation (not single statements, letters, or sermons). The Illiana presbytery needed to heed the scriptural warning: “charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit” (2 Tim. 2:4; cf. 1 Tim. 6:4).

  7. Everyone in the trial assumed that there was no ethical problem in unreflectively subsuming any and all civil rules into an ecclesiastical court.
    The civil realm operates under assumptions of power and the sword. The ecclesiastical realm operates within the context of service in faith, hope, and love. Each realm is important in its place, but to mix them without careful thought invites injustice. To assume civil rules without biblical reflection in a church court allows assumptions of raw civil power into Christ’s courts. Both sides in this trial, along with presbytery, regularly intruded civil principles into church court questions.

    For example, at one point (T7A-B), Shade’s counsel objects to the ongoing hearsay evidence, and the prosecutor responds by invoking civil rules about hearsay without any biblical context. Nothing official is done. Similarly, the prosecution invokes the civil rules concerning witnesses to answer a presbyter’s objection (T21A-B). More relevantly to questions of truth versus power, the prosecutor defends his use of deceptive questioning of opposing witnesses by declaring that civil rules admit leading questions (18A-B). Power over truth also comes into play during a deposition of Robert Reymond, the key theological witness for the prosecution. In that deposition, after questioning by Shade, Dr. Reymond says to Shade that “just by the reading of the one sermon, I have not had, I was not given sufficient material to, uh, just your total views and I am, and I was passing judgment simply on the basis of that one sermon. Do you understand that?” This in itself would be quite an admission in a civil court. Shade replies, “Yes, sir, and I appreciate that and I know you have no personal animosity against me.” Immediately both the prosecutor and Wyatt George object and ask to have the last comment from the defendant stricken from the record. But they didn’t object to prior irregularities in questioning, only this one which was closer to determining truth.

    These sorts of civil-rule invocations are quite common in conservative presbyterian circles, but it is time to begin challenging this entire paradigm because it is not honoring to Christ’s Church. Much work needs to be done to rethink these power rules, tossing out unbiblical assumptions. It would be better to do that than allow cases of this sort where issues of truth and justice turn on the rules in use. Christ told us not to exercise power but service, and this applies when we unthinkingly assume that civil rules and power plays can automatically work in the courts of Christ: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:25–27).

  8. The prosecutor and presbytery acted hypocritically in condemning Shade for spreading injurious reports about an elder (Charge Two) but allowing witnesses and evidence to do the same to Shade without constraint.
    Charge Two (specifications II.A.3,4, and II.B) accuses Shade of spreading injurious reports about ruling elders Moore and Kesler (which included negative comments to the effect that these elders were trying to discredit him and/or were holding views of eldership similar to his). Part of the defendant’s defense was that these comments were made as part of a legal response to a complaint-response given to presbytery by these elders. The presbytery declined to see any special protection for speech in legal documents, thus saying that such language was impermissible even in trial situations. And yet, not only does the Moore paper to which Shade replied contain negative observations about Shade (e.g., suggesting that Shade was unsubmissive, dishonest, stubborn, disingenuous, and tending toward heretical views), but the trial testimony of these two elders is full of very strong negative comments about Shade. Kesler and Moore testified that Shade was a liar, belligerent, destructive, crushing, circumventive, heretical, sacerdotal, and a “hydroheaded monster” [sic] (T25A-B,1-22). This language was also in an unprotected legal context and highly negative, but no member of presbytery objected to these elders’ charges or brought them up on charges. Shade’s language was much milder, and yet he was brought up on charges and censured for saying far less than his accusers did.

    Again, consider that point in the trial when the presbytery indulged Moore as he grossly imputed motives to Shade: “One can look at what was the purpose of these statements [of Shade], and one can then draw the conclusion that there is no repentance because he retains the fruit of his sin, . . . which is namely, [speaking for Shade] I want this elder out of the church so that I can proceed with my doctrinal agenda. And, uh, in order to do so I am going to malign his name and engender this petition against him.” Given the charges received against Shade, we should expect charges to be brought against Moore for this “injurious report” about the defendant. And yet, just a moment later (same page in the transcript), presbytery heard Moore speak with a chilling lack of self-awareness, “Some have reached false conclusions, and I don’t know where they get their information. I have totally, I have tried to be very circumspect and keep my mouth shut. . . . I have said nothing bad about Burke” (T 3 A-B, 3).

    When our committee asked the prosecutor about such blatant hypocrisy in bringing this charge, the prosecutor responded, “Mr. Shade at no time brought up any of the substance of RE Moore’s response. He did not address him about any sins committed by RE Moore in the paper.” But Shade’s response to this question is quite irrelevant to the issue of biblical justice. The fact that he did not object to being called a “hydraheaded monster” among other things does not remove the reality of the hypocrisy. Those who do the very same thing as the one they charged ought, at least, to be denied their day in court. The Illiana Presbytery failed to rectify a grossly hypocritical injustice.

    The presbytery acted in hypocritical incompetence in receiving such charges, and especially in demanding repentance from Shade while the trial participants were freely allowed much more grievous declarations of “injurious reports” against Shade. “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’” (John 8:7). And similarly, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matt. 7:1–3).

  9. The prosecutor, witnesses, and several presbyters failed to comprehend basic literary genre in arguing for Charge Four (schism) when they declared a satirical “smoking gun” essay to be advocating church splits, when it does just the opposite.
    At a key turning point in the trial, the prosecutor turned witness and declared that Shade followed a James Jordan essay, “The Effective Church Splitters Guide,” in destroying the EPC. This is a satirical essay written against jobless pastors seeking to divide a church and gain new employment. The prosecutor/witness declared his misreading openly: “it is hard to see the marks of satire. And in reading it you’ll see that this is the agenda and the game plan that was used to try and take out Randy Moore and end up splitting the congregation of EPC” (T31A-B). Kesler and Moore were convinced of this reading, as are several presbyters.

    The misreading of this essay is so sophomoric that not only do the accusers fail to see the essay mocking church splitters and jobless pastors on the prowl (Shade was not seeking a church but already served in theirs), but they also fail to see that, at several key points, the essay would indict them. Most ironically, the essay suggests that the would-be church splitter should complain about the church being inclined to Roman Catholicism and that the view of eldership was too tyrannical. These are in fact the two doctrinal charges that the accusers bring against Shade. According to their reading of the essay, they could fit the church splitter portrait well. And yet, this essay (though not listed as supporting evidence under the received charges) is allowed to capture the imagination of the presbyters in such a way that Shade is found guilty on Charge Four. Wisdom demands meditation and careful judgment; Proverbs warns us: “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:22).

  10. The prosecutor and presbytery failed to show that the heart of Charge Four was illegal or schismatic, namely that what petitioners followed was the permissible BCO means of seeking the removal of a ruling elder by petition.
    Charge Four, specifications IV.A.3-6, focus on the proposed congregation petition of October 20, 1998 in which several families ask the elders to call a congregational meeting to consider removing Moore as a ruling elder. Because Shade was aware of the petition and “countenanced” it, the presbytery found him guilty of schism.

    The petitioners, however, sought to follow a perfectly legal procedure within the PCA Book of Church Order (24-6): “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 petitioners followed this procedure and had more than the requisite number of signatures, and yet Shade is charged with schism for allowing this BCO procedure to proceed. Under the presbytery’s adjudication of this charge, no congregation would ever be able to follow the PCA BCO without falling into the sin of schism. Shade, in other words, is being tried for allowing members to follow the Book of Church Order.

    Wyatt George testified that the session ruled the petition “unconstitutional on the grounds that it attempted to remove a ruling elder without process even though charges were in the petition” (T29A-B). Even if there were some technical error in the petition, the elders ought to have returned it for correction instead of leaning on legal technicalities to deny the voice of a legally petitioning body. Nonetheless, the petitioners didn’t believe the petition contained charges of the sort noted by the BCO. They did not charge the ruling elder in question with “heresy or immorality.” But they did find him “unacceptable” enough that they sought help from the elders in the form of a congregational meeting. This perfectly legal process was denied and turned against the petitioners and pastor.

    In reply to our committee’s question about this, the prosecutor stated, “If the petition had simply quoted 24-6 without citing the chargeable offenses, it would have been constitutional.” Rather than justifying the session’s action, we find this a direct admission of allowing a technicality to override a legitimate request, a technicality that ultimately helped depose a pastor. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23).
Summary and Exhortations:
In sum, the elders of Christ Church find the PCA vs. Burke Shade case of the Illiana presbytery to involve serious biblical failings, serious enough to reject this particular trial as an expression of legitimate ecclesiastical adjudication honoring to Christ. If we were in such a legal position to have such a case appealed to us, we would recommend a complete overturning of all charges and specifications on the grounds of the very basic biblical principles of justice listed above. This case should be seen as an embarrassment to conservative presbyterians across the nation, the CRE included.

Though one would think that such a case should have almost automatically been appealed to the General Assembly, the current state of most presbyterian denominations, including the PCA, precludes the sort of swift decision-making characteristic of biblical justice (Eccl. 8:1; Ezra 7:26; Ps. 31:2, 69:17, 102:2). Appeals to the highest presbyterian courts often take more than a year, while (in this case) denying the appellant any means of family support during that time. Moreover, the higher court will often remand a case back to the presbytery for a retrial, extending the process further in a court that had already shown incompetence on several fronts.

And yet for all the Illiana Presbytery’s failures in basic justice as outlined above, it’s very important to note that we do not find the principal people involved to be malicious or evil. Quite the contrary. We believe the Illiana Presbytery and the prosecutor to be men motivated by godly zeal in protecting Christ’s Church. We can gladly assume that they are wonderful husbands and fathers, with faithful children. We view the men of the Illiana presbytery as those who had tried to be faithful and had grown “weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9).

But all sides seemed naïve about the power of paradigms to turn opponents into demons, where minor sins get blown into vast proof of malicious conspiracies. Both sides in this clash have demonized the other, and both can tell stories about extra-trial injustices perpetrated by the other. But this is sadly the characteristic of almost every ecclesiastical trial. Anyone who has lived through numerous ecclesiastical trials can see the same patterns repeated over and over, especially in presbyterian circles.

The participants in the trial obviously know much more about each other than a distant third party does (and we can see things that those too close can’t). But like any evaluating body, our committee needed to keep its focus on the trial documents, despite their limits. And in those documents, the Illiana presbytery easily failed to make its case justly. Providence may show our judgment wrong. Providence may show that the Illiana Presbytery was right about the man, but it was certainly wrong in the trial. Both Burke Shade’s current pastorate, as well as future Illiana trials could lend support one way or another. But this trial failed to do that in a just manner.

Our brotherly exhortations to the Illiana Presbytery are found in their failings listed above, well-motivated as that body was. But we need to conclude with three exhortations for Burke Shade (though applicable to all involved in the trial), especially if the CRE receives Shade and Cornerstone Reformed Church into formal fellowship.

Despite the injustices that have occurred to Burke Shade in these events, the fact remains that these things took place “on his watch” as pastor, and so he bears covenantal responsibility for these events, even though he doesn’t bear the guilt for others’ sins.

  1. We exhort Burke Shade to walk ever more circumspectly and sensitively when dealing with brothers and sisters (especially those in authority) who have very different paradigms than his. In answer to our questions on this point, Shade explained that he “did not believe that there were large paradigm differences before the summer of 1998.” But paradigm differences show themselves not only in open conflict, but even among friends. And it is in the time of friendship that we must walk more carefully than ever. These paradigm differences should have been seen even before coming on as pastor of that church in 1992. In response to related questions, Shade has said, “I have convictions in most areas, but where they are not direct commands, then I have to be pastoral in my care of others and allow them freedom to grow into those convictions and be happy with them until they do, or if they never do. I am also willing to be patient while teaching, knowing that God brings people along at different rates, even as He has me.”

  2. In a related concern, we exhort Burke Shade to train any congregation under his charge in the lifelong wisdom of striving toward one-mindedness. This involves creating an environment where people instinctively bear with one another, don’t take offense so quickly, or impute evil motives.

  3. We exhort Burke Shade before coming into the CRE to resist the habits so common in certain conservative circles to resort so quickly to legal solutions for church problems. Biblical wisdom shows us that a “soft answer” (Prov. 15:1), not a formal complaint, turns away wrath. Even in response to legal injustices, a legal reply is almost always hopeless among brothers. It would be better to be oppressed in most cases than to turn to legal solutions. In response to questions related to this, Shade has said, “I do not believe the adversarial model of reconciliation is appropriate between brothers, except for cases of unrepentant objective trespassing. . . . [O]ne of the reasons the F.O.R.C. [Federation of Reformed Churches] appealed to me was their insistence on limiting the content in the BCO so that members automatically have to work from the Scriptures to resolve their disputes, in wisdom and love, rather than from the cold and hard facts of procedure.”
In the end, our prayer is that God’s grace would prevail for His glory and mercy upon us and all those involved in the trial of the PCA vs. Burke Shade.

Illiana Replies
January 7, 2001
Dear Elders of Christ Church,

In response to your report on the PCA vs. Burke Shade trial, we will attempt to heed the words of Proverbs 10:19 that in the multitude of words there is sin and therefore keep our response brief. It is not our intent to question point by point your decision to disregard our discipline of Mr. Shade. We acknowledge the care with which you studied the trial transcripts and the detail of your response. However, we do disagree with many of your conclusions. We will limit our responses to page 2, the first actual page of your analysis.

In paragraph 2 on page two, your analysis leads us to conclude that you received much of your information from Mr. Shade and Mr. Akin since your analysis could not have been gleaned from the court records alone. We wonder why you did not consult the Session before making your recommendation? In every issue, there are obviously at least two sides (Proverbs 18.17). Furthermore, paragraphs 2 and 3 do not really capture the essence of the dispute. Since the trial, further information has come to light that shows covert efforts to undermine and circumvent the elders were well under way as early as 1996. Failure to submit to the brethren has always been at the heart of the dispute (Ephesians 5.21).

Paragraph 4 sentence 2 does not represent the facts accurately. The petition took place with more than just Mr. Shade’s knowledge. Sometime before the petition was circulated, Mr. Shade contacted Dr. Morton Smith, perhaps the foremost authority on our book of Church Order, as to its appropriateness. Dr. Smith told him in no uncertain terms that the petition, as worded, was not appropriate, yet Mr. Shade continued to encourage its circulation. Instead he should have followed the Biblical pattern given in Matthew 18:15–17.

Paragraph 5 on page 2 makes it appear that Mr. Shade’s guilty plea and claim of repentance should have sufficed to warrant his forgiveness and restoration. However, the committee appointed on December 18, 1998 to work with Mr. Shade on repentance and reconciliation discovered that Mr. Shade continued to spread injurious reports about the two elders after November 30 and December 18. The committee found that his equivocations and semantic arguments were not characteristic of genuine repentance. (II Corinthians 7.10–11)

Now, if the first page of your analysis contains these many possible questionable conclusions, we would hope you might revisit your entire analysis and decision. You have intimated that Illiana Presbytery failed to provide an objective trial for Mr. Shade. The presbytery attempted to conduct as judicious a trial as we knew how given our human limitations. Whether serving as witnesses, prosecutor, juror, or defense counsel, each presbyter was fully aware of his accountability before God. Although time restraints were occasionally put in place, they were imposed in such a manner that neither position was given an advantage. It should be noted that at no time did Mr. Shade complain that we were being unfair. If we have unfairly judged Mr. Shade, he had the right, until he withdrew from the PCA, to appeal to the General Assembly. Instead he chose to examine routes of escape even during the trial. Please understand our own concern about your objectivity when we have discovered that at least two leaders from Christ Church were in communication with Mr. Shade about his reception into the CRE as early as February 22, 1999, halfway through the trial. If the CRE was already interested in talking with Mr. Shade about his reception into the CRE then, how are we to conclude that you were able to objectively evaluate our records since then?

It is possible to find discrepancies in any trial and we are confident that given the hindsight that you and we now have, we could have done better in some ways. Where we have erred, we are certainly willing to receive correction. Indeed, as James 2:2 states, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says (and does), he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” We do not claim to be perfect and we certainly hope to learn from our mistakes, but we do not believe that we erred in our final larger conclusions concerning Mr. Shade.

In Luke 17.3 Jesus says, “If a brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him.” Our presbytery found Mr. Shade guilty of injuring the purity and peace of the church. As far as we can tell, Mr. Shade has not repented but is in fact enjoying the fruits of the division by leading a group that is more to his liking. We would like nothing better than to restore Mr. Shade upon his genuine repentance and bring unity in the Church, all to the glory of God. We had hoped that other sister reformed churches would honor our discipline of Mr. Shade and help him come to repentance rather than offer him escape.

We would note the truth of your statement on Page 9 that “The participants in the trial obviously know much more about each other than a distant third party does.” Indeed, since the trial much more information has come to light that you are not aware that only serves to confirm our discipline. We doubt though that debating those points will be of much value for the broader kingdom to which God has called the PCA or the CRE. Because we are concerned that your fellowship of churches not face the same debilitating division and trail we went through, we encourage you to reconsider receiving into your midst someone who encouraged and worked toward the division of a body of Christ that has damaged the cause of Christ in the community of Carbondale (Titus 3:10). We regard you as brothers in Christ and desire only God’s blessings on our fellowship of churches. Indeed we shall wait to see what Providence will show about our actions and those of Mr. Shade.

For God’s glory by His grace,

L. William Hesterberg, Chairman of the Illiana Commission appointed to Respond

Idaho Responds
April 10, 2001

Illiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America
Attention: L. William Hesterberg, Moderator
Concord Presbyterian Church
835 N. Market St.
Waterloo, IL 62298

Attention: Dale Eisenreich, Clerk
2314 Briarcliff Dr.
Alton, IL 62002-6909

Dear Gentlemen,

Greetings from Idaho. Thank you for your recent response to our report on the PCA vs. Burke Shade trial. We’re are sincerely grateful, as well, that through you the Illiana Presbytery declares that “we regard you as brothers in Christ and desire only God’s blessings on your fellowship of churches.” Our own desire from the outset has been to approach these matters in good fellowship with you, and we have genuinely sought to uphold your discipline so far as the scriptures will permit us. Nonetheless, we had hoped for a better explanation of the ten critical failings we pointed out. Instead you chose just to direct several questions against us based on assumptions for which you have no basis:

  1. You say that we unfairly gleaned information for our page two, paragraph 2, from Mr. Shade and Mr. Akin regarding the ideological clash in this dispute between regulativist vs. nonregulativist perspectives, since our “analysis could not have been gleaned from the court records alone.” But this is quite false. Our committee did not contact either of these men in formulating anything in that paragraph. You can find the sources for this paragraph in Randy Moore’s “Response to Complaint” (7/7/98) and throughout the trial (see, for example, Meeting March 13, 1999, pages 4 and 10). A more careful look at the record will show you that this was a pervasive feature in the trial.

  2. You say that we failed to consult the Session “before making your recommendation.” In fact, before finalizing our report for the CRE we sent it to the men who had brought the charges and had been representing the EPC session in correspondence. In a letter of August 28, 2000, Mr. DeJong declined to make any factual corrections though he was provided with the opportunity.

  3. You claim that paragraphs two and three of the same page “do not really capture the essence of the dispute” since “further” post-trial “information has come to light that shows covert efforts to undermine and circumvent the elders.”

    Please note that your own Book of Church Order forbids an appellate court from considering anything not in the record. Moreover, we hope that before you spread such reports, you confirm such new charges in accord with the strictures against talebearing. The Presbytery’s admitting of unconfirmed accusations and yet prosecuting Mr. Shade for the same was the prime hypocritical failing of that case (see our Critical Failing #8). In other words, are you sure that you are not guilty, even in your recent response to us, of doing the very thing for which you deposed a teaching elder? The Illiana Presbytery should be most concerned to clear its name concerning this charge of blatant trial hypocrisy.

  4. You suggest that paragraph four, sentence two “does not represent the facts accurately” since it says that Mr. Shade had knowledge of the petition, when in fact Mr. Shade had contacted Dr. Morton Smith and been told that the petition was inappropriate.

    First, since the claims do not conflict, there is no distortion of the facts; the one includes the other. Second, the declaration of any individual teacher has no binding authority in the Presbyterian system. Dr. Smith is a presbyter, not an archbishop. Third, the prosecutor’s language cited in our report (Critical Failing #10) reveals that the charge was based on an unjust technicality.

  5. You claim that paragraph five of the same page suggests that Mr. Shade’s guilty plea should have sufficed, but in fact that paragraph does no such thing. It is a summary of the claims of either side in the dispute. In fact, our report does not make any claim about the sufficiency or insufficiency of the repentance in question; instead we questioned the deeper assumptions that got the Presbytery to that question in the first place (see Critical Failing #3, 4, 6, 7, 8).

  6. You say that you have “concerns about our objectivity” since “two leaders from Christ Church were in communication with Mr. Shade about his reception into the CRE as early as February 22, 1999.” As this is false on several fronts we’d be glad to discuss it if it would be any help (e.g., the content of the discussions had nothing to do with the CRE and/or the unnamed persons are not elders here). But even if your charge were true, we have fifteen elders on our session, and none of the elders on our report committee had such contacts (half of the committee had never even heard Burke Shade’s name). In fact, the committee was more disposed to side with the Illiana Presbytery until we read your transcripts. And of course, your attempt to discount our persons does not answer the objective failings we set before you; it only evades them.
For the sake of the national reputation of the Illiana Presbytery, we ask it to formulate some sort of reply to the claims that it (1) never kept the required minutes, (2) acted in haste in receiving charges of theological error, (3) acted rashly in imposing a censure, (4) permitted unwieldy specifications, (5) confusedly called members for subjectivist evidence, (6) allowed the trial to turn into a debate over words, (7) assumed civil rules in an ecclesiastical court, (8) acted hypocritically in receiving testimony which itself was guilty of the charges leveled, (9) failed to comprehend basic literary genre, and (10) failed to show that obeying its own BCO petitionary process was illegal.

Brothers, this is a scar upon your reputation, and your response does not do your name justice. Instead, it tends to confirm our report. We were hoping otherwise. We would sincerely love to be wrong in our analysis, but your reply to us is merely a string of inverted accusations against us. A court of Christ’s church needs to do much better.

For the Christ Church elders,

Doug Jones