McNeal Stewart, Michael A. Carpenter, and Sheneen Haley,  Appellants-Defendants,
Stan R. McCray and Canaan Baptist Church of Elkhart, Indiana, Inc., Appellees-Plaintiffs.
from the Elkhart Superior Court The Honorable Stephen R.
Bowers, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 20D02-1804-PL-65
Appellants Pro Se McNeal Stewart Elkhart, Indiana
Attorney for Appellees Patricia A. Mastagh South Bend,
FRIEDLANDER, SENIOR JUDGE.
This matter stems from a years-long dispute between certain
members of the congregation of the Canaan Baptist Church, in
Elkhart, Indiana (the "Church"), and its pastor,
Reverend McNeal Stewart, III ("Rev. Stewart"),
involving allegations that Rev. Stewart usurped the authority
of the Church's board of directors and disregarded the
constitution and bylaws of the Church. The parties to the
dispute participated in two separate actions that were filed
in the Elkhart Superior Court in July 2016 (Cause No.
20D02-1607-CT-149), and in April 2018 (Cause No.
20D02-1804-PL-65). The first action involved a battle for
control of the Church's finances and property as well as
an attempt to terminate Rev. Stewart from his position as
pastor of the Church. The instant appeal, however, is from
the second action, at the conclusion of which the trial court
determined that Rev. Stewart was in contempt of court and
ordered him to serve a thirty-day sentence in the Elkhart
Rev. Stewart appeals, presenting several issues for our
review, one of which we find dispositive, that is, whether
the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the
second action. Concluding that the trial court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction over the matter, we reverse and remand
We present the facts of this case. By way of background, and
to aid the reader in understanding the dispute within the
Church, we begin with a brief description of the Church and
then set forth in some detail the Church's governance,
according to its constitution and bylaws.
The Church is a Missionary Baptist Church that is
incorporated as an Indiana not-for-profit corporation. The
Church follows a congregational mode of governance, i.e.,
"a form of Protestant church government in which each
local church acts as an independent, self-governing
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/ congregational?s=t (last
visited on Oct. 22, 2019). The Church has adopted, and
loosely adheres to, a constitution and bylaws (hereinafter,
"Bylaws"). The preamble to the Bylaws states that
"[w]e, the Members of Canaan Baptist Church of Elkhart,
Indiana, Inc. recognizing that the Bible is the absolute
standard of spirituality, morality, ethics, and the guiding
rule of law, order, and faith for all members, do hereby
adopt the following Constitution and Bylaws."
Appellant's App. Vol. 3, p. 102.
Article III of the Bylaws sets forth the Church's
articles of faith, stating in relevant part that "[t]his
Christian Organization accepts the Scriptures of the Old and
New Testaments as the inspired Word of God. This record of
God's revealed actions in human history is the
authoritative basis for this Church's doctrine and
practice." Id. at 104. Article 3.13, "A
Gospel Church," provides that the Church is a
"Gospel Church" and that the congregants believe
[A] church of Jesus Christ is a congregation of baptized
believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship
of the Gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed
by His law; and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges
invested in them by His Word; that its only scriptural
officers are bishops or pastors, and deacons whose
qualifications, claims and duties are defined in the Epistles
to Timothy and Titus.
Id. at 106-07. Under Article 3.16, "Civil
Government," the congregants believe that
civil government is of divine appointment, for the best
interest and good order of human society; and that
magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored and
obeyed; except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the
Prince of the Kings of the earth.
Id. at 107.
Article V addresses conflict resolution, providing that
[i]t is the responsibility of the Pastor and the Deacon Board
to handle all issues pertaining to church discipline. They
shall handle all such matters and dispense due disciplinary
measures. These are to be based on and in line with the
New Testament teachings and principles as implied in the
Doctrinal Statement of the Church regarding church discipline
found in Matthew 18:15-22 and Galatians 6:1-5.
Id. at 109 (emphasis added). Article VI sets forth
Church discipline. Specifically, Article 6.1 states:
The Objective of Discipline- The objective and purpose of
discipline is to prevent, correct, restrain, or remove the
evil that may exist. To encourage and protect the right,
and cherish the good for the edifying of the body of Christ,
that it may be perfect in love, and without reproach. It
is not to gratify personal prejudice or secure any selfish
ends. It is to reclaim the wandering, guide the wayward,
and secure the best spiritual interest of each member and the
purity, good order, and efficiency of the entire body.
Id. (emphasis added). Regarding admonishment, the
1. You have firsthand knowledge of sin in the body of Christ
(a) If you let it go: He may not be saved (James 5:16-20)
(b) He continues to live in sin (I John 1:6)
2. Deal with it!
(a) Reprove him privately (Matthew l8:16)
(b) He continues- Reprove him with 2 or 3 witnesses
(Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16)
(c) He continues- Reprove him before the Church (Matthew
18:17, I Timothy 5:20)
Id. Matters of Church membership are found in
Article VII. Article 7.3, "Rights of Members,"
provides in relevant part: "The church is a
self-governed body aided by the Holy Spirit, Holy Scripture
and Pastoral Leadership." Id. at 111.
Article VIII of the Bylaws sets forth the officers of the
Church and states that there are only two "scriptural
offices" within the Church-the pastor and the deacon.
Id. at 112. The article, however, provides for
additional offices in the Church, including the Board of
Article 8.4 provides that the pastor is "responsible for
providing spiritual and administrative leadership; to this
end he serves as a preacher, teacher, servant and steward,
and must be uncompromising in preaching the gospel."
Id. at 113. Articles 8.6 and 8.7 address the removal
of the pastor, specifically:
The process for removing the Pastor, up to and not including
the final vote by the members in good standing is outlined in
the Church Personnel Manual. The Pastor may be subject to
removal for the following reasons:
A. Failure to adhere to the Word of God, Articles of
Faith, Baptist Doctrine, Spiritual and Moral standards as set
forth in this document.
B. Inability and/or lack of desire to perform
the duties of the Pastor.
C. Promotion of discord or lack of harmony
within the congregation thereby reducing the effectiveness of
the Pastor's ministry and the church's mission.
D. Revers [sic] to sin and worldly practices.
8.7 SPECIAL MEETING- A special meeting to retain or terminate
the employment of the Pastor is called by a simple majority
of the deacon board after all efforts to resolve the issues
that triggered the removal process as detailed in the Church
Personnel Manual is exhausted. The [P]astor does not have the
authority to cancel or moderate this meeting. The Chairman of
the Deacon Board or a deacon designated by the board may
moderate this meeting. This meeting will be advertised in the
Church Bulletin for at least two (2) consecutive Sundays.
To carry a vote to retain the Pastor or terminate his
employment requires 51% of the members in good standing for a
quorum, and 51% of those present to carry a vote.
Id. at 114 (emphasis added).
Under Article 8.10, the Deacon Board, which according to the
Bylaws is comprised of no more than twelve deacons, is
charged with "assist[ing] the Pastor in carrying out the
spiritual and administrative duties in order to better meet
the needs of the [C]hurch." Id. at 116. Deacons
may be removed from service for:
• Absence without good cause from services of the church
for three (3) consecutive months or more.
• Promotion of discord or lack of harmony with the
teachings of the Bible, Articles of Faith and spiritual and
moral standard of the church.
• Reverting to sin and worldly practices.
The Pastor and the Deacon Board will meet and define the
specific violation committed by the Deacon charged before any
contact concerning behavior of the Deacon by the church is
Id. at 117. Article 8.11 addresses the Trustee
Board, providing that the "Trustee Board oversees the
physical properties, financial assets and act [sic] as a
bonded legal agent given its authority to act on behalf of
the [C]hurch after consultation with the Pastor and Deacon
Board." Id. at 118. Trustees may be relieved of
service for the same transgressions as those set forth for
Article 8.17 provides that the Board of Directors for the
Church "shall consist of the Pastor and selected members
of the Deacon Board and the Trustee Board." Id.
at 122. Any appointed deacon is eligible to serve on the
Board of Directors of the Church. The Pastor serves as the
chairman of the Board of Directors. The treasurer/financial
secretary for the Church serves as the Treasurer of the Board
of Directors, and the Clerk of the Church serves as the
Board's Secretary. Two members from the congregation also
serve on the Board. The Board of Directors is charged with
managing the business and affairs of the Church,
(a) Establishing and maintaining written programs and
(b) Overseeing operations;
(c) Managing and reviewing budget and finance;
(d) Complying with laws and regulations;
(e) Adopting and amending the organization's articles of
incorporation and ...