Over the past few months, on more than one occasion, the authors of this blog have been asked to explain why we write on the subject of Harvest Bible Chapel. This is a legitimate question worthy of an open and honest answer.
Back in 2010, when we chose to leave Harvest Bible Chapel, both of us were aware of certain issues that were rising to the surface. These issues were not only apparent behind the scenes, but they were creeping into the pulpit as well. Nevertheless, every church has problems from time to time, and as we were preparing our families to leave, neither of us were planning to make any kind of public statement. Believing that MacDonald no longer qualified as an elder according to 1 Timothy 3:1-13, our plan was to slip quietly out the door, believing it was the elders responsibility to address these issues.
But a strange thing happened in the winter of 2012. As the theological debacle known as the Elephant Room 2 took center stage in Evangelicalism, each of us wrote and published a short piece related to our theological concerns. Subsequent to that, we both began to receive private communications from former elders and staff members, all of which suggested that the issues we had seen from a distance were far greater and deeper than we had even imagined. While we are not at liberty to share many of the stories that were offered to us in private confidence, the emotional nature of many of these stories convinced us that we needed to come forward. While others could not write for various reasons that are personal to them, we could no longer walk away in good conscience.
Now some may be tempted to ask, why would you go public with your concerns? Why would you not simply address this matter in-house, with those that are directly affected by the situation. Is that not what Matthew 18 requires you to do?
These, too, are fair and reasonable questions that demand nothing less than an honest answer. The first thing we would suggest to anyone asking such questions is that these inquires presume that the issues have not been privately brought to the attention of the leadership at Harvest Bible Chapel, including MacDonald. This is not the case. Multiple sources testify to having brought their concerns directly to the leadership of Harvest Bible Chapel, including MacDonald. So the underlying principles behind Matthew 18 have not been casually dismissed by the authors of this site.
But why the public discussion? Why involve others who may be outside the walls of Harvest? Is this not the salacious airing of dirty laundry?
While this is, once again, a fair-minded question, it does not take into account either biblical precedent or Church history. Standing on the foundation set by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, numerous Christians throughout church history have publicly called for reform of churchmen that had run afoul of sound biblical theology. John Chrysostom (4th-5th century) consistently and publicly called out church leadership for their worldly syncretistic embrace of wealth and power. He even called out the Christian Emperor’s wife as a “Jezebel.” His steadfastness ultimately led to his martyrdom. John Wycliff (14th century) was also vocally and publicly critical of church abuses of wealth and power, and he too was martyred for his calls for reform. All that to say, there are numerous biblical and historical precedents for making a public call for reform when private admonitions have failed.
Moreover, this question also presumes that Harvest Bible Chapel is nothing more than a local church impacting its own local congregation. In the case of Harvest, this is simply an untrue assumption. As anyone can clearly see, the actions of James MacDonald extend far beyond the limited reaches of his own congregation. In 2011, MacDonald’s church was listed as one of the 25 largest churches in the United States, while also being listed as one of the fastest growing. He has a extensive, national radio ministry through Walk in the Word, he is the author of numerous books aimed at influencing the church at large, he has a massive church planting ministry, he has an active blog, and even as we write these concluding words, he has just returned from a 40-city tour of North America, where he attempted to teach other churches how to get “vertical” in the same way that Harvest gets “vertical.”
Yet another example of MacDonald’s expanding influence within the broader Evangelical culture can be seen through Mark Driscoll’s recent invitation for MacDonald to speak at a gathering of North American pastors known as The Resurgence Conference. MacDonald has been billed (see video below) as a man who has the “spiritual gift of real-estate acquisition.” Driscoll goes on to say that churches need to “be good stewards” of their resources, and “that’s really his [MacDonald’s] specialization.” In our opinion, it seems clear that MacDonald is being advertised as a financially gifted, public leader that others in Evangelicalism would do well to emulate.
So, given the public actions of this man, and the public influence he seeks through events such as the upcoming Elephant Room 3 and The Resurgence Conference, it is the opinion of these authors that the response to his actions must be public as well. For if we were to merely bring the man before his own body, it would deny the very scope of his national ministry and the influence it has upon the church universal.
Humbly submitted for your consideration,