Over the past six weeks, The Elephant’s Debt has been committed to the process of exploring the character of James MacDonald, Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel. As we have already stated under “The Hope,” it has been our desire from the very beginning for James MacDonald to experience genuine repentance regarding the matters discussed on this website. After MacDonald provided his statement to the HBC congregation this past Sunday, it would appear that he may have taken a small, initial step down the difficult road of repentance. Nevertheless, regardless of how one interprets MacDonald’s confession to the congregation of HBC, the matter of elder qualification remains. Therefore, in this post, we will seek to address both of these two matters, beginning first with the subject of elder qualification.
From the beginning, it has been our contention that Pastor MacDonald has ceased to qualify as an elder based upon the prescriptions laid out by the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy.
“If someone aspires to the office of elder, he desires a good work. The elder then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact.And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.”
Thus far, our argument has been largely confined to just two of the qualifications for eldership: being above reproach and being a lover of money. In support of that argument, we have restricted ourselves time and again, in the hopes that by offering one tangible, quantifiable line of evidence, we might convince others that our concerns are not without merit or grounds. Ultimately, the Elephant’s Debt has exercised a fair measure of restraint in that we have refused to publish many of the other supporting stories that numerous former staff, elders and congregants have brought to our attention.
Nevertheless, for the sake of those that are new to the site, let us briefly summarize our argument to date.
- James MacDonald bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for accumulating $70 million dollars of debt. He likewise bears the responsibility for telling the congregation that he would build out under certain terms and then proceeding to build out under very different terms, without correcting or revising the congregation’s expectations.
- James MacDonald bears the responsibility for insisting upon a 40% (or $100,000) pay raise on the heels of a season that he himself has subsequently characterized as being a season in which the church was in “real danger of going bankrupt.” While appropriate compensation for a pastor is admittedly subjective, no one could argue that a man living in a $1.9 million dollar home needed a $100,000 raise to adequately provide for his family’s needs, thus raising the issue of being a “lover of money.”
- James MacDonald bears the responsibility for granting himself half of the power vested in the elder board structure of Harvest Bible Chapel. While MacDonald maintains that this new structure protects the church in the event of an elder going “sideways,” it fails to answer the larger concern of what happens when MacDonald himself goes “sideways.”
- James MacDonald bears the responsibility for inaugurating a massive financial fundraising campaign without publicly prioritizing debt-reduction as the most critical element of the campaign. Furthermore, in presenting the campaign to his congregation, he dared to speak for God by telling them how deeply God wanted them to sacrificially give.
- James MacDonald bears the responsibility for failing to adequately address the heretical theology of the men he has introduced to his congregation and to the broader evangelical community at large. T.D. Jakes used well-known, Modalistic language to redefine Trinitarianism and James MacDonald did not explain why this redefinition was heretical and why this matters for the body of Christ. Finally, he said not one word on Jakes’ well established history of preaching the prosperity gospel, which is built on the backs of the broken.
- James MacDonald bears the responsibility for gambling in private homes, church offices and casinos after explicitly preaching on the sinful nature of “dishonest gain” through gambling.
- James MacDonald bears the responsibility for confessing his sins to each and every member of The Void, as well as to many, many others who he has failed to treat with temperance, self-control, respectability, and gentleness.
Every time the leadership of Harvest Bible Chapel has spoken in public, they have either confirmed some of the underlying facts of our argument or they have implicitly admitted the other facts by remaining silent. At this point, it is up to the body of HBC to determine whether the undisputed facts of our argument are sufficient grounds for MacDonald’s disqualification as an elder and teaching pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel.
Over the past few days, numerous readers have approached The Elephant’s Debt, wondering what we thought of MacDonald’s sermon on 18 November 2012. For those that may be unfamiliar with the sermon in question, we have embedded the audio below and we would advise you to listen to it in its entirety before proceeding further.
As you heard in the audio, James MacDonald has confessed to gambling in private and in public. He now sees that his liberty in Christ in this matter is an offense to some within his own body; and as an elder, he has agreed to lay this down for the sake of his weaker brother. We are glad to hear that as of Sunday, MacDonald is willing to bring his personal lifestyle on this matter in line with his public admonitions to others.
In addition to confessing his struggles to lay down his personal gambling practices, MacDonald also discussed the fact that he has hurt many people over the years with his “intensity” manifested in hurtful words. During his confession, he humorously asked his congregation whether anyone was shocked to learn of this. What is important to note here is that MacDonald is essentially admitting to the fact that he is a public figure marked by a contentious spirit and a lack of gentleness and self-control. All three of these characteristics are highlighted by the Apostle Paul as being disqualifiers for the office of elder.
With regards to both of these issues, MacDonald should be encouraged for taking the appropriate initial steps to publicly confess issues that have harmed the church. Nevertheless, his confession stopped well short of acknowledging and owning his responsibility pertaining to almost every single core issue (e.g. debt, salary, power, etc…) that we have already summarized above.
As MacDonald himself has taught many times over the years, repentance is not merely a matter of speaking the right words. Rather, repentance is a willingness to speak the right words coupled with actions in concert with those right words. Moreover, repentance is not an easy thing because it is not merely a matter of behavior modification, Rather, it is about a fundamental change of the heart. Only actions over time bear testimony to the genuine change in any human being. So what might true repentance look like moving forward? As per his own teachings on the subject, MacDonald might consider these steps:
- Confess his sin to every member of The Void and others that he has hurt during this season of ministry. It should be noted that he has already agreed to do this; and if we were members of the congregation, we would hope to receive a final report from the elders on this matter.
- Publicly acknowledge and explain to his congregation all of the issues raised by this website that he has yet to address.
- While we agree with MacDonald’s decision to remove any reference to The Elephant Room materials from The Elephant Room, HBC and James MacDonald websites, MacDonald might want to consider taking the additional step of setting aside at least one Sunday to teach on the doctrine of the Trinity, distinguishing it from Modalism, and explaining why this distinction is absolutely critical for the Gospel.
- Reign in members of his staff, who are publicly disparaging the character of these authors, the former elders and former staff members.
- Publicly apologize to the leadership of the churches that voluntarily left the Fellowship as well as to the leaders of the church that was kicked out. These churches all privately brought their concerns to the Fellowship and their voices were not heard.
As Christians, we should all rejoice in every step an individual takes in seeking to confess his or her sins. To that end, we here at The Elephant’s Debt are encouraged by this initial step taken by MacDonald. Nevertheless, an individual’s willingness to repent and seek forgiveness for established patterns of sin does not automatically qualify that individual to continue to serve as an elder/pastor. Moving forward, the decision now rests with the body of Harvest Bible Chapel and the elders that have been appointed to serve as their leaders.