The scene is almost as classic as the film in which it is found. Having just discovered the brutally burned remains of his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, Luke Skywalker has agreed to travel off-planet with Obi-wan Kenobi on a desperate mission to deliver two droids that contain vital information to finally putting an end to Vader’s Empire. But upon arriving at the Mos Eisley Spaceport, they are confronted by imperial stormtroopers hunting for the droids. Just at this moment, when all seems lost, the mysterious Kenobi, in his first real display of power, simply waves his hand and says the iconic words: “These are not the droids you are looking for.” And just like that, the befuddled stormtroopers parrot his words and numbly allow the heroes to continue forward on their fateful journey.
Several weeks ago, Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) attempted his own “Jedi mind trick” of sorts, as he sought to convince his congregation that they need not listen to the external critics of his ministry, in spite of the evidence that was right before their eyes. Listen closely to what he says in this sermon based loosely upon John 2:13-22.
We benefit a lot from criticism, by the way. I wish some of you could read my mail every week. Some of the criticism doesn’t honestly come in that nice a package. Sometimes I have to read things by people who seem to have [as] their only goal to oppose me or us. But I still try to benefit from it. However, this I will say: you don’t qualify to criticize – we should listen to everyone – but you don’t truly qualify to criticize if you don’t participate. Would you allow your next-door neighbor to walk into your house without knocking today and say, ‘I’d like to give some input about this family?’ How many people would not allow that? Next-door neighbor just BAM! ‘I’m here. I wanna tell you some things I think about you and your family and how you should run it!’ You’d be offended by that. And if you understand that, than I think you’ll understand why a person who doesn’t serve and doesn’t give and doesn’t attend faithfully should not be instructing us about our family. Amen? The people that should be instructing us and should be instructing our elders and the ones that we should be listening to – I think it’s very appropriate for our elders or for a small group leaders to say, ‘Do you serve? Before you give me your input, do you serve? Do you give? Do you attend? Regularly? Faithfully? Alright, well then, we totally need to hear what you have to say. Otherwise … not so much.’
Did you catch all that? In a season that has been marked by the Elephant Room 2 – a season where Harvest Bible Chapel and the ministry of James MacDonald has come under intense scrutiny – MacDonald is trying to suggest to his congregation that outsiders who do not attend, give and serve regularly do not “truly qualify” to comment upon the actions and decisions of the leaders of HBC. This, of course, raises two significant questions.
First, do the guidelines offered in this sermon line up with the teachings of Scripture?
Secondly, does MacDonald himself live by his own teachings?
With regards to the first question, the answer is clearly and unequivocally “no.” Scripture is filled with examples in which God brings voices from outside a given community to speak into the life of the community in question. Indeed, the vast majority of the Apostle Paul’s epistletory writings would fall into this category. While Paul may have founded many of the various churches he wrote to, the itinerant nature of his ministry most certainly assures us of the fact that he did not regularly attend these churches, nor did he regularly serve them or support them financially. Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, Paul displays no hesitation in calling out the actions of another church leader, even in a context where he played no part in establishing the ministry of that leader or the church that leader served.
But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. Untilcertain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with themby their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peterin front of them all, ‘If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’
So as you can see, Paul was not reticent to offer critiques. And yet, Paul did not establish Peter’s ministry. He did not ordain Peter as elder. He didn’t attend Peter’s church. He never served in Peter’s church. In fact, if we take the testimony of Scripture seriously, it would seem that Paul may have only visited Peter’s church on two separate occasions. And yet, when Peter begins to act in a way that is concerning to Paul, the Apostle demonstrates no hesitation in calling Peter out in a public fashion – indeed, in a letter that was meant to be widely disseminated amongst the growing Christian community in the ancient world.
So, to put it simply, when Pastor MacDonald elects to teach his people that external critics of his ministry do not “qualify” to voice their concerns, he is teaching a message that calls into question the validity of the actions of the Apostle Paul. And that, from an evangelical perspective, is a highly troubling message that should be openly challenged by anyone who sat in that room listening to MacDonald teach.
Now, as for the second question, does MacDonald live by his own teachings, the answer, once again, is a most emphatic “no.” As anyone who has been around Harvest Bible Chapel for any length of time well knows, MacDonald has never been one to shy away from calling out the ministry of another church and/or leader. As recently as 18 months ago, at the Elephant Room 1, he was publicly seen offering a vigorous critique of both Steven Furtick and David Platt over their ministry practices and associations. And as far as I know, MacDonald does not regularly attend, serve or give to their respective churches. So why does MacDonald “qualify” to question the actions of other church leaders, while at the same time teaching that others outside of Harvest do not “qualify” to question or challenge his decisions?
It seems to me that he is attempting a bit of a “Jedi mind trick.”
“These criticisms are not the criticisms you should be looking for. Move along”
 This transcript is based upon a two-minute video excerpt that MacDonald posted on his blog. It can be found here: http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=12614#more-12614 A complete copy of the sermon can be found at the following link: http://www.jamesmacdonald.com/teaching/video/driving-consumers-out-of-the-church/#divSpecialVideoFeatures-tabhttp://
 Galatians 2:11-14