Last Sunday, on the 24th of June, Jeff Donaldson, Campus Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel – Elgin, preached a sermon entitled “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.” In it, he utilized the Old Testament account of Korah’s uprising against Moses to argue that issues such as envy, self-deception, anger and distrust could lead a congregation into open rebellion against the pastor or elders of their church.
Interestingly, as his argument built to a climax, his attention shifted to the blogosphere, where he made comments both “on camera” and “off.” Let’s start by looking at the “on camera” remarks.
“I get on the internet and see some blog or some website – their whole commitment is to tearing down some church or to tearing down some pastor. I tell you what. Don’t even get on that website. Don’t make a comment. Don’t make a comment for. Don’t make a comment against. Just get away from that. You get away from it. You’re gonna talk about God’s man?! I did not say that he was perfect. I know they probably mess up somewhere. But we become twisted in our thinking, and all of a sudden their entire body of work, their whole life’s work, is garbage.”
Now, in this situation, one of two things must be true. Either Donaldson would lump this blog in with others committed to “tearing down some church or to tearing down some pastor,” or he would not. If it is the latter case, than you, as a reader, would be free to continue reading and you would be free to take the critical questions raised by this site back to your elders for their consideration. If, on the other hand, Donaldson would categorize this site as rebellious, then I would openly contest his evaluation. From the beginning, this site has simply sought to ask critical questions pertaining to the life of the Church Universal and the culture around us. More specifically, in the posts related to Harvest, the hope has been to spur on discussion amongst those that continue to call Harvest their home.
After wrapping up the sermon, which was beamed to the other Harvest campuses (save for Rolling Meadows) the cameras were turned off, and Donaldson concluded the service with a special message just for the Elgin Campus. Reports vary on the exact language used, but at least two sources suggest that Donaldson issued a stern warning specifically to the people of Elgin. Apparently, from what these sources report, Donaldson said that he sensed a rebellious spirit amongst the people of Elgin, particularly as it pertained to the authority of the church. As a congregant, I would want some more specifics.
- What have we, or I, done to give you the notion that we are being rebellious?
- Who was perceived to be involved in this rebellion?
- What can I do to stay alert and steer clear from such rebellious attitudes?
So, after listening to Sunday’s sermon and hearing several reports about the “off camera” comments, I must admit that I am once again troubled by Harvest. Let me make two points. First, I am troubled by the lack of balance in the message about submission to authority. I am troubled that Donaldson would say the following:
“When you start to distrust people in positions of authority, that’s a problem. That’s a problem! … There are sometimes people prove themselves – they loose their trust with us – but that’s very rare.”
To suggest that only rarely do leaders prove themselves untrustworthy is nothing shy of ignorant, or worse yet, deceptive. The Old Testament alone is filled with examples of God’s appointed leaders failing the people of Israel time and time again. What’s more, recent mega-church history is replete with examples of significant failures amongst leadership, a trend we are sadly witnessing at Harvest as well. So to imply that an attitude of healthy skepticism is a problem and that untrustworthy leaders are rare is nothing short of irresponsible. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick”; and as far as I know, this applies to pastors just as much as it applies to the sheep.
Other than a brief, five-second remark, suggesting that we need not submit to authority if they ask us to do something wrong, there was no teaching on how to properly deal with church leaders who may be in rebellion themselves. Interestingly, while Donaldson was delivering his message about rebellion, David Jones, the Senior Pastor of Village Church of Barrington and the former Research Assistant to James MacDonald, was also preaching on the subject of rebellion. As part of his ongoing series on the book of Ecclesiastes, Jones delivered an excellent message about how we are to deal with “foolish authorities.”
As for the second point, it must be recalled that Jesus completed Israel’s mission, which moved us beyond the commands and authority structures designed specifically for the nation of Israel. Dissenting against MacDonald’s illegitimate use of authority cannot be rightly equated with Korah’s rebellion. Since Harvest is a Protestant church, they are beyond the point of having the right to claim divine appointment to spiritual leadership, as the Pope claims in the Catholic Church. As Protestants, there is no singular, institutional expression of the true church, including Harvest Bible Chapel. Given that Post-Reformation reality, we must take care to remember that there is no singular, divinely appointed spiritual authority for the church. In other words, we don’t have the equivalent of a Moses in the Church, unless you are Roman Catholic.
Harvest has always been a “vote with your feet” church. They have consistently communicated throughout their history that if you object to something the leadership has done and leadership was unwilling to relent, then you could always “vote with your feet.” Objecting to Harvest’s leadership or leaving the “umbrella” of their authority is not rebellion, it is the post-resurrection, post-Reformation reality.
What do you think?
Does reading material that openly asks critical questions necessarily equate to participation in a rebellion?
Are untrustworthy church leaders truly as “rare” as Donaldson suggests?
What is the appropriate response to church leadership when it makes questionable decisions?