Just over three months ago, James MacDonald, Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, made a decision. Against the timely and judicious counsel of certain “influential leaders” within The Gospel Coalition, he decided to proceed with the theological circus known as the Elephant Room 2. At the time, he apparently believed that the opportunity to engage Bishop T.D. Jakes in a public conversation was of such paramount importance that it was worth severing his official ties to The Gospel Coalition. To no one’s surprise, not everyone agreed with his assessment.
In the days and weeks that followed, the churches belonging to the Harvest Bible Fellowship were put in an awkward position. Under the explicit direction of Kent Shaw, the Executive Director of the Harvest Bible Fellowship, they were advised as follows:
“Some, who like to stir up controversy, may approach you for further discussion and we ask that you stand with us by stating only the following: Pastor James stepped off the Gospel Coalition with our support. You should be proud of the battle he is fighting for grace and truth and seek to emulate his courage. He has our full support and the doctrine of Harvest Bible Chapel remains and will remain unchanged.”
Now, this is all fine and good, except for one small problem. What if a church didn’t “support” MacDonald’s decision, and what if a church wasn’t “proud” of his actions?
As we have already seen, one possible course of action, taken by three different churches in Michigan, Arizona and Illinois, was to publicly disassociate themselves from the ministry of James MacDonald and the Harvest Bible Fellowship. In all three circumstances, the leadership teams of the respective churches attest to having repeatedly voiced their concerns to the Fellowship, only to have their concerns summarily dismissed.
Now, as of just two days ago, another church in the Harvest Bible Fellowship has joined the ranks of the “disenfranchised.” What is interesting and perhaps even instructive to note, however, is the manner in which they have been “disenfranchised.” For while the first three churches elected to voluntarily leave the Fellowship after privately voicing their concerns, Harvest Bible Chapel of Grayslake, Illinois has reportedly been removed from the Fellowship in an involuntary fashion. According to reports of a letter that was read to the congregation this past Sunday, HBC-Grayslake had sought to remain within the Fellowship even as they privately expressed their deep concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding the Elephant Room 2. But apparently, their willingness to stay in the fold was not sufficient for the leadership of the Fellowship, and they were cast aside.
This, of course, raises a number of genuinely interesting questions:
Firstly, if the goal of the Elephant Room 2 was to model “grace and truth” amidst disagreement, how is this goal being achieved within the internal ranks of the Fellowship?
Secondly, if the goal was to model “unity” amidst disagreement, how is that goal being achieved as churches are leaving and others are being removed?
Finally, just a little over three months after the conclusion of the Elephant Room 2, five percent (5%) of the churches that had been planted (or replanted) by the Fellowship through 2011 are no longer part of the very system that planted them. Are these churches merely statistical outliers? Or is this the beginning of an exodus? Only time will tell.
UPDATE: A new article with an explicit statement issued by Pastor Mike Bryant of Harvest Bible Chapel can be found at: “Fourth Church ‘Kicked out’ from Fellowship Via ‘Catapult?’”
 The full text of Kent Shaw’s email to the Harvest Bible Fellowship can be found at: http://apprising.org/2012/01/24/theres-more-to-the-resignation-of-james-macdonald-from-gospel-coalition/
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