Fourth Church “Departs” Harvest Bible Fellowship

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.”[1]

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?’”


[1] 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/

* * * * * * * * *

Additional Resources on this subject can be found at:

The Descent: James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and the Blurry Road to a Prosperity Gospel

How Steep the Decline: James MacDonald, Bryan Loritts, and Sycophantic Uncle Toms

James MacDonald, the Elephant Room and the “Spinning” of the Truth

Harvest Bible Fellowship Takes Second Hit

A Third Church Leaves Harvest Bible Fellowship

The New Elephant In the Room: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald and Authoritarian Rule in the Church

Does James MacDonald Possess Too Much Power?

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38 Responses to Fourth Church “Departs” Harvest Bible Fellowship

  1. Bill Radford says:

    Scott,
    I am wondering what the statistics would be on any church planting organization or denomination as to the exodus or demise of churches within a given time period. Statistics can be dangerous. The rest of your article is thought provoking.
    Blessings,
    Bill

    • Bill … You raise a great point. Nevertheless, I am merely commenting on the percentage of church plants (or replants) that are no longer part of the Fellowship since the advent of ER2. Put it another way. To the best of my knowledge, in the five years leading up to ER2, there was only one plant that disassociated itself from the Fellowship. Now you have four in just over three months.

      Secondly, you have to remember that these are not “failed” plants that couldn’t gain traction and had to close their doors. These are autonomous churches that are continuing to minister to their local congregations.

      So I do think that stats are pointing to something. As to what they are point to, we’ll have to wait and see.

      • Bill Radford says:

        Scott,
        Thanks for responding to my comment. I guess the only other possibility is that this (the timing of the departures so soon after the ER2) is an unfortunate coincidence. And I think that would beg credulity.
        Bill

        • Well, given that 3 of the 4 churches explicitly stated their reasons for leaving as being tied to ER2, and that the 4th said as much in its letter this past Sunday, there can be no doubt. They have left (or been removed) because of the questions they raised regarding the wisdom of ER2.

          • Bill Radford says:

            Has there been silence from other church leaders on this issue? Are you the alone in publishing your concerns? I am wondering if anyone from the Gospel Coalition has spoken or written about this?

  2. Actually, there are quite a few folks who have chimed in on this issue. In fact, TGC ran a week of responses culminating in a joint post by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller. You should check it out.

  3. Robert Greenmenn says:

    James has cultivated a culture of power and fear in his church and in the Fellowship. I am surprised that these individuals even had the guts to speak out; they’ll pay some price for their “disloyalty.”

    Ironically, Jame’s message this past Sunday was loosely based upon the temple cleansing story in John, and one of his big points was about “one and done” Christianity. He went on about people that were so willing, after one error or fault, to boot someone out of their circle of Christianity. Hmmm…hypocrisy?

    • I noticed the irony as well. On his blog (http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=12614), MacDonald writes: “There are a lot of points of application on how consumerism has a foothold in the church today that ought to make us righteously angry. Here are two of them: critical non-participants and one-strike-and-you’re-out Christians.” Can’t say I didn’t think of Grayslake when I read that.

      • Robert Greenmenn says:

        I wasn’t thinking of them on Sunday when I heard it; I was thinking what a self-serving use of the Bible, to argue for your own defense (ER2). But now, I am shocked to read about HBCGL in your post and that’s what jumps into my mind. He was probably crafting the message at the same time he was kicking HBCGL out of the Fellowship; how awful.

  4. Greg says:

    When I was reading the HBC email, I kept thinking:

    “These are not the droids you are looking for…”

    Could that be some Jedi-mind-tricks they’re trying to pull?

  5. Concerned Congregant says:

    More often than not, the exodus comes because the cover up, spin and lack of repentance over these “one-strikes” -not the error itself.

  6. Eric Rowe says:

    Scott – Does there happen to be text of this letter available to the public. Would be interested to know what Kent Shaw and the Fellowship actually gave as a reason for this action and how it lines up with scripture as to how we are to act as Christians when there is a disagreement.

    • Eric … At this point, HBC-Grayslake has not issued a public statement beyond what was read to the congregation. I would assume that if they were to do so, they would do it in a manner similar to the other three churches that have left. That is to say, if they do so, they would likely release it on the homepage of their website. But again, I don’t know know what they are planning.

    • Mark Notestine says:

      I would also be very curiious as to the official statements from HBCGL and the Fellowship.

      Not knowing all the details, perhaps the Fellowship rename itself Harvest Allegiance League, or HAL for short?

  7. ReasonTogether says:

    I just can’t help but think of the first eleven verses of Titus 3 when I read your Harvest related posts. To be fair, you’re certainly not as brutal as some. Yet I see so much time spent on friendly fire, lobbing criticisms from the cheap seats at those in the ring. I get that those in the ring aren’t perfect and make plenty of mistakes. I get that James has stepped on plenty of toes over the years and that there were some missteps with the execution of ER despite what may have been honorable intentions.

    Yet we are surrounded by friends, family, and co-workers that are barreling toward an eternity in hell. Rather than putting our focus on the excellent and profitable, we spend our energy on divisive posts under the guise of “we’re just pointing out truth”, fancying ourselves as those who are called out as the discerning when, I wonder, if it’s more an excuse for engaging in gossip, foolish controversies and dissensions.

    Even as I appear to be pointing the finger at you, I do so at myself because I can be easily drawn into the same fool’s game. Scott, I enjoy plenty of your other posts and certainly respect you as a brother. But when we stand before the Lord (and I mean we, not just you), I wonder if this railing against the church will be viewed as honorable or Phariseeic (spelling)? Will you be glad, for example, that you published a Kent Shaw e-mail that was intended to be private? Will it be our speculations on the intentions and motivations of James or the Fellowship that will evoke a “Well done?” Do our motivations become clear when there’s a bit of a bounce in our step when we hear bad news about Harvest instead of a falling to our knees in prayer for the leaders? The irony is not lost on me that it’s foolish to bring this up for I’m falling into the same trap by even commenting with my own speculations about your intentions and motivations.

    Let me end with this: I don’t want to be intrigued by what Grayslake will publish as their official statement. I want God to use us to reach the seeker who just started attending there and is now confused as they’re caught in the crossfire. I don’t want a scoreboard that counts how many churches are in or out of a Fellowship. I’m guessing you’ll agree that the only scoreboard that matters is how many names are in the book of life.

    Scott, I don’t think your intention is to stir up division. But may I encourage you to go back and read your “Blood Stained Ink” post? It’s a beautiful vision. I encourage you to keep your eye (and posts) on the love letter.

    • Dear Reason Together … Let me just say that if your screen name was chosen with care as I suspect it was, than you and I actually share a great deal in common. For, like you, I too have seen some other sites; and I too have noticed the “harsh” nature of some of the commentary. I don’t want about about slinging stones. In fact, as a believer, one passage that I continually return to is 1 Corinthians 3. Many Christians believe that the Day of Judgement will be for those that do not believe in the work that King Jesus accomplished on the cross. But if you read 1 Corinthians 3 carefully, it is clear that there is a Day of Judgement for believers as well as non-believers. And while the foundation that we have built upon – the foundation of the Christ – is secure, what we have built will be tested as through fire. And some of our work will be refined as pure gold and some will be burnt up and we will experience be saved as through fire. Quite honestly … that’s a really nerve racking passage for me to consider. But at the same time, I am ever so grateful that God saw fit to put it into Scripture, for it reminds me that my sanctification – that is to say, the work that I am building upon the gracious gift of Christ’s living, dying and resurrecting in this world – matters. Let me say it again. My sanctification matters . Salvation is not just a get out of jail free card that leaves me free to live in any manner that I see fit. So having said that, please hear me when I say to you that I hope and pray that my intention is not to stir up division. Because if that is any part of my motivation, than as you suggest, I will answer for it someday. And I suspect the answering will be quite painful and heart wrenching.

      But if I may be so bold, I’m going to ask you for a moment of your time and I’m going to tell you the story of a friend of mine who occasionally comments on this blog. Back in high school, when I came to understand what Jesus had done for me, I went running to all my friends. One of those friends was a Catholic; and in my early zeal, I shared with her everything I had learned and told her all about the beauty of Christ (as best as I understood it in those early days). And I will never forget what she said to me. “Scott … when you Protestants can figure out what you believe as a whole, then you come tell me that my Catholic church is wrong. Until then … fuck off.” Of course, her closing remark was in said in a the way that only a friend can say it. And obviously, we’re still friends as she comments on this site. But the truth of what she said has been a milestone in my journey as a believer.

      We Protestants are so shattered and disunified that our witness to the world has been compromised. And we have to recapture the core of the Gospel that unites us and serves as our hope. But this new unity that some are pressing for – a unity that pushes doctrine to the side is wrong-headed. The Prosperity Gospel has shattered many lives, particularly in the black communities, as people with little have been encouraged to “sow seed” and give to churches with wealthy pastors. This is shameful in the extreme as the wealthy are using the Gospel of Jesus the Christ to pray upon the oppressed and the poor.

      When MacDonald first floated the idea of the Elephant Room, I was not necessarily opposed to it. The idea of gathering believers and even non-believers around a common table to discuss theology could be a fantastic idea. But the problem comes when we let massive issues go unaddressed and leave the viewer with the impression that all is well amongst “brothers.” If MacDonald and Driscoll wanted to have a public discussion with T.D. Jakes, I would be all for it. But that discussion would have to include a robust engagement with Trinitarian theology (and Modalism) and Prosperity Gospel teaching. Otherwise, the message is sent to the masses that these issues don’t matter in light of the new “tribe” – the new “unity” – that MacDonald is seeking to fashion through the Elephant Room.

      As for those of us who understand the issues that were either glossed over or not even addressed, I would suggest that we would answer to God (as per 1 Cor 3) for NOT saying anything. Remember, the most powerful critique in the world is not the critique levied by outsiders looking in. That just looks like a “gotcha” moment. The most powerful critique in the world is offered by those that have the willingness to look in the mirror to see what is happening in their own home.

      Thank you so much for commenting RT. While it is quite possible that we still might disagree on this matter, I so appreciate the even-keeled approach you took in writing your comments. In that way, you have blessed me and those that read this site, for you have challenged our motivations and asked us to remember that we are ultimately accountable to the very One that loved us enough to send us the blood stained ink of the Word.

      • ReasonTogether says:

        Thanks for the response, Scott. It’s pretty rare to hear a sermon on 1 Corinthians 3 these days–I agree completely how it can add a needed perspective as we navigate our few years here on Earth.

        I think it’s reasonable that you and I can agree to disagree regarding our Judgement Seat of Christ accountability for speaking out or not about what James and Mark didn’t do or say. I’m not claiming to be right here. I’m just saying that if a ministry (such as Harvest) has issues and that ministry has a group of elders over them, those leaders are the ones who ultimately have to answer to our Lord for their actions (and lack of actions).

        If I attend the church in question, it’s definitely worth pursuing concerns with my own elders. That’s unquestionably Biblical and responsible. Depending on what I find, I might choose to leave after prayerful consideration.

        But I’m not as convinced that, as someone who doesn’t attend Harvest Rolling Meadows/Elgin/etc., that it’s all that important to spend time online speculating why, as Robert suggests, a number of notable leaders left within a relatively short period of time. I’m concerned we risk sinning as gossipers and creating dissension instead of being intercessors and those who are striving to bring the lost to their Saviour.

        I get that there are wolves in sheep clothing and we can serve the lost by making sure they don’t get eaten alive. But many of these blogs are banterings between the chosen. I’m not convinced that all who claim to be exercising their gift of discernment online are serving our King in a manner that is bringing Him glory and more people into the kingdom….

        But then again, I don’t claim perfect discernment in these concerns….. May the Lord use you to spur many on to love and good deeds.

        • Reason Together … As was the case in your previous comment, you continue to be true to your moniker. What a blessing that we can have a conversation about a lightning-rod issue without it degenerating into ad hominem attacks of the lowest kind. So again, thank you for taking the time write back in the manner that you have.

          Several quick thoughts for you to consider. Again, you don’t have to agree with my thinking. I just wanted to have the decency to respond in the very same manner that you have approached the subject.

          1. I would agree that not everyone exercising the “gift of discernment” online does so in a manner that seeks to believe the best, as we are called to do. For whatever its worth, this is not a “discernment blog.” This is blog that seeks to look at the intersection of Christianity and culture. Quite honestly, if you look at the bulk of the material on this site, it has nothing to do with specific churches, but everything to do with how the Church universal and the surrounding culture mutually impact one another. But again, I would agree that many conversations surrounding this issue have been less than charitable; and I want you to know that I strive to do the best to be fair and balanced, even as I seek to ask tough questions.

          2. Generally speaking, like you, I believe issues should primarily remain within the local body. So for instance, if the hypothetical “Grace Community Church” in Smallsville, Indiana suddenly finds itself in a situation where the senior pastor has allegedly stolen money from the church coffers, I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate and/or wise for other Christians to “take to the net,” as it were. It’s a local issue and it should be dealt with through the local elders and other governing bodies that may have claim to that church. In that way, we avoid the charges of Romans 2:24, which is critical when we are seeking to protect the Gospel.

          But at the same time that I agree with your general principle, I would also argue that this is a different situation. Take a look at the ER2 site (http://www.theelephantroom.com/2012/01/20/the-elephant-room-2-trailer/). The goals of the Elephant Room were nothing less than creating a “new tribe,” where church leaders and even those outside of the church could discuss theology together. In other words, this was built to be a public affair from day one – a public affair that would arguably shape the Church universal. Given that, I believe it is entirely acceptable and even necessary to have a robust public discussion that seeks to understand the full impact of the way in which ER2 is trying to shape the discussion and the impact that this is having upon the mother church.

          3. I would be genuinely curious to know what you think of the Apostle Paul’s habit of calling out people by name. In his letters that were clearly meant to be circulated far and wide amongst the early churches, Paul negatively calls out multiple individuals by name.

          2 Timothy 4:10 – Paul calls out Demas
          Galatians 2:11-14 – Paul calls out Peter and Barnabas
          1 Timothy 1:18-20 – Paul calls out Hymenaeus and Alexander
          2 Timothy 2:15-18 – Paul calls out Hymenaeus and Philetus
          2 Timothy 4:14-15 – Paul calls out Alexander the coppersmith
          3 John 9 - John named Diotrephes

          So what do you make of that? Does that lend credence to what I am suggesting here? And if not, how do you see those situations as being functionally different than the situation we are dealing with in the case of Harvest and ER2?

          Again, I am truly hoping that I am not coming across too aggressively here. I am genuinely curious to know what you think of these instances in Scripture. Moreover, I’m curious to know what you think of my distinction between letting a local church deal with localized problems and letting the broader church community deal with public problems.

          Hope to hear back from you. Until then, I remain …

          Your brother in Christ,
          Scott

    • Robert Greenmenn says:

      Your working assumption is that this is merely a disagreement on more marginal, yet important, issues between brothers. I don’t share your assumption. Where is Dave Corning, Ron Allchin, Joe Stowell, Joe Stowell Jr., Matt Stowell, David Jones, Gordon Zwirkoski, Ty Gooch, Jim Jodrey, and the multitude of other honorable, godly men? Why did they all go within a relatively short period of time? At some point you have to stop believing in coincidences, and start asking more probing and critical questions.

      • Robert … While I absolutely agree with what you are saying, I think your comment implies that the issue is interpersonal. People/churches are not leaving Harvest solely because of interpersonal issues. There are critical THEOLOGICAL issues that people are disagreeing over. And it is the THEOLOGICAL issues that are driving this issue to a point where people are feeling the need to publicly address MacDoanld’s leadership.

        Having said that, the questions of staffing is valid. Why did all of those men leave Harvest in such a short window of time?

        • Robert Greenmenn says:

          Scott, Praxis drives theology. The character of the man matters just as much as his/her theology. Yes, ER2 is about theology, but behind these smoke and mirrors is a man in trouble.

      • John says:

        Weren’t many of these men elders (and/or staff)? Where did they all go? Is it assumed at Harvest that elders (and/or staff) can “move on” without any explanation given to the congregation (though the Stowells move was announced)?

  8. Joe says:

    One of the complicating factors is that Kent Shaw is appointed as an ‘elder’ of many of the new church plants. These church plant pastors are sensitive about creating dis-unity among the elders in the church…. It also gives him direct influence over each church’s leadership decisions. Awkward to say the least if there is a disagreement at the level that we see with ER2

    • Joe … You raise an interesting point. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    • X Pat58 says:

      Interesting to me that Luke & Paul didn’t seem to mind “creating dis-unity” among the elders when calling out Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), Hymenaeus and Alexander (1Tim 1:20), Phygelus and Hermogenes (2Tim 1:15), Alenxander the Coppersmith (2Tim 4:14), among others. In addition, Paul directly confronts Peter on his blatant hypocrisy in Galatians 2:11-14, going as far to say, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…”

      Although some of these were not ‘elders’ in their respective churches, “Naming” errant people in the church was not uncommon. The men listed in previous entries left because they saw behind the curtain. Each one of those men knew how decisions were made, who was pulling the strings, the pawns in the game, etc, etc. The truth of the matter, as mentioned by Reason Together, what really matters is that we should turn a blind eye (because we’re Christians after all) and look in the mirror. Here’s a suggestion, intercede by confronting the hypocrisy. Make these men answer questions instead allowing them to continue to treat HBC like DPRK or PRC. The correlations are staggering.

      • X Pat 58 … Thanks for stopping by again. I appreciate people taking the time to actually comment and engage the discussion. May I ask what you mean when you say:

        “Make these men answer questions instead of allowing them to continue to treat HBC like DPRK or PRC. The correlations are staggering.”

        If you wouldn’t mind, I’d just like to hear you unpack that for a moment because I’m not sure I’m understanding your meaning. Thanks again for caring enough to comment.

        • X Pat58 says:

          Sure Scott. It’s really pretty straight forward. So much speculation on the part of many as to what leads to or is the result of things said or done at Harvest. In my opinion, most of this is due to the fact that there is little that is confronted. It’s just response to decisions made.

          Who’s pinning these guys down and asking the hard questions? HBC is run like a communist regime. If you have an opinion or disagree, as in the case of HBC Grayslake you are removed. And then when asked, there’s the nice little spin on the part of HBC in which everyone accepts and then moves on with life as if nothing happened. Ya’ know, like if you were to somehow enter one of those countries mentioned, spoke your mind and then one day……simply disappeared.

  9. SJ says:

    Nothing on their website or in theirseon archives. Is this an accurate report?

  10. X Pat58 says:

    Better yet…why not call the Fellowship and ask if THEY’VE removed HBC-Grayslake?

  11. Ryan M. Mahoney says:

    Reblogged this on Christus Victor.

  12. Pingback: Fourth Church “Departs” Harvest Bible Fellowship via Blood Stained Ink Blog | Pilgrimage to Geneva

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