12 October 2010

Harvest, We Have a Problem

I don't even know where to begin. It was obvious that Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald were easing down the slippery seeker-sensitive slope rather subtly and comfortably. This grew increasingly clear to me as I sat in the auditorium (you heard me) and watched the happenings on the stage (yes, you heard me). Being fairly uninvolved in the church, and knowing that my voice would be ignored, I stopped attending Harvest about a year ago. Why didn't I stay and contend? Because when I attempted to contact Pastor MacDonald regarding dangerous errors in his preaching, I was ignored and brushed aside by another pastor on staff. Sometimes you're just too big and important to listen to your church members, I guess. But I've been watching from a distance and over the past two weeks I believe I have watched Pastor James MacDonald dive head first into the seeker-driven, emergent stream.

Let's begin with his latest sermon series, "Get Healthy." The first official sermon in this series was entitled, "I AM: Finding Your Identity in God." I don't know about you, but the first word that comes to my mind when I see that title is: BLASPHEMY. Only God is I AM and how dare you equate man with anything even resembling this title of the high, holy, and mighty God! I admit, when I first saw this title a week and a half ago, I wrote up a somewhat scathing article. Not having listened to the sermon yet, though, I did not publish it. Later, I listened to this message taken from Exodus 3 and while I agree with MacDonald's statement that we can never have a right view of ourself until we have a right view of God, I was nevertheless appalled to discover that Moses had an identity crisis. Did you know that? Yes, that is how Pastor MacDonald EIS-egeted Exodus 4. Now, any good Bible student knows that eisegesis, the act of reading your own ideas back into the biblical text--is wrong and dangerous. What your pastor should be doing is practicing exegesis, interpreting the text as it is and delivering a sermon based upon what the text actually says. Eisegesis leads to sermons that address your audience's (yes, I said audience) felt-needs, while exegesis, proper interpretation, leads to sermons that tell us what God is saying to us in the biblical text.

Since I know that James MacDonald is capable of delivering fine, exegetical sermons, I was shocked to hear him tell his congregation that in Exodus 3:11 (or part of it), when Moses says, "Who am I...?" he was actually suffering from some sort of identity crisis (my words) and asking God, not only "Who am I?" but, "Who am I?" Do you see the difference in emphasis here? When I read this story, in context, I see the man Moses asking God, "but who am I that anyone, especially Pharoah, would listen to me?" Not, "Who am I, God? What is my meaning, what is my purpose?" However, with this identity-crisis driven interpretation, we can address the felt needs of the audience and be a lot more relevant.

Moving on. This past weekend's sermon at Harvest Bible Chapel was entitled, "Conquering Insecurity." Ah, yes, insecurity. Such a deep, probing theological issue. Question for you: what is Exodus 4 about? Go read it right now. I'll wait.....

Done? Okay, so what is Exodus 4 about? Moses' insecurity? Or God's equipping of His messenger for the mission upon which He is sending Moses? Is it about Moses' low self-esteem and God building him up and making him feel all warm and fuzzy and needed and wanted? Or is it about God displaying his power? Bottom line: is Exodus 4 about Moses or about God? I think you know the answer to that. This sermon was filled with law and "do, do, do."

We continue. Today I saw two incredibly disappointing tweets from James MacDonald. I'm going to post them here out of the order which they appeared, but the time stamp is visible on each. So, the second tweet I saw that made me cringe was this:

I've talked about Steven Furtick enough that I don't think I need to repeat myself here. Sounds a little like Mark Driscoll, doesn't it? It is appalling that this pastor, Steven Furtick, would preach such a thing! It is even more appalling that James MacDonald would repeat it and think that it is funny! I was shocked and disturbed. But notice that this particular tweet was "retweeted" by 6 other people. Why? Because Christians today have no concept of holiness and they continue to laugh and giggle at the world's humor--especially when it is spouted off by a so-called pastor.

The first tweet that I saw today really clinched any doubts I'd been having about the direction of MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel:

So what's the problem here? The problem is that James MacDonald is consulting Ben Arment for a "new concept" for Harvest. Why is this a problem? Because Ben Arment is a member of the emergent movement. Since this post is already too long and I've probably lost all but one of my readers, I won't go into details here. I will direct you to Ben Arment's website for his "Dream Year" program. According to the site,
Dream Year was created in 2009 as a way to help 24 people achieve one dream over the course of 12 months. These individuals went on to launch a number of impactful organizations, causes, and projects. This is what happens with the support of a coach, a community, and a process to turn dreams into reality.
Many people fail to accomplish their dreams because they lack the confidence, encouragement, accountability and know-how. Dream Year is designed to provide all of these conditions.
Oh yes, that sounds so....relevant! Let's see, where in the Bible did Jesus talk about our Dream Year? I'll have to get back to you on that one. Arment also produced Story. In the article, Spectacles for Spectators, Pastor Larry Debruyn addresses this film. Debruyn says of Story
Believing that the way most pastors communicate the Gospel is too “mummified,” one young Emerging ex-pastor has assembled a cast and crew to present to audiences of church leaders and workers what he calls Story. Note: the title is not The Story, but just Story. Story is just another of the ongoing narratives of the Gospel metanarrative. Used in the formation of compound words (like metanarrative), the word meta is “a learned borrowing from Greek meaning ‘after,’ ‘along with,’ ‘beyond,’ ‘among,’ ‘behind,’ and often denoting change . . .”[1] A key idea in defining the word metanarrative is, “denoting change.” To the Emerging church, it’s all about the synthesizingstory below to affect the evolving story above. The narrative on earth--story--influences the metanarrative above--The Story. The comprehensible experiences of the continuing story below mystically contribute to the incomprehensible, but still evolving, metanarrative. The change is necessary for as the emerging pastor states, “story-telling, along with passion, is greatly lacking in churches and ministry today.”[2] But just what is Story?

Inspired by the imaginary tales of C.S. Lewis, emerging ex-pastor Ben Arment remarks of his version of Story, that, “I believe in the power of stories. Stories captivate us. They awaken our hearts and release our imaginations.”[3] So he is assembling a number of “master” communicators to one stage for what he calls a “theatrical conference experience.” Scheduled to debut this fall, Story will, in addition to the master communicators, “feature music, drama, comedy and interactive exchanges with attendees. The goal is to create a place where Gospel communicators can be inspired to be better and more effective at what they do.”[4] Arment explains, “We’re setting it in the context of a theatrical environment to play up the storytelling elements of the Gospel to make it more exciting, more appealing and draw out the essence of what our story is . . . think of it as a dinner theater.”[5]
Read Pastor Debruyn's entire article here
So, you see, collaborating with a man like Ben Arment is not something that a solid, grounded, biblical pastor should be doing! And yet here we see a well-respected pastor of a large, multi-campus mega-church (the first clue that we should be tuning our discernment antennas when we walk in the door) jumping onto the seeker-sensitive, emergent, relevancy bandwagon. I can't wait to see what this"bold new concept" is, but I assure you I'll keep you updated. Please pray for Harvest Bible Chapel and for Pastor MacDonald. I know many wonderful people who attend this church but who are sadly lacking in discernment. They will be led down the wide, seeker-driven path by this now-misguided leadership.

If you're still reading, thank you. I apologize for the lengthy post, but I had so much to share and it all needed to be said. Christians, we must be SO, SO discerning and aware these days! Never fall into a comfort zone in your church, no matter how grounded it has been in the past! Test everything against Scripture. Just because it is said from the pulpit or worse, the stage, does not mean that it is true! Only if it is confirmed by the Word of God can it be trusted. In fact, let me close with the basic truth that we taught the junior high students in BSF this week. (Oddly enough, the BSF school program is emphasizing some really good truths so far this year). Last night, we taught the children the following:
The only clear and saving knowledge of God comes from the written revelation of the Holy Scriptures.
I couldn't agree more. We took the children to the following four Scriptures for this truth:
"The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether." Psalm 19:7-9
"Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

And my personal favorite:
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Amen and amen.


  1. From A.W Tozer's "Knowledge of the Holy" (Chapt. 5) "Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, "I AM". That is sin in its concentrated essence."

  2. Great post, it seems you are very informed and fair in your presentation of fact alongside your opinion. Thank you for doing this blog, it is helping others and myself in our quest for discernment.

    Without it, the goings on at abusive churches like this would not be known. Thank you for standing up for truth.

  3. It is so very sad. The church is dying. These corporate like churches have hired professional PR organizations to keep them coming back for more. Where is the reverence for the sanctuary? Harvest is one big stage production. Also I tried to speak to a pastor about some things that were said by J. MacDonald. Never happened. Also look in the parking lot at how many cars have Masonic emblems on them. Hmmm? It is very sad.

  4. Thank you for your blog. I live in Chicago, and am trying to find a church that teaches the TRUTH. I considered Harvest in Niles. After reading your posts, I will NOT be attending a Harvest church.

  5. I had attended HBC since 2001 and have witnessed the slide in James MacDonalds sermons & theology. I was stunned when the Stowells left suddenly, but more curious is that they are never mentioned by James MacDonald or the elders as if they never existed...interesting. There are a lot of elephants in the room at HBC. One day there is a person or subject that is hyped as of the "utmost importance" and then it is dropped like the proverbial hot potato like it never existed. Very hyper active church with a dash of attention deficiet disorder. When you ask questions or in any way question anything, you get this deer in the headlights look and after the pat "I'll get back to you", you never get the answers. It is sad that this church is so popular but the bible does warn us. I am still a believer and love the Lord, I pray for HBC and its pastors & elders but I am not an attendee and I am wiser now when listening to a message and I will run when I think it is becoming self promoting. God bless you all!

  6. God gradually led me away from Harvest resulting in a break from them just before Thanksgiving of 2015. There was set of repeat difficulties in being heard or acknowledged regarding issues of importance to those who desire to volunteer or those who have physical disabilities. My letters and emails have been ignored or overlooked by ‘everyone’, even when I told them I was leaving the church. There is something seriously wrong when a church as no concern over one’s leaving because of how that church is being seen. So much for caring for the flock!

    Thanks to my loving God's greatness I have found a very solid and biblical church, very close to my home, where my pastor chooses to know me , asks how things are going, answers questions that arise, and is available to all those whom he leads.

    I no longer want anything to do with a cold mega-church with its massive pyramid of leadership where you have no voice unless you belong to a small group where your leader speaks to his/her leader who will talk to their leader, and so on. Any of these steps can fail dramatically if the person conveys the message incorrectly or feels your concern is of no real concern in the grand scheme of things.

    Mega-churches may not be designed this way but they are seriously lacking in genuine connection to those who are seriously seeking the depth of learning God has to provide. They are better created for anonymous people who are content to remain that way until they can find their way to the inner circle (buzz words for distorted hierarchy). I've joyously left it all behind.


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