07 August 2011

Is Harvest Bible Chapel Being Fed to the Wolves?

Who a pastor asks to fill his pulpit while he is away says a lot of things. It speaks to that pastor's discernment, his theology, and his understanding of the purpose of the church. When a pastor steps away for a few weeks of study or vacation or to travel and preach elsewhere, he is choosing to leave his flock--the precious sheep entrusted to him by God--in the hands of another under-shepherd. What kind of a man, then, would you want your pastor to choose to lead you while he is away?

I think of John MacArthur, who has been away from his standard Sunday preaching for much of the summer, although he has returned to the pulpit a few times. In his absence, men like Phil Johnson and Jerry Wragg have stepped in to teach the sheep. The pulpit at Grace Church has been filled by some of the other pastors on staff, or by pastors/professors of The Master's Seminary. In the past, men such as Steve Lawson have graciously undertaken to lead for a Sunday. When John MacArthur is away, the sheep of his flock know that they will still be taught God-honoring, weighty truth. They can know that their pastor loves them enough to ensure that they are diligently and properly fed and led even when he cannot be there to do it personally.

While this is of course a high-profile example, I think one can see my point. Who the pastor asks to "substitute" for him speaks volumes about his own ministry. The sheep should be able to trust their pastor's selection and know that they will be well-cared for in his absence. So what are we to do, then, when a high-profile yet supposedly doctrinally sound and conservative pastor chooses to leave his flock in the care of an immature, Scripture-twisting, celebrity pastor? Well, firstly I pray that there are members of the congregation who are speaking up and secondly, for those of us outside of the congregation, we can pray that this shepherd will not leave his sheep under the watch of a wolf.

I am speaking of Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in the Word. Next weekend, while he is away on vacation, the sheep of his flock will be under the care of "Pastor" Steven Furtick. Many Christians laud MacDonald and avidly listen to his radio show. I suspect that this is why many have remained quiet on this issue. For quite awhile, MacDonald has been "quotable" for conservative Christians, and his recent actions seem to contradict the image that he has carried for so long. But if we are to "name names," then we name names, even if it is someone that we have long trusted who has slowly but surely slid into dangerous territory! I pray that some more influential Christians will pick up on this and call out James MacDonald and ask him to please reconsider this choice that he has made.

Some of MacDonald's recent actions seem to give cause for concern. Not only did he invite Mark Driscoll to teach a "marriage" seminar at Harvest (based upon Driscoll's controversial and, well, icky, sermon series on Song of Solomon. Driscoll in the past has claimed that he was called audibly by God into the ministry, and has also recently come out and called all cessationists "worldly," leading to no small controversy and no shortage of replies), but MacDonald also this past Spring hosted the Elephant Room conference (co-moderating the event with Driscoll). Furtick was one of the "speakers" at that conference and MacDonald ensured that Furtick's book, Sun Stand Still, based upon a Scripture-twisting sermon of the same name, was heartily promoted. (At the end of this post is a review of Furtick's sermon, "Sun Stand Still," by Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio). I don't think that I have to go into too much detail here about the seeker-driven nature of Furtick's preaching. What I simply want to do is ask the question, is it wise for MacDonald to invite a man such as Furtick into his "pulpit?" (I use the term "pulpit" loosely, because MacDonald preaches from a wooden podium, and spends most of the sermon walking up and down the aisles).

For example, is it wise to entrust your flock to someone who doesn't even believe that church is for those who are saved?

There are a lot of wrong things that are said in that video, not the least of which was, "If you know Jesus, [...] this church is not for you." Huh? Wait a minute, I thought the church was for Christians! Yet, Furtick is of the ilk that church should be for the "unchurched" so that they can come to know Jesus. The problem with that grows even larger when the Jesus being preached is not the Jesus of the Bible! Furtick claims in the above video that their mission is Luke 19:10, "to seek and to save the lost." Hm. Okay, let's look at that verse. Those words were spoken by Jesus and the full verse reads, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Jesus does the seeking and the saving, "Pastor" Steven. Only Jesus can save. It is the church's job to provide a place for those who have been saved to come and to hear the Word of God preached rightly so that they may be fed and so that He may be glorified. Perhaps a better passage for a church to abide by would be John 21:15-19, where Jesus admonishes Peter to "feed my sheep" and to "tend my lambs." You see, the sheep and the lambs in those commands are believers, not the "unchurched." Jesus called Peter to care for His flock, yet Steven Furtick wants to let the sheep starve while he tends to the goats instead.

This clip also reminded me of Bill Hybels speaking at his own Leadership Summit, responding to a poll they had done that indicated that many in his church felt that they were not being fed enough Bible. I would love to post the video here, but the link that I have has disappeared from the Willow Creek Association website (gee, I wonder why?). Hybels' words were as follows, "I'll feed those people. I'll hire some old seminary prof, I'll feed 'em till they barf." Perhaps Furtick sounds like Hybels because they are of exactly the same mind when it comes to church methodology. In fact, Furtick is one of the scheduled featured speakers at Hybels' Global Leadership Summit this week, August 11-12.

That's right,  Steven Furtick will be preaching at Harvest Bible Chapel just one day after he speaks at Hybels' event alongside such New Age, Emergent minds as Henry Cloud and Erwin McManus. So tell me, James MacDonald, is this truly a man that you want to endorse? Moreover, is this honestly a man who you want to act as a substitute shepherd for the sheep that have been entrusted to you by God? I'm no seminary graduate, but a simple reading of the Bible reveals what an important and serious calling it is for a man to be a pastor. By selecting Steven Furtick to teach in his church, James MacDonald has demonstrated his lack of reverence for this holy calling.

Let's not forget some of the other aberrant actions of Purpose-Driven "pastor" Furtick. This is a man who has called Joel Osteen a "great man of God."
This is the man responsible for this:

Finally, I want to direct you to Elevation Church's "Code," which can be accessed and read here. In a nutshell, it says that God gave "Pastor" Steven the vision for Elevation Church, and every member must fall in step with that vision. Point #4 of the Code reads, "We Are United Under the Visionary – Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and his vision." Aggressively defend the vision? Too bad there's no language in that code about defending the Gospel! But then, the gospel that is preached at Elevation Church is not a gospel worth defending.

"The Code" of Elevation Church is scarily reminiscent of "The Code" at The Crossing Church in Elk River, Minnesota. If you haven't been following that saga, I invite you to visit Fighting for the Faith and listen to some of the recent episodes (especially the August 1 episode) addressing this "church" that is abusing its members. In fact, in my opinion, it is not an exaggeration to call The Crossing Church a cult, due especially in part to the required extreme allegiance to "Pastor" Eric. If you visit this page, you can click to read "The Code" of The Crossing Church, and you will notice that it reads almost identical to that of Elevation's. This is not an accusation of Furtick, but with such incredible similarities to such an abusive church, one has to begin to question whether this "pastor" is someone to be endorsed.

The fact that this pastor goatherder will be preaching at Harvest Bible Chapel, at the request and approval of Pastor James MacDonald, should both grieve and anger Harvest members. It certainly grieves and angers me. Again I ask: is this a wise decision by MacDonald? The discerning Christian would agree that it is not. This is a dangerous decision. MacDonald is leaving the sheep in the care of a wolf. I pray that the invitation will be revoked, although I fear that all will move forward as scheduled. This is just a further tumble down the slippery slope for Harvest and for MacDonald. It's been a subtle, but steady slide over the past two years, yet I fear that the invitation to Furtick indicates that the slide is gaining momentum. Lord, forgive us for our selfish desires for celebrity. Forgive us for our incredible lack of discernment and grant us wisdom and eyes to see Your truth.

As promised above, here is Chris Rosebrough's review of Furtick's "Sun Stand Still" sermon:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Steven Furtick to Preach at Harvest Bible Chapel
3D Easter?
The Elephant Room
The Elephant Room, Follow-up
Harvest, We Have a Problem
MacDonald's Motivational Tweets


  1. Is spreading insanity in Church leadership the main tactic for this generation? Reports like this still shock me to a degree. I wish more would wake up to the alarm clock of God's Word. Yet, where once some individual would fall asleep in Church...now, the Church seems to be falling asleep in the arms (or paws) of wolves.

  2. Hi Eddie,

    This story startled me as well to an extent, even though I began to see Harvest sliding into dangerous territory nearly two years ago. It is incredible how so many leaders seem to forgo their Biblical common sense, sacrificing it instead for the chance to gain celebrity.

    You are most certainly correct, it seems the Church is being lulled to sleep by the smooth-talking wolves. Perhaps this is another side effect of the mind-numbing, repetitious, hypnotizing music that is so prevalent today! (Said only slightly tongue-in-cheek).

    In the midst of this, we can only pray that lesser-known, yet faithful pastors will be raised up to proclaim God's Word without compromise.

    (Oh, and as a side note, it's an honor to be visited by Mr. Calvinist Cartoon himself!)

  3. I am actually a senior pastor in the Harvest Bible Fellowship (over which James provides leadership). I found out a few days before that Furtick was to preach at HBC and was concerned but also hopeful.  In my experience, James has a sincere desire to influence-in a godly and biblical way-those who are weak. (I think just about anyone who holds God's Word in the highest esteem would conclude with me that Furtick is at least weak.)  My hope was that the sermon this past weekend would give significant evidence that James' influence was having an effect.

    I have listened to half of the sermon and do not see any evidence (other than the lengthy "homage" intro) that there has been any influence of Furtick by MacDonald and unfortunately see it the other way. 

    I applaud James for desiring to influence in a "Paul/Timothy" sense...the difference is that Timothy had much grounding in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15) which is not something I can say after several of my experiences listening to and observing Furtick.

    I just wish James would do this in private and not affect his flock and the Fellowship like this.  

    Please know there are Harvest senior pastors who are concerned with decisions like this and are purposing to communicate this while continuing to faithfully preach God's Word as the historical pattern of James' ministry (and other men like MacArthur) have modeled for us.

  4. Hello Anonymous,

    I cannot thank you enough for stopping by and sharing your comments. It is encouraging to know that there are members of the leadership who are concerned about this as well. I will be sure to include in my prayers those of you who are working to communicate your concerns.

    God bless.

  5. James is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Please be warned. When you tell people this they look at you like your crazy. Please remember how the bible WARNS us about false teachers. The sometimes don't look false. Next time you listen to a whole sermon ask your self is he exulting Jesus or himself/Harvest.

  6. Love what you had to say ... it is very disturbing what is happening to James MacDonald (celebrity winning over doctrine and the mission of the church). But I donhave one bone to pick with you. I also don't use a pulpit ... just a music stand ... not sure why you have a concern about something not mentioned in Scripture as important but I thought I'd be open and honest from the start - no pulpit. To be blunt, your blog has so much good to say and you lose your voice when throwing in such non-Scriputral concerns. Just want to make sure your message is loud and clear to more than just the "I wish Church was like the good old days" crowd.

  7. Anonymous #2,

    A large part of the reason I left Harvest was because the sermons began to be far more James-centered than Jesus-centered. To this day, people look at me sideways when I tell them that I left Harvest Bible Chapel and why. We do indeed need to be discerning.

    Anonymous #3,

    I appreciate your feedback. To be sure, a pulpit is not mandated by Scripture and I certainly wouldn't discount a church for not having one! It is not my intention to exalt my personal preferences above Scriptural issues. However, I think the idea of the pulpit--causing the pastor to be small so that he is not exalted while the Word of God is being preached--is something that has been lost and that we would perhaps do well to revisit, if possible. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. To the senior pastor from Harvest. Thank you. I am holding on and praying that leadership and the elders will "wake up" and do what needs to be done. It will take courage and trust in God. Take the church back for the LORD and His people. I don't even know how this can be done~only through the power of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Believe me when I say that I know I am speaking for others as well. Glory be to God alone~

  9. It grieves me to read these comments, yet the spirit testifies within me. As you state, so many have remained quiet. It has been a 2 year struggle, in which I have tried to return to fellowship at HBC, and simply cannot physically listen. I have prayed for discernment because I am bewildered as to why my church leaders are allowing this once Christ honoring, and God glorifying, worship in truth and spirit bible believing and teaching, fellowship of the saints, and dare I say critics of the mega giant Willow Creek church, fall to the egos and pride of celebrity seeking men! Perhaps many have tried to warn...as a flock of leaders/pastors have left, or been "let go". My hope is they did all they could do, and thus dusted their feet and have moved on ; but still I pray that the scales will be removed from the eyes of those still caught up in "pastor idolatry", and that the Lord will humble the pride-filled hearts of those that are indeed blinded by the sin of pride. I also pray that a spirit of boldness will come over those who were in (and those remaining in) leadership, that they would speak out so the sheep (me, believing I am crazy and alone) could be warned! Standing by in silence or the fear of man, cannot be an option. I am thankful to the Lord for your willingness to be bold. I must admit, that at first glance (i happened to watch a few excerpts of the Elephant Room interviews) I didn't see the red flags...I didnt do any research of the other men involved and was even allowing myself a very lazy mentality of total trust of my Head pastor. I know that the Lord will show us the truth if we seek Him, and even my simple attempts at that have yield Him faithful once again!

  10. It could be that James is being hardened by God. His daughter became pregnant outside of marriage last year and it was durring this time that the Lord's Word would have disqualified him from pastoring until he got his family in order. Very disturbing.

  11. I'm actually a fairly new attendee of Harvest Bible Chapel (Elgin). I've been trying to get to know the church through the Sunday services and Bible studies. I see some good points that have been brought up here, but I also think we need to be careful about how we accuse pastors and servants of God. This is not to say that we should not speak up when they speak/act in an unbiblical manner, but I think much caution is necessary. God has placed these men in these positions and as the church, we are called to love, pray and support our pastors. Many church goers have a very consumerist mentality when they go to church and can almost be demanding in what they expect from a pastor (churches can demand that pastors teach them what their ears are itching to hear... or they can demand that the pastor preaches in line with their biblical thought.) What I'm saying is in either way, the attitude is not correct. The Bible teaches us to pray and support our pastors or any authority God has placed over us... good or bad. Just like Paul told the church to pray for their leaders when Nero was in power. We ought not have the attitude of a consumer who can demand what he wants and pick and choose... we are called to have the attitude of Christ. I think in many ways Christ is dishonored when the world sees Christians attacking each other over disagreements, when we preach a Gospel of love and forgiveness.

    I listen carefully when Pastor James preaches and at least from what I've heard, I believe it to be very biblical. I did feel that Pastor Furtick was a very talented speaker, but I had wished that his message was more Bible based. Power to change peoples lives comes from the Word of God and prayer... I think he has a way to grow in his the biblical depth of his preaching, but he has great potential (not potential to have a large church... he already has that, but potential to be much more effective and powerful for the Kingdom of God.)

    Also, I very much agree that the purpose of the church is not solely to reach the world with the Gospel... it's also to feed the sheep and a place where the santifying work that Christ has promised to do in His people, happens.