My initial plan was to drive to the main campus in Rolling Meadows, IL, but after thinking about it (and looking at the ominous sky), I opted to stick with my local Harvest campus. Sure, I would miss out on the lasers and lights and excitement of the main campus, but I admit, I was a little selfish, not wanting to give up that much time driving there and back just to listen to Steven Furtick. I knew his sermon would be just as enlightening (whether good or bad) on a big screen at the local campus. I arrived about 5 minutes before the service started and nabbed a seat in the aisle before an usher could force me to sit in the middle (they have an annoying habit at Harvest of ordering you where to sit). At this point, the church was still pretty empty, but I knew that would soon change. Looking up at the screen, I saw a clock counting down the seconds until the service began. Oh boy.
With about 45 seconds left on the clock, the worship team emerged. I immediately hoped they weren't on staff, because they all appeared to be about 15 years old. They later announced that they were indeed one of the student bands, so that allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. (Side note: Parents, please do not allow your teenage son to wear tight, skinny jeans and clingy shirts. And for heaven's sake, please feed your sons so that they don't walk around with that emaciated look that is apparently so trendy right now!) When the music began, it took my breath away. Not because it was so spectacularly beautiful, but because the drums were so unbelievingly intense. Now, let's remember that I used to attend Harvest regularly, so I'm not just some life-long prude who doesn't like drums. The intensity of the loud, banging music, however, is something that I am convinced is simply not God-honoring. I tend to have very low blood pressure, so when it rises, I know it, especially because of the accompanying symptoms. The music this morning almost brought me to a point where I had to leave because it was making me ill. This is the music that the kids are singing in their worship services.
I did not write down which songs were sung, but they were far more about the beat and the melody and the choruses than they were about being didactic and doctrinal. It wasn't long before everyone was standing and jumping and swaying to the music. I am ashamed to say that used to be me. Led by the beat and my emotions, I was convinced that true worship meant that I needed to put on a show. God, forgive me. As for me this morning, I sat and tried to read my Bible while everyone around me was lost in this "worship experience." God's Word seems to me to offer a far better "worship experience" than any crooning rock band. Before the final song, the bass player shared the moment when God "woke him up." With his family suffering financially, he became convinced that they would have more money without him around, so he typed out a suicide note. While reading it back to himself, he said that "a voice came over me and said, 'I have so much here for you; I do not want you to go.'" And so he tore up the note and, I guess the implication is that meant he was saved. There was no mention of repentance of sin and faith and trust in Jesus Christ, however, so it seems like a lacking salvation story.
Next, there were announcements. Since Harvest is one of the more "hip" churches, they're starting to do those by video. The main announcement was to guilt people into working at the church. The tone seemed to be, "If you're not working every week..." then you are failing as a church member because you're "missing out." Turns out this attitude would be revisited later in the service. Then they showed a video of Camp Harvest summer camp for the kids. The interviews with the children? "It's really fun!" "I like the water slides!" Hm. I guess water slides are more fun than the Bible. But don't worry, lots of children said that they "asked Jesus into their hearts" and the claim is that there were 187 "commitments to Christ." We'll see how strong those commitments are as these young children grow up.
Okay, finally we're getting to the sermon (which you may be able to hear later this week online). Before Furtick came on stage, James MacDonald introduced him via a pre-recorded video (MacDonald is preaching this week at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas). In this video, MacDonald drove up on his motorcycle, decked out in his leather vest, with his wife behind him and introduced Furtick. Then he and all his motorcycle buddies drove away. Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with riding a motorcycle (although for the life of me I can't imagine why you would want to, but admittedly they scare me!). But can you honestly tell me that this is the most reverent and honorable way to run a church? Somehow I just can't see the Apostle Peter doing that, but maybe he had a really fast horse or something.
After that introduction, Steven Furtick looked at the crowd, awe-struck (even though we all know he saw the same video last night) and exclaimed, "That's your pastor! He preaches like Spurgeon and then rides away on a motorcycle!" (Personal note: MacDonald may be a gifted speaker, but he is hardly anything like Spurgeon, most especially in the content of his messages.) Furtick then went on to praise MacDonald and Harvest and at some point mentioned that his wife was "hot." This comment, of course, was completely unnecessary, but that's what these young, rock star pastors do. I guess you can't even become a young mega-church pastor unless you have a "hot" wife. It's some sort of prerequisite.
I won't have to spend much time telling you about the sermon because it can be summed up in one phrase: The Steven Furtick Show. First, he wanted everyone to clap and holler if they believe Jesus. He then proceeded to insult those of us who chose not to react that way by saying, "sometimes people who are biblically based have no passion or heart." Really? Is that really true? Or is it just that not all of us think that hooting and hollering is the only way to put our "passion and heart" on display? He did say that he liked that the
Furtick supposedly preached from 1 Samuel 14:1-7. Here is that text:
Furtick read the text, then told everyone to shout out the phrase "one day" because he believes in the power of a moment. I started to feel like I was watching a younger version of Joel Osteen with more hair gel and less hair spray. This led to a 5 minute diatribe about how Furtick was saved and supposedly called into ministry. Let me insert here that while I can't be sure, it seems to me that Furtick may think that people audibly hear from God. If he doesn't then he needs to drastically clean up his language. He talked about God "planting a vision" in his heart and on and on. If you want to hear the whole story, go watch the documentary about the life of Elevation Church. This morning's sermon was a Cliff's Notes version.One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone. Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:1-7)
Skipping over the text, Furtick brought someone up to play the keyboard while he talked about the inspirational phrase spoken by Jonathan, "nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few." He proceeded to get everyone fired up and then moved backward in the text. "It may be that the LORD will work for us." Or, in Furtick's version, "Perhaps" the LORD will work. This brought him to the catch phrase of his message: God's promise is bigger than my perhaps. Huh? Okay. The "meat" of the message was then Furtick running back and forth on the stage interspersing stories about his own life with things like, "this is to encourage someone who is trying to believe God's promise! Maybe you heard God speak to you a promise...Maybe you heard God's voice..." but the devil is always getting in there with his "perhaps." Uh-huh. This got the crowd going. Amens, claps, and hollers of affirmation abounded. In a nutshell, this 40 minute "sermon" was supposed to inspire the audience to "audacious" faith by feeding off of the miraculous story of how Furtick got saved, how his father got saved (when telling this story, the glory seemed to go to Furtick and the sermon that he preached to which his father responded. There was no mention of God or the Holy Spirit working to bring his father to repentance and faith. However, I praise God if He did save Steven's father), and how he started Elevation Church.
Furtick concluded his message with the words of Jonathan's armor-bearer, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” These words, he said, are words that everyone at Harvest should speak to Pastor James. "But aren't we supposed to be only for Jesus," Furtick mocked? Well, yes, but we are the hands and feet of Jesus, so...and that's about all the explanation he gave. His final admonishment to the church was in essence to pledge absolute allegiance to Harvest and to James MacDonald. He told everyone who had a Twitter account to, when they left, "tweet" James MacDonald "I am with you, heart and soul." His emphasis on allegiance to the organization of Harvest and to its leader was reminiscent of what is required of those who attend Elevation. It wouldn't surprise me at all if, within a year or so, we see Harvest come up with it's own "Code" that everyone must abide by. Should we support our church and our pastor? Of course! But we should never pledge allegiance to the point where we will follow them without question and without examining and filtering everything through the lens of God's Word.
In the end, I was not at all surprised by what I heard and saw this morning. As I suspected, Harvest has grown more and more seeker-driven since I left and Scripture is being contorted more readily. A perfect example of this was on the back of the bulletin under the "2011 Stewardship Update." The needs were listed alongside the actuals, and then the verse Exodus 35:5 was beside the numbers: "Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze." Call me crazy, but isn't that verse about the construction of the tabernacle? It has absolutely nothing to do with the Church giving offerings to the Lord! Of course we give out of our hearts, but let's not pull a verse completely out of context in order to guilt people into doing so! But I fear that this is common place today at Harvest. Steven Furtick did not disappoint in his sermon, either. I wholly expected him to grab a verse and then focus on only a few words in that verse in order to somehow talk about his favorite topic of being "audacious."
This is sad. Harvest Bible Chapel is an organization (and it is an organization, I can no longer call it a church) that is rapidly becoming more and more influential. It truly has taken over the Chicagoland area, as it is nearly impossible to find a church that has not modeled itself after either Harvest or Willow Creek. James MacDonald is growing more and more popular and if he does not return to Scripture soon, then he, too, will become a dangerous influence on so many pastors. I grieve for the thousands of people who have heard or who will hear this weekend's message at Harvest. God was not glorified, Steven Furtick was. God's Word was not taught, and while not everything Furtick said was necessarily a lie, it nevertheless was a danger and an insult to the Gospel because God's Word was not faithfully preached and proclaimed. Thousands of people heard a message of do good and you will get good things. Believe harder, have audacious faith. No conviction of sin, no indication that maybe, just maybe, our lives will be worse in earthly terms if we are living for Christ. Yet the message scratched those itchy ears, and so it was received with glowing praise. As for Furtick's command to tweet James MacDonald our absolute allegiance to him? I'll let the screenshot speak for itself:
As for me, I will serve God and Him alone.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
Is Harvest Bible Chapel Being Fed to the Wolves?
Steven Furtick to Preach at Harvest Bible Chapel