James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and The Elephant’s Debt: A Summary

Since the announcement in September 2011 that Oneness Pentecostal and famed prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes would be invited to the Elephant Room 2 (ER2) event, Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) and senior pastor James MacDonald have been under scrutiny. Many in the evangelical community expressed shock and disappointment at the invitation. The event finally took place in January of this year, and left various types of victims in its wake.

Some longtime members chose to leave the Chicago-area church. Other autonomous churches that were members of the affiliated Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF) either chose to leave HBF or were asked to leave. Further, in the months since ER2, some people have begun to speak out about other concerns they have surrounding HBC and James MacDonald—concerns that are not necessarily directly related to this controversial conference.

Many of those concerns have been expressed on a website which launched on 7 October 2012, The Elephant’s Debt (TED). The authors of this website state their purpose thusly:

The Elephant’s Debt is a website dedicated to exploring some of the underlying reasons why many people have recently begun to both privately and publicly question the ministry of Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel of Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

Over the first ten years of its active ministry, HBC could have been fairly categorized as a non-denominational, broadly evangelical church that was largely conservative in its biblical and fiscal orientation. However, critical events in the early days of the new millennium appear to have brought about a significant shift in fiscal responsibility, which was later followed by an apparent shift in theological and methodological commitments.

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The Elephant’s Debt contains several pages of information as well as extensive documentation of its claims. It was not long before Harvest Bible Chapel became aware of this website, calling together a meeting of its leaders on Thursday, 11 October.

That following weekend, on 13 and 14 October, James MacDonald addressed his HBC congregation with a statement entitled, “Responding to Our Detractors,” which reads in part:

As we approach the Lord’s table today, let me say that we are back to reality. After 40 cities and almost 80 thousand people ministered to on the Vertical Church tour, we are gladly back to our church family—but also to the reminder that spiritual warfare is real, and that I have some pretty dedicated detractors.

I call them detractors, not enemies, not wolves, because I’m maintaining the hope that—though I believe they are misguided—I’m maintaining the hope that they do desire God’s best for our church. God knows the hearts of these detractors and I pray that when the truth is brought out they will relent in the distribution of error and adjust their opinions to fit the record of what has actually happened.

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The written statement found at HBC’s website indicated that the elders would provide an additional response later in the week. In the meantime, the authors of The Elephant’s Debt dutifully responded to some of their readers’ concerns.

As promised, the elders of HBC did respond further to some of the issues raised by TED. In a statement released late this week, it was noted:

Recent discussions among our Elders have revealed how our lack of regular disclosure to the congregation has led to confusion and even criticism. With this document we initiate our intent to communicate frequently the policies and principles by which the Elders govern our church and hold our senior staff accountable. Source

While this statement attempts to address each area of concern raised by The Elephant’s Debt, the authors of TED still felt that some questions were left unanswered. After raising these questions, the authors of TED conclude:

None of the statements or their plans for the future address the root concern raised by The Elephant’s Debt. The problems at HBC are not issues of systems but issues of character. The character qualifications for an elder, according to 1 Timothy 3, are extraordinarily high. We believe that James MacDonald on a number of these points is not qualified to be an elder. The Elephant’s Debt only highlighted two of the issues from 1 Timothy 3: the need to be above reproach and the need to not be a lover of money.

We raised the financial issues not because they were an end in and of themselves, but symptoms of an underlying character problem. Improvement upon communication and financial systems cannot fix the problem.

We continue to hope and pray for MacDonald to exhibit genuine acts of repentance.

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It is unknown at this time if the elders of HBC and James MacDonald will respond further. The issues that have been raised are serious ones, and there is little doubt that many in the Christian community are in prayer over this situation, asking that the truth be brought out of the darkness and into the light, and that God would be glorified whatever the outcome.