Concerning Associations and Discernment (part one)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I am the Senior Pastor of a Harvest Bible Chapel in Detroit. Our church is a committed, “both feet in,” Harvest Bible Fellowship church. A portion of our budget is designated each year to the Fellowship so that more churches can be planted. It is a great joy for us to have sent out the former assistant pastor of our church to plant a new Harvest Bible Chapel in his homeland on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. God is using the Harvest Fellowship to make an amazing impact for Christ all over the globe right now, and we are thrilled to be a part of God’s gracious work.

However, as an independent, autonomous local assembly of believers we think it necessary at this time to clarify our perspective concerning the matter of ecclesiastical associations and discernment. Though James MacDonald is the founder of the Harvest Bible Fellowship of churches as well as the indisputable “voice” of the Fellowship, we do not want James’ position to be confused with the position of Harvest Bible Chapel in Detroit. I must address this concern since James has made his position a very public matter in recent days. Please know that this statement contains the full endorsement of our elder board here at Harvest Detroit.

I STRONGLY disagree with James’ position that having someone preach to your church isn’t an endorsement of that man’s ministry. I recognize that brothers can work together without agreeing on things 100%. But for years James’ ministry has been marked by drawing a line in the sand with regard to the worldly methodology used by those of the “seeker church” persuasion. For years James has railed against this type of pragmatic ministry, and most understood that much of what he was responding to was the pragmatism on display in his own backyard at Willow Creek. James' clear opposition to the "seeker" model was a key component that attracted us toward joining the Harvest Fellowship. However, James is now saying there needs to be a new middle: a “new tribe” where we sit around and have conversations about these things and challenge each other to think about them…but when all is said and done, even if nobody changes, that’s alright because at the end of the day we are simply disagreeing about “different methods.” I call this the “kumbaya effect."

In Elephant Room #1 NOBODY told Perry Noble that HE SINNED on a recent Easter Sunday by leading his church to play a Godless, worldly, anti-Christian song (Highway to Hell) in his worship service. Yes, most participants said, “Well, I wouldn’t do that in my church....” But nobody said, “Perry, you and your elders sinned against God. Repent.” And with that failure the door was left open for everyone to walk away and simply say, “We just use different methods.” At the end of that conversation someone actually said, “You can’t argue with Perry’s results and how many are saved through his ministry.” This is blatant pragmatism. I believe that what happened in Perry’s church was SIN that Easter Sunday morning, no matter the results. God tells us exactly what we ought to sing as the gathered people of God: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). I don’t see how Highway to Hell fits in that list, do you? Obviously our God can work and save souls in spite of our sin and depravity, but that is never an excuse to sin. I believe that this ought to have been clearly communicated to Perry, but it wasn’t. It was sidestepped (exactly what the Elephant Room event itself claims to despise) and left as a matter of “preference of methods.” To me, this was an enormous failure in the first Elephant Room discussion and subsequently left the door open for ecclesiastical partnerships with Perry Noble and Steven Furtick and who knows who else in the days ahead.

The one guy in the Elephant Room #1 who agreed that what Perry did was acceptable and would do it himself in his own church was Steven Furtick. (Furtick is also a man who fawns over Joel Osteen and other Word-Faith pastors.) And what does James do? Invites Furtick to preach at Harvest as a guest speaker. Now, I’ve heard James’ explanation of this invite. I watched the video, read the blog, and talked with James himself. He defended this invitation as a “gracious” move and claims that this is a part of his “mentoring” relationship with Furtick. However, as a shepherd of God’s sheep it is a pastor’s responsibility to place before his people men of God whose overall methodology, philosophy of ministry, theology, and direction we can trust and promote. Yes, I agree with James that we need not agree in every little area with a ministry partner, but we ought to be able to support his overall philosophy and direction. Harvest Bible Chapel in Detroit DOES NOT support the overall ministry philosophy and direction of Steven Furtick, just as we don’t support the overall ministry philosophy and direction of Perry Noble or Bill Hybels for that matter (the great Seeker Church godfather himself…although he might have to arm wrestle Rick Warren for that dubious title).

We are not saying that everything these men have ever said or done is wrong. But there are significant matters in which we disagree with them, methodologically and even theologically (because we believe that many of the differences are, in fact, driven by theology). We cannot in good conscience say to our flock, “We endorse these men and encourage you to learn from them.” We believe that God calls us to place before our people only those whom we can support as they say, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). To put someone before our people with whom we have strong disagreements would be foolish, would bring confusion to people both inside and outside our church, and would potentially cause great damage. James fails to make a distinction between having personal friendships with men with whom you may have severe differences both philosophically and methodologically, and ecclesiastical partnerships that draw in the entire church (and in James’ case the entire Harvest Bible Fellowship) and affect many more people. It is naive of James to think that his partnership with Furtick does not imply some level of endorsement of the man’s ministry - or at the very least, lends Furtick a credibility which he does not deserve.

In conclusion, we love the Harvest Bible Fellowship of churches and we greatly love and appreciate Pastor James MacDonald. But please know that Harvest Bible Chapel of Detroit has no desire to associate with the Perry Nobles, Steven Furticks, and T. D. Jakes of the world. We do not like the look of the “emerging middle” and have no desire to be a part of the “new tribe” being called for. Please do not mistake James MacDonald’s recent statements and associations as the standard of conduct for us at Harvest Bible Chapel of Detroit because they are not.

- Dan McGhee 

*Read Part Two

*Update: Concerning Our Disassociation with Harvest Bible Fellowship 


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