(Photo: The Elephant Room/Alyssa Armour)
James MacDonald, megachurch pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in the Chicago suburbs, publicly announced his resignation as a council member of The Gospel Coalition on Tuesday due to his "methodological convictions."
"I have very different views on how to relate to the broader church and how the gospel must impact every relationship," he revealed on his blog, providing a brief explanation of his reason for leaving.
MacDonald was one of the founding members of TGC, "a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing [their] faith in the gospel of Christ and...reforming ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures."
Apprising Ministries revealed soon after, however, that there was more to MacDonald's resignation than mentioned in the blog. The ministry received an email from Kent C. Shaw, the executive director at Harvest Bible Fellowship, which it posted online.
"Last week James was put under a lot of pressure from leaders of The Gospel Coalition, a reformed group of about 50 pastors he has fellowshipped with for the past few years," the email reads. "They were asking that he pull the plug on Bishop Jakes coming to the Elephant Room (ER) conference."
The Elephant Room conference is an event that features pastors from diverse backgrounds meeting face to face to "push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other's beliefs and methods," conversing "bluntly" about the "most Christ honoring ways of building a church."
MacDonald and Mark Driscoll were in charge of moderating all conversations and the first round was convened at Harvest Studios in the spring of 2011, featuring speakers like Driscoll, Greg Laurie, and Matt Chandler. Round 2 is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2012, and would feature speakers like Steven Furtick, T.D. Jakes, and MacDonald himself.
According to Shaw's email, TGC leaders felt that Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, should not attend the conference because of the "weak evidence" of his current doctrine and "infighting among the black members of the Gospel Coalition who have deep seeded resentments."
"Certain influential men have rallied to pressure James to cancel Bishop Jakes," the director described, though a few members like Crawford Loritts, a black senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Georgia and upcoming speaker at the conference, supported MacDonald.
"After prayer and counsel with other Christian leaders and some of our Elders, James believes it is best to simply resign from the Gospel Coalition and continue to pursue his vision of gracious conversation, face to face, as model for how to handle disagreement in the church," Shaw stated in an email to Harvest Bible Chapel senior leaders and elders. "We support him in stepping back from this voluntary association."
"Some, who like to stir up controversy, may approach you for further discussion and we ask that you stand with us by stating only the following: Pastor James stepped off the Gospel Collation with our support. You should be proud of the battle he is fighting for grace and truth and seek to emulate his courage. He has our full support and the doctrine of Harvest Bible Chapel remains and will remain unchanged."
In MacDonald's own words, as noted on his website, "I have always believed in the institutional maxim: 'the whole is more important than the part.' I am actually a very small, small part of the work God is doing through the Coalition, and I believe their work will be assisted by my absence, given my methodological convictions."
MacDonald had joined the coalition after D.A. Carson approached him with his vision for TGC, which at the time was "clear and compelling" to the Harvest leader.
"I joined in to do all I could to help him and others rally gospel men around the preservation and extension of sound biblical theology," MacDonald noted, though he admitted he was "never entirely comfortable with the title 'reformed.'"
He believes that local pastors benefited from an association like TGC, which held a high standard for preserving sound theology.
"Our church's Doctrinal Statement has only strengthened during this helpful association and will remain unchanged, as will the Doctrinal Statements of Harvest Bible Fellowship and our church plants," the Canadian-born preacher contended.
"We are resolutely committed to biblical fidelity and gospel proclamation. We are deeply committed to the exposition of Scripture as the centerpiece of our church planting work around the world."
Despite his appreciation and support of the coalition, MacDonald decided to leave the group, not wanting his "minor role on the Council to hinder [the organization's] work as a whole" or "to give the impression they agree with all God has called me to do."
"Ben Peays, the primary leader of the Coalition, accepted my resignation with regret and understanding, and Don Carson thanked me for my efforts these last years," the God Wrote A Book author shared.
Additionally, MacDonald stated that as a board member of TGC, he grew to appreciate men who shared a passion for the Word of God but had very different views on a variety of topics like baptism and ecclesiology. "What we hold in common has been of greater value than any ministry method that separates us. Most of the friendships I have with Council members preceded my joining, and I am assured they will continue long into the future."
"I wish the Coalition well in the pursuit of their goals, and I feel greatly blessed by the impact this association had, and will continue to have, upon my ministry," he concluded.
Carson and Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York thanked MacDonald for his years of service and support on The Gospel Coalition blog.
"We acknowledge that James feels called of God into these spheres, and we wish him well in his far-reaching endeavors, and many years of ministry both faithful and fruitful."