Harvest Bible Chapel formally disqualifies former pastor James MacDonald, citing 1 Timothy 5

Pastor James MacDonald
Pastor James MacDonald | Screenshot: Harvest Bible Chapel

The elders of Harvest Bible Chapel have formally disqualified their former and founding pastor, James MacDonald, from ministry Sunday, emphasizing his actions do not meet Scriptural requirements to be an elder.

In a letter that was read to the congregation Sunday, Elder Karl Jackson noted that though the elders were grateful for MacDonald's three decades of ministry to the church, they nevertheless had to make a statement with some difficult truths about his conduct.

"On February 12, 2019 James MacDonald’s employment was terminated by our elder board as our Senior Pastor for not being 'above reproach' and for having a 'sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger, and domineering behavior,'" the elders stated. "You may be wondering why we’re coming to you now, months after James’ dismissal. As we spent time with the congregation and visited all of our campuses, it became clear that there was confusion over the previous statements about our former Senior Pastor. We are here today to provide clarity to our church family and to those who listened to and supported Walk in the Word, a ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel."

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Citing 1 Timothy 5:19-20 — which speaks of not charging an elder "except on the evidence of two or three witnesses" and to rebuke those who persist in sinning the presence of all, that the rest may stand in fear — the elders "interviewed and documented first-hand evidence of these accusations seeking to validate or refute them" against MacDonald since he was, in addition to being the lead pastor, also an elder.

"In this investigation, you can be assured of three things. (1) We have only considered accusations that included two or three witnesses. In fact, everything that is covered in this letter includes many more witnesses than the biblical requisite of two or three. (2) We have only considered evidence from first-hand witnesses. (3) We have listened to these witnesses in groups of two interviewers in order to protect us from an individual opinion swaying the outcome," the elders stated.

The elders found that MacDonald was not above reproach, respectable, and upright, among other criteria set forth in 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter.

"We found that James had a pattern of improperly exercising his positional and spiritual authority over others to his own advantage" and that he had "made repeated efforts to profit himself beyond what was honorable," the elders wrote, noting a pattern of extravagant spending utilizing church resources that resulted in his personal gain.

They also noted that the former pastor's "behavior and language indicated that he thought of himself more highly than he should as evidenced by his pattern of insulting, belittling, and verbally bullying others."

"The Bible does not teach that disqualification from ministry is permanent; however, with the scope of the damage caused by his behavior, James will not be able to serve again as an Elder or Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel."

The elders concluded by asking the church to continue to pray for MacDonald and his wife, Kathy.

"We have communicated to James that he needs to find a small group of godly brothers to restore him biblically in the spirit of gentleness," they said. "He needs an extended period of time away from ministry in order to focus on repentance and to seek relational reconciliation and restitution where it is possible.

"We have no desire to shame James, but seek only to be in submission to God’s Word. 1 Timothy 5 does not require us to reveal all the details and the witnesses of these accusations; our biblical responsibility is to accept or reject these accusations and issue this public rebuke."

MacDonald was ousted earlier this year following unsavory remarks he made on a hot mic that were aired on a Chicago-area radio program.

The longtime pastor was heard on the audio footage talking about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO's Harold Smith's computer, crude remarks about independent journalist Julie Roys — including joking that she had an affair with Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli — and a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

He was ultimately fired after Roys' December 2018 investigative piece in World magazine, which brought about considerable public scrutiny of the Chicago megachurch. Her article, "Hard Times at Harvest," documented alleged financial malfeasance, abusive dynamics within the church from the top-down — particularly MacDonald's temper — and a culture of fear and intimidation.

The elders noted that they believe MacDonald could be "restored" to ministry one day but so far have not seen evidence of repentance. 

"There is much potential for God to be glorified through him in the coming years, and our hope is to witness that someday," they added.

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