July 13, 2020

Money and Power: The Elephant in James MacDonald’s Room


NOTE: Thanks to Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant for this look at one of the prominent scandals in evangelicalism in recent days. James MacDonald graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1988, the same year I did. That year he founded Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, IL. He is also known from his radio and writing ministry, Walk in the Word. Harvest Bible Fellowship is his church planting ministry. MacDonald is part of the neo-reformed movement, and was a member of The Gospel Coalition, but he resigned in Jan. 2012 over controversy regarding his conference known as “The Elephant Room.”

For further reading, check out Ryan and Scott’s blogs, The Elephant’s Debt, and Blood Stained Ink.

* * *

In October 2012, a new website entitled The Elephant’s Debt (TED) was released to the general public.  This site, which was primarily focused upon issues related to money and power struggles at Harvest Bible Chapel (a megachurch located in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois), is authored by Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, both of whom were former, long-term congregants within the Harvest system.

What you are about to read is a summary provided by these two men, attempting to assess the issues at Harvest within the context of a larger, evangelical crisis that is looming just over the horizon.

In the spring of 2010, we became aware of several character issues pertaining to our Senior Pastor, James MacDonald.  While these issues were not yet significant enough (in our minds) to raise questions pertaining to MacDonald’s suitability to fulfill the role of elder within a local church, they were sufficient enough for us to remove our families from the church.   To be clear, our initial concerns were primarily related to: (1) stories surrounding the way he treated staff members, (2) his shift towards eisegeting himself into the biblical text that he was preaching, and (3) what appeared to be a grab for power amidst a reorganization of the elder board structure.

The next step in our journey towards authoring The Elephant’s Debt arrived when MacDonald infamously mishandled a conversation with T.D. Jakes at the “Elephant Room 2” (ER2) in January 2012.  In the aftermath of that theological debacle, we each wrote a blog post on our respective websites pertaining to the importance of Trinitarianism and the dangers of the Prosperity Gospel.  More specifically, we talked about MacDonald’s mishandling of Jake’s modalistic responses at ER2 and MacDonald’s failure to even address the question of the Prosperity Gospel.

Interestingly enough, the response to these blog posts was enormous.  As the comments continued to pour in, we both began to receive communication from former and current HBC insiders, suggesting that our concerns should run much, much deeper.  And thus began our inquiry into this matter.

From February 2012 until October 2012, we conducted numerous interviews and acquired significant documentation  pertaining to the growing problems at Harvest Bible Chapel.  What was clear to us in those early days was that all the stories that we were hearing centered around a troubling and disqualifying lack of character in James MacDonald.

For those that have not read The Elephant’s Debt and are thus unaware of the circumstances surrounding Harvest Bible Chapel, please allow us to summarize in brief.

  • At the time of publication, we informed our readers that HBC was approximately $65 million dollars in debt.
  • Additionally, we reported that James MacDonald was earning in excess of $600,000 in annual compensation from the church and its related ministries.  This figure did not include compensation received from other likely sources of income such as: book royalties, conference fees, etc.
  • Thirdly, we reported that MacDonald had admitted to a group of Harvest Fellowship pastors that he operated in such a way that he retained 50% of the power within the church, leaving the remaining of power to be divided equally among the suddenly swollen elder board, which had grown from approximately eight men to over 30.
  • We then discussed the recent $30 million dollar capital campaign in which MacDonald informed his congregation that he personally knew how much money God wanted them to sacrificially give to the campaign.
  • Finally, to illustrate our point that we were not alone in our concerns pertaining to MacDonald, we listed a group of former elders and pastors, all of whom left the church for their own reasons and concerns regarding Harvest Bible Chapel and its direction.

elephant roomAs one might well imagine, following the publication of The Elephant’s Debt, Harvest could no longer ignore our concerns.  Within a few short days, the elders of HBC released a statement in which they attempted to assuage the fears of their congregants.

However, as TED continued to publish updates, more information continued to surface; and new allegations of gambling were brought to the forefront.  Since this issue was relevant to the subject of money, we choose to publish various comments that were left by numerous individuals in the know.  These comments were ultimately verified by a close friend of MacDonald, who publicly acknowledged that MacDonald played poker in the basement of his Inverness mansion and in casinos.  This admission by MacDonald’s friend was confirmed by MacDonald himself in a sermon entitled “My 5G.”

Throughout this season, four churches have seen fit to sever their ties with Harvest Bible Chapel, and a fifth has been thrown out of the Fellowship for their private communications with Harvest leadership pertaining to their concerns related to MacDonald and his handling of The Elephant Room 2 debacle.

It should be noted, at this juncture, that in the four months that have followed the publication of The Elephant’s Debt, the leadership of Harvest Bible Chapel has never challenged the underlying facts asserted by our website.  Sadly, however, we did catch Lyn Donald, wife of the long-term Associate Pastor, and other HBC insiders peddling a lie in which they asserted that Joe Stowell had asked to have his name removed from The Elephant’s Debt, only to be rebuffed by these authors.  One can only assume that they are using the name of the Stowell family and their public silence as a means of purposefully misleading congregants who have been disturbed by the evidence put forth by TED.

What is most disconcerting to us is not only the specifics of this local phenomena, but also how this situation highlights several broader problems within conservative evangelicalism at large.

To begin with, over the past two decades, the church has moved in a direction whereby entire bodies are being defined by the charismatic presence of their senior pastor.  As has been discussed numerous times by Michael Spencer, the original Internet Monk, this model of the “pastorate” is a dangerous model that leaves the body unwittingly oriented around the worship of a rock-star mega-pastor.  Moreover, there is a danger for the senior pastor who operates within this model to be overwhelmed in his character by the dark forces of ego and pride.

But the problems go deeper than the rise of the superstar pastor. In many cases, the churches that have been built around such a figure are often non-denominational in nature, which ultimately means that they answer to no earthly authority other than that which they have appointed to themselves. So in times of crisis and/or moral failure, as we have seen at Harvest, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and elsewhere, the congregation has no recourse to address its concerns if the self-appointed elder board is unwilling or unable to remove the senior pastor from leadership.

What’s more, when so much of the “Sunday Experience” and church culture is centered around this charismatic figurehead, constitutional church structures are no longer capable of limiting the power of the individual in question because the individual has effectually become “the church” for the majority of the congregants.  This is why we see so many megachurch pastor salaries rising to unprecedented heights.  When the pastor is the central draw for the church, and the church fears losing the congregation that comes almost exclusively for his or her teaching, they feel pressured to pay “competitive rates” so that other churches can’t come along and steal “the talent.”

One historic strength of evangelicalism has been its willingness to engage the culture for the sake of the Gospel. Indeed, its success in Gospel mission has come about through adopting cultural forms that make the Gospel palatable to the contemporary culture. Historically speaking, we see one significant example of this during the Second Great Awakening when Finney shed the doctrine of election in favor of preaching a message that appealed to experientialism and post-Enlightenment individualism. It wasn’t important whether or not you were elected by God. It was all about your choice to pursue a fire-insurance policy that gave you the afterlife you desired to secure for yourself.

Of course, the weakness in adopting this course of action is the ease with which contemporary cultural values become the values of the church.  In the case of contemporary American evangelicalism, values stemming from capitalism have come to dominate evangelical thinking.  For example, we think of church planters as entrepreneurs, senior pastors as free agent talent, church plants as franchises, sermons as intellectual property, and pastors as brands that can be marketed and exploited.

As Roger Olson has recently pointed out on his blog, evangelicalism as a movement, which began after WWII and continued through the 1970s, is deeply fractured, and perhaps even dead. There is a post-evangelical (left-leaning) wing, a conservative evangelical wing, and a moderate wing.  The conservative wing has unwittingly wed itself to the cultural forms of Modernity and Americanism, and these forms within conservative evangelicalism have calcified as absolutes while the contemporary culture has moved on.  This dynamic has left conservative evangelicalism with a decreased voice and influence in the contemporary culture, losing the very strength it once had, and it is suffering at the hands of the worst elements of the outmoded American cultural forms.

If there is not an awakening and reform within conservative evangelicalism, the last men standing will be the post-evangelical and moderate evangelical camps.  The time is ripe for someone to write,“The Uneasy Conscience of a Conservative Evangelical.”


  1. pastor josh says

    It is really too bad that this excellent blog has afforded this story a platform. The myriad of conflicts of interests, lies, motive assumption, and personal grudge that these two men carry is clear to many of the people close to the situation.

    I find several ironic things in their work here.

    1. The paragraph noting the lack of accountability in non-denom churches finds a humorous home in story about two people not under any elder authority trying to destroy a church the are not part of. (a little pot meet kettle it seems)

    2. The authors of the website at no time attempted to discuss anything they raised with James MacDonald. They have admitted as such and that puts them on difficult ground in their attempt to be a biblical ‘Nathan.’

    3. While claiming to be ‘trying to bring things to light’ they have consistently not posted and deleted comments on their website that contradict or bring different facts into the mix.

    • Matt Purdum says

      Facts is facts. Excellent journalism and analysis. Fundagelicalism is dead, but it’s zombie corpse stills roams the land.

      • The contemporary idea of journalism might be wrong…

        • Clay Crouch says

          But if it exposes sin and corruption, it might be just what the doctor ordered. I’ll ask you the same question I asked pastor josh above. Do you contend that James MacDonald and HBC is above reproach in these matters?

    • Thanks for calling them out so clearly. Issues like these become manipulative very quickly.

    • Jennifer E. says

      MMmmm….I know many of those who were listed on The Void page of the site and am friends with ex staff that have been horribly hurt by HBC, James and its elders as detailed on the TED, and then some. These are not lies. There is a shame based culture of fear at HBC, which is why many who have been hurt suffer in silence. The courage these men exhibit is astonishing and in the midst of their own hurt, how they handle the fact with grace and truth is something to note.

      To call these men out and discredit the site is to side with the abuser against the abused. What a crying shame.

      • I was shocked by what I read at “The Elephant’s Debt”. What ever happened to Christianity that supported the powerless against the powerful. Many in the system have it backward today. Whiskey Tango Foxtrott to that…

      • As a former employee at HBC, my conscious is clear in saying these things are true, as well as stating that there are many forms of abuse (using people for your own profit, pleasure, promotion) and coverup happening in the leadership at HBC. The yeast has spread. God is faithful and will continue to bring the truth to light, so the land may be healed.

    • Clay Crouch says

      Then is it your contention that James MacDonald and the leadership of HBC is above reproach in these matters?

      • pastor josh says

        It is my contention that they have made mistakes, but the idea that James MacDonald is disqualified from ministry is laughable. Here are there big points…

        1. While mentioning in several books and sermons that the churches construction project costs ran out of control by millions, he wasn’t specific enough.

        2. The compensation committee at his church of which he isn’t a part, gives him too big of a salary in their minds. (I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money)

        3. He played poker with friends and his elders knew about it. And although the authors have done the same thing, they don’t think James MacDonald should.

        4. Some people who used to work at James MacDonald’s church, don’t like him very much in a non-specific non-nondescript way.

        5. Their possibly most salient point is the people who have left from leadership, but none of these people have done anything of depth or substance to claim a problem (other than the authors own father).

        Wow, so scandalous.

        • Matt Purdum says

          The Bible says the church will be filled with false prophets and teachers in the last days. Most Christians deny this. You plainly point out false teachers like MacDonald, Osteen, Meyer, and these “Christians” have no gift of discernment or understanding of scripture, when any atheist on the street can plinly see what’s really going on.

        • 2. “The compensation committee at his church of which he isn’t a part, gives him too big of a salary in their minds. (I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money)”

          I would and have on several occasions. My job as a pastor is to shepherd and be cared for by God — not to be treated like a CEO off the backs of His flock. If Mr.MacDonald truly cared about this project he would be funding it out of that unnecessarily large salary,

          • Randy Thompsonr says

            “I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money”

            I think most any pastor facing lean times would do exactly that–ask to make less money, especially if he or she was being paid well over a half million dollars a year. In fact, I think most pastors would do this as a matter of conscience even if they were making just a fraction of what this fellow supposedly earns.

          • The pastor of the SBC church that I attended for several years through 2012 asked to be paid less and paid last during lean times.

        • Clay Crouch says

          Thank you for your response. You seem to have a good bit of inside knowledge. Are you by chance, an HBC or HBC affiliate pastor/elder?

        • In order to keep others from losing their jobs, I have taken reductions in pay.

        • I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money

          Me. Who on God’s green earth needs that kind of money? How can you sleep at night after pilfering so much of the blood, sweat, and tears out of your congregation in the name of Jesus? How can you remotely reconcile this sort of exorbitant lifestyle with the example or teaching of Christ?

          The “senior pastor” of our church (the LCMS) oversees a flock of 2.5 million and makes less than a third of this guy (before book sales). Something is way out of balance.

          • +101.

            Sure said something there.

          • I just want to say I finally got my daughter and two children to go to Good Friday service.. they told her and her two children that it was them who are responsible for putting Jesus on the cross..Easter Sunday he started a series about money.. I couldn’t.t believe my ears. I am soooooo glad my daughter refused to attend..of all days…..

        • “I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money”

          A servant.

          Besides, he could live quite well on say, 100,000?

        • “I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money”

          “In the case of contemporary American evangelicalism, values stemming from capitalism have come to dominate evangelical thinking.”

        • 2. The compensation committee at his church of which he isn’t a part, gives him too big of a salary in their minds. (I would love to know who reading this, would ask to make less money)

          Yeah, others have already said it, but….really?? So salaries are just supposed expand ad infinitum, including salaries of –not entrepreneurs– but service occupations, pastors, teachers, counselors? Including when their salaries come from the donations of the people they care for?

          That’s called feudalism.

          This kind of salary alone is grounds for strong suspicion of a ministry.

          • I agree wholeheartedly. Even taking this kind of pay should automatically raise suspicions. My former boss was responsible for over $3Billion in sales per annum and he made less than 1/4 of MacD’s salary.

          • The concept that it is acceptable for pastors to become billionaires and millionaires off the backs of the people they serve the Word of God and the love, compassion, ministry of the Lord to is despicable. Jesus never asked for anything, but rather gave his entire life for His goal of bringing us salvation. The leadership of a church should be compelled to put their congregants before themselves. When a church becomes overly monetarily solvent, that money should be put into funding ministries not funding pastors’ lifestyles.

    • “The paragraph noting the lack of accountability in non-denom churches finds a humorous home in story about two people not under any elder authority trying to destroy a church the are not part of. ”

      Seems everyone is into this authority business. How about the two guys be under my authority while I am reading their site. My authority consists of deciding if I pursue their story and check it out or ignore it. I get to decide if it is enough of a warning for me or not.

      Another problem with evangelicalism is it wants people to stay spiritual children. But then, what a better way to control them. pastor josh, you comment makes me think you enjoy having people “under” your authority.

      This stuff gets old. But welcome to the way it is going to work from now on. Being a celebrity pastor a building a big following is not going to be as easy as it once was unless you guys can convince a judge it is against the law to write about your teaching and behavior.

      I am wondering if Lifeway is a tad embarassed about his contribution to their big Gospel Project curricula? Not about his money/authoritarian problems because that is the norm these days but about that Elephant room event which in their world, is problematic.

      • Historically at HBC elders have been selected by the sitting elders, and the nominees have been asked for a minimum 3 year committment to serve. The “nominees” are presented to the congregation for “approval” however, there is no formal mechanism for rejection of the nomination by the congregation.

        The term is “open-ended” and essentially only ends when the elder voluntarily steps down or is encouraged to resign by his “peers”. Additionally, in regards to “voting” privleges on the elder board; there has been no difference between the vocational and non-vocational elders.

        As you might infer, this system is rife with the potential of promoting “group think” and discourages expressions of dissent by the elder board membership.

        In 2001 the HBC contstitution was ammended “to make it clear that the elders call the only business meetings of the membership, as they fit, as opposed to an annual business meeting.” In light of the reported current conditions at HCC it should not be surprising, that the business meeting where this constitutional change was made, was the last business meeting of the congregation called at HBC and to date, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no pubically reported instances where a nominee has been withdrawn due to objections by the congregation.

        So, it would seem, based upon the reported problems at HBC and despite the undoubted messiness of congregational church government, as well as James MacDonald’s public assertion that “congregational government is from satan”, argument can be made that any form of church polity that doesn’t include some form of accountability to the membership can result in unfortunate and unneccessary consequences for individual churches and the church at large.

        I’m reminded of a quote by George MacDonald; “It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellow men”. The same could be said of those in church government who desire power, influence and wealth beyond what is absolutely necessary to lead the church. Christ admonished us that “whoever would be first among you must be your slave”. How do you supose that this statement compares with the CEO model of church leadership and it’s outsized financial rewards?

        • You mean the whole “Congregationalism is from Satan” thing?

          Yeah, I get it. We cannot have the ignorant peasants chiming in on how to spend their money.

          • Congregationalism is from Satan. You can give the laity a voice in the finances without it. You can have a church council that makes decisions about matters of stewardship. But what you cannot have with Congregationalism is accountability that runs both directions.

          • It should be noted that the “congregationalism is of Satan” thing was not a principled stand. It was an online hissy fit directly related to a Chicago-area church that had been struggling and that Harvest hoped to absorb as a new campus of theirs. However, certain members in the church rose up and used their congregational power to vote down this move. (As I understand it, the down-voters were in the minority, but significant enough to prevent them from reaching the supermajority needed to approve this change.) Apparently, James did not take kindly to being told no.

            Furthermore, this church is located in a very wealthy area of the Chicago suburbs, and I have no doubt their tithes would have significantly enhanced Harvest’s bottom line. I have no clue if the loss of those funds played a part in his outrage, but given what we now know was going on behind the scenes, it’s mighty tempting to play connect the dots.

          • Randy Thompson says

            Miguel, when Congregationalism is working right, there really can be “accountability that runs both directions,” as you very nicely put it. There is also, though, the Dark Side of Congregationalism, which is the religious version of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It is very, very easy for a Congregational pastor to end up the chaplain of a particular religious community, whose main purpose in ministry is to make everyone happy.

          • Congregationalism, at its best (and rarely) can hope to achieve mutual accountability between pastor and laity. But the congregation as a whole answers to nobody outside themselves. A winsome pastor can lead in any direction he likes, and anybody outside his particular congregation who thinks he is doing bad things can just go somewhere else. If this happens in a denomination that is not congregational, there can be ramifications for refusing to color within the lines, which, imo, is a good, necessary, and sorely missed thing in Evangelicalism today.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            It is very, very easy for a Congregational pastor to end up the chaplain of a particular religious community, whose main purpose in ministry is to make everyone happy.

            My writing partner’s congregation have told him so much to his face. “You’re here to Keep Us Comfortable!”

          • Black Angus says

            I honestly don’t know how your original comment got past the moderator. You just called out as from satan a movement that has produced much good spiritual fruit. Now if you want to concede that every form of church polity has its strengths and weaknesses, and can be and has been abused, well and good. But to describe good work of the Holy Spirit as from satan, well Jesus had something to say about that.
            Having grown up in and pastored Congregational churches, you have written off many godly saints and a polity that has has much (if not more) scriptual basis than others.

          • Meh, I don’t think so. I’m not referring to any movement, just specific church polity. I absolutely concede that every polity has its strengths and weaknesses, but having spent my entire life in congregational churches, I’m having a hard time seeing what the benefit was. I can write you a book about the drawbacks. Congregational polity is not the work of the Holy Spirit. If anything, it is proof of his power that he can work in spite of it.

            If you are referring to Congregationalism, as in the original Puritan tradition that Edwards was a part of, there is not much left of them these days, but they certainly did to some good work in their time. But their polity is absolutely not scriptural, it is the result of the development of democracy and not of exegesis. And it is a breeding ground for all sorts of ailments that are plaguing the church today that would NEVER survive in a more inter-cooperative denominational structure. MacDonald, Driscoll, Mahaney, Osteen, etc… do not answer to a bishop or a presbytery. It would do them some good. What kind of “celebrities” come out of denominational churches? Theologians and pastoral authors, not motivational speakers and rock stars.

            I’m not saying there’s a silver bullet for church woes, or that people who buy into this method are reprobate. But completely independent local assemblies open the door wide for some of the worst. It is unnecessary foolishness wrought because we refuse to get along and work together. Dare I suggest the punishment (these sort of scandals) fits the crime?

          • Miguel, I’ll join with those who disagree with you.

            I used to be with a Congregational church, very small, maybe 20 people on a Sunday, mostly older women. The problems with that church came not from congregationalism but from acting like an oligarchy, probably more like a presbyterian form. A few strong personalities on the board of trustees would gang up, agree in private, call a few potential allies on the phone to sway their votes, then call the known dissenters and inform them of the “majority” decision. No open discussion at any meeting. NOT true congregationalism, but very much through human sin, and this does not prove your point that congregationalism is from Satan although their behavior may have been.

            For the past 21 years my family has been with a Baptist church (American Baptist, or ABC) and, as you probably know, baptist churches have a congregational form of government. In fact, we’ll have our annual meeting next Sunday, new officers, budget and all. ABC churches are part of an “association” (the preferred term instead of “denomination”and are technically autonomous, although we pay dues to the state and USA headquarters. This gives us oversight and cooperation among other churches, even though we own the property and make decisions locally.

            Our church (100 to 150 on a Sunday) has an 8-member diaconate (I’m a deacon, until term-limited next Sunday), a church council made up of department heads, and a board of trustees which oversees the physical plant. Our pastor seeks accountability and does not make large decisions out of his scope. He does however act very much like a captain of a ship or a business manager when appropriate, but within certain guidelines and, as he likes to say, from scripture.

            For 21 years I have seen no problems with church government under this system. In our case it appears from God, not from Satan, and largely because we have a pastor who desires accountability.

            I think any form of church government can be corrupted, and I think you might say instead that any form of government is from Satan if the church itself behaves in that manner.

          • Great story Ted, but let me get this straight: You’re saying, “It has worked out pretty well for me, so what could possibly be wrong with it?” I’d wager that is the same line MacDonald is repeating to himself?

            I absolutely agree about your politics in the 20 member church. But you do realize that example merely illustrates my point since it WAS a congregational church? Backdoor politics is not Presbyterianism. In Presbyterianism you could appeal to a higher court to challenge that type of cronyism.

            In our case it appears from God, not from Satan, and largely because we have a pastor who desires accountability.

            Bingo. It’s the person, and not the system, that makes it work. The reason you’re having a good time with it is because you have good people. That’s not saying much. What about the majority of people in congregational churches whose pastors do not desire accountability? I’ve never worked for or with a Pastor who wanted accountability. They seem to categorically resent anybody who seems to have any clue what a Pastor is supposed to do. I’ve seen a lot of people get trampled and run out by insecure and controlling pastors, whether successful celebrities or admirals in rowboats, and the congregational system offers no defense from this outside the local congregation. There has been to much bloodshed where there should have been reconciliation, or at the very least, negotiation. A presbytery or a episcopacy can exert considerable influence to effect this. Such effective tools are cast aside too lightly by people who don’t want red tape in their way. Why? Because they truly believe they can do no wrong, and the system is just a hinderance to their agenda. As countless illustrations will show, their agenda ain’t all that great either, too often.

            You are correct: any form of government can be corrupted. I’m not arguing for a silver bullet here. But why do we need to leave the door wide open for corruption to do more damage than it has to? Checks and balances, please. They go a long way.

            I hope your pastor sticks around. Otherwise you just may learn how right I am.

          • Miguel, it’s the absolute nature of your statement that I’m calling you on: “Congregationalism is from Satan.” You don’t leave room for exceptions, and that destroys your own argument.

            In the 20-member church I mentioned the problem was indeed cronyism, not congregationalism, and if anyone had persisted they could have appealed to proper procedure. But they didn’t. The same thing can happen with presbyterian or episcopal forms of church government, to say nothing of independent pastor-ruled churches.

            I agree with your desire for checks and balances. But I think congregationalism does provide them as long as people don’t get in the way. Sin shows up in all churches and I don’t blame congregationalism.

          • Ok, I can plead guilty to hyperbole with the “from Satan” adage. But I did recognize there are situations (your own) where it has managed to work. I also do not believe that “appealing to proper procedure” works in a congregational church, though it can at times, obviously, with good people in place. But it is just damn foolish to structure your church around the assumption that people of ill intent will not find their way into leadership. It’s only a matter of time. “Sin shows up in all churches” doesn’t cut it. It’s not about protecting the church from sin. It’s about preventing the church from endorsing sin. It’s one thing for the pastor to be a sinner. It’s another things for his cronies to cover up for him. At that point, the church has stood FOR his sin rather than against it, and as long as he controls the club of yes men, there’s nothing you can do about it in a congregational church. The checks and balances of a congregational church are solely within it’s own boarders, and the grab for personal power therein is all too quick and easy, as countless examples will show. I’ll agree that cronyism and not congregationalism was the problem in the 20 member church, but the polity paved the way for those problems. I’m not saying that denominational structures are not corruptible. But it is significantly more difficult to grab for power there, and the bad guys will have to get past a much larger number of good guys. Congregations need cooperation, assistance, and accountability outside their own walls. It’s not about black and white, one approach wins the day and the other ruins it. But I am dogmatically opposed to a polity that opens the door wide for unnecessary trouble. I want a church that can survive a few jerks, and possibly even frustrate their schemes.

          • Miguel, what you’re describing are the independent fundamental baptist (IFB) churches in a book I’ve just finished: Schizophrenic Christianity by Jeri Massi. Her “Blog on the Way” was linked here at iMonk several weeks ago and she’s making a lot of sense to me.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            A few strong personalities on the board of trustees would gang up, agree in private, call a few potential allies on the phone to sway their votes, then call the known dissenters and inform them of the “majority” decision. No open discussion at any meeting.

            That’s the exact same shtick as that crooked Homeowner’s Association at my last place. Except they’d wave a handful of papers they said were “proxy votes”.

    • Funny, I don’t ever recall seeing you comment on this site Josh. First of all, welcome to the IM.

      Note to CM: I am honestly sitting here thinking of how to try to say this nicely to Josh.

      Josh, the tired, worn out excuses that James’ disciples are giving for all of his actions are simply that: tired and worn out. Nobody is buying them. Furthermore, me thinks though doth protesteth too much. I still can’t get past the fact that if I’m falsely accused, I’m not even going to bother to defend myself. Lastly, all of the claims on the ED website are simply facts that can be checked out. As others have said, facts are facts.

      • pastor josh says

        I have been a lurker, but not a commenter here for a long time.

        I want to gently disagree with you alan.

        The entire website is extrapolations and conclusions and assumptions based on a few facts.

        1. They DO NOT have anything to back up their claim of his salary.
        2. They DO NOT have anyone on the record with all of their stories about things he has done to ‘gain power.’
        3. They DO NOT have the truth about the debt. They disagree with the level to which it was presented.

        • You might want to note that the church business manager tells his story on their site and that there are other documents that refute your claims there too.

        • Clay Crouch says

          Then, what is James MacDonald’s salary? In our Episcopal parish every line item of the annual budget is published. I have never been in a church in which the pastor’s salary wasn’t known. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this lack of transparency. How could a church member exercise good stewardship unless he knew how the money was being spent?

          Have you evangelicals not learned anything from the catholic church’s mishandling of the sex abuse scandals? What is said in secret will be shouted from the housetops.

        • So, how do people verify? There is that tricky transparency thing again. Trust but verify. Why would we assume a title of elder means above reproach these days?

  2. Richard Hershberger says

    Ah, a good old-fashioned financial church scandal! It seems almost refreshingly quaint.

    But seriously, one drum I constantly beat is that I would never give more than a token amount to any church that lacks adequate and transparent financial controls. This starts with with counting the plate (which should be done by at least two people, and not the same two people every time) and works its way to the top, with a periodic outside audit. Then let’s talk about the budgeting process… Giving money to a church lacking such controls is an act of faith, and while I have boundless faith in God, my faith in fallen Man is more qualified.

    • I won’t join a church I cannot see a detailed budget up front. Great way to cross them off as you go.

    • UmiUmiSumi says

      I just don’t give my money to churches, period.

    • Maybe James MacDonald should start planting churches in Nevada… 😛 Las Vegas would be a good place to start.

  3. Clay Crouch says

    In the HBC model, are the senior pastor and elders selected or elected? And, barring removal for cause, are these positions for life?

    • Not sure if this is what you mean but I’ve seen many cases locally where the elder board is elected. But the current elders determine who is running and the election is basically an affirmation, not a competition.

      • Josh in FW says

        yes, that how it works at my current church. The current elders select the new elders and the list is presented to the members 3 or 4 weeks prior to the election (affirmation) so that anyone who has concerns about one of the proposed elders will have time to present their concerns to the current elders. The senior and executive (administrative) pastors are non-voting members of the elder board.

        • What I’m seeing is all pastors are voting members of the elder board. And in most cases this means pastors make up 1/3 to 1/2 of the elder board. So effectively the pastors run the church. Even though it is in theory “elder led”. Especially since the elder board (pastors) get to decide who’s on the ballot.

          To rephrase HUG’s comment, it’s a rigged game.

          • Josh in FW says

            That’s not good.
            This article and some of the previous ones increase my respect for how the governance of the independent Bible Church that I am currently a member of was designed. I grew up Baptist (congregational government), so the lack of complete transparency of my particular church’s Elder board does make me a bit cautious, but in the end I think they’ve designed a good system of checks and balances. For example: Elders serve 3yr terms, no more than 2 consecutive terms, all votes by board must be unanimous, pastors are not voting elders, the church is constitutionally prohibited from debt, an outside accountant who is a member of a different church handles the accounting for all tithes and offerings, the pastors and elders do not see who gave what (unless you tell them).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In a lot of these Pastor-as-Dictator non-denoms, the “elders” are chosen only from the Pastor’s yes-men. ANd they are always total yes-men.

        • Certainly been my experience. And when there is a legitimate reason to question the pastor’s behavior, those doing the questioning that cannot be brought around to the pastor’s way of viewing things are pushed right out the door.

  4. Jennifer E. says

    “In the case of contemporary American evangelicalism, values stemming from capitalism have come to dominate evangelical thinking. For example, we think of church planters as entrepreneurs, senior pastors as free agent talent, church plants as franchises, sermons as intellectual property, and pastors as brands that can be marketed and exploited.”

    Sermons as intellectual property–this is especially interesting in light of the fact that it’s becoming known than many pastors are ripping of sermons from those who have posted theirs online. I have family who recounted recently that they found out their pastors sermons were sourced online. They were disturbed. I read a recent blog post that this is more common than we know. I was only a little surprised that this kind of sermon sourcing was not limited to their church. If you can’t or don’t have time to spend in the Word to feed your flock, all you have to do is outsource it to any number of pastors who have posted their materials online.

    • Jennifer in regards to pastor’s ripping off sermons think of it like this: WWJP – Who Would Jesus Plagarize?

      • Don’t blame capitalism. That is short sighted. Blame the “Leadership” gurus and church growth marketing people. Then blame ourselves and the pew sitters who give the money.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      This bothers me less that a lot that goes on. Back in the day, volumes of sermons were often published for the express purpose of being used by preachers. In Google Books I find, for example, “Sermons, for Domestic and Parochial Use” from 1813. Along similar lines, from 1852 is “Pulpit Outlines: One Hundred and Twenty Sketches of Sermons Preached to Evangelical Congregations.” This is just what it sounds like: a put of sermon outlines.

      We nowadays have a peculiar (historically speaking) view of artistic originality. We scoff at Shakespeare for recycling plots and characters, while pretending that moderns writers are (or at least ought to be) original in all things. As if. The thing is, there aren’t that many things to say that haven’t been said before. In the specific case of sermons, we probably don’t want things that haven’t been said before. When a pastor is preparing this week’s sermon, it is perfectly reasonable for him to look to see what others have said on the topic. Indeed, this is preferable to willfully ignoring what has been said before. And if he finds something that is good and Godly and which would benefit his congregation, then he should say it again. The problem is that this clashes with modern notions of originality and plagiarism.

      The pastor should recast the words in his own voice, but this is more a matter of delivery style than substance. Few people can read another’s text without sounding like they are reading another’s text, which does not lend itself to good presentation.

      • Jennifer E. says

        Great pushback! I think though, that the kind of sermon sharing to which you refer differs quite differently than what is currently happening. It’s one thing to take a main idea (or even outline) from a source. It’s another thing entirely to lift it word for word, story for story and claim it as yours (even the stories) without being honest about it with your congregation.

        See blog post on Scot McKnight’s blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/03/15/sermons-and-their-source/

        Also see this NYT article and see if you think that what’s happening today is the same as historical sharing that you mention.: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/28/nyregion/28pastor.html

      • Stuart Boyd says

        It starts with a sermon taken from someone else. Then it becomes a few sermons taken from someone else. Then it becomes a whole sermon series taken from someone else. Then it becomes a whole sermon series AND the reflections/quotes/questions in the bulletin, AND the confession and other prayers, AND the other Bible verses used as the call to worship, the words of encouragement, and the benediction, AND even the songs/hymns–all taken from someone else. It is simply too easy to take all of it.

        Is it wrong to take all of it? Habitually taking an illustration here and and illustration there can easily become a sermon here and a sermon there. And then it can become easier and easier to justify taking other things, too. If a pastor habitually lacks the time to do sermon prep and is habitually taking this much material, one has to start to wonder about how many other things are not happening due to lack of time, yes?

        Things in motion tend to stay in motion, so once the HABIT is formed to take things, it simply becomes easier to justify taking more things.

      • This goes back a long way. Aelfric, in tenth and early eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon England, wrote a whole series of Sunday sermons (and another series for major saints’ feast days) explicitly intended to be read and used more or less verbatim by parish priests. This was part of a general reform of the English Church by the Benedictines (of whom Aelfric was one, in addition to being a bishop) since, following the wars against the Danes a generation before, plenty of parish priests had missed out an a decent education and consequently gotten a bit dodgy.

        And, come to think of it, I can think of worse things than certain preachers reading a sermon text by, say, NT Wright of a Sunday instead of the usual stuff they peddle.

  5. Sad post for me: I was in the Chicago area from ’92 to ’95 and attended Harvest on the occaisional Sunday. That man could really preach. this is quite the cautionary tale.

  6. The restructuring of the elder board would seem to be a red flag. How common is that practice in “elder-led” churches?

  7. Matt Purdum says

    Inflated pastors’ salaries are an unbelievable scandal in a nation where you can’t even raise a family on the average salary. Churches are attended by working Americans who stand on their feet all day and suffer abuse from customers and managers for a minimum wage that’s heavily taxed.

    Frankly pastors shouldn’t make more than a token of appreciation, say a grand a year. If they can’t get real jobs, like the apostle Paul, and be real people, they have nothing to say to me. They are the One Percent and God is calling them to accountability NOW.

    • I am not disagreeing with your point, but what defines an “inflated” salary? When does it cross the line?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Well, multi-million-dollar estate “parsonages” and a private jet are definitely crossing the line.

        • Definitely. But how much $ is sufficient v. too much?

          • When this started to get under my skin a few years ago I came up with a pastor shouldn’t make more than the 60th percentile of a church. This keeps him/her socially in touch with the congregation and how they have to live their lives.

          • Just throwing out an idea here. What if the pastor’s salary was set at the median income of his congregation?

            Just a thought.

          • Alan-

            Do you base it on the congregation, or the community? If you base it on the congregation, would that cause some to primarily seek out the wealthy in the hopes they would become members?

          • Marcus Johnson says

            David and Alan F’s suggestions may be good in theory, but in practice, it does require that church membership submit their financial records, so that an accurate average or median income can be determined. Some might find that practice particularly intrusive (myself included). That’s why I suggest considering cost of living as a factor instead.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            My rule of thumb is that the salary should ideally be high enough that it is not an impediment to the pastor providing for his family, since if it is then many will feel they cannot answer a call while remaining faithful to their family obligations. Neither should the salary be so high that persons lacking a true vocation would be tempted to feign one in pursuit of lucre. What this rule of thumb means in terms of hard numbers varies wildly. But when we see pastors (or priests) adopting the trappings of wealth, then we know we are on the wrong side of the line. (And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about the trappings being necessary in order to relate to wealthy donors. When the clergy is overtly adapting itself to meet the needs of the most wealthy, the cancer has metastasized.)

          • I heard somewhere that Jewish synagogues used to be started by ten men who tithed 10% of their income so their rabbi would make the same income as the average member, Seems fair to me.

          • it does require that church membership submit their financial records, so that an accurate average or median income can be determined. Some might find that practice particularly intrusive (myself included). That’s why I suggest considering cost of living as a factor instead.

            So what do you use for cost of living in NYC? Midtown or the Bronx? And even in my part of central NC the COL is all over the map, much of it determined by just few miles of distance.

            As to the intrusion issues, there are plenty of ways to make it anonymous. And if a few folks fudge or don’t take part, well fine.

            A pastor needs to be able to understand the congregation. Shop where they shop. Eat in the same class of restaurants. Whatever. If they are very far above or below then they will very likely lose touch with the needs of their congregation.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        It might be hard to answer that question, as there is no set-in-stone equation. I will say, though, that cost of living, educational background, pastoral responsibilities, and seniority status/experience in the field should be weighed against the financial security of the church community, same as with any other institution. Unfortunately, even these factors are vague principles, but our Spidey senses should go off when a pastor is blinged out and showing up in luxury cars, while the church community struggles with significant financial need. So, I guess the answer to your question is “somewhere in between treating pastors like paupers and treating them like rap stars.” Specific, isn’t it?

    • Well, it goes both ways… And I’d say that the Apostle Paul didn’t really hold his situation up as the standard for those in ministry. After all, he reminded several congregations that they shouldn’t “muzzle the ox”.

      On one hand I agree that getting away from a church model that depends heavily on paid clergy for the “show to go on” needs to stop. But on the other hand, I think there is still a place for paid clergy in churches. After all, there are a lot of things that happen in churches during normal business hours that would be hard if not impossible for bi-vocational pastors to deal with. Even relatively simple things like performing weddings and funerals can take a good deal of time, and funerals especially, require someone who’s able to give up significant time during the week.

      Growing up in a pastors family, and knowing pastors, I tend to think that pastors getting paid too much represents a relatively small portion of the problem in churches. In most congregations, it’s quite the opposite. People don’t want to pay pastors anything, but yet they still think they have the right to treat them like an indentured servant.

      • It is my opinion that the vast majority of pastors are honorable and it has been my personal experience that our churches have done their best in being generous toward us as a pastoral family. I think the authors put their finger on the problem. We are seeing the fruits of the church growth movement here. If the church is an entrepreneurial enterprise and the pastor a CEO who is the public face of the church and the main attraction, money and power will drive the “mission.” The model bears little resemblance to the way of Christ and the apostles.

        • And when CEOs in secular America are making close to 400 times what their average worker makes (not the lowest paid one!), a pastor who sees himself as a CEO is going to be a big problem for the church.

          • One of the denominations in which I served recommended to its churches that its Pastors had a level of education one level higher than the congregational average, and that the Salary of the Pastor approximated the average salary of the congregation.

          • Josh in FW says

            Those seem like good guidelines.

          • “In the case of contemporary American evangelicalism, values stemming from capitalism have come to dominate evangelical thinking.”

            You could place that quotation alongside many points that are being made here. It is so sad.

            A pastor should be compensated reasonably (cost of living). But reasonble and modest are not the American way. Nor are they the way of the CEO. As long as the church remains a haven for conservatives to go unchallenged in the practice of entrepeneurial, inflated masculinist posturing that ignores/twists/infantilizes the humanities (history, literature, art, etc.), this problem will not go away.

          • One of the denominations in which I served recommended to its churches that its Pastors had a level of education one level higher than the congregational average

            There’s this church nearby that I attend. I’m one of the dummies. Most of the people there are PHDs or candidates for such. It is near two nationally well know universities. I doubt there is a pastor alive with an education one step higher than the average level. 🙂

        • Where church is nothing without the superstar, is it really church? The charismatic founder-franchiser is the center of power. He is the ‘rainmaker’ so why shouldn’t he get a nice slice of the action? And mission? When you’re millions in hock and talking about a capital campaign on top of it, forget about it. They are not going the way of Christ, let alone the way of Dave Ramsey.

          • Ichabod, You mentioned Dave Ramsey. It was announced recently at HBC that Dave Ramsey was being asked by MacDonald to get involved in some way (not yet defined) with his church and his up coming series of finances. The level of audacity and hypocrisy is astonishing to me.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Where church is nothing without the superstar, is it really church?

            “I tell you one and one make three —
            I’m the Cult of Personality!

            “You give me honor
            You give me fame;
            You give me POWER
            In your God’s Name;
            I’m all that you want me to be —
            I’m the Cult of Personality!”

        • Bravo CM!

        • And when most churches register with the government as corporations to begin with, you get a corporate model of doing church. If it looks like a duck…

        • CM wrote;

          If the church is an entrepreneurial enterprise and the pastor a CEO who is the public face of the church and the main attraction, money and power will drive the “mission.” The model bears little resemblance to the way of Christ and the apostles.

          Yes, and even the above discussion about “elders” and “elder boards” is reflective of the same anti-Christ model.

          I’ve learned my lessons about this, and all I’ll say is, “Won’t get fooled again!”

          The Church is to be a sacrament to the world of the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a definite disjuncture between the economics of the world and the “rule of the household” of God.

          “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire God’s gift with money! You have no share or part in this matter because your heart is not right before God! Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that he may perhaps forgive you for the intent of your heart. For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.”

    • Josh in FW says

      What kind of job do you think could provide both enough money for a pastor to live on and enough time off for the pastor to adequately shepherd the flock? I think a good rule of thumb would be that a pastor’s salary ought to be approximately the average or median income of the congregation. I would also set a ceiling based on the economics of the city/region the church was located in.

      • Agreed. Wish I had read this comment first before posting my own. 🙂

        • Josh in FW says

          wish i read this reply before replying to your response. mondays are always rough on me 🙂

      • While I was a part of David Jeremiah’s church, the rumor was that the big dogs at top got their salary capped at 100k/yr. While that may seem high, it did keep them out of the upper income bracket of the congregation. For a church of that size, it is also comparatively very low. It’s good for pastors to be well taken care of, but at the same time it could be bad to give incentive to the wrong kind of ambition.

    • Good comments Matt.

      And, if you’re familiar with the 5G campaign that Harvest BC did, it’s even more creepy. The full court press they put on their people to give, and to give until it hurt, and then give some more is really astounding once you know how much JM makes.

  8. Josh in FW says

    $65 million!!! Wow. I wonder what institution loaned that kind of money to a church.

    • Debbie R. says

      The Evangelical Christian Credit Union out of CA is making the current loans for HBC.

    • Debbie R. says

      HBC processed fresh loans in 2012 with Evangelical Christian Credit Union
      O V E R V I E W from their website today. https://www.eccu.org
      Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU) is a member-owned financial cooperative that invests in ministry by using member deposits to resource ministries and missionaries around the world. Our members include churches, Christian schools, and other evangelical ministries, plus missionaries in over 100 countries.
      Background • Founded in 1964 • Headquartered in Brea, California • Regional office in Colorado Springs, Colorado • Serves evangelical churches, schools, and parachurch ministries nationwide and missionaries in over 100 countries
      • Over $1.1 billion in core assets (as of March 2011)
      • Over $3.3 billion in total assets under management (as of March 2011)
      • President/CEO: Mark G. Holbrook
      • Over 260 staff members nationwide
      • Best Christian Workplace finalist in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009
      • Christian Leadership Alliance (CLA) Founders Council member
      • Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) Integrity Partner
      • National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA) member Investing in Ministry
      • Offers a full range of financial services and exceptional member service to help ministries manage their finances more efficiently
      • Provides a monthly e-publication, resource events, articles, and white papers (www.eccu.org/resources)

      So if you want to grow w/o your congregation knowing about the financing, this is the place to go.

  9. “To begin with, over the past two decades, the church has moved in a direction whereby entire bodies are being defined by the charismatic presence of their senior pastor.”

    I think this may be contemporary evangelicalism’s first or second most problematic issue, largely because it is a systemic issue that no amount of good intentions can fully counteract. Denominations matter less than they used to, evangelicals have little memory for long tradition, and few structures exist that keep either treasured local pastors of small churches or the superstars of the megas accountable. (That said, very good transparency would help, as is an environment where obedience to the pastor/elders is not demanded in order to be a member of the faithful in-group.) In addition, the Bible’s pre-eminance makes Bible Teachers important in a way that can be a little frightening.

    The result? People rally around their favorite Teacher-Leader and he becomes the church to many, simply because there isn’t much else available to define the church and the church’s mission. Far too much is invested in the preaching and reputation of that one person—not to mention special visions from God concerning such things as the amount of fund drives, building sizes, or new methods of directing a service! And the poor fellow, even if he’s cultivated this regard, is now saddled with the burden of it all. Having lost the mediation of saints and priests, who’ve now relied upon Teacher to parce the Bible for us and produce for us the needed religious experiences to enter heaven.

    When a scandal does hit, it should be possible to have the pastor step aside and have the church not suffer a loss of it’s identity or mission. Same thing with the senior pastor passing away, as they all eventually do.

    As to the $600,000 salary, I don’t know how much is “too much.” But it’s pretty clear that if your salary put you in the top one percent of wage earners in your country, and your justification for this is “my preaching generates a lot of donations/I earn it,” then you are engaging in the kind of calculus that is appropriate to the business world but probably not the church. For one thing, the efforts of a great many people create “the church;” for another, if a church has enough money to run a ministry that large and pay a single man that much, then it might be time to pay some more shepherds to do more work on the ground or to enhance the ministry of the church *as a body*.

    Ultimately, I think strong evangelical congregations are made by the people and the ministries they run on a day to day basis, so they can survive scandals and the pastor is not as important as people sometimes mistake him to be. We just need to be a whole lot better at making this clear in our ecclesiology, and in the way we discuss Leadership (TM).

    • (That said, very good transparency would help, as is an environment where obedience to the pastor/elders is not demanded in order to be a member of the faithful in-group.)

      Which is why this is one of my favorite IM posts.


      I grew up in a church that was organized this way.

    • Also when you have a $600,000 salary and your talking about tithing that puts a whole different spin of giving. First of all the way tithing is taught is wrong. (I don’t know why they just can’t say..please give our ministry needs your help). But to give sacrificially amidst a recession, so much economic uncertainity, and goverment workers facing furloguhs, it’s just insane. As I have said before…who is there for who? Is the pastor there for the people, or is the people there for the pastor.

  10. This sounds like a witch hunt. Very similar to what happened to C.J. Mahanny. What exactly is the purpose of this article? When did Imonk turn to investagative reporting. C’mon guy you are better than this. We already have an accuser of the saints. Let us pray instead of tear apart a brother’s character.

    • RB,

      do you think that the church should not expose the wickedness within itself? that when people are being lead astray that those who are leading them astray should not be accountable? how can the church reform its problems if nothing being done in darkness is exposed to light?

      • We began this series with the words of Nehemiah’s prayer, “I and my family have sinned.” This is a Lenten series, confessing our sins, not pointing fingers of blame, and updating prominent scandals in which the church has become beholden to the primary powers of the world: money, sex, and power. We at IM are not investigative journalists and have therefore asked those who are closer to the situations and have been writing about them to give us updates. We are not trying to insert ourselves into the controversies. We want, however, that people might have opportunity to consider these matters and discuss them in an open fashion. I see them as case studies and warnings for all of us. If anyone from the “other side” in any of these matters wants to chime in or contribute a post, we would be glad to consider it.

    • R.B., I had the same reaction as you initially, especially considering that this article comes on the heels of others like it. Upon reading this one, my first thought was, “What does this have to do with continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy of Jesus-shaped spirituality?” I wondered if this site should focus more on discussing Jesus-shaped spirituality in a positive “here’s what it looks like” regard, rather than the trend of discussing the failings of various churches and their leaders in a negative “here’s what it DOESN’T look like” regard.

      As I mulled over that question, though, I reflected upon Jesus’ time on earth, his ministry, and his interaction with people. Throughout the gospels, he is constantly and consistently running into and hammering the Pharisees and the “Godly” people of the day who had absolutely zero relationship with the Father. In fact, the account of His last week on earth is almost nothing but him butting heads with the religious establishment and calling them out. His last week had very little teaching; it had a tremendous amount of “woe to you people who say you know God, but it’s all for show.”

      So my conclusion is this: Jesus-shaped spirituality is not only learning from, teaching about and walking with the Father, but it’s also taking on and calling out anyone who claims to be “Godly” but whose hearts are far from the Lord.

      • Rick,

        You fully expressed what I could not. Thank you for this.

      • “…..taking on and calling out anyone who claims to be ‘Godly’ but whose hearts are far from the Lord.” That would be fine, RicK Ro., if, like Jesus, you knew other people’s hearts. But you don’t. None of us do.

        And it sounds sort of like being a gunslinger.

        • I’m always curious why people think we can’t know other people’s hearts. At the very least, to the extent that their hearts are on display in their actions. A theology of Jesus’ humanity should conclude that because Jesus knew people’s hearts, so we can also, as his people, and with his mind.

          • We lack his divine nature, which was constantly informing his human nature, and so we lack the faculties to judge anyone’s heart. Isn’t this what Jesus was referring to when he warned us not to judge?

            Of course we must make contingent and provisional judgements based on behavior, in fact we can’t avoid doing so; but these judgments can never pierce to the deepest recesses of the human heart.

            Who fully knows, or has complete access to, even their own heart, never mind the heart of another?

          • “Who fully knows, or has complete access to, even their own heart, never mind the heart of another?”

            A fair enough observation.I don’t think that is necessarily what is happening when we do things like expose corruption of church leaders though. I agree with Rick’s statement above about the church’s functioning.

            As to Jesus, the problem is that the divine nature that informed him is accessible to those who are “in him,” to use NT language. The mind of Christ is in the church, by virtue of Christ and his Gospel. I do think there is a place for the church to make “judgments” about people’s hearts, in the same way as Jesus did of the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8, and the prophet that he was quoting did also. The “do not judge” passage in the Sermon the Mount sounds to me like do not act as someone’s courtroom judge- reckoning someone’s case with finality, and issuing punishment. Granted, this happens in the church as often or moreso than legitimate judgment does.

            Anyway, it was somewhat of an aside, but the issue always brings up questions for me.

    • R.B. In regards to SGM you obviously must believe that it is “The Gospel” to make a 3 year old to forgive her molester. In regards to James MacDonald I take it you must believe its “The Gospel” to have a pastor live in a mansion of a former Illinois Senator.

    • Calling abusers what they are, and demanding that power structures not deny and hide their abuse is a “witch hunt?”

      Sounds like the worship of the big-awesome-man-of-God-leader-guy to me.

  11. I would disagree with this line:

    …”So in times of crisis and/or moral failure, as we have seen at Harvest, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and elsewhere, the congregation has no recourse to address its concerns if the self-appointed elder board is unwilling or unable to remove the senior pastor from leadership.”

    In a system such as the US where religious practice is not controlled by any external force, the congregation can always leave and go elsewhere, such as these two gentlemen did. Voting with one’s feet is the ultimate check on churches.

    • Josh in FW says

      good point

    • Don’t agree. I’d rather not have the ultimate check of voting with one’s feet become the norm. I’d rather see some checks and balances in place that restrain asituation before it gets to that point. Usually the amount of harm the church suffers is pretty significant by the time people decide to vote with their feet.

    • cermak_rd wrote: “I would disagree with this line: …’has no recourse’…”

      Although I agree that voting with one’s feet is legitimate – even in churches with strict membership rules – the idea of recourse involves getting something settled in a current situation, not in creating a new one by exiting. Recourse would mean that the problem can be solved and the member could stay in the church, satisfied by the result.

      • yes, steve,

        in SGM, we can pray for hoards of people to leave – but if the abuse continues for those who remain, what good will it have done?

    • I tend to agree with John and Steve here. Although leaving is an option available to most people, some really don’t have that option. For example, the children of parents who choose to stay in an unhealthy church are STUCK. If there aren’t checks and balances in place to keep a church “healthy,” children are going to grow up damaged and carrying a lot of ugly baggage. I think of the kids of the parents who attend Westboro Baptist; those poor children are STUCK and will have a lot of stuff to deal with later in life.

      • cermak_rd says

        I doubt the people who attend Westboro baptist are unhealthy because they attend the church. I would imagine they are unhealthy therefore they attend the church. Like it or not, in a nation like the US, parents have broad authority to damage their children. I don’t have to like it, but I do have to recognize that if I want the freedom to rear my child in religion X then I have to allow for the Jones to rear their children in religion Y, even if I think that’s an unhealthy way to rear a child. (assuming of course that no illegal activities such as abuse are part of this).

    • You should do witch hunts when there are questions that continue to go unanswered. The point is exposing. What would a “Body of Christ” have to hide? Why not be transparent? Would be a great witness. Uh wait…perhaps it would not be a great witness! And that would be the reason people come on here and use a straw man of witch hunt.

  12. ashes…ashes…we all fall down

  13. Off-topic; I don’t want to derail this conversation and I’m not trying to distract anyone.

    But I have to say this, and I don’t know where else to put it. I’m starting to fall in love a little bit with our new pope 🙂

    From his Angelus address yesterday (and this is the official Vatican translation, which always tends to “tidy up” papal speeches, so what his informal style was really like, we’ll just have to watch the video):

    “In these days, I’ve been able to read a book by a Cardinal – Cardinal Kasper, an on-the-ball theologian, a good theologian – on mercy. And I thought it was really good, this book, but don’t think that I’m plugging the books of my cardinals! It isn’t so! But it was really good, really good…. “

    • Josh in FW says


      This Evangelical Protestant Texan is also ” starting to fall in love a little bit with” your new Pope.

    • Martha, there’s a new pope? I had no idea! 😉

    • Martha did you get my questions about Jananism?

      • Eagle, I did. Forgive me that I haven’t given you an answer! I think I might do a quick post on that one, actually, if it helps to answer your question rather than filling up a comment box here.

        • Martha!! I’m looking forward to your coming posts on Catholicism. I’d love to learn more about Jananism. That really intrigued me. You keep going girl! HUGS from Washington, D.C.!

    • My husband, who has always found the Catholic church to be a very alien entity and not one he wishes to become acquainted with, seems to be falling in love with the new pope, too. Yesterday he looked a little teary-eyed while he told me the latest bit he had learned about Pope Francis.

      I am agog and I eagerly look forward to Pope Francis updates from my dear hubby.

      • How strange, this phenomena seems to have reached the UK! My hubs is reading the 3 Volume life of Christ by the last Pope, & says the new Pope could herald the start of momentous times…he’s nowhere near being a Catholic either…

        • Here in the Castro, even hard-core gay activists have come to embrace his anti-gay views as a minor blemish in one so fabulous. A few of the bolder ones are starting to reconsider their assault on traditional marriage. I’ve never seen so many people genuflect and cross themselves at the urinals.

    • Randy Thompson says

      For the record: I was with a small group of Congregational pastors here in New Hampshire late last week, and we prayed for Pope Francis.

    • I might be somewhat smitten with the new Pope too.

      Francis quotes peppering the news over the past few days:

      -““We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness.”

      -He called Francis “the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man”, and added: “Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor.”

      – “Let me tell you a story,” [Pope Francis] said. He then recounted how during the conclave he had sat next to Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of Brazil, whom he called “a great friend.” After the voting, Cardinal Hummes “hugged me, he kissed me and he said, ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And that word entered here,” the pope said, pointing to his heart.

      “I thought of wars, while the voting continued, through all the votes,” he said as he sat on the stage in a hall inside the Vatican. “And Francis is the man of peace. And that way the name came about, came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.”

      Hope stirs.

  14. I just don’t see why the need for a public forum for this type of thing. Shouldn’t the church be dealing with this issue from the proper biblical context? Why put this out for public consumption? Really. The Internet Monk has been starting to sound like Apprising Ministries lately.

    • Its also interesting to see the supportters of HBC show up at IM. You can see their thinking and and how they enable the system. Many people need to see this…becuase the reality is that we can all be deceived.

    • Greg, You want the closed system that brought this mess to fix it? I suppose those ignorant pew sitters have no right to know where their money is going? How clever of you. Hey if the pew sitters still want to fund the guy, then they can go for it. But they have a right to know.

    • Would you have blamed Nehemiah or Ezra or the psalmists or prophets for publicly proclaiming and lamenting Israel’s sins in public? If you read IM you know that this is not our main or continuing focus. We think it an important series at this moment in time, and as I said before, we invite people with differing views to weigh in.

      • Au contraire, what about the New Testament? I don’t see Paul publicly rebuking specific individuals within the church. Yes, Paul writes letters to the church about various individuals. But, Paul doesn’t go around to public forums (i.e. town squares) pronouncing anathema against any specific individual. In fact, isn’t the whole purpose of Matthew 18:16 to prevent this kind of thing? I don’t know… this just doesn’t feel like a loving (or Christian) thing to do.

        • How bout warning churches of wolves, false teachers, and predatory behavior? The man fornicating with his mother in law?

          You’re right though that it isn’t simply going after individuals. This isn’t really about piling onto MacDonald. It’s about speaking truth to a culture of church leader-worship, and who have no problem with the prosperity gospel, and the lifestyle it affords them at the expense of the flock.

          The loving, Christian thing to do is whatever it takes to protect the weak.

          • And your reply is exactly what concerns me. The fact is we DON’T know these things to be true. But, you and others now believe them all to be true because of the public dissemination of what appears to be rumors and/or assumptions. Look, I’m not defending this guy. In fact, I don’t even know who he is. But, these things need to remain in the church he is accountable to and needs to remain with the church and dealt with biblically and lovingly. Not out for grabs for anyone to do anything with as they please.

    • I just don’t see why the need for a public forum for this type of thing. Shouldn’t the church be dealing with this issue from the proper biblical context?

      There should not be.


      But with a closed system where the congregations do not know what is actually going on and asking questions gets you put under “discipline” there IS a need and things have to be exposed to the light.

    • If you’re going to have a public ministry, flood the public airwaves with your sermons, do everything you can to increase your visibliity to the public, and gain influence in the public square, then yes, you’re personal and intra-mural stupidities become a matter of public scrutiny.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Didn’t the judge’s preliminary ruling in the Calvary Chapel Visalia SLAPP lawsuit case say pretty much the same? That a pastor in such a situation has become a public figure?

    • What? “proper biblical context”? Honestly, are you just making this up as you go along? Please list the determining parameters for calculating “proper biblical context” regarding the mishandling of millions of American dollars by a pastor who makes an exorbitant amount of money. What determines proper? Who determines it? How about biblical context? What is that? How is it calculated? Who gets to say which definition is right? You can’t just string two-syllable words together and create meaning. I’m not yelling at you, I’m just saying that empty evangelical jargon doesn’t go very far on this thread.

  15. These scandals are highly disturbing in so many ways. I am amazed that people are so blind to them. It goes back to discernment for people in the general public but there is a darker side that I fail to see acknowledged. In the darkest times of my valley of doubt it was scandals like HBC, SGM, Mega Churchs, etc… that confirmed in my mind that Christianity is a cancer. The Harvest Bible Chapel situation really confirmed for me that Christinaity served no purpose and was a fraud. Actually when I went to the Reason Rally and listened to Hermet Mehta (Friendly Athesit), Greta Christinaity, Richard Dawkins, etc.. they used these kind of scandals to help make their claim that Christianity is a cancer. I’m amazed today as I work my way out of the hole I was in…but I wonder why Christians just enable these systems. Why do they turn a blind eye and say “this is gossip” etc…

    The biggest problem with Christianity is that Christians needs to learn how to practice discernment. Too often people give some organziations and people the benefit of the doubt and that allows the James MacDonald’s of the world to exist.

    • The most disturbing aspect of these scandals IMHO, is their frequency and consistency in christian culture. That a mega-pastor takes advantage of members of his flock is no big revelation. The fact that this occurs on such a frequent and ongoing basis evidences a clear and concise acknowledgement of the ignorance and gullibility of a good segment of the christian population and that, is the big revelation. That TBN/Daystar and networks of their ilk are raging full on without so much as a hiccup when it comes to criticism indicates that american christians, at least, don’t care about the integrity of the message, assuming it’s the gospel, nor do they care about the public perception of their “cause” (they surely have to know that those outside the faith can clearly see their leaders fleecing them for everything they’ve got thus leading us agnostics to view christians as starry-eyed authoritarian prone masochists at the very least).

      Back in my youthful days in a non-denom evangelical charismatic carnival church, it would take a visiting traveling “evangelist” calling a “spirit of masturbation” out of the pastor’s son in front of the whole congregation to get him the shepard’s pole even though prior to that the guy had been pulling such “stunts” on other congregants for a week. Seeing as how this man of god was raking in big cash during the offering rounds, such uncouth behavior was tolerated until his schtick hit too close to home and then suddenly..DISCERNMENT!!

    • Eagle, perhaps, the vast majority of people in these places aren’t really Christians. I know many will term that harsh, but the explanation at least makes sense of things.

  16. I agree with the criticism of a superstar pastor role and inflated salaries. Certainly people/church members will try and justify the salary because of who the pastor is. However, is that not a bit of idolatry?

    However, we aught to be careful.
    #1 The elder board of HBC is under no obligation to answer the demands or accusations from non-members or public criticism.
    #2 The accusations concerning treatment of staff members seems 3rd hand & these are always tricky in our sinful churches and world.
    #3 The elders should be allowed to confront and care for their pastor quietly and may have already done this.

    On the other hand, why to people attend such places? Why people attend such churches when solid, confessional, churches with Shepard pastors quietly care for their sheep are on many street corners is beyond me. Leaving a church because of un-reconciled anger/angst to attend a church where your Pastor has no idea who you are is senseless. Seen it too many times.

    • Your cautions are good but I wouldn’t underestimate the strange ethos which combines boardroom political hardball, the heady sense of spiritual enthusiasm, and the emotional crazy-making that can happen in ecclesial relationships that are often akin to those of a family in terms of intimacy, loyalty, and sense of duty. Churches can be toxic at hazardous waste levels.

    • Wait a minute says

      #1. The elder board/pastor/bishop have as a qualification that they have to be of good report with those on the outside of the church, as well. I think any accusations of impropriety should be investigated, even if they are not members. Too easy to creatively remove people and then say they can’t complain.

      #2. When there are accusations mounting, or lots of unanswered questions, then the church needs real answers. Waiting till something is proven is unwise. But if the facts are established and the accusations were legitimately false (not just misunderstandings based on a lack of transparency of the leaders,) then that can be dealt with, too.

      #3. The elders do not have the right to keep things in the back room in the dark. Issues with leadership do have to be dealt with in the light. Repentance has to be as public as the sin, and a pastor’s private actions affect the church when he is a teacher of morality and how to follow Jesus. How the pastor uses finances is a public issue. How he pastor treats others is a public issue.

      “Why do people attend such places?” (Rob)

      We all have to go somewhere. We don’t know all that’s going on, or will go on in a church, before we commit to it. To have to uproot one’s family each time issues arise is not the prescription I see in the NT. Seems we are supposed to call out the unrepentant sin, warn the church, and remove the leader who is in sin … not have all the people “vote with their feet.” Besides, there are more unsuspecting people who will come in as you go out, which is what leaders are depending on.

      • Usually it’s not unrepentant sin. People unwilling to forgive.

        • Scripture says


          there is a difference between “worldly sorrow” and “Godly sorrow”
          if a person always has to be “confronted and investigated”
          with drawn out processes of he said she saids and sides
          and sin is seen as something like “they” or the “the world” does
          and the people in a culture or “family” are like…
          exempt then there is an upside down understanding
          that grace itself is a gift dependent on evil.

          forgive the pretend forgiveness of worldly sorrow or
          or the Truth of Godly sorrow?

  17. “But the problems go deeper than the rise of the superstar pastor. In many cases, the churches that have been built around such a figure are often non-denominational in nature, which ultimately means that they answer to no earthly authority other than that which they have appointed to themselves.”

    This again is why the evangelical criticism against the Papacy is so empty. Evangelicalism’s bow to the Enlightenment dogma of autonomy leads to a vaccum which is inevitably filled by an abusive, power-hungry dictator. Evangelicalism is a test case for the teachings of Nietzsche, particularly regarding the will-to-power.

  18. “The conservative wing has unwittingly wed itself to the cultural forms of Modernity and Americanism, and these forms within conservative evangelicalism have calcified as absolutes while the contemporary culture has moved on. This dynamic has left conservative evangelicalism with a decreased voice and influence in the contemporary culture, losing the very strength it once had, and it is suffering at the hands of the worst elements of the outmoded American cultural forms.

    “If there is not an awakening and reform within conservative evangelicalism, the last men standing will be the post-evangelical and moderate evangelical camps. The time is ripe for someone to write,“The Uneasy Conscience of a Conservative Evangelical.”

    Has the the term, “Post-Evangelical”, been redefined from what it Michael Spencer meant by it? Since when does post-evangelical mean something other than “conservative”. BTW, did we ever define what in the heck “conservative” means in the first place???

    He’s right about “conservative” in its current form being tied to modernity and Americanism, if by “conservative” he means fundamentalism.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The conservative wing has unwittingly wed itself to the cultural forms of Modernity and Americanism, and these forms within conservative evangelicalism have calcified as absolutes while the contemporary culture has moved on.

      Didn’t Chesterton or Lewis say as much? When you join the church to something “contemporary” or “modern”, it becomes tied to that age and as that age slides into the “old-fashioned” past it takes your church with it, stuck in time.

  19. Wait a minute says

    … Let me get this straight. The system is blurred with secrecy, lack of transparency. I have no ability to really address any significant issues because it will be shuffled under the carpet and I will be marked as a trouble-maker. Then I get to vote quietly with my feet. Then when I hear of others being hurt, the issues continuing and causing harm, I have no say because I am not a member?

    That’s pretty ingenious …

    • Wait a minute here, Wait a minute. Don’t be giving people any ideas. 😉

    • To anticipate their likely response, “Boo hoo. You are mean. Oh mooooderator, how can you allow people to say such bad things about us? It’s all so unfair. None of you know the truth, and we’re not going to tell you, because why should we? Besides, that would be unethical, and you all know how scrupulous we are about ethics.”

  20. Dee Parsons says

    Chaplain Mike

    I am so pleased that you asked Ryan and Scott to write this post. I have had the pleasure to talk with them and to also tell their story. Their research is extensive and their wish for the truth to be known is commendable. They are good guys!

    Ryan and Scott
    It is good to see your work being recognized. I have been praying for you both.

    Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot – back at ya!

  21. Bill Metzger says

    What’s going to be interesting is WHEN (not IF) the mega church movement dies-what will happen to all of the people who abandoned solid, Christ-crucified, Word and Sacrament ministry for the Christ-less glitz, glamor and entertainment. When Jesus is replaced by popular, celebrity “preachers”, only bad things will happen. The mega churches “grew” by cannabalizing established Word and Sacrament congregations. I fear that those who leave the megas in droves will go no where. I know of a building in South Barrington that will one day be available for retail establishments.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What’s going to be interesting is WHEN (not IF) the mega church movement dies-what will happen to all of the people who abandoned solid, Christ-crucified, Word and Sacrament ministry for the Christ-less glitz, glamor and entertainment.

      ” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.” Thanatos & Hades, scooping up the casualties left by the others.

  22. “One historic strength of evangelicalism has been its willingness to engage the culture for the sake of the Gospel. Indeed, its success in Gospel mission has come about through adopting cultural forms that make the Gospel palatable to the contemporary culture…Of course, the weakness in adopting this course of action is the ease with which contemporary cultural values become the values of the church.”

    His use of Finney is an example is spot-on.

    There is nothing wrong with “engag[ing] the culture for the sake of the Gospel.” Paul did it on Mars Hill. The problem becomes when the culture BECOMES the Gospel, i.e., people want self-help plans to save themselves, so let’s give them “life principles” instead of the cross. The focus shifts from Christ to the success of the leaders by measuring attendance and church sizes. It’s a simple recipe for creating a monster. That’s what you get when you feed religion to the sinful nature. Reading in “Free to Be” by James A. Nestingen and Gerhard Forde that the “Old Adam” is extremely religious but on its own terms was very eye-opening for me.

    • The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious. From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side, by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements—or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behavior—we are all, at some deep level, com¬mitted to them. If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both.

      But as the Epistle to the Hebrews pointed out long ago, all such behavior is bunk. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, nor can any other religious act do what it sets out to do. Either it is ineffective for its purpose, or the supposedly effective intellec¬tual, spiritual, or moral uprightness it counts on to do the job is simply unavailable. The point is, we haven’t got a card in our hand that can take even a single trick against God. Religion, therefore— despite the correctness of its insistence that something needs to done about our relationship with God—remains unqualified news: it traps us in a game we will always and everywhere lose.
      But the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game—that he has taken all the disasters religion was trying to remedy and, without any recourse to religion at all, set them to rights by himself. How sad, then, when the church acts as if it is in the religion business rather than in the Gospel-proclaiming business. What a disservice, not (only to itself but to a world perpetually sinking in the quagmire of religiosity, when it harps on creed, cult, and conduct as the touch-stones of salvation. What a perversion of the truth that sets us free (John 8:32) when it takes the news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8), and turns it into a proclamation of God as just one more insufferable bookkeeper.

      (Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace chapt. 3.)

      I’d only add that Mcdonald represents God as a “bookie”….


  23. You cannot “reform” the Old Adam; it must be drown (in the waters of baptism).

    • Be sure to hold that sucker under long enough….


    • Actually, the struggle to mortify the sinful nature is a lifetime battle. The point is that churches must not enlist the sinful nature in the spiritual growth of its parishioners. The sinful nature cannot meet the requirements of the law – no matter how much help, principles, or “power” it is given. Market-driven spirituality ultimately resorts to the same appeals to the base nature used to sell beer and sports cars. As I posted on the article regarding the “radicals”, even car companies use the “normal is bad” scheme to sell their wears.

  24. It’s funny this guy is associated with the Reformed. On the fundagelical prosperity-gospel radio station in my area that airs his sermons, it all sounded like a bunch of boilerplate, tips-to-sucess, “how to hear God’s plan for your business,” church-growth hype. Jesus as personal awesomeness coach. Given this (and I guess we wait for facts to solidify here before jumping in too deep) I’m really not surprised at all. You can hear the me-centrism dripping in these guys’ voices. If this particular case the stories are not entirely true, it’s not like it isn’t a likely scenario.

    Which is why I appreciate the authors’ emphasis on the fact that this is a cultural phenomenon to be dealt with, not just James MacDonald or a few guys here and there. The norm, not the exception, is contained here: “entire bodies are being defined by the charismatic presence of their senior pastor.”

    When this isn’t the case, people wish it was so, and assume that the track to a “successful” church requires this figurehead. When pastors AREN”T capable of starting a cult of personality, they often suffer from bad self-images, and people around them assume that they aren’t really gifted in “leadership” or something like that. I’ve known a few.

    This could lead to a discussion of Jesus-shaped spirituality. Particularly because that’s what this kind of leadership isn’t. What kind of authority, and/or pastoral work ought to be modeled to cause people to ask the “why are you doing this” question of the Pharisees to Jesus?

    -Give away 50% of what they make? 90%?
    -Spend an inordinate amount of time with people who aren’t going to speed the church’s growth, and whose associations potentially harm one’s reputation?
    -Ditch public appearances to spend time at the bedsides of the dying?
    -Otherwise go out of their way to ruin the possibility of gaining more influence/reputation?

  25. flatrocker says

    A quote from “The Letters of Caryll Houselander”

    “There are only two weapons against the worldly spirit which has possessed so many for so long. And they are Contemplation and visible, voluntary Poverty.”

    May we all be this simple.

    • I feel blessed that these weapons are fully employed by the new Bishop of Rome…..and millions of others just like him all over the world living quiet lives of service.

      This Pilgrim Church on earth has plenty of flaws, and its leadership is not sinless, but the Bride of Christ has been protected from grave error for several millenia.

      Not everyone is called to be Catholic, but many American Christians, especially evangelicals, could learn a lesson or two about tradtion. authority, and the bedrock of following Christ.

  26. I think everyone is missing the point of this story. I think the question we should be asking ourselves is James Macdonald any good at poker?

    • flatrocker says

      And based on the overall tone of this posting, it looks like he’s drawn a straight flush.

  27. One historic strength of evangelicalism has been its willingness to engage the culture for the sake of the Gospel.

    I don’t like what this implies. IMO, non-evangelical traditions have been doing this just find for centuries. The Roman Catholic church (and early pre-evangelicalism Protestants) ARE the history of Western music. Evangelicalism just tries too hard, turning the Great Commission into an excuse to pay 90 bucks for a cool haircut.

    Seriously, you appeal to the example of Charles Finney? The worst theologian in the history of Protestantism? He is directly responsible for the kind of Pelagian crap that has neutered American churches form the ability to teach what Justification is, let alone Sola Fide. Few and far between are the Pastors I know personally who can consistently articulate the faith as being about more than doing good and choosing the right things. You got this right: Finney played capitalist individualism to start a religious movement. We can be grateful for those who believed as a result of his preaching, but to this day so many are placing their trust in a made up incantation known as the sinners prayer. While some may be led to faith through this dog and pony show, nobody is counting those led away from faith by it. I’m not convinced that the end justifies the means completely here, because not only do we have no way of quantifying the negative consequences, we are dogmatically refusing to even try or admit to them. “Soteriological utilitarianism uber alles!” is the cry of the Revivalist who wants to “get people saved,” or emotionally manipulate them into raising their hand and walking an aisle. The circus of Evangelicalism is the simply the end result of this doctrine.

  28. Hi everyone — I haven’t been here (IM, that is) in a long time; after Michael’s death, I guess I didn’t have the heart to keep up with it, then other things took over. I’ve always been grateful for the active and often-invigorating discussion at this blog, though.

    This is interesting to me: as I read through this post and subsequent comments, and as I’ve read about other similarly troubling reports on other blogs, I find myself reaching very different conclusions from what many of you have.

    First, let me say, though: I definitely agree that the SGM stuff needs to be addressed, and the truth needs to come to light about abuse in the church — always. Likewise, whatever is going on with James McDonald and other “rock-star” pastors should be checked and turned away from. None of this is healthy for the church nor is it good for the advance of the Gospel.

    Having said that, I keep thinking, “this sounds like a textbook argument in favor of more/better church government, including stronger denominational ties.” As a Presbyterian, I can immediately think of several ways (most of which have already been named above, so I won’t restate them now) that a healthy and active governmental structure could — and should, if they emerged within their midst — handle these kinds of issues with real accountability and discipline. I’ve seen it happen, and though I don’t hope for it I expect I will see it again, in my own presbytery and in others.

    But it sounds to me like some (many?) of the commenters here have given up any such hope, and/or have grown quite cynical about any institutional means for addressing these kinds of trouble. That really bothers me, and it was something that Michael and I emailed back and forth about more than once.

    Likewise, I have noticed (not necessarily here, though echoes of it are present in this thread, at least) the idea on some blogs that they essentially serve as “communities” (fair enough, as it goes) that have, for all practical purposes, replaced any sense of the local church for many of their “members” (and there I think it has gone too far). The idea that a post on this blog, or any other, calling out the leaders of a local church — which few, if any, of the writers/commenters have any connection to whatsoever — to justify itself, with no account taken for existing denominational or other structures, is to stretch way beyond whatever concept of the “universal church” one can defend biblically. (That was a horrible sentence, but I don’t know how to say it otherwise!)

    To wit: when challenged on this point, the cry of “journalism” is frequently used in defense of the blog/bloggers (as it was in at least one comment above). So which is it? Are we doing exposé journalism, or are we acting as the church? If the latter, then Scripture spells out how that happens — and it doesn’t look like blog journalism.

    These are just my observations; I’m not advocating a change in policy or practice (though I would love for both to be reconsidered). Many of you will inevitably disagree. But keep this in mind if/when you do so: your opinion about whether I’m right has no greater claim to being “right” simply because you may have found a number of others who share your view.

    And please, before you write me off or chide me saying that I’m naïve or that I haven’t seen what you have seen: don’t assume that you know my background. I’ve been knocked around by the church too, and even subjected to “spiritual abuse” myself. I’m saddened by a lot of what I’ve seen in the church, and I’m discouraged a lot, but after 20 years of serving in ministry within the church, I haven’t given up. And for all of his own challenges and disenfranchisement, Michael Spencer never gave up on the local church, either.

  29. Chaplain Mike,
    Thank-you for bringing up this critical topic in such a thoughtful manner. I fear for the Church in America that has become a cult to many charismatic and powerful speakers. From the book, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen – there is this topic that covers a lot of ground in Chapter 11 “Image is Everything”.

    Apostle Peter described a true shepherd in 1 Peter 5:1-5. His exhortation is clear, and the Word of God is a powerful sword that cuts through deception and manipulation to the truth.

    Contrast Peter’s list of characteristics to that of an image-oriented leader, and there are many CEO’s in the market of ministry today.
    (1) They operate from a false basis of authority.
    (2) They lack integrity.
    (3) They wear their spirituality on the outside.
    (4) Spirituality is a put-on performance.
    (5) They require the recognition of people, calling it respect.
    (6) They point to themselves as the primary source of knowledge, direction, authority, and life.

    Thanks again for providing this place to present ideas that may hopefully open eyes.