Harvest Bible Chapel sorry for church discipline
Three former elders censured publicly say they accept pastor James MacDonald’s apology
Harvest Bible Chapel, a Chicago-area megachurch with seven campuses and about 100 church plants around the world issued an apology over the weekend for harshly censuring three former elders last year.
James MacDonald, an author and the senior pastor of Harvest, read a statement to the church saying he and the current church elders met last week with the three men and asked for their forgiveness: “I wish to announce that the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel have unanimously agreed to lift all discipline from Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh and Dan Marquardt.”
Last year, as WORLD reported, Harvest excommunicated Phelps and Slabaugh and indirectly censured Marquardt after the three resigned the elder board in protest of what they said was a “culture of fear and intimidation” and a lack of transparency among church leadership. After Phelps, Slabaugh, and Marquardt joined five other former elders in signing a private letter of concern sent to the remaining elder board, the board initiated church discipline: In a video shown at the church’s campuses in September 2013 and posted online for two weeks, the elders said Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh were trying to “discredit and destroy our pastor” and displayed a “persistent spirit of superiority and self-righteousness.” The elders said the two men were no longer welcome at Harvest and asked members to cut off contact: “Avoid these former elders at all costs, lest you incur great detriment to your own soul.” Marquardt, who had already begun attending another church at the time, was indirectly mentioned in the video.
“We immediately realized that we erred in the manner in which it was done and in what it implied,” MacDonald said this weekend of the discipline proceedings, adding he and church leadership had failed to offer a “biblically required restorative component.”
“We met with these three brothers to ask for their forgiveness and seek reconciliation,” he continued. “Specifically we apologized for the harsh language we used to characterize them. We made statements about their character and actions that were hurtful and proved to be untrue.” MacDonald said there were still “differences” of perspective remaining between the church leadership and the three former elders, but said they had “agreed to be at peace with us and with Harvest.”
He concluded: “We urge the members of Harvest Bible Chapel and the Christian community to accept these brothers as valued members of the body of Christ. … We also ask the forgiveness of the wider Christian community that has watched this painful episode unfold.”
The three former elders confirmed to me they had accepted the church’s apology.
After multiple former Harvest members and elders raised questions on a blog called The Elephant’s Debt about the church’s leadership, including questions about MacDonald’s undisclosed salary, Harvest announced several changes aimed at increasing accountability. Last September the church joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and the elder board also announced this February MacDonald had voluntarily downsized to “a smaller home in Elgin,” Illinois, and had taken a “significant salary reduction,” although it did not state his current salary. The church struggled with a 21 percent decrease in contributions and other revenue between 2011 and 2013.
The current elder board has 33 elders, including MacDonald. Harvest restructured its elder board in 2009 when the board transitioned from a model of about 8-10 men to a larger one that eventually grew to around 30 people. Another restructuring occurred last year, when the church created an “Elder Leadership Team” of half a dozen or so elders.
According to a change in the church’s constitution that Harvest announced last year, the Elder Leadership Team will have “final authority in all matters relating to the church, including compensation, buying or selling property, and accountability of senior staff.” The full elder board approved the constitution change this summer.
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