James MacDonald wrote a column for Christianity Today about the reason why he took legal action against The Elephant’s Debt. This post looks at that column and comes away with three key take aways to keep in mind when it comes to what James MacDonald is saying.
“Lawsuit: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.”
“Where there is a will there is a lawsuit.”
“When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison.
Matthew 5:25 NLT
I have been working at getting around to this post for the last few days. The quest to continue to analyze the lawsuit by James MacDonald against The Elephant’s Debt evolves as new information comes about. In Christianity Today on November 2, 2018 James MacDonald wrote a column about why he believes its right to sue. You can read that column below or in Christianity Today in, “James MacDonald: Why Suing Is Sometimes the Biblical Choice.” Let’s read James MacDonald’s thoughts and then I am going to suggest other reasons for the motivation behind James MacDonald’s words.
Harvest Bible Chapel has not strayed from its 30-year commitment to the unapologetic preaching of God’s Word, nor have we forgotten the explicit teaching of 1 Corinthians 6:1-9. We’d like to share our biblical rationale for reluctantly deciding to take our critics to court.
A Deeper Understanding of Scripture
Throughout church history, cultural happenings have forced a more carefully nuanced consideration of biblical application. In the first centuries, major areas of Christology were refined to combat error. In recent decades, the charismatic movement brought a more nuanced study of the scriptural teaching on spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Many of us remember the near unanimous evangelical stance on divorce prior to the 1970s, when most churches held strictly to “no divorce, no remarriage.” Then with the rise in divorce rates and a few high visibility Christian leaders getting divorced, all were pushed back into the Scripture for a view that considered all biblical teaching on the subject.
In just a few years, the prevailing view changed to include “exception language” from the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 19:9) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:15). The Scriptures had not changed, but cultural trends had again caused a more careful study of all biblical passages on divorce, versus the more simplistic “the Lord God … hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16).
The perfection of God’s holy Word is best seen in the way all relevant passages work together to form a consistent unity. Reductionism is the logical fallacy of “making the main thing the only thing.” As Christians we can make this error by forcing one passage to speak with finality on a more broadly covered biblical subject.
In a culture that is far too litigious, Christ followers should be loath to go into civil court for any reason. 1 Corinthians 6:1-9 pleads for caution: “Can we not judge ourselves?” “This before unbelievers,” “Law suits among you means that you have been completely defeated,” “Why not rather be wronged?” and “This is shame to you.” It’s such a clear teaching—but not the totality of biblical teaching that some try to make it.
What if allowing “yourself to be wronged” is a greater wrong because of the many others that would be wronged? What if that matter is not a “trivial case,” as in 1 Corinthians 6? What if the brothers are from different churches, one of which refuses to bring significant detrimental behavior into line? What if the matter is demonstrably illegal and would bring immense suffering to your family?
1 Corinthians 6 deals with two brothers in a single church dealing with a trivial matter that should just be “let go.” That size teaching does not fit all situations, and it is somewhat reductionistic to try to make it so.
When The Elephant’s Debt began posting their criticism, we dug deeply into personal and organizational reflection. We have repeatedly tried to meet with them, and if the bloggers let their “reasonableness be known to all men” (Phil. 4:5) and simply sat down with us, they would learn of the positive changes that initially came from their critical approach. Ongoing appeals have yielded no fruit, though we remain open to meeting in person and ending the legal case.
In the meantime, by assuming the right to influence our church while refusing to listen to the authority of our church leaders, they forfeit the protection given to brothers in 1 Corinthians 6. According to Matthew 18:17 their refusing to “hear the church” requires that they be related to as non-believers, as “gentiles and tax collectors.”
Protecting the Church
Still some ask, “Wasn’t Jesus lied about and spat upon? Aren’t we called to the same?” Yes, on a personal level we are to turn the other cheek when offended, and Christ in his passion, “when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate” (1 Pet. 2:23).
A conversation with Wayne Grudem, the widely respected theologian and my seminary professor, helped me understand that we should model our response to criticism after Christ’s ministry (John 8:49) not his road to the cross, when his total silence was a unique fulfillment of prophecy.
I accept criticism as part of my calling; some of it is deserved, most of it well intentioned, and all of it used by the Lord to sanctify myself and our church’s leaders. However, a real turning point for our church leadership was the realization that our first responsibility was to protect the church when that criticism went on to impact them.
In the wake of what was being published online, innocent people didn’t just leave our church, but too often left the church. We saw the effects not just in Chicago, but worldwide, wherever our broadcasts and church plants had spread. Friends lost their sons to the faith. New believers who struggled to trust Christ and any authority too often jumped to “fears confirmed” and retreated into unbelief.
People who were saved through our ministry and feeling first time joy in Christ were devastated to read the vitriol. Treasured staff who supported us fully, resigned saying, “We love you, we believe in this ministry, but we must find a place of peace.”
So much damage to so many innocent people – that is what, after six years, prompted us to study the Scriptures afresh regarding established authority, ordained by God to punish wrongdoers (Rom. 13:1-6).
In America, free speech is not universal. You can’t yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater because negligently causing a dangerous stampede of people is not protected speech, but a breach of the law with serious consequences. We have called on authorities, in this case, the court in Cook County, to look carefully at the actions of these bloggers and rule on whether their publications against our church for six years have broken multiple civil laws.
We are not trying to do God’s job; we are asking the authorities God’s established to do theirs. We are not seeking vengeance or retribution. We have not filed this suit because we fear something big will be uncovered or to gain any damages. (The cost of our lawsuit is covered by two of our elders, not from church family offerings.)
We love the body of Christ, and stand ready to give grace and forgive, for in many ways God used the bloggers in the beginning but there is no righteous role remaining for them. We want them to move on and leave the governance of our church to our biblical eldership and congregation.
We pray for the bloggers’ peace and for a new season of freedom from outside interference for the people of Harvest Bible Chapel. Over and over we have asked God to protect our church—and we now believe he has, through the government authorities he ordained (Rom. 13:1-6).
Harvest Bible Chapel is a Business
There is one aspect that is not mentioned here in MacDonald’s response that needs attention. James took the action he did not because he is a pastor, but because he is a businessman. James is out to make money and he learned how to do it through religion. Harvest Bible Chapel is a brand and its essential it remain untarnished when one thinks of the money that is at stake. Speaking fees, publishing, conferences and more are all essential to the MacDonald family. When you think of James MacDonald think of a spiritual robber baron. Do you remember what you were taught about the robber barons in the 19th century? Men like J.P. Morgan, Andrew Mellon, and Andrew Carnegie? People who built empires and made money at whatever it took. People were expendable in the Gilded Age. In the case of James MacDonald he is a spiritual robber barron. In the case of individuals like J.P. Morgan and others they were open about what they did. James MacDonald in contrast hides behind religion. Yet MacDonald exploits and is ruthless in his tactics. This lawsuit is not about protecting the church, this is about protecting James MacDonald’s business. Its about protecting his empire.
Issues with Wayne Grudem
I find it interesting that in the column above James MacDonald would talk about how much he believes that Wayne Grudem should be followed. I have never understood why so many people admire and adore Wayne Grudem. This is the same Wayne Grudem who flip flopped on Donald Trump. In one case he endorsed, changed his mind and then was back on board again. And that is what the author of “Systemic Theology” believed. But it gets much worse. Wayne Grudem who is the go to man in the Neo-Calvinist world on theology doesn’t have an orthodox view of the trinity. His theology lines up with the eternal subordination of the sun. You can read more about Wayne Grudem’s views of the trinity in, “Wayne Grudem’s Un-Orthodox View of the Trinity and the Question that Must Be Asked: Can the ESV Bible be Trusted?” So if Wayne Grudem has influenced James MacDonald that speaks volumes. James lacks the education to be properly informed. That is another aspect to consider when you read that column in Christianity Today.
Lawsuit is an Extension of James MacDonald’s Abuse
There is another suggestion as well. Harvest Bible Chapel in an incubator for spiritual abuse and other problems. The possibility that also exists is that since abuse is part of the modus operandi of Harvest Bible Chapel this is just normal behavior for James MacDonald. Think of who influenced him over the years, that of Mark Driscoll. The more outrageous the behavior was the more he tried to benefit from it. Think of MacDonald’s behavior in the Strange Fire conference. For a narcissist this also gives James MacDonald attention and recognition. For a narcissist this attention is something that they crave as its how they operate. So don’t be misled by all the scripture that James MacDonald throws around in his Christianity Today post. Its all fluff and is written after the fact. James MacDonald has shifted his opinion and believes that he is exempt from the issues he teaches. Want to read more, go over to The Elephant’s Debt and read about James MacDonald and gambling as well. This is going to be a brief post but this is one that I have been meaning to do for the last several days.