In a letter read to the congregation on Sunday, Elder Karl Jackson explains that even though the church elders were grateful to MacDonald for his three decades of ministry to the church, they nevertheless had to take action following revelations about his conduct.
The elders stated: "On February 12, 2019 James MacDonald's employment was terminated by our elder board as our Senior Pastor for not being 'above reproach' and for having a 'sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger, and domineering behavior'. You may be wondering why we're coming to you now, months after James' dismissal. As we spent time with the congregation and visited all of our campuses, it became clear that there was confusion over the previous statements about our former Senior Pastor. We are here today to provide clarity to our church family and to those who listened to and supported Walk in the Word, a ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel."
In their statement, the elders referred to 1 Timothy 5:19-20, which speaks of not charging an elder "except on the evidence of two or three witnesses", and to rebuke those who persist in sinning in the presence of all, that others may stand in fear. The elders confirmed that they had "interviewed and documented first-hand evidence of these accusations seeking to validate or refute them."
The statement commented: "In this investigation, you can be assured of three things. (1) We have only considered accusations that included two or three witnesses. In fact, everything that is covered in this letter includes many more witnesses than the biblical requisite of two or three. (2) We have only considered evidence from first-hand witnesses. (3) We have listened to these witnesses in groups of two interviewers in order to protect us from an individual opinion swaying the outcome."
The elders also referred to scripture in 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter, to explain how MacDonald was found to not be above reproach, respectable, and upright, among other criteria set forth in the Bible passages.
They also noted a pattern of extravagant spending, whereby MacDonald had utilised church resources that resulted in his personal gain. Their statement read "We found that James had a pattern of improperly exercising his positional and spiritual authority over others to his own advantage", and that he had "made repeated efforts to profit himself beyond what was honorable."
The former pastor's "behavior and language indicated that he thought of himself more highly than he should as evidenced by his pattern of insulting, belittling, and verbally bullying others."
"The Bible does not teach that disqualification from ministry is permanent; however, with the scope of the damage caused by his behavior, James will not be able to serve again as an Elder or Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel."
The elders concluded by asking the church to continue to pray for MacDonald and his wife, Kathy. "We have communicated to James that he needs to find a small group of godly brothers to restore him biblically in the spirit of gentleness," they said. "He needs an extended period of time away from ministry in order to focus on repentance and to seek relational reconciliation and restitution where it is possible."
They added, "We have no desire to shame James, but seek only to be in submission to God's Word. 1 Timothy 5 does not require us to reveal all the details and the witnesses of these accusations; our biblical responsibility is to accept or reject these accusations and issue this public rebuke."
MacDonald was forced out of the church earlier this year following remarks he made that were caught on a hot mic, which aired on a Chicago-area radio program.
On the audio footage, MacDonald was heard boasting about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO's Harold Smith's computer, as well as making remarks about journalist Julie Roys, joking that she had an affair with Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli. He also made a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, who is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
The church elders said they hoped MacDonald could be "restored" to ministry one day, but would first need to see clear evidence of repentance on his behalf - something that the former pastor has not shown to them yet.
They concluded, "There is much potential for God to be glorified through him in the coming years, and our hope is to witness that someday."