Hillong & the Thinking Theolgian
It has been refreshingly encouraging over recent times to discover a growing army of concerned Christians taking a public stand against the heresies and worldly ways of Brian Houston, Hillsong and other mega-Churches. From the outset of our ministry (1994) we at CWM took a stand against these things. That is a simple matter of record which surfaces by doing significant word and name searches on this website.
We acknowledge those who are seeing through what's happening and are happy to join in the exposure of error and abuse. Some time ago a person, who had been on the inside of Hillsong apologised to me for his opposition and some of his expressions against CWM. We published his letter in CETF #46 – under TODD BENTLEY, HILLSONG, MIKE GUGGLIELMUCCI (MG) with his initials – PG, Sydney.
More recently we were directed to a series of blogs by The Thinking Theologian which led to my being put in touch with him. He wishes to remain anonymous for the present, which is a request that we will respect. He was very deeply involved with Hillsong for seven years as his first blog points out (see below). He told me that I can republish his blogs and that I can tell our readers that his background is with the Assemblies of God in Australia (AoG) where he continues to serve the Lord and that his long time desire is to help bring the erring movement back to a biblical base.
The Thinking Theologian (http://thethinkingtheologian.blogspot.com) has temporarily retired from “the public arena in order to revise and restructure his musings into a more formal dissertation.” Before retiring he had written seven blogs, the last of which is a sort of summary, which is the one with which we will commence in this issue of CETF followed by the first three listed in date order. Parts IV to VI will appear, God willing in CETF # 50 at the end of year.
Friday, March 13, 2009
At the heart of Hillsong... (Part VII)
So to summarise, what is wrong with Hillsong? And, more importantly, what changes need to be made in order to bring their focus back in line with Christ’s Gospel?
Eyes on the Numbers
“Seek first the kingdom of God” is interpreted by Hillsong as, “seek first to grow the church”. Growth is measured by numerical increase, irrespective of the congregation's maturity of faith. So, rather than presenting The Gospel, Hillsong presents a well-marketed, attractive alternative. The crowds are drawn in, and the leadership pat themselves on the back for their discerning, and outworking, of “God's plan”.
The issue here is that popularity is no measure of correctness. Hillsong goes about the Great Commission backwards. Rather than preach The Gospel and see people come to God, they ask “What will bring the people to church?” and then, “What kind of gospel will keep them there?”
God Needs Your Money
A continuation of the kingdom of God/big church confusion, is Brian Houston's basic premise, “if something's healthy, it grows”. So again, faulty logic is employed: a growing church must be a healthy church, so how do we make a big church? To draw in the crowds, Hillsong builds state-of-the-art facilities, and spares no expense. Two cinema screens? Why not three?! A material church for a material world.
And the sort of crowd that's attracted to such stuff isn't too difficult to woo with prosperity preaching. It's just a small exercise in salesmanship, and Brian Houston has had 25 years experience. “The secret to living a life of success is to live for something greater than yourself”, says Brian. This obviously means living for God… but at Hillsong church, God = kingdom = Hillsong church = offering bucket.
The underlying problem here is that Hillsong church is expensive: to build, and to maintain. But even worse is the fact that in order to justify all that expense and wastefulness, they've skewed their theology.
In a nutshell, the prosperity preacher’s ego requires that he live the high life (or, put another way, La Dolce Vita1), so he needs to promote that lifestyle as the Christian ideal, in order to legitimise it.
My sincere hope is that the current economic decline will throw prosperity preaching into perspective, and people will see it for what it is: deceptive nonsense. My worst fear, however, is that as Hillsong, and “churches” like it experience financial strain, they will labour more and more on this heresy, and con ever-increasing amounts of cash from their followers.
ADDENDUM: Kenneth Copeland's recent speaking engagement at Hillsong would, unfortunately, suggest the latter course.
Leadership is Never Wrong
As John Maxwell has noted, “everything rises and falls on leadership”. All of Hillsong's good points, and all of its bad, are the responsibility of the leadership: the elders and senior pastors. But, as I've said before, the elders are just “yes men” who basically back Brian up on all his decisions. So ultimately, Brian Houston is where the buck stops.
I remember once being told “if I tell you to do something, it's as if Brian's told you to do it, and as if God's told you to do it”. If you disagree with something, you're simply being disobedient to God (via Brian!). And that's where the discussion ends, because Brian's set himself up as some sort of Pentecostal Pope.
So what if Brian's way-off on his theology, and completely misguided on a point of doctrine? Well then, in that case, so is Hillsong church.
The Antidote to a Pseudo-Gospel
So, what changes need to take place to restore the misled multitudes to the true Church? On a practical level, what can Christians do to counter this different gospel that is preached from so many pulpits around the world?
Churchgoers: don't be fooled. Read your Bibles, and follow Christ above all. Know Him for yourselves, and not through the distorting lens of a pastor. If you have concerns, insist on being heard. It's very likely that scores of others share the same concerns, but won’t come forward from fear of being thought rebels.
Church leaders: ask the hard questions; challenge your superiors. The true Gospel needs to be preached: Jesus, and Him crucified. If the heart of your church's message is focused on anything else (however popular), there is cause for concern.
Pseudo-gospel preachers: get out of the pulpit.
Friday, January 23, 2009
At the heart of Hillsong... (Part I)
As a member of Hillsong Church for seven years, I experienced it from the view-point of an attendee, a volunteer, a full-time student, and a paid staff member. From these experiences, I have developed some very real concerns about Hillsong's doctrines, structure and cultural emphases, and their world-view in general.
Hillsong's popularity is self-evident, and there is obviously something incredibly appealing about what they do and how they do it. But, as the old adage goes, what is popular is not always right…
To claim that “21,000 people can't be wrong”, or “to pull that sort of crowd every week, they must be doing something right”, just isn't satisfactory. Cinemas all over the world attract far larger crowds, and most of the movies shown there promote questionable morals and ethics. How “successful” something becomes is no indication of its merit.
So, putting aside any spiritual reasons for its growth (which would be nigh impossible to confirm, and inconclusive at best), what is the basis of Hillsong's appeal?
It would seem to me that the main attraction lies in the hope of the good life, which is proclaimed so ardently from the platform. Christians are “the head, not the tail”, we are told. God's plan for your life is one of prosperity and purpose. He doesn't want you poor, because if you're poor you won't be able to help anyone else. We are told that by giving, we build the kingdom. This naturally means buildings for use of the kingdom. By building bigger, better facilities, we can attract more and more people who in turn will give, enabling us to continue building… and so on and so forth. The more the merrier; bigger is better.
But is this precept watertight? How are the ever- increasing facilities helping people? Certainly, it gives them somewhere to go on a Sunday, and a venue at which to attend Bible studies, and meet with other Christians… but it seems to me that there is more to this drive than meets the eye – a hidden agenda, and perhaps not-so-pure motives.
By drawing on my own and others' experiences, I will attempt to illustrate the true heart of Hillsong, and expose the real driving forces behind it. By examining the ideals that have seen it grow into the megachurch that it is today, we'll see that Hillsong, far from the model church, embodies much of what is wrong with the contemporary Christian life.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
At the heart of Hillsong... (Part II)
We have heard much in recent times of the “prosperity gospel”, usually with negative undertones. It is paradoxical for the church to claim a right to material abundance, and sceptics from every corner have insisted that this “get-rich with God” formula is contrary to the Christian ethos. Adherents of prosperity are quick to admonish those with such a view, but have never once satisfactorily answered the genuine concerns of those who hold it.
So, where better to begin than by addressing the real concerns of prosperity critics:
In an apparent attempt at “excellence” and the “wow factor”, the focus is very much on building glamorous, state-of-the-art facilities, where people will feel comfortable. They talk about “creating an atmosphere” which inspires the masses to worship.
But it seems to me that much of this has less to do with glorifying God, and more to do with stroking leaders' egos. Take the Green Room, or “Senior Pastor's Lounge”, for instance - the hangout of the elite few who grace us with their presence at the pulpit. After the church service, they retreat to their luxurious suite where they're waited on with gourmet food and drink.
One might argue that such luxury was designed with guest speakers in mind; to bless them for their visit, and for delivering the word of God to us. And no doubt the travelling preachers have similar facilities at their home churches, so they can offer the same courtesy to Brian and Bobbie when they make their own rounds on the preaching circuit… you know, return the favour.
Yes, it seems there's a lot of back scratching going on; and it's the tithe-payer who foots the bill.
And as if these all-expense paid international trips with 5-star accommodation weren't enough… what about those love offerings we're encouraged to donate to? I mean, you can't expect a world-renowned speaker to go jet setting around the globe with no reward! If we didn't bless them, maybe their home churches wouldn't bless our home grown speakers. Pretty soon, there wouldn't be any more preaching circuit, and we'd all be stuck with our own leaders.
And a few extra dollars in our wallets.
So, this is how the megachurch economy runs: the hard-working layman slaves away at his 'normal' job and brings a portion of his wages to church. This goes toward the upkeep of the lavish facilities, “furthering the kingdom” (i.e. building more such facilities), and paying the preacher's salary.
But wait! Your lot in life can be so much more… because God, we are told, has called some people (the chosen few!) to finance the kingdom. If you're a businessman (or woman), with more income than the average parishioner, it's your privilege to join the 100 Kingdom People – where you'll need to pledge no less that $10,000 per annum. And don't worry if you're not quite that rich, because there are also the Vision Impacters, which you can join for just $5,000 a year. And then the rest who can't even fork out that much, make up the Army of Faithful Believers.
Isn't it nice to have a hierarchy to climb?
So what do mega-churches really prize? Souls, or benefactor members; the proclamation of Christ and His gospel, or the promotion of their ministry?
A case study of the disabled pensioner, who watches the God Channel faithfully for eight hours every day, sending her social security/welfare cheque to the ministry in response to the constant exhortations to give generously, reveals the inherent contradiction of the prosperity message.
This capitalist approach to religion is understandably viewed by many to be at odds with the true gospel. It is a topic that has surfaced more and more over the past few years, and one that's grabbed the attention of the secular public and doesn't seem able to let go. The issue is one of hypocrisy: God's servants profiting from God’s work; Salvation for the world, and financial gain for those who spread “the good news.”
Thursday, February 5, 2009
At the heart of Hillsong... (Part III)
But what if, despite all this, we give the leaders and preachers who benefit materially from such a set-up the benefit of the doubt… Laying cynicism aside, is this “blessed to be a blessing” idea self-consistent?
I can see that if I were a farmer, and had an unusually plentiful harvest, I would be in a good position to be a blessing to others. I can see why God would bless my farm if my heart was to bless others. I can even see how a group of farmers, all blessed by God, could pool their blessing and bless on an even bigger scale than any one of them could have individually.
But what I don't see is this concept exemplified by Hillsong, or similar churches. It is true that they bless their communities, and no doubt a lot of good has been done. But is this good proportional to the contributions made by all those well-to-do farmers (or businessmen, to make the analogy a little more relevant)?
Who is to say that there isn't a point when a church grows so large that its use of finances becomes inefficient? If Hillsong is anything to go on, this is in fact exactly what happens. I've seen first hand the wilful waste of money. They're terrible financial stewards.
There is nothing truly effective in place to ensure the efficient distribution of resources and funds. All there is, is a senior pastor's whim, to blow those millions of dollars any which way he sees fit. A convention centre here, an ice rink there… oh, and lets throw half a million overseas to even it all out a bit. And let's not forget that Hillsong grosses more that $60M a year. If you take time to do the sums, there's an alarming proportion of this revenue which goes toward “administration”.
“But God still blesses it” you may say. Well, no… people just keep buying into it.
It is possible to justify such wastefulness, as anyone who has sat through a Hillsong offering message will have witnessed. But why should we? To turn a blind eye to the moral corruption (for that is what it is, albeit secularly legal) of church leaders? Have our ears been so tickled by their platitudes that we're willing to abandon commonsense? .....
more next CETF # 50