“Many probably know Hillsong church for their popular worship albums. Most contemporary churches in the USA probably sing one or more of their songs on a Sunday. The unfortunate reality that is often not understood is their philosophy for ministry and the gospel they preach (or don’t preach).
This last Sunday night, Amy and I traveled to Hillsong with three guys from the local church plant that we have been working with here in Sydney. During the four weeks that we have been here, we have heard many jokes about Hillsong, and have read some press from the Sydney Anglicans writing against the ministry there. The main complaint is that the ministry there is nothing more than an evolved Pentecostal service that preaches a prosperity gospel. In spite of all that we had heard and read, we thought that it would be best to keep an open mind for our visit, giving them the benefit of the doubt. The following is a summary of our visit, followed by some reflection.
Upon our arrival, the outside of the church was very large. Upon entering the inside, we walked into a busy thoroughfare, where parishoners were buying coffee, books, and presale CD’s and DVD’s. We walked past these things and entered into the arena. To our surprise, the church was smaller than we had expected. From all of the pictures we had seen of their worship rallies, we expected a massive arena, when in fact there were seats for about 3,000 (still considerably large, but not too overbearing for people from the land of mega-churches).
The service began with some amazingly produced music. There were three movie theater sized screens that were flashing images of the band and art, as well as lights moving across the stage and crowd, and there was a lot of sound. Big guitars, lots of bass, cool synths, and loud drums. The sound moved through you. The crowd was very involved in the music as most of them (15-25 yrs. old) were jumping up and down and singing. Lyrically the music was quite impressive. Most every song that we heard referred to Jesus, the gospel message, and the glory of God. These songs were often loose strands of Christianized words, however the overall message was very encouraging from a gospel perspective.
In the middle of the music, a pastor came out and gave an alter call. There was no preaching preceding this, but rather a strong movement of music. The call was in response to the songs. The pastor that gave the alter call explained that everyone had a problem of separation from God, that they could not solve that problem by themselves, and that Jesus was the answer to their problem. After this explanation he invited people to come forward if they wanted to begin to live for Jesus.
The service continued with more singing. Then another pastor came out and read from Galatians 6. He explained that we need to sow our money in order to reap rewards. He said that it is a good thing to be generous, and that the Lord blesses generosity. He prompted a video of a lady giving a testimony of how she sold things on eBay in a compulsion to give, and how her giving resulted in miracle after miracle in her life that next year. There was prayer, then more music as the offering buckets went around.
The music continued. Another, pastor came out waving prayer request cards and prayed for the Lord to answer the requests based on the promises of his Word. Then more music.
Next, Brian Houston (senior pastor) came out and gave a sermon. The theme for the evening was a heart for the household, and that evening there was a once a year special offering to support the household (the church). His sermon was on Acts 16, the story of Paul and Silas in jail, and the conversion of the jailer. The main thrust of his message was based on the word ‘hold.’ He used the words ‘hold’ and ‘household’ throughout the entirety of his message. He explained that the jailer went from putting people in the ‘hold,’ to seeing his ‘household’ converted. He said that the jailer was being ‘held’ by things. There were ‘holds’ on his life that almost kept him from what his ‘house-held.’ He applied this by saying that we all have things in our lives that may be ‘holds’ on us keeping us from what our ‘house-held’ (he used the past tense here). He gave three or four illustrations to support his point, including one about himself. He said that when he was younger, his father always favored his older brother, seeing him to have more potential. Brian said that had he allowed that ‘hold’ of his father favoring his older brother to keep him down, he may have never realized the potential of what his ‘house-held.’ In conclusion he said that whatever was ‘holding’ us (e.g. poor relationships, negativism, etc.) could be keeping us from our potential. Therefore we needed to free what our ‘house-holds.’
The evening then returned to more music. Brian’s wife came out to pray. There was a satelite feed to the other congregation in the city. There was a video about the special offering and their hopes for work around the city and around the world. The bucket was passed for the offering. Then more music. Finally, there was an encore, as people shouted “one more song.”
So what do we make of this first-hand encounter of Hillsong’s ministry. In our discussion following the service, we decided to start with positives first, before we offered critiques. Therefore, that is where I shall begin.
*The music was about as good as a production could be. It would rival any good rock show. This includes quality of sound and theatrics.
*Lyrically, the music included the gospel message. The aim of the lyrics was glory to God. *There was a very clear missional element to their lyrics that encouraged the hearer to be active in the world for the kingdom.
*The video for the giving was very good, as it portrayed a vision for aid around the world and Sydney. This sounded like gospel work (though this did not match Brian’s words).
*They (the Church leaders) seemed to know their audience. The music and style of the service fit well with the demographic of the service. The service we attended was definitely a youth service. The only old couple in the congregation (maybe mid 60’s) was sitting behind us. At one time I turned around to see how he was responding to the service. When I looked he had his cheeks puffed out, exhaling, and he was rubbing his ears as if to express “wow! that was intense (and LOUD!!!!)!” ( I chuckled when I saw him! )
*There was an expressed care for people.
*There was a gospel presentation. It was not clear in explaining sin, or the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, or even faith. However, there was clearly an attempt to connect people with Christ. The preacher clearly said that we all are separated from God, and Jesus is the only answer.
*The sermon was rubbish (as the Aussies would say). To translate: The sermon was garbage!!! I am quite certain that it was the worst sermon that I have heard. The content was terrible. Brian clearly had an agenda, the word ‘hold’ and ‘household,’ and he used the Word to accomodate his message. His sermon had no relation to the text at all. In his message he never even addressed the fact that the change agent for the jailer was JESUS!!! His message was a prosperity/ self-help talk. Besides the content, his delivery was also terrible. He was very slow on his feet, and unorganized in his thoughts. And in all seriousness (and not to poke fun) he has a preacher’s voice that sounds like a pirate (I comment on this because I think it was manufactured. If this is his natural voice and not a part of his image I apologize).
*The push for giving was given in the attitude that if you give you will be blessed with miracles.
I want to err on the side of charity. I think that there are many people at Hillsong who truly love Jesus. I think that there are some there who would be gospel believing Christians. That being said, I also think that the church is doing a very poor job at feeding their sheep. Their diet is an emotional one of musical experience. The Word is absent. It is not absent as though it is not read, but it is absent in that it is not taught. People are in fact being lead astray by a false gospel. They do teach that Jesus is the only way to God, but they also believe that the Christian life equals a life of prosperity in this world. In fact, there message seems to make a heavy appeal to this end.The music is very good, but it is a concert. A personal hobby-horse of mine is flashy production in a worship service. Though I am typically against this, their production is done in such a way that there is a large amount of audience participation. The draw for the church is clearly the music.
I think for churches around the world, it is okay to use their music, but there must be an understanding of the church which is generating the music. Most of the Sydney Anglicans do not use Hillsong music because they are in the same town and they do not want to associate Hillsong and its teaching of a prosperity gospel. It is their way of boycotting the message. Concerning Brian, he seemed very out of place in the service. The service would have been close (note the word close!) to permissible without him. His message was an atrocity, and it made my stomach hurt (not exageratting). It is sad to reflect from a ministerial position on the many lives he is misleading. He will surely have to answer to God. (This may seem harsh, but this is not something to take lightly).
Hillsong is a church with a lot of missed potential. Each weekend they draw a crowd of well over 10,000 people. During that time they would have a great opportunity to share the gospel and the Word with their congregants. Unfortunately, people are being mislead by poor teaching and emotional hype. I fear that many who attend will fizzle out when their emotions become stale. Their faith is currently based on experience, but when their experience changes, I wonder where their faith will reside.
After talking to my Anglican friends here, I empathize and side with them. If we allow for poor teaching one generation, what will happen in the next generation? False teaching should not be permitted. I think my overall approach would be similar to Paul’s response to the Corithians. He was keen to recognize them as brothers and sisters in Christ, but was sure to rebuke them for their mislead life. I think that Hillsong does have some genuine believers, however they are mislead and their life and faith reflect that. My prayer is that there will be a change of heart amongst the leadership and the congregation, that they might have a clear passion for the Word of God. Then there worship will not only be in Spirit, but also in Truth.”
“I’ve researched Hill$ong for a few years, and I’d point out that what you heard was not a failure to explain the gospel, but their own spin on or version of the gospel.Hill$ong does not see the gospel as justification through faith in Christ’s blood via repentence from sin.
Hill$ong sees Christ’s death and resurrection as an expression of God’s power, and therefore if you believe in Jesus you share in an ‘empowerment to live an awesome life.’
It takes the consequences of embracing the gospel, and makes it the ‘gospel’ itself.
The key to understanding Hill$ong’s ‘gospel’ is their alternative definition of grace.
Whereas a regular evangelical would see grace as God’s unmerited favour on an undeserving sinner (amazing grace that saved a wretch like me), Hill$ong teaches that God gives you ‘grace’ ..that is power (as long as you do all the right things like tithe..etc)….to fulfil ‘God’s amazing plan for your life’.
That is… they believe God ‘graces’ you to live your life in power and authority.
Hill$ong bypasses the whole sin thing altogether. The closest they get to acknowledging sin is that they sometimes admit that believers ‘make mistakes’…(as opposed to sinning), but teaches that believers should not live in regret or ‘negativity’.
So when someone like you goes to Hill$ong, although you’ll hear a lot of the same words like ‘Jesus’ and ‘born again’ or ‘following Christ’…the assumptions you have about those terms and the assumptions they have about what those terms mean are very different.
It took me years to figure out the difference between what Hill$ong believes and classical Christianity…and that was only after studying transcripts of their teachings and writings.
So I wouldn’t expect someone who’s been there on a first visit..or even a few weeks or months…to get a handle on what’s not right about the place.
BTW. On Hill$ong’s website you can read their statement of beliefs…which cover the traditional ground of sin, repentence, the blood (it’s a copy and paste of standard AOG beliefs)….blah, blah, blah…but that’s not what Hill$ong teaches from week to week.”