[A pastor’s response to the vision and fall of Hillsong]
Yesterday, Mel and I binged the new Docuseries about Hillsong. (It’s only three episodes so maybe it was more of a “mini-binge.”) It was extremely revealing to see this done from a non-Christian worldview. However, this is how the world sees the church, and it is a crying shame.
The vision for Hillsong church was communicated by Brian Houston (who has since resigned in disgrace as “Global Pastor”) in his document “The Church I See” many years ago. In it he sees many things, however not many of them are how the Bible sees the church, and this is ultimately what lead to its downfall.
Much like the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcasts, this series has made me think…a lot. Here then, is the church I see.
I see the church as local autonomous outposts of the kingdom of God, not franchises of the kingdom of men. Jesus has much to say about the kingdom of God, one of the most famous is in Matthew 16 where Peter confesses the reality of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. On that truth that Peter confessed, he said that “he will build HIS church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).
Hillsong turned Jesus’ church into a multi-million dollar business with sub-corporations which expanded a human kingdom. One in which was not established nor lead as the Bible instructs.
I see the church as lead by biblically qualified elders, not people of magnetic charisma. Carl Lentz (disgraced Hillsong NYC “pastor”) was a man of vision, but not God’s vision. He was a man who attracted thousands, but not to the gospel, to his own persona.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2 outline the biblical character and qualifications for elders, clearly, these were not followed in establishing the leadership of Hillsong church.
I see the church as counter cultural, not catering to the culture with cool production and watered down truth. Let’s face it, Hillsong made great music. Their stage production was massive (see the cover photo!). Every aspect of their “worship services” were carefully designed to cater to our experience and emotion, not the reverent worship that is due our Creator.
It doesn’t take too much reading in the gospels to see how truly counter cultural Jesus was. It isn’t about looking cool in this world that matters. Rather “whoever humbles himself like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4). When a pastor rolls up to the “venue” in a black SUV limo, is ushered in with security, “preaches” for a few minutes and is whisked back out like a rock star, he has completely lost sight of what Jesus calls us to.
I see a church that didn’t stand on the authority of the Bible, but rather the marketability of a vision. There seems to be no part of Hillsong that was submitting to the authority of the Bible – no biblical ecclesiology, no expositional preaching, no biblical church membership, no purity in church discipline, no accountability for sin nor any appropriate response for criminal abuse. Hillsong built a platform on catering to the culture to draw them in with production and fashion, instead of engaging culture with the authority and truth of God’s Word. We are called to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) and to be “blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…holding fast to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16)
I see God purifying his church. We have seen big pastors fall, big churches go away, and we will continue to. We see people “deconverting” from a cheap substitute for the truth of the biblical gospel. God will always work to purify us as individuals and grow us more into his image, and he will do this for his church as well. The world is watching and one thing I hope they see is that God will not be mocked.
Man didn’t bring down Hillsong, God did.