Hillsong is one of Australia’s most well-known exports. They’re known not only for their praise and worship music brand, but also for attracting celebrities like Justin Bieber. Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently spoke at a Hillsong Conference. He’s a member of a church that belongs to the Australian Christian Churches, to which Hillsong also belongs.
Hillsong is not just a church – it’s a global phenomenon. Around the world, over 130,000 people attend Hillsong each week. That could be a great thing if Hillsong was faithful to the Scriptures. If they were faithfully preaching the gospel and following the Word of God, Hillsong could have a powerful impact. But are they?
Last week, the ABC featured a piece on modern Pentecostalism in Australia. This is how it opens:
It is Sunday morning at Hillsong’s megachurch in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria, and Pastor Natalie Pingel pauses mid-sermon to conduct an impromptu Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson look-a-like contest.
She selects a group of buff parishioners and members of the band to line up on stage. Each takes turns flashing the crowd the actor’s signature raised eyebrow, to approval and gushing laughter.
Pastor Pingel then leads the congregation in prayer, the band plays anthemic rock music and the big screens either side of the stage light up with suggestions for what people can pray for.
The suggestions include financial stability, luck with job applications and visa approvals.
In these few words, there’s plenty indication that things are seriously wrong with Hillsong. Even though they’re Pentecostal and, as such, claim to give more attention to the Holy Spirit, in reality they’re missing some key things the Spirit says.
Let’s start with the pastor. The Holy Spirit says in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Yet Hillsong flouts the Holy Spirit’s teaching and has a woman delivering a sermon.
What about the “look-a-like” contest? Search the Spirit’s book to see if any such thing was ever done by the apostles. In the Bible, did the apostles pursue “approval and gushing laughter”? Surely not. Instead, the apostles preached the Word of God and left these sorts of comedic antics for the theatre. They followed the leading of the Holy Spirit who said, simply, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) – they didn’t add or take away from that. They simply preached the Scriptures.
Next, notice the stage and “anthemic rock music.” What associations do we commonly make with such things? Entertainment. Together with the comedy act, this doesn’t portray serious Christian worship in the presence of the Holy God, but an entertainment event. What is this but “the itching ears” described by the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy 4:3?
But most concerning of all in the ABC article is the portrayal of Hillsong as a purveyor of prosperity gospel teaching. This is well-known. Hillsong teaches that God wants believers to experience prosperity in this life. This can manifest itself in different ways: financial, health, relationships. Becoming a Christian opens up access to all these blessings. Christ died and rose again victorious to give Christians these blessings. From time to time, they may still talk about the cross and give something of the true biblical gospel. However, the emphasis falls on prosperity and success as the good news.
Even though the Spirit says it (Isa. 45:7, Lam. 3:38, Ps. 60:1-4, Ps. 66:10-12, Ps. 119:71), the idea that God would send adversity into the lives of believers because he loves them and wants to shape them is foreign to prosperity gospel churches. The Holy Spirit made most of the Psalms laments, but the prosperity gospel doesn’t know what to do with them. In the New Testament, the Spirit-filled Jesus told his disciples that they would have to take up their cross and follow him (Matt. 10:38). In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas told the early Christians, “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” But the idea of bearing the cross before wearing the crown doesn’t register in the prosperity gospel message. Instead, it’s all about glory here and now.
Moreover, what’s missing is the biblical gospel message which the Spirit gave through Paul: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). And what did he come to save us from? According to Romans 5:9, we are saved by Christ “from the wrath of God.” That note is rarely, if ever, heard in prosperity gospel churches.
Let me conclude with a question someone is sure to raise: could someone be genuinely saved at or through Hillsong? Perhaps. God can do amazing things despite people. He does amazing things despite me. So he could save people through Hillsong too and I sincerely hope he does. But that’s beside the point. If a Christian is looking for a more consistently biblical, gospel-preaching church, I’m afraid Hillsong just doesn’t fit the bill. If a Christian is looking for a church aiming to follow what the Holy Spirit teaches about worship and the offices of the church, one can do far better than Hillsong.