You’ve likely read the news regarding Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church, refusing to answer questions concerning Hillsong’s position on same sex marriage. Although this is not the first time Houston has made similar statements, it is the most recent.
Does Hillsong’s position matter? After all, even Houston himself made a press release with a follow up statement that he personally believes in the traditional definition of marriage. (In effect, his “clarification” covered his personal belief but reiterated that Hillsong would not take a public position on these matters as a church.)
Over the years, many have spoken out against Hillsong. The overall assessment I have heard has centered on music issues—specifically their CCM style. Sometimes we critique an area that may be worthy of attention (after all, music is a powerful, important part of worship and worthy of concern), but we can miss the larger picture and the deeper issues. Thus we condemn a ministry for an expression of a deeper issue rather than identifying and separating from the real issue(s).
Why would I be concerned when a Baptist pastor becomes enamored with a ministry like Hillsong? My fundamental concern is that those enamored with Hillsong’s style will end up compromising Bible doctrine.
Notice the three points of concern below, and ask yourself if these aren’t substantial issues—issues that would keep you from working with the church in your hometown that believed and practiced in these ways?
1. No belief in the cessation of tongues
As a ministry affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches (the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God), Hillsong Church believes in speaking in tongues and that the supernatural sign gifts of the first century are in present operation today.
I am a Baptist. I believe in the complete and final authority of Scripture—and I believe Scripture is complete.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.—2 Timothy 3:16–17
I believe that tongues and the supernatural sign gifts were specific to the apostles and foundational to the first century. Furthermore, I believe they ceased when “that which is perfect”—the complete Word of God—was given.
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;—Ephesians 2:20
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.—2 Corinthians 12:12
…whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.—1 Corinthians 13:8–10
Why would I look to a church for ministry philosophy that believes the opposite of what I believe in such a significant area?
2. No belief in eternal security
As an Assemblies of God church, Hillsong does not believe in the eternal security of the believer—which relates to the doctrine of salvation itself.
As a Baptist, I not only believe in it, I treasure it as one of the most precious doctrinal assurances of God’s Word.
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.—John 10:28
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.—Ephesians 1:13–14
Along the same lines, at the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Houston released a statement that both praised Pope John Paul II and promised prayer for Benedict: “We pray too that this papacy, like those before it, is marked by a commitment to seeing the Christian message continue to go forward and people changed by the power and truth of the gospel.” While he noted that Protestants and Catholics hold different views, he affirmed, “we share a common desire to exalt Christ and serve our community to the best of our ability.”
It appears to me that the doctrine that was so important to the Reformers, and for which my Baptist forefathers died, is often downplayed by churches like Hillsong and others which are involved in the CCM movement.
3. A refusal to take a stand for biblical morality
I refer specifically, as noted above, to Hillsong’s refusal to take a stand against transgender lifestyles.
Make no mistake about it: Paul called homosexuality sin. (See Romans 1:24–31.) Yet, he prefaced these indictments with a bold declaration that the gospel is the power of God to change lives.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.—Romans 1:16
To the Corinthian church—a church living in a terribly decadent culture—Paul reminded the people that they had been freed from these sins.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind…shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.—1 Corinthians 6:9–11
This moral freedom did not happen because Paul refused to speak to these issues. He recognized the culture he was surrounded by, but he viewed it through the lens of gospel power.
Why should the church capsize to culture when the gospel has the power to change lives and free those in bondage?
And why should biblical Baptists look to churches that are waffling in their moral positions and errant in their doctrine for ministry philosophy or models?
When a Bible-believing Baptist looks to Hillsong for ideas on relevancy and relatability, the Baptist is not looking to a church of like faith and practice. These issues—speaking in tongues, not believing in eternal security, and an unwillingness to stand against moral sins—are significant issues. They matter.
I am a biblical Baptist, and I encourage my Baptist brethren to promote biblical doctrine, Baptist polity, and the power of the gospel—not only in word but in affiliation and ministry practice.