But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! - Galatians 1:8-9
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ - Matthew 7:21-23
Cameron Buettel and Jeremiah Johnson are a couple of fellas whose love for Christ and knowledge of the Scriptures is evidently manifest in the wisdom they present on their Grace to You Blog. For many years Moriah Ministries Australia has exposed Brian Houston's Hillsong corporation and their defection from orthodox Christianity by seeking friendship and popularity with the world (James 4:4) and for butchering God's Word (2 Timothy 2:15). In that endeavor we have admittedly been less than gracious on occasion, and there would be a reason for such a tone. The long term damage this pernicious word of faith entity is having on unsuspecting lives all around the planet is incalculable from an eternal perspective. Many of the attenders of this 'church' are living under a delusion of genuine salvation and will likely be among those spoken of in Matthew 7:21-23, unless they hear and respond to the genuine Gospel. The math is really quite simple when you take time to consider it. Speaking of false teachers in Matthew 7:16, Jesus emphatically declared that they would be identifiable by their 'fruits'. In context, the fruits of a false teacher are his or her false teachings, which makes perfect sense considering the Scripture declaring "from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks". (Luke 6:45). An unregenerate person is not only going to only act like an unregenerate person, they are going to sound like one as well. Simply put, the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. While some of these false teachers have grown quite adept in masking their true nature by speaking Christian-ish and hiding behind the popularity and celebrity of their position, their doctrines give them away every time. False teachers say false things because false things fill their hearts. Which is why we have long called heresy veteran of 34 years Brian Houston, a false teacher. It honestly frustrates me personally watching deceivers such as Houston beguile the willing to be beguiled masses to the point where I have to walk away from it for a time before I blow a gasket.
That said, it is refreshing to read, from a different perspective, a more measured perspective, a report from a couple of brothers who know how to present the facts maturely, confidently, without any bias or resentment and with a heart genuinely toward lost people caught up in such a wicked system as Hillsong-anity. And yes, as 'tin foil hat' as that may sound, it's the truth, as you will see.
I commend both Cameron and Jeremiah for their dedication to fiercely presenting the truth in an age of ecclesiastical pansies.
What follows are four blogpost entries from Cameron and Jeremiah concerning the beliefs and practices of Hillsong - and more specifically the issues of...
Hillsong and Worship
Hillsong and God
Hillsong and Man
Hillsong Postscript (a summary and an appeal)
What does Hillsong believe and teach on these critical subjects? The answer may well shock you. Just sayin'.
Note: Please take the time to follow the media links in the right side bar for more on Hillsong's slide into the abyss, particularly Chris Rosebrough's review of a recent Brian Houston blasphemy at Hillsong's annual Vision Sunday >>
In His Everlasting Embrace
Moriah Ministries Australia
Hillsong and Worship
by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson
This is no performance
Lord, I pray it’s worship
Empty words I can’t afford
I’m not chasing feelings
That’s not why I’m singing
You’re the reason for my song
And I only wanna sing
If I sing with everything
If I sing for you, my King
I can’t imagine why
I would do this all for hype
Cause it’s all to lift You high
At this point in the song—titled “Only Wanna Sing”—the music soars, the strobe lights fire up, and everyone on stage and in the crowd begins to dance with reckless abandon.
The irony is hard to miss.
That song—by the band Hillsong Young and Free—epitomizes many of the issues with much of Hillsong’s worship music: vague lyrical content, confused doctrinal perspectives, and an emphasis on style over substance.
Appeal Through Ambiguity
Hillsong’s philosophy fits well with the zeitgeist of our day. The social scientists now tell us that morality is subjective, gender is fluid, and truth is an illusion. Clearly, the precise theology espoused in ancient hymns won’t get the job done anymore.
Hillsong has probably done a better job than anyone else in filling the musical void that many modern churches have experienced. Their songs are catchy, their musicians are excellent, and their songwriters know how to “sound Christian” enough to salve the consciences of all in attendance. Consequently, their music permeates the Christian world, and their album sales are huge—even by secular standards.
Lest you anticipate some fundamentalist rant at this point, we need to be clear: This is not a screed against modern music infiltrating the church.
But we should be wary when our ancient and exclusive faith is overrun with modern songs featuring a fluid and indistinct message. In many instances, Hillsong lyrics are so vague they could be embraced by most religions.
At break of day, in hope we rise
We speak Your Name, we lift our eyes
Tune our hearts into Your beat
Where we walk, there You'll be
With fire in our eyes, our lives a-light
Your love untamed, it's blazing out
The streets will glow forever bright
Your glory's breaking through the night
You will never fade away, Your love is here to stay
By my side, in my life, shining through me everyday
You wake within me, wake within me
You're in my heart forever
Those lyrics come from “Wake,” a song with no distinctive Christian element. In fact, there’s little to distinguish it from the forlorn ramblings of a junior high love letter.
Hillsong pastors readily point out that all their songs are reviewed for theological accuracy. But when it comes to songs like “Wake” and “Only Wanna Sing,” what is there to review?
Doctrinal Gaps and Malpractice
Not all Hillsong worship songs suffer from ambiguity; some evidence attempts to be more theologically concrete. “What a Beautiful Name” is one example where the biblical themes are at least discernible.
The first verse references Christ’s eternality and deity: “You were the Word at the beginning / One with God the Lord Most High” (cf. John 1:1). Later, the song’s bridge refers to His resurrection: “Death could not hold You / The veil tore before You . . . For You are raised to life again.” And throughout the song, Christ is referred to as King.
However, the second verse is a great example of the doctrinal maladies that plague most of the Hillsong catalogue—malpractice, man-centeredness, and missing information.
You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now . . .
The writer of “What a Beautiful Name” would have us believe that the reason for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was because He “didn’t want heaven without us.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not remotely biblical. In fact, it’s doctrinal malpractice by people who should know better.
Nowhere does the Bible state that an unsatisfying solitude in heaven was God’s reason for redeeming people. Rather, the theme that resounds throughout Scripture is God’s desire to glorify Himself by redeeming sinners. Romans 3:21–26 explicitly describes Christ’s atonement as the display of God’s righteousness. Undoubtedly, the cross was also the demonstration of God’s great love for sinners (John 3:16), but that doesn’t mean He was lonely without us.
Furthermore, that unbiblical statement flows out of the man-centered worldview that permeates almost everything Hillsong does. Rather than seeing ourselves as the undeserving beneficiaries of God’s redemptive plan, we become the central characters in a story that’s meant to glorify God.
The other major problem that plagues even the best songs in the Hillsong library is also evident in “What a Beautiful Name.” Even when they get it theologically right, the missing information robs the lyrical content of any useful meaning. “My sin was great, Your love was greater” begs more questions than they’re willing to answer. It’s exceedingly rare for Hillsong worship to even mention sin, but even if they do it’s left completely undefined.
Similar subjects like God’s wrath, repentance, judgment, depravity, and personal holiness are virtually absent from the entire Hillsong catalog. But those biblical realities form the necessary background to explain most things Hillsong does talk about: grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. If grace is unmerited favor, we need to know why we don’t merit it. Mercy is meaningless without understanding the wrath that we deserve. Forgiveness is incomprehensible without grasping our personal guilt before God. And salvation rings hollow when we’re never told what we’re saved from.
At the Strange Fire conference, John MacArthur had this to say about another popular Christian band, and what passes for worship music in many churches today:
Let me explain worship in a simple way. The deeper your understanding of the truth of God, the deeper your understanding of God Himself, the higher your worship goes. Worship is directly correlated to understanding. The richer your theology, the more full your grasp of biblical truth, the more elevated your worship becomes. You don’t have to turn the music on for me to worship. Low understanding of God—superficial, shallow, understanding of God—leads to shallow, superficial, content-less hysteria. You can whip that up, you can create that kind of frenzy. It has nothing to do with worship; it isn’t worship; it’s not connected to worship; it is sheer hysteria in a mindless expression. You’ve been singing hymns this week. Why? Because there’s rich theology in hymns. We don’t have to go hysterical; we want your mind fully engaged. . . . I don’t need 7-11 choruses, seven words eleven times over. I need to advance the doctrine. I need to advance the richness. I need to deepen the truth and broaden the truth. And hymns have verses, not just five words repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated but never really with the nuances of theology. So, yeah . . . that’s not worship, that’s not even Christian. That’s no different than a rock concert. There’s a lot of ways to manipulate people’s minds, and they have figured out how do that.
Doctrine matters. At best, a steady diet of Hillsong music will leave you with an incomplete theology of salvation. At worst, it promotes unbiblical falsehoods about God, us, and how we can be reconciled to Him.
Style over Substance
It’s worth pointing out that we did not cherry-pick the lyrics referenced above. In a musical catalogue as vast as Hillsong’s, it wouldn’t be hard to find a few weak songs to critique.
Instead, the songs mentioned above come directly from our visits to Hillsong church services. For a few months now, we’ve been visiting Hillsong Los Angeles—one of the ministry’s most recent church plants. While the American audience is primarily familiar with Hillsong’s worship bands, CDs, and concerts, throughout most of the rest of the world, they are one of evangelicalism’s fastest-growing church networks. With franchises established all around the world, they’ve recently begun to expand into the US.
In our estimation, Hillsong represents the next wave of the kind of seeker sensitivity John MacArthur has warned about throughout his ministry. They are cut from the same cloth as Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren—they’re just aiming for a younger, hipper audience.
Hillsong LA’s church services are virtually indistinguishable from rock concerts. From the moment you walk in, your eyes and ears are assaulted by incoherent multimedia displays, with vague artistry passing for profundity.
While the familiar elements of a church service are there—prayer, worship, teaching, etc.—they’re usually designed and deployed as an appeal to your senses, not your soul. It makes you wonder what people think they’re committing to during the pseudo-altar call that ends every service.
In the end, Hillsong’s carelessness and ambiguity extend beyond their lyrics, touching every element of their global ministry. In the days ahead, we’re going to look at the practical theology they proclaim, and compare it to their own doctrinal statements and ultimately to Scripture.
What you’re going to see—as we have seen firsthand—is that the significant influence Hillsong wields is sowing confusion and corruption into the next generation of the church.
Hillsong and God
by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson
Truth matters, especially when it comes to worship. That ought to be obvious; you can’t properly praise the Lord if you don’t know who He is. Christ Himself was unequivocal on that point—He said true worshippers “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, emphasis added).
However, much of modern worship music seems to aim at taming the one true God. Some popular “worship songs” are nothing more than artificial praise offered to a different god altogether. In his book Worship, John MacArthur describes the fallout of the biblical illiteracy that permeates the church today.
“Worship” aims to be as casual and as relaxed as possible, reflecting an easy familiarity with God unbefitting His transcendent majesty. This type of “worship” seems to aim chiefly at making sinners comfortable with the idea of God—purging from our thoughts anything like fear, trembling, reverence, or profound biblical truth. . . .
The decline of true worship in evangelical churches is a troubling sign. It reflects a depreciation of God and a sinful apathy toward His truth among the people of God. Evangelicals have been playing a kind of pop-culture trivial pursuit for decades, and as a result, the evangelical movement has all but lost sight of the glory and grandeur of the One we worship. 
During our recent visits to Hillsong Los Angeles, we’ve seen that trend played out in vivid detail. Worse still, we’ve identified some unbiblical characteristics that Hillsong routinely attribute to God.
Hillsong’s God Is Passive
In their Statement of Beliefs, Hillsong asserts—without any biblical support—the following: “We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.”
That statement raises some important questions: What is hindering God from making us all healthy and blessed? And why is the world full of sickness, poverty, and hardship if God doesn’t want it that way?
The simple answer is that Hillsong worships a passive and impotent God. Over and over during our time at Hillsong LA, we were encouraged to “invite God in to lead and guide” and to “allow” Him to lead us. We were taught that our worship opens the door for God to work in our lives—that it offers Him the opportunity to bring breakthrough to our circumstances. One night we were bluntly assured that “our prayers can even change God’s mind.”
That’s a far cry from the God of the Bible, who “does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3); whose purposes cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2); who predestines His people according to His purpose and will (Ephesians 1:11); and who sovereignly rules over all His creation (Psalm 103:19). While God’s sovereignty is occasionally paid lip service in songs and sermons, the concept of a truly sovereign Lord is utterly foreign to Hillsong’s theology.
Hillsong’s God Is One-Dimensional
But that comes as no surprise, given Hillsong’s general myopia when it comes to divine attributes. In the Hillsong doctrinal economy, one aspect of God’s character stands head and shoulders above all others: His love. On more than one occasion we were told that “God desperately loves every single person out there in Los Angeles.” We were repeatedly reminded that the gospel and the message of Jesus Christ are “inclusive”—that God is not interested in perfect people; that He loves you “just the way you are” (more on that next time).
In one evening service, we heard from Christine Caine, an anti-trafficking activist and international speaker—herself a product of Hillsong. Her message concerned God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, and she used the story of Abraham and Sarah as her text. She closed by reassuring us that God still loves us after the “dumb stuff”—a term she applied to all sorts of sin, including Abraham’s fornication with Hagar. Her point was that there is nothing we can do—no matter how egregious and rebellious the sin—to make God love us any less. His great love for mankind will always win out, overcoming any and every obstacle.
The problem with that view of God’s love is that it ignores so many of His other fundamental attributes. There is no thought given to His holiness, His justice, or His righteous wrath. In fact, as Romans 5:8-9 makes clear, God’s love and His wrath are best understood in tandem. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
Hillsong is quick to apply the blessings and benefits of God’s great love. But apart from those other vital aspects of His character, it seems like little more than vague affection. Put simply, God’s love loses its luster in a vacuum.
As John MacArthur explained in a video blog earlier this year, “You can’t take one attribute of God—any one attribute of God—and isolate that as if that defines God alone. God must be understood in all the complex of all His attributes.” In God’s divine nature, those attributes complement one another—they do not compete. And they cannot be fully or accurately understood in isolation.
Hillsong’s God Is Familiar
Perhaps one of the other hazards of over-emphasizing God’s love is that it turns Him into a kindly benefactor, robbing Him of due reverence and respect. Worship services do not need to be somber affairs, but there is a noticeable lack of sobriety that pervades Hillsong LA’s meetings.
And it’s not just a matter of the club-like atmosphere or the rock show accouterments. There’s no discernable sense of reverence or awe for God—no notion that He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29). And while they spend significant time wooing people to enter into a relationship with Christ, there is no sense that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Rather, Hillsong’s God is a cosmic butler, attentive to all our needs and eager to unleash breakthrough, heal relationships, and shower blessings into our lives. He waits at our beck and call.
Gone is any sense of God’s transcendence or holiness. In fact, the reactions of men like Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John—who humbly fell on their faces in the presence of the Lord, dumbstruck with awe—seem inappropriate for a deity as intimate and familiar as the one Hillsong describes.
That attitude can lead to some disturbingly casual and careless discussion of God’s Person and work. For example, in the aforementioned message from Christine Caine, she brought the audience to hysterics with the following description of God’s creative work: “God woke up one day and burped and [gestures] earth, and [said] ‘Whoops, look what I did.’” Those simply aren’t the words of someone who takes God and His Word seriously.
A Word About God’s Word
That same giddy carelessness is on display in most of the preaching we heard at Hillsong LA. Speakers frequently play fast and loose with Scripture and its meaning. Context is rarely a concern. The general pattern is to isolate a portion of Scripture’s narrative and turn it into an analogy for the audience and a promise of God’s blessing and favor.
Even the most familiar verses and passages are exceedingly pliable in the hands of Hillsong’s leadership. The first Sunday we attended, Hillsong LA’s lead pastor Ben Houston turned John 3:16 into an exhortation to give to the church, explaining how “God so loved that He gave,” and that our love for the church ought to prompt us to give our money.
That sort of postmodern flexibility is brought to the text in every service, and it turns every lesson into a reminder of God’s aggressive love for you, His eager desire to bless you, and your integral part in unleashing that blessing in your own life. It’s not much more than a watered-down version of the prosperity gospel or the Word Faith movement.
In his book, Worship, John MacArthur points to several Old Testament examples to illustrate how seriously God takes worship. Whether it’s the Israelites fashioning a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, the strange fire offered by Nadab and Abihu, or Uzzah simply reaching out to steady and secure the Ark of the Covenant, the message is clear:
God will not accept deviant worship. Some would insist that any kind of sincere worship is acceptable to God, but that is simply not true. The Bible clearly teaches that those who offer self-styled worship are unacceptable to God, regardless of their good intentions. No matter how pure our motivation may seem or how sincere we are in our attempt, if we fail to worship God as He has commanded, He cannot bless us. 
At best, Hillsong’s God is a pale and incomplete shadow of the fullness described in Scripture. At worst, he’s a fraudulent idol, made in man’s image and incapable of providing the redemption and transformation that sinners so desperately need.
Hillsong and Man
by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson
The heart of the human problem is the human heart. Therapy can’t change it. Self-help gurus can’t fix it. Positive confession can’t conceal it. And self-esteem can’t convert it.
Sinners cannot be persuaded into the kingdom of God. Salvation is not achieved through mental assent or emotional responses. Unless God regenerates the heart (Ezekiel 36:25–27; John 3:3) it remains dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), hostile to Him (Romans 8:7), and worthy of condemnation (Ephesians 2:3). That’s not a matter of opinion—it’s God’s own diagnosis of the unregenerate heart. And the only cure is His redeeming and transforming work. Everything else is woefully insufficient.
If you get the doctrine of man wrong, you can’t help but get the gospel wrong, too. That’s why John MacArthur describes total depravity (or “total inability”) as the most distinctly Christian doctrine:
No doctrine is more hated by unbelievers than this one, and even some Christians find it so offensive that they zealously attack it. Though the doctrine of total depravity is often the most attacked and minimized of the doctrines of grace, it is the most distinctly Christian doctrine because it is foundational to a right understanding of the gospel. . . . The neglect of this doctrine within American evangelicalism has resulted in all kinds of errors, including both the watered-down gospel and the seeker-driven pragmatism of the church growth movement. 
That was exactly what we experienced during our visits to Hillsong Los Angeles, where the biblical view of man has been discarded and replaced with something far more palatable to a therapeutic, self-centered culture.
Man Is Central
In Hillsong’s spiritual economy, man has tremendous inherent worth. The individual replaces Christ as the central figure in God’s redemptive plan. Their own doctrinal statement says that the purpose of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to “prove His victory and empower us for life.” The redemption of wretched sinners is not in view.
That man-centered approach is a recurring theme throughout Hillsong’s global ministry empire. Their songs are often more about the ones singing than the One they’re singing to. Every passage they preach is a promise of God’s blessing and favor for you. And their altar calls emphasize an endless stream of temporal, personal benefits—breakthrough, healing, success, and prosperity.
Effectively, Hillsong’s leaders seek to enable and empower a latent human condition. Their focus is primarily on the enormous potential we have to do great things and be great people. Hillsong’s official website contains a gospel presentation in which we are told that the main point of Christ’s incarnation was to “show us our full potential . . . the wonderful potential of perfected humanity.”
The preaching is where Hillsong’s man-centeredness is most blatant, as all the sermons we heard adhered to a simple but consistent template. First, a narrative portion of Scripture would be isolated and severed from its larger biblical context. Next, the preacher would insert him or herself and the congregation into the story. Third, the text was routinely used as a bridge to introduce personal illustrations from the preacher’s own experiences. And finally, after those personal experiences had been fully exegeted, the passage is recast as a promise from God for the congregation. Sitting under that kind of teaching long enough would convince you that all of Scripture is merely an allegory for you and your life.
God’s purpose in writing the biblical story, or its place in His wider redemptive plan, was never mentioned in any of the messages we heard. Man was always central. However, his culpability for sin was avoided at every turn.
Man Is Never Prosecuted
Human guilt barely registers on the Hillsong radar. While the word “sin” does get an occasional mention in Hillsong worship songs, it is never defined or described. The same goes for all the Hillsong preachers we heard—and even then, they prefer to describe sin as “dumb stuff” or “mistakes.”
Their statement of faith attempts greater clarity on the subject, but still falls far short of the biblical definition: “We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.” That’s not a false statement, but it drastically understates the reality of man’s fallen condition.
The reticence regarding sin extends throughout the ministry. We spoke with some of the Hillsong volunteers responsible for integrating new attenders. They made it clear that they had been instructed to avoid challenging or confronting people about their sins—even open, unrepentant sin. Considering the way Hillsong operates, you can’t help but wonder where and when such a confrontation might happen? It’s certainly not coming from the pulpit.
That reluctance to deal directly with sin is institutional at Hillsong. When Brian Houston—Hillsong’s founder and global pastor—was interviewed on Australian television, he was incapable of expressing any clear-cut biblical convictions on prominent moral issues:
I think that the homosexual question and sexuality generally is one of the most challenging questions there is for the church in the 21st century. And it’s one where I feel conflict myself, as a believer in the Bible and specifically the New Testament, I think that marriage is God’s idea, and I think it’s for a man and a woman. But I also represent a God that’s merciful and gracious and kind, and having to connect those two things I think is one of the great challenges for me as a church leader.
In the church we can point the finger so easily. On the subject of abortion, I’m pro-life. But in a way I’m pro-choice as well, because I believe in the sanctity of life and I believe that life begins at conception. But I also believe that ultimately human beings have to make their own choices, and I ultimately can’t tell you what you should do. I can only give you the parameters that I believe.
Those quotes don’t represent Christian conviction. They are the chameleonic ramblings of a political pragmatist.
Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong New York, goes even further than Houston. Instead of equivocating on morality, he simply chooses to avoid the subject altogether. During a television interview with Katie Couric, Lentz was asked for his views on gay marriage: “Do you feel you have a moral imperative to speak publically about some of these more controversial issues?” He responded: “No, because we try to be like Jesus. Very rarely did Jesus ever talk about morality or social issues.”
That’s either a lack of integrity or biblical literacy. Either way, it’s indicative of just how far Hillsong is willing to go to avoid dealing with sin directly.
Man Is a Victim
Since Hillsong refuses to offer any exploration or explanation concerning our personal guilt, our condition is always couched in therapeutic language. Man is regularly designated as the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Both Hillsong’s music and message label the primary problems of unbelievers with words like trapped, bound, enslaved, captive, hurting, wounded, disappointed, let down, and brokenhearted. Certainly some of those words reflect the biblical truth about the unregenerate heart. But the gospel of Hillsong is presented as the remedy to those problems—not reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:19) and rescue from His wrath (John 3:36).
During our visits, we regularly heard different Hillsong teachers point out that God loves us just as we are; that He understands how hard our lives are; that He has great desires and dreams for us; that He wants to fix all our financial, health, and relationship problems; and that He’s waiting on us to let Him unleash blessing and breakthrough in our lives. But none of that can happen until we have repented of our sin and surrendered our lives in faith to God.
We’re not denying the existence of genuine victims. But in terms of eternity, even the greatest victim still needs to appreciate the depth of his own guilt in order to grasp his need for the Savior. The speakers we heard at Hillsong LA were only interested in salving our own grief—there was no thought whatsoever for how our sin grieves God.
Man Doesn’t Need to Change
The natural consequence of concealing human guilt is that it removes all need for repentance—another word we rarely heard in our time at Hillsong LA. It did fit the rhyme scheme of one or two songs, and it occasionally slipped out during the routine alter calls, but it was never explained or stressed as a necessary element of faith in Christ.
Oddly enough, Hillsong’s statement of faith does talk about repentance: “We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives.” However, that quote only highlights the danger of taking doctrinal statements at face value. Concerning Hillsong and the doctrine of repentance, there is zero correlation between what they claim in print and what they actually preach.
For the sake of honesty, Hillsong should either conform their preaching to their doctrinal statement or conform their doctrinal statement to their preaching. As it stands now, it’s hard to see it as anything less than a devious misrepresentation. Worse still, they have congregations full of people—many of them previously unchurched—who are being kept in the dark about the seriousness of their sin and their urgent need to turn from it.
Man Is Validated
That leaves Hillsong with an emaciated, man-centered gospel. A gospel where God is the supporting cast to man’s starring role. It is a gospel that fails to prosecute men for their sins against God, and instead portrays the criminal as a victim—a gospel that places no requirements on the sinner to turn from his wicked ways. Salvation is thus reduced to God’s revitalization of the victim rather than His justification of the sinner.
Even during a discussion on the prayer acronym ACTS—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—we were specifically cautioned against confessing sins. The confession part of prayer was instead explained as reminding ourselves and God of His promises of blessing for us—a practice commonly referred to in charismatic circles as “positive confession.” With the doctrine of depravity already in ruins, it makes sense that Hillsong turns confession into another opportunity for self-aggrandizement.
That example pretty much encapsulates the delusional anthropology Hillsong teaches to its attenders. They focus on building self-esteem rather than our need to esteem Christ. They spotlight our disappointments at the expense of our guilt. They emphasize our potential while ignoring our depravity. And all the while the Hillsong flock is left in the dark about their true need for Christ.
A Final Word
Please don’t misunderstand our purpose in this series—as though we take some perverse delight in chronicling such a theological disaster. Instead, we feel a responsibility to warn the church about what we’ve seen and heard during our time at Hillsong, and encourage God’s people to be discerning about the ministries they allow to influence their faith and spiritual growth.
We also hope these posts will be lifelines to men and women who are unwittingly drowning in theological error. The people we encountered at Hillsong LA were some of the friendliest, kindest, and most welcoming people you could hope to meet. We are genuinely grieved for them and deeply troubled by their spiritual malnutrition. It’s our sincere hope that our words will help awaken them to the truth—that they are being denied the life-giving truth of God’s Word.
Perhaps you know people likewise caught under the sway of Hillsong or another similarly weak ministry—sadly, there are many others. Pray for them, and do what you can to funnel quality, biblical teaching their way. They are not the enemy; they are a spiritually starving mission field that needs to hear about the greatness of their sin and an even greater Savior.
by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson
We need to begin by saying thank you. The response to last week’s series on The Gospel According to Hillsong was explosive, far exceeding our expectations. We’re thankful to everyone who read it, shared it with others, and commented—even those of you who ultimately disagreed with us. It’s a privilege to do what we do—one we don’t take lightly. And we’re grateful for all the feedback we received.
With that in mind, we want to tie up a couple loose threads and answer some of the frequently asked questions that still linger from the series.
Why were you visiting Hillsong in the first place?
First, we think it’s important to explain that we did not set out to write a hit piece about Hillsong Los Angeles, nor were our visits conducted as some kind of witch hunt. We purposely did not delve into scandals, innuendo, or accusations regarding Hillsong’s leadership. In fact, we are convinced that our motives were pure.
In the months leading up to our first visit to Hillsong LA, we had seen some bizarre and outrageous videos that leaked from various Hillsong conferences. In each case, the defense was the same—those are isolated incidents, and not indicative of the way Hillsong churches routinely operate. Knowing that there is a Hillsong church essentially in our own backyard, we thought we ought to visit and see firsthand how they worship and what they teach. Frankly, we felt a responsibility to look into it, given the wide influence Hillsong enjoys in the church today, and the lack of immediate access for many people who might otherwise visit and evaluate a Hillsong church for themselves.
And while we were relieved to find that the most outrageous elements were not commonplace in their worship services, we still believed the content of their worship and teaching merited a warning to our readers. Given their massive global influence, it was worthwhile to evaluate their reliability and biblical integrity as a ministry outlet.
However, we are not interested in passing conclusive judgment on Hillsong’s orthodoxy. Ultimately the leaders of Hillsong will have to answer to God—not us—for what they have taught and how they have conducted their ministry in His name. Our goal was simply to encourage and assist readers like you to exercise informed discernment when it comes to Hillsong and its influence in your life and church.
Isn’t this just a question of taste?
We tried to make this point up front in the first post in the series: “This is not a screed against modern music infiltrating the church.” However, the vast majority of dissenters could not—or would not—see past the issues of style and taste.
To be clear, our musical preferences are not the standard for biblical worship—for that matter, neither are John MacArthur’s. We’re not interested in nit-picking, legalism, or enforcing our opinions as God’s standards. The Lord has not prescribed one style of music for the church, or told us which instruments glorify Him the most.
What He has said plainly is that we must not succumb to the love of the world or worldly things (1 John 2:15). What little we said about the style of Hillsong LA was for the purpose of illustrating what we believe is an unhealthy emphasis on the experience of their performances over the substance of what they’re proclaiming through their songs.
And while we’re on the topic, we want to say plainly that it is not wrong to play music in church that appeals to modern ears. There’s nothing inherently sinful about a drum kit or an electric guitar, just like there’s nothing inherently godly or righteous about pipe organs and grand pianos. The morality and acceptability of the worship is not determined by the instruments used, but by the intention of the musicians playing them. And with the heavy emphasis Hillsong places on appealing to modern tastes, it raises some natural questions about the legitimacy of the worship.
Having said that, our primary concern is not that they don’t sing hymns—on at least two different occasions, Hillsong did incorporate familiar hymns into their services. Instead, our concern is that what they have chosen—the praise and worship music they are most well-known for—is generally weak and shallow in terms of theological content.
We simply want to encourage people toward worship and teaching that reflects and deepens their understanding of God’s truth and their love for Him—and point them away from ministries that instead settle for emotional experiences and shallow platitudes.
What’s the danger of using Hillsong’s worship music with caution and discernment?
We heard from many readers who oppose Hillsong’s theology, but still embrace and employ their music. The argument is that they can incorporate the best of Hillsong’s worship music into their services without imbibing Hillsong’s influence altogether.
We see two issues with that reasoning. First, while your personal discernment and spiritual maturity might be enough to guard against Hillsong wielding spiritual influence in your life, you can’t be sure the same will be true for everyone in your church or under your authority. It’s simply not safe to assume that your entire congregation will share your immunity to Hillsong’s influence. In fact, wisdom would dictate that it is far better to look out for the weakest among you rather than risk exposing even one person to a potential snare.
The other factor to consider with regard to using Hillsong’s worship music is not spiritual, but financial. Do you want to make even small contributions to their global ministry—especially if you disagree with them theologically?
Even if you only use their most biblical songs in your church, you’re still helping to sustain and extend a ministry that—as we already saw in our series—does not consistently promote biblical views of God and man. Gabriel Powell, who heads up our web department here at Grace to You, made that very point last week in the comments. Regarding the lucrative nature of Hillsong’s worship music, he wrote:
Yes, there is most definitely a wide range of ways they benefit financially. Here are just some of them:
Copyright/Licensing fees paid by churches (CCLI).
Other music groups paying for permission to record and sell Hillsong-written music.
CD/Online download sales.
Merchandise (shirts, hats, etc.).
Massive concerts which are extremely lucrative.
We're talking tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars that Hillsong makes from their music.
The issue is not how much they make. The issue is that much of those finances are used to increase Hillsong’s ministry and promote its teaching around the world. Whether or not one pays for Hillsong’s music directly, Hillsong’s global ministry is supported, in part, by the popularity of their music.
We can’t take the place of your conscience, nor do we want to. You and your church have to decide before God what you believe is best for the people under your authority and influence. But from where we sit, it would be better to bypass Hillsong altogether and look for other ministry resources that don’t require the warnings and caveats that Hillsong does.