Daily Archives: December 4, 2016

Grace to You(GTY): “Hillsong & God”

Code: B161129

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. [1] John MacArthur, Worship (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 10-12.

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. [2] Worship, 20.

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.

 


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B161129
COPYRIGHT ©2016 Grace to You

Grace to You(GTY): “Hillsong & Man”

Code: B161201

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. [1] John MacArthur, Slave (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 121–22

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.

 


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B161201
COPYRIGHT ©2016 Grace to You

Progressive Christians and their doctrines of devils

Do not be fooled by professing Christians who prefer either “progressive Christian” or “social justice Christian” over evangelical. It matters not what trendy terms they come up with to describe themselves, these folks are leftists. Some are Marxists. And others are Communists. As I said in a series of essays I wrote entitled “Liberals created the culture of evil and death” the visible Church has been infiltrated by . . . [Click for more]

Rick Warren: Forget Sola Scriptura, But There is ‘Plus Scriptura’

Bud Ahlheim of Pulpit & Pen examines the teaching of Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback megachurch which is one of the largest churches in the U.S.  He quotes Tim Challies as saying the following about the man who has been dubbed the “Purpose Driven Pope”:

One need only read Warren’s books or listen to a few of his messages to realize how often he explains and applies passages incorrectly. I assume this is because he has not taken the time to first humble himself before the Scripture and determine what the passages really mean. So do not be confused and presume that Warren is an expository preacher.

Ahlheim also includes something highly influential pastor Charles Spurgeon once said:

Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the Word of God already. He adds nothing to the Bible and never will.

Now listen as Bud Ahlheim shreads Warren’s post “The Four Ways God Speaks To You.”  He writes:

Photo courtesy Apprising Ministries

When the apostle Paul was writing his final letter to Timothy, he failed to include a number of things that are so frequently hurled about the Christian church today as utterly important, especially when it comes to hearing from God.

For example, the apostle did not instruct his young protégé on the importance of listening for God’s “still small voice” for personal and ministerial guidance. He didn’t remind Timothy about the importance of astutely discerning between God-sent, spiritual “impressions” for direction as opposed to those which might be of a distinctly more carnal nature.  The apostle of our Lord also forgot to advise the young minister about the importance of circumstances God may orchestrate in order to provide spiritual guardrails to guide him down the correct, providential path.

Read more

Fake News: 5 Stories The Mainstream Media Reported as Real, But They Were Fake

There’s a reason Secretary of State John Kerry said the Internet is making it harder to govern… because people have a lot more information at their fingertips and no longer have to rely solely on the mainstream media’s establishment propaganda machine.