Next week up to 30,000 people will attend the Hillsong Sydney Conference. That has to make it Sydney’s largest Christian conference. Our family are regular attenders at the excellent CMS Summer School in Katoomba but the numbers there, while still big, are dwarfed by Hillsong.
All of this should be great cause for rejoicing. After all, the idea of tens of thousands of Christians gathering to worship the Lord and hear from His word ought to fill the heart with much gladness – at least if you’re a Christian.
And, for many, it does. But it ought not to. On the contrary. Because Hillsong Conference’s legacy is one of promoting some of the most pernicious false teachers and heretics of modern Christianity and to take part in that promotion must surely by utterly out of bounds for any self-respecting Christian once they’re aware of the details. Of course to some this sounds quite nonsensical. Dave Walker sums it up well…
But this isn’t just a question of taste. The Scriptures are clear on what ought to be done about false teachers. Here’s just a small sample,
Matt. 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
Gal. 1:8 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!
1Tim. 6:3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
2John 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.
The teaching of Jesus and His apostles is that we ought to be very wary of false teachers; those that deny the gospel, seek personal gain, and otherwise teach things contrary to the truth. We ought to have nothing to do with them at all, not even having them in our homes (let alone our stadium). Hillsong Conference, on the other hand, promotes many who fall into this category. It does so consistently and by grandstanding them advocates their teaching to those who come and others who look to them for leadership.
Now that is an enormous claim and it requires some substantial justification. But, dear reader, it’s actually not hard to do (although it will require a bit of time, so pour something into a glass or cup and let me make the case). The internet is awash with evidence for anyone who wants to do even a modicum of work. One cannot claim to be ignorant of the issues nor answers to those issues when the stakes are so high and the answers to the questions so easy to obtain.
The list of Hillsong Conference guests/speakers is publicly available. It should be noted that there are many speakers and musicians who should be heartily recommended and I see a few personal favourites there (although some may be disappointed that they’ve chosen to share a conference stage with some others who are there). But alongside them there’s also many who we should be really worried about as Christians. There’s not space here to go through every example but allow me to set out a number of particular interest, “lowlights” if you like.
clicking on the bullets will expand to show more information on each teacher
Kong Hee is the senior pastor of City Harvest Church in Singapore, currently embroiled in a large fraud case before the Singapore courts. He is known as a prosperity gospel teacher, consistently teaching that Jesus wishes to “prosper” Christians by giving them every financial, career and health blessing. Consistent with this theology, his own website describes him as having a
…deep and authentic relationship with his Abba Father that makes him more than a preacher, but a spiritual model to many of what it means to lay down your life and follow Christ.
Critiques of Kong Hee are legion (here’s just one example). Videos abound but here is just one classic example of his prosperity teaching. It has all the usual stuff drawing from Old Testament promises with no sense of the difference that the New Covenant makes (other than a closing “if so in the Old, how much more in the New?” claim.
“Friends, because we become like whom we worship, if we worship a poor Saviour, we will always see poor. But if you worship a savior who we know to be rich and prosperous and more then enough, we will be changed from glory to glory [applause starts], into the image of the one that we worship. Oh come on! Give God a big hand! ”
(9 reason y Jesus is rich, (02:56-03:35), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcOEBSmZbuQ, posted up 27/04/2010, (accessed 23/03/2011))
one of the world’s leading practical Bible teachers. ANew York Times bestselling author, her books have helped millions of people find hope and restoration through Jesus Christ. Through Joyce Meyer Ministries, she teaches on a number of topics with a particular focus on the mind, mouth, moods and attitudes.
Criticism ranges from her spending habits (flowing from a prosperity gospel) to bizarre teaching. Again, google and youtube are our friends and this video is more than enough to demonstrate the case.
[Jesus] could have helped himself up until the point where he said I commend my spirit into your hands, at that point he couldn’t do nothing for himself anymore. He had become sin, he was no longer the Son of God. He was sin.
The minute that blood sacrifice was accepted Jesus was the first human being that was ever born again,
I was listening to a set of tapes by one man and he explained it like this..this kind of gets the point across…he said why do people have such a fit about God calling his creation, his creation, his man not his whole creation, but his man, little gods? If he’s God what’s he going to call them but the God kind? I mean if you as a human being have a baby you call it a human kind. If if [sic] cattle has another cattle they call it cattle kind. I mean what is God supposed to call ‘em? Doesn’t the Bible say we are created in his image? Now you understand I am not saying you are god with a capital G. That is not the issue here so don’t go trying to stone me or yell blasphemy at me.” “The Bible says right here John 10:34…’and Jesus answered is it not written in your law I say we are gods.’ So men are called God’s by the law…”(Joyce Meyer).
The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this. Not really that is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.
“Bishop” T.D. Jakes is a Oneness Pentacostal (modalist/Sabellian) preacher from Atlanta Georgia and the chief pastor at The Potters House church. He was recently the focal point of a controversy amongst evangelicals where many perceived he was not adequately questioned on the Elephant Room show.
His modalism has been much reviewed and the following is a typical example.
Put simply, Jakes denies the Doctrine of the Trinity and, when given opportunity to clarify if he believes the orthodox doctrine, failed to use it to reassure. For Jakes that means that the title of “false teacher” is not sufficient. Those that deny the Trinity have been referred to by the Christian church as heretics.
There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The brief exposition that follows uses typical Modalist or Oneness language referring to God as “Triune in his manifestations” but not in his Person.
Outside of this doctrinal statement, Jakes rarely explicates the theology informing his ministry. In one place, he writes, “One of the greatest controversies in all the Bible concerns the Godhead.” He explains his sense of the controversy with rhetorical questions intended to undermine the credibility of trinitarian doctrine: “If there is one God, as Scripture teaches, how can there be a Son who says that He and His Father are one? If there is only one God, how can there be ‘three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one’?”
At every opportunity that Jakes has had to clarify that he is not a modalist and believes in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, it has simply not been taken. Only one conclusion is possible.
Most recently Elevation Church was demonstrated to be using “fake baptisms” in order to persuade visitors to participate in “spontaneous baptisms.
Furtick has also been accused of seeming to build an unquestioning personality cult around his “visionary leadership”.
The very recently removed “Our Code – United under the Visionary” of Elevation Worship stated
We Are United Under The Visionary: Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and his vision… We believe that God’s given Pastor Steven the vision of where he wants to take Elevation’s ministry. And the Lord’s called us all here to use our gifts and strengths corporately as a way of seeing that vision come to life…
We’re not partially tied into Elevation, or partially behind Pastor Steven’s vision. We feel called to support him and what the Lord’s doing here. Worship leaders, we’ve said it before….GET BEHIND YOUR PASTOR. Support him and the vision God’s given him…
[God] desires a unified spirit between your entire staff and your pastor. Invest your heart and soul into that ministry. Pour yourself out in support of the visionary.
Children had this picture to colour in as part of the ministry:
Joel Osteen is pastor of Lakewood Church, Texas. It’s really hard to have any exposure to American evangelicalism without hearing about Osteen, let alone being aware of the criticism about him. He became chief pastor of his father’s church upon his tragicly sudden death. He had little or no preaching experience let alone formal theological education and yet was elevated to a senior pastoral position.
Osteen is also famous for promoting a version of “Word of Faith” theology:
“The secret is to enlarge your vision. Are you satisfied with that little house you’re in? You shouldn’t be. You should want the sort of mansion the Osteens live in. You should expect people to go out of their way to help you—then they will.
You must also “discover the power of your thoughts and words.” If you beat yourself up all the time, if you don’t think yourself worthy of divine abundance, God won’t give it. God helps us, to be sure, but we must help ourselves first. You must “let go of the past.” Rather than being consumed with bitterness, you have to forgive and move on.
Finally, you must “choose to be happy.” You can’t put it off till tomorrow or till that next financial milestone is reached. You should smile a lot, and good things will come your way. You also must work hard, for God won’t bless someone who’s slothful. You have to be a person of excellence. Arrive at work early, leave late, respect your boss, don’t waste time on the job—then you’ll be promoted and then you’ll be happier.”
Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
We could go on and speak about Joseph Prince, Reinhard Bonnke and so on but I trust the point is made. This is not the occasional mistake or blip. This is a repeated invitation to speak at Hillsong’s premiere event. These men and women are there specifically to “refresh and inspire” those attending. Yet they are widely recognised as false teachers and deniers of key doctrine.
Simply and clearly put, Hillsong deliberately and repeatedly embraces those the Scriptures describe as being accursed. They welcome those we are told to have nothing to do with. They promote wolves amongst the flock of God and hand the flock over to be devoured.
All of this is a terrible disappointment because the Hillsong Conference is such an opportunity. Their advertising video this year is quite excellent:
Indeed, there is no other name (Acts 4:12). But the promotion of Jesus is utterly undermined by the simultaneous promotion of those who teach against the truth of Jesus or His distinct divine personage and Sonship. The latter is not overlooked because of the former. Rather, it destroys it.
What does that mean for us?
- We cannot encourage our fellow believers to attend. More than that, we ought to strongly urge them not to go. Yes, there will be many things at the Hillsong Conference that in their own right are good and true. Yes, I have no doubt the gospel will at some point be clearly preached. But such open advocacy of false teaching means the conference is, surely, off limits.
- We cannot endorse the conference. The Conference itself is an act of repeated disobedience since it deliberately violates the Scriptural warning to not welcome false teachers. Rather it endorses that false teaching by endorsing the false teachers.
- We ought to continue to call the organisers and promotors of the Hillsong Conference to repentance. They promote the ministry of those who teach falsehood. They do this despite the many many times they have been challenged on the matter.
- We cannot in any way claim ignorance. This controversy has been going on for too long, has been discussed in too many places, is too well documented and discoverable, to allow anyone to claim that they just didn’t know once the matter has been raised. This is particularly true of those of us who have pastoral responsiblity. We are to take great care over the flock entrusted to us (1Peter 5:1-3) and to refute those who teach error (Titus 1:9). We are simply not permitted to remain silent over this; it would be to leave the sheep unattended. We do not have an excuse.
- We cannot fall back on the confidence that since there is a declaration that “Jesus is Lord” everything is ok. Yes, many of those speaking at the conference will make exactly that confession but it is not one made in a vacuum and without context. The Lordship of Jesus means specific things and brings specific things to those to whom it is beneficially applied. A false teacher may claim that Jesus is Lord and genuinely believe and mean it and yet his/her teaching may then utterly undermine how we understand that Lordship affects our lives. They may make the claim and yet be referring to a different Jesus, not the eternal Son and Word of the one God who is yet three persons. “Jesus is Lord” is not a confession that may be hid behind to ignore these matters any more than I may hide behind my wife in order to not deal with the intruder who has come to disgrace her.
The title of this piece describes the Hillsong Conference as Sydney’s greatest promotor of false teaching. If even half of what is written here is true then I very sadly suggest that the charge is more than proven. Where or when else in Sydney do so many Christians meet together in these numbers? When or where else in Sydney are so many different false teachers brought together on a regular basis?
When or where in Sydney, and beyond, will those in positions of responsibility and leadership in the church take a firmer stand or these matters in obedience to the Scriptures, for the honour of the reputation of Christ and His gospel and for the sake of His church?