A prominent theme in Brian Houston's teaching is "thou shalt not criticize", or as I call it, the eleventh commandment. Many bad teachers survive solely on the basis of this mantra. It is commonplace among the Word Faith and prosperity crowds.
Without a doubt we should be careful about our motivation and attitude when asking critical questions. But Scripture actually mandates the testing of all teaching commanding us to test all teaching (I John 4:1), expose the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), mark false teachers (Romans 16:17), and condemn any other gospel than the one found in Scripture (Galatians 1:8-9). John Macarthur had this to say about teaching that opposes any critique:
In a time like this of tolerance, listen, false teaching will always cry intolerance. It will always say you are being divisive, you are being unloving, you are being ungracious, because it can only survive when it doesn't get scrutinized. So it cries against any intolerance. It cries against any examination, any scrutiny—just let's embrace each other; let's love each other; let's put all that behind us. False doctrine cries the loudest about unity. Listen carefully when you hear the cry for unity, because it may be the cover of false doctrine encroaching. If ever we should follow 1 Thessalonians 5, and examine everything carefully, it's when somebody is crying unity, love, and acceptance (online source)
One of the real problems with trying to have productive discussion with people immersed in this kind of "theology" is that they mask their unrepentance in a four fold strategy - change the subject, ignore it, deny it, or question the motivation behind a question. For example, Brian Houston responded to criticism by Tim Costello about his prosperity theology by saying:
Costello, says Houston, "likes what we do generally" but has a problem with Hillsong's success. He, like those from some of the more traditional churches, is simply jealous of it, Houston tells me. "The irony is, Tim Costello is a pretty successful guy himself. The big difference between us is that I like to teach other people to be successful and not just enjoy the success myself."
Did you see it there? Rather than answer the criticism, Houston preferred to question Costello's motivation and then take a veiled swipe by portraying Costello as someone who is unlike him because he does not share his "success" - and all with a smiling face. It is an art form that few of us can exercise so skilfully.
We also saw Robert Fergusson deal with my question about Hillsong's willingness to alter Bible verses by ignoring it altogether. Well done Robert - a great way to display all those years of theological education! Furthermore, Fergusson's denial of any contradiction between Hillsong's faith statement (concerning repentance) and gospel presentation was behavior that any ostrich would be proud of. And from beneath the sand (where Fergusson's head was buried), he managed to slip in the good old subject change when he said:
It would also be ungracious for either of us to suggest that we believe the Bible, repentance or the gospel more than the other.
Encountering the four fold stragey of:
1. change the subject
2. ignore it
3. deny it
4. question the motivation behind a question
serves as a reminder as to why I have gone public with my attempts at engaging in a productive dialogue with Hillsong church. It is my hope that many readers, friends, and beneficiaries of God's glorious Gospel, would diligently pursue increasing public awareness of the drastic difference between the Gospel of God's redemptive work in Christ, and the gospel of man's invention. Only one of them can save us!
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