Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Online "Discussion" With Hillsong's Executive Pastor (Part 1)

In my previous post I included a video of a female leader at Hillsong church in Australia making an absolute hash of presenting the Christian Gospel. To call it inadequate and full of falsehoods would be to put the best possible construction on it. Much to my surprise "Newtaste" then informed me that the woman is Julia A'Bell - and that name did ring a bell! I was immediately reminded of my online correspondence with her husband Joel several months ago.

Joel A'Bell with his wife Julia, is an Executive Pastor at Hillsong Church (I will set aside the glaring Scriptural problem of a female pastor for now - paging 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) in Sydney Australia, where his primary responsibilities are to oversee the City Worship Centre. Joel has been a minister since 1993.

There seems to be a lot of interest in getting beneath the veneer of the Hillsong empire and I thought my correspondence with Joel may be of interest to many of the readers who have viewed my earlier series on the false gospel of Hillsong (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6).

On May 28 2010 Joel A'Bell wrote the following post on his blog (which Newtaste drew to my attention):

Critics are like bugs, they just make the same repetitive noise but when you draw near to them they go silent. I am so reminded by the caution Paul gave the people of Corinth: Love builds up but knowledge puffs up. In the words of Ps Brian (Houston), I would rather be a song writer, not a song critic; a church builder, not a church critic. Critics would have you join their band but there is no melody, no room for symphony, no tolerance for different instruments. Their noise is tuned to a repetitive theme with broken sticks and an emptiness of soul. Don't be drawn in by the loud abrupt tone that always reveals their intensions. Instead, open your eyes to the exuberant colour of God's kingdom of light and your ears to the vibrant sounds of His Heavenly majesty which is clearly displayed in all He is doing! People are amazing and broad in their differences. Let love prevail and His grace abound!

Joel's philosophical observations sound nice and even has a bit of a Bible verse thrown in for good measure. But does this thinking stand up to the whole scope of Scripture, and furthermore, is it a preacher's way of trying to immunize himself from biblical critique?

On June 5 2010 I posted this response on Joel's blog:

Dear Joel, you are right that the tone and motive of criticism matters. But Scripture also mandates biblical critique of teaching. Criticism based upon a love for the purity of the once for all delivered faith should be listened to. What follows is factual criticism that I raised with Hillsong church several months ago and to my disappointment never really went anywhere. Those concerned didn't even want to discuss (at a theological level) the very serious allegations I brought forward. What follows is the mail that I sent which outlines some serious problems with how the gospel is publicly proclaimed by Hillsong as a whole. Joel, these comments are not aimed specifically at you as you cannot know every facet of the inner workings of an organization as large as Hillsong. But I would appreciate if you took them seriously, and had the courage to post this letter in your comments section. This is not a witch hunt - this is an attempt at rectifying a serious flaw concerning God's means of saving sinners.
On Wednesday December 30th 2009 I wrote the following mail to Hillsong's address which is supposed to be for non-Christians with questions:

"To whom it may concern,

I recently read through the CD liner notes of your "Hillsong Live - Mighty To Save" CD. In it I found an explanation on how to become a Christian.

Here is what it said:

"Our prayer is that you would discover the Author of Love . . . Jesus. His life and death represent the greatest gift of love the world will ever see . . . a gift for you. All you need to do is accept it . . . a brand new start to a life lived in relationship with God. Meeting God is as simple as praying a prayer . . . asking Jesus to meet you right where you are. If you are not sure that you know God, and that you are going to heaven, then make this your prayer today . . .

Dear Lord Jesus

I need You . . . I need Your grace to forgive me and I need your love to change me. Thank You for your amazing love. Thank You for giving me life and eternity. But above all, thank you for dying on the cross for me.

I accept You as my Lord and Saviour. Now I'm a Christian, which means You live in me.

I belong to You. I will live my life for You and I will love You forever . . . Amen."

Now I am concerned about several things lacking in this presentation including Who God is, defining what sin is, that we must all be judged, and why Christ needed to die on the cross. These all give me great cause for concern with the gospel you are proclaiming. But I want to zero in on one particular issue. On your website you have a statement of "what we believe" which says this:

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. (

Can you please explain to me why repentance is never mentioned in the gospel presentation in the CD's you sell but your website says that "in order to receive forgiveness and the 'new birth' we must repent of our sins"? Can you tell me which one is the correct?

Adding to this I noticed on the back cover of the CD liner notes a quotation of 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says:

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

By checking in my Bible I found this verse to be incomplete and is missing the words in CAPITAL LETTERS:

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face AND TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Can you explain to me why you deleted the line from that verse that speaks specifically about repentance? I hope you agree that it is very serious indeed to add to or delete information from sacred Scripture.

I am very concerned about this. I'm sure you would agree that the stakes are high and it is imperative that we get the Gospel right. Eternal destinies hang in the balance. The Apostle Paul said:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

I would appreciate your response as to where Hillsong church actually stands on repentance and that you would promptly ammend your website or the CD liner notes that you publish. I am writing to you first to give you opportunity to clarify your position.

Cameron Buettel"

To his credit Joel did post my comment and also responded. The dialogue will continue on Friday . . .

Go On To Part 2


Puritan Physicist said...

Um, if critics are like bugs, wouldn't that apply to him also, as he is in fact critiquing you?

Cameron Buettel said...

Hey Chris, great to hear from you. Though we have never met I have greatly appreciated some of the old Todd Friel audio you have posted (on youtube) from back in his KKMS days. I only discovered Todd when WOTMR started but it is a blessing to tap into some of his earlier stuff. Thanks mate! Please email me some time.

Anonymous said...

Joel A'Bell as executive pastor, is now responsible for Hillsong in Australia, and is mostly based at the Hills campus rather than in the City. This allows Brian Houston time to ponder the vision for Hillsong globally.

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varun mishra said...

if critics are like bugs, wouldn't that apply to him also, as he is in fact critiquing you?