So, Hillsong declined to publicly declare a position on ‘LGBT issues’.

And the internet was awash with opinions. Some shook their heads in disappointment, because, after all, ‘the Bible is clear’. Others smugly remarked that we shouldn’t expect much from this ‘culturally accommodating’ brand of Christianity. I find neither response particularly helpful or accurate.

First, the response of certainty: ‘A non-answer is an answer.’

I understand this response, and there is some truth to it: a non-answer is indeed an answer.

But it is not saying as much as we might think it is. It does not, for example, (necessarily) mean a ‘shift’ in position. It may simply be a statement about what the church’s mission is: to announce Christ in the pluralistic public square, and to challenge Christians more specifically once they are in the community.

I didn’t read their response as fudging on the what of Christian morality but rather as a statement about the where, when and to whom. Is it the Church’s role to announce ‘positions’ on issues to the public? Or is that tendency a leftover from Christendom– the era where we were gladly the power-brokers of society, blessing presidents and wars and condemning movies and rock stars? The Church is not a government agency; we need not announce ‘policy’ to the public.

Furthermore, there is something fundamentally wrong with thinking about this as an “LGBT issue.” I read with tears an email from a congregant who thanked me for our clear yet tender conversation about homosexuality. It was the first time he felt dignified as a person. Not an issue or an agenda. If we think of this as an “LGBT issue” or a “gay agenda”, then we will rush to announce policies and positions. But if we remember that we talking with and to people– living, breathing, holy, created beings– then we will be careful to have these conversations in pastoral contexts, not in press conferences.

Secondly, the response of smugness: ‘What did we expect from Hillsong?”

If you’re looking to bag Hillsong, you don’t have to work too hard. Criticism from afar is all too easy. The lights. The arenas packed with the young and beautiful. The upcoming movie. But all these critiques are cheap. And wrong.

Today, Hillsong was accused of ‘accommodating culture’, with the not-so-subtle insinuation that this was why they have attracted such large crowds. But I wonder if the people who wrote those critiques have ever been to Hillsong. I wonder if they’ve ever listened to a sermon. I wonder if they realize that they (likely) sing Hillsongs’ songs in their own churches on Sundays. I wonder if they know that one of the biggest new songs on Hillsong’s latest album is one based on the Apostles’ Creed— written humbly in response to a challenge from an outside denominational leader.

I know how easy it is to form an opinion or to cast doubt on a group of people by what you observe from the outside. I know because I’ve done it. But it’s wrong. From an academic standpoint, it’s irresponsible sociological analysis. From a pastoral standpoint, it reeks of the ‘older brother’ all too willing to see another’s faults exposed. And from a Christian standpoint, well…

Let’s look in the log in our own eye. 

Let’s do some theological reflection for a moment. One of the more controversial statements in Merritt’s article was from Carl Lentz’s wife, who said that it isn’t our job to tell people how to live. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and say that by ‘people’ she meant people outside their church.

But what if she didn’t? What if she meant that as pastors it wasn’t their job to teach their congregation how to live? Now, this would be extraordinarily troubling. But it would say more about us— all of us as modern, Western, Protestant, non-denominational Christians– than it would about Hillsong. Let me explain.

What makes it possible to say that it isn’t our job to tell anyone how to live? I submit it is the fruit of seeds many of us have participated in sowing:

  • We have perpetuated an individualistic view of salvation that allows an individual to ‘be on their own journey’– and the Church ought to be silent while they’re on it.
  • We changed the purpose of a church gathering from worship— with the historic ‘four-fold ordo’ or at least the ‘two-fold shape’ of Word and Table– to evangelism, modeling it after the Frontier Revivals– a warm-up, a sermon, and an altar call. If the church gathering is more about mission than formation, why wouldn’t we end up abdicating our role to instruct fellow Christians on a new way to live?
  • We have sent out church planters with little to no sense of ecclesiality (what makes a church a church) or covering or authority, leaving them to give ecclesial authority only to those ‘who are doing it better than us’– which, in short, means those with bigger churches.
  • We have created such a hard (and false) dichotomy between ‘law’ and ‘gospel’ that we have no place for actual moral instruction. All teaching on how we ought to live is too often reduced to ‘law’ and therefore dismissed as ‘legalism’. By misunderstanding grace to be a sort of spiritual autonomy instead of the power that makes us new and helps us live in a new way, we have side-lined any notion of ethics.
  • We have not said enough about the thoroughly biblical notion that the commandments are meant to give us life, that Jesus has a way for us to live that leads us to true human flourishing, that ‘Christian ethics’ is really an invitation to be fully and truly human.

You see, it’s too easy to scapegoat Hillsong and miss the larger problem we all share. We would do better to address our participation in an anemic or flawed soteriology and ecclessiology– the log in our own eye!– than to waste another minute dismissing a church we don’t really know.

UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up piece on whether we should make a distinction between public statements and pastoral exhortations HERE.

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11 thoughts on “It’s Too Easy To Dismiss Hillsong…and Miss Our Shared Problem

  1. Over the years, I’ve paid for a fair bit of that seed, watched its sowing, even done a bit of watering myself. Didn’t give thought to this longest time: What might it be if it grows like a weed?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think the message of the Church is to “to announce Christ in the pluralistic public square, and to challenge Christians more specifically once they are in the community.”
      I don’t see that anywhere in Scripture, not from Paul, Peter, John or Jesus.
      What happened to loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul. This stuff is disturbing

      Like

      • Ben, thanks for the comment. Here’s the idea: Paul– from the stories of his preaching in Acts– did not begin in the public square with christian ethical behavior, though he most certainly believed Christians had a new ethic. He began with a proclamation about Jesus. Then, once those in he encountered in the public square became part of the church in that city, he wrote (and, one assumes, preached) to them directly and specifically. Paul’s letters *are* the ‘pastoral context’ I refer to above. They are analogous to our sermons. When I preach on this and other issues of Christian morality, I am clear. I believe the Hillsong pastors to be as well. When I speak to people one-on-one, I am clearer still.

        And with Jesus: his interactions with Samaritans and Romans are not nearly as direct as his conversations with the crowd that followed him. He was even more direct with his disciples, and most harsh on religious leaders. See the layers here? There is certainly good NT ground for speaking to ‘insiders’ differently. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians. (We might also note that Paul addressed his letter to the CHURCH in Corinth, not broadly to the ‘sinful and ungodly’ city of Corinth.

        Hope that helps. No need to be concerned here. No one is watering down the Gospel.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. i am shocked to read such a calm, clear observation on this moment that represents a larger one..thanks for not taking the cheap and easy route of long shot judgements based off of what is largely incomplete and often broken context conversations.. Agree or disagree, it’s refreshing to see a strong yet respectful opinion. Thank you.
    Sincerely: Carl Lentz

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carl, thank you for taking time to write. We love you guys and believe in what you’re up to. I hope you see that what I’m trying to do is help us *all* look in the mirror…instead of into a window in some one else’s house. Peace to you and your flock.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This.is probably saying the same thing but, I think the issue is so much larger than a popular church not taking a firm stance on LGBT. Lets look at something for just a moment and ask a serious question that effects nearly if not all people.

    That question is this, “why are we so infuriated at the LGBT community, when the guilt and sin of sexual immortality plagues us all?”

    I pose that question because we are as The Body of Christ, condemning a group of people and most certainly part of The Body for their one sin, yet we fail to bring into public light the sins of the adulterous husband or wife, the sexual desires relieved by pornography, and a myriad of others. Why? Are yours and my sins so much less than that of the LGBT community? Are we so much better, we are able to cut off the foot or hand or eye of The Body because only those who aren’t gay are able to seek salvation and afford salvation from their works of rejecting that population?

    The wage of sin is DEATH. Not the wage of the gay sin, but ALL sin. Also, for whom ever shall believe in Him shall mot perish but jave everlasting life. That sentence does not end with the modification of “except the gays”.

    I think, and I am most certain that God and Jesus would agree, that we need to put this issue of LGBT down, and not focus all of our might fighting a people who we feel sin greater than ourselves. Instead, we should focus on the real problem of ALL SEXUAL IMMORTALITY. We need to drive that snake out and stand on its head.

    This is an issue derived from the heart of the enemy himself. He is revelling in his delight because he has successfully splintered the Body of Christ into factions. He has weaken the Church and her people. He has found a way for us to tear each others throats out over whos sin is greater. Who is more righteous than who. Who is more modern and has the foresight to see the change in the world and just accept it. The devil is winning more souls because they see a church who would rather hold their heads high and say we are against this one sin and that makes us better. But let me tell you a secret

    1) We are not of this world, and we are free from ALL sin because of the broken body of our Lord, who died to give ALL who believe LIFE. We do not need to concern ourselves with the world’s view, our home is not here but with God in heaven. We need to abhor ALL sin, not just the ones we think are greater. None are greater or less. Killing a man carries the same weight as lusting after a neighbours spouse. DEATH.

    So, in conclusion, can we, as a WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST, work in our churches to root out and address ALL sin, and not just the ones we think dont belong, because if we have that mindset, you are allowing yourself to think your sins are ok because they arent nearly as bad as the gay couple over there who just this Sunday accepted Christ and His gift if LIFE.

    Like

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