Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston went on the TODAY show for a different kind of interview than he's probably used to doing… He was responding to recent scandals in his network of churches, including former Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz's adultery.
He was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie… So, let's all be grown-ups and just agree to put our issues with her aside for the limited purposes of this article. I know it might be a lot to ask from those who watched that unbearable Trump Town Hall that Guthrie "moderated"… but please… do it for me.
Disclaimer: On some of these questions where it might seem to you that he didn't say enough, we may just have to give him the benefit of the doubt because the producers clearly cut it WAY down. The interview obviously lasted longer than a 9-minute TV segment.
For those of us who care about the Christian Church, reviewing this situation gives us insight and warning for our own lives and churches.
Guthrie said people of Hillsong described Lentz as "somewhat aloof and removed from the actual ministry [of Hillsong NYC]."
"There were a lot of things I liked about Carl. But having said that, there were leadership issues that, I believe, included lying, included what I would call narcissistic behavior," Houston said. "I think there's a lot of things I should've known earlier. And, hopefully, moving forward we'll make sure we have far better systems in place and better accountability."
The New Testament makes no guarantees that your church will be free from scandal, even in the pastoral office. Not even Jesus' inner circle was free from scandal. And not even the local churches planted by the Apostles were free from pastoral scandal.
Christians should be rid of the pipe dream that there's some kind of system or accountability mechanism that can prevent pastoral failure from ever happening. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3 the qualifications for pastors (and deacons, for that matter). And in, 1 Timothy 5, he outlines the general framework for disciplining a pastor. These aren't all the Bible verses on ministerial accountability, of course, but they're a good starting point.
Houston then responded to a criticism some have had about Hillsong, that even predates Lentz's scandal -- its treatment of celebrities.
"There's another side to it," Houston said. "One person who's obviously been well reported is Justin Bieber. … If you think back several years now when he was wrecking hotel rooms and basically on the edge of getting deported to Canada, … and living an out-of-control life with abuse of drugs and so on. Anyone who's being fair could see a radical change and so not everything about it is bad."
"I do think that we did allow a culture to develop where it was one rule for celebrities and a different rule for other people."
James (the one in the New Testament) specifically teaches against this kind of "church culture." It's called the sin of partiality. It could not be more clear than this:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
While Brian Houston did admit it's a problem, I'm not sure why the Carl Lentz scandal was apparently what needed to happen, in order to hear him say it.
Guthrie then brought up another criticism many have made of Hillsong -- is the church's size more than the leadership is able to handle?
"I'm not sure a church can be too big," Houston said. "I just think we have to grow into ourselves."
To be fair, this is one of those moments the TV edit robs Houston of adequate length to fairly represent his answer in the interview.
I agree to a certain degree with his first statement. One of the main questions pastors need to ask themselves is, "Are we shepherding this flock well?"
But I disagree, mainly because of what it says in Hebrews 13:7 it says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Church leaders must "give an account" to God for the souls over which they are "keeping watch"! Are you really telling me a church can't reach a point where it's so big that the leaders cannot adequately keep watch over the souls for which they're responsible? This raises a whole other discussion, but, I'll just say that I do think there is a point where a local church cannot fulfill its job in soul watching, and the sheep-to-shepherd ratio is a factor in that.
This last part of the interview ventured into the topic of homosexuality. Again, we don't have the full quotes from Houston, just an edited mish-mash,
"I want us to get better at the way we communicate and embrace and work with people who are gay," Houston said. "I don't have any personal bias at all against gay or lesbian people."Everyone's welcome. Many, many people who are gay come to Hillsong Church."
First of all, I'd push back on Houston's terminology of "gay or lesbian" people. I would ask what he means by that. It means different things, depending on who's saying it. For example, some people use the terminology to say people are immutably "born gay." I don't know how Houston is using it. But I do know this, no Christian should be identifying themselves or other Christians by their sin as if it's an immutable, or primary aspect about them.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 writes about a bunch of sinful groups of people, including "men who practice homosexuality," and he says to the Corinthian church:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The keyword I want to point out is "were." You "were" identified by that sin, but not anymore! Now, you are identified "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Praise the Lord.
"Unfortunately, as a pastor, you don't represent what you think. You represent what the Bible says. And so at this point, we're still a conservative one on the subject of active gay relationship."
I also wholeheartedly reject the idea that it's "unfortunate" that a pastor must represent what the Bible says, rather than what they personally think. That's beside the point of what Houston was saying, though. His point is that a pastor is supposed to "represent what the Bible says," not "what you think." Again, let's give at least some credit to this man for not completely caving to the "Rainbow Jihad." The same cannot be said of every pastor and every church.
Lastly, Houston was asked what he imagines Jesus would think about Hillsong if he sat in a service.
"Honest answer..." Houston said. "I think he would like it because I think we're focusing on glorifying him."
That's a good question for all of us to ask about our own churches for the sake of the Church.