Brian Houston

A church in exile

Screen Shot 2014 10 21 at 10 16 26 am

Over at First Things, Andrew Walker responded to the reports on the Hillsong press conference in New York in which the church leadership has decided not to take a public position on LGBT issues.

Brian Houston has since clarified his position and explained that he was misunderstood. Andrew Walker’s response is still worth reading. Some good insights from a movements perspective.

First, if I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.

Second, a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist (spirit of the age) is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is. Perhaps Hillsong would rather abide by a “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy on matters of orthodoxy. That’s their prerogative. But let’s be clear that this is not the route of faithfulness.

Third, this isn’t an issue over whether gays and lesbians should or should not be welcomed in church. This also isn’t an issue over whether young individuals within the LGBT community have faced bullying. Bullying of all sorts is deplorable and should be condemned, and not because the Human Rights Campaign says so, but because Jesus says so (Matthew 7:12). What this issue is about is whether the church models faithful obedience to Christ in a way that both honors Scripture and loves its neighbor. Hillsong thinks it’s doing both; but is actually doing neither.

Fourth, Hillsong thinks itself a contemporary and culturally relevant church. Perhaps it is. But as Christians, we don’t get to define what “relevant” means in terms that are unquestioning of what our culture means by “relevant.” I submit that Hillsong is a church in retreat. A church in retreat doesn’t give answers. It doesn’t storm the gates of Hell. It settles and makes peace where there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). A church in exile . . . is one that is faithful amidst the culture, regardless of whether that culture looks more like America or more like Babylon. It knows that it may lose the culture, but that it cannot lose the Gospel. So be it.

UPDATE: Some more wisdom from Andrew Walker following Brian Houston’s clarification. Every Christian leader who wants to remain both faithful to the teaching of scripture and engaged with the culture should take note.

A church in exile

Screen Shot 2014 10 21 at 10 16 26 am

Over at First Things, Andrew Walker responded to the reports on the Hillsong press conference in New York in which the church leadership has decided not to take a public position on LGBT issues.

Brian Houston has since clarified his position and explained that he was misunderstood. Andrew Walker’s response is still worth reading. Some good insights from a movements perspective.

First, if I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.

Second, a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist (spirit of the age) is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is. Perhaps Hillsong would rather abide by a “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy on matters of orthodoxy. That’s their prerogative. But let’s be clear that this is not the route of faithfulness.

Third, this isn’t an issue over whether gays and lesbians should or should not be welcomed in church. This also isn’t an issue over whether young individuals within the LGBT community have faced bullying. Bullying of all sorts is deplorable and should be condemned, and not because the Human Rights Campaign says so, but because Jesus says so (Matthew 7:12). What this issue is about is whether the church models faithful obedience to Christ in a way that both honors Scripture and loves its neighbor. Hillsong thinks it’s doing both; but is actually doing neither.

Fourth, Hillsong thinks itself a contemporary and culturally relevant church. Perhaps it is. But as Christians, we don’t get to define what “relevant” means in terms that are unquestioning of what our culture means by “relevant.” I submit that Hillsong is a church in retreat. A church in retreat doesn’t give answers. It doesn’t storm the gates of Hell. It settles and makes peace where there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). A church in exile . . . is one that is faithful amidst the culture, regardless of whether that culture looks more like America or more like Babylon. It knows that it may lose the culture, but that it cannot lose the Gospel. So be it.

UPDATE: Some more wisdom from Andrew Walker following Brian Houston’s clarification. Every Christian leader who wants to remain both faithful to the teaching of scripture and engaged with the culture should take note.

Australian Christian Churches: Growing and Slowing

BrianHouston retiring Pres ACC

Since 1977 under the leadership of Andrew Evans, and for the last twelve years Brian Houston, the Australian Christian Churches have been one of the fastest growing movements in the land.

The ACC has released its 2009 report. A few observations. . .

Since 1997 there has been an 85% growth in the number of constituents, from 115,912 to 216,203. In the same period the number of churches has grown from 826 to 1108 , a 23% increase. Figures most other denominations can only dream about.

The ACC is growing, but the growth in constituents is considerably greater than the growth in numbers of churches. Therefore ACC churches are on average getting larger.

In the last two years, the growth in the number of constituents has slowed but is still a respectable 10.6%, from 195,488 to 216,203. A net increase of 20,715 people. For the same period there has been a net increase of 31 churches. These figures are interesting as they show that the ACC has grown by a ratio of 710 new people for every one new church.

The trend is clearly towards larger existing churches and a decline in the rate of at which the ACC starts new churches. That trend, if it's not addressed, will lead to a plateau.

In summary:

1. The ACC continues to grow at a healthy rate, but that rate is slowing.

2. The number of constituents is rising at a faster rate than the number of churches.

3. Average church size is increasing.

If these trends continue the ACC is headed for a plateau. Alternatively the ACC could make an innovative return to tradition. . .