Hillsong Church was founded in 1983 in Sydney, Australia, by former "Global Senior Pastors" Brian and Bobbie Houston. Hillsong is probably best known for their praise and worship music, having recorded dozens of popular songs since 1992, including the church favorite “Shout to the Lord.” Besides being Australia’s largest church, Hillsong has locations around the world, including campuses in Kiev, London, New York, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Moscow, São Paulo, and other cities. Hillsong Church was originally a part of the Assemblies of God of Australia (now called the Australian Christian Churches), but formed its own denomination in 2018. Brian Houston stepped down from his leadership role in March 2022 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Is Hillsong Church a biblical church? Their stated beliefs on their official website include the basic doctrines of the triune God, salvation by grace through faith in Christ, and the reality of heaven and hell. There are a couple of concerns, however. One statement on their “What We Believe” page is curiously lacking: “We believe in the power and significance of the Church and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for fellowship, prayer and the ‘breaking of bread.’” This statement alludes to Acts 2:42, which says the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” What’s missing in the Hillsong statement is “the apostles’ teaching.” Why is this omitted?
A more obvious concern is Hillsong’s ordination of women as pastors, in contradiction of Scripture’s teaching that men are to be the spiritual leaders of the church (1 Timothy 2:11–12). Bobbie Houston, co-pastor of Hillsong Sydney, told The Christian Post in an October 16, 2014, interview that, when it comes to women in leadership, “the church needs to come of age sometimes and just grow up.”
Probably most troubling is Hillsong’s embrace of the Word of Faith movement. From the Hillsong website: “We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.” Going along with the teaching that God always wills to heal and that “blessed” equals “healthy” is the prosperity gospel, which adds that God wills to enrich us financially. In Pastor Brian Houston’s 1999 book You Need More Money, he promotes the prosperity gospel: “We have to become comfortable with wealth, and break the bondage, guilt and condemnation of impoverished thinking. Poverty is definitely not God’s will for His people. In fact, all His promises talk of blessing and prosperity” (page 8). Houston insists that he only promotes seeking wealth for unselfish purposes—such as investing in ministry—but it is hard to reconcile the idea that “poverty is definitely not God’s will” with Paul’s teaching to be “content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12, emphasis added).
The Hillsong Church has been criticized for its leaders’ reticence to take a position on homosexuality. Former Hillsong New York Pastor Carl Lentz, fired in 2021 for marital infidelity, declined to comment on gay marriage in a televised 2013 interview: “Often people want you to make these big statements about things [e.g., gay marriage] and I don’t believe it’s fair. I don’t think a public forum is always the best place to talk about something that’s so sensitive and important to so many because in a public forum there’s no discussion there” (quoted by Meeks, G., “NYC Megachurch Pastor Believes Sexuality Shouldn’t Be Discussed in Public Forum,” Charisma News, 12/20/2013). The fact that any issue is “sensitive” or “important” should not prevent a pastor from clearly communicating God’s Word in a public forum. Can we only answer direct questions about morality privately or when we can “discuss” the matter?
As with many ministries, there are positive and negative facets to Hillsong. Are there people being saved through the Hillsong Church? Yes, and we praise God for that. Can a Christian worship the Lord with a Hillsong-produced song? Yes. Can a person be misled with the false idea that God always wants us to be healthy and rich? Unfortunately, yes. Should a church exercise discernment in the matter of song choice and where the royalties are going? Again, yes. “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20–21).