Sydney's Hillsong church strongly criticised in recent articles.

A NUMBER of highly critical articles are beginning to appear in the secular and Christian press about the activities of Sydney, Australia's Hillsong church. The church's worship music CDs and videos are amongst the biggest selling items in Christian media. But now the church is being heavily criticised for its unhealthy obsession with money. Most prominent of the church's critics is the Rev Tim Costello, the former head of the Baptist Union in Australia, now in charge of World Vision. Speaking of Hillsong, and quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, he claims, "The quickest way to degrade the Gospel is to link it with money and the pursuit of money. It is the total opposite of what Jesus preached. These people have learned nothing from the mistakes made by the American evangelists."

Another critic of Hillsong is John Smith, director of Care & Communication Concern and a one-time Cross Rhythms columnist. Smith lives in Sydney and has preached at Hillsong and seen it grow down the years. Smith has a particular problem with the book You Need More Money, written by Hillsong founder and pastor Brian Houston. Smith is quoted in an article in the Church Of England newspaper, "Brian says that Jesus talks about economics more than anything lese. He's right. But he doesn't finish by saying that almost every verse is negative about the mythology of wealth and power. The Bible is warning all the time."

Smith suggests that people analyse the Gospels by finding each encounter Jesus had with individuals or generic types, such as lepers or Pharisees, note whether that person or group was rich or poor - either socially or materially - and finally judge whether the meeting with Jesus was positive or negative. "If you do that," he claims, "I think you'll find there's only one case in all the gospels where a person with both wealth and social power had a positive encounter with Jesus."

As a riposte to those convinced by Hillsong's vigorous image, Smith forcefully replies, "I've had cancer and I know that the most enduring cell is a cancer cell. It has no 'use-by' date on it like the rest of the cells in my body. It's the fastest growing, healthiest-looking cell in my body - and it breeds death." Ordinary people in the Hillsong pews - or, more accurately, luxury seating - are often seen to be vibrant, youthful, generous and charming. But Smith's concern is that Hillsong could have led these Christians to faith "without carrying cancerous disease that was destructive to the body fabric of a genuine obedient Gospel of Jesus Christ." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.