There can be a tendency in our Australian culture to relish others’ failures, especially if they occupy the public space.
However, there is also a well-known expression that often accompanies a reflective person’s response to another’s fall from grace. “There but for the grace of God, go I.” If that saying confuses you, it is an acknowledgment by the speaker that they too could have ended up in the same difficult position. Grace refers to the kindness of God for us sinful people, made in his image.
As the Christian world in Australia and globally learns of two incidents involving Hillsong Church’s founder, Brian Houston, and two women, which have been partially blamed on alcohol and prescription drugs, inevitably, there will be gossip, speculation and maybe even triumph.
This is what humans do. And it is not always kind. In fact, invariably, it is not.
It is hard to imagine a contemporary church that has such numerical spread across the world.
Of course, we are most concerned for the two unnamed women who have been caught up in this rather tawdry story.
And there are many thousands of other people who are deeply affected by this crisis. It is not just a story or a piece of gossip over social media; it is deeply personal and painful. Brian Houston is the revered pastor of the enormous Hillsong global church. Many people came to faith because of Pastor Brian and his wife Bobbie.
Hillsong’s legacy is significant. Aside from the global Catholic church, it is hard to imagine a contemporary church that has such numerical spread across the world. And then there is Hillsong Music. Many people have come to know of Hillsong, and learned about Jesus, through Hillsong Music.
Young people from all around the world have attended at Hillsong College in Sydney because of Hillsong Music. Some of these former students have remained in Australia, bringing their gifts and skills to both Hillsong and other churches.
A former American colleague shared a story of listening to Hillsong Music on a CD, and discovering a small ad on the back of the CD jacket promoting Hillsong College when she was just 13. She announced to her parents that when she was old enough, she wanted to travel to Australia to study at Hillsong College. She worked hard, saved her ‘pennies’ and came to Australia to study, work and then, eventually, returned to the US. Her story is not unique.
Christianity is richer for Hillsong. That might seem a big call for those who struggle to appreciate the Pentecostal brand of Christianity. Personally, I am not an arms-in-the-air, eyes-closed, singing worship songs, kind of person. So I am the first to admit that Hillsong is not to everyone’s taste. And, Heaven forbid, it might even be flawed (could that be because we are all flawed? Churches are full of flawed human beings, that we can absolutely guarantee! And some of them are out the front. Who would have thought??).
However, we are richer for all our churches. We are stronger together. Anglicans. Baptists. Uniting. Pentecostal. Catholic. Bible-believing, Jesus is risen, kind of Christians. We acknowledge that Jesus is our Saviour. And yes, we have different traditions. Different worship. Different habits. Funnily enough, that is biblical. Something about being part of the body. You might have read about it in 1 Corinthians.
We need to be able to forgive each other, which is a hard ask when we feel betrayed, hurt and let down.
There is much we can learn about how we relate to each other in these remarkable verses in chapter 12.
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Cor 12:24-26, NIV
One part of the body is suffering right now. For those who are that part, please know that the prayers of the wider church are with you. We understand your pain. We can appreciate the questions you have, the uncertainty you feel. Because that is part of being human! It is not unique to Hillsong. Everyone has questions and uncertainty brought about by our common sinfulness.
But the most important truth you need to cling to is that God is bigger than all of us. God has a plan for you and for me. God loves us. God knows that we are sinners and he forgives us. We need to be able to forgive each other, which is a hard ask when we feel betrayed, hurt and let down.
Again, the Bible calls on us to look at the log in our own eye before we pluck out the splinter in another’s. It is easier to judge than to be judged. Thankfully, God is the ultimate judge. May we all exercise grace and kindness to our fellow Christians, because ultimately the Apostle Paul reminds us that “grace, hope and love, these three remain, but the greatest of these is love”.