The blog Jairus’ Daughter wrote this observent article on Hillsong,
We have embarked upon a kind of ‘spying out the land’ jaunt over the last few weeks. We have felt that it was the right time to get a look at churches in Brisbane and to see what is going on there. Because our background is largely evangelical/Pentecostal, we tended towards either Pentecostal churches or Baptist churches. I was baptised in a Baptist church so I have a particular fondness for that tradition. We aren’t familiar with the more classical denominations like Anglican or Lutheran and find that those formalised patterns of service are not what we really want to support, especially after ten years of wandering in the wilderness. So we knocked on a few Baptist doors over recent months and this morning visited an AOG, or Australian Christian Churches church on the Northside.
We were naturally cautious since we saw what Hillsong did to Garden City Christian Church, my old stomping ground in the 80s. We have seen how Hillsong turned the sanctuary black. It had previously been high-ceilinged, well lit from both behind and the side by large ceiling to floor glass door/windows. The seating had been a rich red, the paneling a light pine and the bricks a pale cream. It was always a beautiful building to sit in, filled with natural light which certainly didn’t detract from the stage. Yet now from the outside all you can see are blackened windows. I have recently seen a photograph of it’s interior and there are the black seats and the black walls now as well. We know what Hillsong have done to the gospel, and you can read more of their particular brand of evangelical Christianity here. Many churches in Brisbane, notably the Pentecostal variety have followed Hillsong’s peculiar methods and practice of religion. They sing Hillsong music (suitably attributed due to copyright infringement laws), they set up their stages in a Hillsong way with lead singers, backing singers, drums, keyboard bass and other types of string instruments and also the brass and woodwind accompaniment.
Hillsong was not the first church in Australia to have contemporary music and audio-visual accompaniment in its worship service. But it certainly is the originator of the ‘rock-concert venue’ and ‘entertainment focused worship’ styles which are now so common. When I attended Garden City Christian Church in the early eighties we had a large stage to hold a large band, there were screens which showed the words. None of this is particularly offensive or anti-scriptural. The music for its time was probably more popular contemporary style than old-fashioned hymns, but we sang both with gusto. We ‘sang in the spirit’ in worship services, prayed for the sick, welcomed words of prophecy or knowledge and generally accepted the moving of the Spirit. It was a relatively healthy meeting in which people were being touched by God. Presumably certain denominations, including the Baptists at the time, would have frowned on our ‘swinging from the chandeliers’, but there was nothing untoward going on. There was no rolling on the floor making animal noises, no expectations of visitations by angels or weird manifestations as there are in a lot of pentecostal churches. Occasionally people who came for an altar call and were prayed for were ‘slain in the spirit’, but these were managed carefully and with discretion and everything was done in order. I believe there was a great deal wrong with those in charge in those days, considering Reg Klimionok was caught with his hand in the till not long after I left, but in general the services were fairly conservative compared with the meetings held in AOG chuches today.
HILLSONG NEW AND OLD
Hillsong back then was known as Hills Christian Life Centre and was pastored by Frank Houston, Brian’s dad. Even back then though, Hillsong was contributing to the worship styles of Garden City. I remember well that we had a seminar led by Trevor King, a musician and worship leader from Hillsong who in another life had been in a band called Railroad Gin. He was there to teach those who were interested in new styles of worship leading. Trevor was a musician, but he also had some strange ideas about God. I remember one cold morning he mentioned that he had been in the shower and God told him to turn off the hot water. God apparently wanted him to have a cold shower for some reason. Trevor seemed to think that any voice which came to him and ordered him to do weird things was from God. This seems to my mind to be symptomatic of the type of discernment which has been shown by those who lead churches of this nature. They are big on the mystical voices and experiences which many believe should accompany a genuine walk with God, but not so big on the testing of those same voices and experiences. Trevor came across to me at the time as a very young and enthusiastic Christian who seemed exited about sharing his faith and love of God. I don’t think Frank was fathering him in the way he needed, nor do I think any of the Houstons have the capacity for true fathering. They seem to be more interested in the superficial rather than the hidden person of the heart, despite frequent allusions to the same.
So back to our visit to the Northside ACC church. We were not interested in attending a worship service with music so loud you couldn’t hear yourself or anyone else sing. We didn’t see the point of that. Nor did we want to be part of Hillsong, nor did we want to be in a Hillsong cloned church since they are more or less the same thing.
We said to one another that if this church had a blackened interior we would not bother to stay. Yes, I suppose that is a bit pre-emptive, but in our experience when a church gets to the point that they want to change the interior of their sanctuary so dramatically they have succumbed to entirely bleak and literally dark influences. They are also committing themselves wholeheartedly to the Hillsong brand. There is really no point in looking much further than this despite it being an assessment based on superficial appearance.
Once we had made it past the honour guard of ‘greeters’ at the front door who were three deep on each side and handing out bits of paper (it was worse than election day), we emerged into the foyer. I might point out here that the multitude of people welcoming at the door is another Hillsong format. From there we could see another doorway into the inner sanctum. Six more ‘greeters’ were lined up at that doorway and the interior of this section was completely black; black carpets, chairs, walls, ceiling and stage. My daughter noticed that the children’s church which was beyond one of the corridors off the foyer was also blacked out in similar style. This to my mind is not just committing to the Hillsong brand, it is causing its little ones to stumble. Children love colour and light and are often scared of the dark. Why expose them to a wholly adult and frankly not terribly wholesome experience in the tenderness of their youth. But, if the adults are convinced there is nothing wrong with this, they are probably not concerned about their children. This is a whole ‘nother subject and not one I can do justice to here, suffice to say that the abdication of responsibility by Christian parents to the youth or Sunday School leaders has contributed to more than just the delinquency of minors in many cases.
The stage was there, the noise deflectors for the drums (not a good sign) and the Stepford wife type expressions on the faces of those asking us if we were OK when we stepped aside for a family conference to decide what we were going to do, all convinced us to take a hike. So we went out again. This time the greeters didn’t say much at all, and we managed to make a break for it without any cheery responses. They probably were not primed with appropriate phrases for those wanting to leave before the service stated. “Have a nice day” comes to mind, but then that would require thinking outside the square and or recognising that we wanted to get away from them. An uncomfortable and puzzling thought for the Hillsong devotee.
CHURCH INTERIORS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In the past church interiors and exteriors were built in a way which reflected their faith and the Kingdom of God. Churches were built in the shapes of crosses. Their windows depicted scenes from the bible. The colours chosen reflected the symbolism found in scripture ; red, blue, gold, purple, all depicting either God or man and the relationship between the two. Interiors of churches have always been detailed and exquisitely beautiful with vaulted ceilings to represent the heavens and to aid the transmission of the sound of both preaching and singing. I remember standing in Christchurch Cathedral before the earthquake destroyed it. It had a magnificent echo as many churches do. The modern day sanctuaries are not church buildings. Their exteriors resemble warehouses or commercial buildings. Their interiors are set up to facilitate artificial noise projection not to enhance natural vocal or instrumental sound. Their seating is not placed to create a sense of wonder and awe at the craftsmanship and love poured into the physical environment and in turn to encourage the meditation upon the wonder of God. Seating is entirely utilitarian and focused on the stage where the talent is lit and enhanced in order to replicate a theatre or light and sound show. They have destroyed any atmosphere of quiet reverence and worship and replaced it with a black womb in which the distortion of light and sound, preaching and understanding, communication and worship are paramount.
Hillsong Australia has both introduced and promulgated this form of church environment along with the theology which both informs and supports it. It is a hideous malformation of the gospel and the gathering of people who are supposed to be adoring the one true and living God. Instead they are worshipping the people who are singing and playing and being bodily and sensorily overwhelmed by the visual and auditory explosion which accompanies them.
This kind of church service has more in common with the current ‘reality tv’ obsession with talent shows. You feel like you are joining an audience which is about to see the finale of “Australia’s Idol’s Got X Factor Voice Talent”. The huge audiences, the strobing lights, the host with the microphone, the singers, band and backing singers are all there. All you need to do is vote for your favourite personality.
You don’t have to be an AOG church or even a Pentecostal/charismatic church in order to see the Hillsong stamp. The outlines might be blurred, but the intention is there. A number of Baptist chuches we visited recently have turned their church buildings into Hillsong type venues. There are the sound systems, the sound desk, the audio visual screens and the Hillsong songs, but there is also the prosperity gospel preaching, the propensity for dividing the huge congregations into smaller easier to corral groups. There is the head pastor, the associate pastors, the pastors of the various groups in the church such as women, children, youth, young adults, seniors, various ethnic groups, evangelism, missions, creative arts just to name a few. There is the church vision, the church website, the church mission statement, the church board, the church elders or deacons and the church outreach. These are no longer churches, these are corporations. Much has already been written about the corporatizing of the church in America, but here in Australia, we are simply an extension of this phenomenon.
While my background is in the Assemblies of God in Australia, I am able to see how this denomination has always been less focused on scripture and the preaching of the gospel and more focused on enlarging it’s tent and preaching a prosperity gospel. Klimionok was informed by his obsession with Paul Yonggi Cho and his huge South Korean “Yoido Full Gospel Church” AOG church which back then boasted tens of thousands and apparently reached the million mark a few years ago. Cho was apparently convicted for tax evasion in February of this year. I remember him preaching once about his desire to have booths situated up the back of the church which would facilitate translation for ethnic groups which didn’t have a good grasp of English. We had a large prayer room situated on the top of the church in a kind of attic which was accessed by some stairs and a winding staircase much like the prayer caves in Korea. Make no mistake, Klimionok was determined to make Garden City like the church in Korea, and believed it was possible. What he forgot was that we are not Korea, we don’t have the same numbers of Christians and our population is vastly smaller. We have neither the funds nor the numbers to create another South Korean giga-church. It never happened. As I said, Klimionok fell from grace, moved to the States still pushing his prosperity gospel. Since Klimionok was caught with his hand in the til, and Yonggi Cho was recently caught for tax evasion, there was probably more in common with these two men than I initially thought. Garden City was never the same after that and after a few changes of head pastor it tended to languish somewhat. A state from which it was ‘rescued’ some decades later by Hillsong. Clearly the powers that be in the ACC administration felt that Brisbane needed a Hillsong, and Garden City needed a bomb under it. They achieved both and now the ‘revived’ Mt. Gravatt campus is home to so many faithful on a Sunday that they need the presence of the local police to ensure traffic flow on the main road outside the carpark.
Hillsong took over Garden City and it is my concern that they are also ‘taking over’ the rest of the evangelical/Pentecostal church in this country. So many churches look to Hillsong as their inamorata. Nobody seems willing to either stop and check what it is that is so appealing or why they feel that Hillsong has ‘made it’ while the rest of them need to create themselves in her image. It is a disturbing phenomenon and not one which I am proud to own as an Australian Christian.
Source: THE HILLSONG PHENOMENA AND THE BLACKING OUT OF THE CHURCH, http://jairusdaughter.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/the-hillsong-phenomena-and-the-blacking-out-of-the-church/, Published 07/04/2014. (Accessed 27/06/2014.)