The Curse of Relevance

On most occasions when you hear about a church or a pastor seeking to be relevant, you should run for the hills. That is because nine times out of ten, they are willing to abandon clear biblical teachings simply to be likeable, popular and accepted by the masses.

There is probably no bigger reason why we have so much compromise, carnality and cowardice in our churches today than because of this wretched desire to be “relevant”. Trying to please the masses almost always means we will be displeasing God.

relevanceThe great trouble with this lousy desire to be relevant is that almost always the truths of the gospel are watered down to make them acceptable to sinners. Instead of leading sinners to a holy and pure Saviour, we dilute the message and weaken the Saviour, so that he becomes palatable and attractive. But that is a recipe for disaster.

As Dorothy L. Sayers so rightly wrote: “If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”

But we see this everywhere in the churches today. Jesus shrinks so that our congregations (and weekly collections) might expand. We offer a minimalist, saccharine sweet Jesus who would not hurt a fly so that we can get the masses into our churches and keep them there.

It seems every day we find more examples of this. The recent controversy over Hillsong is just another case in point. And sure enough, the need to be “relevant” was at the heart of how Pastor Houston defended their reluctance to proclaim biblical truth on vital moral issues of the day such as human sexuality and marriage and family.

Indeed, his “clarification” really only made matters worse. It really clarified nothing. Consider for example this claim by Houston: “The problem is that it impossible in a few sentences to provide a scripturally based, theological nuanced, pastorally sensitive, and culturally postured response to questions on this topic.”

Umm, no it isn’t. Moses, Jesus and Paul all managed to do it for example. They all offered powerful, clear, truthful and authoritative teachings on this issue – all in just a sentence or two. But these modern guys think they must improve upon those that we find in Scripture.

All this just to be “relevant”. And sadly the legion of Hillsong groupies have been quite insufferable here. It is as if Houston is their infallible pope who must be defended at all costs. Never mind what he may say or do, he is to be rallied around ferociously.

And I have experienced plenty of that of late. I just wish these same people would show half as much zeal and commitment in defending Jesus Christ and the clear teachings of Scripture. As just one example, consider what this Houston defender actually said to me:

“If Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality publicly, why should Pastor Brian? It’s obvious that our Hillsong Pastors wouldn’t support Gay marriage, but whats the point of addressing it publicly if Jesus didn’t?” Wow, incredible. People claiming to be Christians actually come out and say such silly and unbiblical things. My reply was this:

“Jesus didn’t address the need to liberate slaves, so by your reasoning, neither should have Wilberforce. By your silly reasoning, we should never speak out against rape, sexual slavery, racism, or abortion because Jesus didn’t. Puh-leeese. Refusing to speak out on the most important moral and biblical issues of the day is a clear sign of compromise, cowardice and carnality.”

Now it was really not my intention to once again revisit the Hillsong situation. But a brand new piece by one of the great men of God in the US really needs to be quoted from. I refer to Michael Brown’s article, “On Gay Marriage and the Hillsong Movement: Did Jesus Call Us to be Relevant or Biblical?”. He writes:

What do we make of the emphasis Pastor Houston put on being relevant? As he explained in his statement, “this struggle for relevance was vexing as we did not want to become ostracized by a world that needs Christ.” On the one hand, I totally affirm his heart to remove every possible stumbling block that could stand in the way of our witness to the lost. This was Paul’s method as well, as he explained, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22).
This means that we use cultural sensitivity and do our best to speak a language that people understand, always being motivated by love for God and love for souls. Obviously, Hillsong has been very successful in doing this. At the same time, there is a tremendous danger in our pursuit of “relevance,” since what the world thinks it needs is not always what it really needs, nor do God’s methods mirror our methods.
As Paul wrote in the very same letter to the Corinthians, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-24).
All too often – and I say this for all of us, not specifically for Hillsong – being “relevant” can become the code-word for compromise, and whenever we seek to make the gospel more palatable by watering it down and removing its offensive elements, we hurt people rather than help them. Looking at this from another angle, if Christians through the ages had put more emphasis on relevance than obedience, they would not have been mocked, rejected, imprisoned, or killed for their faith.

I fully relate to what he says next:

When the Lord graciously saved me in 1971 as a 16-year-old, heroin-shooting, LSD-using, Jewish hippie rock-drummer, my entire world consisted of drugs and rock music and ungodly behavior, and my friends and I lived for getting high, going to rock concerts and playing with our band.
My daily music revolved around songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” yet the Lord saved my friends and I in a little, Italian Pentecostal church where the men wore ties and the ladies wore dresses and the pastor’s wife played old hymns on the piano. But the Lord’s presence was so real and His Word so clear that we were all wonderfully born again in a totally foreign setting. Is there a lesson for us here?

We share very similar stories. I was also a drugged-out hippy who got saved in 1971 at the age of 18. I too loved the acid rock of Cream, Hendrix and others. But God actually used two old ladies and their home Bible study to get me turned around.

They never once spoke about this long-haired, bare-foot hippy who had not had a bath in ages. They took me in and shared the Word of God – that is all. No desire to be “relevant” or cool or trendy. Just a love for God and his Word. That is all that is ever needed. For more on my story see here:

Brown continues:

I personally love contemporary worship, and I appreciate fine musicianship and gifted singers, as well as having an ethic for doing things with excellence. The Lord can certainly use this too. But it’s so easy to put our emphasis in the wrong places, as if slick presentation was more important than the Spirit and professionalism was more important than the Presence. Let us always be careful not to put relevance before obedience and not to water down the Word in order to avoid offense.
Put another way, we must not use the shifting tides of culture and the fickle opinions of people as our guide for life and ministry. Instead, we must seek to emulate Jesus in thought, word, and deed, lifting Him up without shame (which includes lifting up His life-giving standards of holiness and purity). If we do, the hungry and thirsty will come.
Pastor Kris Vallotton put it well: “We are not called to reflect our culture we are called to transform it. Becoming darkness to be relevant to a world of immorality is not the pathway to progress, but the process to the cesspool of hopelessness.”

Quite so. Away with all this unbiblical trendiness and relevance. Just give me Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and the Word of God. These are sufficient. Let me finish with two “relevant” quotes here (pun intended):

“There is a passion today to be relevant. This, I believe, is one of the gods of the modern church. We will go to great lengths to prove that the message fits in nicely with the culture around us.” A W Tozer

“We do not want a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.” G K Chesterton

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26 Replies to “The Curse of Relevance”

  1. You can never trust the media to accurately report what someone like Houston says. I know what he is getting at. His clarification made it quite clear that neither he nor Hillsong endorse homosexuality or support gay marriage. What Houston is concerned about is simply providing categorical soundbites for other Christians. Remember that our goal on earth is to reach people for Christ. The difficulty in reaching homosexuals is that they usually do not distinguish between their person and their homosexual behaviour. Repentance is an essential part of conversion but let’s face it–it does not always occur simultaneously with acceptance of Christ as Saviour. Houston is saying that we can’t expect homosexuals to repent before conversion so we need to be careful what we say and how we say it otherwise we could lose the chance to share Christ with them. This does not mean that we endorse or accept their immoral and sinful behaviour anymore than Christ accepted the immoral and sinful behaviour of the prostitutes and tax collectors he associated with…
    I think it is worth considering the gracious way Christ dealt with sinners. Remember that homosexuality is one sin among many…
    Carl Lenz’s comments, on the other hand, do seem rather wishy-washy to me…

  2. Thanks Andrew, but sorry, I am not buying your weak apologia for Hillsong and for their dubious rationalisation and methods. I have already spoken extensively to their major shortcomings on this issue in the above article and in my other article so I am not going to repeat myself here.

    My first piece is found here:

    And forget this lame excuse about the media: I have read and am responding to exactly what Houston said, not what the media said.

  3. The question springs to mind: “Relevant to what?”. In a pluralist society where burqa and abaya may be found in the same city as miniskirt and bikini, relevance becomes a very interesting academic exercise. Former Hillsonger-turned-atheist, Tanya Levin’s autobiographical account of her Hillsong journey, People in glass houses : an insider’s story of a life in and out of Hillsong (2007) is confronting reading in parts, but she does offer some analysis her former co-religionists would do well to consider carefully.

  4. Bill, Brian said the following:
    ““Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

    I’m struggling to understand why you think this is not a clear and unequivocal statement of Brian’s position. He believes the same as you and I!

    You can’t take isolated comments in response to a very specific question in a media interview as if it was a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of one’s position on a topic. You know this.

  5. Thanks Andrew, but I of course haven’t isolated anything. What is quite clear however is that you obviously have not even bothered to read my articles where I speak to all this. The simple truth is, it doesn’t mean a hill of beans if he thinks it is true, yet refuses to say it publicly for fear of offending people or upsetting people. The devil also believes, and trembles, as Scripture clearly says. So what then? It does not matter what he gives mental assent to if he refuses to clearly and forcefully proclaim such vital biblical truths for whatever reason. Then he is doing a huge disservice to the gospel and is in fact simply promoting the homosexual agenda by default. And as I documented, the homosexual activists keep saying how pleased they are with Houston on this. If you wanna defend this guy at all costs and his wishy washy stance, go ahead. But I prefer to defend Jesus and the gospel on this thanks.

  6. Yes, I have read your articles on this Bill. I simply disagree with you on this. I don’t think it is necessary that everyone has to proclaim publicly their views on specific sins. Jesus never did! He spoke to people one-on-one and addressed their specific problems and issues. Brian himself pointed this out. Did you read that Bill? If you think Brian’s approach is wrong, then you must think Jesus’ approach is wrong. It’s as simple as that.

  7. Thanks Andrew, but baloney. Of course Jesus rebuked sins publicly, and to entire groups, and often. As did the prophets. As did the disciples. Often. But as you now prefer to just uncritically parrot whatever Houston says here, even equating him with Jesus, then we really need to give it a rest! If you are so enamoured with the guy, you can run with singing his praises elsewhere thanks, but not here.

  8. Good on you Bill I could not of said it better to Andrew myself. It seems that everybody misses what is simply staring them in the Face. We all need o get back to the Basics of the Gospel along will losing our own Wills in the Will of Christ.

    Leigh D Stebbins.

  9. Andrew, with all due respect, I don’t think you are paying close enough attention to what’s going on here. The topic is the danger of elevating ‘relevance’ above the gospel. (And like Michael Brown I generally like and appreciate high levels of production – but frankly, I would rather no lights, a single organ and old hymns if production excellence was only achieved with levels of scriptural illiteracy) Even Brian Houston’s statement that you quote is problematic – Paul’s writings are not given with the authority of Paul, but with the authority of God, Acts 9:15 and 2 Peter 3:16 make this clear. Houston was asked a direct question, so your claim that speaking on specific sins is wrong goes out the window. Jesus certainly did not avoid direct questions. Houston may have also been concerned with trying to find a way around Lentz’s effective (and false) claim that condemnation of homosexuality would carry more doctrinal weight if Jesus was directly quoted as saying it. It would’ve actually been better if he had just rebuked Lentz openly as part of an answer.

    Given the teachings on sexual morality from Jesus in Mt 5, Mt 15, Mt 19 and Rev 2 – among many others, Houston is a little too concerned with being cute with people who will hate him anyway, and that is a very serious problem for a senior pastor to have.

    Let’s just cut to the chase here – the truth is people hate God and many either unconsciously or consciously consider where you stand on homosexuality as the silver bullet to be able to bring down what threatens their love of sin, whatever that happens to be. If God (and His followers) is perceived as ‘immoral’, they can be sanctimonious in their rejection of Him and carry on, full of pride, with whatever they want. Man is innately rebellious and wants nothing to do with God. Homosexual morality, one way or the other, is just the primary litmus test now, hence why Houston was asked a question in relation to that subject.

    It is true the media are looking to out those who they can whip up the mob to hate (Why does this stuff remind me so of Two Minutes Hate in 1984?) but that is just unfortunately the way this world is now and Houston has not yet seemingly fully understood and prepared adequately for it. He acts and speaks as if the world would like Jesus if they knew him better, if He was just ‘packaged’ better, or marketed better. For most, it just isn’t true.

    The world wouldn’t like Jesus now, it would still hate Him and kill Him again, if it could. White hot, frothing, media-frenzied, hate. Way, way, way too confronting for the majority. Hard to sell repentance of sin in a world that embraces hedonism more and more, especially sexual hedonism. But yet as God the Father called His Son to a world that would nail Him up for doing nothing wrong, we are called to tell the world the same message that most will hate us for as well. This is just the way it is; very few are going to take the narrow way that leads to life. (Mt 7:13-14)

    Sexual morality is just one part of it, that is true, but if the world asks us the question, it is negligent of a shepherd to engage in any level of equivocation where God has been very clear. As I wrote above, it wasn’t just Paul who said it, Romans 1, for example, carries the authority of God, along with that, obviously the same authority of Jesus.

    Andrew Walker (quoted in the Brown article) needs to be re-quoted here:
    “The good news is that the truth of Christianity outlasts the untruths of man’s applause.”

    Brian Houston and Hillsong need to drop the ‘relevance’ schtick asap; it will not change anything of eternal consequence, large congregation numbers notwithstanding. If persecution came, how many would be left? What’s the point of tens of thousands, if under trouble you have none left afterwards? History was changed by just a handful of men with deep conviction, knowledge and wisdom after Jesus ascended. Relevance was not primarily on their minds, but repentance.

  10. “I would never believe that we were on the Lord’s side if all men were on our side.”

    “We must give up the vain idea of trying to please everybody. That is impossible, and the attempt is a mere waste of time. We must be content to walk in Christ’s steps, and let the world say what it likes.”
    J.C. Ryle

    “Why in God’s name do you expect to be accepted everywhere? How is it the world couldn’t get on with the holiest man that ever lived, and it can get on with you and me?”
    Leonard Ravenhill

    “The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”
    A.W. Tozer

  11. Dear Bill,

    Your Houston defender using the “Jesus Said Nothing about Homosexuality argument” is simply parroting Carl Lentz. Carl Lentz Pastor Hillsong New York City told CNN. “Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent” “And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it, because He never did.”

    This argument again has come out of the gay lobby. There is nothing new about it and easily refuted as you know Bill. The Jews were well aware of the Torah and what God spoke about homosexuality in Leviticus that it was and is an abomination to God. Jesus Christ didn’t need to revisit this issue in detail (but please note Bohlin’s comments below) as it was already a well established as a no go area for the Jews of His day.

    To state that Christ never mentioned homosexuality and therefore assume that Christ condoned the practice or did not see it as important is nonsense. It’s a lie from hell.

    It also ignores the fact that Christ is part of the triune God. He was and is one with his Father. Christ did not need to restate the obvious about homosexuality when His father God had already made His position clear in Leviticus 18 v22 and Christ was present with His father at the time. See also Genesis 13: v13 and Romans 1.

    It’s always dangerous to select one Bible verse or occasion to justify a position. This is sad game Carl Lentz is playing, twisting Scripture to align with his warped position.

    Sue Bohlin’s comments are also highly valuable and I quote her in entirety:-

    “Jesus Said Nothing about Homosexuality by Sue Bohlin (Probe Ministries).”
    “Whether from a pulpit or at a gay rights event, gay activists like to point out that Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality; instead, He was more interested in love. Their point is that if Jesus didn’t specifically forbid a behavior, then who are we to judge those who engage in it? “
    This argument assumes that the Gospels are more important than the rest of the books in the New Testament, that only the recorded sayings of Jesus matter. But John’s gospel itself assures us that it is not an exhaustive record of all that Jesus said and did, which means there was a lot left out! The gospels don’t record that Jesus condemned wife-beating or incest; does that make them OK? “


    “Furthermore, the remaining books of the New Testament are no less authoritative than the gospels. All scripture is inspired by God, not just the books with red letters in the text. Specific prohibitions against homosexual behavior in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 are every bit as God-ordained as what is recorded in the gospels.”

    “We do know, however, that Jesus spoke in specific terms about God’s created intent for human sexuality: “From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall be one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4-6). God’s plan is holy heterosexuality, and Jesus spelled it out.”

    Clearly Carl Lentz doesn’t read the Bible and yet he calls himself a Lead pastor. Give me a break Carl.

    See probe link

    Sue Bohlin also clearly addresses the suicide issue in the last part of the article that Brian Houston uses inadequately to justify his position. If Brian can’t use decent supportive arguments for his position I guess there is always the VICTIM / SUICIDE CARD (aka the “WEIGHT”) to play. Sadly his impressionable and many cases Biblically impoverished audience, just accept it without question.

    Maybe I’ll being a little unkind but I think there is some followers within HILLSONG that may think Brian Houston is the last word. He’s not – the BIBLE IS.

    God Bless you Bill. Keep the great work.

    It’s all very sad when so much energy has to be spent arguing Truth but if one person is redeemed through the blood of Christ and doesn’t die from aids then it’s 100% worth it, so don’t ever give up Bill.

    Phil Browne

  12. Thanks Phil. Yes I continue to be absolutely amazed at how some of these Christian leaders and their zealous devotees will simply run with the exact same arguments the homosexual activists have been using for years. Utterly mind boggling.

  13. Some apologists for Houston’s equivocation on the subject of homosexuality claim he was just trying to avoid being “trapped” by media questions. But I fail to see where is the “trap”. The media were simply trying to get a straight answer from him as to where the church stands on this current and controversial issue. What is so bad about that? He was given a prime opportunity to proclaim Gospel truth on an important and relevant issue but refused to do so!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  14. Excellent follow-up discussion, via the comment section. It was good to read the opposing perspective as well…if only to provide a basis for the more edifying responses. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your testimony again as well, Bill.

  15. Could the Hillsong pastors be pointed to After the Ball, p. 179 where Kirk & Madsen write:

    “First gays can use talk to muddy the moral waters, that is, to undercut the rationalisations that ‘justify’ religious bigotry and to jam some of the psychic rewards.. This entails publicizing support by moderate churches and raising serious theological objections to conservative biblical teachings. …… Second, gays can undermine the moral authority of homohating churches over less fervent adherents by portraying such institutions as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the latest findings of psychology. …..

    Hillsong etc have been had big time!

    The piece is on the importance of talking about homosexuality and avoiding it being shown until people had been desensitised enough to not be repulsed by it.

  16. Brian was interviewed as someone who is meant to hold a level of authority in preaching. Someone who represents what the bible says on issues. That he couldn’t or wouldn’t say “I believe what the bible says on this issue, and will gladly and proudly preach on this issue no matter what society says” says it all really.

    To relegate this to being his personal view without making it totally clear that this personal view informs his pulpit ministry is cowardice.

    I cannot imagine the likes of Macarthur, Piper, Al Mohler squandering this kind of public opportunity to clearly enunciate the biblical position in a winsome way? Houston isn’t a newcomer to dealing with the media or presenting ideas clearly. This issue isn’t a left-field issue in today’s culture and he messed it up.

  17. Very much needed article, Bill. It seems the vast majority of Christian leaders, whether in churches or organisations, are trying to be more like politicians in their approach and defence the gospel. As Ewan said (above comment) Brian Houston missed a great moment to proclaim the truth of what God says about homosexuality. He could have just quoted either (or all) of Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
    I hear also for example that Bill Shorten is key note speaker for Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) National Conference soon in Canberra. Yet he is a big pusher for abortion (to full term) and homosexual marriage, and not only these. Surely ACL are playing the “let’s get on with everyone” and the “careful careful” approach and more too.

    There are many people who desperately want to hear it straight. They have real questions about life and death and they deserve real answers about these. And we understand this needs to be done in a loving and uncompromised manner. After all, this has been the hallmark of Christians throughout the ages – come what may.
    Here’s agood vid from Living Waters/Ray Comfort: A Powerful Lesson From ER

  18. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” -Mark 1.
    Repentance, be it ever so imperfect at the beginning is intricately and inseparably intertwined with salvation.
    I am glad someone brought up Matt 19:4-6, for I also thought that makes it very clear that God’s plan for human sexuality is male and female in an exclusive marriage covenant relationship.
    I wonder if those who seek to lead big churches, for whatever reason and are therefore in the eye of the media are actually prepared for the pressure that is put upon them to bend biblical truth to the level of human ability to cope with it which isn’t very great or else to be labelled “unloving” or a troublemaker. I know this pressure just a little bit in my very limited sphere of influence and I find it a battle and requiring constant prayerfulness to not cave in for the sake of comfort. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have the big stuff of the media and the real god-haters thrown at you. I wonder if more attention should be given to that part of a person’s character before they are given the job of proclaiming the truth of the gospel, for the way they do it and the way people respond to it has eternal consequences. They should at least take James 3:1 very seriously.
    I am so glad I had brave people speak the gospel to me though I made their life pretty hard at times. I like what you said about the men in suits and the ladies in fancy dresses ministering to the hippy, that really shows it is the power of God that converts when the gospel is faithfully delivered. It has nothing to do with style or method, just faithful obedience.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  19. One of my major concerns with the modern preacher is, Repentance is never mentioned. It’s all about Lifestyle and the Statement What would Jesus DO. The answer is Simple – neither do I condemn you, Go and sin no more. Jesus said I have come to CALL Sinners to Repentance. The sad thing is that many so-called Christians have never been born again.

  20. Phil Browne, I’m not a Houston defender or apologist. There is a lot to criticise him for but I think we should also be fair and not accuse of holding positions he doesn’t hold. I personally would have given a straight answer to that initial question in the interview, and I think he should have done the same. But haven’t we all on occasion not said what we should have–not stood up for the truth the way we should have out of fear of ridicule etc? Give the guy a break. This was not a prepared well thought out comprehensive statement. In any case, when people started questioning and criticising Houston’s responses he put out clear statement that he did not accept homosexuality or gay marriage and that he accepted the Bible’s teaching on the topic!

    And Phil, you said: “To state that Christ never mentioned homosexuality and therefore assume that Christ condoned the practice or did not see it as important is nonsense. It’s a lie from hell.”

    Lentz may be making this stupid argument (is he really?) but I am certainly not and neither is Houston! Stop straw-manning!

    Mark, I agree in principle with most of what you say. You, Bill and other critics claim the reason for Brian’s reluctance to publicly go all out in condemning homosexuality/gay marriage is because he is putting the need to be relevant above proclaiming the gospel. Houston and his spokespeople appear to be arguing that this is an evangelistic strategy because gays turn off immediately on this point. He wants to share Christ with them first before dealing with their sin. You and Bill may well be right, but your assessment of Brian’s motives does suggest you have some special knowledge of what is going on inside his head…I don’t have that special knowledge.

    But hey I’m open to being convinced. If you can show me statements by Brian where he denies the need to repent or something like that then Houston deserves to be called out on it!

    Frankly, there are far worse evanjellyfish Christians than Houston!

  21. Thanks Bill
    and congratulations on making it to the LGBT hall of shame and watch list!
    I well remember back in the 1960s when this “relevance” call became a popular slogan. I remember when the principal of a certain theological college (now deceased) slammed evangelical preaching for its “irrelevance”. I remember also when evangelical apologists at the time replied – ever so politely – that the desire to make the Gospel relevant was a proper and necessary call, but…. The trouble was, the “relevance” merchants never heard what came after the “but”. All they heard was that evangelicals were at last coming into the C20th, and were agreeing with the liberals, despite certain gripes and demurs at what they (the liberals) saw as “details”.

    However, what has been the washout? As I heard a Presbyterian minister some years ago observe, that all it has done is make the world and its outlook acceptable in the Church, has indeed dragged the Church down to the level of the world around. We have made the same mistakes as ancient Israel in the Judges period.

    What I hear coming from Michael Brown is the same approach as those apologists back in the 1960s: “Brian Houston has a commendable desire to make the Gospel relevant..da..da..da.., but… Well, I doubt very much that Brian Houston will listen to what comes after the “but”; all he will hear is that Brown basically endorses what he says, albeit with a few demurs and qualifications.

    As for me, and I have said this before on this blog, I abhor “contemporary music”. I firmly believe that when the Church adopted that into its worship it lowered itself thereby to the level of the world – in the desire to be “relevant”, or course! Now so many churches are little more than Christianised rock festivals, what with black walls, no windows, strobe lights, concert platforms, performers gyrating on the stage etc. It is a far cry from the deep devotion, solemn piety, and Christ-honouring verse for both meditation and congregational singing that I see in Charles Wesley’s hymns, or those of Watts, Newton, or Cowper. (I have a forthcoming book of Charles Wesley’s hymns with short essays on a number of topics arising).

  22. Good article Bill. I do think it is possible to be relevant and biblical but it is difficult (a bit like be angry and sin not).

    As Christians, when we talk about sexual sin we immediately have an understanding as to what that involves. It is my understanding that whenever Jesus spoke about sexual sin, everyone around him understood that he was talking about all sexual sin as laid out in the old testament and that included homosexuality. So in a way Jesus did address the issue of homosexuality.

  23. Dear Andrew,

    The big problem with both what Houston and Lentz are saying on homosexuality is there are about three shades of grey being argued. Brian has created a problem for himself because of his first wishy washy unclear response.

    Firstly, Is Brian speaking from a worldly point of view by supporting and being mildly sympathetic to the gay lifestyle?
    Is he talking from a personal viewpoint as a Christian?
    or is he talking from a Denominational point of view (as head of Hillsong Group of Churches)? or Is he talking as a representative of the Australian Christian community while he is in New York?.

    I honestly don’t know. That’s the issue. Does Brian want Hillsong to establish the biggest gay friendly church in the US. Maybe he does? I don’t know what Brian’s objectives and intentions are for Hillsong long term.

    But I am certainly very very uneasy about Brian’s perceived compromise (when the Gay Star News gets pretty excited about his comments, it’s time to worry) and I personally have deep concerns where this is all headed in the next 4 years. Brian may be deliberately desensitising the Hillsong congregations to this issue.

    Brian repeats this early statement again in his clarification which you appear to very happy about:

    “This – like many other issues, is a conversation the church needs to have and we are all on a journey as we grapple with the question of merging biblical truth with a changing world”

    Once again I ask, What the hell does that mean, Andrew? Since when has the Word of God had to merge and mould itself into what the world wants.

    Brian Houston’s comments at the New York interview are very similar to what I viewed on older YOUTUBE Video. So I don’t agree that it was a mistake. Brian is a very smart and experienced operator. He has been involved with the Media for 30 years. He is certainly not a fool. He is a senior experienced pastor. He SHOULD BE very clear on what HILLSONG position is on homosexuality.

    I refer you to what the Bible says about oaths. Matthew 5:37 “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

    You say “Lentz may be making this stupid argument (is he really?) “ Sorry I don’t know what your point is Andrew.

    This is what Lentz said:-
    “Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent,” Lentz told CNN in a June interview “And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”

    Lentz’s wife, Laura, then added: “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.”

    OH REALLY LAURA. That’s not what Christ said to the woman at the well.” He said “Go and sin no more.” Repentance was actually important to Christ as it is all mankind.

    Note the word “Journey” appearing again.

    CNN has reported his statement so if it was false I’m sure Carl would have stated this subsequently. To my knowledge he hasn’t. So let’s be fair and reasonable and accept it as a true statement.

    In terms of your personal criticism against me for “straw-manning” Sorry mate.

    You tell me what point Carl Lentz is making and we will both know. That’s the problem. Which position is he taking? A Personal view? A gay centered world view?. A gay activist view? A Christ centred view?

    Given he is a Christian and a lead pastor he should be spiritually astute enough not to parrot the gay lobby when he said “Christ said nothing about Homosexuality” statement because he is deliberately degrading the value of the rest of the Holy Bible on this issue including God Almighty’s statements in the Old Testament , Paul the apostle’s statements and he is aligning himself with Gay Lobby and the gay practices of the people in his church. Read Sue Bohlin’s article in full please.

    Bill Muehlenberg’s original article was called “Homosexuality, Hillsong and Shrinking Gospel” When it comes to Lentz I could easily replace the word “shrinking” with the word “selective” and that’s when it gets interesting.

    In short, I don’t know what point Carl is making and I don’t know what his end game is. Maybe to him the church has no relevance and no right to even speak about homosexuality. Of course that’s an easy cop out.

    It is reported that he won’t talk on social issues from the pulpit including homosexuality. If this is true this is also wrong because as a Christian pastor he is not providing instruction and guidance to the flock he is responsible for. That’s his job.

    For all the compromise Lentz is making “Is there any repentance and U turn by Gays within the NYC church or it’s just happy music days at the Church?

    Andrew a massive church does not necessarily equate to a move of God. It can be the exact opposite.

    Ewan’s McDonalds comments above are spot on. Alan Williams post is also excellent.

    Satan loves all shades of grey responses from influential pastors like Houston because it gives him wriggle room. Houston’s comments have raised significant concern in many Christian churches across the USA and this should be a wake up call to Brian Houston and Lentz. Then again if Brian Houston and Lentz have a long term for Hillsong is to have a massive GAY FRIENDLY CHURCH is America then they should be honest enough to state that now, instead of playing shades or grey games. I’ll be very interested to hear what happens when two gay men in HILLSONG NYC Church want to get married. Let’s see how will Lentz manages this?

    We live in the age of deception and deceit Andrew. It is most unwise to believe everything people say including influential Pastors like Joel Osteen. I will watch with Interest how this all ends up over the next 4 -10 years

    Phil Browne

  24. If your church has changed to become more relevant, chances are, before the change was complete, it became irrelevant.

    The Gospel is relevant; the Bible is relevant; Old Truth is relevant; Preaching is relevant. Those things never change because God never changes.

    But the world changes. And just the time your new culturally relevant gimmick becomes popular, some newly styled gimmick will come up and surpass yours before the shine is off and your gimmick will be irrelevant.

    “I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the quick and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry.” 1Timothy 2:1-5

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