Hillsong Church, best known for its inspiring Christian music compositions, is a global church that has about 700,000 followers world wide. Founded in Australia by Brian Houston, it has been steeped in controversy. Mr. Houston said in a sermon once that Hillsong sermons should be formed in a way that “leaves people feeling better about themselves than they came.” There is a culture in this nation of “celebrity pastors”–preachers who become famous and a church is built around the personality of the celebrity.
Recently, Hillsong NYC fired its pastor for all kinds of abuses, including multiple affairs and verbal abuse. Carl Lentz attained celebrity status fairly quickly, and was often seen hanging out with his close pal Justin Bieber. Some church members from Hillsong NYC described a culture where Mr. Lentz was only reachable if people had “the right badge” to be backstage. This notion that the religious elite are better than others has done great damage to the church. More importantly, it is wrecking innocent lives and runs completely counter to everything Jesus taught.
When Jesus called Matthew, he ruffled feathers because he wasn’t rubbing elbows with the religious leaders. Instead, Matthew paints this scene: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Matthew 9:10 ESV). Jesus attracted the outcasts of society. They were often poor, sick, lonely, and had nowhere to turn. This was not typical behavior for religious leaders. Status was important, just like it is among our celebrity pastors of today. Many religious leaders care more about their image than doing what’s right. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus’ response was perfect: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (vs. 12-13). Jesus was the great physician. Christians are called to point sick people to Jesus, not to celebrate and deify religious leaders.