True or false: Hillsong Church is a cult

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A person on their knees on the grass in summer with a tree behind them on their right. They are holding their hands and bowing their head in prayer while the sun shines behind them and results in a lens flare to the left of them.
Praying someone’s legs will grow doesn’t mean they actually will… Pexels via Pixabay

Going off Dr. Michael D. Langone’s characteristics… yes, yes it is a cult. 

Hillsong Church is a megachurch built within the charismatic Christian movement in Baulkham Hills, New South Wales in 1983. It was originally called the Hills Christian Life Center, and was renamed Hillsong Church in 2001.  

Founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston, the church is best known for their worship music. According to their website (and my counting), Hillsong has 106 different church campuses around the world. 

And it’s a cult. Well, probably. But, I’m going to tell you why. 

If you haven’t read my article from last week about Bethel, go do that now. This article will still be here when you get done. This article will follow the same criteria for characteristics of a cult, but with brand new evidence for this different church. 

Jumping right in with the idea that if you ever try to question the cult or leave, or even think about leaving, you will face consequences. In an exclusive interview with news.com.au, former Hillsong Church Australia members talked about their experiences in the church. 

One woman said that after she left Hillsong, it only took 24 hours for her to be shunned by everyone she knew from the church to the point where her roommate moved out of the house they shared. 

Next is mind-altering practices being used often and usually to make people further believe in the cult’s leader. Similar to Bethel, it’s right on Hillsong’s website that they believe in speaking in tongues, an act where “the Holy Spirit fills you” and you start speaking in an unknown language – otherwise known as gibberish.  

It’s in their Statement of Belief, so if you go to Hillsong you have to believe in speaking in tongues. Another very, very common one is growing legs. Yes, growing legs.  

This involves inviting people who have one leg shorter than the other to be prayed over for healing, and then watching as the leg grows to match the other. But, it’s so common that there are four proven methods showing how to do it as a visual illusion and not healing. But, if you believe that you see a man heal someone, you’re going to believe in how he said he did.  

In cults, the leadership often decides things for you. How you dress, the things you do, your work, your behavior. Hillsong is no different, and for their Hillsong College program there are a lot of rules.  

Students have to be modestly dressed, they cannot lie, they cannot be gay, they cannot miss class unless they are sick or have experienced a “trauma,” cannot miss chapel, date during the first semester, and you cannot date without permission from a school leader, or get engaged, married, or divorced without talking to the school’s Principal. 

In the news.com.au interview, a former member stated that they were told they had to give the church 10 per cent of their income. Another former member stated that students had to volunteer 20 to 30 hours a week and they had to drive around VIPs during conferences. They had no choice. 

Next is the idea that the ‘cult’ is better than others, especially for its leaders. In a blog post by current Senior Global Pastor Phil Dooley called “‘Followership’ and leadership,” Dooley writes of how because he has a relationship with God, he gains provision, guidance, and protection from God. He receives all that because his “relationship with God is close.”  

In their Statement of Belief, it says that members can experience a “new birth,” but only through Jesus. And how do you find your way to this new birth through Jesus? By going to Hillsong! 

Us-versus-them. A classic cult tactic. One that fits nicely into churches. Sinners and saints. The forgiven, the repenters, the ones bound for Heaven, and the ones doomed for Hell.  

I remember once being told by a Pastor in the charismatic Christian church I grew up in (that adored Hillsong) that, “You know Oprah’s going to Hell, right?” after making a reference to Oprah. I heard sermons stating that everyone we knew who hadn’t repented was going to burn in eternal agony in Hell, right after a Hillsong song played during Worship.  

A line was drawn in the sand. Follow the message of churches like Hillsong, or burn.  

In order to talk about cult leaders not being accountable to authorities, we have to bring Frank Houston into the picture. The founder of Sydney Christian Life Center, which would later merge into Hillsong under the guidance of his son Brian Houston, Frank Houston used his position in the church to sexually assault young boys.  

When it was reported to the church, at least 34 years after his first victim was abused, he was not arrested. Instead, his son made him retire from his position in the church. It was never reported to the police, despite the legal obligation. 

Another point on the cult characteristics list is “the group is preoccupied with making money.” According to Hillsong Australia’s 2021 Annual Report, 77 per cent of Hillsong’s income is from donations. They made $76.9 million that year, $69.7 million of that through donations.  

In the news.com.au exclusive, a former student at the school said that they were expected to constantly be paying the church. The 10 per cent church ‘tax.’ Additional offerings. He states that he saw people give up their phones as offerings.  

I was able to find a section on their website about your Will when you die. It lists six ways to give Hillsong money in your will and two ways to write it out in your will. They have their own app for giving them money. You can mail them money, or you can just click the “Give” button on their website. 

In 2022, founder Brian Houston resigned. He was accused of inappropriate activity with women. In August of 2021, he was charged for concealing his father’s sexual abuse. Recently, in August of 2023, he was found not guilty.  

As of right now, Houston plans on starting a new church at some point in 2024. 

Even though Houston isn’t the leader anymore, it doesn’t change the overwhelming amount of evidence that Hillsong is a cult. Similar to Bethel, their preachers claim that they teach the Gospel, but what they do teach has almost nothing to do with the actual Gospel.  

They are money first, music second, maybe a bit of Jesus at the end, but only ever in the way they want to teach it, not by Gospel. 

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