Australian tabloid television show, A Current Affair (ACA), recently ran a story questioning the vast income of Brian and Bobbie Houston, their Hillsong Church and its affiliated ministries. The show claims to have obtained “copies of Hillsong’s most recent financial documents” that show that, in 2011, the ministry reported a tax-free revenue of $55 million between the church, the music ministry, conferences and Bible college courses. At the core of the report is the question: should non-profit entities such as Hillsong Church pay taxes on profits that do not go to charity?
This is not the first time such accusations have been levied at the Hillsong Church empire. In 2010, Brian Houston posted a lengthy letter on the Hillsong website responding to criticism about their finances and income. Houston concludes his letter by stating:
Bobbie and I are grateful to God for His blessing, have both worked hard for over 35 years and I believe it has been through wise investment and consistency that we have seen our lives grow. We are very committed to living by the same principles of giving and generosity that we teach others and one of the great blessings of LMI [Leadership Ministries Incorporated] has been to enable us each year to contribute significantly to the Hillsong Foundation and other missions, causes and outreaches that are passionately focused on helping people. We are blessed and I would want the same for anyone else in our position and stage of life. When, 27 years ago, we started Hillsong Church, the furthest thing from our mind was financial gain, in fact, we put everything on the line then and we have that same view today. Source
Upon the airing of the 18 February 2013 A Current Affair report, Brian Houston was quick to respond again, both on Twitter and on the church website. He claims that the accusations are nothing more than recycled allegations from this previous investigation. In the post, “Statement from Hillsong Church Re: A Current Affair 18 Feb, 2013,” Houston writes:
This story was nothing more than a rehash of the same old false claims that have been discredited in the past. It was full of misinformation and clearly had an anti-church agenda.
Fortunately most Australians view stories like this on tabloid TV as void of all credibility and will rightly dismiss this for what it is – a grab at television ratings at the expense of the beliefs of millions of Christians across the nation.
Though presented in typical tabloid-TV manner, the ACA report does rightly identify some of the tactics used by some churches to convince their members to tithe 10% of their income “to God.” One such teaching may be that one is “robbing God” if he does not give his tithe or that blessing necessarily will follow upon the contribution of one’s 10%. These appear to be common teachings among those who teach a mandatory tithe.
Brian Houston also has faced criticism in the past for his prosperity teaching. Chris Rosebrough, Christian apologist and host of Fighting for the Faith, has said of Hillsong:
This is a church that is having profound influence and impact on American evangelicalism. But this is not a Christian church….Because they preach a false gospel. A church can call itself a Christian church all it wants, but if it doesn’t present the historic Christian faith and the biblical gospel of Christ and Him crucified for our sins, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, but gives you a different gospel, then according to God’s Word—if it preaches a different gospel, gives you a different gospel—then the pastor doing that is anathema. That means eternally condemned. Read Galatians 1. I cannot emphasize enough that Hillsong is not a church that we should embrace as full of people who are Christian brothers and sisters, especially the leaders of Hillsong. They really are instead like the TBN prosperity preachers of the United States. They are the same stripe, they are scratching itching ears, telling people what they want to hear and making a ton of money doing it. Source
Perhaps the more crucial question for the Christian, then, is not whether organizations such as Hillsong should pay taxes, but whether the strategies and preaching that are used to motivate members’ giving are of a sound, biblical nature. In other words, is the Word of God being twisted and misused as a means of manipulative financial gain? If so, then perhaps that is the greater sin.