Yes you read that headline right. This story comes from Australia where the county’s largest megachurch, Hillsong, condemned rugby star Israel Folau for quoting scripture that condemned homosexuality, among other sins, and warned of hell. The two biblical passages paraphrased by Folau are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21. Now, this, predictably, earned a Fatwa from the Rainbow Jihad crowd and corporate sponsors of Rugby Australia pressured the league to take action against Israel Folau’s past social media comments. In a column last month titled “A message to Folau: The world doesn’t need more judgmental Christians” in The Sydney Morning Herald, Brian Houston of Hillsong wrote a sharp rebuttal to Folau’s message.
While sin is a real issue, the God I know and seek to follow is a God of love. He says that He did not come to condemn the world, He came to save it. And as Christians we would do well to follow the example of the founder of our faith. I believe there is a heaven and a hell but if you study scripture you won’t read about Jesus screaming to people that they are all going to hell. In fact Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, all kept their harshest criticism for those who were religious and judgmental.
There is a lot of crap to break down here. Brian Houston after praising Israel Folau has completed his “but” and is moving towards his own theological teaching. It begins by trivializing sin. Then references John 3:17, which is fair. But then charges Christians to follow the example of the founder of our faith. He names Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul. So what is their example? It is oft said that Jesus preached more on hell than heaven, but regardless of the official tally, one would be hard-pressed to find a scriptural example of someone who preached about heaven and hell more than Jesus. John the Baptist preached a hardline message of repentance, and Paul was the source of what Folau was quoting. It seems Israel Folau was following a more literal example of these three.
But let’s break down the last portion of this quote. Are the harshest words of Jesus directed towards the religious and judgmental? I disagree with this premise. Jesus renders woes towards the Pharisees, but it’s not because they were religious or judgmental; it’s because they were frauds. In John 3, Jesus comes close to berating Nicodemus for not understanding Scripture when it’s his job. Jesus employs the word hypocrite. In ancient times, a hypocrite is an actor. Jesus doesn’t condemn their judgmentalism, he condemns their apathy.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. – Matthew 23:13 (NASB)
This is the first woe. The subsequent woes condemn virtue signaling prayers, their travels, their greed twice, their fake appearance, and their virtue signaling messages about the prophets of the past whist they conspire to kill the Messiah. Never does it condemn their accurate quoting of scripture. Never does it condemn their calls of repentance. The Pharisees were actors. And the ones who weren’t acting, Nicodemus, were sucking at their jobs. The Pharisees weren’t leading people to God because they knew not God. And how can a people know God if the people who are supposed to show them suck at their job. The very thought process engenders righteous anger. The Pharisees didn’t understand the law, instead exploited the culture and population’s lack of knowledge to live a life of luxury and elitism.
In 40 years of telling people about the good news of Jesus, I have seen that the “turn or burn”, approach to proclaiming the message of Christianity alienates people. Scaring people doesn’t draw them into the love of Jesus.
God cared so much for the eternity of humankind that he sent his only son to die in order that he might make a way for restoration and reconciliation. The problem with harsh comments in the media and disparaging statements on social media is that they create a further wedge between God and people.
The world doesn’t need more judgmental Christians. In the eyes of many, the church is not relevant to their lives and is seen to be stuck in the past.
I don’t agree with turn or burn, but I am a big fan of fire and brimstone. Peter’s Second Sermon in Acts 4 confronts the people with their sins and makes it clear that the failure to heed Jesus has eternal consequences. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is perhaps the most famous sermon in American history. Fire and brimstone is remembered, and that was Israel Folau’s message. Then Houston starts talking about division and creating a wedge. But why is this bad? If people see a wedge between God and the people, they will soon see that the God side is better. Instead of finding middle ground with society, Christians are called to stand apart. We are called to create the wedge where the alternative is a society rejecting God. Jesus created a wedge between God and the people and was crucified. Peter employed this same wedge to bring people back to God. There is a right side of scripture and a wrong side of scripture.
Modern Day Pharisee
The actor hear is most certainly not Israel Folau, rather I pose this question: is Brian Houston a modern day Pharisee?
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I hope Izzy is extended some grace from all Australians. He is young and sincere and passionate about his relationship with God. We have all made mistakes when it comes to speaking too quickly, judging too harshly or being blinded by our own stubbornness. The world is a better place when we all look at ourselves and recognise our own human failings, and we can extend the same grace to him as we’d like others to show us.
The only reference to the right way and wrong way to do things that Brian Houston uses are those from his experience. He cites broad biblical examples, which have shown to be incorrect. To Brian Houston, there is a right way to reach people and a wrong way, and because he owns the largest megachurch in the world, he must be doing it the right way. Because he is well established, he knows what he’s doing. His admonishment comes off as a “stay in your lane.” Sound familiar? Come to think of it, the Pharisees ran the largest temple in Judea…
Back to Israel Folau
The Australian Rugby Union wants Israel Folau gone. They want him out of the league after he was found guilty of a high level breach of the players code of conduct for a social media post paraphrasing the Bible. Church Leader’s Megan Briggs reports that Folau grew up in a Mormon church but his family left. And when he began his professional career, he began attending a Christian church and heard the love of God for the first time. Since then he has been outspoken.