Have you accepted Jesus as your financial investor?
A couple of weeks ago I read a book released by a woman named Tanya Levin. It was an account of her experiences in and out of Pentecostal “Empire”, Hillsong. As a christian man who has been attending a church for the past 7 years or so I was already aware of who Hillsong were and my bias against them has quickly mounted (because what they represent is often contrary to what many other christian churches represent).
The first time I witnessed a Pentecostal church service it was late at night on a channel we only got on one tv due its odd wide-range reception (we picked up a rare community channel that broadcast random programs). Anyway this one particular time (I think my sister was sitting with me) I flicked it onto some Televangelist show. Everyone in this church was laughing; every single one of them. A man with a microphone was going around putting it up to people’s mouths so we could hear that each person was hysterical.
My sister and I laughed for a bit (mostly cause one woman’s laugh was particularly bad and infectious). After a while though it just freaked us out and I had to change the channel.
Afterwards I kept thinking, “what was the point in that?” This was before I became a christian and I still wonder what the point is.
What sticks out for me when these group outbursts occur, though, is that it’s not a just a Pentacostal thing. And I’m highly doubtful that it comes from God. In 1978, Guyana, more than 900 members of People’s Temple were killed with forced suicide methods by drinking Kool-Aide beverages laced with cyanide. Sure, laughing is not half as dangerous as forced suicide but it’s the psychological state these large crowds are in in such situations that scares me.
And I suppose this is where my bias against a lot of Pentecostal churches began. Since then I now know that not all Pentecostal churches conduct themselves in the same way and I try to be less passionate i my rants. And the laughing church thing has become much less popular since the ninties, as well.
One church or business I have always been critical of, however, is Hillsong. I’d seen several documentaries and articles on this church. It seems lots of members over time have left, disenfranchised by its franchise.
The specific focus of my criticism is Prosperity doctrine, which, in a nutshell is an argument whereby giving more to the church will see you rewarded financially by God on Earth (which isn’t substantiated by the bible, and in fact is contradicted in the bible with the well-known “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to pass into heaven” passage).
I won’t delve into the ins and outs of the bible because the books and documentaries, reporters, everyone have pointed to these specific passages, which Pastor Brian Houston has either ignored or swept aside with a statement like “that doesn’t apply to christians.”
That one made me laugh. Who would it apply to, if not those who believe in the gospel?
Levin, as an author, extends her argument beyond Hillsong at times and this perhaps where her and I don’t always see eye to eye. While I’m always willing to question bible passages and get to the nut of the gospel I always feel it’s important to consider the whole bible. For example, when it comes to the representation of women in the bible she only questions the passages which best serve her argument, instead of nuancing her argument to include the opposition.
Nonetheless this brave woman has produced a challenge to one of the most successful churches in Australia.
She’s not bringing down God or the followers of Christ, she’s attacking the cold corporate approach Hillsong take when recruiting its members.
The bottom line for them is money, which means if you’re a member of Hillsong you’re treated as no more than a number, a consumer. It’s much like a mall really. There’s cushioned seats you can sit on to rest from your overwhelming shopping experience and the people behind the counter are friendly, and you might even like the repetitive music playing over the speakers, but it’s all there because you’re paying for it and it’s artificial.
This book, called “People in Glass Houses,” has been published at quite a cost for Levin, which is why I’m quicker to hear her out than those who have tried to silence her. For one thing, she (perhaps because of her reporter-style questioning) is no longer welcome to the church. Now the Hillsong head honchos might argue that Levin is a threat to the members of the church (and if they said this I might understand where they are coming from). But they give no explanation, just an awkward and authoritative term of reproach.
I did a search on Wikipedia and according to a clearly disgruntled person, Levin’s a whole lot of crazy things short of being the devil.
This person has attempted to defame her on Wiki so much so that it’s overblown and worthy of a good chuckle. The only true bits are her birth, occupation and that she was born in South Africa.
The person wrote: Tanya Levin (b. 1971) is an Australian writer and social worker.
Born in South Africa to a family heavily involved in witchcraft, Tanya moved to Australia in the 1980’s joining Hillsong Church. She left soon after, as she found it hard to make friends in the movement. Most choosing to avoid her because of her open lesbainisim and satanic ritules streaming from years of drug abuse.
Her only book “people in Glass Houses” is not so much about the world famous and well regarded Hillsong Church but more a manifesto of beliefs from tanya levin. The publishers claim it in non-fiction. The truth is it really is fiction. The book is mostly retoric and twisted, missinterpreted philisophy. This can be found throughout the book with it’s many refrences to bible teachings that are taken out of context.
She suspicously left out the passages about condeming the works of servents of God. This may be a deliberate omission as it would seriously challegng the pretext of her book. There is wide speculation she framed it around life with Hillsong church to sell more copies of her mad ramblings.
Note that the only reference given in the endnotes is for Hillsong Church. I particularly like the bit about the satanic rituals and drugs.
I was going to edit it on the Wikipedia website but it doesn’t look like this is an option. I’m not sure if it’s because Wikipedia doesn’t want it to be edited or if I’m not a member of their site or what but the lack of references and the blatant lies that have gone overlooked annoy me. It’s like a spelling error that you can’t fix anymore because you’ve handed your assignement in already. And, to add insult to injury, this person has left their little piece on Levin rife with spelling errors!
Anyway I think it’s the responsibility of christians to question what it is they believe. Not to break it down or disengage from the church as much as possible but learn from it and help others understand the bible too.
Christians are asked to worship God, not the church, and although I’m not sure where Levin stands in her faith at the moment it’s clear in her book that we should be aware that not all churches’ actions are motivated by God or the gospel but may be influenced more heavily by power and greed, among other things.
One show that really niches out an indepth analysis of the concept of God and Satan, and good and evil is Carnivale. Throughout the course of two series a humble man who wishes only to live a simple life under the radar (denying his ability to heal) is called to confront a powerful Methodist Church Minister, whose attempts to gain more power subvert his initial attempts to spread the gospel (through his ability to reveal to people and himself what others’ “greatest sins” are).
It’s a work of fiction but despite that and the fact that it’s a period-piece series set in the 1930s, it works key arguments relevant to today’s religious and political endeavours. And it puts forward a strong case for why church and state might be distinguished from one another. I highly recommend it for those who like progressive drama series, with engaging characters and storylines.
When Levin wrote her book I don’t think her intention was to deter people from the gospel. Quite the opposite, I think. Levin wants people to be aware of what can go on in churches, particularly large economically successful corporate companies like Hillsong. Levin isn’t the only one to speak out against Hillsong. I’ve seen documentaries on sbs of people who attend special bible studies to “relearn” the passages in the bible that have supposedly supported prosperity doctrine.
I’ve seen other members who have completely thrown their faith out, along with Hillsong, hurt and frustrated at the time they’ve wasted on something that ultimately hasn’t rewarded them the way they were promised by the pastors.
Whatever the outcome, Levin offers a deconstruction of Hillsong. She answers the question “Why, when Hillsong have so many supportive attendees, is this conglomerate criticised, and what for?” And though she shares her own experiences she also illustrates her argument with literature from psychologists and the stories or testimonies of other parishioners.
Since journalists aren’t allowed in the premises it’s nice to hear the truth from someone who has spent plenty of time inside the tall walls of wealth.
And Father Bob interviewd Tanya Levin on 19th August this year if you’d like to subscribe to JJJ’s Sunday Night John Safran and Father Bob podcast on all things religious.