Steve Kozar seems like a nice bloke, and he’s a terrific artist, truly, so, please check out his art website and purchase one of his paintings, but, please, don’t buy his terrible criticism of Brian Houston and Hillsong.

Recently, in Australia, there have been several controversial attacks on the Body of Christ, from the media, from educationists, from politicians, and from secularists, even though Christianity in the wonderful nation has traditionally been of great benefit.

So Brian was asked to write up a piece by news.com.au based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ [ABS] finding that fewer people identified as Christians in their latest census. This was unsurprising as the questions were framed differently and a section added for people who identified as having no religion.

The result was, in fact, more representative of the real figures than in previous years, where there was no option for agnosticism, atheists, or just plain not knowing if you believed anything.

But Kozar, writing for his blog ‘Messed Up Church’ on Chris Rosebrough’s ‘Pirate Christian’ site, took the response that Houston gave, which nowhere mentions Hillsong, and painted a picture of Brian’s piece that is negative and more reflective of Kozar’s own theological stance and prejudice towards a highly respected Australian minister than a reflection of what Brian said.

Taken on its own merits without Kozar’s comments (in italics here), what Houston says (in bold quotes) is very true and inspirational for Australian Christians. The truth is that Christians still make up the vast majority of those with beliefs, and far outrank those who have no belief, especially atheists.

Kozar rudely and inaccurately calls this piece, ‘Brian Houston: Used Car Salesman Pushing the Hillsong Brand’, but, as I have said, Brian doesn’t mention Hillsong once. He is commenting as a recognised leader in the Australian Church on an important issue to the media and the Church at this time.

My comments follow Kozar’s.

THE census results that revealed a small drop in the number of people calling themselves “Christian”, and less people identifying themselves as being affiliated with any religion, should be a wake-up call for the Christian church across Australia. 

While these results were not unexpected, the census also showed the changing social values our country is facing including a rise in the number of people following the Muslim faith.

Again, this is not surprising, as it is clear that Australia’s immigration policies are having an impact on the texture and makeup of our society. Yet as a Christian pastor it does concern me that what I see as the foundations of our community — the values that bring us together — are being diminished, and the faith that has shaped our nation for so long is declining.

While many Australians are not practising Christians and value, as I do, the many different cultures that form our country, I believe the vast majority also want a strong sense of national identity and don’t want to lose those features that make us unique. 

Kozar: (This appears to be an attempt to say to the non-Christians in his audience: “Hey! We’re really nice; not like those Muslims. If you won’t become a Christian, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me continue growing this Hillsong monster across the country; it makes us unique!”)

Well, no. Houston is clearly answering a question that most Christians are asking following the ABS census of 2017. Hillsong, on this occasion, has nothing to do with the outcome of the census, except the fact that the main group that is showing growth in the census is the Pentecostal Church, of which Hillsong is a member. What Kozar doesn’t know is that there are several Pentecostal movements in Australia that are showing exponential growth. Hillsong is a very well known movement, but others are making a global impact at this time.

At the same time, Australians are concerned at the extremism they see overseas and are fearful that recent events in Australia make us vulnerable to a similar path.

The Christian church can — and should — play a significant role in reshaping our national identity and providing Australians with hope, love, peace and faith. I am convinced that, just as Christianity was the solution to the greatest human issues 2000 years ago, so it is to this day. 

Kozar: (This is one of many examples where Houston turns the Christian Church into a vague and charitable entity for the purpose of increasing brand acceptance to his targeted demographic. How, specifically, is the Christian Church offering a solution to the greatest human issues? What is the solution he speaks of? Who knows? He never proclaims the actual Gospel message. )

The three enduring qualities of the gospel are faith, hope and love. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. These are crucial elements of the gospel message. Houston is correct to assert that faith, hope, peace and love frame the message of the gospel. It is a known to most Christians that when we talk about Christianity we are promoting the gospel message, Christ, His cross, His resurrection, and our need of redemption from sin.

The recent census figures show that many Australians are understandably disenchanted by church child abuse scandals…

Kozar: (This is coming from the guy who protected his pedophile father, Frank Houston) 

I think he regrets his actions in retrospect, will take some of the flack for what happened, and mentioning this subject actually puts a spotlight on his own actions, hence the use of the word ‘understandably’, but Kozar had to drive the blade in anyway.

…and the perceived irrelevance of formalised religion. At the same time we are seeing an increasing demonising of Christianity for holding firm to 2000-year-old biblical perspectives on societal issues such as sexuality, marriage and the inherent value of human life.

But are we witnessing the demise of Christianity and the church in our country? I don’t believe so. Despite these census statistics there are life-giving churches all over the country that are growing, youthful, and clearly meeting the very real needs of people. 

Kozar: (Here’s where Brian Houston defines his brand: Life-giving. Growing. Youthful. Meeting the Very Real Needs of People. No Old People Allowed. Take Your Hymnals and Your Wheelchairs and Just Go Away.)

No, not at all. Houston is making a strong point here. Christianity is being demonised for staying true to its traditions. Kozar will go on to deny that Houston holds to any traditions, but the fact is that he is asserting the need to remain faithful to the clearly defined message of the New Testament. Nowhere does he reject old people. The reality is that growing and successful Australian Pentecostal, Baptist and Contemporary churches are very youthful, which is an extremely good thing, but they are also populated with people who have been with them for more than thirty years, have grown up in the church, have met their spouses in the church, married in the church, had children who are also part of the church, who, in turn are having children, so a third generation of congregants, and each generation larger than the former. This is what he means by youthful, vibrant, life-giving churches. The comparison is with churches that have unwittingly closed the door to youth by feeding yesterday’s manna. But Pentecost in Australia is populated by a cross section of age groups and cultural backgrounds. Some of the elders in the Australian Pentecostal movements are in their 80s and 90s, and helped pioneer what is now a very large and dynamic movement. Saying ‘no old people allowed’ is an outright fabrication.

The gospel message is timeless and should not be tampered with; but for the church, the methods simply must change to keep pace with society’s desperate cry for authenticity and a deeper meaning in life. The Christian message is one of love and acceptance, and must replace the sense of hatred, fear and cynicism that the world is experiencing at the moment. 

Kozar: (It should surprise no one that Houston fails to articulate any Gospel message at all. “The gospel message is one of love and acceptance?” No Brian, that’s the message of postmodern pop culture; that’s the message of a spineless frontman trying to win the approval of the most gullible members of society. The Gospel is about how Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind. If society is actually crying out for authenticity, as you claim, how is the Hillsong brand helping? By putting on even bigger spectacles in even larger auditoriums with even cooler “pastors,” who have bad theology but dress like primping rock stars? THAT’S the Hillsong solution to society’s deepest needs? Brian Houston IS the problem! Hillsong is a heavily-marketed corporate entity pretending to be a church, and hurting untold thousands of people with a false Gospel message.)

These are complete untruths presented with an unnecessary level of cynicism. The reality is that all Pentecostal movements in Australia, especially those effectively impacting the global community, preach the good news. They talk about the cross, the resurrection, the way to salvation, the death, burial and raising of Christ as the bottom line of everything they teach and preach. I know. I have heard these things. Kozar, who has limited experience of anything of the Australian Pentecostal movements since the 1980s, is making this up. The authenticity being addressed here is the authentic need for repentance and change through the gospel. Houston, I repeat, is not talking specifically about Hillsong. Only Kozar is doing this. He has created a strawman and is attacking his own fabricated claim. The deepest need of every person is repentance and salvation through faith in Christ.

In my experience, as I engage with everyday Australians in cafes, airports, or shopping malls, people at large are not anti-God; they are anti hypocrisy, irrelevance, and ‘tired’ old religion that has compromised on issues of morality and Christian distinctives

Kozar: (This is the Hillsong pitch: “You don’t like hypocrites? Neither does Hillsong! You don’t like ‘tired’ old religion? Neither does Hillsong! Wow, it sounds like our church is perfect for you, doesn’t it?! Now, what’s it gonna take to get you to drive this church off the lot today?”)

Again, Houston is generalising, not discussing Hillsong. Few Australian Christians would disagree with what he is saying here. He is regarded well in Australia by most Christians as an elder worth listening to. These remarks by Kozar are sowing discord and completely reveal his prejudice.

We, the church in Australia, are stewards of a message desperately needed in these complex days. The good news of Jesus Christ is a message of life and hope and the New Testament points to a God who is for us and not against us. In a world of extremism, tension, hatred, horror and sheer evil, the Australian church, no matter what the persuasion, is desperately needed in this country. But are we recognising societal needs and focusing on bringing life-giving answers? Sadly, often the answer is no. People need community and a real sense of belonging. People need hope. You can live a certain amount of time without food — a lot less time without water — but we were never designed to live without hope. 

Kozar: (Once again, Houston mentions nothing of the redemption that Jesus provided by His death on the cross. Instead, he tells everyone about the need for hope that we all share. Yes, we all need hope, but Houston is not providing real hope, he’s selling the Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation bucket of bolts that takes money from people and gives them nothing in return. The “community” of Hillsong is not based on the true fellowship that the Christian Church provides, because Hillsong is not a real Christian Church. Btw, yes I know, I know, there are some actual Christians involved in Hillsong…)

Here Kozar contradicts himself. He wants to say Houston is wrong to say that Australian Christians need to continue to preach the hope of the gospel, but them pulls himself up for not agreeing that this is correct. He negates his disagreement with Houston by confirming what he says. He adds two more strawmen – ‘Word of Faith’ and ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ – and chews on his own bale of hay. Houston is a Pentecostal. Pentecostals have been around for far longer than either of the two movements mentioned, which are charismatic. Kozar shows his lack of knowledge of Pentecostal movements. He is out of his depth. Then he is condescending enough to grant that there are ‘some Christians involved in Hillsong’. That is just self-righteous pomposity gone to seed.

People are tired of religion with form but without substance, with ritual but without relevance — that is what people are shunning. People are scared because of the evil we constantly witness on the news — in the name of religion. 

Kozar: (Hillsong, like every cool new Mega-Church, claims to be “real” and “relevant” but those are just catch-phrases, and a growing number of people are abandoning these “churches,” as they figure out that this is a bait and switch sales pitch. This is a marketing gimmick, and it works for a while, just like any multi-level marketing organization. Hillsong constantly hypes itself, uses hyped-up rock bands with laser light shows and has hyped-up “pastors” preaching a positive-thinking/prosperity message that tickles itching ears. And of course, it always contrasts itself against crusty old “religion.” You don’t like religion? Neither does Hillsong!…)

Houston is pointing out a truth here. He is reminding us that we live in the 21st century and the Church has to relate to people at grass roots level, so we have to present the ageless truth of the gospel in a way that they can understand in an atmosphere where people are questioning the antics of some who claim to represent Christ. I would have thought Kozar of all people, as a critic of what he considers hypocrisy, would agree with this. Instead he produces a paragraph of bulldust to add to his strawmen to make some hefty bricks of illogic. How many times does he have to be reminded that this isn’t about Hillsong? He just made it up to create a narrative.

No matter what the denomination or name above our doors, the Australian church that believes in Jesus Christ, must show more commitment to the real issues. We must help people to find a sense of belonging, meet physical and spiritual needs, and speak life-giving messages that connect with people’s everyday lives. 
Kozar: (So, Brian says that churches must “show more commitment to real issues.” That’s quite a sentence, coming from the master of hype, marketing and Prosperity Pimping. What does he leave out, again? The Gospel message. Jesus did not die on the cross to just help people “find a place of belonging,” so we can “speak life-giving messages” of prosperity and earthly success. Oh wait, the Gospel message doesn’t “connect with people’s everyday lives,” nevermind…)
Again, this is full on prejudice. If we are not speaking life-giving messages that connect with people’s everyday lives, what are we doing? The gospel is and always has been about Jesus coming down into the earth as a man to declare God’s love, grace and salvation to the inhabitants of the earth at grass roots level. He humbled Himself as a man to bring us to the Father. He came down to us to show us the Father’s love. He went out to the people. He sent us out to the people. His message is and always was life-giving, and He handed it to us. People related to Jesus because He spoke to them about everyday things that were important to them and showed them a way to the Father through His beautifully illustrated messages of hope for a fallen world, which He then backed up with a demonstration of the power of God by meeting their needs. Maybe criticising Christians in a blog cuts with Kozar.

With a 2017 worldview and a first-century message, the church in Australia will continue to be an active, effective, and dynamic part of the heart and fabric of this wonderful country. 

Kozar: (This is a real audacious sales job; it’s completely backward and upside down. This is putting a cheap, but shiney paint job on a broken-down rust bucket. A “2017 worldview?” What does that even mean? And he says that Hillsong has a “first-century message?” Really?? When did the first-century church use stadiums, rock bands with laser-light shows, TV shows and Word of Faith heretical teaching based on sorcery, selfishness and power-grabbing businessmen sporting perfectly groomed beard stubble in place of sacrificial and pastoral shepherding? When did the first-century church abandon the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and replace it with a Naked Cowboy? When did the first-century church go to bars with pop superstars to down shots and start to take off their clothes? When did the first-century church have “pastors” like these? (yes, these are Hillsong “pastors”):

What does it mean? It means we are living in the now. Today is the day of our salvation. Today if you can enter into His Rest. Today is when we need to bring this message of hope to dying world. Kozar shows here that he is clueless when it comes to way Australian churches operate. he brings the American TV evangelist culture into an argument when it is a minor and distant player in the development of contemporary Australian Christianity in the 20th and 21st centuries. Again, Kozar misses the point of the article, the census, the pressures being applied against the Church in Australia and the commentary given to address this by Houston.

Let’s keep our distinctive traditions, Eucharist or biblical values but recognise the times we now live in and bring to people the answers they desperately need.   
Kozar: (This sounds like a politician fumbling for words and desperately trying to come across as broadminded and knowledgeable while saying nothing of any substance. “Eucharist?” How does that even fit within that sentence?? Come on Brian, you can afford a good ghost-writer; I suggest you hire someone who can construct fully functional sentences.)
This is plain rude and unworthy of any so-called Christian commentator. By ‘Eucharist’ Brian is including the more traditional denominations which are still quite strong in Australia despite the census results. He is encouraging all movements and denominations within Australia to be heartened by the fact that there is genuine movement in many churches, and Christianity is far from doomed as some commentators would have their readers and listeners believe.
I’m a believer. The church in Australia has the perfect message for a deeply troubled world in 2017. We just cannot afford to make the methods more sacred than the message. 
Kozar: (Translation: “We’ve got this giant Hillsong thing figured out, and I’m getting filthy rich as a result, so you better let us keep expanding like a giant blob of rancid bread dough across this great country.”)
That’s no translation. It’s Kozar being sarcastic at another man’s expense.
Maybe Kozar should just take another photograph to imitate with his wonderful painting style. At least there would be something good to appreciate about his place in the world.
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