The failure of politics is the failure of all of us. The purpose of politics is the Common Good.
Christian Churches are in a difficult environment to speak into the public policy space following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The proposition of legislating for ‘Religious Freedom‘ is a minefield, with big questions around the legal definitions of both those key words. Prominent Anglican and jurist, Michael Kirby, has also entered the debate. Trumps capturing of the Evangelical Right as a key support base and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s pentecostal faith is leaving people and media wary. Some journalist have described Morrison’s ‘pentecostalism’ as an ‘Evangelical’ movement, others have got closer to the mark when discussing ‘prosperity doctrine’; while there can be some overlap at times and in some congregations, they are not groupings that you can easily lump together.
Many websites and books confuse Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism; they are not one and the same. They are quite distinct branches of Christian theology. There is a body of highly developed and well documented Evangelical theology (it does have its own complexity – but it also has some key themes). In contrast, a major part of the problem with defining pentecostal theology is that it is generally not well defined and articulated. This is largely because Pentecostals do not think theologically so much as do it practically. Pentecostalism is not just distinctive because of its belief base but also because of the worldview it owns. The latter is based on a certainty that a religion that does not work is not worth much. Consequently, Pentecostals look for expressions of life and vitality in their faith. The sense of the immediate, the God of the now not the distant past, underlies how Pentecostals do theology.
Historically, Pentecostal theology tends to be seen through the eyes of people, not theologians; through the community, not traditions; through their faith and worship, not ancient creeds. It is a theology of the dynamic, seen through the lens of experience. It is a functional theology that exists to operate; to incorporate an experiential dimension. Pentecostal theology does not operate as other theologies which often only detail doctrines and beliefs; it does this but more importantly, it explores them in the context of experience.
‘Latter Rain‘ theology is central to numerous Pentecostal movements, such as: the Kansas City Prophets, and the Toronto and Lakeland revivals, as well as hundreds of independent neo-Pentecostal congregations. Modern movements such as the Brownsville/Pensacola can be traced back to Latter Rain thinking. There are very few books outlining the early history of the development of the Latter Rain movement, or the “New Order of the Latter Rain”. In short on 12/2/1948, a Pentecostal “revival” broke out in the Sharon Orphanage and Schools in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The previous day, a female student had prophesied that a great worldwide revival was about to begin. On that date there were alleged tongues, healings, prophecies, and many “fell under the spirit.”
I have considered the theology and historical development of the Pentecostal movement at various times over last 40 years, having been aware of it in the mid seventies, confronted with it in 1978, and then a member of a congregation consumed with it between 1984 to 86. I am in the Anabaptist, post Lausanne radical discipleship, Christian Socialist school of thought which kind of sits within an outward looking orthodoxy.
The history of Australian Pentecostalism has a complexity of its own and tracing the roots of Pentecostal thinking, is somewhat like exploration of your family tree; there are so many different strands that you can follow. Let’s consider a few.
Pentecostal denominationalism began in the early 20th century (will return to this later in text). In contrast Australian Pentecostal and Charismatic movements had a much longer history. This article will not explore the Charismatic movement as it largely remains within mainstream Christian congregations and denominations.
The Catholic Apostolic Churches in Australia, which emerged under Edward Irving from a confluence of Scots revivalism and Spanish millennialism, maintained charismatic practice from 1853 through until the end of the 19th century, and significantly influenced the global healing movement. In 1909 Sarah Jane Lancaster set up the first church called Good News Hall, and then merged with other burgeoning Pentecostal churches under the name Apostolic Faith Mission of Australia; this became the first Pentecostal organization in Australia. They experienced conflict and debate over Oneness theology, leading to the schismatic foundation of new denominations. In 1937, the Assemblies of God in Australia was formed from elements of the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Queensland Pentecostal churches which emerged out of the 1924 Macknade revival (federated in 1929 as the Queensland Assemblies of God), and A.C. Valdez’s Pentecostal Church of Australia. The Assemblies of God eventually became known as Australian Christian Churches in 2007.
The emergence of Pentecostalism from within Methodism and Holiness movements along with the Salvation Army cannot be ignored. However, it has a longer history within a tradition called pietism.
Some may be surprised to learn that Pentecostalism also has roots in Pietism, a movement arising within German and Scandinavian Lutheranism in the 17th century. The movement emphasized that the Christian faith should not be merely a matter of the intellect, but also an affair of the heart and lived out in daily life. This history is also explored in “Rediscovering Pentecostalism’s Diverse Roots,” published in 2006 in Refleks (a Norwegian journal focusing on Pentecostal studies p, 50ff).
Pietism emphasized the need for a “religion of the heart” instead of the head, and was characterized by ethical purity, inward devotion, charity, asceticism, and mysticism. Leadership was empathetic to adherents instead of being strident loyalists to sacramentalism. The Pietistic movement was birthed in Germany through spiritual pioneers who wanted a deeper emotional experience rather than a pre-set adherence to form (no matter how genuine). They stressed a personal experience of salvation and a continuous openness to new spiritual illumination. Pietism is based on the theology of Christian perfection. which comes from the perfection of Christ. Whilst all Christians are enjoined to sanctification — bearing increasingly holy attitudes and behaviours as a result of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit working through them — the danger is semi-Pelagianism.
Pietist denominations and Wesleyan denominations follow a doctrine called theosis in their interpretation of personal holiness and sanctification. Yet, everyone’s journey on the road to sanctification is different and personal piety happens in different ways at various times. One person might never be tempted by alcohol yet fall into sins of pride; another might drink in moderation yet conduct themselves in perfect humility. Nowhere in Scripture — as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said — does the Bible proscribe or prescribe a variety of things that the pietists and Wesleyans say it does.
Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, died in 1791 at the age of 87. Denominations which Methodism influenced include not only the Methodist churches around the world, but also the Methodist Episcopal churches, Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Charismatic and Pentecostal denominations also have their origins in Wesleyan holiness movements. These are characterized by its emphasis on Wesley’s doctrine of a second work of grace leading to Christian perfection.
Wesley’s circuit riders helped to spread Methodism in the United States as did Anglicans emigrating from England who considered themselves more Methodist than Anglican. At the end of the 18th century, Methodists had their own chapels but without their own clergy, still received the sacraments in the Anglican church.
American Pentecostal historians have often focused on the movement’s origins in various Anglo segments of evangelicalism. Others have traced Pentecostal roots to the Wesleyan/Methodist/Holiness movements. Another helpful corrective observation is that many early Pentecostals, including those in the Assemblies of God, drew from the Higher Life/Keswick movements.
To understand the roots of Prosperity Theology, we must dig deeply into the history of American Pentecostalism and consider what was occurring about a century ago. A major figure, at that time, is the larger than life Aimee Semple MacPherson.
Aimee Semple McPherson (1890 –1944), also known as Sister Aimee or simply Sister, was a Canadian-American Pentecostal evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s. McPherson has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, because she used radio to draw on the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America and incorporated other forms into her weekly sermons at Angelus Temple, one of the first megachurches.
In her time Semple was the most publicized Protestant evangelist, surpassing Billy Sunday and her other predecessors. She conducted public faith healing demonstrations before large crowds; testimonies conveyed tens of thousands of people healed. McPherson’s articulation of the United States as a nation founded and sustained by divine inspiration continues to be echoed by many pastors in churches today. News coverage sensationalized her misfortunes with family and church members; particularly inflaming accusations she had fabricated her reported kidnapping, turning it into a national spectacle. McPherson’s preaching style, extensive charity work and ecumenical contributions were a major influence to American Pentecostal Christianity and leadership in the 20th century.
As mentioned earlier Pentecostalism has many ancestral paths than can be pursued. Considering it in the reverse direction its history also has many descendants. The Azusa Street Revival was a key and influential turning point in the rise of the Pentecostalism as a global movement. Its leader (and one of the least recognized leaders of Pentecostalism) was William Seymour. In recent decades historians and scholars began noting his importance, perhaps the first was Yale historian Sidney Ahlstrom, who wrote that Seymour personified a black piety “which exerted its greatest direct influence on American religious history”—placing Seymour’s impact ahead of figures like W. E. B. Dubois and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gastón Espinosa’s William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (2014) outlines a compelling case for the unparalleled importance of William Seymour to the foundational period of U.S. and global Pentecostalism. For anyone studying race in America, or the history of Pentecostalism this is a must-read volume.
William Joseph Seymour was the second of eight children born in Centerville, Louisiana, on May 2, 1870 to former slaves Simon and Phyllis Seymour. Raised as a Baptist, Seymour and as a teenager was given to dreams and visions. Aged 25, he moved to Indianapolis, where he worked as a railroad porter and then waited on tables in a fashionable restaurant. During this period, he contracted smallpox and went blind in his left eye. In 1900 he relocated to Cincinnati, where he joined the “reformation” Church of God (headquartered in Anderson, Indiana), also known as the Evening Light Saints.
Here Seymour became steeped in radical Holiness theology, which taught second blessing entire sanctification (i.e., sanctification is a post-conversion experience that results in complete holiness), divine healing, premillennialism, and the promise of a worldwide Holy Spirit revival before the rapture. In 1903 Seymour moved to Houston, Texas, in search of his family. There he joined a small Holiness church pastored by an African American woman, Lucy Farrow, who soon put him touch with Charles Fox Parham. He adopted Parham’s belief that speaking in tongues was the sign of receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In 1906, Seymour moved to Los Angeles, California, where he preached the Pentecostal message and sparked the Azusa Street Revival. This revival grew large crowds of believers as well as media coverage that focused on the controversial religious practices as well as the racially integrated worship services, which violated the racial norms of the time and still remains contentious.
As the revival’s influence extended beyond Los Angeles through evangelism and missionary work, Seymour was in the process of developing the revival into a larger organization called the Apostolic Faith Movement. This process was ultimately defeated by power struggles with other ministers, such as Florence Crawford and William Howard Durham, which damaged the unity of the early Pentecostal movement and led to a decrease in Seymour’s influence. Seymour’s leadership of the revival and publication of The Apostolic Faith newspaper launched him into prominence within the young Pentecostal movement. Seymour split with Parham in 1906 over theological differences as well as Parham’s unhappiness with interracial revival meetings. Later, the newspaper also became mired in controversy as it appears the extensive mailing list was stolen, thereby essentially crippling the mission of its contact with the world and ability to raise funds. It has been suggested this was a major factor that led to the end of the revival.
By 1914, the revival was past its peak, but Seymour continued to pastor the Apostolic Faith Mission he founded until his death. The revival acted as a catalyst for the spread of Pentecostal practices, such as speaking in tongues and integrated worship, throughout the world. It also played an important role in the history of most major Pentecostal denominations.
A telling piece published by the Assemblies of God concludes entitled “William J. Seymour: Peril and Possibilities for a New Era with the observation” concludes with:
“when the debate regarding the progenitor of modern Pentecostalism has ended, we must make a choice. W.J. Hollenweger, renowned authority on world Pentecostalism, has succinctly stated: “In the final analysis the choice between Parham and Seymour is not an historical but a theological one… “
A deeper consideration of Seymour’s work in relation to later developments such as Liberation Theology and Black Theology along with his influence on leaders such as W. E. B. Dubois and Martin Luther King Jr is warranted.
In the wake of the Azusa St. Revival, the need for denominational organization became apparent to many when established Christian churches largely rejected Pentecostal adherents. Holiness bodies, such as Wesleyan Methodists and the Salvation Army, disassociated themselves with Pentecostals, leaving the later without acceptance into any kind of already-established ecclesiastical structure.
As early as 1908, some American Midwestern Pentecostal churches were informally working together. Yet challenges existed that motivated others to continue to push for formal organization. Advocates for organization were also met with opposition from within their movement; as some believed that their Pentecostal experience had liberated them from denominationalism and they didn’t want to return to what they thought was a rigid structure.
In contrast, others argued that there were challenges that could be headed off by a denominational like structure. One major challenge at the time was con-men who would claim to be Pentecostal preachers, only to flee the church that was hosting them with the congregation’s money. This demonstrated the need for a system by which ministers could be credentialled. Another challenge was that Pentecostal missionaries going overseas found work more difficult without the support of a denomination. Still another challenge was that doctrinal disagreements were becoming common because there was no articulated Pentecostal belief statement.
The First General Council held on December 20, 1913, the Pentecostal publication “Word and Witness” called for a “General Convention.” It was advertised as an opportunity for Pentecostal churches to meet in love and peace, not in disharmony.
The opposition to organization was strong. Critics labelled it as “popery,” meaning that like the Roman Catholic Pope, some Pentecostals were trying to put themselves in a position to govern the entire movement. Others warned against wasting their time and having denominational pride.
The first General Council of the Assemblies of God was held in Hot Springs, Arkansas in April 1914. It was an attempt for unity – since those who opposed denominational organization were also in attendance. Advocates for formal organization won over the constituency. The group adopted the name “Assemblies of God” when referring to the united bodies and would eventually incorporate under the name “General Council of the Assemblies of God.” Although later meetings would produce doctrinal statements and elect governing officials, there is no doubt that in April 1914 the Assemblies of God was born.
Some of the issues in Pentecostalism reside deeply in Australia’s past – Sydney in particular. Much of it reaches centuries back in the into the Pietism that influenced Wesley. This long history of Spirit motivated religion has a firm place in Christian development – even as far back as Tertullian, and the Phrygian movements, known as Montanism. The church responded to this as it continues to do through its creeds and creedal statements of belief.
Whilst adhering to mainstream protestant Christian beliefs, some Pentecostal churches supplement these beliefs with influences from the New Apostolic Reformation, Revivalism, Dominion theology, Kingdom Now theology, Spiritual Warfare Christianity and Five-fold ministry thinking. Scripture is interpreted literally, though selectively.
While there are some seriously weird practises in Pentecostalism, like the snake handlers, that understandably make people very wary there are also stated frameworks of belief.
I have read the Hillsong statement of belief, this is not orthodox Christian theology. Having said all that, all theology is opinion. Though most would not admit it.
There are formal statement of or doctrinal belief or theology, like the Assemblies of God theology. It is strange how non creedal churches (like Baptists) always have statements of faith that read like creeds. However, they are also a good place to start when examining a church (rather than an individual pastors books or sermons) as they are the ‘framing documents’ that define their theology.
Pentecostal teachings value relational networks and condemned denominationalism, they most often contend that no church or organization had any right to give direction to any other church. Which of course is not what Pentecostal churches do at all…
The fundamental problem is the ‘ex words’: experience over exegesis.
Pentecostal theology is hard to pin down. While they won’t readily admit it, the movement tends to accept the subjective (prophecies, experiences, intuition, and directives straight from God) over exegeses of the written word. These prophecies and directives appear to change from time to time. And place to place. Also, when the movement uses the Bible, it does so in a highly stylized interpretation.
Prosperity theology has been criticized by leaders from various Christian denominations and from within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, who maintain that it is irresponsible, promotes idolatry, and is contrary to scripture. Secular observers have also criticized prosperity theology as exploitative of the poor. Two leading critics are English Anglican leader Michael Green and American-Canadian Christian theologian and an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God (USA) Gordon Fee, who argue against the extremes of pentecostalism and the prosperity heresy. Some African writers are also challenging its validity, interestingly, in the light of their own experience.
There is a growing body of writers who are trying to distinguish Pentecostalism from the Prosperity doctrine; for example in an article entitle “Redeeming Pentecostal Prosperity: From Materialism to Materiality” an author writes “despite its numerous faults, the prosperity gospel does indeed remind us that Christian faith and spirituality can and should have a resultant impact on one’s social and economic life. In other words, the Christian gospel is not just about heading to some heavenly destination in the future, it is about life in the here and now and is meant to be good news for the poor.” He concludes by suggesting there is a need “..to move from the language of ‘prosperity’ to that of ‘materiality’. The life of faith, empowered by the Spirit, should impact on our material life. It is not a magical guarantee to financial abundance, but it is grounded in the idea that God cares about our material reality and that the Christian gospel seeks to transform communities and alleviate the suffering caused by poverty.
Similarly, Miroslav Volf suggests that the pentecostal belief that healing is ‘in the atonement’ is evidence of the materiality of salvation present within pentecostal thinking. in Volf, “Materiality of Salvation: An Investigation in the Soteriologies of Liberation and Pentecostal Theologies,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 26, no. 3 (1989).
Green, Fee and Volf demonstrate how Pentecostal theology has developed and been considerably enhanced in the latter part of the 20th century. A significant body of contemporary Pentecostal theology is emerging as the 21st Century unfolds. Scholars like Miroslav Volf, Justo L. González, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Amos Yong, James K. A. Smith and Craig S. Keener are developing an impressive body of theological writing and warrant a deeper consideration.
Pentecostalism is the result of an amalgamation of different traditions: black and oral cultures, middle‐class and proletarian languages, catholic and evangelical spiritualities. These traditions are contextualized in Western, Latin American, Asian and African contexts which produce a bewildering pluralism. Formerly Professor of Mission at the University of Birmingham, UK Walter J. Hollenweger has suggested “This post‐modern religion is not only a challenge to Pentecostal theologians but also to the ecumenical community.”
Scott Morrison stands in a long pietistic tradition. What is commonly described as “prosperity theology” is a contemporary derivative of pentecostalism. This in particular warrants explicit description and a deeper investigation.
Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, the gospel of success) is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.
The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. It is based on interpretations of the Bible that are mainstream in Judaism (with respect to the Hebrew Bible), though less so in Christianity. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith.
It was during the Healing Revivals of the 1950s that prosperity theology first came to prominence in the United States, although commentators have linked the origins of its theology to the New Thought movement which began in the 19th century. The prosperity teaching later figured prominently in the Word of Faith movement and 1980s’ televangelism. In the 1990s and 2000s, it was adopted by influential leaders in the Pentecostal movement in the United States and has spread throughout the world.
Prominent leaders in the development of prosperity theology include E. W. Kenyon, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Jesse Duplantis, Kenneth Copeland, Reverend Ike, and Kenneth Hagin. Donald Trump has built deep alliances with contemporary prosperity leadership. People have written about how the prosperity gospel explains Donald Trump’s popularity with Christian voters.
Within Australia one cannot examine the subject of Prosrerity theology without considering Hillsong.
Prosperity Doctrine in Australia
Having laid all of the groundwork, we now begin to consider the development of prosperity doctrine in Australia; first, I will explore the history of two boyhood salvationists. One who elevated quickly in New Zealand, eventually moving to Sydney and becoming be leader of the Assemblies of God in Australia and New Zealand and had findings made against him in the Royal Commission mentioned in the opening of this blog. The other, A Melbourne man, who led what would perhaps Melbourne’s first megachurch and was among Latter Rain’s most prolific writers internationally. Other than being Salvationist boys the thing that links these two men is the Canadian New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR), also known as ‘Latter Rain’. It is now internationally recognised as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) having been given that title by Peter Wagner.
Then I will examine the more contemporary Phil Pringle of C3
William Francis “Frank” Houston (born 22/4/1922, Whanganui, New Zealand, died 8/11/2004, Sydney, Australia), was a Pentecostal pastor in the Assemblies of God in New Zealand and Australia. Houston suffered from illness from most of his life. Frank Houston founded Sydney Christian Life Centre, which would eventually come under the leadership of his son Pastor Brian Houston.
Houston commenced ministry training as a Salvation Army officer shortly after turning 18. He married Hazel and they had five children. The couple transferred their allegiance to the Baptist church, and later to the Assemblies of God in New Zealand. Houston initially attended the Ellerslie Assembly in 1960, but later transferred to the Lower Hutt Assemblies of God, and served as the superintendent of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand from 1965 to 1971.
In 1977 Houston moved to Sydney, and founded the Sydney Christian Life Centre in in Double Bay, which was not affiliated with any denomination in its first decade, but eventually became an Assemblies of God church. After growing it moved to Darlinghurst, and later to warehouse premises in inner city Sydney suburb Waterloo; there it had a 600-seat auditorium and a Bible and Creative Arts College. Houston was known by those close to him in the church as “the Bishop”, not as an official title but as a humorous reference to mainstream churches. He was also involved in over twenty Christian Life Centres being opened throughout New South Wales and overseas. Houston served as pastor at his church for more than two decades, and in senior positions within the Assemblies of God in Australia.
In 1999, after consultation amongst senior pastoral staff of the Waterloo church, and the staff of Hills Christian Life Centre (a subsidiary church led by Houston’s son Brian) the churches were merged into what became the Hillsong Church. Many published documents claim Brian was the founder of Hillsong, you can see that – in truth – this is not the whole picture.
But let’s go back to New Zealand, the early days and we will draw heavily of Houston’s wife’s biography, a source that his followers can hardly dispute. Houston, Hazel (1989). Being Frank (1 ed.). Marshall Pickering. ISBN 9780551018860.
The Latter Rain movement is openly in conflict with mainstream Christianity and there is strong evidence that it specifically targets and converts churches into its movement. In its early days, the New Order promoted aggressive ‘divide and conquer’ tactics in local churches while pushing the idea of ‘unity in the spirit’. For instance, in its early years in Canada, the New Order attempted an unethical takeover of churches in the ‘Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada’. It is worth noting the American Assemblies of God) was the first denomination to denounce the New Order of the Latter Rain and its ‘revival’.
On the 3rd of September in 1949, the General Council of the American Assemblies of God condemned and rejected the NOLR. They wrote:
RESOLVED, That we disapprove of those extreme teachings and practices which, being unfounded Scripturally, serve only to break fellowship of like precious faith and tend to confusion and division among the members of the Body of Christ, and be it hereby known that this 23rd General Council disapproves of the so-called, “New Order of the Latter Rain” , to wit:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we recommend following those things which make for peace among us, and those doctrines and practices whereby we may edify one another, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come unto the unity of the faith.
Houston, grew up in the New Zealand Salvation Army. It was the Salvation Army who expelled the Houston’s when church members of Avondale corps in Suburban Auckland accused them of stealing church money to buy themselves a car.
Both the New Zealand Baptists and Salvation Army were very cautious in dealing with the Assemblies of God (AOG). Hazel Houston in her book ‘Being Frank’ revealed her conservative Baptist judgment of New Zealand ‘Pentecostals’. It appears that in the late 1950’s the New Zealand AOG was usurped and taken over by the Latter Rainers. This was due to the NZ AOG having embraced the ideas of the Healing Revivals in America that promoted Latter Rain teachings. One prominent figure was William Branham.
Unlike his contemporaries, who followed doctrinal teachings known as the Full Gospel tradition, Branham developed an alternate theology that was primarily a mixture of Calvinist and Arminian doctrines, and had a heavy focus on dispensationalism and his own unique eschatological views. While widely accepting the restoration doctrine Branham espoused during the healing revival, his divergent post-revival teachings were deemed increasingly controversial by his Pentecostal contemporaries, who subsequently disavowed many of the doctrines as “revelatory madness”.
A slight aside, but one that shows the international links of this movement. Lindsay’s parents were followers of John Dowie (25/5/1847 – 9/3/1907) a Scottish evangelist and faith healer who ministered in Australia and the United States. Dowie was a restorationist and sought to recover the “primitive condition” of the Church. He believed in an end-times restoration of spiritual gifts and apostolic offices to the Church. In 1899, he claimed to be “God’s Messenger” and, in 1901, he claimed to be the spiritual return of the Biblical prophet Elijah, and styled himself as “Elijah the Restorer”, “The Prophet Elijah”, or “The Third Elijah”. He emphasized faith in God, “entire consecration”, and holiness. Dowie was a forerunner of Pentecostalism, and many of his followers became influential figures in the early twentieth century revival. You can pick up these threads in the Latter Rain movement.
Hillsong is a New Apostolic Reformation Church, influenced by the New Order of the Latter Rain movement. With this in mind, Hazel Houston specifically writes about Frank Houston being influenced by Latter Rain teaching through Gordon Lindsay and William Branham in her book ‘Being Frank’.
“I was upset when Frank woke up utterly miserable with a soaring temperature, his body aching in every joint. Obviously this had to be a day in bed. Usually sickness turned him into a self-pitying invalid, bored to tears with time dragging. This turned out to be four days of revelation. One of our self-confessed Pentecostals brought him a book with the interesting title ‘A Man Sent From God’. Gordon Lindsay had captured what to Frank were amazing insights into the prophetic ministry of William Branham at the height of his ministry. From the moment Frank opened the book, Frank forgot to grumble about being sick. ‘This man could tell people all about themselves, even to where they lived and their phone number. Isn’t that marvellous,’ he said to me. ‘Sounds like fortune telling.’ I was sceptical [sic]. ‘But he also healed the sick and he gives scriptural references for what he did.’ ‘Frank, don’t get carried away with such things,’ I warned. ‘You should read it for yourself.’ ‘Not me. I don’t like to read stuff like that. Those things don’t happen today.’ I closed the conversation and my mind but Frank pondered the possibility of New Testament-type miracles in the 1940s. Tears touched his cheeks at the thought of the possibilities. Next Sunday’s sermons contained references to the book. Statements concerning the possibility of Jesus healing without the aid of medicine stirred up some objections from the congregation, Ernie Hall latched on to every word… ‘Captain, ten minutes ago the doctor told me I can’t live more than two months. I want you to come round tonight to anoint me with oil. I’ll get some of the believing saints to join us and we’ll have a healing meeting.’ Frank was shocked. It was one thing to believe and preach about healing but another thing to act on his preaching. It seemed that Frank couldn’t avoid the issue. He decided he wouldn’t tell me what he had to do. He didn’t want any unbelievers there and I was an unbeliever with a mind as tightly closed as a can of bake beans. By the time he arrived at the house, sixteen believing Salvationists gathered. After some enthusiastic chorus singing, sister Allison handed Frank a saucer containing oil. He stared at it. How on earth did you anoint someone? Should he sprinkle oil on Ernie’s head or pour it over him. [sic] He’d start by reading James 5:14. There was safety in that. ‘If any of you are sick let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil.’ Not much instruction there. He’d have to do something. The Catholics would make the sign of the Cross. Perhaps that would do. Frank dipped his fingers in the saucer and drew two oily lines in the shape of a cross on Ernie’s forehead as he offered a prayer of faith. Without warning the power of God sent them all reeling backwards. Ernie fell on the floor with a big smile on his face. When he’d scrambled to his feet again he picked up a kitchen chair with his left hand, raising it high above his head, something he hadn’t been able to do for months. Frank could scarcely believe his eyes. This was a spiritual dimension untapped by most Salvation Officers he knew. […] This forerunner of future events lent weight to the reasons some people gave for calling us Pentecostal.” pg. 54-56.
You can also read the book on William Branham by Gordon Lindsay online for free.
While the American AOG condemned some teachings of the New Order of the Latter Rain, they did not scrutinise all of the NOLR teachings. The NOLR kept evolving in its theology and embracing new and often inexplicable teachings. Another aspect of the early Latter Rain movement was their emphasis on end times revival and church growth. Those would usher in this growth revival were “present day apostles and prophets” which the NOLR teach are governing and restoring the church and ushering in the Kingdom of God.
Houston also was known for passing the buck and responsibility of a pastor and carried an unhealthy desire to be a church growth leader. He was driven by results. He preached not the good news of salvation but the false ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ good news of William Branham. This includes the belief is that no one will believe the true gospel or believe God is alive unless they see signs and wonders. People in the end put their faith not in Jesus and his cross but in the person and the manifestations that surround their ministry. It appears that this is what qualified Houston as a minister in the NZ AOG; not any biblical or pastoral qualifications. But lets not get ahead of a good story. Thankfully, Hazel Houston records Houston, practicing Latter Rain teachings in his ministry.
On pages 50-51, Hazel Houston captured a breath-taking event where Frank Houston tried to negotiate with a young man to not take his life. The young man eventually “flung his gun on the floor” and decided to sleep off “his bout of drinking” (pg. 50). Hazel records Frank complaining to God about ministry and whined, “I thought that ministry would be peaceful”. And, while a “sprinkling of converts gave their lives to the Lord in the twelve months” when they were at Hawera, this was “not enough” to Frank Houston who thought “this was not enough to satisfy a heart hungry to win souls” (pg. 50). “Frank wanted more of God. He knelt at the altar at officers’ councils searching for the elusive experience called Holiness. He never found it.” Hazel ended the chapter with this comment: “In our next church God would give us a taste of His power. The full answer was still some years away.”
The next chapter is titled, ‘Blow A Strange Wind’. It was in this chapter we noted the NOLR teacher Branham’s influenced on Houston. But there were others that influenced Houston in their new Salvation Army church at Levin, New Zealand: “We studied our people. Amongst them there were the Allisons, a mother and daughter who claimed to be Spirit-filled, and a seventy-year-old man who loved cricket and declared that silence always woke him up, and his wife. These people, with Ernie Hill, his wife and two sons, who moved into the town soon after we did, influenced the direction of our ministry. They, too, claimed to have an experience with the Holy Spirit.” Source: By Hazel Houston, Published 1989 (UK: Scott Publications), Being Frank, pg. 52. While Hazel said that she dismissed all of Pentecostalism from her mind, she informs readers that, “Frank knew less about it until those four Pentecostal people talked to him” (pg. 52). She then goes on to describe that Frank had a supernatural encounter while he was praying in an empty Salvation Army hall. The experience frightened him and he called his church to prayer over the following days.
This is where Hazel Houston’s language gets interesting: “Sixteen people turned up. Some stayed a short while and went on to work. Others were able to stay an hour and a half but all stormed the gates of heaven. A week later the Holiness meeting throbbed with power.” (pg. 52)
The Houstons saw a “hidden force” in this meeting at work and claimed “This was the Holy Spirit at work”. The following week: “Sunday morning was even more powerful. This time the whole congregation was touched. There was no sermon, no altar call yet the people flocked to the front. Frank burst into weeping. He turned to me and asked me to carry on but I was also weeping. I turned to the organist. She was weeping. The Holy Spirit alone was in control as conviction swept the congregation. This was a totally new experience. We believed we were touching revival…… One Sunday a group of Methodists walking past the hall on their way home from their own service sensed an unusual power emanating from our building.” pg. 52-53
Here we can see the AOG list of NOLR heretical teachings of the emerging:
This is not Pentecostal language; this is Latter Rain/NAR speak.
The American AOG condemned the Latter Rain movement – but it was confused NZ Pentecostals that were influencing Houston with Latter Rain teachings. It seems they thought that the teachings and practices of the NOLR were in fact Pentecostal. And, yet no one from the either the Salvation Army or the NZ Pentecostal establishment condemned the Latter Rain heresy as Houston grew in prominence in New Zealand.
It was not long after these “Holiness” power meetings that a “Pentecostal” gave Houston the books on NOLR teacher William Branham. This occurred in their church in Levin, New Zealand. When Houston and his wife were moved to their next church, they were involved in a scandal and subsequently left the Salvation Army altogether. According to Hazel, her husband slid into depression, bad health, financial ruin and gave up on God and church altogether. At this time Frank Houston changed jobs from a door-to-door salesman to a “dry-cleaning man”.
A young man named Tony Austin met Houston on the job and invited him to his Queen St AOG church. In Chapter 5 (‘Fire Falls’), Houston clearly immersed himself in Latter Rain teaching. Pastor David Batterham became a friend and mentor of Houston and introduced Houston to Ray Bloomfield. Like Branham, Houston claimed to Batterham that the Holy Spirit revealed to his heart that ‘healing was in the atonement’ (pg. 69). This was a key scripture to the Healing Movement which also fuelled the NOLR. Batterham’s response:? “You can accept healing like you accepted salvation,” David assured us.” (pg. 70)
Houston’s relationship with Batterham and Bloomfield flourished and was heavily influenced by their Latter Rain teaching. It was under Bloomfield’s leadership that he accepted the role of assistant minister at Bloomfield’s new church, the Ellerslie-Tamaki Faith Mission.
Both Houston and Bloomfield purportedly preached the gospel and brought revival to the Maori communities in New Zealand; they were trying to continue in “revival power”. When Houston heard Bloomfield accepted missionary work in Canada, Houston felt that if he were to move in “revival power”, he “must move in the same way and with the same anointing as Ray did” (pg. 100). Note the emphasis on ‘the man’ – and not on God. This is important. Considering what the AOG condemned the Latter Rain of doing; this exactly what happened when Bloomfield gave Houston his “authority” to take over his church: “On the last day before his departure, Ray publicly committed the church into Frank’s care. Placing his hands on Frank’s head he prayed, ‘Lord give your servant a double portion of my spirit and let my mantle fall on this your servant Elijah’s did on Elisha,’ Frank staggered backwards as he experienced the transference of faith from Ray into his own spirit. With it came a sense of divine authority. Ray burst into prophecy. ‘You shall keep your eyes on Jesus. Look not unto man but unto God.’” (pg. 100)
These apostles and prophets were building up their own spiritual authorities before men – and no one would dare question them.
If you remain unconvinced about Houston being influenced by the New Order of the Latter Rain, this is what he wrote about Bloomfield in his book ‘The Release of the Human Spirit’ (pub. 1999). “… early in my Pentecostal ministry I was blessed to be linked with Ray Bloomfield… Ray ministered widely all across New Zealand, doing great miracles and walking in amazing supernatural realms– levels where no one else in the southern hemisphere was walking at the time. God brought us together, and I worked alongside him a couple of years in a church he was pioneering. He mentored me and I witnessed the amazing things God was doing in his ministry… Building on this foundation, I established a pattern for break-out in my ministry.” pg. 7.
In New Zealand, the NOLR was clearly usurping the Pentecostal denominations through the New Zealand AOG. It was an easy target considering how lax their ordination methods were. Hazel Houston records how Houston became “ordained” as an AOG minister in 1956, to eventually become the Superintendent of the entire NZ Assemblies of God. Hazel writes: “After the service Ray put his arms round Frank. ‘You’ll do. I would like you to be my associate pastor.’ When Ray made this unorthodox approach Frank asked what he had to sign. Ray smiled. ‘Brother Frank, God has a wonderful record book in Heaven. That’s all we need.’ He never did sign anything but on the spot he became an Assemblies of God minister. This was eventually ratified by the Executive Council, and two years later they discovered he was not even a member of the Assemblies of God. Frank often said a piece of paper didn’t make a minister, although he does not recommend this unorthodox approach.” pg. 76-77
Nobody seemed to cares that Houston and his wife were ejected from the Salvation Army due to an earlier financial scandal. A few years later after “pastoring” the Ellerslie-Tamaki Faith Mission, Houston was asked to pastor a church in Lower Hutt. This request caused Houston to fast and pray until he found “the mind of God” (pg. 110). When Bloomfield responded to Frank Houston’s news from Canada, note how Hazel Houston records how her husband responded to Bloomfield and “God”: “The umbilical cord was broken. As Frank put the letter down he glanced out the lounge room window. The sun was shining on a field of ripe cocksfoot grass. Suddenly it appeared to be blown by a gentle breeze. Every seed head seemed to turn into a human being. ‘I saw a multitude of people praising God,’ he told me. Like a deep inner prophecy, God said: ‘I will cause you to raise up an evangelistic centre in Lower Hutt that will finally have an outreach to the world. ‘It will touch a multitude of people.’” pg. 112
When they moved to Lower Hutt in December 1959, Hazel wrote of an important event that shaped Houston’s ministry: “Christmas already broke into an already busy schedule. For the first time, Frank had decided we should go to the annual Christmas camp and national business conference. The business sessions, held in the afternoons, were enough to deter any newcomer. Pastors sat with a copy of the constitution on their knees and their tongues ready to argue irrelevant points. For five days the delegates wrangled over, what Frank decided, was inconsequential to the lives of people. For a whole week they argued and there were only thirteen churches represented. Delegates were asked to nominate men for the executive council, the controlling body of the Assemblies of God. Frank was amazed that someone should nominate him. Unknown, though he thought himself to be, he decided to let his name stand. He was surprised to be elected.” pg. 114
How did this happen? The only thing that established his legitimacy and credibility was his associations with Bloomfield and Batterham; and that he had received Bloomfield’s mantle of “double portion”. The only thing that seems to qualify Frank was his “supernatural” power and the church growth numbers. What Bloomfield did was put his hands on Houston and sweep him in AOG’s backdoor without anyone knowing what Houston actually believed and stood for.
However, this is the way a prophet and apostle are recognised and established in the NOLR/New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. Think of William Branham. And more recently, think of Todd Bentley of the so called, “Lakeland revival”. Bentley automatically qualified as an “Apostle” by the NOLR/NAR because he was supposedly used by God to bring revival and was operating in healing, signs and wonders. Electing a Branham-like man into the NZ AOG leadership was most probably inevitable. The Latter Rainers in the NZ AOG would not have considered the policies, regulations, rules nor bother looking at the credentials of Houston. They would have elected him because of his “prophetic” ministry and qualities.
Hazel then highlights an element of the Latter Rain ideology emerging in Houston’s direction in the AOG: “Then the feeling was replaced by a sense that God would use him to bring the movement into greater evangelism than it was pursuing. He would accomplish more than that. God would use him to release the fellowship into freedom in praise and worship.” pg. 114
The Latter Rain strongly emphasizes “intimacy” in God and freedom in their worship experiences. Jack Hayford, a NOLR and NAR leader, was seeking to reform and restore the global church into “freedom in praise and worship” see Worship His Majesty by Jack W. Hayford. It seems possible to claim that Frank Houston was “Apostollically Reforming” the New Zealand AOG to the “New Thing” God was doing on the earth.
Hazel continued: “He determined that he would also work towards getting the business sessions streamlined so that less time would be taken up with unnecessary argument. His opportunity came when he was appointed superintendent some years later.” pg. 114
Word got back to Ray Bloomfield about Frank Houston’s promotion. Hazel writes: “God’s desire is signs, wonders and miracles?” Ministers are to preach a “power-packed message of deliverance from sin, sickness and disease?” The Pentecostal movement in its beginnings preached the gospel that the Apostles preached. Branham introduced the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ “power-packed message of deliverance from sin, sickness and disease.”
This is the classic Latter Rain “Gospel of the Kingdom” gospel which Branham claims to preach:
“So I believe that we’ll take God’s Word as the Rule and to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The gospel came not in word only but through power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. So the gospel is demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit. I went into nations where they say, “Now we don’t want missionaries. We know more about it than you do. But the thing we want to see is somebody who’s got faith enough to make God’s Word manifest.” That’s what they want to see. And that’s how they get converted. That’s how they find Christ. It’s because they believe in that manner.””
This is not classic Pentecostalism. Bloomfield is pushing the Latter Rain agenda through Houston to newly reform the NZ AOG. In response to Ray Bloomfield’s letter, Hazel wrote: “Sometimes Frank wondered if the movement could revive. Yet when pastors of independent churches tried to persuade him to also go independent, the awareness that God had some special purpose for the Assemblies of God kept him where he was. The antagonism towards these independent groups by some of his fellow ministers left Frank puzzled. ‘How can you fellowship with pipe-smoking ministers in their fraternity when you will not associate with born-again men from other Pentecostal streams?’ he’d ask them. ‘Many of those ministers are not even Christian.” pg. 115
Houston wanted the AOG movement revived and saw that the answer to revival was founded in unity, not division. Also notice his dig at some ministers for being “not even Christian”. This is the typical Latter Rain revival paradigm where unity is emphasised over doctrine. You are either spiritually on board with what God is doing or religiously dead and getting in the way.
Hazel also gives valuable insight as to how Houston progressed from pastor to prophetic visionary leader. She documents how Houston “presented his vision for Lower Hutt” to the executive: “There seemed to be no satisfactory reply. He is still puzzled by the narrowness of such a point of view. Although the work of the executive would require much time, Frank’s main vision was still the church. At the February board meeting, Frank presented his vision for Lower Hutt, a city of eighty-five thousand.” pg. 115
Notice the emphasis on ‘vision’. Houston claims to the board, “I’ve been asking God for direction and I feel we must take the town hall for a crusade” (pg. 115). Now he is prophetically dictating what needs to be done. Here Houston is taking the authority of a governing Latter Rain prophet and apostle on himself in the NZ AOG. When people asked questions how this could be done, Hazel writes: “Frank knew he had to bring them to the point where they shared his vision. Without that there could be no success. Seed thoughts dropped into the discussion took root until the whole board agreed to fully support the plan.” pg. 115
This is a disturbing insight into how Houston deployed the board to agree with his “vision” from God. And this continues in how Hillsong and the Australian AOG operate today: you don’t question, or challenge, the apostle, prophet or leader’s vision. And of course, Houston got what he wanted, bringing together a number of churches from all denominations in his first Hillsong Conference “town hall… crusade”. Houston had his critics from other denominations and he put them in place with fallacious arguments. (“We don’t steal sheep, we grow grass.” pg. 118.) Houston also started seeing himself as the only authority to make final decisions as the “man of God”. In looking for a new church property for his congregation, Houston “… could hardly contain his excitement. There had been no time to consult the church board. Nor did he want to for the moment. He’d come to feel that God never works through committees: he chooses a man” pg. 119 And when Houston found a building he liked, he presented his idea to the board members as: “It’s for sale and I believe that God wants us to buy it.” pg. 120. Why would the board members question him? You can start to see the Latter Rain thought manifesting itself through the authoritarian methods of Houston at this point. Who would dare challenge Houston – and question God – about buying this building for their?
And this is what Houston did next: “Frank phoned the mayor on Monday. ‘We’ll take the church,’ he said. ‘You had better make an appointment to come see me,’ the mayor said. He was an astute businessman. ‘It will cost you $60,000. Do you have that much money?’ the mayor asked. ‘Yes of course we do.’ Frank didn’t tell him it was still in the bank of Heaven. He believed God had shown him the city council would carry the finance themselves.” pg. 120-121. Later on Houston had to be honest with the council: “When we had to tell the council the money was not forthcoming, they were in a predicament. If what they had done became known there would be a public outcry. If they evicted us the same thing would happen. They carried the finance for five years.”
This was a major scandal that warrants deeper investigation. However, this is the god of Frank Houston and the Latter Rainers. This was the aura Houston created around himself in the NZ and then the Australian AOG. The NOLR “Prophets” and “Apostles” were climbing the ranks and swiftly destroying and redefining the Pentecostal institutions and churches of Australia and New Zealand with their totalitarian spiritual control. Challenge not God’s anointed apostles and prophets.
Hazel expands how Houston became Superintendent of the NZ AOG:
“The executive council was not a body of men who agreed on everything, but they were in agreement when they needed a new superintendent. Ralph Read, the current superintendent, had accepted a call to a church in Australia. He was a gifted organiser who had given strong leadership to the movement in New Zealand. The Lower Hutt church wondered anxiously who could replace him. Our board offered to pay his salary if he’d stay as superintendent in a full-time capacity. Ralph felt that would be out of the will of God. Frank, now assistant superintendent, found himself elevated to the position. Neither of us wanted that. There was already so much to do in the ministry but we yielded to what was assuredly the purpose of God. We knelt in dedication while Ralph Read prayed for us with laying on of hands. Both of us were aware of a special sense of God’s calling into a phase of ministry which would release the fellowship into a period of growth. It grew from fifteen to forty churches as the bonds of traditionalism were broken by spontaneous praise and worship, often accompanied by dancing.” pg. 125-126.
Again, Latter Rain thought is overriding Pentecostal orthodoxy. And Houston made sure that his architype was caught by others: “The ministry in New Zealand was suffering from a lack of trained people. It would also be part of the vision to reach the world. ‘Lord, give me one hundred men. One hundred men dedicated to you at whatever the cost. Then we will make a real impact for the kingdom.’ The aim of the college would be to train young people to evangelise the world. Academic excellence would be important but secondary to the development of their spiritual lives. No way must the fire of the Spirit be doused, although education must not be despised. Students came from Samoa, Fiji, Indonesia, Australia and Sri Lanka. ‘These are your spiritual sons,’ the Spirit whispered. ‘They have laid aside fears and frustrations for the hopes and challenges of faith, but they know God is their partner,’ Frank declared.” pg. 126-7
The fundamental issue is that people blur the lines and claim that God gave them a “vision” to achieve something, thus making themselves out to be infallible. Houston was clearly a man who controlled the New Zealand AOG as God’s vision-seeing prophet and restructured it accordingly so that he was accountable to nobody. That is extremely dangerous. It is clear Houston saw himself to be above church boards and various forms of governance AOG and church infrastructure. What is even more disturbing is how the AOG executive and his own church board seem to be more than willing to submit to his prophetic direction.
It seems that the Latter Rainers were overtly hostile to mainstream Pentecostalism. There is strong evidence that the Latter Rainer movement were keen to convert Pentecostal churches in Canada. There is also growing evidence that Hillsong seeks to infiltrate and subvert Pentecostal churches, both in Australia and overseas. Nevertheless, when the American AOG condemned the New Order of the Latter Rain as an heretical movement:
“The Latter Rain teachers, healers and evangelists were forced out of their many former associations into what they felt was a “wilderness church” experience, where they regrouped, and strengthened their own ministries. Then in the late sixties and seventies they began the self-conscious re-infiltration of other denominations under the “charismatic” label.
… I say “self-conscious” infiltration because central to the Latter Rain’s view of itself is the idea that they represent God’s New Order, which is to unify the body of Christ as a whole, preparing it by overstepping the artificial boundaries of “doctrine” and “tradition” to bring believers together into a perfected Church by new patterns of worship and Spiritual experience.” That was written by the movement’s own Bill Hamon.
Houston was one such man who “began the self-conscious re-infiltration of other denominations under the “charismatic” label”. He ticked all the boxes of being a Latter Rainer by:
Houston also held the Latter Rain belief in modern day Apostles and Prophets. Houston was so caught up by the false prophet William Branham (and others) that Houston attempted to present himself to Christian audiences as an “apostle” while being the AOG Superintendent. Houston was a man of influence and had the numbers to prove it.
While the Latter Rain apostles were emerging, C. Peter Wagner attempted to identify this new phenomenon. It is not clear whether Wagner was inside this movement, or outside it. There are some that strongly argue he was an insider and promoter of what he appeared to criticize. It’s intriguing that Wagner named the repackaged Latter Rain after one of their key doctrines that the American AOG condemned:
“The erroneous teaching that the church is built upon the foundation of present day apostles and prophets.” Wagner writes: “I needed a name … For a couple of years I experimented with ‘Post denominationalism’. The name I have settled on for the movement is the New Apostolic Reformation.”
The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a title used to describe a movement which seeks to establish a fifth house within Christendom, distinct from Catholicism, Protestantism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Eastern Orthodoxy. The movement is largely associated with the Pentecostal movement and advocates the restoration of the lost offices of church governance, namely the offices of prophet and apostle. The title New Apostolic Reformation is descriptive of a theological movement and is not an organization and therefore does not have formal membership. Among those in the movement that inspired the title NAR, there is a wide range of variance on specific beliefs.
Wagner appears to be observing this move to apostles and prophets in the church that the New Order of the Latter Rain established. Wagner observed: “Unless I’m mistaken, the most radical of all the changes from the old wineskin to the new wineskin is this: the amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals. The two operative words are authority and individuals.”
Houston operated from this greater “amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit.” But what’s an “old winsekin?” What’s a “new wineskin?”
In the same article Wagner continues: “The old wineskin final authority in the Protestant churches never was entrusted to an individual, but always to a group. The final spiritual authority became a church council, a deacon board, a presbytery, church elders, a congregation, a synod, a general council, a state convention, a vestry, a national assembly, a session or any number of other ecclesiastical terms, all signifying a group but never individuals. On the local church level, the new wineskin pastor is the leader of the church, not an employee of the church as he or she was in the old wineskin. If the church elders, for example, could hire a pastor, they could also fire a pastor. To keep the job, a pastor had to please the church. That partially explains why in America’s two largest denominations, the Southern Baptists and the United Methodists, pastoral tenure averages only two to four years. In apostolic churches, pastoral tenure is much longer—frequently for life—because the pastor does not report to the elders; rather the elders are appointed by and report to the pastor.”
According to the NAR, bad “traditional” Christianity must be done away with so God can really move in power by His Spirit through His New Apostles in his new apostolic churches. If Christians hold to the old wine skin, they are demonised as dead, religious and… traditional. This is consistent with contemporary Hillsong thinking and teaching. It means that the Church is no longer reforming under Scripture, the “new wineskin” Church is reforming under the Apostle. Whoever holds to sola scriptura is against the Neo-Apostola, thus they are opposing God Himself and His “restored” church.
This begs the question did Houston run his church according to this apostolic model that Wagner identified? In ‘Being Frank’, Hazel Houston captured Houston redefining his AOG church in Lower Hutt on the New Order of the Latter Rain teachings on Apostolic church governance. Her observations are fascinating:
“Increasingly Frank became aware that the system for electing the church board had many shortcomings. Some members actively campaigned for election. The families of others suddenly began appearing in church every Sunday. Frank realised that the bylaws required a person to have attended the meetings regularly for eight weeks to be eligible to vote at the annual meetings. When a new member asked how she should vote as she really didn’t know any of the men nominated, Frank knew why he had to work with some who were unsuited for the task. Careful study of the Bible suggested a more scriptural way. Sunday morning sermons touched on church government as Frank taught the principles of appointment instead of elections. Before the annual general meeting, Frank tactfully approached each board member and his wife to explain the proposed changes. At the annual meeting he presented the proposal to the members as they had to vote on the changes. ‘If you pass the proposal you must realise this will be the last vote you will have’ he told them. They passed the motion with an overwhelming yes. He felt that he should select the board himself. Who better knew the type of men needed to advance the work and handle the business affairs of the church. Not ‘yes’ men, but fellows who knew God. Men who shared his vision and would not sit across the table at every board meeting glaring at the pastor and opposing every move he suggested. Harmony was an essential ingredient for success. The congregation didn’t look for the required qualities. They voted for their friends or by guesswork. No wonder the support needed wasn’t always forthcoming. One tried to get the members to vote on our leadership at an annual meeting when it wasn’t even on the agenda. This system of hiring and firing pastors which hurt so many men of God was, to Frank, was unscriptural as any system could be. ‘We are not here to fight each other. Our enemy is the devil.’ Frank declared. Only one felt that he could not accept the change. Frank regretted his resignation for he was a good man, but he was determined the new way was for the best. ‘The pastor will become a dictator in this situation.’ The accusation was leveled at Frank. ‘The executive council is a church’s security,’ Frank assured them. ‘Anyone with just cause for complaint can go to them and, if need be, they can take whatever action they deem necessity.’” pg. 125-6.
This is Houston transforming a NZ AOG church into to a New Apostolic “wine skin” church. And according to the New Apostolic Reformation thinking in the early days, an apostle’s authority was founded on church success and church growth.
Notice how Houston attacked the rights of the members, removing the privilege of them to “vote on changes”. The Christian church has always existed where the pastor serves the church, the way Christ served his people by humbling himself in human flesh, serving and loving his neighbour, washing the feet of his disciples and dying on the cross to serve God and man as the perfect sacrifice. Christ came to serve both God and man for the glory of God. Christ the good shepherd served his sheep to the point of laying down his life for the sheep. This is why when we gather on Sunday we call it a church service, the pastor is serving the way Christ serves his church.
Houston now has reversed this and is demanding the sheep and his elders serve him as the ‘apostle’.
Houston also rejected the biblical teaching of the plurality of elders in church authority. You will notice that Hazel recorded how Houston “felt” led to “select the board himself”. As Wagner pointed out, the “old wineskin final authority in the Protestant churches never was entrusted to an individual”. Houston created a board that helped make him a “new wineskin pastor [as] the leader of the church”.
Remember, Houston’s influences were from those who had an “amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals”: William Branham, TL Osborne and his close mentor Ray Bloomfield.
Al Jazeera called the NAR “America’s Own Taliban” in an article highlighting NAR’s dominionism as bearing resemblance to Islamic extremism as seen in groups such as the Taliban because of the NAR’s language concerning spiritual warfare.
The Australian media reporting on the earlier mentioned Royal Commission noted the Royal Commission’s censuring of Hillsong for not dealing appropriately to complaints of Houston’s abuse of at least nine pre-pubescent boys. The response from Hillsong was pretty shallow and superficial. Various people have written on this, however it is probably best to refer to the findings of the Royal Commission on this matter.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has used parliamentary privilege to link Hillsong Christian Church pastor Brian Houston’s relationships with prominent Australians, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with advice to a child sex victim that Mr Houston will not be charged with failing to report allegations about his father to police.
The article also notes Frank Houston’s son Brian claims some friendship with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Kevin Conner was a key Latter Rain writer in Australia, he was formerly the senior minister of Waverley Christian Fellowship (now City Life Church) in Melbourne, Australia. Conner is the author of nearly 60 books and has taught both nationally and internationally. Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1927, Conner became a Christian at the age of 14, and served in the Salvation Army until the age of 21. From 21, he became a pastor for a number of years. In 1972, he moved to Portland, Oregon, USA to serve with Dick Iverson at Bible Temple (now City Bible Church), where he taught for a number of years. In 1981, he returned to Australia and from 1986–1995 pastored Waverley Christian Fellowship.
Conner was dean of Portland Bible College in the 1970s and is recognised as one of the leaders of the Latter Rain Movement. Conner’s daughter, Sharon is married to Frank Damazio, who is senior minister of City Bible Church in Portland and President of Portland Bible College. Conner’s son, Mark Conner, followed him as senior minister of City Life Church, thus establishing a dynasty – a common occurrence in Pentecostal churches. Mark appears to have sought to distance himself from the Latter Rain empire, by taking studies at Ridley and Fuller Theological Colleges, however he continues to market his publications on the affiliated publishing company.
Kevin Conner was recognized as an apostolic father and was involved in spreading the teaching of the Latter Rain to Australia. He has also published an autobiography.
A supporter of the Latter Rain movement, Archibald Thackeray, records, “The momentum of the revival thus shifted from its early site in Saskatchewan to Vancouver and Detroit. ” Thackery recorded Conner’s involvement with the Latter Rain along with others’.
Thackeray provided “a list of ministers involved in the early days of the Latter Rain Movement,” that included Kevin Conner and another important name, Ray Jackson.
As noted earlier, the Latter Rain movement that was condemned by the American AOG church’s governing conference (among other things) for a number of heretical teachings, including that God was restoring end-times Apostles and Prophets to govern His church. This was a key part of Connor’s theology that followed him back to Australia.
An Australian author with special expertise on cults within churches, Morag Zwartz wrote a book called ‘Apostles of Fear’, talking about the development of the Latter Rain cult and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) in Australia, specifically through Conner’s ‘Waverly Christian Fellowship’ in Melbourne. Zwartz’s work tackled a lot of the heretical issues within the NAR such as five-fold, heavy shepherding and sonship heresy.
Zwartz documents the rise of abusive governing apostles and how people in their congregations were abused. It is interesting to note that Mark Conner reacted to Zwartz’s book, his words confirming he cared very little for the victims. Furthermore, his response protected the status of Kevin Conner, (his father) while at the same time shunning any responsibility about the nature of his own NAR beliefs or NAR network relations. Even a witness on Conner’s website claims: “I for one was extremely angry when I realised Kevin and others knew about Ray’s behaviour as far back as the 50’s.” A former member has written extensively:
Please note that Hillsong and C3 and have no problem embracing the theological works of Kevin Conner.
Phil Pringle and C3
Phil Pringle is another New Zealander who arrived in Sydney in 1980 with a vision. Pringle is worthy of consideration as he is the founder of the C3 churches, which claims to now have over 500 congregations.
Pringle has links into another key stream of prosperity thinking called the Word of Faith which sits alongside the New Apostolic Reformation (outlined above) and is seen as foundational to the prosperity movement. Nonetheless, Pringle seems to want to have his cake and it eat it, when it come to prosperity theology; he claims to not support it, but his language is full of it and he claims some of its key leadership as amongst his friends. The Word of Faith movement traces its roots back to Essek William Kenyon (1867–1948) a pastor of the New Covenant Baptist Church, also founder and president of Bethel Bible Institute. Kenyon at age 17, he was converted in a Methodist prayer meeting. There is some debate about his early influencers, however, his biographer Joe McIntyre suggests that Kenyon developed his positive confession teaching primarily from the teachings of Holiness Movement, Faith Cure and Higher Life movement teachers of the late 19th Century. It is key teachings were:
While all three are linked, we will focus on the second: Prosperity, or Prosperity theology. Word of Faith teaching holds that God wants his people to be prosperous, which includes finances, good health, good marriages and relationships, i.e. to live generally prosperous lives in all areas. Word of Faith teaches that God empowers his people (blesses them) to achieve the promises that are contained in the Bible. Because of this, suffering does not come from God, but rather, from Satan. As Kenneth Copeland’s ministry has stated, the idea that God uses suffering for our benefit is considered to be “a deception of Satan” and “absolutely against the Word of God.” Additionally, if someone is not experiencing prosperity, it is because they have given Satan authority over their lives. God will not do anything at all unless the person invites him to. It is even argued that Jesus and the apostles were financially wealthy, owning homes, having monetary resources and businesses. The following arguments have been offered for this claim:
1. Jesus’ ability to travel without apparently working to earn a living for three years,
2. References by Jesus and the apostles to owning homes,
3. Jesus had a treasurer (Judas Iscariot),
4. Jesus consorting with the upper echelons of society,
5. Jesus miraculous ability to command resources – feeding the 5 thousand men (plus women and children), finding tax money in a fish, telling Peter where to find fish so his net was overflowing etc.,
6. The businesses that each of the apostles apparently owned/worked in.
This is contrary to the traditional view of Jesus, who is often viewed as being a poor, wandering teacher. Based on the concept that Jesus and his apostles were arguably wealthy, as well as the historical examples of his people having great wealth, and the promises for financial prosperity throughout the Old and New Testaments, Word of Faith proponents teach that modern believers also have access to the “blessing” and may also become financially wealthy. Teachers like Kenneth Copeland assert the concept of total prosperity is validated by the teachings of the Apostle John: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2[bible 5]). Copeland posits that “as the seeds of prosperity are planted in your heart, in your will and in your emotions…they eventually produce a great financial harvest.”
Many of the key beliefs that the Word of Faith movement holds as essential are criticised by some Christians as diverging from Christian orthodoxy. However, and somewhat paradoxically, Robert M. Bowman, Jr. – a theologian specializing in the study of apologetics – states that the word of faith movement is “neither soundly orthodox nor thoroughly heretical”. As you can see, this is the inherent problem all the way through this narrative.
Back to Pringle
How did Margaret Court become so deeply involved with the ‘Word of Faith’ or ‘positive confession’ movement in Australia? It began in 1973, before she retired from world tennis, when she was sitting in a French church and suddenly realised that the Catholic tradition in which she had been raised no longer held any meaning for her. Her biography A winning faith: the Margaret Court story by Barbara Oldfield 1993 explains that: Court’s heart was zealous for God, but it had long been blinded by religious traditions which made the religious way of life — the deeds, penances and good works — more important than the simple truth of the written Word of God which glorifies Jesus alone. (p. 42) After retiring from her international tennis career in 1976 and while raising her young family, she slipped into a period of deep depression, feeling ‘guilty, unworthy, fearful and totally insignificant’. (p.4 6) Court began listening to Pentecostals who taught a practice called ‘inner healing’, involving the identification of ‘suppressed memories’ of people and experiences that may have adversely affected her in the past. She reacted very badly to this process, especially when a ‘deliverance team’ diagnosed demonic influences at work in her life, including the ‘demon’ of pride in her tennis career. Her depression grew worse, she had great trouble sleeping and in 1979 she was hospitalised and treated for a variety of conditions including a torn heart valve. (pp.45-51) But then she watched a videotape featuring Dr Frederick K. Price.
Price is a leading Word of Faith teacher (there are lots of published critiques of him, just google his name and ‘cult’)) and the following story tells us a great deal about why Margaret Court is where she is today: In a meeting Court had attended in Hawaii several years earlier], Dr Price, acting on a word of knowledge, prophesied that God was healing someone in the audience of stomach ulcers at the very time he was speaking. That someone was [Court’s husband] Barry, who told Margaret about it some hours later … (52) According to Pentecostals, a ‘word of knowledge’ is an insight given by the Holy Spirit to an individual, often for the benefit of another person, although it may be as prosaic as reminding you where you left your keys. (This is one of nine such ‘spiritual gifts’, which include the better-known ones of healing and speaking in tongues.) Shortly after leaving hospital in 1979, Court watched a Price video, recalled his ‘word of knowledge’ at the meeting in Hawaii, and suddenly: … heard clearly for the first time that the Word of God was the only way to grow in faith and to overcome the areas of defeat in life. She sat transfixed … (53) So we have a history of great success followed by depression, a period of increased stress, a desperate wish for deliverance, the memory of an apparent miracle and a formula for happiness all sloshing around together. Margaret Court Ministries Court’s next step was in 2 Timothy 1:7: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ The discovery of this scripture at that time turned her whole life around forever … Over and over she said it; day and night, night and day … (54) She began to attend ‘a newly formed church in Perth’ — the Rhema Family Church which opened its doors in 1979 — as it ‘taught along the same lines as Dr Price’. Meanwhile, she kept discovering helpful scriptural texts, and: The more she said [these texts], the more she started to believe [them] and the stronger she became. (57) In 1982, Court enrolled in the newly-formed Rhema Bible Training Centre (WA) and ‘began to understand the incredible power of her own words’. She started refusing to listen to bad news, accentuating the positive at every opportunity, and another supernatural healing suddenly occurred: her heart valve was checked again and pronounced OK. Some people might have opted for natural explanations such as an initial misdiagnosis, but Court was happy to ‘give God the glory’, especially as she had earlier been healed of ‘a spinal curvature and scoliosis’ in a ‘laying on of hands’ ceremony. She graduated from Rhema in 1983 and spent the next seven years raising her family and actively participating in church activities. During this time: … [She] began to observe that anyone who genuinely knew how to apply faith and the Word of God to their problems always overcame them. (64) In other words, Court convinced herself that she had backed a certain winner, possibly by ignoring the weasel word, ‘genuinely’, in the preceding quote. Early in 1991 she was ordained a minister by a South African Rhema Church pastor and went on to form Margaret Court Ministries Inc. Her biography notes that: Officially Margaret now bore the title ‘the Reverend Margaret Court’. But like anything that hinted of ostentation, she preferred to leave the title on her ordination certificate. (76) This is no longer true (if it ever was), as Court frequently signs herself ‘Rev. Dr Margaret Court MBE PhD LLD (Hon.)’, as in her foreword to Pentecostal Pastor Danny Nalliah’s Worship Under the Sword (2005). We might return to Nalliah later. But have a look at some extraordinary political commentary on Nalliah’s Catch the Fire Ministries website.
Court’s doctorates seem to consist of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, USA; and a PhD of uncertain provenance. Margaret Court Ministries (MCM) held public meetings and generally operated as a Pentecostal ochurch: … [Scores] of people began to give their lives to Christ … Hundreds more were baptised in the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in a new tongue … A woman with severe depression was healed … A young man who took a morning off work to attend a meeting was healed of a longstanding back ailment … (77-82)
A few years later, Court began to think that there weren’t quite enough ‘solid’ churches around Perth to handle all her new converts so she decided to form her own. God personally told her to do this while she was washing the breakfast dishes one day: ‘I want you to start this work. Step out [ie, in faith] and I will show you how to do it as you go.’ (92) Victory Life Centre came into being in 1995 and is now one of the most well-attended churches in Perth. Its aim is ‘to take the city and the nation for Jesus’. Court has her own Christian television show, her own Bible college, missions and youth departments and basically everything else that the well-dressed Pentecostal pastor is wearing. Word of Faith champions from various corners of the globe speak at Victory Life Centre, including heavyweights like Richard Roberts (son of Oral), Jesse Duplantis and Kenneth Copeland
Court has a lot of funny ideas deriving from her Word of Faith philosophy. And the ideas don’t just seem a little bizarre to the secular mind, but to most Christian minds as well. Questions about Word of Faith core beleifs, and to the widespread evangelical criticism of Court’s mentor Dr Fred Price, (Google his name, Kenneth Hagin or Kenneth Copeland and see how many times you can count the word ‘heretic’). We can lead a heavenly existence right here on earth if we simply follow Court’s Word of Faith precepts: We can live here on earth as it is in heaven, for Jesus has already won the battle for us to live in victory. (93) Contrary to Christian orthodoxy, God never wills illness or poverty on people to punish them for their sins. This is all Satan’s work. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross vanquished not only death but all other afflictions of humanity by taking them upon himself: The price Jesus paid 2,000 years ago included not only forgiveness for my sins but also deliverance from every other effect of evil in my life … (Margaret Court  Winning Words [WW], 86) … [We] can walk in health all the days of our life … [I’ve] learned enough about the power of God’s Word to say, ‘Hip trouble: you’re on Jesus’ hips, not mine. You can’t stay in this body.’ … I’ve got no hip trouble today. (ibid., 33, 85)
Notice how you have to keep speaking out loud to God if you want results. This is how Court explains the process of recovery from her torn heart valve: I got a picture of a healthy heart from an encyclopedia and left it open on the hall table … Every time I passed that open book I would say, ‘This is a picture of my heart. I have healthy valves, arteries and blood vessels … I thank you, Lord Jesus, that my heart is healed today’ … (87-8) Here’s a good summary of her position: I started to see that [like God himself creating the natural world], I, too, was creating my desired natural world of good health from the supernatural world as I released my faith through my mouth. (88-9) Almost as an afterthought, and in parentheses, Court adds that readers should keep taking their doctors’ medication ‘until Jesus’ medication overtakes it!’ Check this passage: I’ve … learnt that my thoughts, by themselves, have no power, but once I speak them into the atmosphere I have established either a negative or a positive situation – one in which God is able to be involved or one in which the devil is involved. (WF, 69) A final observation about Court’s Word of Faith theology is that it operates like a clockwork machine, and preachers like Court are often criticised by other Christians for daring to remove God’s independent agency. See if you think she’s talked her way out of this one: God is compelled to comply with the demands that we make on Him through our faith. I don’t mean we should arrogantly think we can force God to act on our behalf, for He is God and He is sovereign. But we do honour and respect Him when we believe and act on His Word regardless of our situation, and our faith pleases Him … [because] on the basis of our faith, He can move to bring about everything we firmly believe. (WW, 96-7)
In other words, God can do what he likes, but if you’ve followed the Word of Faith formula, you’ve got him …. It seems to work pretty well for Margaret Court, though, as among her healing successes was a young South African girl with ‘no right ovary, her left ovary was undeveloped and her uterus was only as big as a thumbnail.’ But after Court had finished laying hands on her, ‘now there are two fully developed and functional ovaries and a normalsized uterus.’ (pp. 97-8) Conclusion It’s extremely difficult to get strongminded people like Court to change their viewpoints. They’re obviously capable of incorporating virtually any event or situation into their worldview by the simple expedient of appealing to the supernatural. According to Court: Dying can be as simple as sitting down and committing our spirit into the hands of our Father God … It’s possible to die in perfect health at a fine old age. (33) Other Word of Faith preachers say similar things: you shouldn’t really die of a disease or condition, but simply ‘wear out’ and die when you’re good and ready to do so. But often it doesn’t happen that way, even to Word of Faith people. However, Margaret Court will have none of this defeatism: In the future she sees large healing meetings being held in the Perth Entertainment Centre, with lines of ambulances outside and people lining up with all sorts of stretcher-bound and wheelchair-bound cases, waiting by the thousands to get inside where they finally find God’s healing and leave praising Him for His goodness. (WF, 108)
Various Australian media has attempted to explain Scott Morrison’s beliefs and alignment with prosperity theology. Some dismiss this saying the Prime Minister’s beliefs are his private business. This warrants further investigation in both a political and theological context, as clearly Morrison’s beliefs frame his world view and approach to policy issues.
There was a hick up when his media minders mashed up a hip hop soundtrack with Scott Morrison video in the house. And the PM continues to promote his image as the blokey neighbourhood dag who loves sport.
However, this image making is a diversionary tactic and we need to carefully consider the broader question of whether prosperity theology is the Christian response to capitalism, neoliberalism and right-wing politics?
This begins to unpack the question of how does Prime Minister Morrison’s theological framework influence his views on Israel, on the retention of refugees on Nauru, on penalising people living in remote Australia and unemployed people? What does he actually believe? Does Morrison believe in prosperity theology?
This is just a small part of the picture, I feel that I need one of those massive walls you see in crime shows covered in post it notes and photos, with pins and bits of string drawing the connections that are there, but hidden.