Following word that Justin Bieber has cancelled the remainder of his “Purpose” tour, as well as unconfirmed reports that the pop star has “rededicated his life to Christ,” concerns are being raised as to what kind of spiritual influence Hillsong hipster Carl Lentz has been on the singer.
Since earlier this year, photos of Lentz with the soon-shirtless Bieber slamming shots together at a bar have been circulating online—the latest among a number of controversies involving Hillsong NYC, which also raised eyebrows last year after its youth leader appeared as the “naked cowboy” during a women’s conference.
“[T]he chief concern from these images has to be how someone, who calls himself a pastor, is engaging in such an activity with someone who has a history of abusing substances,” Joe Schimmel of Good Fight Ministries and pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, California, told Christian News Network. “How can Lentz give an account for himself when he takes shots alongside someone who has been arrested and pleaded guilty to DWI?”
He said that the images of Lentz joining in with Bieber “do nothing but paint a picture of someone who is being influenced by the world rather than edifying and building up a young man in his walk.”
“As Christians, we are not to walk as the world does. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. How must this look to the non-believing world?” Schimmel asked. “Is it normative behavior for the Christian? Is it the sort of behavior that a shepherd leading his flock should engage in? That is not what I read when I pick up my Bible.”
While the photographs were taken in March during Bieber’s visit to a Hillsong conference in New Zealand, and were released by secular outlets at that time, they have just recently been brought to light in Christian forums. One image shows the two having shots together at Blue Door Bar in Queenstown, another captures the men still standing at the bar as Bieber decides to go shirtless.
“The singer started out his night fully clothed like any other patron, then stripped off his camouflage jacket and white singlet which saw some unstoppable smiles from the two female bartenders serving him,” reported news.com.au. “Shots and cocktails were on the menu for the U.S. singer and his mate, Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz.”
But Schimmel noted that Scripture says those who are saved are to no longer behave like the rest of the world.
“In 1 Peter 4, we are given a reminder that Christ suffered in the flesh so that we would ‘live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:2),'” he outlined. “We are then told that non-believers marvel at the fact that we do not run in the dissipation that they run in. One of the very dissipations that is listed in that statement is the attendance of ‘drinking parties.’ If taking shots, taking off your clothes, and dancing around a bar isn’t a drinking party, I don’t know what is.”
Schimmel said that he is concerned how Lentz’ decision to join Bieber in slamming shots and drinking cocktails could influence or affect Bieber, who is looking up to him as a father figure in the faith. The pastor told Christian News Network in 2015 that he has been praying for Bieber to find genuine repentance and faith in Christ, and advised Christians to inspect Bieber’s fruit as Scripture instructs.
He noted at the time that even after Bieber unveiled a “Jesus” tattoo on his leg several years ago, he was taken into custody by police on two separate occasions for vandalism and drug possession. And, he marveled that “[j]ust a month after Justin Bieber made headlines for allegedly groping a Playboy Bunny, and amidst another potential scandal wherein a teen model … claimed he hit on her after her drink was allegedly drugged at a party he hosted in Melbourne Australia, he is in the headlines again for his claim to be a Christian.”
“Genuine believers are new creations in Christ and old things have passed away and all things become new,” Schimmel outlined. “The apostle Paul stated that those who truly belong to Christ ‘have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ and bear the ‘fruit of the Spirit.’”
In addition to hopping up to the bar during their March visit to New Zealand, Bieber and Lentz also took a bike tour, during which they sang along to the Ludacris profanity-laden song “Move [Expletive] (Get Out the Way).”
“I’ve been drankin’ and bustin’ too/And I been thinkin’ of bustin’ you/Upside ya [expletive] forehead/And if your friends jump in/’Oh girl,’ they’ll be mo’ dead,” the lyrics read. “Move [expletive]! Get out the way!”
While Lentz bobbed to the music and sang out the tune alongside Bieber, he substituted the recurring curse word in the chorus for “please,” while Bieber used the expletive.
View the video of the bike tour sing-along at the end of the report.
Bieber has frequently posted photographs of himself with Lentz on Instagram in recent weeks, along with hipster ministers Rich Wilkerson of Vous Church in Florida and Chad Veach of Zoe Church in Los Angeles. Wilkerson is known for marrying profane “Yeezus” rapper Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and had his own reality show on Oxygen called “Rich in Faith.”
“In recent months, the themes of Wilkerson’s sermons have been based on songs from the Top 40: Drake’s ‘Worst Behavior,’ DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s club thumper ‘Turn Down for What,’ Beyoncé’s ‘Drunk in Love,’” the Miami New Times reported in 2014.
“His messages take surprising detours on their way to the gospel. He might roll out a story about pissing his pants as a kid, talk about marital sex, or even point out the church’s proximity to Miami’s strip joints,” it outlined.
Earlier this month, Wilkerson interviewed Bieber, Lentz and Veach during Hillsong’s “Closer” conference in Australia, as they spoke about the event that was underway. The interview reportedly aired on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN).
“I just enjoyed watching people worship, praising God,” Bieber said, and soon began brushing his teeth on camera during the discussion.
When Wilkerson asked the men what the theme “closer” meant to them, Veach shared his thoughts about being closer to God, and then Wilkerson turned to Bieber for his views.
“Same-sies,” he replied, continuing to brush his teeth, and then quipped as he laid his head on Lentz’ shoulder, “I just want to love people more. I just want to love Carl more.”
“This is my dog til the day I die … He’s the biggest Brodog, ride or die … til the wheels fall off!! #bringsthebestoutofme,” Bieber also posted to Instagram in sharing a selfie with Lentz.
Other photos, interspersed between numerous shirtless images, show Bieber wearing a tee that reads “The truth shall set you free” and on Father’s Day, he shared Psalm 68:5, which reads, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
As previously reported, Lentz drew concern last year after he praised Oprah Winfrey following an appearance on her “Super Soul Sunday” broadcast.
“What struck me most about her, was her ease and kindness,” he wrote. “She told me her key was ‘waking up each day and thanking Jesus for loving me and thanking Him for all he has done.’ That practice, in that order, is one to be copied.”
After followers pointed out that Winfrey is involved in New Age and denies Jesus as being the only way to God, Lentz stated that he didn’t like followers using his page as their “own personal theology blog.”
“Wrecks my picture and becomes almost embarrassing,” he wrote.
He also raised eyebrows after his interview with Winfrey was aired as some worried about his response to Winfrey’s question as to whether or not only Christians can be in a relationship with God.
No,” Lentz replied. “I believe that when Jesus said that ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’—the way I read that, Jesus said that He is the road marker, He is the map.”
“So, I think that God loves people so much that whether they accept or reject Him, He’s still gracious, and He’s still moving, and He’s still giving you massive red blinking lights, for chances to take a right turn where maybe you’d take a left,” he continued. “But I believe God loves people, and that’s what this whole gospel is based on—it’s love. You take the love out of it, we’ve got a moral book.”
The matter prompted charismatic writer Dr. Michael Brown of The Line of Fire and Charisma News to reach out to Lentz.
“When I asked him why he told Oprah that people can have a relationship with God without being a Christian, he said his intent was to say that everyone can have a relationship with God, but the question was will they, then he pointed to Jesus as the way,” Brown explained.
“But he was quite humble about these things, saying that he continues to learn and grow and wants to do a better and better job when he is in the public eye,” he said.
However, others said Lentz’ response did not assuage their concerns.
“Even if he truly believes that Jesus is the only way, he didn’t say that. Further, what Lentz may or may not believe is irrelevant. It’s what he said that’s the problem,” wrote Jeff Maples of the site Pulpit & Pen. “Lentz telling Oprah essentially that she could believe what she wants, and then giving her a carefully worded unoffensive version of what he believes, is exactly the kind of double-minded instability a minister of God’s word is not supposed to have.”
As previously reported, Hillsong NYC is a popular 8,000-member congregation, which according to the Australian headquarters of Hillsong, is “a contemporary pentecostal church.” It meets each week in nightclubs, theaters and other venues across New York City. Trendy concert-like music, strobe lights, and Lentz’s unconventional messages draw thousands of attendees every Sunday.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct an inadvertent attribution of a quote to Lentz that was stated by Schimmel.