Brian Houston

Brian Houston: How the Mighty Are Fallen and How We Can Avoid Doing the Same

25 March 2022

7.3 MINS

Recent revelations about Brian Houston are a sobering reminder that each of us must take heed, lest we fall too. 

The saying, “How the mighty are fallen” is the lament of King David in 2 Samuel 1:27, for his dear friend Jonathan who was killed in battle. I feel the same sadness for Brian Houston’s fall in the battle with sexual temptation.

I feel towards Brian as though he were a friend of mine. I have met him a few times but he would probably not remember my name. Millions around the world and in Australia would also see Brian in a similar way. He was a spiritual friend and encouragement to many.

I am not trying to excuse his public behaviour but I am trying to put his situation into perspective. I pray for his restoration, and in particular, for Brian and Bobbie’s marriage. Were their marriage to fail, it would be a terrible tragedy for them, their family and our fractured world.

Ps Bobbie too has been a friend to millions of people around the world. I pray her ministry would continue, her marriage be healed, and that somehow in the plan of God they could continue to serve God’s purposes in their own generation. 

Sin, God’s Mercy, and My Advice for Brian Houston

Perhaps you think, “Warwick, you are being too nice. This guy is unworthy of your kind words. Condemn him to hellfire or better still, let’s burn him at the proverbial stake.”

If this was the case, we would have to do the same to half the men in Australia, and perhaps the other half as well, including me. Our thought life could well betray us. Recall that Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Sadly, such misbehaviour is now an everyday norm for many Australian males.

The good news is that, as James 2:3 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” There is another wonderful promise in Psalm 37:23-24: “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord who takes delight in his journey. Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, for the Lord is holding his hand.”

In Lamentations 3:22-23, Jeremiah cuts to the quick: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.”

That is my prayer and counsel for Brian Houston. Trust in the Lord and say the prayer of King David in Psalm 51:10-13, after he had committed adultery and killed an innocent man. Brian has yet to do both, according to his accusers.

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Why Men of God Fall

I was the youth leader at a Baptist Church at 17 years of age. Within a few short years of my leaving that church, the pastor, in a subsequent church, had fallen into adultery and his family broke up.

Was he an evil man? No! But like Brian Houston, he had succumbed to sexual temptation. The cost was very high. He lost both his marriage and his ministry.

Over the last 53 years of my life, I have seen over 50 Christian men in public ministry fall in the battle with sexual temptation. At least half of these men I knew in some capacity. In most cases, they lose their marriage, and their family is devastated — not to mention the church. Almost all those men have lost their ministry.

So what is the answer to the endless fall of leading figures in the church?

Firstly, we must admit that the cause is not strictly ‘spiritual’. Men of God fall not because they forget they are men of God, but because they forget they are men.

As Sting wrote into the words of one song, “We are spirits in a material world” — and sometimes the material world gets the better of us. Jesus’ words resound to us through the centuries: “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves”.

The Modesto Manifesto

In 1948, Billy Graham began a series of evangelistic meetings in Modesto, California, along with his ministry team, comprised of Cliff Barrows, George Beverly (“Bev”) Shea and Grady Wilson. Through a series of conversations about ministry life and its challenges, the group met together in Modesto and resolved to uphold the highest standard of biblical morality and integrity. Many pastors, ministries, para-church organisations and individuals have been inspired over the decades to adopt these philosophies.

In the following excerpt from his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham went into further detail about the resolutions these men made in terms of financial integrity, sexual morality, publicity, and partnership with the local church. Their resolutions became known as the ‘Modesto Manifesto’.

One afternoon during the Modesto meetings, I called the team together to discuss the problem. Then I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered.

When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and in a short amount of time, we made a series of resolutions or commitment among ourselves that would guide us in our future evangelistic work. In reality, it was more of an informal understanding among ourselves — a shared commitment to do all we could do to uphold the Bible’s standard of absolute integrity and purity for evangelists.

For the matter at hand, we will only deal with the second point as it relates to sexual integrity. Billy Graham continues:

The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).

So much for the Modesto Manifesto, as Cliff (Barrows) called it in later years. In reality, it did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles. It did, however, settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of both our lives and our ministry.

Sexual temptation is something we all face in our pornified world — sometimes every day. Winning the battle against sexual temptation isn’t for the faint of heart. Those who believe in sexual purity are mocked. However, with some good strategies in place we can win the battle against sexual temptation.

Here are four strategies to stay on the straight and narrow. In sharing these, I acknowledge the inspiration of Student Devos.

Strategy 1: Watch What You Watch

One of the best strategies to stay sexually pure begins with being careful what you watch online and on TV. You can begin to feed sexual desires by spending too much time watching the wrong things. Be mindful of what you’re seeing on your screens, and what you spend time thinking about.

In Job 31:1, Job says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” Similarly, the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

The battle in the physical realm is often won first in your mind. As the Scripture says, we need to have the mind of Christ. Choose to think godly thoughts and watch godly things online and on TV. It will make your fight against sexual temptation that much easier.

Strategy 2: Find a Mentor and Stay Accountable

Find someone you respect who has already walked the journey before you. Find someone who has won the battle of sexual temptation, and learn everything you can from them. See what strategies worked for them in their own battle against sexual temptation, and see if you can apply any to your life.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” We read in James 5:16 the admonition to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” and that, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Having a good friend or two to stay accountable with is important. So is praying together. You need someone to help challenge you to stay strong when you’re feeling weak. Battles aren’t fought alone. You need to find someone to help hold you accountable.

Strategy 3: Walk Away

The third strategy is as simple as it is obvious: walk away!

“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts,” 2 Timothy 2:22 advises. “Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.”

Don’t be afraid to put on the brakes and run if necessary. Joseph ran away from Potiphar’s wife who tried to seduce him in Genesis 39:7. You’re in control of your body. If you want to stay sexually pure, you’ll have to make the decision to walk away from situations where you’ll be tempted.

Strategy 4: Stay Humble

Humility is indispensable in the battle against lust and temptation. In Micah 7:8, we read, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” The Scripture also says that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

I fear God, but the only other thing I truly fear is success. Most men of God can stand failure but few can stand success. That is why we need other people in our life, and we need to build long-term relationships.

I meet every Friday morning for a prayer breakfast with other Christian brothers. One man I have known for over 20 years. Another I have known for 50 years.

Grady Wilson’s one job in the Billy Graham team for over 50 years was to keep Billy accountable and humble. We need the same sort of people in our lives so we can submit to one another in love.

We serve the God of all grace. Paul said in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

Jesus likewise warned of the great need for mercy in Luke 6:37, where he said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Remember when you point the finger at someone who has fallen, there are always three fingers pointing back at you. Certainly, that is the case for me.

Let us pray for the restoration of Brian Houston and blessings on his marriage, in Jesus’ name.

Image by New York Post.

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  1. Wayne Vincent 25 March 2022 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Really appreciated your helpful article about Ps Brian Houston. As members at Hillsong Brisbane we too are taking the same tack, extending grace and prayer for the Houston’s wellbeing and healing .

  2. Jim Twelves 26 March 2022 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Warwick, you have hit the nail on the head! Thank you. Yes it is a tragedy what has come out regarding some events in Brian’s life, I am not excusing anything, but for me the key here has been the inadequate structures and principles in the structure of the church. Everyone, global sensor pastors included, ‘need’ to be accountable to others and can never become too ‘important’ or ‘untouchable’. I pray and believe Brian has more fuel in his tank and he will once again be used by God in mighty ways. God never rules us out of service, that’s what we do, all too often.

  3. Warwick Marsh 26 March 2022 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your kind words. Yes Wayne I agree. God gives grace to us we must extend that same grace to others!

  4. Anarei O’NEIL 26 March 2022 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    A very good report. The consequences of this are huge not to mention the punishment (yes punishment) Brian will experience.
    It will be almost unbearable, prolonged and the humiliation and shame are inescapable, (families included), BUT God is just, full of mercy and grace and knows what He’s doing.
    So all the worldly critics (there are many) won’t escape either but their punishment will NEVER END, unless, they repent and acknowledge Jesus as Saviour. It’s all in the Bible.

  5. Veniana Waininau 26 March 2022 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you for that encouraging words , with scriptures from Paul to Galatians 6:1 of Gods grace . .

  6. Wendy Tucker 26 March 2022 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    My heart goes out to the Houston family and the Hillsong Church and I praise God for His love and forgiveness to those who repent. Remembering the Bible account of the woman caught in adultery – he who has never sinned, cast the first stone! Jesus has written it in the sand!

    I ask the question: Where are the Watchmen on the Wall surrounding our Pastors?

  7. Warwick Marsh 27 March 2022 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    So true Wendy. We need to intercede for our Christian leaders much more than we do. I stand accused. Oh God help me pray more for our Christian leaders. Oh God help them I pray in Jesus Name Amen!

  8. Rod Lampard 28 March 2022 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Apt response. Agreed. I read Graham’s autobiography around the time my wife and I married. Apart from the political theology, I was super impressed with the value of the “Modesto Manifesto” – an approach that is time tested and true, in my experience. I think any deeper analysis 1. should include a look at how churches can encourage husbands to work with their wives in ministry (and vice versa), instead of pairing up men and women with people who are not their spouses. 2. the problem of “Christian celebrity”; who we elevate, why and how we can better serve leaders who find themselves in this category.

  9. Molly Joshi 28 March 2022 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    Thank you ps Warwick for writing this timely article.. Every time a man of God falls the enemy laughs at God. When ps benny Hinn and Suzanne had divorced God spirit of intercession compelled me to pray for restoration and healing for their marriage. That is what Jesus is doing for Ps Brian Houston and Bobby Houston . Thank you for declaring that mercy triumphs over judgement. We say Amen!

  10. Margaret Angenent 30 March 2022 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you Warwick for your very timely and loving comments and for printing the letter from Brian. 39 Years in mininstry is a long time and I believe that they will come back humbled and repenting of the slip ups with the use of alcohol

  11. Chris Gregory 23 April 2022 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    An excellent article. Well written and very timely. There are two sides to this, and I recall a similar situation in NZ with a very large church. The people had placed the senior pastor on a pedestal even unwittingly. As he preached and taught, the people could not get enough of these prophetic words from God and hung on to every word. And it became ‘ ‘s church’ rather than God’s church. It was ‘ ‘s words rather than the bibles words, though he would never have believed that. But I believe that as people looked to him for a word, something of their spirit went to him, and he in turn and something of his spirit to them. So they ended up making an idol of the man. He had to come up with a new and exciting word for the people. As he became that idol, he also slipped in his moral life and finally had to stand down. Lets never put ‘the man’ above the message. When you have a natural leader who has built a successful ministry, make sure he is ‘kept in his place’ so to speak. Bring in an independent Chairman so that the Senior Pastor does not have the final decision making position so that Boards etc can disagree without being thought of as ‘unspiritual’. many Board members/Elders etc feel trapped that they cannot say something without being thought unspiritual and not fully behind the ministry. I’m sure Brians ministry team could well have had doubts over the years, but felt they could say nothing. We owe it to our Senior Pastors to protect them and their families.

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