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Should Your Church Sing Jesus Culture & Bethel Music?

One of the top questions I receive is about Jesus Culture and Bethel Music. Inquiring minds ask, “What do you think about listening to the music, or using only the songs that are sound?”

It’s a fair question that deserves an answer. Still, each person must determine how they’ll proceed. To spark your consideration, the 5 reasons below approach the topic from a few unique angles.

Let’s start with the obviously theological reasons, then let’s move to some practical implications that can directly or indirectly effect your church and ministry.

  1. Their movement & leaders preach a heretical version of Christ

When I use the “H” word here, I’m not being extreme. Scriptural teaching, early church teachings, early church councils, and your Bible college textbooks would all confirm, the “Jesus” that Bill Johnson, Bethel Church, Bethel Music, and Jesus Culture propagate is not the real Jesus. Blending Kenotic Theory (that Jesus emptied Himself of Deity), and shades of Arianism and mysticism, Bill Johnson’s teaching is beginning to be widely rejected after years of remaining mainstream and acceptable. So what took so long? Perhaps it was the tolerance narrative that evangelicalism tends to lean towards, or, people have to see enough friends and family led astray before it hits home. Whatever the reason, it’s praise-worthy to see church leaders standing up for the true gospel.  There is no debate here. The “Jesus” of Jesus Culture and the rest of the Mystical-Miracle movement is not the Jesus of the Bible. If you’re not familiar with Bill Johnson, Bethel Music, or Jesus Culture, here are 5 options to read through (both short and long). I’ve listed our book last since it’s the longest.

At What Price Awakening? Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement  By Stephen Tan

Book Review: When Heaven Invades Earth, by Bill Johnson By David Schrock

Responding to the False Teaching of Bethel Church, Jesus Culture, and Todd White By Gabriel Hughes

Why I Don’t Sing the Songs of Hillsong and Jesus Culture By Jonathan Aigner

Defining Deception: Freeing the Church from the Mystical-Miracle Movement By Costi W. Hinn & Anthony G. Wood

  1. They need to be rescued with truth; not mitigated in their errors

A typical response to this article might be: “Even if the movement is heretical, the music is still really good. I’ll just not sing the ‘bad songs.’” Or, “We’re just singing catchy songs, it’s not like Bill Johnson is preaching our Sunday services.” 

Let’s be honest for a second, even it stings a bit. You’re avoiding the real issue if this is your attitude. If their version of Jesus is the “kenotic theory Jesus,” then there could be a lot of people believing in, singing to, leading others to, and following a false Jesus. In other words, like Mormons or other false religions who appear to be “Christian,” a lot of people in this movement aren’t being given the truth and they need the real gospel. There are many following these false teachers (like many of us were before being rescued) who are in serious danger. That means we need to view them as a mission field instead of making excuses for our using the music. We need to engage them with the truth and reason with them from Scripture. The power we need is the power of the true gospel. When we start making concessions on the music, or using apathy to avoid facing hard truths, we’re cowering from the Great Commission. Be different. Don’t sing the music. Don’t muddy the waters. Reach these people.

  1. They get paid royalties to keep funding their heretical cause

Perhaps the most practical reason not to sing their music at your church is that by doing so you’re (or your church is) paying them royalties. These royalties fund their schools and programs like Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry and WorshipU, that allow them to keep reproducing more false prophets, more music, and more musicians; spreading their teaching around the world. Through CCLI, direct downloads, or other purchase methods, even when you use the “good songs” and leave out the “bad songs,” you’re putting money in the same pockets. In the previous generation, there was little discussion about using the music produced by false teachers like of Juanita Bynum, T.D. Jakes, and Benny Hinn. First Baptist down the street was not going to feature a special recording during the offertory by Hinn’s crusade choir just because it sounded good. The unanimity around them being prosperity preachers and a danger to the gospel was, and is, without question. Therefore, no discerning Christian wanted to support their ministries financially by using their material. We need to take the same approach today. However, this is a new generation and the lines must be drawn again. I don’t know too many believers who want to knowingly support false teachers. Avoiding their music is a sound decision.

  1. You could be limiting the creativity and talent of your church’s own band

How many songs would be written if we stopped using Jesus and Bethel Music and had to come up with our biblically reliable music? How much would it challenge us to new heights of excellence if we had to make great sounding music that was not on the downgraded slope of apostasy? What next-generation world changers would rise up to be used of God in the music industry if we fostered their value in our congregations by asking them to write homegrown songs? If we knew that our music originated in the right place, our questions on this issue begin to fade. Many churches are sitting on amazing talent and gifts but do not use what God has provided. Take advantage of the autonomy that Christ allows each individual assembly to have and take ownership of creating your own songs and music.

  1. People need clarity on this issue more than ever before

People will naturally call it legalism when we’re taking about whether or not to sing Jesus Culture or Bethel music. But the church may do well to “steal” an idea from our Baptist friends. Just like a most Baptists avoids drinking altogether for the purpose of avoiding even the appearance of evil, a church may consider avoiding singing songs by heretical groups under the same guiding principle. Wisdom and prudence may be in order on this subject because it has become such a stumbling block for people today – just like alcohol. Is it sin to sing a Bethel song with sound lyrics? Is it a sin to take a sip of wine? No. But it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to risk confusing people in an effort to not come across legalistic. There are better hills to take, and more pressing issues to focus on. This one gets put to rest if we just draw a hard line and move on. If anything, the question of music is an easy one to deal with if you keep things biblically balanced. Why even associate with anything that is unbiblical or in question? Some New Testament guidelines that can help with this hot-button issue are:

  • Avoid being a stumbling block to others (Rom. 14:13-23)
  • Avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22)
  • Dangerous people should be silenced, not supported (Titus 3:11)
  • False teachers should be marked, not mitigated (Rom. 16:17-18)
  • Leaders are responsible to guard their doctrine and lives closely (1 Timothy 4:16)

While you may not agree with all the points listed here, at the very least, I hope I’ve provided you with some food for thought as you determine your own trajectory both at your church (whether in leadership or not), and in your home.

Does Experience Make it True?

Experience is never a good excuse for ignoring the truth. In fact, when we choose to use our own experience as the ultimate evidence for our view of truth, we end up believing in things and defending things that may be set on sinking sand.

We’ve all heard someone say it. “I am an expert because I’ve experienced it!”

It’s the subtlety of pride that creeps up from our heart to dogmatically declare that our experience is the judge and jury on the truth. Ah, how human we truly are.

Have you ever responded to someone’s objective argument with the words, “Well, I’ve personally experienced it so that’s how I know it’s truth”? This sort of argument works wonderfully with your opinion about the quality of restaurant food, the beauty of exotic travel destinations, and knowing how your wife responds to spiders in the house, but it doesn’t make a great deal of sense with how we practice Christianity. The Bible isn’t subjective…it is objective. Experience doesn’t shape it – experience bows to it.

Anything and everything that the Christian experiences needs to be filtered through the text of Scripture.

It is a slippery slope to build your theological positions and opinions on experience – no matter how real the experience seems to be. For example, someone could claim that Jesus was a woman because he appeared to them in a vision and told them so, but the experience is shattered in light of biblical truth. He was a man – definitely, a man. The bible says that Mary bore “a son” (Luke 1:31), that He was the “Son of the Most High” (1:32) and that He was the “Son of God” (1:35). What part of His gender is unclear in the Bible? When my experience contradicts what the Bible says, I am under obligation to place my experience in a category far below the God-breathed, infinite, wisdom of the Almighty (Isaiah 40:8; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12). Right now our culture is waging war on truth because of experience. The world is doing it with gender, abortion, marriage – and, Christians do it too – with our sacred cow beliefs.

But aren’t we called to be different than the world?

God’s word is alive. Therefore, it is still the all-sufficient, life changing rule for faith and practice. No Christian reserves the right to change what God has said because they had an experience – that’s blasphemous at worst, arrogant at best. The facts of God’s word don’t care about your feelings, they inform your feelings. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to submit to God’s word as sinners saved by grace, but since when do Christians simply give up when things get hard? We’ve got the Ultimate Helper! Marriage is hard, but we look to the Holy Spirit for help. Controlling the tongue is hard, but we look to the Holy Spirit for help. Life is hard…and you get the point. Where we can’t reach the bar of obedience in relation to what the Bible says, grace fills in the gap and enables us to do so. You can trust the Scriptures even when it’s hard. You can submit to Scripture even when it’s hard. And you can leave behind old beliefs even when it’s hard.

The Holy Spirit is there to help us do what we cannot do on our own.

FACING THE TRUTH

When Defining Deception comes out on February 9th, Christians will have a decision to make. Many defenders of Third Wave/Charismatic chaos will use a variety of tactics for skirting around the truth. Some will avoid the truth. Some will butcher it. Others will diminish it. But what will you do?

We can argue with the research based on subjective feelings and personal experiences, or analyze the research based on the objective word of God. People may not agree on everything in the book, and that’s expected, but every Christian is responsible for viewing history, heresy, and emotional attachments to certain modern-day belief systems through the lens of Scripture. No matter how much the truth stings, the balm of unity comes through finding common ground in contending for the faith. Charismatics, Calvinists, and everyone in between need to get the essentials right at the very least – and that means bonding together to call certain movements and teachers what they are. It also means praying for their hearts to change if they’re still alive.

Admitting that a movement or a teacher is false doesn’t have to put them on our hate list. It should put them on our prayer list. We can protect ourselves from wolves, while disagreeing in a God-honoring way.

To help you grow in your ability to discern truth and error, numerous footnotes have been provided in the book. Every reader is encouraged to follow those footnotes to do further research, or whenever statements are made that contradict their own experience.

The following questions (in any variation) will guide those who desire to learn and be challenged in their growth by Defining Deception. You may even consider printing them out and keeping them handy while reading the book:

  1. Does the evidence seem to provide a clear basis for the claim?
  2. Do the facts surrounding the claim make me feel angry, insecure, or uncomfortable because it contradicts my own beliefs? Why do I think the author made such a claim? Has the author provide any reasoning for this?
  3. Is my attachment to such a belief founded in a proper interpretation of the Scriptures? Have I adapted any portion of such a belief because I love and trust the teacher whom I learned from? Is that teacher accused of false teaching? What evidence is there to back this claim?
  4. In what ways can this evidenced claim help me better understand the issues I am reading about? If something is true, and backed up by evidence, what is the next logical step?
  5. Am I willing to sacrifice my own emotional attachments and insecurities in order to submit to what the Bible says? Who are the friends, family, and/or teachers who I can reach out to for help?

“…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

 (1 Peter 5:5-7)

 

Pharisees and False Teachers

There is a word that used to have no derogatory meaning but has found its permanent place in  the insults of “Christianese.” Its original meaning referred to a man’s position as an expert adherent of God’s law with rabbinical duties to guide others. The word is – Pharisee.  

Nowadays, this word is used and thought of in a slightly different way. If you call for accuracy in biblical preaching you could get called a Pharisee. If you lovingly confront a small group friend concerning their sin, you’re not thanked through tears – you’re called a Pharisee. If you voice concern for dangerous doctrines and the exploitation of those desperate for hope…well, you’ll see.

Recently a special conference was held in our city (Tustin, CA). The promoter promised signs, wonders, and miracles to those who would attend. A big sign was posted on the street and social media sites spread the word. Revival and health for the sick and needy was coming to our little corner of Orange County. Finally! Clever marketing tactics tagged the miracle working men as the “Pep Boys.” Perhaps because they were going give spiritual “tune-ups” to the crowd. Of course, admission was free. Based on some of the video footage from the conference host, the “signs, wonders, and miracles” were in short supply, but unintelligible tongues and bad theology was plentiful.15871887_941119289357321_4192490706401469971_n

Any push back against this tomfoolery could get you labeled. Shining a light on the flagrant lust for phony signs & wonders in today’s church climate could get you a new nickname. Encourage your friends to flee from this gimmickry and caution people about this unbiblical chaos, and you’re going to hear the P-word at some point.

You Pharisee.

Such a jarring indictment is enough to make any bold Christian think twice about opening their mouth concerning any serious issue. Jesus Himself called the over-zealous Pharisees horrible names. Would you ever want to be thought of as one of these?

  • Blind guides (Matthew 23:16)
  • Fools (Matthew 23:17)
  • Serpents (Matthew 23:33)
  • Vipers (Matthew 23:33)
  • Hypocrites (Luke 11:44)

That is one serious list. Obviously this kind of Pharisee is the last thing you ever want to be. Even from the earliest age, churches teach kids about these religious infiltrators with songs like,

“I don’t wanna be a Pharisee (a Pharisee!), I don’t wanna be a Pharisee (a Pharisee!), cause they’re not fair-ya-see? I just wanna be a sheep (ba-ba-ba-ba!).”

Ok so maybe only a few of us still remember that song from Sunday school, but you get the point.

There is one glaring problem with everything I’ve just described. Many people don’t know why Jesus used such harsh words with certain Pharisees. This leads to Christians getting either confused or fearful when called such a horrid term. So what in the world would constitute being called this type of Pharisee in today’s world? Is it being strict about biblical commands? Is it prohibiting the wearing of nail-polish or earrings at church? Is it calling out dangerous teaching? Is it the old guy who yells at the kids for playing drums in their youth worship service?

We need to let the bible speak so we don’t completely miss the point of what disastrous Pharisaic practices truly were.

Here’s what the gospels teach about the kind of things that the wretched Pharisees were doing to garner such harsh responses from Jesus:

  1. They Were Sign Seekers

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after signs…” Then warning His own disciples Jesus cautioned, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees…He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:1,6,12).

Jesus calls the teachings of the Pharisees “leaven” as an illustration of how it changes bread dough when it’s added in. Similarly, modern day false teachers alter the gospel message with their own ingredients and corrupt it to the core. Signs and wonders is not what Christ came for and never to be our focus. He came to save sinners (Luke 5:32).Kris-Vallotton_large

When modern day churches start to obsess over signs, wonders (and everything in between) to draw an audience, they’re on a slippery slope. If preference is given to sign-seeking healing services over gospel-centered preaching, it is a sign that the wrong kind of Pharisees may be running the show. Further, if the gospel message is said to be powerless without signs and wonders, run from the place that teaches such a thing.

We don’t need more hype about signs and wonders. The pulpit must determine to know nothing among us but Christ crucified and Him raised from the dead.

  1. They Targeted Helpless People

In order to benefit themselves most, certain Pharisees preyed upon those who could defend themselves least. They were notorious for targeting helpless widows so they could benefit from the estate and resources a deceased husband had left to her.

Jesus described these greedy predators in His final public teaching discourse that Mark recorded. He taught, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).

These conmen took no prisoners and even broke God’s law to make a buck off of heart-broken widows! The Old Testament commanded that people not overharvest their crops so that widows could benefit from what wasn’t picked the first time. Widows were not even be held to their own pledges (Deuteronomy 24:17-21). God took the care of widows seriously along with those who could not care for themselves – such as orphans.

In these modern times, false teachers take advantage of the lonely, the sick, the weak, and still go after widows much like the predatory Pharisees did. “Christian” leaders who capitalize on the least, last, and lost of our society for their own gain mirror the kind of bottom-feeding behavior that many Pharisees undertook.

  1. They Added to God’s Law

Pharisees enjoyed nothing more than adding their own powerless words, traditions, and methods to God’s basic commands. Where God had given enough instruction for the people’s good, the Pharisees added traditions and precepts that were established by their own ambition. Their agenda was centered on controlling people and making themselves look powerful. In Mark 7:6-9 Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their man-made system:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”

Much like the Pharisees of yesterday, false teachers today add to God’s decrees with decrees of their own. They convince people that God has more to say, and He is using them to say it. These modern Pharisees toss aside what God has declared and in preference their own twisted version. As if the completed revelation breathed out by God Himself wasn’t enough (2 Timothy 3:16-17), they seek to elevate their own ideology as equal to God’s revealed word.

One famous mystic who has sold millions upon millions of books opens one of her best-sellers by saying, I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.” This is common place today. Hoards of people yawn over expository preaching from the pages of Scripture, but mystical (possibly even demonic) counterfeits and prophetic conferences draw millions of people who are seeking a “new” word from the Lord. How much more time and money could be spent on spreading the gospel and lives saved from deception if people would accept that God already has spoken?

Reliability is in short supply in many loose theological circles that claim new prophetic words from God. Perhaps going back to the sufficiency of God’s already revealed will in the Scriptures and leaving it at that would solve the insufficiency of old pharisaic habits.

  1. They Added Unlawful Burdens to People

This one carries over from #3 on this list because the “extras” that the Pharisees added to God’s law were things they couldn’t even keep themselves. Hypocrites! For example,  where God set the Sabbath in order for man, the Pharisees created a laundry list of ridiculous additions to define “work” how they saw fit. At one point Jesus looks at an expert of the law and said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).

Though they appeared to be righteous, the Pharisees were crooked benefactors of a system that burdened the people. image_large

The type of burdens the Pharisees used back then have a modern-day version that burdens Christians in similarly oppressive ways. For example, false teachers convince people that if they want to be healed, they should give money or just “have enough faith.” People are taught that they have to give a certain amount of money to be “blessed”, to get a “breakthrough” at their job or have relief from debt. Further, people are taught that certain men and women are especially anointed so they should give money to them.

These burdens are as powerless as the works-based salvation the Pharisees sold. This spiritual abuse results in confused Christians with deflated faith, and false teachers with inflated wallets. None of that sort of teaching is biblical. Sure, anyone can twist God’s word for capitalistic control over people. The Pharisees did it better than anyone.

  1. They Loved Their Own Honor

Nothing excites a Pharisee more than a system that will honor himself. These leaders love when people elevate them to unbiblical heights. This cultish hierarchy makes the shepherds of God’s people into anointed royal rulers worthy of glory and praise that only God deserves.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees sat themselves in the best seats, received immaculate greetings in public, and ensured that everyone noticed how holy and powerful they were.

One day, Jesus gave them an ear full and told them what He thinks about their honor-system.

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it” (Luke 11:43-44).

Now there’s a divine indictment. These status seeking Pharisees were caught red-handed by Christ. He saw right through their fancy clothes, front row seats, long bios, and hidden hypocrisy. He knew of their self-indulgent pride, lust for power over people, and desire for possessions. They were like dead corpses lurking unnoticed below and spoiling their unsuspecting victims.

Like those who Jesus rebuked, false teachers in the church world today love to be called humble yet enjoy the spoils of a king. They use a culture of honor to protect themselves from accountability. Protecting the precious people of God is the last thing on their minds. In fact, they are the very wolves attacking the sheep from within the fold. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were too busy honoring themselves that they missed salvation from the Messiah when it was right in front of them. Today’s Pharisees take on the form of supposed “pastors” who spend a lifetime compiling a pension of riches from their powerless pulpits, only to find their lake front retirement plan is more of a lake of fire one. Christ is not in the building. He was never involved at all (Matthew 7:22-23).

Once we allow the bible to speak on this issue, it’s not so hard to spot a real Pharisee after all is it?