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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.

Chasing a Title or Carrying a Towel

When it comes to leadership, how do you measure greatness?

The mother of James and John thought it was having the best seats in Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). There are those today who would certainly say that church size, book deals, Twitter following, and global influence are sure signs of high status.

Our salacious, ever growing appetite for affirmation leads us to view the academic letters behind a last name as the moment of “arrival.” Ambitious and youthful pastors think greatness is eventually achieved when their subjective calling to ministry finally lands them an objective goal: The #1 spot in the pulpit.

But is that what greatness is in the end? Is leadership simply climbing a ladder of power, so as to eventually be a shot-caller? When it comes to leadership, if greatness is defined by a spot on the executive board, a large following, fancy letters, and dominating a one-way conversation on a weekly basis because you hold the mic, we need an intervention.

The church does need greatness to live out its purpose in Christ, but in God’s eyes, great leaders are great servants. Just a cursory glance through the New Testament reveals that the word leader is used rarely when compared to the word servant. That’s not to say that leadership is not an important or prominent theme throughout the Bible (it is), but it is to say that leadership is not so much about carrying a fancy title as it is about carrying a servant’s towel.

No one nails having a humble servant’s heart every day, yet certain trends in our life reflect God’s grace in the midst of our own ambitious drive for significance in ministry.

If you are one of those passionate souls who believe they must do something great on this earth, here are three ways things to consider what greatness truly is:

1.) We Must Be Decreasing

Of all the people in the Bible, perhaps John the Baptist could have been the one who’d be let off the hook if he took just a little bit of the spotlight from Jesus. After all, he was the forerunner and ultimate set up man for Christ. Instead, he said he wasn’t the Christ, he wasn’t Elijah, and he wasn’t even a prophet. When pressed for the real story, all he could muster up was quite possibly the most unimpressive personal bio history has known. If John the Baptist had Facebook, the about section would read, “Just a voice. Not worthy to tie Christ’s sandals. Consistently decreasing and not worth a follow. Link to Jesus’ profile ‘here.’”

It can be a monumental challenge to stomach the obscurity that comes from consistent “decrease,” but it’s part of every pastor’s journey. There may be seasons when a gifted pastor is not in the pulpit, but desperately wants to be. There may be seasons when a pastor is called to play a supporting role in someone else’s ministry – and could do more on his own. None of this matters in the grand scheme of what God is constantly teaching His servants. If we cannot accept that His plans and timing are better than ours, that’s a sign that we are still living with an “I must increase” mentality.

Obscurity doesn’t mean obsolete. You don’t need to see your impact to have an impact. John the Baptist was locked in a prison waiting for his head to roll while Jesus – the Jesus he got to baptize – was adding disciples by the minute.

Greatness is giving up what you could do for what you must do. Everybody can be great.

2.) We Must Be Feet Washing

Yes, it’s true, regardless of how above-the-task we think we are. Imagine Jesus the Christ taking the towel and the basin as he washed the feet of Judas the Betrayer. Surely, a towel has much to do with greatness (John 3:1-17; Luke 22:24-27).

Greatness isn’t doing ministry from an ivory tower. Greatness isn’t well-manicured finger nails that click a wireless mouse through hours of Logos. Greatness isn’t preaching all the biggest conferences.

Greatness is bowing low to wash feet.

Ministry is messy and Jesus knew we would all long for clear calendars, simple churches, and well-behaved congregations that don’t interrupt our day in the study, so He showed us a better way. Dirty, smelly, crooked, cracked feet are the key.

Even for those who make our lives difficult. When no one is watching. And when no one washes ours. Greatness is grabbing a towel.

3.) We Must Be Stewarding

Paul set the standard for the greatness of a church leader by modeling the greatness of a servant. He considered himself a slave of Christ (Philippians 1:1), and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). The criteria for a steward in his mind was faithfulness (4:2). As we consider how we will leave a mark on this earth in ministry, it is imperative that we consider what it means to be a steward of all God has given us.

We will be called to give an account for how we managed for the Master. A leadership title is a responsibility that involves accountability (1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Stewardship is weighty in light of the implications.

On the minister as a steward Charles Spurgeon wrote,

…a steward is a servant, and no more. Perhaps he does not always remember this; and it is a very pitiful business when the servant begins to think that he is “my lord.” It is a pity that servants, when honoured by their master, should be so apt to give themselves airs. How ridiculous Jack-in-office makes himself! I do not refer now to butlers and footmen, but to ourselves. If we magnify ourselves, we shall become contemptible; and we shall neither magnify our office nor our Lord. We are the servants of Christ, and not lords over His heritage. Ministers are for churches, and not churches for ministers. In our work among the churches, we must not dare to view them as estates to be farmed for our own profit, or gardens to be trimmed to our own taste. Some men talk of a liberal polity in their church. Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward of Christ to boast of being liberal with his Master’s goods, is quite another matter.

Greatness isn’t in the title you’re called, it’s in the towel you carry.

Top 3 Questions Defining Deception’s Readers are Asking

Over the past 3 months our latest book, Defining Deception, has ended up in the hands of nearly 3000 people. Reviews are pouring in from people who claim a variety of denominational alliances and most (including Pentecostals and Charismatics) are calling the book a timely work with a balanced argument. So, for all the potential controversy the book could have caused, it seems to be clear that Christians from all walks of life are tired of the deception; they want the truth.

In light of phone calls, emails, and personal correspondence with pastors and people who’ve read the book, here are the top 3 questions people are asking. Keep in mind, these are brief answers that should spark your own thoughts in light of Scripture. Much more can be said here.

#1 Does your church sing Bethel songs?

Both Pastor Anthony and I serve the same church so our answer is the same. Absolutely not. To be blunt, we’d be hypocrites if we wrote Defining Deception and offered the evangelical community advice on something we weren’t implementing ourselves. The book was originally written for our church, so much of it had already been taught there.

Our plurality of leaders – which includes pastoral staff and lay elders – are completely aligned on the convictions of Mission Bible Church. More importantly, we’re aligned on the clarity of the Scriptures regarding false teachers and doctrines that damage the bride of Christ. Our structure is such that a worship pastor at MBC must be theologically astute and capable of building a ministry team of worshippers who are guided by biblical convictions on worship. There is no room for compromise.

There isn’t a singer, guitarist, drummer, or tech volunteer who isn’t theologically aligned with what we call, “Tier 1” doctrinal beliefs. This includes Christology, which Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, and Bill Johnson specialize in butchering.

Dr. Steve Lawson was with us at Mission Bible recently when he squared up nearly 100 local church leaders and declared with unwavering boldness:  “The preacher is the worship leader!” That’s how we feel about the importance of preaching the truth in a church. There is no split between the pulpit and the piano. What is preached will be sung. What is sung will be preached.

#2 Why is the book so Short?

Because we wanted people to read it and use it quickly. Most readers don’t want a historical textbook that takes them down every rabbit hole of every sub group of every movement. Besides, better men have written those textbooks already. For now, Defining Deception was written with pastors and laymen (laywomen) in mind who are in the local church trenches. The book needed to be clear and concise so it could be consumed. Things were broken down into the most basic form so people could see the errors, identify with the illustrations, and convey the truth to others in a portable way.

Still, if you’re looking for a longer version then you will find it useful to go through the footnotes. There are literally countless videos, articles, and other books that you can put to use and further your research just like we did. Just make sure your kids aren’t around when you watch the Kenneth Hagin videos. They’re literally demonic.

#3 How do we get our church to change?

This is a loaded question – but a very serious one. I’ve spoken to multiple pastors with churches that have split over the “Bethel Music” issue. I know other churches with pastors who refuse to read the book, endorse the book, or to involve themselves in the issue because they’re scared of what they’ll lose if they stand for truth. Whatever the situation, here are several helpful things to keep in mind when trying to change the direction of your church on this issue. These may depend on whether your a member of the church or a pastor of the church:

Be respectful of church leadership. Sometimes they are busy doing funerals, hospice care, discipleship, evangelism, preaching prep for multiple sermons, counseling, meeting with elders, balancing the budget, leading the staff, and loving their family…(deep breath)…so they haven’t had the chance to get up to speed on the latest hot-button issues. This isn’t an excuse for their lack of protecting the flock, but it is a reason for people to be understanding of the speed with which a pastor catches up on all issues. Bethel may not be on your pastor’s radar yet. Help him by providing the book and telling him, “Pastor, I’m with you all the way if you have to take on these issues in our church.”

God hates when people spread strife among the brethren (Proverbs 6:19). Steer clear of divisive behavior, developing factions and pushing your weight around. Starting a theological gang to overthrow the leadership or start a worship war is not how to go about changing a church.

Your pastor may be an imposter who is not a real pastor. This one may rub some people the wrong way but it’s clear in Scripture that Satan likes to use deception to infiltrate the ranks of the church (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). There may be a “pastor” in your church who the elders need to remove because he’s not fulfilling his mandate to shepherd the flock faithfully. Keep in mind, the elders need to do it. Stay calm and trust leadership to do their God-given job. Even the best of men are men at best. Give leadership the chance to make things right.

It may be best to leave your church. This is not the first choice for anybody who loves the bride of Christ. I know of people who have stayed in a church for years; praying the pastor out before they ever dreamed about leaving. Still, there may come a time when it’s just too divisive to stay. It also may be that your church leadership is unified on going a dangerous direction. Whatever the case, people should seriously pray about going somewhere safe; somewhere that the pulpit is fearsomely devoted to truth. Find a church that loves God’s people enough to protect them.

Start a Sunday school class or mid-week study addressing these issues. What Bethel and it’s leaders are teaching is Christological heresy and many people likely don’t know that because they don’t know much about the doctrine of Christ to begin with. Take several weeks and teach people in your church about the truth. Use the errors as illustrations of deception and preface the class by explaining that you’re going to name names at some point (Romans 16:17-18). Maybe even include a session called, “Paul Named Names…So Should We,” before calling out certain people. Some Christians have been so malnourished they need to be helped with just the basics about Jesus. Whatever you decide, equipping God’s people is the best way to help lead change. He designed us that way!

As the months carry on and Defining Deception makes its way overseas and into churches across America, one thing is for sure: people are desperate for the truth. May God continue to use the book to bring much needed nourishment to starving souls. Best of all, we’re praying that the Lord use it to save people from the clutches of darkness – no matter how good it looks…or sounds.


 

Defining Deception can be ordered via Amazon by clicking here.

For bulk orders, distribution, or other inquiries email chinn@missionbible.org.