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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.

Can You Define Deception?

The church’s greatest threat has never been from the outside, but rather, from deception within.

The Bible is clear. Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with red horns and a pitch-fork claiming, “Here I am to distract and deceive you!” Neither do his false prophets. They are disguised in light; seeming to be workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Our adversary’s deceptive strategy is to infiltrate our ranks. Like a Trojan horse entering through the city gates, darkness often hides in plain sight. Satan doesn’t fight fair and false teachers take no prisoners.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, millions of Jews were murdered as a result of the Holocaust. Museums like the Yad Vashemin Jerusalem have preserved the horrific evidence of how deceptionplayed a crucial role in the Nazi plans. The Germans used propaganda to appear as though they were caring for Jews, but millions were being brutally slaughtered. Nazi soldiers were trained to deceive Jews until their death. In one of the most inhumane acts in world history, countless Jews were told that the concentration camps they were being taken to were communities of safety and rest. Some were shown pictures of a beautiful paradise only to arrive at the sterile barracks confused. At the camp named Auschwitz, Jews worked to unknowingly lay the foundation for the very buildings that would be their own “death factories.”

Like the ruthless deception and false propaganda used by the Nazi’s to execute their evil plan, false teachers and the kingdom of darkness use lies to attempt to bring down the church and destroy the kingdom of God. Discernment is crucial to preventing spiritual casualties.

Can you say with absolutely certainty that you are not being deceived? Do you know if the church you’re a part of is a biblical church? How do you know that the ministry you follow is playing for the right team? How has your pastor’s pulpit ministry increased your prowess for studying your Bible? Are you confident in saying that you know when something is biblically true, or fatally false? Many Christians are sitting in churches and following ministries that are anything but biblical – yet they aren’t sure what the signs are.

To help you navigate the challenges we’re facing in the body of Christ today, here are 5 ways to define deception:

  1. The Gospel is Mishandled

One of the keys to defining deception within the church is how the Gospel is treated. If God is always in a good mood, sin is “too intense” for the pulpit, and the cross is a just revelation of our value, things are heading in the wrong direction. If sermons are preached so broadly that people aren’t told Jesus is the only way can to be saved (John 14:6), there is a problem. The Gospel is not inconvenient, it’s essential. A church (and its pastor) must be willing to offend people if it means pleasing God. Yes, there is the Good News! But, it’s only Good News because there was some bad news.

The Gospel is also mishandled when certain people dogmatically assert that without “signs and wonders” the Gospel has no power. This faulty view is common in Word of Faith theology and flies in the face of Romans 1:16 where Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” The Gospel is not powerful because it accompanies signs and wonders. The Gospel is powerful because God authored the transformation of dead sinners into living saints.

  1. My Experience Informs My Truth

There is a massive wave of experience-driven theology sweeping over the church. If you find that your church or your favorite ministry uses “expert eye-witnesses” claims in order to propagate things that are contradictory to the Bible, the writing could be on the wall. As Christians, it’s great to have moments of awe in light of what God is doing in the church. But if those moments are built on the mystical experiences of someone like Jesus Culture’s Kim Walker-Smith claiming that Jesus appeared in a vision and behaved like “Stretch Armstrong,” or Bethel Church’s Seth Dahl (Redding, CA) explaining how Jesus appeared to him in a vision to ask him (yes, Seth) for forgiveness, things have stretched into dangerous territory.

Right now our culture is waging war on absolute truth by using subjective experience. People can identify as whatever gender they “feel like” they are, women can kill babies because they “feel like” it’s ok, and gay-marriage is ok in more churches than ever because pastors “feel like” we should just love people and not “judge.”

If our church or our pastor is building on the foundation of experience to define the truth, is that much different than the world? True Christians must be committed to trusting the Word of God as the authoritative and sufficient filter through which every experiences must pass through.

  1. You and I are the Same as Jesus

One of the best ways to define deception in a church or teaching, is to analyze what they do with the doctrine of Christ. When pastors with a global platform like Bill Johnson claim that Jesus did His miracles as a just a man in right relationship to God and not as God, that’s heresy. This is a historical heresy with a modern face. It is the springboard for today’s mystical-miracle movement which claims that if Jesus was just a man anointed by God when He was on earth, you can be just like Him too! If a teaching diminishes Christ in order to elevate man – that’s the mark of deception. Satan has always been a master of twisting Scripture to undermine God and shipwreck people’s faith. From the beginning the serpent has been whispering, Did God really say…? You surely shall not die!(Genesis 3:1-4)

  1. The Abundant Life Is Now

A church is off course if John 10:10 means that the “abundant life” of heaven guarantees health, wealth and happiness on earth. The idea that you should be experiencing job promotions, perfect medical reports, and an overflow of financial provision throws out James 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:12, and Luke 18:29 (at the very least). If your pastor gears his messages towards “hope” that is realized through material possessions and perfect relationships on earth – he’s not a pastor; he’s an imposter.

Jesus didn’t promise that life would be easy on earth for those who are His true disciples. An over-realized atonement that guarantees riches and health on earth has missed the entire point of trials, suffering, sovereignty and sanctification.

  1. Faith Is a Force You Can Unleash

Billionaire prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland has built an empire on the false teaching that “faith is a force.” In other words, you can make things happen if you believe. If your pastor twists passages about confession of faith in Christ (Romans 10:9) to mean that confession is also the way to land a Bentley on your driveway – run to the nearest Biblical church. When a church has a culture of “making it happen with your mouth,” it is time to move on.

This theology defines deception by teaching that God is like a magic genie – you get what you want by rubbing Him right. Positive confessions are repeated in cult-like unison as crowds say, “I am promoted!”, “I am healed!” or “I am blessed!” They believe that faith does not lead one to merely confess their sin and turn to Christ in repentance but that faith is a force you can use to control all outcomes.

It is a War on Truth

All of the deception within the church can be disheartening. People are being used and spiritually abused. But there is hope.

First, we’ve been forewarned that false teachers would “secretly introduce” destructive heresies, and exploit people in their greed (2 Peter 2:1-3). We need not be surprised. We also know that even in the midst of spiritual warfare, victory has been won by Jesus Christ! Discerning Christians have no need to cower in fear if they are clad in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18). The believer equipped with the Word of God has everything needed to stand firm against enemy tactics. God has given us the ability to define deception and enjoy the security of walking in truth.

Take courage, Christian. Christ promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Make sure you’re a part of a local body where He is actually building.


If you need help discerning what is true and what is false, order your copy of Defining Deception today!

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.