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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.

What Will You Do With Jesus?

In the synoptic Gospels, around the time leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we find some of the most heart-wrenching literature in all of Scripture. From this brief period of time, a simple question of personal reflection can be drawn out. It’s a question of conviction: what will we do with Jesus?

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record important aspects of Jesus’ betrayal, denial, trial, and sentencing to death. What was done with Jesus began a short distance from the city of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives, and into the shadows of the Garden of Gethsemane. There, underneath the overhang of olive trees the Lord Jesus’ sweat turned to blood as He accepted the will of God unto death on a cross. It’s there, in those shadows, that you may begin to see things in a way you never have. Men and women from the time of Christ until today have had their opportunity to come face-to-face with the reality of who Jesus is.

What will you do with Him?

Judas Betrayed Him

It was an act that we all scoff at with self-righteousness. Surely none of us would stoop to such a low as Judas. That dark night, leading a cohort of weapon-wielding officers, chief priests, and Pharisees (John 18:3), Judas betrayed the God-man who just a short time before had washed his very feet. He sold out the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests got their hands on Jesus. Judas got his blood money. Complimenting John’s gospel, Matthew records Judas’ guilt-ridden effort to redeem himself; throwing the money back at the priests in remorse (Matt. 27:1-5). He never repented; hanging himself in shame.

Peter Denied Him

Against all odds, Jesus told Peter exactly what would happen and it did (John 13:31-38). Without hesitation, and on repeat (3-times), Peter flat out denied the Lord he’d so verbosely defended. The disciple who often was the quickest to speak and the first to jump out of the boat, suddenly stood by firelight in the deafening silence of his own denial of Jesus. Then, the cock crowed (John 18:27) and Peter began to weep (Mark (14:72).

Pilate’s Wife Said, “Avoid Him”

Historical writings name Pontius Pilate’s wife Procla (or Procula).Some view her as a saint while others don’t go so far. Whatever the varying views, Scripture gives only one small piece of evidence as to why she was so hesitant about her husband condemning Christ to death. In Matthew 27:19 she comes to her husband’s side telling him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” In a last-ditch effort, Procla interrupts her husband while he was mid-trial – something that would have been extremely unacceptable – to offer a final warning. Perhaps she had to come to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Or, she was uneasy about Him after her dream. Whatever the case, she thought it was best for her husband to have nothing to do with Him.

Herod Mocked Him

Receiving a hand-off from Pilate, Herod finally got what he wanted. It was a chance to put this Jesus character to the test and see signs and wonders put on display. However, Jesus refused to answer anything that was asked of Him by Herod (Luke 23:9), while throughout the process of questioning the priests and scribes were “accusing Him vehemently” (Luke 23:10). Unsatisfied with the anti-climatic turn of events, Herod made a mockery of Jesus; dressing Him in royal robes and sending Him back to Pilate.

Pilate Sentenced Him

Pilate knew Jesus had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:4), and even tried to wash his hands of the situation (Matt. 27:24). When offered a choice between releasing a known murderer or Jesus, the angry mob demanded the murderer be released and Christ be crucified. Giving in to the incessant pressure of the mob, Pilate handed Jesus over to them. This was the death sentence. The Son of God was condemned to a cross.

Today, we know the story of Jesus did not end in defeat. Long after the grave could not hold Him, we still have access to salvation because of His resurrection power! No, we may not be faced with the exact situational choices as the men and women we read about, but the narrative surrounding the final days of Christ’s life still serves to show us how people respond to Christ in many different ways. For those who desire everlasting peace in heaven, the answer of what to do with Him is quite clear:

We must weep over our sin. Then, going beyond just remorse, guilt, or avoidance, we repent and turn to Him as the sole object of our worship. In doing so, we come to experience the riches of His grace, and peace beyond all comprehension.

What will you do with Jesus?  

Five Things Only the Local Church Can Do

There is nothing on earth like the local Christian church. Hundreds of conferences offer life-changing experiences for several days but can’t come close to the life-long impact of a local church. Evangelistic crusades may draw tens of thousands to hear the gospel, but the crusade team can’t possibly facilitate the spiritual growth of those converts the way the local church can. When it comes down to it, Christ loves His bride, and there is no substitute that can satisfy the needs of His growing body like the local church.

Providing that a group of believers gather under biblically qualified leadership, with a focus on biblical teaching, prayer, worship, evangelism and edifying fellowship, the church will live up to its potential in the way that God intends. Of course, in a fallen world there will be turbulent times along the way, but together, Christians who hold in high regard the Body of Christ as He builds it will experience a level of joy that is only found within the local church.

In this article, I will consider five unique blessings that only the local church gets to experience. Each of these makes the local church unlike any other institution on earth.

1) The Manifold Wisdom of God

Nothing glorifies God like the local church! His wisdom is shown through Christ’s unfathomable riches, and the world looks on as His light outshines darkness. Preaching showcases the manifold wisdom of God. The divine revelation now revealed through the gospel showcases the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:8-10). Heaven looks on, and all of hell trembles as Christ is declared the wisdom of God personified (1 Corinthians 1:24).

People will turn to many sources for wisdom, but nothing will bring the lasting peace that the wisdom of God will bring.

God chose the church to showcase His wisdom. What greater privilege can there be for a Christian to take part in?

2) The Methods of Evangelism

Is there a greater blessing than to see the lost sheep called home to the Great Shepherd? The local church is right at the center of this process! As Jesus gathers His flock from every tongue, tribe, and nation, He uses the preaching of good news to accomplish the work. As Paul declared the divine process that brings about salvation to the hearer he wrote:

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:11-15).

Gospel power goes out from the local church in more ways than we may realize. From a congregation that lives their faith while the world looks on, to a child who grows up to become a missionary or worldwide evangelist. They are all trained up, sent out, and supported by the local church.

Preaching is one of the primary methods through which the local church can spread the gospel it is not the only method.

Relational evangelism can spark gospel conversations that never even involve a pulpit but lead people to repentance. I’ll never forget how the Lord used a personal friendship sparked in the gym one day, to lead to an open door for evangelism. Now over ten years later, my friend has married a fellow believer and is the proud father of three children. What happened? A relationship provided the context for the gospel to be shared. The result was a regenerate life changed by the power of the gospel! It doesn’t always happen that way, but relationships are one of the most powerful ways that evangelism is accomplished.

Whether in the gym, at the park, on the court, in the store, or on the mission field, the life-saving power of the gospel is entrusted to the local church. What else on earth can make that claim?

3) The Making of Disciples

When an unregenerate heart turns to Christ, He entrusts the church with a most sacred task – to make them a disciple (Matthew 28:16-20).

In the local church, converts aren’t left to fend for themselves, leaders are trained so more converts can be discipled, marriages are mentored through the ups and downs of life, and sanctification is in overdrive as the church worships with undying affection for Christ!

The privilege (and mandate) of making disciples is something often overlooked because it takes work. Laziness is no excuse for being unwilling to enter the grueling task of disciple-making. Life is messy, and ministry is too. If we aren’t willing to roll up our sleeves, put our work boots on, and dig into discipleship, we have to ask ourselves if we have lost sight of what our true purpose is.

In his book Discipling, Mark Dever writes,

The local church – this, Father-designed, Jesus-authorized, and Spirit-gifted body – is far better equipped to undertake the work of discipling believers than simply you and your one friend. Jesus does not promise that you and your one friend will defeat the gates of hell. He promised that the church will do this.

We must maintain a culture of disciple-making because if we don’t, no one else will. Only the church is given this unique task.

4) The Ministry of Saints

Talents abound in the world today, but spiritual gifts are a whole different matter. Parents pay thousands of dollars to have their son or daughter receive specialized training to become an elite performer, but no amount of money or training regimen can land you a spiritual gift.

The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts, and the church and believers are the benefactors. What grace that He would pour out such gifts for the body to be built up in Christ. In our serving and our speaking, we are strengthening one another and glorifying our Creator (1 Peter 4:7-11). How can we not take full advantage of this great blessing?

In addition to the privilege of using our spiritual gifts, we are also given a clear structure for how to operate with our gifts. The “common good” that the gifts achieve (1 Corinthians 12:7) provide us with spiritual protection, teaching, equipping, and meet physical needs.

Ministries explode within the local church because saints put their gifts to work. Qualified elders are appointed (1 Timothy 3:1-7), older women teach the younger (Titus 2:3-5), widows and orphans are cared for (James 1:27), mercy is shown, sinners are exhorted, and so much more. Much is achieved for the edification of saints because obedient believers employ their gifts for ministry.

When onlookers see the Body of Christ functioning in unity, God is glorified.

5) The Memories Shared

In the Old Testament, God told Joshua and the people of Israel to create “Memorial Stones” to showcase all His wondrous works (Joshua 4:1-7). In 2017, our memorial stones may take on the form of Facebook albums, Instagram galleries, or a church highlight a video but the principle remains the same. Our stories of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and mighty works are shared through and with the church.

There is no denying that the relationships we form in serving Christ are some of the most powerful bonds that can be formed in this life. The love that Paul shared with the churches he started was rooted in his devotion to Christ. A church that serves, sings, and even suffers together will more often than not, grow old together, or plant more churches together!

Generations of Christians will spend eternity worshipping Christ in celebration of all that He did in them and through them.

Over the course of a lifetime, Christians will experience a plethora of emotions within the life of the church. There may be joy, pain, loss, and hurt. All in all, it takes commitment to Christ to remain devoted to His bride through it all.

If Christians will continually turn back to the Scriptures and renew their love for the church, they will enjoy the blessings and privileges that it alone can provide.


Originally posted on www.servantsofgrace.org on February 21, 2017.

Private Lives Define Public Leaders

It was the great Puritan John Owen who said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”

What John Owen had right almost 400 years ago still rings true today. Christian leadership is a public service that begins with private worship. While every leader has unique, God-ordained passions and purposes, there is one common denominator that defines every leader in the same way: Who they are behind closed doors.

Who a leader is outside of the public eye is who they really are – no more, no less.

No matter how hard a leader may try, they can’t fake their private life. In fact, it can even be argued that there is no such thing as a private life at all, only a variety of environments in which a leader operates. God sees everything, a spouse knows them better than anyone next to God, and kids are quick to catch on when parents behave one way in public and another way at home. There’s no getting around the fact that who a leader is in their private life is where the rubber meets the road. A healthy private life means a healthy leader.

Many underestimate the powerful role that a leader’s private life plays in determining the success of their leadership. To take that even further, it’s safe to say that there is no real success in ministry unless the private life of a leader is healthy.

Truth and time go hand-in-hand so what will eventually begin to manifest in public is just the evidence of who a leader is in private.

Here are three private areas that will define a Christian leader, for better or worse:

  1. A Leader’s Private Devotion

A leader may pray eloquent prayers in public, and be able to rattle off quotes from Charles Spurgeon, but true spiritual leadership is ultimately defined by the private devotion that takes place when no one is around to “oooh” and “awe” at their spirituality. A leader’s job may be thriving, their friends may envy their oratorical abilities, and many people may even be swept up by their charisma – but all of that can be an empty shell if private devotion to Christ is not their highest priority. Know this, a leader will not stand the test of time who does not spend ample time on their knees and time in God’s word. Knowing the latest LifeWay research statistics and being articulate on topics like church-trends and growth strategies will prove useless if a leader is not proficient in prayer and the Scriptures. Christian leaders are not called to be experts on culture. They are called to be emulators of Christ.

  1. A Leader’s Private Marriage

Every Christian leader is happily married on Sunday morning. Men talk openly about being the head of the home and flex their spiritual muscles with Bible in hand. Women pick out the perfect outfit and smile with glee; reminiscent of a woman who had a flawless week “respecting hubby.” Her Instagram posts are confirmation of that. It’s the picture of public perfection! But is that always the real story? The way a leader’s “first ministry” operates throughout the week will define who they really are – not merely a Sunday (or social media) show. While a leader’s marriage should be progressing and growing in Christ – which will result in a good example publicly – faking perfection when things are falling apart is dangerous because it lacks the diligence God instructs Christian couples to have when it comes to working on their marriage. If a leader will not take the steps needed in order to nurture their marriage, they are no leader at all. A leader’s marriage must be marked by a deep sacrifice of self, a calendar with dates that match biblical convictions, honesty about weakness, confession of sin, and involvement of qualified church leaders or counseling when needed. A leader’s marriage may look good on the outside (and maybe it really is doing well), but how we live Ephesians 5:22-33 behind closed doors is what truly matters.

  1. A Leader’s Private Conversations

Leaders are constantly communicating both privately and publicly. This means that a lot of words come out that can’t be taken back. Prudence is crucial for every private conversation and taming the tongue is especially necessary in familiar environments where leaders are most comfortable. A leader who “lets it fly” is a disaster waiting to happen. Many leaders use crude language in the name of authenticity but are doing nothing more than creating a locker-room mentality within the church. Furthermore, many leaders use manipulative language with staff members for their own gain. This could be sexual, or it could be production driven – pitting them against each other to spark competition in the name of ministry advancement. This is not becoming of a true Christian leader, though it is how many churches run the business-side of church. Since when did Jesus promise to build His church through leadership styles reminiscent of corporate sharks and verbally aggressive CEO’s? When it comes to frustrations, a wise leader does not shame others. He replaces “venting” publicly (aka: gossip), with “vetting” (aka: prayer) privately with Jesus. Taking every attitude, thought, or frustration to Christ in prayer is the best way for a leader to control the tongue in conversations. Sometimes it’s best to just use the abbreviation: FHL. It means, “Few, honest, and loving”, and refers to the words we ought to use if we’re experiencing some tension in our day-to-day life. Ministry is tough and temptation is everywhere, but leaders have to learn to manage their mouth behind the scenes.

There are numerous more that could be added to this list but all will point to the same truth. A leader’s private life is make or break for their public leadership.

Sound like a tough task? It is. That’s why a leader must depend on God’s grace to be at work within their life above all else. It is a responsibility that should cause every pastor, elder, small group leader, deacon, teacher, parent, layman, or aspiring leader to remain humbly on their knees before God – begging that His power be at work in their prayer life, their marriage, and their mouth.


Verses for further study & reflection:

Devotion: Psalm 1; Ephesians 6:10-20; Colossians 2:6-8

Marriage: Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-25; 1 Peter 3:1-8;

Conversation: Proverbs 15:28; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6; James 3