Why I Won’t Sing Bethel Songs, But Will Sing Hillsong

There has been a bit of controversy in some of the blogs and Facebook groups I’m in recently as a podcast was released dealing with someone who was kicked out of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. A friend of mine wrote a brief write-up about it here, but I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a while on some of the ramifications of this stuff. As with many issues in the Christian faith, I view this as a grey area where we are called to be discerning, but at the end of the day we may come up on different sides of this issue, and that’s ok! We’re not the first Christians to struggle with where we draw the boundary lines (see 1 Cor. 8). The key to this, just as with many other issues, is to be intentional about it. If you do sing songs from Bethel, have a reason why you’ve chosen to do them. If you don’t sing their songs, be able to articulate why. So before I even get into why I don’t sing their songs, there are some things to think through.
  • Not everyone needs to sing all the same songs.
Many people are shocked when I tell them we don’t sing songs from Bethel because “their songs are the 5 biggest songs in the country!” That’s fine! Each church has different needs based on where they’re at, the skill of their band, the issues they’re dealing with, etc. So each church should and will have a different library of songs.
  • You don’t need to sing all the newest songs.
Many times it’s better to wait and see which songs last a little longer than a week to incorporate them into your church. Sometimes there’s new songs that come out that are worth adding right away. I remember adding Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons in about a month after it came out. But with all the bands available to us today, there’s no need to be in a rush to introduce the latest and newest song to our body. In God’s economy what matters is faithfulness, not trendiness.
Now, this has been a more recent conviction for me, because in my younger years I thought what mattered was keeping up with the latest trends. While you should at least be aware of the trends going on around you, that does not necessarily mean you need to bring them in to your body right away. Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit!
  • Songs give us words to use when we come before God, so be careful what songs you use.
Words matter to God. He chose to use words as revelation in his Word and in the Word. In David Peterson’s helpful book Engaging with God he says, “The worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” (20) Worship begins and ends with God, not us. So let’s be careful what words we put in people’s mouth to give expression to their relationship with the living God.
With those thoughts in mind as my foundation, I then can go on to think through why I won’t sing songs from Bethel, but will from Hillsong.
  • Bethel has said things that are heretical, but Hillsong has not.
Despite what Al Mohler has said on The Briefing, I don’t think Hillsong is just another liberal group. From what I’ve seen, read, and heard from them they are committed to an orthodox understanding of the Bible, Jesus and our faith. Now, they do at times say things in ways that I wouldn’t, or are less clear than I would prefer in their explanations, but that’s very different than endorsing heresy. 9Marks has written a really helpful review of one of Bill Johnson’s books When Heaven Invades Earth where he endorses and argues for heretical views. This isn’t just something someone said or heard, this is in print, so it’s really hard to argue against it!
  • By doing Bethel songs I am supporting their “ministry.”
Because of the first point, I don’t want to, in any ways, support the so called “ministry” of Bethel. Whenever I access their songs, listen on Spotify or sing them at church, they are getting paid to continue putting forth their heresy, so I’ve decided that I can’t in good conscience do that.
  • I don’t want to endorse their songs to my congregation.
Gordon Fee has said, “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology,” and I take that thought very seriously. This also ties in the last point above that our words matter! This is the one that is the most pressing issue for me, but each context is different. I don’t want people hearing a song they like, finding Bethe’s stuff on YouTube and then expecting “gold” to start falling from our ceiling! Now, some churches may not have the issue of people looking up the where the songs you sing come from, but I don’t want to even lead 1 person astray!
  • There are enough GREAT songs available to us today that I don’t feel the need to use them from Bethel, no matter how good they are.
Christians have been a singing people for 2,000 years, so we’ve got quite a large catalogue of music to pick from! Yet, there’s also enough great music out there today that teaches really good theology that I don’t feel like I need to settle for bad theology. Groups like Sovereign Grace Music, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, Austin Stone Worship, CityAlight, Aaron Keyes, Vertical Worship, and Indelible Grace Music are doing incredibly helpful music for corporate singing. When we’ve only got 52 Sundays a year, and maybe 35 minutes to sing, I want to make sure we’re making the best use of that time to sing songs that teach good theology, equip us to live our lives to the glory of God to the best of our ability, and I think that can be done without compromising theological convictions.

The Most Common Arguments Against This

As I’ve shared my thoughts on this, there have been a few thoughts that have come up repeatedly that I’ll do my best to address.
  • But David!
This goes something like: David was an adulterer, and when you read the Psalms many of those sound like heresy! So how much should we expect our song writers to be perfect?
I agree to all of the above! There was 1 perfect person, but our job today is to best equip our saints for faithfulness. None of the songwriters we have today were indwelled by the Spirit to write out the inerrant, inspired and authoritative Word of God. David was. He is unique among all songwriters that have ever lived! I don’t care how great “How Great Thou Art” is, it’s not on the same level as the Psalms!
We also are not paying royalties to David. I’m quite sure he’s got plenty of riches in heaven and has no need for the monetization of his songs. When we sing Bethel songs we are paying them royalties. See above for my thoughts on that.
  • My congregation doesn’t know or care who writes the songs.
Most of mine doesn’t either! In fact, I try really hard to make sure we don’t keep track of who wrote which song for the whole church. I want our catalogue to just be the songs we sing, instead of arguing about what’s new, old, fast, slow and anything in between. But I’m someday going to give an account to the Lord for how I’ve handled this ministry, and I know who writes the songs! So I want to be careful with that. Again, this is somewhat contextual, but I always prefer to err on the side of caution.
  • I take each song on its own merits.
I try to too! Just because the Gettys, Bob Kauflin, or Matt Boswell wrote it (my heroes of song writing today!) doesn’t mean I’m going to do it. I try to look through: what have we been singing about a lot lately? What areas of theology are we deficient in? What kind of songs do we need to continue singing? What issues do we need to address together? And many other things to think through our songs. But I still can’t get over the prick in my conscience about supporting and continuing the advancement of a group like Bethel. That remains the biggest sticking point for me in this whole discussion. Let’s do a better job of supporting and encouraging those who are doing theologically true and biblically rich songs instead of those who are leading people away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I think each music leader needs to wrestle through all these issues on their own and come to their own conclusions, but please have a reason for why you do what you do. Don’t forget that God’s kingdom works a whole lot different than our kingdom, so let’s seek to be faithful above all!

Why We Worship Part 3

This is the third and final installment of my 4 go to Bible passages that talk about what we should do with music when we gather together. Click here for part 1. Click here for part 2.

The last passage is Colossians 3:12-17:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Doug Moo, in his commentary on this book, writes, “In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul has called on us to take a ‘heavenly’ perspective on all of life.” (273) As he continues that thought, he contrasts the things we should put to death (Col. 3:5) with what we should put on instead (10): the new self. The new self is demonstrated by putting on five things: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. All of these attributes are ways God acts toward us, so it’s only right that we act the same toward each other. Moo continues, “this new identity, while given in Christ, also much be achieved in practice.” (275) We can’t just talk about these characteristics, we must live them out. The point Paul is making is that we are called to be unified, and these virtues will “foster community identity and cohesion.” (Moo, 274) The command to be like the Lord continues, because we know that none of us are perfect, so there will be times where forgiveness needs to be extended, just like God has forgiven us.

The last virtue, that brings all the other virtues together, is love. Continuing with the clothing theme Paul uses above (put on), this is like the coat that holds everything else together. Thanks to Francis Schaeffer, we know that the mark of every Christianis to be one of love toward each other. Jesus actually says this is how we demonstrate that we’re his disciples! (John 17:21) Love is the core virtue that allows us to put on all the other virtues.

Next, we see the peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts. This peace is made possible through Jesus’ death on our behalf. We have peace with God where we were once at enmity with God (Rom. 5:10, Col. 1:21), which then allows us to have peace with each other, because apart from God’s work in our lives there is no hope for peace. That peace leads to us being one body. Then Paul throws in the random “And be thankful.” There’s a lot that he’s mentioned here that we can be thankful for! Because of what Christ has done on our behalf, we respond through thanksgiving.

Now we’re in to some things we do for music! Verse 16 begins, “Let the word of Christdwell in you richly.” This could also be translated the messageof Christ. So we’re commanded to fixate on the Bible. The themes and ideas in Scripture should be the themes and ideas of the songs we sing because the goal is to focus on Christ’s words, not ours. This is where I’ve been so thankful for a resurgence in theologically rich songs, many of which are taken straight out of Scripture! When we combine theological truths with song it makes it that much easier to remember God’s Word. Paul then goes on to talk about what we do when we sing: teach and admonish. Paul is talking about the positive and negative aspects of Christian life together. The positive is that we get to teach through what we sing, which is why we want our songs to be based in Scripture. The negative is that we have to admonish each other through what we sing. This is calling for repentance: a turning away from sin and back to Christ. Both of these are to done in all wisdom, which is personified in Christ.

Just as he does in Ephesians 5, Paul brings up 3 different kinds of songs: Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It’s worth noting that although there is mention of the content of the songs we sing, there’s nothing in Scripture that speaks to the style of songs we sing. What we’re instead commanded to focus on is our hearts and attitudes when we sing, not the style of the songs we sing. Paul also brings up, once again, that this singing is to be done with thankfulness.

This section ends where we began, with the idea that all of life is worship, the question is who, or what, are we worshipping? We’re commanded to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, thus we’re commanded to worship Christ through everything we do. Whether that be eating a snickers bar, walking, or sleeping, it’s to be done as an act of worship. When we live this way, our lives will be overwhelmingly marked by gratitude.

Why We Worship Part 2

Click here for Part 1 of this series.

The third passage I use to explain my biblical foundation for a worship ministry is Ephesians 5:15-21:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

This section takes place in a context where Paul is reminding his readers that they used to walk in darkness, but now because we are children of the Lord, we’re commanded to walk in the light, “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). That sets the tone for this section, where Paul begins with the theme from the last 2 verses I mentioned: make the best use of the time. Do you know how we do that? By worshipping every moment of every day. We are always worshipping someone or something, so let’s ensure our attentions and energies of worshipping the right One!

Paul then commands us to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” While that’s fleshed out a bit in the following sections, we know that God’s will for all of is our sanctification (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3). As John Piper has famously quipped, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” I believe that can apply to everything the church is called to do and be. Discipleship exists because worship doesn’t. Counseling exists because worship doesn’t. Small groups exists because worship doesn’t. Missional communities exists because worship doesn’t. All of our lives need to be brought under the lordship of Christ, which means all of our lives need to be brought to worship God. That’s the process of sanctification: slowly becoming more like Christ by worshipping him with more and more of our lives. Our goal and focus should be the same as John the Baptist in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is how we make “the best use of the time,” by worshipping all the time.

I’ve always loved how Paul compares worshipping to being drunk. Now, he’s saying we should NOT be drunk, but the idea remains: our worship services should have some element of exuberant joy to them, uninhibited worship of our creator and sustainer. This brings to mind the apostles in Acts 2 after they have been filled with the spirit where those watching think they’re drunk. Grant Osborne, in his commentary on Ephesians says, “When you are filled with the joy and singing, may it be that it is the Spirit – and not the spirits – at work!” (181)

We then see the outworking of being filled with the spirit: talking to each other. This is one of the reasons we sing on a Sunday morning because we’re commanded to address each other! Do you realize that every week we have this command to address each other? Every time I read this verse I think of the Sunday we introduced Not for a Moment (After All) when someone sitting in the front row was trying to adopt a baby, another couple was struggling with infertility, another couple was wrestling with cancer, and we got to remind each other that God never leaves us or forsakes us, that he is always good. It was an incredible opportunity for us as a church to come alongside those who were struggling to remind them of the truths we believe. This is the horizonal component to our singing.

Paul goes on to share how we should address one another: in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. There seems to be a trend recently, at least in reformed circles, to advocate for exclusive psalmnody, which goes contrary to this verse! Yes, I do believe we should be singing and reading Psalms because they’re the only inerrant and authoritative songs we have, but we’re not limited to just Psalms! Again, Grant Osborne helpfully states, “’hymns’ would have been less formal, probably written more recently, and sung regularly in services… ‘spiritual songs’ likely refers to spontaneous, charismatic singing that emanated from the Spirit’s leading” (182-3). I’ve been encouraging my leaders to being thinking through how we can incorporate more of these “spiritual songs” into our corporate gatherings and are still trying to work out how it all works while still being faithful to Scripture and the planning that takes places earlier in the week! The point remains the same: we can and should use a wide variety of songs from a wide variety of styles and from a wide variety of times (both historical and brand new) to remind our people of the truths of the gospel. And all these songs are an opportunity to reinforce the truths that we claim to believe. As Gordon D. Fee has said, “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.” I’ve said that most people won’t leave church humming the sermon, but many of them will leave humming the song we just sang: therefore let’s use music to reinforce the theme of the message!

We then get to the vertical component of singing: “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” There is both a horizontal and vertical component to our corporate worship that we must not miss. We sing “to the Lord” but also “address one another.” That’s why we sing out loud and why I encourage people to sing loudly so that those around them can be reminded of the truths that we believe. And the way we do this is with thankfulness. Paul says we should be thankful always and for everything because it’s all an undeserved gift from God. The fact that we can use melodies to easily remember truths about who God is should drive us to thankfulness and be an opportunity to worship God. We also see the reminder that our worship is done through 1 mediator: the God-man Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews says it this way, “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” One common refrain worship pastors get is “thank you for leading us into God’s presence.” And our correct response is, “I can’t! But I know the one who can!”

The last thing these verses remind us is that even music should not be about our preferences because we’re called to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Music seems to be one of the most contentious issues in the church because everyone has their own preferences about styles and songs that they like. The problem is when people bring those preferences into the corporate gathering. There are songs that we sing at church pretty much every week that I don’t like. And I pick the songs! The reason we continue to sing them is because they’re good songs that remind of biblical truths that are easy to sing and remember throughout the week, and at the end of the day the corporate singing isn’t about what I want, but what I need. What we should be looking for on a Sunday morning is edification, not necessarily enjoyment. Just because a song is more difficult for me to use as an opportunity to worship doesn’t mean we should stop singing it, because we’re commanded to not consider our own interests as better than those around us. So me singing a song I don’t like for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Christ is actually an opportunity for me to better worship because it’s taking the focus off myself. I also have 6.5 other days where I can listen to any music I want that I find easy to use as an opportunity to worship, it’s helpful for me to be reminded of music I don’t like but helps me take the focus off myself and onto God and those around me. At the end of the day, that should be our goal as Christians, to have the same mind that Christ had, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself. We too can humble ourselves to encourage one another to pursue Christ through what we sing.

Why We Worship

This post will be the first of 3 posts that will looking at what the Bible says about the goal of our worship, how we should worship, and provide a foundation upon which we can build the rest of our theology of worship.

The first point for all of us to remember is:

Worship is a lifestyle, not a genre of music.

There are 2 passages that helpfully explain this idea: 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Romans 12:1.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

The point in 1 Corinthians is that our entire lives should be lived to bring God glory. That is the purpose of worship, ascribing worth, honor and glory to someone. So when we worship God is is supposed to be done with the entirety of our lives. Even eating and drinking are to be done as an act of worship to God! Does that change the way you approach eating? A number of years ago I was at a conference where Francis Chan was speaking and he was speaking on this verse and proceeded to demonstrate how to eat a Snickers bar to the glory of God. Even eating a candy bar is an opportunity to worship!

The thing is, as we go throughout our lives we are all actively worshipping something. Some of us when we eat a Snickers bar are worshipping the Snickers bar itself! By remembering that any and everything we do is an opportunity to worship, we are able to glorify and honor God, which is why worship is a lifestyle.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1

In Romans, Paul reminds us that God already owns those of us who are believers, thus we are commanded to offer our bodies as a “living sacrifice.” Have you ever thought of the irony of that statement? How can a sacrifice – something that is killed to be offered up – be living? The living reminds us of the Christian state, where we who were once dead in our trespasses and sins are now alive together with Christ. Yet that’s not the only description Paul uses, because he also says we are to be “holy and acceptable to God.” Because of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf, we are covered by God’s mercy and grace, actually allowing us to be holy, just like God is holy (1 Peter 1:16) and thus acceptable to God. Tom Schreiner, in his recently released commentary on Romans, sums up this verse by saying:

“The worship described does not relate to public assemblies but to the yielding of one’s whole life to God in the concrete reality of everyday existence.” (Schreiner, 628)

Because God has saved us by sending his one and only son into the world to bear the penalty for our sins, we can now rightly respond by worshipping him through everything we do in our lives. However, there is something unique that happens when God’s people gather together, as we’re commanded to do throughout Scripture, so in the following weeks we’ll be looking at 2 other passages that flesh out what we’re called to do when we gather as God’s people.

Part 2.

Resources for Worship Teams

One thing I’ve been asked through my years in ministry is what are some good resources for those who are feeling called to oversee or help out in a worship ministry? So here’s a list of the best resources I’ve found, I’ve ordered them in the order of significance I’ve found them to be:

Books

Engaging with God by David Peterson. This book should be on every pastor’s shelf, not just the shelf of a worship pastor. Peterson’s premise, as stated in the introduction, is “the worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” This book is a meaty book looking at how God is worshipping in the Old and New Testaments and then how we should apply those things to our worship today.
Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin. I’ll read and recommend pretty much everything he’s done! This book gives a great theological base while tying it to the practical elements of what a worship leader is called to do.
True Worshippers by Bob Kauflin. This is a follow up to Worship Matters, and is aimed at the congregation. Helpful for a worship pastor to think through what he should expect of the congregation.
The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks. Each chapter is a different area the worship pastor at least needs to be aware of and thinking through on a regular basis. If you’re interested, the list is: The worship pastor as…. Church lover, corporate mystic, doxological philosopher, disciple maker, prayer leader, theological dietician, war general, watchful prophet, missionary, artist chaplain, caregiver, mortician, emotional shepherd, liturgical architect, curator, tour guide, failure.
Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. Similarly to Rhythms of Grace (see below), Chapell takes it to the New Testament to present and how the various elements of church services through history have all attempted to be demonstrations of the gospel message.
Doxology & Theology edited by Matt Boswell. A number of worship pastors across the country contributed to this one, but it addresses how doxology and theology are two sides of the same coin. If our theology (study and understanding of God and who He is) does not affect and allow our doxology (praise of God) to become deeper and richer then it’s useless.
Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper. Cosper walks through the Bible and how the story of the Bible should shape our worship services.
Worship By the Book edited by D.A. Carson. This is an older one, but gives 3 ideas about how to structure a worship service, from high church to low church.
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. Smith is a philosopher at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, this is one of a three part series where he directs the cultural liturgies of our day and shows how those affect us, and also how we should be intentional with our worship liturgies because we are shaped and formed by that which we most love.
The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. This one should be read by every worship pastor! It’s a classic that talks about the need for both emotions and intellect in our worship (loving God with our heart, mind, soul and strength)
Gather God’s People by Brian Croft and Jason Adkins. I just read this one, it adheres pretty closely to the regulative principle (in a church service, we can only do that which is specifically described in Scripture), and I don’t agree with their idea of singing “Psalms,” (as in Ephesians 5:19, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs), but they’ve got some great things to think about as far as what the Bible actually tells us about how we should corporately worship.
Reformation Worship by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey. I just started this one after getting a recommendation from Mark Dever at T4G. It’s already given me some great nuggets anythings to think through and about. They take a look at some various church liturgies from 1523-1586, with some comments and updated translations. So this includes liturgies from Calvin, Knox, Luther, Cranmer and many others. I realize it’s a hefty book, and very expensive, but from my just starting it, it looks like it will be a really helpful resource.
Psalms 1-72, Psalms 73-150. The Psalms should be a regular part of the diet of a worship leader! They helpfully give us a context and phrasing to worship God with all our emotions, and we’re commanded to sing them in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5! These are some incredibly helpful commentaries to help you dig in to the Psalms and apply them to your local context.
The Worship Sourcebook. This is a resource put out by the Calvin Institue of Christian Worship and has more resources than you could think of! Scripture readings, prayers, confessions, creeds, as well as outlines of full service orders you can use. This is helpful to have a foundation of historical truths that you can incorporate into your services to remind people of the breadth of our historical faith.
Every Moment Holy. This is put out by the Rabbit Room (founded in part by Andrew Peterson) which has liturgies for you to recite and pray through throughout your day. There’s one in there that’s titled ‘Before Taking the Stage’ that’s helpful for every music team about to lead people in singing!
The Book of Common Prayer. I realize this is an Anglican resource, but is another helpful thing to have on hand as you look through the ways the church has planned various services throughout history. Plus, Thomas Cranmer knew his stuff!
Online Resources:
-Bob Kauflin blogs at Worship Matters regularly.
Doxology and Theology. This started as the book, it’s the worship branch of The Gospel Coalition. They also do a conference regularly.
The Institute for Biblical Worship. While the D&T site has been a bit sparse with content, much of it has been moved here with more content coming regularly, and a conference coming up this spring!
Worthily Magnify. This is by a worship pastor name Jamie Brown. He’s at an Anglican Church, and I don’t agree with everything he writes, but it’s often some good stuff to think about.
Worship Matters Video Intensive. I waited YEARS for him to do this! I’m currently taking my leaders at church through this, it’s Bob walking through his book in a video format, with discussion questions.
The Worship Initiative. This might be the most helpful thing to come out in the past few years! They’ve got devotionals, training with instruments, walkthroughs of a ton of songs, and they release new content regularly so it’s totally worth having access to it!
I’m always looking for new books or resources for us to use that are helpful for us to think biblically and theologically about how we craft our worship services, but this list will keep you busy for quite a few months, and give you many good ideas about how to better plan and structure our corporate worship services.
EDIT: Last updated October 19, 2020.