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!