Bethel worship; prolific provider of precious prophetic poetry or profuse peddler of perfidious praise?
Is Bethel teaching a false gospel, and if so should I still play songs from Bethel church in my worship services? This is a topic I've seen come up a lot in the past couple of weeks, so let's talk about it.
This is an incredibly important question, but it's not really a new one. Recently we've seen this directed at Bethel church, but we've also seen this question posed for Hillsong worship or Elevation worship. In truth it's a question that been discussed ever since we began writing worship songs.
For this article, I will assume you are questioning Bethel's theology (which we will discuss at the end of the post), otherwise, none of this is relevant to you.
I'm will also assume that we've looked at the lyrics of the song and the song itself is theologically sound, because if the lyrics of the song itself aren't theologically sound, this whole thing doesn't matter, you shouldn't be playing the song no matter who wrote it. We don't need to consider who wrote it, just throw that out the window... get rid of it... just get rid of it.
If the lyrics to the song itself are theologically sound, then we have two primary concerns when deciding whether or not to use songs from this source at all.
1. Do we want to financially support this ministry by using their songs?
Depending on how much you use their songs, it might be a lot of financial support or it may be barely any. But if you're playing these songs legally in your services, that church or ministry will get royalties from; anytime you listen to one of their songs in a streaming service, anytime you listen to the YouTube video, and anytime you download their chord charts from CCLI or report that you've used them on CCLI.
2. Are we endorsing that ministry to our church?
Now you're probably not standing up and declaring the glories of Bethel at your church services (at least I really hope you're not doing that.) But people who hear the song in your service might see it as a kind of subconscious endorsement that that church is okay, that church is theologically copacetic with your church. Then they might seek out things from that church, Bible studies, teachings, sermons, et cetera.
These two concerns are also why it's different when we talk about these modern ministries as opposed to old hymn writers we might take issue with. Those old hymn writers are probably long gone, so they aren't really financially benefiting from you using their songs, and your financial support isn't going to continue a ministry that you find heretical. Secondly, when people in your congregation are scrolling through iTunes, looking on YouTube, or walking through a Christian bookstore, they're probably not going to see a whole lot of things from “Haratio Spafford ministries”, but there will be Bethel everywhere. There will be sermons, Bible studies, music, devotions. Bethel even has their own incredibly bad translation of the Bible.
I don't want to simplify this too much. I know it is a complicated issue, but put simply:
If you believe Bethel teaches a false gospel and you do not want to financially support them, don't play Bethel songs.
If you think Bethel preaches a false gospel and you're not sure if your congregation is discerning enough to recognize those teachings as such, don't play Bethel songs.
It’s also possible you believe Bethel teaches a false gospel but you're not worried about your congregation's ability to discern good teaching, so you don't feel the need to ban them. Or maybe you don't play Bethel songs enough to really be giving them much financial support, and again, don't find a need to outright ban those songs. And that's ok, because this is really a church to church issue.
Every church should be using songs that are theologically sound. That's not a church to church issue. What is a church to church issue is once you have those songs with sound theology, is a source which does NOT have sound theology going to effect your congregation.
Maybe you’ve decided that Bethel would be a stumbling block for your congregation, so you’ve decided not to use their songs. Now you're thinking, “Oh man, I just lost so many good songs!” Yes, you might have, you might've just lost a bunch of good songs. That's a sacrifice that you're going to have to be okay with when you do this. BUT, there are so many good worship songs right now that you do not need to compromise your convictions to keep a couple of radio hits from a single megachurch.
Where Is The Theological Line?
Aren’t all churches heretical?
There is a difference between proper gospel discernment and theological pride. If you're considering banning songs from a church that teaches Jesus was not God, that is proper gospel discernment. If you're banning songs from a church that believes in premillennialism as opposed to amillennialism, that might very well just be theological pride. Theological price thinking that you've got it right, that your church or your denomination has the correct theology and any other church who believes different, no matter how small the differences, is heretical.
A simpler way to think about this might be: If you played a song in your church and someone from your congregation decided to go visit the church from which the song came, would they learn about the same Jesus in that church that is taught in your own church? If the answer is yes, then the other differences aren't a big deal, especially when the song itself has good theology that matches your church’s own.
So, to this point….
Does Bethel Teach A False Gospel?
Officially, no. Solely based on their statement of beliefs on their website, they are not teaching a false gospel. If you read their statement of beliefs about Christ, it says:
“We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God, was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and is God’s Anointed One, empowered by the Holy Spirit to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth. He was crucified for our sins, died, was buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven, and is now alive today in the presence of God the Father and in His people. He is "true God" and "true man."”
That's not heretical.
So in their official statement of beliefs, the picture of Jesus that they present and believe is not heretical at all.
Unofficially, yes. I believe they probably are teaching a false gospel.
When you look at other things produced by Bethel, the sermons and the books by Bill Johnson, their head pastor, it starts to get a little far away from Orthodox Christology.
From Bill Johnson's book, “When Heaven Invades Earth”:
“He performed miracles, wonders, and signs as a man in right relationship to God, not as God. If he performed miracles, because he was God, they would be unattainable for us"
In this passage of his book, not just an on the whim comment, but written in a book that was proof-read (I assume) he states Jesus performed miracles not as God. It’s a little difficult to determine exactly what he means. Is he saying that Jesus wasn't God? Is he just saying that in one specific incident, Jesus uses human powers(?) to perform miracles? It sounds to me like a false gospel. At the very least the church itself seems to lift expressions of the supernatural as high or higher than salvation in Christ itself. And that is incredibly dangerous and heretical. It's idolization of the supernatural.
Now, the big question:
Have I Banned Bethel Songs From My Worship Repertoire?
No, I haven't.
That might sound strange considering what I just told you. But I vet every song very carefully for theology and not only theology, but proper emotional and supernatural focus. I want a theologically deep yet balanced song. Honestly, I don't have a lot of Bethel songs in my repertoire, probably because not a lot of them passed muster in this regard. I just have a few that I play occasionally and those I think have very good theology.
In the current context I'm in, I'm not worried about the congregation going off and becoming Bethel followers, I don't see that as an issue.
I also play them so rarely that I'm not currently worried about financially supporting Bethel. Where that line is, it's hard to say.
So, no, I do not currently ban Bethel songs from my worship services.
Do I think it's wrong to band Bethel songs or any source which we find heretical? No, not at all. The reasons above are very valid reasons to not play songs from a specific source. This is a just a framework for thinking through the theology of your worship repertoire and deciding whether or not you should play songs from sources you disagree with.
There are so many different thoughts on this. So many different styles. So many different beliefs. So many different churches that we all have a unique and important perspective on this issue. If you want to throw your proverbial hat in the ring, head over the the youtube video and leave your comments there!
Leave comments here: https://youtu.be/zKTosoAhVOs