Should We Use Bethel Songs in Worship? 4 Diagnostic Questions by Todd Wagner for The Gospel Coalition
At Watermark Community Church in Dallas, where I’m privileged to serve as pastor, there’s a sign in a back room that I made when teaching through 2 Peter:
Divine Physician’s General Warning:
Ingesting false teaching will complicate your life, possibly eternally. Examine the Scriptures to see if the things you hear are true.
Here’s the obvious message: Evaluate everything against God’s Word, which includes both the teaching we hear and also the lyrics we sing in corporate worship.
This discipline is especially relevant today, given the popularity of songs from Bethel Music and the increasing concerns over Bethel’s theology, practices, leadership, teachings, and school of “supernatural ministry.” Given that we should “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), it’s worth asking whether churches concerned with orthodoxy should sing songs associated with individuals or organizations with a history of errant beliefs or practices.
Not a New Issue
For generations Christians have embraced truth-filled hymns composed by authors who have held to unsupportable beliefs or who have fallen away from the faith. Here are just three examples.
- “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” penned by reformer Martin Luther, who wrote the 95 Theses that rightly protested corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and set off the Protestant Reformation, but who also wrote The Jews and Their Lies and On the Ineffable Name, which were rooted in hostility and horrific views toward Jews. (See Bernard Howard’s article, “Luther’s Jewish Problem.”)
- “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” written in 1757 by Methodist preacher Robert Robinson, who later fulfilled the “prone to wander” line by drifting away from the faith.
- “It Is Well with My Soul,” written by Horatio Gates Spafford after he lost his four children in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre in November 1873. While his most famous work is this anthem to the truth of God’s sovereignty, his teachings on eternal punishment and the Holy Spirit were at best ill-informed, and at worst heretical.
So, should songs that strongly proclaim the truth of God’s Word no longer be used in corporate worship given other errant beliefs or practices by the authors or associated churches?
Here are four questions that might help when assessing whether a song, book, or any form of communication should be used.
1. Are you examining everything you consume (sermons, books, music, movies) through the lens of God’s Word?
It’s important that all believers are equipped with Scripture so they may accurately discern (1 John 4:1–3) whether a sermon, song, book, website, or other media aligns with Scripture and the Spirit. Every believer should be equipped to discern truth from error and live in fellowship with mature believers who hold them accountable in their discerning (Prov. 15:22).