Can we sing songs by Hillsong, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture and Elevation Worship? I find that much of what their worship leaders teach contradicts the Bible. It feels wrong to continue listening to their songs as it would only encourage them — yet they have some very popular songs that so many love. What are your thoughts on how Christians should deal with this?
When we speak of worship, the first things that come to the mind of many Christians are music and singing. However, when the Bible speaks of worship, it speaks of it in two ways: the wide and narrow. In the wide sense, every human worships. We either worship the God of the Bible or the god of our making.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul commands the church in Rome to offer their lives as a living sacrifice unto God. He says this is true spiritual worship.
“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
He further goes on to give them more commands which help towards offering their bodies and lives as spiritual worship.
In this article, we will focus more narrowly on one element of corporate worship: singing. Songs are an important part of corporate worship and the Bible commands us to sing. The Psalms are a clear example of songs composed to God.
Paul to the church in Ephesus commands them to address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and to sing and make melody to the Lord.
“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.” Ephesians 5:17-20
Here, we see that though the singing in corporate worship is mutually beneficial, the object of corporate worship is nonetheless God and Him alone.
Ephesians 5 demonstrates that the object of singing in corporate worship is God and God alone
Let us also consider where Paul writes to the church in Colossae in Colossians 3:16:
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.
Here, Paul commands the church to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and one of the ways they are to do this is through “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. Again, we see the object of their worship is God. We also learn another aspect of songs. The church was to use it in teaching and admonishing.
Singing is mentioned many more times in the New Testament. We see it when the Apostles were in prison and when Christians rejoiced and sang “to God”.
So, if our object of worship is God, then our singing as Scripture commands must be directed towards Him and must be about Him. Some may argue that spiritual songs mean songs written by a Spirit-led Christian. Indeed, true Spirit-led songs are in agreement to Biblical teachings and Paul would agree we are to sing Spirit-inspired songs.
It is important to note, however, that those songs which are inspired by the Holy Spirit will be saturated with sound doctrine. This brings us back to the original question asked.
Too often, in what is billed as contemporary Christian music, songs are not directed to God, but have man in the centre with an aim of emotional appeal. While Hillsong may have a mix of good and bad songs, we cannot say the same of Jesus Culture or Bethel Music. The latter two movements have deeper theological root issues.
Songs that are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit will be saturated with sound doctrine
A good example of a man-centred song would be What A Beautiful Name by Hillsong. While most of the song sounds fine and has good theology at the start, the third stanza is where the song breaks down. In the lyrics “You didn’t want heaven without us/ So, Jesus, You brought heaven down”, we hear a needy god and an overly important man.
There was no void in the Trinity before man was created. It is the glorious God who willingly wanted to show His love to man and, therefore, created man to worship Him. This song, and many others like it, do not address sin, the fallenness of man or the wrath of God to come — the main reasons why man must be saved.
A regular theology of such songs creates a weak god and obscures man’s view of sin and the holiness of God! Furthermore, an intake of theology that speaks only of what man will do or what he wants to do will create a works-based Christian who looks too much at himself and tries to be right — rather than one who looks to the righteousness of Christ.
As we saw before in Colossians 3:16, songs are designed not only for emotional enrichment — but to teach us, so that the whole man will be built up.
Then, there are those songs that move from being unhealthy to completely unbiblical. Take Hillsong’s So Will I (100 Billion X). There is a lot of good sound doctrine in this song, but mixed with errors. Theistic evolution is one concept encouraged in the song.
And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
When the author of the song Joel Timothy Houston, son of Brian Houston, tweeted about it in June 2018, he made it clear that he did indeed affirm theistic evolution. The Bible teaches that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Further, in Genesis 1, everything was created “according to their kind”. This phrase is repeated 11 times throughout the chapter.
Songs with poor theology create a weak god and obscure man’s view of sin and the holiness of God
Another line in the song seems to be emotionally appealing, but is, in fact, biblically wrong.
Every precious one, a child You died to save
And if You gave Your life to love them so will I
Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire?
The Bible is clear that Christ does not need to die again and again. Rather than uplifting His once-for-all perfect atonement to save every person elected to be saved through all ages, the song appeals to emotion instead — and ends up promoting false doctrine.
Scripture says in Romans 6:9-10: For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.
If Christ had to die repeatedly, His death would have been no different from that of the OT animal sacrifices. Hebrews 7:27 says: He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself. Hebrews Chapter 9 deals again with this well.
Songs with poor theology will misinform those who sing them too. Songs that teach sound truth build up the church, but songs that only cater to emotions will fail to do so. Such a church will be stuck on milk and never mature in their faith, like the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:2).
Churches that sing songs not based on sound truth will be stuck on milk and never mature in their faith
Another example of a song that has wrong Christology is Glory To Glory by Bethel Music.
Created from dust
You came and You lived among us
You took on our frame
You walked in our pain
And now You’re taking us higher
Right at the beginning of the song, we observe a heresy! Perhaps the author’s intention was to liken Jesus to us and demonstrate His humility. But we cannot overlook this flawed theology.
The Athanasius Creed written by the early church fathers had this to say about the Trinity: “The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings; there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.” The writers of this creed did not invent this theology, but found it in the very words of Scripture to counter false teachings about Christ and the Godhead.
Paul writes to the church in Colossae about Jesus saying: “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16). Christ is not a created being; rather, He was from eternity past with the Father. Through Him was all of creation brought forth.
The question then is what about many of their good songs? Especially songs that are God-exalting and have good lyrics? This brings us to the bigger problem with these movements — their theology.
Hillsong is part of the Health, Wealth and Prosperity Movement — very closely connected to the Word of Faith movement. They teach that God wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy and promise financial and physical wealth for Christians in the here and now. Brian Houston has even written a book called You Need More Money.
This is not what the Bible teaches. Yes, as Christians, in the life to come, we will be set free of sickness, pain, suffering and everything else that has been affected as a result of the Fall. However, the Bible is clear that “in this world, [we] will have trouble” (John 16:33b).
Elevation Music is part of Stephen Furtick’s movement, which ranges from seeker-friendly teaching to heresy. Stephen Furtick’s preaching is mostly motivational but unbiblical, without Christ at the centre of the sermons. In his sermons, he clearly teaches Modalism, a teaching which denies the Trinity. He is also part of the Word of Faith Movement and affirms many false teachers and prosperity gospel teachers.
Bethel Music and Jesus Culture are from the same movement, which is plagued with heresies. One of them is kenosis, which teaches that Jesus set aside his divinity, choosing instead to live just as a man, completely dependent on God.
Another false teaching that is practised is that of grave soaking/sucking. Bill Johnson teaches about this in his book, The Physics of Heaven. There is much more that one can write, but these few examples show why they are false movements.
All of them use their music for a purpose. They direct people to listen to their teaching and draw the crowd into their false teachings: to manipulate the senses and to bypass all intellectual barriers so as not to think rationally about God and the Bible.
All these movements use their music to manipulate the senses, so as not to think rationally about God and the Bible
Jesus Himself warns of false teachers in Matthew 7:15-20 and Matthew 24:24: “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul warns the church, saying:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
He further rebukes the church in 2 Corinthians 11:4, 13-14:
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ… And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
John tells us what to do with them:
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 2 John 1: 9-11
Since God’s Word is clear, we must follow it and not receive their teachings into our churches. Some of us may be sound and can pick and choose songs that may be right from these teachers — but our freedom should not allow others to stumble. Personally, I believe, when the Word of God says not to have anything to do with them, we would be directly going against God’s word to do otherwise.
I would add that if you listen to their music and buy it, you are financially contributing to the growth of these false movements.
Finally, Christians throughout history have embraced truth-filled songs composed by authors who have held unsupportable beliefs or who have fallen away from the faith. These are those from church history who were sound, but later left the faith or went away into false teachings. What do we do with them?
Some of us may be sound and can pick and choose songs that may be right — but our freedom should not allow others to stumble
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing was written in 1757 by Methodist preacher Robert Robinson, who later drifted away from the faith. It Is Well with My Soul was written by Horatio Gates Spafford, after he lost his four children in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre in November 1873. His teachings on eternal punishment and the Holy Spirit were at best ill-informed; 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?
When we look at the times in which these men wrote these songs they were not affirming false teachings. Also, there are secondary issues in Christianity that believers can disagree on. For example, Christians can differ on their view of the end times. But, on core doctrines — such as who God is, His nature, the Trinity, the gospel, the divinity of Christ, inerrancy of Scripture — if a supposed Christian were to believe differently, he is worshipping a different god and not the God of the Bible.
Let us be encouraged that God protects His church and there are many sound worship artists that encourage Christians and bring glory to God, equipping the church through their music. Let us seek to sing songs that are gospel-saturated, so that the church will worship in spirit and truth. This will be beneficial to unbelievers who visit the church too, as they will be convicted with the truth of God’s Word.
God’s Word commands us to sing the Psalms. I would encourage Christians to learn them — and make use of God’s heavenly songbook for the church!
A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.