Perhaps you have seen an article that appeared online recently in which Mackenzie Morgan, cult leader at Refine Church in Lascassas, Tennessee, announced that she and her church would no longer be singing songs from Bethel Church in Calif. Hillsong Church in Australia.
After reviewing some of the teachings of Bethel and Hillsong, she concluded that singing any song that originated or was composed by someone from either of these churches was dangerous.
Morgan insists that when it comes to corporate singing in church, “theology matters.” “It matters,” she said, “if a song is weak in theology and does not accurately show the holiness of our God. I couldn’t agree more.
Here in my church, Bridgeway, we are very careful never to sing about error. If a song is in some way incompatible with the scriptures, we don’t sing it no matter who wrote it or how much we would love the melody.
Morgan is also embarrassed that by singing the songs of Bethel and Hillsong they are paid “royalties”. And in this, we tacitly subsidize and disseminate “their false evangelical message”.
She continues, “What if the majority of the church leads its people astray by singing music less than worthy of a Sovereign and Holy God? Would God be happy with the lights? With the smoke machines? With the obsession with the hands in the air and the “response” of the crowd? With loud worship nights singing songs he doesn’t approve of?
So let me speak officially in this regard. I don’t like the strobe lights that are so often used in church worship sets. I refuse to use smoke machines. But I’m intrigued by the reference to raising your hands. Did she not read the many references in Scripture to this practice? Did she not consider the deeply symbolic and spiritual nature not only of it but of other physical postures in worship?
I’m curious: Does a person’s stiff, sculptural posture, with hands firmly at side or tucked into pockets, honor God more than those who are high in praise?
Rest assured of this. In no way do I endorse or condone the scandals that have rocked Hillsong in recent days. I in no way endorse certain methods of ministry used in various churches that artificially arouse emotions as an end in themselves or manipulate people into behaviors or experiences that lack Biblical sanction. Every church, whether Bethel, Hillsong, or Bridgeway (including Refine Church in Tennessee), must work more vigorously to tie our teachings and practices to the inspired Word of God.
But let’s get right to the point. Because this lady believes that some of what Bethel and Hillsong teach is not biblical, no other church should use the music composed or sung there. She also insists that we should “read the doctrine of their church and see what they preach, teach, and believe. But don’t stop there. Don’t compare it to your traditions or to what you think is right. Compare it with the Scripture. Scripture is the ultimate authority. Not me, not your pastor, not the world, only God. There are no gray areas in the Word of God.
So I just did that. Bethel’s Declaration of Faith is deeply evangelical and Orthodox, and conforms to the historic creeds of Christianity. They affirm the Trinity, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus Christ, his substitute death on the cross, his bodily resurrection, and his ascension to heaven.
They further state that we are saved by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus. Bethel was at one time affiliated with the Assemblies of God, yet their statement on the issue of the baptism of the Spirit differs from that denomination’s point of view.
This is what they say: “The baptism of the Holy Spirit, according to Acts 1: 4-8 and 2: 4, is poured out on believers so that they may have the power of God to be his witnesses.
Nothing is said about speaking in tongues being the initial physical proof of the baptism of the Spirit. They seem to believe that this experience is separate and subsequent to conversion, but even then the language is a bit ambiguous. And let us not forget that while I and many evangelical charismatics believe that baptism in the Spirit occurs simultaneously with conversion, the doctrine of the “separate and subsequent” has been and still is adopted by many Christian denominations in the world. Pentecostal world, and is ably (albeit if not persuasively) championed by countless Bible scholars who minister in this tradition. We may disagree with their point of view on this point, but it is a very secondary doctrine, perhaps even tertiary. It’s hardly a hill to die on.
I am bewildered by how or on what basis Morgan accuses them of preaching a “false gospel”. They preach salvation by grace alone in Christ alone by faith alone. They tie their hope of eternal life to trust in the sinless life, sacrificial and atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Now, are there certain other ministry practices adopted by Bethel that I find questionable and without explicit biblical support? Yes. But that doesn’t make them heretics or worthy of cynical disdain. If Bethel’s reviews spent more time praying for them than writing hypercritical reviews, perhaps such practices would diminish over time.
Morgan says she will not sing songs that are not “fit for a sovereign and holy God.” Good for her. I am okay. And I hope you will never sing such songs either. But I challenge anyone to take a close look at the lyrics of these songs, which were all composed by someone in Bethel or Hillsong or related to them in close friendship or some other ministerial alliance, and tell me that they are dangerous. , unbiblical or not worthy of who God is and what he has done.
Here is a small sample:
“Goodness of God”
“King of Kings”
“O Praise the Name! “
“Worthy is the lamb”
“For the Cross”
I’m going to record and say that God is deeply honored and exalted by each of these songs.
“Oh, but Sam. We disagree with some of their secondary doctrines. Won’t our singing of these songs communicate to the people that we approve of what some in their churches believe? And we have to pay royalties to sing these songs. Are we not helping to propagate their mistakes? “
No. I beg you: don’t let canceled culture come to church! You may differ from Bethel and Hillsong in some (perhaps more) of their ministry practices. Me too. But we’ll sing with these people around the throne of the Lamb for all eternity. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Surely you are not ready to denounce them as unregenerated, unbelievers because they do not keep all the doctrines that you embrace.
What about Morgan’s concern that by singing the songs of Bethel and Hillsong, we were paying these churches royalties? Well, let me ask Morgan and the rest a question or two.
Where will you draw the line on where and to whom will you allow your money to go?
Should I throw out all the books in my library that were written by Jewish scholars because they reject Jesus as the Messiah? You refused to shop at Kroger and Target because they are decidedly pro-LGBT? Do you carefully avoid buying gasoline for your car at stations that source their products from the oil companies that fund Planned Parenthood?
Did you stop singing “A Mighty Fortress is our God” because its author, Martin Luther, made horrible anti-Semitic statements in his later years?
Should we refuse to sing “It is Well with My Soul” because the writer of his lyrics, Horatio Spafford, ultimately denied the existence of hell, asserted universalism and purgatory, and surrendered guilty of multiple cases of fraudulent financial transactions?
By no means do I far endorse the mistakes of all of those I have just mentioned, but refuse to sing entirely biblical worship songs that they have written, lest we somehow be tainted or tainted in doing so is both impractical and absurd, and will only lead to a legalistic and Pharisaic local church culture. You’ll end up locked in your own echo chamber, secluded and lonely, proudly congratulating yourself on being among the rest who “get it right”.
For my part, I will instead continue to remain strictly biblical in what I preach and how I sing, but will do so without lambasting or nullifying other Christians who find themselves at odds with me on a side issue or style of ministry.
Sam Storms is Senior Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was previously Visiting Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and blogs regularly on SamStorms. org.