My feelings of inadequacy when it comes to writing are absolutely enormous, especially as I have not written in so long. Why have I kept silent? Writer’s block? Busy life? No inspiration? The answer has many layers – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I will get into these in more detail.
What is this post about?
This post isn’t meant to spark a theological debate or encourage a lot of fruitless back and forth arguing beween Christians. Yes, I will talk a little bit about the decision I made regarding certain contemporary “Christian” worship music bands as I attempt to expose (on a superficial level) some of their heretical teachings. But, that is not the main goal of this post. The timing of my decision coincides with this point in my journey where I decided that “enough was enough!”, a point where I believe God is calling me to open up about my struggles and not be completely terrified to do so because “His grace is sufficient”.
This post is the prayer request I never had the courage to share when things got tough. It is the newsletter I have been too ashamed to write. It is my apology to those whom I have offended or whose counsel I have ignored. It is my “coming out” of a dark, lonely cage where I have waited in silence and apathy, thinking that after a time it would all “just pass”. It is my letting go of the burdens I have carried all on my own and my laying them down at the feet of Jesus. It is my reclaiming freedom and re-finding hope and deliverance that come from godly sorrow and repentance. With God’s help, this post will be the first step towards getting back on the track I was always intended to walk and live a life of joyful obedience, contentment and godliness again.
And it begins with cleaning up all my worship playlists.
It didn’t happen overnight
As someone with a rather complex personality type who has a tendency to overanalyse, introspect and “feel” things deeply, who has the (unfortunate?) unintentional ability to switch from extrovert to introvert many times a day, and who has a bit of ADHD, I have often struggled to manage my thoughts and emotions. It’s not that I am “emotional” in the visible sense, but I do feel things deeply (positive and negative) and think deep thoughts; I also dream long, multiple and complex dreams pretty much every single night. My brain is a 24/7 factory. It’s exhausting!
Now, as a Christian, I’ve prayed countless prayers for help that my emotions wouldn’t cloud my judgement, that I wouldn’t get lost in my thoughts or let them wander in weird places but that instead they would be “taken captive” by Christ (not talking about mind control here, but for my thoughts to be aligned with biblical standards). I wish I hadn’t stopped praying that prayer a few years ago and I’ll explain why in a bit.
Culture shock, depression and discouragement
About 7 years ago, I moved back to my birth country after spending 8 years abroad. Those 8 years were the most formative years of my life both as a person and as a Christian. Coming back was a real shock, and it was brutal. After my first 6 months as a 31 year-old Bible college student I became clinically depressed in all the worst ways I could’ve imagined, and it is really through the relentless support of my Christian community and by God’s grace that I was pulled out of that dark, dark well I had found myself in. The road to recovery was long but didn’t feel unsurmountable. Unfortunately, even after the worst of it was gone, I still couldn’t focus in class and had to drop out entirely and move out of my campus flat. I accepted it as God’s will even if I was a little confused (what was the point in me coming back then??). I was still fragile emotionally and mentally, though not a danger to myself or anyone, even more so now that I was about to lose a wonderful support system. If I have to be honest, and this is the whole point of this post: I haven’t been very “happy” since that move nor have I been the best, godliest version of myself. Don’t get me wrong. Those last 4,5 years I have known joy, friendship, providence, kindness, God’s goodness, his mercy and the Spirit’s gracious prompting and wisdom as regards to marriage prospects. But I have also lost friendships, known bitter disappointment, experienced chronic illness, been in financial debt and felt so discouraged that I gave up on looking for yet another church. Trying to adjust to my new, unwanted circumstances, and learning to be content whatever my situation has not been a smooth ride. You could say I was– and to some extent still am–in a shaky place.
Why am I telling that story?
Simply because it is during that time (about 1,5-2 years ago) when I lost almost all motivation to seek a new church that I was perhaps at my most vulnerable. Being then churchless (and guilt ridden because of it), kind of friendless, without much Christian accountability (not from a church leader/member anyway), still fragile emotionally (post break-up), I was beyond tired. My soul was starved and my heart weary. I tried to listen to sermons, I prayed with a friend almost daily, I sought encouragement in Christian books. It is also at that time that I felt I needed to listen to more Christian music. I had in mind to create this awesome, out-of-this-world, anointed and motivational playlist that would finally help me reconnect with God and that I could carry with me all day on my phone!
It didn’t take a long search on Spotify or Youtube to come across the likes of Bethel, Jesus Culture and Hillsong (as well as United Pursuit, Housefires, Elevation Worship etc). This was a different kind of worship music style than what I had been used to. My knowledge of Hillsong was limited to “Australian” and “Mighty to Save”. As for the others, I had no idea who they were. I just kind of clicked and listened. The lyrics of songs such as Oceans (Hillsong) felt nebulous at best and I remember getting genuinely annoyed by the lack of enunciation (!), and Kim Walker (Jesus Culture)’s little laughter outburts in between sentences creeped me out (why are you laughing??). Totally unaware at the time of the controversies surrounding the leaders of such movements, I thought that oh, maybe I was being close-minded and needed to try again. During my most formative years as a believer, I was mostly “raised” Baptist, not the strict kind but let’s say there was hardly any jumping around or cackling involved. So at first I was a bit hesitant as I watched clips of those people on stage and all their theatricals. But I thought, “must be the Spirit”; also if King David could take off his clothes and dance before God as an act of worship, maybe these guys aren’t so bad, I mean, at least they’re fully clothed!
What happened there was me basically shrugging off the Spirit’s promptings. After a while I stopped hearing all the weirdness. I really got into Bethel music and the new Hillsong stuff. I shared the songs with friends and on Instagram on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure some of those lyrics are in my diary somewhere. Some of them are still very much in my head even as I type – the result of my abandoning the command to make every thought captive to Christ. The worst part is that those songs, which were quite “addictive”, became my daily bread. They replaced my bible readings, my bible journalling, my prayer times with God (because singing is like praying with music, right?) and filled me with so many “feels” and “woo!”s that I felt FULL. Full of wonder, full of praise, full of YAY… But not fully excited about sharing the gospel with my mother or getting my butt back into a church pew where it belongs at least once a week.
It is quite astonishing, now that God has opened my eyes to the truth behind the charismaniac/NAR/IHOP movements, I can hear all the weirdness again and no, I can no longer sing of the supposedly “reckless” love of God”. (??)
So what’s wrong with Bethel music & co?
Of course, those songs are not the only culprits in my story. I willingly engaged with them. I sought the YAYs, the adrenaline, the “experience”. I did not bother to look up Bethel’s doctrinal statements (I did Hillsong’s and thought they were ok although I didn’t know they embraced the Word of Faith movement back then). I did not care to properly check if the lyrics were sound. I do not blame them entirely for my lack of perseverance, obedience and self-control. I take responsibility for turning those songs into idols (clearly I need to read Tim Keller’s ‘Counterfeit Gods’ a third time!!) and I repent of that before God. Yet, do bear in mind that I was in a very vulnerable spot, desperate to reconnect with God. I needed to be reminded of the gospel and sadly, pretty much all of those songs, just like their church leaders and teachings and programs, happily and abundantly provided the exact opposite. How many people today are filling their heads with all those lyrical vagueries? How many are so filled with the “experience” from those songs, so “drunk” in emotionalism that they go on to neglecting their Bible reading and prayer time with God? My guess is many, too many.
But my problem with church movements such as Bethel, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, IHOP, NARs & others is not just the songs themselves, it’s that they do not use music to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. They produce music that promotes emotionalism–a personal, temporary “spiritual experience” (a “high” or “rush” of sorts). They want to impress with vocal and musical prowess to the detriment of sound doctrine. God is all love and friendliness. There is no fear of the Lord. John Piper said: “There’s a thread of teaching in some songs today that seems to me to lack the gravity of God’s passion for his glory above all else.” I agree and think this definitely applies to the churches I am exposing in this post. The songs they sing are very man-centred, they are more about us and how God wants us, loves us, knows us, will come after us, wants to see us through, is jealous for us, and err, gives us his whole heart (isn’t it the other way around??) than about his glory, holiness and our need to repent of our sins.
Now, of course, Bethel singers and musicians have talent. Taya’s voice is great. The beats are good and the tunes lively. And yes, there are a few unicorn songs here and there that aren’t so bad (and that I’ll probably be humming for a while), but if you look at the majority of their songs there is very little Bible in them and when there is, it’s weirdly put or distorted or super vague or simply downright heretical.
Let’s look at a few of those songs:
– Fix your eyes on this one truth: God is madly in love with you (Hillsong). “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God”. Children, not love partners. God is not mad and he is not in love with you. This isn’t a truth, but a lie.
– Come now, leave your inhibitions at the door, are you ready? (Hillsong) Come where: to church, to Jesus, to the party? Ready for what? This is not a clear message. Also, “leaving your inhibitions at the door”- what do they mean? This is both vague and suggestive language.
– Your love has ravished my heart, it’s taken me over, taken me over (Bethel). More suggestive language. God does not “ravish” the hearts of His followers. Neither does he take them over, taking away their will and making them do things they have no control over. The fruit of the spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23) and the gathering of the saints is one of order, not disorder (1 Cor. 14:33).
– Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control. I want more of you God (Housefires). Again, we see this obession with uncontrollable things entering people’s souls or hearts, which is very typical of Third Wave. God’s fire, assuming they mean Spirit here, is not out of control. Also, asking God for “more” has become a popular, patent disregard to the fact the Christ gave his ALL already on Calvary.
– From the rooftops I proclaim: I am yours! (Jesus Culture) Apparently we aren’t to proclaim the gospel but how we feel about God. Another egocentric song where we don’t learn anything, except that Kim Walker likes to shout.
– Waiting for change to come, Knowing the battle’s won, for You have never failed me yet (Elevation Worship). If you can get past the typical, intentional use of vague language so that the audience can fill in the blanks (What change? What battle?), the use of the word “yet” is just plain wrong no matter which way we look at it. So, God won’t fail us until… he does? The bible promises us that God will never leave or forsake his people. They do take out “yet” once at the very end but the yet line is sung and repeated all throughout the song, enough to confuse people, both Christians and outsiders. A song not written for evangelistic purposes and sowing seeds of confusion.
– You didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought Heaven down. (Hillsong) To quote John Piper, “It fits too easily into a theology of a God who created because he was lonely, and then saved people for the same reason. He just can’t be happy without us.” This is not the gospel.
It can be very subtle, you see, but it’s very obvious: these are not gospel-centred songs. And it is time to speak out.
Now I kept this as last since I don’t want to elaborate too much on it, but I do want to point out a few things that are very wrong about those so-called “churches” . Sources: GotQs, TGC US , TGC AU, FTG.
- Bill Johnson, Bethel Church, Bethel Music, and Jesus Culture preach a heretical version of Christ
Blending Kenotic Theory (that Jesus emptied Himself of Deity), and shades of Arianism and mysticism. According to Johnson, Jesus “performed miracles, wonders and signs, as a man in right relationship to God, not as God.” This is pure blasphemy.
- Both Bethel and Hillsong embrace the Word of Faith movement.
*Bill Johnson’s “Jesus Christ is perfect theology,” claims that it is always God’s will to heal someone. So what happens when he doesn’t?
*From the Hillsong website: “We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.”
(apparently so do Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren…)
- They get paid royalties to keep funding their heretical cause
Each time their songs are being played at your church (or on Spotify) they get money! Through CCLI, direct downloads, or other purchase methods, even when you use the “good songs” and leave out the “bad songs,” you’re putting money in the same pockets.
- Hillsong’s Pastor Brian Houston’s promotes the prosperity gospel in his 1999 book You Need More Money, he writes that “Poverty is definitely not God’s will” (Whatever happened to Philippians 4:12 and being content even when in want?)
- Bethel churches frequently promote and teach and preach from their own bible The Passion Translation which […] abandons “all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text […]. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture”. To paraphrase someone else, it’s never good when a church decides Scripture isn’t good enough and start modifying it.
- Bethel Church claims to frequently encounter unexplained phenomena during their services and everyday lives, such as falling gold dust and “angel” feathers or seeing a “glory cloud”… I don’t think I need to check for myself but I’m pretty sure they A/C vents are full of glitter too.
- Some members of Bethel engage in the practice of “grave sucking” or “grave soaking”—lying on a person’s grave to “soak up” the deceased’s “anointing.” This is an occultic and necromantic practice. How about NO?
- Hillsong leaders exposed for their low moral standards and controversial stands: their nuanced affirmation of homosexuals, that they hold Roman Catholic masses, that they produce sleazy renditions of Silent Night during Christmas or pose a nearly naked man on stage at a women’s conference, that they defend abortion…
There is a lot more to be exposed and debated but it isn’t really my area. If you want to know more do check out those links above. You can also check out/follow Lindsay Davis’s Facebook page as well as her interview on Cultish for more info on Bethel’s heresies.
I will now leave it to each and everyone of you to continue your own research. Thank you for reading if you made it this far. Ultimately, it is God who convinces and opens eyes to evil practices. I pray that they would repent and believe in the true Jesus of the Bible! If you know someone who is in there, tempted by it, do pray for them and speak out so that they won’t fall prey to cultic deception.
As for me, I’ve still got one foot stuck in the mud, but God is faithful and I pray he would continue to show me those areas I need to give back to him. Coming across such blatant heresies against God’s word and God himself–and the thought of having been even a tiny part of it has been a wake-up call; I pray he continues to awaken me! Father, lead me to a doctrinally sound church, help me listen to Your Word and not be deceived! Amen.
Disclaimer: I do not believe it is a sin to listen to Bethel or Hillsong music that has “sound” lyrics (using the term loosely). If you choose to listen to them or play them at your church, that is your decision, no judging. Many beloved hymns such as “It is Well” were written by people who later wandered from the faith, so there is room for debate. However, as explained in more detail here “Promoting their [Bethel’s – but could apply to others] songs—even though the songs themselves are theologically accurate—could open others to additional messages and ideas that are errant in practice and theology.” Examine everything.