Contemporary Worship in Truth (Not Trend)
Truth is obviously important in any act of worship as Jesus is the Truth. Jesus said in John 4:23-24: "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Jesus, unsurprisingly, is clear about worship needing to be in spirit and truth. It's obviously a necessity and something that shouldn't be taken lightly. We can't worship with just any lyrics, only true ones. We shouldn't sing songs with lyrics that aren't meaningful and sound in doctrine. We shouldn't seek music from those who aren't focused on worshipping in truth. We shouldn't choose music because it sounds good, it's the latest trend, or because it gives us chills when the right note is sung or played. It remains true that musical skills can certainly be used for His glory. After all, He created music and musicians and inspired the Psalmists! We need to worship with truthful and meaningful lyrics, singing in spirit to our God. Isn't He so worthy of this?
Unfortunately, this isn't a focus of many in our generation. It wasn't a focus of mine for too long of a time. I would never think to see where songs and lyrics were coming from. If it sounded good and it made the entire gathering sing together and "feel" it, I didn't think twice about it. It was ignorance.
Many months ago, maybe a year or so, I started learning more about the importance of worshipping in truth. Before this I had ignored anyone who spoke against some of the most popular artists and groups in worship music. Sadly, it just wasn't a big deal to me, but it's such a big deal.
Music itself isn't worship, but it is used to express worship. When it's used to worship Him in spirit and truth it's truly amazing! However, it's still really easy to use music for other reasons. The world often uses music to communicate the most vile of messages. Many say they choose to listen to vulgar music because they enjoy the instrumentals. It's easy to get into the emotion and tune out what's being communicated vocally, but worship to our Lord can't be this way. John MacArthur quotes in a sermon: "Music is not worship. Music is a means to express worship, but it is not worship. Worship is the heart going up toward God in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that God has done: that’s worship. Worship is acknowledging God to be who He is revealed to be in Scripture. It is acknowledging what God has done; and in particular, that He has saved us, redeemed us, given us eternal life; and it is expressing gratitude to God."
When we choose to worship God in song, we must do it in truth; that truth is found in Scripture. The truth of Scripture can and should be used to write a song of praise to our God. For those who don't write music for the masses, which is nearly all of us, we rely on other writers and musicians. Shouldn't we make sure that the music we're using is coming from a source of which we know is made up of those who are devoted to the truths of Scripture? We wouldn't trust just any source of talent, right? We wouldn't trust a song just because it starts with Scripture and then goes on to appeal to the reasoning of the world or of false teachers, would we? Would we be lazy about it? I surely have been in the past. I've helped choose and performed music for worship from artists and groups who will be mentioned below (artists who fit into the questions above). This music is prominent in our day. It's "the" music to use in contemporary worship. That doesn't make it right.
Does it matter who wrote the lyrics? One could make the argument that no lyrics are written by perfect people, but could we consider the author? A Christian couldn't worship to a song written by one with Islamic faith because each faith makes a completely different claim about who God is. Faiths contradict each other. Even a universalist's faith contradicts the many faiths it claims to combine together. Sure, a member of a different faith could write lyrics with extremely vague generalities and fool many, but eventually that author's beliefs will slip in. I doubt any popular worship artist today would claim to believe another religion than the one he or she is writing about, but what if an artist held and proclaimed numerous non-biblical beliefs? What if the church that a band represented consistently taught false doctrine, and led many astray? Sadly, here are just a few examples:
- Bethel Music and Jesus Culture of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Many artists fall under the Label that Bethel has as well. To note a couple directly from Bethel's website: Cory Asbury ("Reckless Love") and Brian and Jenn Johnson. Brian Johnson is co-writer for many songs. Brian's website bio states: "Brian facilitates an atmosphere of faith in worship and has written anthems such as “Have it All", "We Will Not Be Shaken” and “One Thing Remains,” which was awarded #1 song for ASCAP Christian Music and #1 Radio Single in 2013". His father, Bill Johnson, and his mother are the senior leaders of their church.
- Hillsong United, Hillsong Worship, Hillsong Young and Free. Hillsong is extremely popular. You've most likely heard of them and their music. Hillsong is from Hillsong Church in Australia, with large followings in the US as well. They're led by founders Brian and Bobbie Houston.
- Elevation Worship. Steven Furtick's church.
- Kari Jobe, Nichole Nordeman, and many many others who are heavily involved with and supporting of the above.
What do these artists and bands have in common? It would be easy to just name a few vague examples and be done with it, but it would be unfair to refrain from providing detailed examples for one to make an objective observation. The purpose for what you're reading is to remind us (the writer as well) about the true reason and objective in worship: to glorify the one true God, three in one, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Creator who created us and sacrificed Himself for us deserves our praise and all the glory. He deserves more than us just allowing any music, no matter its originator or origination. It doesn't matter when a song was written, it shouldn't be from someone who is immersed in a church of false teaching and the actions born from false doctrine. Their thought patterns will make their way in. Besides, there are so many other choices!
- Bethel Church - Bethel Church in Redding, CA is the best place to start.
- Gold Dust - In this link, directly from Bethel's website, a testimony is given of gold dust appearing on attendees of a Jesus Culture conference in Chicago in 2011. Obviously, the article remains on their website today. Articles can easily be removed from a website. I think it goes without saying that this is deception. This article from gotquestions.org graciously breaks this and other similar reports down. Got Questions also references Bethel's reporting of angel feathers falling from the ceiling, their involvement with grave sucking (mantle grabbing), NAR, prosperity gospel, and Word of Faith teaching. They also have several reports of strange healings in the testimonial section of their website. These healings, of course, are unverifiable.
- Bill Johnson - is a false teacher who teaches bizarre occurrences and distortion of God's Word.
- A quote from his book When Heaven Invades Earth: "Once, in the middle of the night, God came in answer to my prayer for more of Him, yet not in a way I had expected. I went from a dead sleep to being wide-awake in a moment. Unexplainable power began to pulsate through my body, seemingly just shy of electrocution. It was as though I had been plugged into a wall socket with a thousand volts of electricity flowing through my body. My arms and legs shot out in silent explosions as if something was released through my hands and feet." This is his idea of God's power in his life.
- In Bill's (co founder) school, BSSM, an article from their website contains some quotes that really give a good picture of what's going on at Bethel and in its teaching:
- "Until a couple of years ago, I had never seen demons and angels flitting about, going about their business." Christian, do you see angels and demons "flitting" about?
- "I’ve heard about experiences that I had to really take to Holy Spirit and determine if I agreed with from a theological standpoint. It’s important that you don’t do that in the moment with them."
- There is way too much to include about Bethel. You could spend hours researching and never stop finding strange and unbiblical teachings. This is so dangerous for a new convert or someone who unfortunately thinks they know who God is but does not because of this deception. Jesus Culture was born from this "church" and continues to follow together with it. Should we sing their music?
- Hillsong Church and all their bands
- Their website quickly points to their approval of women pastorship: "Brian and Bobbie Houston": "Global Senior Pastors of Hillsong Church". Bobbie is Brian's wife. The postmodern culture of today is fighting to have the church ditch the Word of God and approve of this, but it's not biblical.
- Hillsong proudly performs with Bethel Music (link).
- Prosperity Gospel - In Brian Houston's book You Need More Money he writes: "Money can accomplish tremendous things for the Kingdom of God. In order to do this, we have to become comfortable with wealth, and break the bondage, guilt and condemnation of impoverished thinking. Poverty is definitely not God's will for His people. In fact, all His promises talk of blessing and prosperity." But God's Word teaches in 2 Timothy 3:12: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." It's hard to reconcile the messages of those two statements.
- They're super popular and talented, but does that mean more to us than being biblically sound?
- Elevation Worship
- Lead by pastor and founder Steven Furtick, a disciple of TD Jakes. He is another Word of Faith prosperity teacher. He's an excellent orator, but a false teacher.
- They also proudly perform with Bethel Music and Hillsong.
- The many other similar artists and bands
- These kinds of artists and bands have infiltrated contemporary music. What is common among all of these is the consistent act of conforming to the world and embracing of false teaching. Many artists have ties to the above groups and are in full support of what they're doing. It's up to faithful members of the body to ensure we're not using songs from these groups.
This advice from Michelle Lesley at michellelesley.com (a women's discipleship resource) is solid: "Go to the artist’s website, and examine her statement of faith (if she has one) and the venues she’ll be playing. Does she frequently play at places like Bethel? Lakewood? The Potter’s House? Is she the worship leader at a lot of conferences featuring false teachers? You might also want to look at her bio to see if she mentions her home church. If she’s a member of a church headed up by a false teacher, that’s definitely a red flag."
When solid biblical churches show support of this music they (even if it's indirectly) show support of the churches of these artists. We live in a technological age where every young person can quickly find out which band wrote a song, then find out that a band is associated with a church, and then listen to or watch all of that church's content. Basically, they can quickly be introduced to dangerous false teaching. So apart from the fact that biblical churches shouldn't support artists described above, we shouldn't open an avenue for young, new, or non believers to find false teaching.
It's also very important to keep in mind that not a single person in any group above is outside of God's offering of grace. They all have the opportunity to turn from false teaching. I pray that this happens! But until then, until we see these artists turn to sound teaching and to producing sound lyrical content we shouldn't perform or promote their music.
So, what music should contemporary worship services use? The remaining solid artists from biblically sound churches. They should sing every new song that is grounded in the truth of Scripture. There are plenty of good groups out there. Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Andrew Peterson, and Norton Hall Band are a few examples. A description of Norton Hall Band is found on their website, I find this to be an approach to follow: "Norton Hall Band is a tangible demonstration that our goal and purpose is to train pastors who lead worship. Not just musicians and not just worship leaders, but pastors who lead worship. Everyone in Norton Hall Band has a pastor’s heart and a desire to promote Christ-centered, biblically guided worship. The purpose of this band is to lead in worship that centers around the gospel and is birthed out of the Word of God."
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