About a year ago, I emailed Bethel asking them to clarify a lot of things being said about them (my original post on the use of controversial music is below). They finally started this process. I do not endorse this church – I simply share what they post to help clarify what they believe. Here is a page on the project, and Episode 1 (full) was posted here today. Each day a short excerpt from one of the specific topics will be posted. By the 2nd week of July, all content from this video series will be released.
But what about the music?
The question looks like this: “Is it possible to not approve or agree with (such and such a church) but still listen to their worship in a corporate setting?” First of all, I want to be clear that my position has never been “I don’t care what the roots are, I play their music”. I am evaluating myself. You can actually watch my interview with Kim Walker-Smith here. The answer to the first question is very revealing.
In 2020 I preached a series of revival sermons. Bryan and Katie Torwalt led the worship during one of the messages and Kim Walker-Smith during another. To see the controversial services that prompted this article, click here and here. Let us know your thoughts. Did the services honor God? Were the words theologically valid? Were the messages biblically accurate? Could there be abundant fruit?
Just for reference, I use the MacArthur Study Bible, I read the Puritans, and I love any preaching by Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon, etc. I do not endorse or promote Bethel. I also have issues. I understand that playing church music (in a sense) is considered their promotion. I understand, but there is a huge difference between direct promotion and indirect promotion because we have to legally acknowledge the source of the songs for licensing reasons.
That said, I’ve posed a few questions and answers that may provide clarity:
1. How incoherent should a group be before we completely shut down their worship?
Should we also eliminate songs from Elevation Worship, Hillsong and a few others because we disagree with some of their pastors’ teachings? Yes and no. It all depends on the seriousness of their error. Some people draw the line in the sand much faster when it comes to deleting their music, while others aren’t quite there yet. That’s what’s happening here – many aren’t ready to draw that line yet. And much depends on the spiritual character of the worship leader. For example, what Sean Feucht and Kim Walker-Smith are tweeting is very different from what I saw on Joel Houston’s (Hillsong) tweet. I know Sean and Kim, and both are solid.
2. Did I do my due diligence in investigating these tapes?
The problem is that there are many conflicting reports. I know people who go to Bethel, and they say the exact opposite of those who condemn it. For example, the leadership of Bethel here condemns the vacuuming of graves, but people still say they teach it. Yes, I’ve seen the picture of Senior Pastor Bill Johnson’s wife near a grave, but the pictures don’t always tell the whole story. You wouldn’t believe the number of heresy hunters I heard about when I posted this photo.
But, having said that, I also heard Bill Johnson say things that he needs to clarify. Because I myself have often been misrepresented, I appreciate those who try to hear both sides. This is where many of us are; don’t we have this possibility? I just wish the majority of reviews weren’t so arrogant and condescending. It really reveals their heart.
3. Human opinion never prevails over the Word of God, but there is safety in the multitude of advice.
I’ve asked countless believers for their opinions, and a significant percentage haven’t seen anything wrong with playing music that is questionable to some. I also look at the spiritual condition of worship leaders. For example, any idea of who wrote this: “So much heresy is rampant in the church because we do not clearly preach the reality of eternal judgment, the reality of heaven and hell, or the frequent commands concerning holiness, godliness, purity and the true learning of Jesus”? Bethel worship leader Jeremy Riddle posted this on April 10 of this year on his Facebook page. In case you missed it, it’s a powerful statement of sound doctrine. I fear that we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater too soon.
While that’s not true for everyone, the vast majority of those who have trouble with this music seem to disdain emotional worship and are often not open to what’s called revival. They don’t like to sing “Let It Rain” because they don’t want to get wet.
Make fun of a genuine movement of the mind
I am impressed by the number of famous Conservative pastors who quote George Whitefield but fail to acknowledge the oddities that occurred under his preaching. The same is true of Jonathan Edwards and others who have ushered in great movements of the Spirit. That said, I do not endorse questionable ministries. I have the same concerns as many of the critics, but interestingly, those who scoff are often the same people who scoff (and scoff) at a genuine movement of the Spirit of God. I hope this article will spark a dialogue among controversial groups and that a movement to revisit theology will be sparked.
Most of these worship groups are young and need theological grounding. Maybe the young musicians in some of these bands just need spiritually mature believers to contact them rather than calling them heretics.
In conclusion, my great concern for many of us is found in Revelation 2:2-5 (NIV), “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate the wicked, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them false.” Jesus continues: “Yet I blame you: you have abandoned the love you had at the beginning. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at the beginning. If you do not repent not, I will come to you and remove your candlestick from its place.”
Could it be that the very thing we need is the very thing we are running from, that is, a revival and a mighty movement of the Spirit of God? My new book, Oh God, tear up the skieswas written for this reason.
In this sermon I talk about the time when my heart was very hard and I was becoming a modern-day Pharisee.
The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) always seems to slip into this type of discussion. As I don’t know much about the NAR, I found a video for those who are interested: “The truth about the NAR and the theology of the 7 mountains”.
Michael Brown also interviewed Bill Johnson in this video. Admittedly, I would have asked more difficult questions, but he was still able to clarify a lot of things. Here’s what baffles me: it’s almost as if people don’t want to know the facts.
The opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ColbieCreative
Shane Idleman is the founder and senior pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the WCF Radio Network. More information can be found at ShaneIdleman.com, including free downloads of his e-books. Visit him on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to his new podcast, Idleman Unplugged. You can also follow Pastor Shane on the new free speech platform Speaking.