Over the past months, more and more people are talking about whether or not we should utilize songs coming out of various churches that are embroiled in controversy or known heresies. Bethel seems to be at the forefront of discussions, but Hillsong is also often mentioned with major concerns about singing their songs.
If you look at the top 10 songs in the current CCLI top 100, eight of those songs come from Bethel (5) and Hillsong (3). Bethel songs in the top 10 are Build My Life (#1), Graves Into Gardens (#2), Goodness of God (#3), Living Hope (#4) and This Is Amazing Grace (#9). Hillsong holds ranks 6, 8 and 10 with What a Beautiful Name, Who You Say I Am, and King of Kings.
There seem to be two currents of thought on this issue:
Many people are excluding these songs because of the problems with the churches from which they were born–whether due to heresy or scandals in leadership.
Others believe that the vessel that creates the song (composer, church, ministry) should not determine the merit of the work–the song should be judged in and of itself.
Let’s consider these points in determining if we can sing their songs:
Realize that the songs we sing in worship are vitally important to the building of disciples in our congregations.
Many people are not part of a discipleship group. Many do not meet with other Christians except for corporate worship. Many never open their Bibles during the week. The corporate worship service for them is our primary means of discipleship. Songs are a major part of that process. We are discipling our congregations through the music we select, so we must guard our song selection by choosing appropriate songs. Therefore, the messages we place in the hearts of our people need to be closely monitored.
The songs we use must be biblical and line up with your church’s doctrine and beliefs.
Does the song relay truth without error? I recently wrote an extensive post on filtering songs to see if they are worthy to introduce to our congregations. Take a look at that article to get a great understanding of how we properly select songs. If there is anything in the song that does not line up with the Word of God, eliminate it.
If the source of the song is in question, this does not taint whether or not truth is expressed in the song.
If you have determined that the song is indeed biblical, then singing the song would not harm the theology of your church members nor would it infuse them with heresy.
Many would argue that if you begin to rule out songs written by questionable sources, you would have to eliminate many well-loved songs like It Is Well with My Soul because its author eventually denied hell, affirmed purgatory and taught universalism, or Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing whose pastor author left the faith. The author of many of the Psalms, David, was an adulterer and arranged for someone to be murdered. We would lose perhaps a significant portion of our songs if we were able to accurately assess the holiness, beliefs and righteous living of all those responsible for the creation of the songs we sing. I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Let Him who is without sin cast the first stone.” We see throughout history that God uses imperfect people for His purposes.
As Mike Harland states in his article, Can We Sings Their Songs? If a song says something that is Biblically true it is not because the writer received some kind of revelation of truth now captured in a song. It is because the truth of the song was settled by God Himself and was true before the song was written and will be true after it is forgotten. Truth is eternal and the songs we sing in worship should bear the markers of His truth. The truth they express should never be attributed to a human author as if the writer came up with it. If a song is true, then God is the One who made it true.
Well, what about the fact that singing their songs provides financial support to these ministries which we cannot condone?
That is probably the best argument currently being made as a reason to eliminate the songs from questionable sources. As we report our song usage to CCLI and as we purchase music and tracks of these songs, royalties flow to the copyright owners of the songs, supporting their ministries.
However, if you follow this argument, you would have to stop buying many of the products you currently purchase because of the causes those manufacturers support that are in opposition to the biblical worldview. You would have to divest yourself of funds in your retirement account that invest in companies that don’t meet your godly ideals. You would have to quit watching Disney movies or going to one of their theme parks. You would have to boycott many of the stores you frequent due to their support of issues that are anti-biblical. You would have to give up most social media platforms that you may utilize. As you can see, this line of thinking, if followed, would radically change our lives. That is not to say that it is a wrong way of thinking–just a question as to why we would only practice this with worship songs while ignoring all the other similar issues.
Each church must carefully weigh the issue and determine if they feel using songs from these sources hurts their churches. I do not believe that God holds us responsible for what a songwriter believes, but He does hold us responsible for the diet of songs we give to our congregations–that we give them songs full of truth without error.
Mike Harland says it well: Don’t die on this hill. There is not a single writing team in the world that, if your leaders asked you not to sing their songs, would result in the collapse of your ministry. Pursue unity and understanding on this question and take care of your flock at all costs.
If your church leadership feels that you need to eliminate songs from a certain source, realize that there are hundreds of excellent songs your congregation can sing without using those songs. Seek to create unity in whatever is decided.
My friend, David Manner said it this way: All congregations absolutely have the responsibility to filter their songs biblically and doctrinally, and church unity should also be considered in those selections. But if one chooses to sing songs by certain authors or composers and another chooses not to, it is a false dichotomy to claim one is or will be theologically suspect and the other righteous.