Sick of Unfruitful Arguing? It’s Time to Reexamine the Bethel-Hillsong Debate According to the Fruit of the Spirit.

I’ve seen countless articles about the Bethel-Hillsong controversy. The debate over whether or not to use music by theologically and/or ethically suspect organizations has become the new “Worship War.” The battle previously waged between staunch traditionalists and contemporary music fans is taking a back seat to this more immediate, heated debate: Can Bible-believing congregations rightly sing songs written by Bethel, Hillsong, or the songwriters and bands associated with these organizations?

Criticisms of Bethel Music seem to be primarily theological, as this article from the Gospel Coalition explains. Essentially, the debate boils down to this: Can we sing music produced according to theologically troubling ideologies even if the words sound, in many cases, orthodox? Controversies surrounding Hillsong Music, while also theological, are shifting toward ethical concerns, as summarized in this article by Christianity Today—i.e. when pastors or worship leaders are no longer “above reproach,” should we continue to purchase and perform their music?

These debates, however well-informed, don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Could it be because we are not approaching this topic with the nuance it deserves? Are we seeking clear-cut, immediate, universal answers? Or are we willing to make time for an intentional and critical (but not cynical) engagement with the question of whether and when it is appropriate to use music by Bethel and Hillsong?

Here’s the thing: I know scripture-saturated, God-fearing Christians who sing music by Bethel and Hillsong, and I know equally scripture-saturated, God-fearing Christians who refuse to do so. Now, I freely admit the bias of my hymn-loving, organ-playing soul—mostly because I really struggle to sing the unfortunately-named song “Holy Spirit.” (See my post “Spirit Songs…or Lack Thereof” for further explanation.)

My artistic taste is not biblically mandated.

However, I will not impose my biases upon others; I recognize that my artistic taste is not biblically mandated. In fact, I believe we are approaching the Bethel-Hillsong controversy in a fundamentally unproductive manner. We are so wrapped up in determining whether it is always right or wrong to use their music in worship that we are losing sight of the end of worship—fruitfulness.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

John 15:8, ESV

As I often say (and as Jesus certainly implied), music is worship insofar as it is fruitful, meaning that singing should help us to abide in Christ, bear the fruit of the Spirit, and, in so doing, glorify the Father. For our music to be worshipful, it must fulfill this trinitarian vision of fruitfulness.

Music is worship insofar as it is fruitful; singing should help us to abide in Christ, bear the fruit of the Spirit, and, in so doing, glorify the Father.

Why, then, are we not evaluating the use of Bethel and Hillsong’s music in terms of spiritual fruitfulness? Determining whether or not to use music by Bethel or Hillsong in our local churches is not a clear-cut question of sin or righteousness. Instead, this decision falls into the category of 1 Corinthians 10:23, which declares, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”

What “builds up”? What glorifies God? Fruitfulness.

Now is the time. The Bethel-Hillsong debate is raging, and we have the opportunity to reframe it in terms of fruitfulness. Instead of leaping to whether using music by Bethel and Hillsong is always right or wrong, we need to ask: Is it helpful, that is, is it fruitful? We need to think carefully (and prayerfully) about whether using this music is cultivating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our churches and the Church (Gal. 5:22-23).

Over the next two months, I will publish a series of articles examining the Bethel-Hillsong debate according to the fruit of the Spirit. Please subscribe below to have these articles sent directly to your inbox. Better yet, share this article with your worship leader and team and invite them to subscribe as well.

The first 50 subscribers will be entered to win a custom worship gift box (exact products TBD), so please share and encourage your friends, volunteers, and leaders to subscribe.

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