Peace is a sorely abused fruit of the Spirit. Too often we are told to “keep the peace,” meaning to keep quiet and refrain from speaking hard truths. But the beatitude is “blessed are the peacemakers.”
There is more to peace than comfortability and tolerance. Instead, it is about Christ making peace for us with the Father and, from this, us seeking to be at peace with one another. Peace is not simply “kept” but made for us in Christ. Our responsibility, then, is to make peace with others, but never apart from our peace with God in Christ.
With me so far?
Essentially, peace as a fruit of the Spirit and an inheritance of Christians is two-dimensional; it extends first vertically and, second, horizontally. (I think “Two Directions” would be a fabulous name for a contemporary Christian boy band, by the way.)
As we continue to examine the question of whether or not to use music by Bethel and Hillsong in our worship services, let’s consider both directions. First, vertical: Is singing music by Bethel and/or Hillsong proclaiming the eternal peace made by and in and through Christ alone? This may turn out to be a case-by-case decision. Some songs do and some do not. Some songs are ambiguous but, coupled with more theologically rich selections, might be acceptable. Some songs may be ambiguous to the point of being more fluff than fruit, not worth using at all.
Music has the power to make us feel peaceful. However, peace is more than a pleasant feeling; it is a spiritual state of being, of being made right (justified) in Christ.Tweet
The crucial question is: Does this song point singers to the peace made for us in Christ? Does it encourage repentance and reconciliation with the Father through Jesus? We need to exercise caution. Music has the power to make us feel peaceful. However, peace is more than a pleasant feeling; it is a spiritual state of being, of being made right (justified) in Christ.
I think most worship leaders understand the need to evaluate individual songs according to their theology. The larger question in this debate seems to be whether Bethel and Hillsong as organizations proclaim the true, peace-bringing gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a more difficult question, requiring us to ask: If a songwriter or producer has shifty theological beliefs, can their work stand on its own? How much can we really distance the song and the producer, publisher, or performer?
I won’t give a definite answer here, but I will offer this food for thought: Many of our greatest hymns were written by theologically-wayward people. Even the most doctrinally-strict churches I know sing “It is Well with my Soul,” despite its author’s heretical and cultic beliefs. It seems that many churches implicitly believe that time sanctifies the hymns of even the most wacky hymn-writers, so why would this grace not extend to contemporary songs and songwriters?
Perhaps it comes down to money. After all, Horatio Spafford, long deceased, is not receiving commissions from “It is Well,” but Bethel and Hillsong make money every time churches program their music. This financial connection makes it much more difficult to make the claim that a song can stand apart from its songwriter. (By the way, if you ask your worship leader about this and he/she claims that Bethel and Hillsong do not make money when your church sings their music…well, that’s another issue because your leader may be using their music without proper licensing. This happens, and it’s definitely not promoting peace in the Church.)
Ultimately, if you or your church decide that certain songs by Bethel and Hillsong accurately convey the peacemaking gospel and that paying to use these songs is not subsidizing the poor theology of their organizations, your job is then to consider your own responsibility: horizontal peace. Can you sing these songs and remain in fellowship with those who disagree? If you feel you must separate from these songs and those who sing them, can you do so in a way that prioritizes peace and truth?
If you discern through prayer, study, and wise counsel that singing songs by Bethel and Hillsong cannot be acceptable because they do not promote peace in Christ and within His Body, your responsibility is to dissent in the most gracious way possible. You may need to step down from the worship team or direct your giving away from the music ministry. However, there is no excuse for passive-aggressive social media wars (I’ve seen it happen between pastors!) or making a scene of not worshipping (crossed arms, clenched jaws, etc.) when everyone else is.
Scripture has no verse expressly condemning Hillsong and Bethel; singing or not singing their music is not a salvation issue. Stay rooted in vertical peace as you navigate the difficult realm of horizontal relationships. Take a stand if you must, but seek to be at peace with others, insofar as it depends upon you.
This leads me to one final point. Although there is no passage in the Bible that explicitly condemns this music, there are passages dealing with these intramural debates. Singing songs by Bethel and Hillsong may be an “idol meat” issue (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8). Christians can sing them, just as ancient Christians could eat idol meat. However, some Christians’ consciences are afflicted by singing these songs, just as some early believers struggled with the consumption of idol meat.
And guess what?
Those who were not bothered by eating idol meat were required to submit to those who were. Part of being peacemakers is submitting to one another’s consciences. For example, if I were to imbibe freely in front of a sibling in Christ who struggles with alcoholism, I may be in sin—not because moderate drinking is a sin, but because being insensitive to the struggles of other believers is a sin.
In music, making peace may require us to set aside our own tastes to serve those who are struggling. Realistically, most believers are comfortable singing songs not by Bethel and Hillsong. Fewer are totally comfortable singing songs by these organizations. Which option—if we had to choose an all-or-nothing extreme—best fosters peace? Probably abstaining. It may better promote peace in the body of Christ to seek songs with less moral/theological baggage, or, at the very least, to select songs that do not financially support troubling organizations.
Ultimately, peace in worship requires us to, above all, sing music that reflects our reconciliation to God in Christ, and then to pursue peace with one another, surrendering our preferences to serve the consciences of others. I am reminded of Ephesians 5, which calls believers not only to song but to submission—to Christ and one another.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.Ephesians 5:18-21, ESV
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