Throughout my years in pastoral ministry, I have found myself having to answer a few repeated questions, regardless of the location, the year, or even the denomination.
The question most often asked is on the topic of sin by association. It is not that a parishioner actually asks, Is this sin by “so-n-so” a reason for me to stay away from them? The “so-n-so” may be a person or an organization.
The question is never asked like that but it usually is implied by an assumed statement indicating that myself or the church or whoever should stay away because of a sin, a heresy, or a different doctrine.
In recent months this concern has arisen again but in the form of concerns about playing worship music that is associated with Bethel Music produced from the Bethel Church in Redding, California.
Bethel Church in Redding, California is apparently a mess. It has a background with the Assemblies of God but I am not sure if it has become independent or not. I have learned through talk radio and seen through video clips, that they have abandoned logic for a chase of signs and lying wonders in their worship services and school practices.
Bethel Church has become known across the nation because its worship music is widely played on Christian radio stations and across denominational lines on Sunday mornings. Bethel Church is also multiplying through local churches across America and overseas.
So the question has been asked of me and other pastors is, Should biblical churches and worship leaders stop using Bethel Music?
Here’s my response…
I am not of the opinion that the music they have produced deserves to be trashed because of the current apostasy situation of that church. It may require some intentional examination of their music being put forth, but I don’t think their music should be automatically deemed guilty because of their ministerial sins.
This is a lot like a minister who goes bad by falling into sin. Does his entire past ministry, everything he spoke in sermon or in counsel, now deserve to be negated because of a moral failure? My answer is No.
We don’t throw out the teachings of the Apostles who traveled with Jesus for three years, just because Judas betrayed our Lord.
What if a local church wants to avoid association with Bethel Church so the leadership decides to not use anymore Bethel music in its worship, is that wrong? My answer is No.
We have seen LifeWay stores remove books from shelves because of moral failures of an author, so is that wrong? My answer is No, because LifeWay wasn’t saying that the author’s past teachings are now wrong, they simply wish to avoid association with that author now.
Maybe the local church has reason to avoid association with Bethel because they may be an Assemblies of God church or they may have tensions of signs and lying wonders in their congregation. I don’t think it’s wrong to not want to associate with people or organizations, but I think its wrong to think that every Christian or church ought to follow suit.
My concern is the well being of the flock that God has given into my care. Yes, I will point to the apostasy at the Bethel Church, but I have no conviction to recognize all Bethel Music as apostasy.
This test of sin by association is exactly what progressive Christians are doing with President Trump. They say he has lived a bad life in the past, therefore he is unfit to be President now. It’s the same application, but in reverse.
I wish I could point toward a specific Bible verse that gives clear direction, but I think this is an issue that is best fleshed out in one’s process of sanctification. What I mean is, there are times or circumstances when it may be best to stay away from a person or an organization and there are times and circumstances when it may not be best to stay away from a person or an organization.
One could point to our Lord as not avoiding some with a sinful reputation and avoiding others with a sinful reputation. I have read that the Puritan’s would not refer to the days of the week by their assigned names because they believed that it would associate them with astrology deities they were named after.
If you scour Scripture for direction on when to associate and when to not associate, you’ll find a few verses that will rise to the top as principles to use as a guide. Here they are…
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV)
When you filter whether to use Bethel Music through these verses, it’s hard to see a correlation between a relationship as companionship, company, and yoked to a song. Now if you apply these verses to Bethel Church as an attendee or a member, then yes I do see a correlation between that and the above verses.
As a pastor it has always been important to me to be sensitive to various views in the pews, but I also want to be true to applying the principles and truth of God’s Word to the practices of the local church.
I am not now of the opinion that we need to throw out Bethel Music because of its association with the Bethel Church. Maybe at some point I will be, but until then I would rather advocate using the songs that best help us praise our Lord.
After all, Psalm 99:3 says “Let them praise your great and awesome name!” (ESV).