I have always loved worship music. Ever since I was a kid, worship music has been a significant part of my life. I grew up with Integrity's Hosanna Music (1980s and early 1990s), and then fell in love with Vineyard Music during my young adult years. I even participated in the live recording of a Vineyard album (audience only, but I sang my heart out). For the most part, my memory tells me the music was theologically solid and God honoring, but I have not gone back to see. In my younger years, I do remember that some songs were the first to teach me scriptural stories, for it was in researching the music that I discovered the Biblical source (The Horse and Rider comes to mind). This is what Christian music should do - lead us to Christ and the Word of God.
I grew up in the days of overhead projectors, but ever since digital projection of song lyrics became a thing, I have always been one of those people who wished that the CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) many churches show at the end of a song would have bigger text. I regularly made note of song writers and music publishers for the purpose of discovering more music and further exploring the artists who were bringing me the music I loved.
Christian worship music has changed in the last 20 years. While music has always been associated with the emotional response music naturally creates, when I was young, that emotional response was tied to the praise and worship of God and Christ, simply for who they are. Today though... it's much more about what God and Christ (and the Spirit) have done for us, or how much they love us. The difference is subtle, but significant. Also, with some artists, the music has taken on an unsettling romantic tone. I know we're the bride of Christ, and yes, I've read the Song of Solomon, but I should be able to tell without having to do research if a song is about God or someone's dreamy boyfriend.
Early in the process of "My Metanoia" I still enjoyed much of the Christian music heard in most churches today, including songs by Jesus Culture, Bethel and Hillsong. The church I was attending sings these songs, as well as songs by Stephen Furtick of Elevation Church. Either because of my aging eyes or laziness, I never noticed the sources of some of the newer songs. Looking back, I think God kept me in a certain amount of temporary ignorance as a kindness. I will explain.
It was difficult facing the fact that some of the teachers that I had enjoyed and doctrines I had always just assumed were not scripturally sound once one stops reading just the isolated proof texts to read the passages in context. Context, context, context - it'll ruin any sin avoiding, prosperity preacher's day. Like I said, it was difficult. I went through something akin to the five stages of grief.
But for reasons of grace, while I was being confronted with my theology, I was never confronted with my music. God kept the two separate, and in his mercy, he simply took away the desire for the latter. Up until a certain stage of my metanoia, music was always important to me. I live alone, so I can put on music whenever I want and I can dance around the house accordingly. But somewhere along the line, my enjoyment of the music I so loved just fell aside. It was not a conscious thing. Like many people, I go through stages. For a few weeks or months I may watch (too much) television, and then drift to where I listen to a lot of music, and then just do a lot of reading, and then cycle through again, but this was different. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years.
I used to always pray while listening to worship music, but I still prayed just as much, if not more than before, but without the music. In fact, I found I still sang just as much, but the songs were from deep in my past, or were my own, often sung prayers, straight from my heart. I remember doing dishes one day, singing and praying (dishes and showers are great times for these activities) and I realized, "It's been a couple of years since I've really listened to any music - God took the desire from me." It was about this time I made the connection - the music I formerly enjoyed was birthed in the very churches and doctrines God had been confronting me about in the previous years. With this realization, I was thankful, because I knew I needed the separation, and I was thankful that God was gracious enough to only point out the doctrine side of the issue. By removing my desire for the music, there was no musical "five stages of grief." This was indeed a mercy to me.
Since then, I've sought out and discovered several sound, biblical Christian groups for my personal time. I would recommend Shane & Shane, CityAlight, Austin Stone Worship, Southern Seminary, and Sovereign Grace Music.
But the above is my private story. There's a much darker public story playing out in thousands of churches every day. Does it matter where the Church's music comes from? Indeed! While much of the music produced by Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation is doctrinally okay (though far less God focused than the much better Christian music I have since discovered), it is also the gateway into the doctrinal world of these organizations. I see music as the rather benign candy that the kidnapper uses to lure you into his van of heresy. For me, the candy has lost its sweetness, and I want nothing to do with it.
Above I mentioned the CCLI license that is typically shown after a song is over. If I liked a song, I was one who would have researched the music for the purpose of finding more music to enjoy - and maybe even teaching if the group had it available. In the modern world, I often just type a few of the lyrics into my phone to grab the song and then go home and find more from the same group/artist. For someone like me, the music sung in church, no matter how doctrinally sound, is going to be connected to all the doctrines of the artist and organization, because I naturally seek out more of what I like. And to a younger me who was less knowledgeable, if the pastor approves of the one song, then I'm sure the rest of the catalogue and teaching are just fine too. And that's the heresy trap. While these groups teach clear falsehoods, tickling the ears of many, the leadership at places like Hillsong, Bethel and Evolution Church aren't stupid. In fact, they're amazing businessmen. They know this method works, and with this method, they are drawing in untold thousands to their reckless thinking, and much of the modern church is welcoming them to do so.
Additionally, that CCLI license means that every time a song by one of these artists is sung, a small monetary payment is made to the copyright holder. By singing the more benign songs of known heretical teachers, we are financially supporting their deceptions. This should not be done. The church needs to take a stand. I know the church I recently attended would never blatantly teach the doctrines of Elevation church, but they will happily encourage the congregation to belt out one of their songs. This is a dangerous game, and it is the reason I no longer attend that church.
The decision to leave this church took several months. I prayed about it for a long time. After the first few months, I finally got the nerve to say something to the pastor's wife, who I consider a friend, and with whom I had discussed at various times the dangers of the false doctrines taught in churches like Bethel and Elevation. After a particularly good service one day a few months before I ultimately decided to leave, I made the comment, "The service was good. I especially liked the Bethel free worship today" (or something very similar to that). This was the first time in weeks we hadn't sung a song from a questionable group. Her response was "sometimes you have to sing what you know is wrong because it's the only way people will participate and sing." Aside from saying "I disagree", I left it at that. It was an unsupportable argument, and I am sure she knew it when she said it, but it gave me the information I needed about the church's direction.
I continued to attend for several more weeks. I prayed and hoped that my comment might start the wheels turning in a new direction, but sadly, they kept rolling down the same hill. Each week I would go and say to myself, "If they sing more Bethel or similar music this week, I'll move on." One week they didn't sing any (it was all Christmas music), so I went back, then it'd be just a short song, so I'd go back, or then it'd be a mix in a medley they had put together, so I'd go back. I suppose I just kept hoping, and I certainly didn't want to rush this decision. Finally, one Sunday, they sung Bethel before the preaching and then the pastor excitedly lead the church in an Elevation Worship song after the message, stating that he'd been enjoying the song all week. That was it, and I started searching for a new place to attend. For me to stay would be like an alcoholic whom God had delivered deciding to hang out at his former favorite bar. I just couldn't do it. The music of the heretics has become grievous to my heart.
It's hard to find churches that don't compromise on this issue. I don't think most people realize there's even an issue in the first place. I knew my church did know though, but they decided it was a sin worth committing. That was the biggest part of my decision to leave.
The above has been a journal entry, posted publicly. Do not use my thoughts to come to your own conclusions without doing your own research. I have studied these groups and churches in great depth, as I was once prey to their teachings. This article is not attempting to explain or expose what is right or wrong with various churches or musical groups. I have done that research separately. This article was simply a journal entry discussing my past and what lead up to my decision to leave a church that is promoting the music of people who that same church agree are teaching a false gospel.