A Movement's Music: Should We Invite NAR Worship Into Our Churches?

Ray Burns
Tuesday, May 28th 2024
A treble clef with a purple rose and soundwave dots on a deep purple background.
May/Jun 2024

This issue of Modern Reformation exposes some of the doctrinal and practical dangers of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. I trust that the great majority of MR readers are already convinced not to attend an NAR church or follow their teachings. But another question likely looms in the minds of many of us: What about their music? Bethel Church is openly aligned with the NAR, and their music label is one of the largest producers of contemporary worship music around the globe. Other churches like Hillsong or Elevation may not be as clearly aligned with the NAR, yet the movement’s influence on these churches is impossible to ignore—and their artists likewise top many worship music charts.

Theology matters, and so does music. In a situation like this, how do the two intersect? Even if your church doesn’t sing music from Bethel or the others, you are almost guaranteed to have family or friends whose churches do. If you are a pastor or elder, a member may question why your church chooses not to use music from these labels or artists. So, how do we think through this issue faithfully?

To that end, in this essay I want to answer three questions that show why it’s unwise to promote or use music from groups associated with the New Apostolic Reformation in our churches. My goal in raising these questions isn’t to bind your conscience, but to help you and those around you think through how music must reflect our theology—the truth about God and his word.

Are We Promoting Error among Weaker Christians?

Not every song from Bethel, Hillsong, or Elevation is biblically unsound. Most well-informed Christians could listen to a biblically sound song from an NAR-aligned group without being swept up in these churches’ other unbiblical doctrines and practices. Many falsehoods taught or practiced in these churches and their associated ministries—such as Bethel School of Ministry students performing “grave soaking” and attempting to raise the dead, or Elevation Church’s carefully orchestrated “spontaneous baptisms”—are so clearly against God’s word that there’s little danger of our adopting them. By the grace of God, spiritually mature and discerning believers have little fear of being deceived by such false teachings.

While that may be true of most readers of Modern Reformation, that’s not true of all Christians. The reality is that many of us live in cultures where biblically illiterate and doctrinally immature Christianity is common. Many Christians struggle to identify whether teaching is weak, let alone erroneous or even heretical. When something sounds good and somewhat biblical, many quickly accept it.

Using music from these churches in our worship may tell weaker Christians that their spiritual leaders and other mature Christians have vetted these ministries and approve them. The immature look to the mature for guidance and are likely to become less guarded against other teachings and practices attached to these ministries. When we integrate music from an NAR church into our own worship, the congregation will assume that a particular song, and its source, are trustworthy.

We must be wise when we promote one area of a church’s ministry, because that ministry is always attached to something greater. Churches create music as an outreach that ultimately connects people to the church’s roots: its teachings about the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the church’s mission in the world. If we wouldn’t be comfortable telling people to attend an NAR-aligned church, then is it wise to direct them to the tools of these churches to reach the world with their ministry and mission?

Are We Letting the NAR Shape Our Theology of Worship?

The poetry of music is a double-edged sword. In a moment, a single word can beautifully express several pages of a systematic theology book. However, that simplicity also allows people to approach a single word or phrase with different definitions.

This means that not only does our theology shape the words we say, but the definition of our words will also shape our theology. We may not realize that the NAR and ministries deeply influenced by it use familiar words like worship and God’s presence in ways that diverge widely from how we use them in traditional Protestant circles. Through using NAR-influenced music, we may let it redefine these beliefs and experiences for Christ’s followers without realizing it’s happening.

Bethel’s “Beliefs on Worship” web page defines worship in terms of experiencing God’s presence: “It’s all about His presence.” Each of these ministries designs worship music to bring on this presence, but what is God’s presence? I’ll quote Darlene Zschech, a former Hillsong music leader:

Our praise is irresistible to God. As soon as He hears us call His name, He is ready to answer us. That is the God we serve. Every time the praise and worship team with our musicians, singers, production teams, dancers, and actors begin to praise God, His presence comes in like a flood. Even though we live in His presence, His love is lavished on us in a miraculous way when we praise Him.

Bill Johnson, the pastor at Bethel, often equates God’s presence with God’s voice. When you don’t hear God audibly but feel him, that’s his voice and presence. An emotional response during worship is clear evidence of God’s immediate presence. Thus an intense inner experience becomes the substance, purpose, and goal of worship.

Listen to many popular songs created by these artists or take time to watch an NAR church’s worship service, and you’ll see this in action. During one worship service posted to Bethel’s YouTube page on October 4, 2017, the music leader tells the audience: “Your mind doesn’t even have to understand what’s happening; it doesn’t matter. Just let your spirit receive, fully, what God’s doing through the sound in this moment.”

Songs during this worship are simple, lyrics are repeated many times to the accompaniment of swelling instrumentals, and the congregation’s emotions are continually stoked by the music and prayers for God’s presence. By intensifying this experience, people can encounter God even more closely. This desire for God is honest, but how do we know we’re not confusing God’s voice or presence with something else?

Let’s not villainize the presence of emotion in worship. God calls us to worship him with our whole being; the Psalms clearly show the God-honoring role of emotion. We should expect to feel something as unworthy sinners singing together, celebrating wonderful truths about our good and gracious God. He fills and seals us with the Holy Spirit at conversion, the Spirit leads us to rejoice over truth, and it’s only natural to respond with appropriate joy or sorrow as our Spirit-transformed minds dwell on the truth that we speak and receive. The critical difference is that, biblically speaking, our experience is a byproduct of worship rather than its source or substance.

Compare this biblical and traditional theology of worship with a weekly experience that leaves people feeling emotionally high—and then drained. This may be the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s activity, or it may instead be the result of a spirituality practiced in many religions throughout history. These practices utilize repetitive chanting and stimulating music to bypass the mind and achieve the desired emotional or physiological effects. In biblical worship, hearing from God is the basis of truth, which may then create a strong emotional response. In the NAR, experience is truth, leading to a human-first emphasis that succeeds or fails on someone’s volatile emotional state, not on God’s constant character.

This brings us back to our question: Are we letting the NAR shape our personal and corporate worship? Most of us would agree that an intense experience doesn’t prove we’ve encountered the true God, at least not in a way that is healthy for us or pleasing to him. The lyrics and worship services from NAR-aligned ministries match their theology; we in Reformation traditions must be careful to ensure these practices don’t reshape our theology into something else.

Are We Financially Supporting False Teachers?

Confessional churches would find it unthinkable to write a monthly check to an obviously false teacher like Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland. Most of us would consider it a serious red flag to write a check directly to Bethel Church itself, knowing that many of their teachings are dangerously unbiblical. Like individuals, congregations must be good stewards of the resources God gives them. Using these resources to support ministries that clearly and boldly advocate error would not only compromise a congregation’s witness to the faith but also make them unwise stewards of their money.

However, churches inadvertently do just this when using music from ministries like Bethel. To use copyrighted music legally, as any church should, a church must directly or indirectly pay royalties to the rights holders. Most churches pay for licensing through CCLI. This service turns subscriptions into royalties by requiring churches to report which songs they’ve used in worship. This data, in turn, is used to pay the labels and artists who own rights to those songs.

Beyond direct financial support through licensing, featuring worship music in church makes the Christians who attend that church more likely to stream it on their own devices or buy it directly. A well-attended church that features a Bethel, Hillsong, or Elevation song even one time should expect to contribute to that song being consumed hundreds, even thousands, of times over the next few months by its congregants. So, even if a church’s leaders or worship director aren’t paying for the song directly, they are still contributing to these churches receiving royalties indirectly through exposing the music to the people under their care.

For example, in 2020, Bethel Music reported over $11 million in revenue; $6 million of that came from royalties. Whether they mean to or not, theologically sound churches contribute to the wild success of churches that are directly or indirectly connected to the false teachings and practices of the New Apostolic Reformation.

Final Thoughts

From the “new measures” of Charles Finney to the passionate Billy Graham altar calls that still impact the weekly services of churches today, revivalist pragmatism has long haunted the bride of Christ. Many Christian circles still justify emotional manipulation or “pray this prayer” evangelism because it yields a more impressive response than intentional discipleship or adhering to the ordained methods of God’s word. As long as they reach a specific end, nearly any means of getting there is valid.

I trust that MR readers lament the influence of revivalist pragmatism in the contemporary church. Yet many of us, I fear, are tempted to use this same pragmatism to justify inviting such influence into churches, homes, and cars. In many theologically sound churches, NAR-influenced music is popular with congregants; it receives a more enthusiastic response compared to more traditional music, and it aligns with the musical preferences of many people. But if we allow such considerations to dictate our decisions about our worship, then this may indicate that we have, indeed, allowed movements like the NAR to shape our theology of worship.

Second Peter 2:1–3 offers us wonderfully honest and wise guidance as we dwell on this essay’s three main questions:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

If you’re a pastor or elder, allowing this music into your church or your family doesn’t make you a false teacher (though James 3:1 is worth careful reflection). If you’re not a pastor, don’t assume you must leave a church that sings music associated with the NAR. My goal is not to command you one way or another but to lovingly ask you to think about music beyond just the lyrics and melodies, or the emotions they evoke.

Submit your preferences and experiences to God’s word as you ponder these questions. Since worshiping God in song is an essential aspect of the Christian life and our corporate gathering, it deserves as much cautious discernment as anything else we do. Music is about more than just the words we sing. It’s about the God of whom and to whom we sing. May our practice align with our convictions.


  • For more, see the following online articles: Stephen Tan, “At What Price Awakening?: Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement,” The Gospel Coalition Australia Edition, September 20, 2018; and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Megachurch Pastor Steven Furtick’s ‘Spontaneous Baptisms’ Not So Spontaneous,” Religion News Service, February 24, 2014.

  • Darlene Zschech, Extravagant Worship: Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord God Almighty Who Was and Is, and Is to Come (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), 54–55, (emphasis mine).

  • Bill Johnson, “God’s Presence Is His Voice,” Sermon, Bethel TV,

  • Robby Busick, Lindy Conant, and Kiley Goodpasture, Worship, Bethel TV,

  • See observations from studies such as: Junling Gao et al., “The Neurophysiological Correlates of Religious Chanting,” Scientific Reports, March 12, 2019; Paul Battles, “Music as a Catalyst for Altered States of Consciousness and Peak Experiences in the Treatment of Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD,” Digital Commons@Lesley, May 19, 2018; Gemma Perry et al., “How Chanting Relates to Cognitive Function, Altered States and Quality of Life,” National Library of Medicine, October 27, 2022; or Bangalore G. Kalyani et al., “Neurohemodynamic Correlates of ‘OM’ Chanting: A Pilot Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study,” International Journal of Yoga, 4.1 (2011): 3–6.

  • Bethel Church, ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer,

Photo of Ray Burns
Ray Burns
Ray Burns serves Christ in Des Moines, Iowa, by equipping Christians to think biblically about every area of life. This essay was adapted from a series titled “Exploring the Worship Music Debate.” You can find the series, and many essays like this, at
Tuesday, May 28th 2024

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