“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” – Colossians 3:16
Many of you know, either by following me around on Twitter or Facebook, or even here, that I am a huge encourager of Derek Webb. I’m not going to be shy about it: if many of our generation believe that musicians are the voices to heed, then Derek may be a true prophet. That position of mine has not been without its larger consequences, as Webb has often been questioned heavily by the more, well, entrenched Christian culture. Questions are very good to figure him out, but not to discredit him when that is unnecessary. He’s obviously not Jesus, but Jesus was questioned almost the same way (“fraternizing” with “outcasts” comes to mind especially), and I think that says that he is at least trying to challenge us to move forward with Kingdom stuff in a wholistic way. One question I think has a serious weight to it has been with his latest artistic product, namely the album Feedback. I once read something that questioned his moral integrity, because the release is entirely electronic and instrumental. There are no words, let alone “Christian terminology.” How can one worship without explicit Christian words? A valid question.
But initially, when I was given a copy of this release for free by Derek himself, I confess that kind of a challenge never crossed my mind. One of the reasons for this is actually something Derek and I strongly agree on, which he puts in a statement when you hit his homepage: worship is a 24/7 lifestyle; it is the way we have been formed as human beings; it is an immutable part of our nature. The only thing that changes is who/what you worship. To go along with this, it may be spiritually true that Derek and I also hold Psalm 24:1 as a foundation to worship. Everything is the Lord’s, and there is no “not God’s” in existence. So really, the question of “Christian language” is moot. You are either worshipping God in everything, or you are not. You do not need to say “Praise Jesus” after everything to somehow make it holy, since that would imply that what you said was unholy before. Why do we need to “say the right words” to worship God? Why are we not already worshipping first, and then speaking later, as the Spirit will not be contained? The fact is that if you are worshipping, everything you do is worship, whether it has the right “labels” or not. Christians are Christians; no one can change that, and everyone will see it if they want to. And all of that…all of it…is Derek’s point. Quite a challenge, and a right use of the perception of an artist.
Worship of God is definitely deliberate, and that should be reflected in our words, if we are so moved to use them. But as a Christian culture, we have become so committed to the right language, that we think the right language is all that matters. Does it matter at a certain point? Absolutely. Every pastor, including me, will pay attention to the words; but we will pay attention to them to understand the true spirit and meaning, not just to ramble about the form of the words themselves. Likewise, in theological understanding, Jesus is wholly divine and wholly person. But do we really need to constantly go around saying that? In turn of fact, as Christians we already are “saying that,” by being in existence. As believers, we too demonstrate that a fully human and fully divine person truly exists, because we have the Spirit in us as proof of that. Anyone who has ever tried to spread the gospel in a hostile area knows that what matters most (in terms of both efficacy and safety) is character and action, not words. The wisest man once advised worshippers of God to “draw near to listen” instead of being “hasty” with words and therefore foolish (Eccl. 5:2). It is in focusing on the words alone that the words become “external” to us, not intimate and natural. Jesus himself warned against “empty words” (Matthew 6:5-8), and it is not unintentional that Derek’s tracks for the Feedback album are titled as each piece of the Lord’s Prayer that follows such warning. And honestly, Jesus would not warn against anything if the opposite were not so much more healthy for us: worshipping in Spirit and truth first is far better for us, and our experience of God, than worshipping with the right “words.”
The point is this: when we are joining in with Derek as the fruit of the Spirit unfolds, are we truly worshipping God and interacting with his love within our hearts? Because there exists no luxury of covering up a “no” to that with our words.