I know it’s necessary sometimes, but I’m reluctant to use the word “Christian” as an adjective – as in “Christian school”, “Christian bookstore” or “Christian music.” It’s a helpful category, I know, but what does it really mean?
Has the school accepted Jesus as its personal Lord and Savior? Has the bookstore had its sins blotted out by the death and resurrection of God’s Son? Has the mp3 received the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit which now give it the ability to be in but not of my iPod?
What is a Christian artist?
And how do we define “Christian artist”?
The music business answer is simple: A Christian artist is one making music primarily for consumption by Christians.
The answer given by an artist is often a bit different: A Christian artist is an artist who is also a Christian, regardless of the kind of music they make or the people buying it.
Then there are those who say a real Christian artist is a light in the darkness. The darkness is then defined by them as bars, clubs and arenas where non-Christians are more likely to be listening. Presumably, I guess, non-Christians are thought to be the only ones experiencing darkness.
History gives us another definition entirely. The word “Christian” is believed to have first been used in Antioch – we think as an insult worn as a compliment. It literally meant “small Christ”, a replica.
The Christians in Antioch refused to make sacrifices to the State or its god. They sold their possessions and gave to the poor. They refused to take up arms against any enemy. They refused to work or employ on the Sabbath. They were at once despised and known to be trustworthy, compassionate and honest. They were noticeably different.
The church in Antioch would eventually have its fights and villains but when given the name Christian they were meeting – slave and free, Jew and Greek, men and women, rich and poor – in peace, giving no preference to this person over that one. They were known as Christians by their love and peculiar obedience to Christ.
Here To Rock
I had a good time as the emcee at a Christian music festival on Saturday. My job was simple. Before each artist took the stage I was to ask them how they wanted to be introduced. And then introduce them that way. Simple.
“Hey, I’m Shaun,” I said to a fashionably unkempt guy in his early twenties wearing skinny jeans and feeding the wire of his in-ear monitors down his shirt. “I’m introducing you guys today. Is there anything you want me to say in particular?”
“Just tell them who we are, man” he said.
“Cool,” I said. “Do you guys have a CD you want me to mention, or are you on Twitter, got a tour starting, signing stuff after your set…anything else you want me to say? I’ve got loads of time so whatever would help you guys out.”
“We’re here to rock, man. You do your job and we’ll do ours.” And with that he walked off.
Another artist’s wife told me how her husband had been working seven days a week for seven years straight. “When do you take a sabbath?” I asked.
She laughed. “We don’t. Not for seven years.”
Here To Replicate
Then there was Sixteen Cities. Maybe it’s because they’re new artists – Whatever the reason, they were noticeably different. On stage, they too played well – very well – like everyone else. But off stage Josh and Josiah were noticeably different.
They shook my hand, sat with me and their wives in catering and talked about life. They didn’t have a lot of time to spare but what they had they spent on people – including me.
A Christian artist is not someone who makes music for a particular audience. A Christian artist is not someone who believes this or that about Christ. A Christian artist is one who seeks to live and love like Christ.
I’m thankful for Christian artists like Sixteen Cities – musicians attempting to be little Christs, even if only for a minute or two. These artists, on their best days, remind me what it means to be a replica, to be an obedient and humble light in the darkness…and there is darkness everywhere.
They’re not here to rock but to replicate Christ.