Senior pastor at Chicago's Jesus People USA and founder member of The Resurrection Band, GLENN KAISER talks about The Artist As Prophet'.

Glenn Kaiser
Glenn Kaiser

Last year I was invited to do a seminar for an organisation that our fellowship belongs to called Evangelicals For Social Action. Some of you may be familiar with Ron Sider (Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger, etc) who serves as director of ESA, or Tony Campolo, perhaps ESA's most familiar spokesperson.

I was asked to speak on the topic 'The Artist As Prophet' and subsequently gave an address from which much of the following was taken. For clarity's sake, I use the term 'artist' here only in reference to Christian musicians.

A 'prophet' is of course someone who prophesies. The biblical word 'prophecy' has essentially three meanings: 1) a general inspired message from God; 2) specific messages from God to a person, or group of persons about what is going on/what should be, along with consequences of either; 3) Holy Spirit-inspired predictions regarding future events.

One must also consider the general role musicians play as 'prophets' in society regardless of any spiritual gift they may/may not have:

"Great artists have always been at the edge of growing awareness about what was happening in any society. They have been not just entertainers, but poets, painters, agitators, teachers and even prophets. It seems their gift to us is to help us see vividly what is taking place around us; to raise our awareness about social conditions, about our natural surroundings, to call for a response to human beauty and tragedy, to help us get inside the skin of others. Perhaps the greatest moments for artists are when they move us towards justice, mercy and compassion. Maybe then they are fulfilling their real destiny as artists and human beings." - From Australian Christian magazine Tell'.

I have long stated the obvious: musicians are the prophets of the age. Few in society are as quoted, believed and emulated among the young. Whether prophetically gifted or not, Christian musicians stand in an incredibly responsible place. "To whom much is given, much is required." (Luke 12:48)

Many Christians are rightfully concerned about spiritual gifts - "Which do I have, or which might God give me? Which are best or most needed in my church?" and so forth. I have both received and given teaching on such things and am assured of my own calling and gifting in several areas as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. Yet there is cause to caution people about seeking the gifts ahead of the Giver, or possible lack of equal concern for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22,23).

All of this relates very specifically to the Christian musician who utilises what Scripture refers to some seven times as a 'skill'. You may be a skilled doctor, artist or road worker, but strictly biblically speaking, these are never referred to as 'gifts' of the Holy Spirit though they are certainly gifts from God in the larger sense.

I mention this because many artists give little thought to actual gifts the Spirit may wish to manifest through them as they do art. As we may use the term 'voice' as a metaphor for an artist's musical/artistic vocabulary, one must also question whether or not the Holy Spirit has given them a spiritual 'voice' if you will.

I teach a music seminar each year at Cornerstone festival, and an ongoing music course at our church in Chicago. As we have studied Scripture together, the most obvious thing we have noticed about the musicians in the Bible is that they were first servants. Worshippers and artists to be sure, but first, servants. In Romans 12, 'serving' is listed among the spiritual gifts.

Yet, there are those who manifest the particular gift of prophecy as listed in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere. God gifts us that the church might be edified and that we might bear witness to the world around us that Jesus is real. Again, 'evangelism' is listed among the gifts in Eph 4.

We must realise that we are but stewards of gifts that are truly the SPIRIT'S gifts. Think of them as a sort of spiritual 'loan' until the Lord returns. And we must be accountable for whatever he has given us, be it skill or gift.

Are ALL Christians gifted as prophets? Evangelists? Pastors or teachers? In the strictest sense, no. The same is true of Christian musicians. Unfortunately, not everyone in the larger Church recognises this biblical fact. On one hand, the church must not demand a particular gift of God to operate through an artist simply because they communicate via art. On the other hand, there are certainly Christian musicians who haven't faithfully sought God about gifts he may wish to manifest through them for the benefit of others.

But what might it cost a musician to speak or lyrically speak prophetically? A prophet's conscience is laid bare before the world. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45) A prophet truthfully, accurately REVEALS the thoughts of God and mankind. Some artists would much rather hide. Certainly one MUST be careful to speak the word of God and only that, which is clearly 'in line' with the Bible and its teachings, even more so if one communicates publicity to perhaps thousands of people. (1 Peter 4:11)