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A Christian By Any Other Name

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” Acts 11:26 tells us–but musician Marcus Mumford declines the name, thank you very much. In an interview last month with Rolling Stone, the 26-year old leader of the British band Mumford & Sons and the child of Vineyard pastors, declined to apply the name of “Christian” to himself.

“I don’t really like that word,” he told senior writer Brian Hiatt in his band’s first Rolling Stone cover story. “It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. Like, you ask a Muslim and they’ll say, ‘Jesus was awesome’ – they’re not Christians, but they still love Jesus. I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

Mumford’s remarks have stirred up a religious war, despite the fact that many of his songs deal with sin, grace and redemption. According to a HuffPost Religion story by Cathleen Falsani, Mumford took a few potshots from churchfolk, “some of whom deemed his answer a cop-out, chastising him for being ashamed of the gospel of Christ and tossing his lot in with the booming spiritual-but-not-religious crowd that is so popular among his age demographic.”

How can one judge the heart and motive of this young man? He says he believes in God, but has chosen to separate from the “culture of Christianity.” Though I couldn’t find his definition for this, I’m assuming Mumford is turning his back on institutional “churchianity” with its emphasis on rules, programs and traditions rather than the Person and Mission of Jesus Christ. (I’m an evangelist and I feel the same way sometimes). Could it be that he is trying to reach a bigger audience than would be possible if he was shoved  into the “Christian genre” cubbyhole? Can we allow that Mumford has embarked on a spiritual voyage like the rest of us, and that someday, he may return to the church and help better it with his passion and creativity? (He will likely never darken the door of a church again if he keeps taking jabs from the church community).

Since 1999, I have been preaching “revivals.” A few years ago, I dropped the revival label to adopt “The Jubilee.” I suppose the same folks who have criticized Mumford may take umbrage that I jettisoned a time-honored Bible word. (Though “revival” is not in the Bible, the verb form, “revive,” appears several times). The Jubilee, an ancient Hebrew holiday granting freedom to slaves and debtors, is also a perfectly good Bible word, but I decided it sounded a bit more fresh and festive than a revival. In fact, over the years, numerous people have told me that they were wary of coming to my revivals because they were afraid they would be old-fashioned, Bible-thumping affairs, aflame with messages of hell and condemnation. (Some people may think I preach like hell, but that’s another story).

I don’t fault Mumford for his reluctance to take on the Christian brand, even though it’s a fine word, a Bible word that means “little Christ.” Perhaps if every Christian on the face of this planet actually acted like a little Christ, people wouldn’t be so reluctant to apply the word to themselves.

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