How DO Christians define Christians?

I found something today at the Wall Street Journal asking Christians to define Christians.

I often come across the argument that “said person is not a real Christian”, many tend to use this argument to exclude particulars who happen to shame the religion calling themselves part of it, or act in the name of it.

I think it would be interesting to see, how does every one define it, is it simply believing in a higher authority?. Is it taking every literal word of the bible?. Is it following the “reasonable” aspects of the bible?.

There aren’t many comments but already there are disagreements over what beliefs create a Christian. Is belief about Christ’s resurrection as written in the bible enough or do you have to buy into the theologies that came after in terms of holy trinity, and whatever else as well?

Finding this put me in mind of a piece from the Huffington Post I read yesterday. Martin Theilen was plugging his new book, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? For his introduction he wrote about a “success story” where he apparently turned a wishy-washy atheist into a wishy-washy Christian. The atheist-turned agonstic-turned new believer asked him what the minimum was that he’d have to believe in order to call himself Christian. Here’s Thielen’s abridged answer:

there are things Christians do need to believe, which is the focus of part two of my book. They need to believe in Jesus — his life, teachings, example, death and resurrection. A great benefit of these beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life’s most profound questions including:

• Who is Jesus?
• What matters most?
• Am I accepted?
• Where is God?
• What brings fulfillment?
• What about suffering?
• Is there hope?
• Is the church still relevant?
• Who is the Holy Spirit?
• What is God’s dream for the world?

None of those are questions I’d consider profound, myself, but whatever. Well, maybe the hope one, but I’d be thinking of hope in terms of what humanity can come up with for problem solving, not the hope that God will sort it out in the end. I think suffering ties into that. There are a lot of things humans could do to improve that but most of us won’t because we’re greedy and selfish and insular and inward-looking. We should be looking out for others and giving a damn all the time, not just when a journalist might be around, or election time. And we should do it for them, not because it’ll make us look like good people. We should help because they need it, not because of our misguided motivations, be they desires for good press or the assumption that one must please a god with good works.

The fulfillment one also winds up being a good question but not one that requires God as the answer. Which reminds me, one of the things that annoyed the atheist side at the recent debate was William Lane Craig’s idea that only God can fill that void we all have inside us. Some in our group were offended by the idea that we’re somehow empty and hollow and less because we’ve closed the door on that great influence. Horse pucky. I think time with friends and family, or passion about hobbies and volunteering can make life feel less empty. Compassion, empathy, demonstrating a willingness to help others.. even coming to the realization that others care about you and are willing to help you.. that winds up being a very fulfilling moment, too. I should know; I just went through a moment like that the other day. I think I might have wept if the conversation hadn’t taken place at work. Had the conversation happened a few months sooner, I might have taken the advice as well.

Out of curiosity, I did a search for “how christians define christians” which netted me an article from Religious Tolerance. The authors of that site get email complaining about how they define Christians so they felt it was worthwhile to set records straight, as it were. The complaints range from interesting to absurd. They’ve had so many complaints that it took a second page to deal with them all.

Defining “Christian” as a follower of Jesus is a fairly common one. The problem is that there is no consensus on what Jesus expects of humans. The Bible seems to be quite ambiguous on this point. If you don’t believe this, then organize a meeting involving a Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God member, Jehovah’s Witness, ELCA member, Mormon, etc. and ask them to reach a consensus on any topic — e.g. who are saved? It will be quite impossible for them to reach a consensus.

Ask a Southern Baptist whether they are a follower of Jesus. The answer will be yes.
Ask a Jehovah’s Witness whether they are a follower of Jesus. The answer will be yes.
As a Southern Baptist whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are followers of Jesus. The answer will probably be no.
As a Jehovah’s Witness whether Southern Baptists are followers of Jesus. The answer will probably be no.

I’ll quote another answer they gave on the first page:

Why not use God’s definition of “Christian?” We could have the theists in our group attempt to pray to God to determine his definition. But we conducted a pilot study on assessing the will of God through prayer. We found that it doesn’t work. Again, if people could assess the will of God through prayer, then there would be a single universally accepted definition of “Christian” among all Christian denominations. If prayer worked in this way, there would have been no schisms in Christendom over theology. In fact, all of the religions in the world would be consolidated into one denomination or tradition in one religion.

I think good proof of this is the fact that people who pray tend to get the answer they like, not the answer they don’t like. Their god will never tell them they’ve picked the wrong denomination. Their god will never contradict them on an issue they worry about. They will always get the answer they want and that will be reason enough to believe they are right. It’s like rolling a loaded die yet pretending it isn’t one. Or flipping a two headed coin. Do people ever get an answer they didn’t already expect?

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6 Responses to How DO Christians define Christians?

  1. Tony Sidaway says:

    I’d probably go with the Nicene Creed, but I suspect that’s because I was raised as a Catholic.

    http://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_creed

    Some evangelicals seem to operate on the basis that they have a bible-based belief system and commune with others who, as a group, are recognised as Christians. Obviously that works too, as a practical definition.

    Mormons have an extensive public scripture adding to the biblical story of Jesus. Obviously that freaks other Christians out, particularly because the origin of the faith is recent enough to demonstrate how easy it is to manufacture a whole hokey mythology out of nothing in a single generation and have it go on to be a successful religion. Mormons, I understand, class themselves as Christians.

  2. 1minionsopinion says:

    Thus evidence of the power of charisma, gullibility and faith, I suppose.

    Do you still consider yourself catholic?

    I guess what wound up fascinating me about this was how individual and personalized a definition winds up being, and how people might be involved with a group, not specifically because it’s on the right track (although they will think so), but because those in the group happen to think and rationalize their beliefs in a similar way. Instant feelings of connection that way, of acceptance and such.

  3. Tony Sidaway says:

    I left religion behind several decades ago because I didn’t get anything useful from it. I had never had a strong perception of God and I have become rather exasperated with the antics of those who think they do. I have no hesitation in calling myself an atheist and an agnostic.

  4. 1minionsopinion says:

    Was your family okay with that? I think the only reasons I wound up at a catholic grade school were (possibly) the curriculum and the fact that I had relatives attending it. We weren’t church people.

  5. Tony Sidaway says:

    My family doesn’t pry into my religion, but I suspect they’re also as unreligious as I. I don’t think that is unusual for English people these days.

    When I stopped going to church at 15, my mother told me she was relieved, and she and my sisters also stopped going after she consulted them. My grandmother, a Catholic, had asked her to promise to bring us kids up as Catholics and she felt she had fulfilled that promise. I was born in the 1950s, before the report of Second Vatican Council was published, but left the church in the early 1970s.

    My wife’s sister is a Jehovah’s Witness, and we tolerated her unobtrusive and well-meaning attempts to evangelize our children. They were also taught about religion at the various schools they attended. They’re both grown up now and, as far as it’s possible for me to tell in a culture that seldom discusses religion, atheist. In fact Richard Dawkins’ book was recommended to me by one of my children.

  6. 1minionsopinion says:

    My aunt used to try a few pro-religion things with me but my mother set her straight at one point. I don’t know if that’s when my visits with my cousin started to decrease in frequency, but I do remember noticing I wasn’t getting to spend as much time with her as I had been. The folks never let me try out the local bible camp in the summer either, even though it was only few miles away. I don’t really feel like I missed out on anything, except what it might have been like to go to camp like other kids did.

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