Who or What is a Christian? imageskid

The word Christian comes from the Greek word christianos which is derived from the word christos or Christ, which means “anointed one.” A Christian, then, is someone who is a follower of Christ. The first use of the word “Christian” in the Bible is found in ,

Using this definition a Christian is one who follows Christ. That expose does not imply that there is anything else required other than follow Christ which on first blush is not so unlike someone saying they follow ABC News. Let’s try another one: pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings, pertaining to, or adhering to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, of or pertaining to Christians exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ, as in having a loving regard for others, humane; decent; generous, a person who believes in Jesus Christ; an adherent of Christianity, a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ. Now we have a bit more involved in being a Christian but once again why would we need Jesus Christ to be of a proper spirit, having a regard for others or being humane, decent, generous or even a person who might acknowledge Jesus at Christmas but I still am asking, is this what a Christian is?

Read this menagerie of words attempting to define what a Christian is:


This question assumes that there is one and only one correct definition of the term “Christian.” However, depending upon your understanding of the nature of truth, many definitions may be “true” to various groups:

  • To conservative Protestants, a Christian is often defined according to their salvation status. Their definition is “true” to them, because it agrees with some of their foundational beliefs: that the Bible is inerrant, that salvation is by grace, and that one must be “born-again” to be saved and avoid eternal punishment in Hell.
  • To Roman Catholics, a Christian is often defined according to their baptism status and the presence of any unresolved mortal sin in their lives. Their definition is “true” to them, because it agrees with their fundamental beliefs about the nature of sacraments, their understanding of the Bible, the declarations of many Church Councils, the statements of many popes, and their church’s tradition.
  • To many in the very early Christian movement, a Christian was defined as a person who was baptized and proclaimed “Jesus is Lord.” Their definition was “true” to them because it agreed with their understanding of their religious belief at a time when the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) had not yet been written and assembled.
  • And so on, with other faith groups.

Each group has their own definition of “Christian” that agrees with their own beliefs about the nature of Jesus, God, church tradition, written text, evolved theology, the cultures in which they are implanted, etc. There appears to be no way to compromise on a single definition that is acceptable to all.

One apparently cannot call on a higher power to resolve the problem, because there seems to be no way to assess the will of God on such matters. If there were such a method, then different definitions would have been harmonized centuries ago. People would simply have prayed to God and asked Him to define what a Christian is. Then, a consensus would exist today on the true meaning of the word “Christian.

There is no consensus on what the “correct” definition of “Christian” is. There is only a near consensus within individual faith groups. Therefore questions like “Are you a Christian?” or “How many Christians are there in the U.S.” are only meaningful:

  • Within a single denomination, or among a group of similarly-minded denominations.
  • In a public opinion poll where the definition of “Christian” is either clearly stated or left up to the subject to defi

There is a common belief held by every Christian that we have met: they all believe that they are attempting to live in accordance with Christ’s teachings. Perhaps this is a good starting point from which to create a definition.

One problem is that different Christians and different Christian faith groups interpret biblical passages and Jesus’ teachings very differently.

The two religious/spiritual/ethical/moral topics of greatest current concern in North America appear to be:

  • Equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including access to marriage by loving, committed same-sex couples. Some Christians feel that excluding sexual minorities from having the same rights and protections as loving, committed opposite-sex couples is one of their major responsibilities. Other Christians feel that homophobia and transphobia — acts to restrict civil liberties of sexual minorities — are the main evils.
  • Access to abortion: Some Christians feel that reducing or prohibiting access to abortion is a prime responsibility. Others feel that their main task is to try to reduce the number of abortions to levels found in other developed countries by creating programs that would the reduce the cause of abortions: the number of unexpected, unwanted pregnancies. Still others feel that an abortion is often a woman’s moral decision and that it is important for them to try to maintain abortion access.

WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”) and WDJT (“What Does/Did Jesus Teach) are questions that Christians ask, meditate over, and pray about. But they come to opposite conclusions. One might wonder if a Christian can actually assess the will of God through prayer; the answer may be no.

Our original definition in the year 2000 was:

“We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe themselves to be a follower of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ).”

In 2011, changed to this definition:

“We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe themselves to be attempting to follow the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as they interpret those teachings to be.”

In North America there are over a thousand faith groups including the Roman Catholic church; the Eastern Orthodox churches, other conservative, mainline, liberal and progressive Christian faith groups; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons); Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unification Church, Christian Science, progressive Christians, and other religious organizations. They all feel that they are trying to follow Jesus’ teachings; they all identify themselves as Christian. In fact, many regard their group as the only “true” Christian church. Yet these groups, and their followers, have very different beliefs about the life, events, teachings, actions, sinlessness and expectations of Yeshua.

Also included within our definition as Christians are those who regard themselves as being followers of Jesus even though they do not affiliate themselves with any particular religious group. They appear to be growing in numbers as increasing numbers of North Americans are abandoning religion in favor of a personal spirituality.

We realize that we are defining Christians in terms of being Christian. As one person said, that is like defining a parrot as “something that has the characteristics of a parrot.” But since there is no consensus on what the teachings of Jesus are,” we see no other choice. In contrast, there is a general agreement about what a parrot — or mountain, or car, or computer – are.

Guess what? We are still confused as a people as to what a uniform definition of a Christian is even when acknowledging that each separate individual has their own concept of the proper appellation of a believer. Further, one may ask why is a reliable uniform definition of a Christian even relevant and why is it necessary to label anyone a Christian anyway? Now consider there is also the “Religious” who do not call themselves Christian but still declare a faith in Jesus Christ and there are those when asked are you a Christian but will answer no but I follow Jesus. What is that?

There is no official directory for all the congregations in the county, so sociologists of religion have to rely on statistical estimates extrapolated from surveys. These are often disputed, and to complicate matters, thousands of new churches open each year, while thousands of others close. Hartford Institute estimates there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. This estimate relies on the RCMS 2010 religious congregations census. Of those, about 314,000 are Protestant and other Christian churches, and 24,000 are Catholic and Orthodox churches. Non-Christian religious congregations are estimated at about 12,000.

For years, the Gallup Research Organization has come up with a consistent figure — 40 percent of all Americans, or roughly 118 million people, who said they attended worship on the previous weekend. Recently, sociologists of religion have questioned that figure, saying Americans tend to exaggerate how often they attend. By actually counting the number of people who showed up at representative sample of churches, two researchers, Kirk Hadaway and Penny Marler found that only 20.4 percent of the population, or half the Gallup figure, attended church each weekend.
As added proof for the accuracy of this smaller percentage of churchgoers, if 20.4% of Americans (approximately 63 million in 2010) attended the nation’s 350,000 congregations weekly then the average attendance would be 180 people per congregation which is almost exactly the figure that numerous research studies have found. If we take the Gallup number of 118 million people attending church weekly, then does that mean there are roughly 118 million Christians in America? Of course not because there are several thousands more who call themselves Christian that do not attend any church at all and there is a significant number of Christians who attend a service in a home.

Now I wish to address Social Media and it’s impact in the number of “Christians” out there.
With the rapid rise and tremendous success of Facebook, Twitter and other social media applications, congregations are swiftly adopting these tools for their ministry. Over 40% of congregations say they use Facebook. This is a staggering rate of adoption since the general public use of Facebook was only 4 years old in 2010. In part, the dramatic embrace of Facebook by congregations might provide an explanation for the drop in the percentage of congregational websites the Faith Communities Today found in 2010. Seven percent of congregations are on Facebook but do not have a web presence. This may well signal a shift and even a positive trend in the use of technology by religious groups. Currently, few congregational websites are interactive or updated regularly. On the other hand, Facebook pages have a dynamic interactive quality; they are easily updated and offer timely relevant information to a faith community’s “friends.” One distinct drawback of this strategy, however, is that few congregational Facebook pages contain relevant contact information in case outsiders come knocking. Facebook is great for congregational insiders, but may well be less functional as a yellow-pages ad for those shopping for a new faith community home.

And Facebook is not the only social media being adopted by religious groups. Just over 10% of faith communities report using blogs or podcasts, Additionally, an open-ended “Other” question garnered a long list of various technologies employed by some congregations… everything from phone calling systems and disseminating sermons by CD, DVD or even cassette tape to streaming worship services on the web. Large numbers of congregations employed Goggle calendars, maps and docs, AdWords and Analytics. Some used Flickr, Evites, Youtube, and Texting to enhance their ministry. Many survey respondents reported offering enewsletter versions of their print material A few congregations even employed online giving, TV and radio broadcasts, twitter feeds, and wireless Internet during the worship service. Two of the 11,000 congregations operated an “Internet campus” of their church, offering virtual worship services with live clergy and a worship team. In addition here are thousands of ministry blogs to read, but do you ever wonder which ones everyone else is reading? There is a broad scope of perspectives included, so be spiritually discerning about what you read and compare it against what the Bible says. Discern fellow Christians Blogs now doesn’t that statement further complicate matters are not all Christians of one faith, one mind one Spirit? No! Not all Christians believe as we do and many are in error. Who says? It doesn’t line up with the Bible. Which Bible? Why the King James Version of course. Didn’t some recent findings put some doubt on some interpretations?

I am still defining what a Christian is but it keeps getting more complex as we go. Is a Christian the same as an accountant, a school teacher or lawyer? Could it be they are both but then which part of them is the Christian? Or does the law aspect of the person then become covered by the umbrella of Christianity to the extent of operating their practice or function in accordance with the definition of a Christian as supplied above? When Jesus called his disciples he said to some drop all and follow me. Am I then to assume these men became Christians’ when complying with the command of Jesus or did they become the inaugural members of the Body of Christ and is there any difference? There are churches out there that run around the hinterland looking to “disciple” people are these then Christian’s with an advanced degree? I ask further, when they acquire their PhD’s do they become Son’s of God?

If the term Christian defines a person regardless of commitment to the Lord then trying to define Christian becomes an a moot point and remains confused.

Please comment and tell me what a Christian is…

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3 Comments

  1. Problem is that a lot of Christians want to bring it down to only their own belief in a three-une god, not willing to accept that Jesus was the son of man and is a real mediator between God and man.

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