Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:22-23)
What is Christianity? What does it mean to be a Christian? How do you know when someone is a Christian, or not?
There should only be one meaning to this. There is only one true meaning. But these days, there are seemingly countless meanings and definitions that people have ascribed to Christianity. It seems like so many people will claim to be Christian, and yet some have no idea what it even means.
If you aren’t sure what I mean, consider that the following groups would all consider themselves “Christian”:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Seventh Day Adventists
- Apostolic Pentecostal
- and more…
All these groups will generally identify as Christian, but many of these groups have wildly different beliefs from other groups. How can that be? I realize that some or most of these would specify that they belong to their individual belief group (i.e. Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostal etc), but if you asked most people in these groups, “Would you consider yourself a Christian?” they would almost certainly say, “Yes”.
If you’ll permit me, let me take this a step further…
Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, “Reverend” T.D. Jakes, Casey Treat, and Kenneth Hagin (“Word of Faith” preachers) would, I presume, all proclaim to be Christian.
Even the notorious “Westboro Baptist Church” would almost certainly, given the title Baptist, proclaim to be Christian.
Now… many people will realize that some of these groups have very different beliefs, even if they generally sound the same on paper, but some won’t. If you do not clearly know what it means to be a Christian, then you might simply categorize all these groups as being “Christian” and not see what the difference is.
It reminds me of the Family Guy episode where Seth MacFarlane interjects a brief animation of a Seventh-Day Adventist character meeting a Methodist character. The Methodist says, “I am a Methodist. We believe that the Lord is our Savior, and we remember Him by going to church and praising Him every Sunday.” The character playing the Adventist then says, “I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist. We believe all the same things that you believe, but we go to church on Saturdays.” The Methodist character then is taken aback, exclaiming, “Whaaaaaaaaaat?” followed by his eyes bugging out, him hitting himself on the head with a frying pan, and so on.
Seth MacFarlane is an atheist, who voiced (and I would assume, wrote) both characters and their dialogue. This actually illustrates my point well explains my point of how – not knowing what it means to be a Christian – anyone who claims to “believe in Jesus” can seem to be one. It seems that from his perspective, he sees that Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists are one and the same with the only exception being the day of the week that they choose to worship.
The words in that clip, taken literally, are not wrong. However, this vague description does not even go near the reason behind the difference in days, nor the underlying beliefs of the respective groups, whatsoever. I can’t say it “doesn’t scratch the surface” (although that is true), because he doesn’t even attempt to provide any explanation – thus making Methodists (and other Sunday-worshipping Christians) sound overly judgmental and rude over what he seems to perceive as merely a choice in days of the week.
We’ve looked so far at mostly the more extreme ends of things, and some of the different groups. But, what about your average Joes? What about your neighbor down the street, or that guy who lives around the corner? Perhaps even, what about you?
If you go to church every Sunday (or, Saturday, as it may be) – does that make you a Christian?
If you read the Bible from cover to cover, does that make you a Christian?
If you memorize chunks of the New Testament, does that make you a Christian?
If you “believe in Jesus”, does that make you a Christian? If so, what do you have believe about Jesus to thus declare you a Christian?
If you “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, and “love your neighbor”, does that mean you are a Christian?
Maybe it’s if you abstain from drugs, alcohol, fornication and adultery, pornographic materials, gambling, smoking… Would that make you one?
What does a Christian have to do or not do in order to be considered one?
I’d like to tell you a little story. I lived in the Bible belt area for about 5 years. I spent a little of that time working in a hospital, and met a lot of people. One of the things I was supposed to ask people was if they had a “religious preference”. This wasn’t to say they were on their death beds, it was just a standard question that was on the list whether you were getting an X-ray, having surgery, giving birth, etc.
Wouldn’t you know it? Almost everyone who I asked claimed to be Christian! This was evident not just from the vast number of people who actually said “Christian”, but also from the vast number of people who would say “None” (i.e., no religious preference). Since this was not a common occurrence, I would occasionally ask them again, to make sure that I had it down correctly. Many a time, someone would revise their statement and either say, “Well I believe in God…” or “Well, I’m Christian”… When they said “None”, it seems they understood it to mean something along the lines of “Do you have a particular denomination?” It seemed that it was supposed to be a given understanding that of course they were Christian.
I even had people who would say that, and then revise their statement and say, “Well, I’m Baptist…” I do understand that some people say “None” and mean “None”, as in, they may believe in God but they have no particular affiliation and/or some people simply no longer wish to be associated with the title of Christian for this or that reason. That generally did not seem to be the case though in most of my encounters.
One gentleman even floored me. I walked into his room and I was getting his information. When I came to that question, he said “None”. I double-checked, as usual, and he said, “Well, I believe in God… they’re all the same though, aren’t they?” (asked in a light-hearted, rhetorical tone) I may not have his words exact, but the literal implication was that all gods were the same as the Christian God.
My point is this: There are many people these days who seem to think that “being Christian” simply means that you have a belief in Christ. They think that if you go to a “Christian” church every week, you must be one. Even Christians, are guilty of this assumption of others. If someone attends church every weekend and sees someone else attending every weekend also, the assumption is that they are there as a Bible-believing Christian as well.
Christianity, as the religion it’s become (which it was never meant to be), generally means that you go to church each week, read the Bible on occasion, pray at times, and have a high moral standing.
Christianity as the religious stereotype generally seems to imply someone judgmental of others, yet hypocritical in doing the some of the same wrongs themselves. The stereotype is close-minded people who don’t follow the very Person we profess to believe in, and constantly preach judgment, wrath, and condemnation. People who “don’t practice what they preach”, but think that they are better than everyone else.
Liberal Christianity involves a relatively different teaching, possibly instated initially to try to combat the stereotypical view, but more likely to try to appease the world. Liberal Christianity (perhaps/also by other terms) seems to be a rather recent phenomenon and involves pastors or sermons who seem to refuse to preach anything except “love”, tolerance, and acceptance of all – not in a sense that God will not turn anyone away from His love and mercy, but in a sense of accepting whatever decisions and lifestyles people believe are right and good as “right” and “good”, regardless of what the Bible might say about the topic at hand. Not quite the level of Joel Osteen, but rare to preach about anything that might sound negative or remotely intolerant.
Then there are Christian cults, which further illustrates my point in that it is a cult, but designated “Christian” simply for the aspect of belief in Jesus. These groups do not follow true Christianity, but since they have some belief in “Jesus”, they will use the term “Christian” at times. What they neglect to mention is that the things that they believe about Jesus are not the same things believed in orthodox Christianity; hence they believe in a different Jesus.
There are many possible perspectives of what it means to be a Christian, but only one is Biblically accurate. However, the title of “Christian” has become badly tainted by all these perspectives, as well as professing Christians who do not accurately represent Christ in major ways or virtually any ways.
These many perspectives can confuse people of other religions (or non-religious people), and even confuse or turn off people who would otherwise consider themselves to be Christian! Not all who profess to be Christian truly believe in the same Christ. Not all who profess to be Christian truly believe the same things about Christ. Not all who profess to be Christian are Christians at all.
There is only one true Jesus, and there is only one true Christ, and there is only one true God. Christianity was never meant to be a religion. It happens, of course, that we use the term “religion” broadly, to describe any religious beliefs, but true Christianity is actually far narrower than that.
The whole point of this site is to both look at what is and is not Christianity, but more so to get away from the labels, the titles, the religion – and to get back to the One who the religion was based on, the One who is our all. The One, named Jesus Christ.