What Does It Take to Be a “Christian?”
I have answered this question (“What does it take to be a ‘Christian’?”) here before. However, it has been a long time and so, in light of my recent claim that Donald Trump cannot be considered a Christian, and in light of readers’ calls for explanation, I will do it again.
First, however, I must lay out my credentials and claims to authority. My main credentials is having been a scholar of Christian history and thought (philosophy, theology) for forty years. I have written twenty books, numerous articles, and literally hundreds of blog essays about the history of Christian thought—all based on research in primary texts from the Bible itself to contemporary Christian philosophers and theologians.
My authority is nothing more than my influence. I have no ecclesial authority. However, as a teacher of Christianity in four universities and numerous churches, I have been forced to decide and declare, for myself and those who believe me, that some people and groups that claim to be Christian are not. (One of my areas of study and teaching has been “cults and new religions.”)
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Second, I must state a basic presupposition. Anyone who does not agree with me about this will not find anything I say helpful. They may as well stop reading this now. If “Christianity” is compatible with anything and everything, it is meaningless. I will go one step further and say that if everyone who claims to be a Christian is such simply by virtue of claiming to be such, then the identity “Christian” is meaningless. That is because there are even atheists who claim to be Christian. There are also people who deny that we can know anything about Jesus Christ who claim to be Christian. (I have personally met both kinds of people.)
So, on to a list of necessary (if not sufficient) marks of a true Christian. (These apply to persons who are capable of knowing and understanding and at least attempting to live according to these beliefs and values. I do not necessarily deny the Christian identity of other persons who are incapable of knowing, understanding and attempting to live….)
1) A true, authentic Christian necessarily believes in and worships the personal God of the Bible, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and necessarily believes in and worships Jesus Christ as God the Son and only Savior of the world.
2) A true, authentic Christian necessarily believes he or she is a sinner who needs salvation, reconciliation with God and spiritual renewal, through Jesus Christ and seeks such salvation through repentance and faith in him as lord and savior.
3) A true, authentic Christian necessarily believes that every human being ever born (some will say who has reached the age of accountability) with the one exception of Jesus Christ, was and is a sinner saved only by grace and that the ground, basis, of such salvation is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) A true, authentic Christian necessarily believes that the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, Genesis through Revelation, is/are the only Word of God written and God’s revelation of his will to humanity and humbly submits himself or herself to its authority.
5) A true, authentic Christian embraces a supernatural worldview in which a spiritual “world” exists that is not merely physical or natural and that it has appeared at least once in world history in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
6) A true, authentic Christian recognizes himself or herself as a person in need of forgiveness by God and passionately seeks such through prayer including prayers of repentance and trust in God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
7) A true, authentic Christian seeks to avoid sin and live a holy life separated from sin and evil in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
8) A true, authentic Christian earnestly desires and tries to show love, mercy, and compassion to all even as his or her lord and master Jesus Christ did.
9) A true, authentic Christian seeks to have fellowship with God’s people in worship and service.
10) A true, authentic Christian shuns idolatry which means loyalty to, worship of, any lord and master alongside or over God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
As with every other category without absolute boundaries, a person may be “more or less” Christian, depending on circumstances, level of capacity, maturity, etc. These ten marks have to do with disposition more than mere confession or meaningless action. They do not determine the status of any person’s “salvation” but only the status of one’s claim to be “Christian.” It is always possible for a person or group to add something to the meaning of “Christian” that contradicts the above and thereby possibly completely undermines his/her/their Christian authenticity. For example, a person might agree with all ten points but add that his/her ultimate goal and destiny is to become God as God is God and rule over a world as God rules over this world. Such a belief implicitly conflicts with point 10 above.
*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).