Christianity: introduction and definitions
Who is a Christian? Simple question;
conflicting, certain answers; no consensus.
|"Any phenomenon as complex and as vital as Christianity is
easier to describe historically than to define logically." From
Encarta's definition of "Christianity." 1|
||Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car." G.K. Chesterton. |
|"What is a Christian, anyway? Someone of
European descent? A persecutor of Jews? Someone who votes for only the most
conservative Republicans? At times all of these answers have seemed
plausible. Some use these definitions to this day. In Christian circles the
answers are no clearer. A Christian is sometimes said to be someone who has
made a decision; sometimes, someone who belongs to a church; far too often,
someone who confesses the right creeds." Mark M. Mattison 2|
This section seems to be a bit of a lightning rod. It seems to attract Christians who
strongly disagree with what it says.
We get many Emails from angry Christians who denounce it.
Rather than send us an Email, please read what
others have written us and our answers. It might save you the trouble of
composing an Email to us.
One of the more interesting, and frustrating, features of religion is the variety of meanings
given to common words and terms. Many religious words have
multiple -- often mutually exclusive -- meanings. For example:
There are also many distinct definitions of the term "Christian." Four examples are:
||Most liberal Christian denominations, secularists, public opinion
pollsters, and this web site define "Christian" very broadly as any
person or group who sincerely believes themselves to be Christian. Their definitoin would include,
fundamentalist and other evangelical Protestants, Roman
Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers,
Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church members,
Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses,
Christian Scientists, etc. Using this definition, Christians total about 75% of the North
American adult population.|
||However, many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical
Protestants define "Christian" more narrowly to include only those
persons who have been "born again" regardless of
their denomination. That is, they have repented of their sin and trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. About 35% of the North American adult population identify
themselves in this way.|
||Some Protestant Christian denominations, para-church groups, and individuals
have assembled their own lists of cardinal Christian
doctrines. Many would regard anyone who denies even one of their cardinal
doctrines to be a non-Christian. Unfortunately, there is a wide diversity of
belief concerning which historical Christian beliefs should be included in the list.|
||Other denominations regard their own members to be the only true Christians
in the world. Some are quite small, numbering only a few thousand followers. One Baptist denomination that is also a homophobic hate group -- the Westboro Baptist Church -- believes that their total membership of slightly under 100 believers will go to Heaven to be with God after they die; they believe that the other 7 billion humans in the world are all destined to go to Hell. 4|
Different definitions on such a fundamental topic makes dialog and debate
among Christian groups very difficult. It also makes estimating the number of
Christians in the U.S. quite impossible. By some definitions, 75% of Americans
are Christians; by other definitions, it is a small fraction of 1%.
Yet, from the negative Emails that we receive on this topic, there are many
Christians out there who hold with fierce determination to their own definition
of "Christian" as the only valid one. We wrote a special essay to address their concerns
Topics in this section about "who is a Christian?:"
Closely related essay on this web site:
- The Encarta Encyclopedia is online at:
- Mark M. Mattison, "What is a Christian," True Grace Ministries,
We were invited to exchange links with Jesus Christ Saves Ministries (JCSM).
- An essay on FreeThoughtPedia about the Westboro Baptist Church describes the Church's belief that "... the Elect may reach heaven only through the portal of The Place. ... [He] who runs The Place holds the keys to the gates of Paradise." ... Inside The Place, people were good and going to heaven."
"The Place" is Phelp's term for his church. His son Nate is quoted as saying: "'Outside The Place they were all damned and going to hell. And, if that other world ever got us down, we were taught to find strength by imagining the terrible horrors that would happen soon to everyone outside The Place'." See § 7. "Nightmare on Twelfth Street," at: http://freethoughtpedia.com/
Copyright © 2000 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-MAR-19
Latest update: 2011-APR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson