Who is a Christian?
Definitions according to the Apostles' Creed,
one philosopher, dictionaries, and Google
The Apostles' creed:
This creed is widely accepted within
almost all Christian denominations, and is used by some to define who is a
Christian. It is not accepted by the Eastern Orthodox churches. It contains a
list of beliefs that the early church expected its members to believe.
A common English translation reads:
"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by
the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried. [He descended to the dead.*] On the third day
he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the
Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of
saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life
* This sentence appears to be a later addition by an unknown forger.
There is no consensus over the
origin of the creed:
the creed has been dated to about 30 to 40 CE when many of the apostles
were preparing to
follow the Great Commission -- to leave Palestine and teach the gospel throughout
the world. In order to make certain that each apostle taught the same message,
they jointly composed the Apostles' Creed before their departure. |
religious liberals, the creed was written by unknown author(s), in the 4th
century CE or later. |
One philosopher's definitions:
Michael Martin studied Christianity from the point of view of a
philosopher. He prepared a series of definitions of "Christian:"
|Basic Christian: "Person P is a Basic Christian if
and only if P believes that a theistic God exists, that Jesus lived at
the time of Pilate, that Jesus is the Incarnation of God, that one is
saved through faith in Jesus, and that Jesus is the model of ethical
|Orthodox Christian (meaning a traditional Christian, not
member of an Eastern Orthodox church): "Person P is an
Orthodox Christian if and only if P is a Basic Christian and P
believes in the Trinity, the Virgin Birth,
the Crucifixion [ordered] by Pilate, the Resurrection,
and the Second Coming."|
|Liberal Christian: Person P is a liberal Christian if they
believe in "a theistic God, ...Jesus as a model of ethical
behavior, ...[and] the historicity of Jesus." |
|Extreme Liberal Christian: Person P is an extreme liberal
Christian if they believe in "Jesus as a model of ethical
behavior..." Presumably, such an extreme liberal Christian could
also be an Agnostic, Atheist or
Humanist. 1 |
Martin indicates that some would object to his minimal definitions,
arguing that Christianity must be more than a set of beliefs; it must
involve action. i.e. a Christian must attempt to follow the ethical teachings
of Jesus. He suggests that each of his definitions could be given the
suffix: "and P follows or attempts to follow the ethical teachings
Unfortunately, an air of religious intolerance permeates North America.
Many Americans and Canadians equate "Christian" with being kind, decent or
good. This implies that non-Christians lack these qualities. The purpose of
dictionary definitions is to reflect the actual usage of words. Many
dictionaries reflect this prejudice:
|"1. A person professing belief in Jesus as
the Christ, or in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus. |
decent, respectable person. |
|3. having the qualities demonstrated and
taught by Jesus Christ, as love, kindness, humility, etc. |
|4. Of or
representing Christians or Christianity. |
|5. humane, decent, etc."
|Word iQ: "A follower of the faith of Christianity."
|Encarta: "Any phenomenon as complex and as vital as Christianity is easier to describe
historically than to define logically...the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ...is...a
feature of all the historical varieties of Christian belief and practice.
[However] Christians have not
agreed in their understanding and definition of what makes Christ distinctive or unique."
- [n] a religious person who believes Jesus is the Christ and is a
member of a Christian denomination.
- [adj] following the teachings or manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus
- [adj] (religion) relating to or characteristic of Christianity; 'Christian
|TheFreeDictionary: "A monotheistic system of beliefs and practices based on the Old Testament and the
teachings of Jesus as embodied in the New Testament and emphasizing the role of Jesus as savior."
|Other dictionaries: According to, Robin's Nest, most
English dictionaries define a Christian as: "n. person who
believes in and follows Christ. adj. relating to Christ or Christianity;
kind or good." 7|
A really handy feature of Google is its define function. Googling the search
string define: Christian
will search out various dictionaries and glossaries on the web and display the
answers. In this case, Google returns:
|"A monotheistic system of beliefs and practices based on the Old
Testament and the teachings of Jesus as embodied in the New Testament." See
http://wordnet.princeton.edu/ This is not a useful definition because
there are literally tens of thousands of faith groups in the world that
consider themselves Christian, that base their beliefs on the Bible, and yet
derive different "systems of beliefs and practices" from the Bible. |
|"The belief in Jesus Christ as Savior of the world." See:
http://www.mnsu.edu/ This is not a good definition because many
Christians believe in a set of cardinal beliefs of which Jesus as Savior is
only one. That is, it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.|
|"The Christian religion."
http://www.innvista.com/ Again, not useful. It defines Christianity in
terms of itself.|
|"The world's largest religion, followed by those who worship Jesus
http://www.channel4.com/ Many people who consider themselves
progressive Christians regard Jesus as a great
prophet and not a God or part of the Trinity. So did
many of the earliest Christians who formed
the original Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.|
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Michael Martin, "The case against Christianity," Temple
University Press, (1991) Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- Webster's New World Dictionary, Third college edition.
- "Christian," word iQ, at:
- The Encarta Encyclopedia is online at: http://encarta.msn.com/Default.asp
- "Christian: dictionary entry and meaning," hyperdictionary, at:
- "Christianity," TheFreeDictionary, at:
- "A Christian," at: http://www.robinsnest.demon.co.uk/
Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-MAR-19
Latest update: 2007-DEC-20
Author: B.A. Robinson