Religious Tolerance logo

Christianity: introduction and definitions

So you disagree with our
definition of "Christian!"


This essay was born out of frustration. We receive many Emails critical of our definition of "Christian." On 2007-DEC-20, coincidentally my 71st birthday, I received an extremely long letter on this topic. I spent over an hour answering it, only to find that the return Email address did not exist. So I decided to take excerpts out of that Email response and expand them into this essay.

Definitions of "Christian" -- our understanding:

bullet Many, perhaps most, Christians are totally convinced that their personal definition of "Christian" is the correct one.
bullet We have listed over 40 different definitions of the term "Christian."
bullet These definitions differ significantly from each other; many are mutually exclusive.
bullet Each definition has been developed by one or more sincere, intelligent, devout, thoughtful person(s). Most or all of them sincerely believe that their definition is the true one.

According to the ARIS study in 2001, 76.5% (159 million) of American adults "said" that they are Christian. However, an article in Wikipedia states that:

  • 73% identified themselves as Christian in 2012.

  • 70.6% did so in 2014.

Christian affiliation appears to be dropping almost 4.5 percentage points per decade. The U.S. seems to be following the secularization trend seen in Europe and other areas of the developed world.

bullet Many people who consider themselves to be Christians do not recognize others as Christians.
bullet Some definitions are quite inclusive and include approximately 160 million American adults -- over 70% of the population. Others are so restrictive that they might only include a few tens of thousands of adults (perhaps 0.02% of the total number of adults) in the U.S. as Christians.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link

horizontal rule

The definition that we use:

We define "Christian" as follows:

We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe that they follow Yeshua of Nazareth's (a.k.a. Jesus Christ's) teachings as they understand them to be.

Included as Christians are members of the Roman Catholic church; the Eastern Orthodox churches, conservative, mainline, and liberal Christian faith groups; The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormons); Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, Christian Science, and a thousand or so other religious organizations that identify themselves as Christian. We also consider the early Jewish Christian movement led by James the brother of Jesus and Peter as Christian, even though their beliefs, practices, and expectations do not match modern-day denominations.

Also included are those who consider themselves to be Christian even though they do not identify themselves with any particular religious group.

Common negative comments we have received about our definition of Christian:

bullet You have no academic qualifications to make definitions: Ours is a multi-faith group consisting of an Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist. None have a theological degree or diploma from a Bible college. We consider this an asset, because such an education would bias us in favor of one wing of Christianity, and against other wings. We look upon ourselves as reporters, not theologians. We feel that we have done a competent job in collecting a broad range of definitions created by others. We do not create any theological beliefs. We merely report what others believe.
bullet Why not use the Bible's definition of "Christian?" The Bible is not clear on what a Christian is. Its text is ambiguous. If it were clear, then there would be a single, universally accepted definition in use among all Christian denominations. We have collected over 40 conflicting definitions. There are probably many more out there that we have not included.
bullet Why not use God's definition of "Christian?" We could have the theists in our group attempt to pray to God to determine his definition. But we conducted a pilot study on assessing the will of God through prayer. We found that it doesn't work. Again, if people could assess the will of God through prayer, then there would be a single universally accepted definition of "Christian" among all Christian denominations. If prayer worked in this way, there would have been no schisms in Christendom over theology. In fact, all of the religions in the world would be consolidated into one denomination or tradition in one religion.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule

This discussion continues in another essay

If we have not addressed your concern....:

If you have a complaint about our definition of "Christian" that is not covered above, please feel free to write us. We will consider adding it to the above list. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to answer your Email.

Site navigation:

 Home page > Christianity > Introduction > Who is a Christian? > here

 Home page > Who is a Christian? > here

 Home page > Glossary of terms > Who is a Christian? > here

or Home page > Religious Information > Who is a Christian? > here

Copyright 2009 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-DEC-20
Latest update: 2016-FEB-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)
Sponsored link

Go to the previous page, or to the "Who is a Christian?" menu, or choose:

To search this website:

Click on one of the links ^^ above at the < < left, or use this search bar:

search engine by freefind

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.

Twitter icon

Facebook icon

About us
Our beliefs
Is this your first visit?
Contact us
External links

Recommended books

Visitors' essays
Our forum
New essays
Other features
Buy a CD of this site
Vital notes

World religions
-Christian definition
 -Shared beliefs
 -Handling change
 -Bible topics
 -Bible inerrancy
 -Bible harmony
-Interpret the Bible
-Beliefs & creeds
 -Da Vinci code
 -Revelation, 666
Other religions
Cults and NRMs
Comparing Religions

Non-theistic beliefs

About all religions
Main topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handling change
Doubt & security
Confusing terms
End of the World?
True religion?
Seasonal events
Science vs. Religion
More information

Morality & ethics
Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious freedom
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten Commandments
Abortion access
Assisted suicide
Death penalty

Same-sex marriage

Human rights
Gays in the military
Sex & gender
Stem cells
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news




Sponsored links: