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Who is a Christian?

Perhaps the most confusing religious word is "Christian" itself:

bulletSome individuals, faith groups, public opinion pollsters, government census offices, etc. define a Christian as anyone who believes that they are following the teachings of Jesus Christ. This definition would include about 76% of adults in the U.S. and a similar number in Canada. It would embrace members of Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestant churches, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican churches, mainline and liberal Protestant denominations, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many persons who are not members of a specific faith group.
bulletBut within Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestant faith groups, the term "Christian" is generally restricted to those persons who are born-again or "saved." i.e. an individual who has repented their sins and trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. They might total about 35% of adults in the U.S., and 8% in Canada.
bulletMore details on "who is a Christian."

This difference causes massive confusion. Two examples are:

bulletAn Evangelical who visits a Mormon web site might well be surprised to find that Mormons consider themselves to be Christians. He or she might have been taught that Mormons are sub-Christians, quasi-Christians, or non-Christians. He might be further confused to find that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regards their denomination as the "true" Christian church. They view other Christian denominations as having strayed from the teachings of Jesus and of the Bible.
bulletA liberal or mainline Christian might be confused if they visit a counter-cult web site, and find their own denomination listed as a non-Christian cult, simply because it does not teach that God inspired the authors of the Bible to write books that are inerrant -- free of error.

Since there are so many different definitions of the word "Christian," we recommend that the term rarely be use in isolation. If it is qualified by an adjective, such as "born-again" or "conservative" or "Evangelical" or "mainline" or "liberal," then confusion and even hurt feelings will be minimized. In a recent episode of "Unshackled," a Fundamentalist Christian radio drama from Chicago, IL, an actor said that she had been raised in a Roman Catholic neighborhood, but that many of her childhood friends had become Christians. A Roman Catholic would probably be deeply offended by such a statement; a mainline or liberal Christian might well be confused; only a conservative Protestant would probably understand what she meant: that some of her friends had been raised as Roman Catholics, which she considered to be Pagan and not Christian. Some of the friends had been "born again" later in life, and converted to Evangelical Christianity. If the actress had said that her friends had "become born again" or "become Evangelical Christians" then the hurt and confusion would be eliminated, and everyone would understand exactly what she meant.

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Other religious terms: 

As listed elsewhere in this section, Evangelical Christians frequently assign special definitions to certain terms -- particularly in the area of homosexuality, abortion, and religion. This makes it difficult for individuals and groups from opposite wings of Christianity to discuss hot-button topics with each other. It is similarly difficult for Evangelical Christians to discuss beliefs with pro-choice groups, medical researchers, etc. In order to enter into effective debate or dialog, these groups need to spend considerable preparation time trying to thrash out common meanings to words and phrases, so that their statements can be understood each other. Unfortunately, many people do not realize that different groups hold quite different definitions of common words; the result is chaos, a breakdown in communication, and a complete inability to engage in meaningful dialog.

We felt that there is a need for an inter-faith and intra-faith translating dictionary, just as there are Spanish-English and French-English dictionaries.

This different use of terminology can be maintained indefinitely if most Evangelicals avoid close contact with the groups with which they disagree - for example, contact with:

bulletRoman Catholics, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Mormons, liberal and progressive Christians, believers of other faith groups.
bulletAdvocates of choice in abortion, physician assisted suicide, etc.
bulletGays, bisexuals, lesbians, etc.

With their separate religious schools, magazines, bookstores, radio stations, TV channels, men's and women's organizations, local clergy associations, etc., it is not difficult for them to maintain this isolation.

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The information in this section are necessarily imprecise:

bulletSome Evangelical Christians do not follow the Evangelical definitions listed.
bulletSome non-Evangelicals use the Evangelical definitions.
bulletBecause of the limited space, definitions are necessarily very brief.

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Religious info > Evangelical dictionary > here

or Home > "Hot" religious topics > Abortion > Evangelical dictionary > here

 Home > Comparison of religions > Evangelical dictionary > here

 Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic info > Evangelical dictionary > here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-2-
Latest update: 2005-JUL-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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