Are You a Christian?
“Sure, I believe in God. I’m a Christian.” “I’ve never done anything bad enough to go to hell, so I suppose I’m a Christian.” “I’m a Christian; I go to church every Sunday.” Sound familiar? From soccer moms and working husbands to college students and business executives, millions of Americans across the nation are professing Christianity. According to The Spokesman Review, a survey in 2008 revealed that “76 percent of Americans identify [themselves] as Christians” (Boorstein). In view of this fact and the fact that many citizens consider America to be a Christian nation, I pose these questions: what is a Christian, and do three quarters of Americans fit the profile? I will attempt to show that many professing Christians are misinformed about what they profess. I believe Americans lack understanding in regards to the roots of Christianity and of the word itself.
This is not an attempt to prove Christianity or any other religion to be the only true religion. This is an attempt to examine the word Christian, and encourage those professing it to do likewise. One way the Oxford English Dictionary defines a Christian is “Believing, professing, or belonging to the religion of Christ” (Oxford). This definition forces us to take a brief look at Christ and His religion. Who is Christ? The Christ is the Son of God, or the Messiah, also known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ. Although there is much debate over whether Jesus was in fact the Christ, for simplicity reasons, and since I am addressing those who profess to be Christians and believe Jesus to be the Christ, I will not tackle the issue. History and the Holy Scriptures reveal that Jesus was born around 4 BC in the town of Bethlehem to His virgin mother, Mary. They also tell of His death around the age of 30, when He was arrested, tried, and crucified. During His life on earth, Jesus performed innumerable miracles including raising the dead, healing the sick, and turning water into wine. Following Jesus’ death, His followers, or disciples, believed He had risen from the dead, paving the way for salvation and eternal life in heaven. They traveled abroad preaching the teachings of Christ, the need for a Savior, and Christ as that Savior. This was the founding of Christianity, which spread rapidly through the instruction of Jesus’ disciples.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a Christian is actively “Believing, professing, or belonging to the religion of Christ” (Oxford). Let’s say I decide my dog is in fact a horse, and let’s say I not only decide that, but I truly believe it, and begin professing it to my neighbors and family. Does this make my dog a horse? The obvious answer is no. My dog is no more a horse than he is an elephant, no matter how much I believe it is or profess it to be. In the same sense, simply deciding, believing, and professing to be a Christian does not make one a Christian. Hence, this definition of the word Christian cannot be sufficient.
Going again to the Oxford English Dictionary, let’s consider the words “Indian,” and “Washingtonian.” Indian means “Of, from, or belonging to India” (Oxford). Now as an American, if I decide I want to be Indian, do I have the ability to one day be American and the next Indian? Again, the obvious answer is no. I of course would need to be “of, from, or belonging to India,” as the definition states. The definition of “Washingtonian”: “Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of George Washington or his politics” (Oxford). Likewise, I would like to imply similar attributes: that it is not enough to just consider oneself a Christian, he or she must be characteristic of Jesus Christ and his beliefs in order to be a Christian.
Some may say they are a Christian simply because they believe in God. Some go even further and say they believe in Jesus Christ. According to the Holy Bible, “even the demons believe -- and tremble!” (James 2:19). It is apparent that simply believing in God or Jesus Christ does not make one a Christian, since we know that demons are not Christians.
Others justify themselves by their good deeds and desires, claiming these make them a Christian. Are atheists, performing noble acts and desiring to do well, actually Christians, even though they don’t believe in a god? These examples show that a simple definition of the word is not easily reached, and many are obviously confused because of the lack of a definitive meaning. Another definition of Christian offered by the Oxford English Dictionary is “One who exhibits the spirit, and follows the precepts and example, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by genuine piety” (Oxford). In order to know the precepts and examples of Christ we must go to His word, the Holy Bible.
The word Christian is found in the Holy Bible only three times: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Here we see that it was only the disciples of Jesus who received the title Christian. I will not go into what a disciple is, but I believe it’s clear to most Christians, even today, that they were not only followers or believers of Jesus, but were also devoted to being like Him and obedient to Him. Later, the Holy Bible tells us the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul, was speaking to King Agrippa, when King Agrippa replied sarcastically, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Here, Agrippa seems to be using the word in a demeaning, mocking way. The third and final time the word is used in scripture says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1Peter 4:16). This incident speaks in terms of affliction and persecution being served to those who profess to be Christians. These three occurrences reveal that Christians were disciples of Jesus Christ, were verbally mocked and ridiculed, and were physically abused and afflicted. How many American Christians meet this definition offered in the Holy Scriptures?
The Holy Bible grants countless more examples of what a Christian is and believes: a Christian believes that Christ was perfect, having never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), that He died, was buried, and physically rose from the dead (1Corinthians 15:3-4), and that this death and resurrection provided the needed blood atonement for sins (Ephesians 1:7). The Scriptures also teach that every person is born a sinner (Romans 3:23), that Jesus is the only way to God and heaven (John 14:6) and that rejecting Jesus as Messiah is also rejecting God and His salvation (1John 5:12). They teach that Christians possess the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), apply the commandments and teachings of Jesus to their own lives (1John 5:3), and believe the Holy Bible to be the infallible, inspired word of God (2Timothy 3:16). Finally, Christians believe in the Trinity: the Father, the Son (also known as the Word), and the Holy Spirit being three persons but one God (1John 5:7), in the deity of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 9:6), and that Satan, or the devil, is a real living being (1Peter 5:8).
In 2008 a group called The Barna Group surveyed 1,871 proclaiming Christians across the United States. They asked various questions in an attempt to discover what American Christians believe about Christ and His word. Their survey revealed “More than one-fifth (22%) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth” and that “four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil” while 8% were undecided about Satan (“Most”). They discovered that only “55% strongly agree that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches” and 5% were unsure (“Most”). The survey also revealed that “About one-third (33%) of [professing] Christians who agree that the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all teach the same truths [also believed] that the Bible is totally accurate in its principles, even though the three sacred books have very different ideas about truth, salvation, and the nature of God” (“Most”).
These are just a few of the conclusions reached through this study, and it is clear that Christians across the country are not only confused about what the Holy Bible teaches a Christian is; they are also unsure about what they themselves believe. One might argue that the definition of the word has changed with time, and I agree. I wonder though if changing the definition of a Christian actually changes what a Christian is. Since Jesus Christ was the founder of Christianity and those proclaiming the religion are followers of Him, it seems fitting to ask what He would think of the new definitions that exist today. It also seems necessary to look at who Christ was and ask ourselves if we are “Christ-like.” I wonder why a country in which 76% of the population professes Christianity would debate about the words “under god” in our Pledge of Allegiance or about prayer in our schools. Are we not a democracy? Are not decisions made according to the majority and not the minority? It is painfully obvious that three quarters of our country needs to take a closer look at what a Christian really is and question whether they fit into that definition.
-Boorstein, Michelle. “Survey Finds Fewer Christians in U.S.” The Spokesman Review. WA 09, March 2009. Web. 25 Jan. 2010. www.spokesman.com/stories 2009/mar/09/survey-Finds-fewer-christians-in-us/>.
-Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
-"Most American Christians Do Not Believe That Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist." The Barna Group. 10 Apr. 2009. Web. 25 Jan. 2010. www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/260-most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exis>.
-“Oxford English Dictionary.” 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 25 Jan. 2010. http://proxy.umpqua.edu.