Who or What is a Christian?

When apologist type Christians hear our deconversion stories they probe to look at something we didn't say (a precise set of words) or do (like pray the sinners prayer, or baptism) in order to claim we were never Christians in the first place. There are other cases when believers or churches do something terribly wrong that self-proclaimed apologists for the faith will claim these other believers or churches were not true Christians either. Okay then. Below is an article defining once and for all what is a Christian. It's such a quagmire that even believers themselves cannot agree. I find it absolutely hilarious that any of these apologists has the gall to tell anyone else what is a Christian. ;-)

What is a Christian?

To avoid confusion, we repeat here our site's simple definition of "Christian:
"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."
Other individuals and groups have much narrower definitions of the term. They often believe that their faith group is the "true" Christian religion, and that others are in error. That is certainly their right, but it does cause a great deal of confusion, frustration, anger, and conflict.

Sorting Christian faith groups:

Except perhaps for a few years between the execution of Yeshua of Nazareth (circa 30 CE) and the start of Paul's ministry (circa 36 CE), the Christian religion has never been unified.

- Throughout the second half of the first century CE, the Christian religion was divided into three main main religious movements: the Gnostics, Jewish Christians, and Pauline Christians. Gnostic Christians still survive today. All of the rest of today's Christian faith groups trace their history back to the Pauline Christian movement.

- Currently, there are over 1,200 Christian denominations in North America.
- According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 34,000 separate Christian groups in the world.

Sorting them into categories is a difficult task. Six ways of classifying them are into:

1. Many thousands of denominations:
- There are on the order of 1,200 Christian organizations in North America, and over 30,000 in the world.
- Their names range from the Amish to The Way.
- We have essays describing some of them.

2. Four to eight meta-groups: Most of the Christian denominations and sects in the world can be sorted into about eight segments or branches:
- Roman Catholicism,
- Eastern Orthodoxy,
- Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches,
- Protestantism
- Restorationists
- Anglican Communion
- Pentecostals
- Others

Unfortunately, there is no consensus about which faith groups should be embraced by the term "Protestantism." For example:

- Some theologians split out the Anglican Communion from Protestantism.
- Others consider Pentecostalism to be separate from Protestantism.
- Others separate the European Free-Church Family out as a separate group.
- Some include the Restorationist denominations, which includes the Mormon church (a.k.a. LDS) within Protestantism. Some consider them to be a separate Christian group. Still others consider them to be non-Christian.

3. Two or three "wings": Like in the area of politics, Christians and Christian groups can be divided into conservative and liberal wings, according to their belief systems. Their teaching on abortion access, origins of the earth and the rest of the universe, equal rights for gays and lesbians, and same-sex marriage, are four indicators of their location on the liberal- conservative continuum.

- Fundamentalists, other Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodoxy, and such varied groups as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Unification Church, etc. generally form the conservative wing;
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Progressive Christianity, Evolutionary Christianity, United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada and others form the liberal wing.
- Often, a third, mainline wing is added, composed of such denominations as: American Baptist Churches in the USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, etc.

4. Fifteen religious families:
- Denominations can be sorted into 15 families, according to their historical roots.
- Examples are the Adventist, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian families.

5. Theological beliefs:

- There are many systems of theological beliefs within Christianity.
- They often cut across denominational boundaries.
- Members of an single congregation may hold conflicting belief systems.
- Examples are Arminianism, British Israelism, Calvinism, Christian Identity, Universalism, etc.
- The Barna Research Group, arguably the most important polling group working in the religious and spiritual area, sorts individuals into five faith segments according to their theological beliefs.

6. Five religious groupings:

Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) recognizes six families of Christian faith groups:
- Evangelical,
- Pentecostal,
- Historic Protestant,
- Historic Racial/Ethnic,
- Eastern Orthodox, and
- Roman Catholic

In response to Christians claiming to know who or what is a Christian I say they should start a Blog called "True Christianity," and invite all professing Christians there in order to come to a consensus on the matter. ;-)

So far no one has taken me up on this! And I suspect no one will do so either, or if someone does, few will bother with it knowing how futile the attempt will be. Among believers who would bother with such a thing I'd call them all crazy and ignorant.