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.


Houx said...

If I had to define what a true christian was I would just point to "Manifesting Mini Me" (MMM) and say that's a true christian.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think I read today where Thomas Jefferson said that many denominations hold religious belief in "check"...that way there is no consensus, which would build a power structure, like the RCC was in Europe...

Chucky said...

Isn't that what the creeds are for?

John W. Loftus said...

Chucky every single one of these groups has either a written or an unwritten creed. I have a book with over 700 pages of them.

Chucky said...

Which book is that?

John W. Loftus said...

This book, but as I said each group has an unwritten creed.

Bud said...

The fellowship of churches with which I was once affiliated finds its roots in what is called the "Restoration Movement." This was an attempt to reject man-made creeds and denominations and unite all Christians under the authority of the Bible. The movement produced several quotable maxims, such as:

"We are Christians only."
"No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible."
"Where the Scripture speak we speak; where the Scripture are silent, we are silent."
"In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion liberty; in all things, charity."

The end result of the Restoration Movement is that it produced three new denominations: the independent Christian churches, the non-instrumental Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. Each is different from the others, and each has its own (often unwritten) creed.

I think that speaks volumes about the idea of Christian unity.

John W. Loftus said...

Bud, I too was formerly in the Christian Church Restoration Movement grouping.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

My husband and I also went to a Christian church for awhile. I learned about the "Campbellites" back then and a little on the Restoration Movement...many had gone or were going to Milligne College in Tennessee..and our assoicate minister who was a personal friend had worked for Orrin Hatch, I believe....

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Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hey Houx, thanks- I just now saw that comment of yours.

At any rate, I really love that there is so much diversity within the Christian community! I think it exemplifies God's creative spirit. Not all Christians complain about it or view it as a problem or source of confusion.

Houx said...

Hey MMM I agree. I'm starting to see things the same way. I no longer complain about the diversity. Neither do I reject it and see it as something negative. I'm learning to just accept it.

Candice said...

Houx and 3M, maybe you guys should re-read 1 Corinthians 1:10 before you get too happy about there being such great diversity among the Christian believers. I don't think Paul would be too happy with your stance, even if nobody is complaining about it.

Houx said...

Hey Candice,

As I see it there are many members but one body. There is a diversity within the body of Christ.

1 CORINTHIANS 12:12,14,17-27 NKJ

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,
24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,
25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

Candice said...

The body of Christ is the Church of Christ, not the church(es) of Christ. The members that these versus speak of are the individuals who make up the body of Christ, the members of separate congregations that make up the larger Church. Each of these members is unique and diverse and different from the person that sits next to them on the pew. I'm not disagreeing that the small 'c' churches are different and diverse. But where they should not be different is in their theology and that is why many churches split off into different sects and denominations. It's because the diverse members could not join together with another group of diverse members (of the same body) and agree on what exactly the body represents. There is only one body (theology, right way) of Christ, not many bodies (theologies, different ways) of Christ. I'm all for racial, socioeconomic, etc diversity. It makes me happy when a church can allow a homeless person and a wealthy one to sit on the same pew. Or when there are multiracial/cultural churches. But I'll be damned when these little churches divide themselves over what the bible supposedly says or doesn't say. Get to a point of agreement where you can be in unity of mind and not be divided amongst yourselves. You're just ripping apart your Body and allowing others to clearly see the fallacies of your bible.

Candice said...

Another thing Houx, you gave me a set of verses from the same book that I quoted. So does Paul want diversity or does he not want it? If you look at the scriptures the way I just presented it, it would make sense as to why he talks about not being divided in the beginning of the letter and then later talks about diversity. If he doesn't mean it the way I've just talked about then why would he say be diverse but don't be divided. Unless he had forgotten that he told them to be unified (and I'm sure he doesn't mean everybody wearing the same clothes and having the same personality, although I would question that too based on other stuff that is written in the bible). Then he would've contradicted himself and be stuck in a rut.

Houx said...


I think what Paul was speaking against was the fighting within the Church because of the differences. He's not against different views from different people. He's speaking against dividing ourselves and fighting with one another. I would agree that this is how the modern church behaves. Which is sad.

That's just my take on it. I could be wrong.

Candice said...

Houx, then we are at an agreement on something, I think??? I assumed that your stance on diversity was based on what the OP was about: describing what a Christian is and deciding which group of people from Christian faith groups and denominations qualified for being termed the 'True Christian'. The OP showed the huge variety, different and diverse groups of Christianity. All of them are divided because of their different views and takes on the bible. I think that this is what Paul pleads against. And there are arguments and backstabbing from each group to another. I must have been completely confused as to what you were actually talking about when you said "I no longer complain about the diversity. Neither do I reject it and see it as something negative. I'm learning to just accept it." Did you used to be racist or sexist and not like diversity in your church before this statement? Or did you used to not like the fact that so many different denominations existed in the realm of Christianity? Please help clarify this for me.

Houx said...

Hi Candice,

I use to be a hardcore Calvinist and I rejected everyone who disagreed with me as a heretic. I'm being set free from this mindset. Especially from talking to MMM. She's help open me up to accept other views. I was never a racist or never have I been sexist. Anyway, good talking to you Candice.

Candice said...

Thanks Houx, I hope that this little conversation didn't upset you. I just was curious about where you guys stood. Thanks for clearing it up a little bit for me. Have a good one

Leah Elliott Hauge said...

I often hear that since I was a Mormon, I wasn't a "real" Christian to begin with, and if only I'd try out a "better" religion, I'd find God. Not so much.

ElderChild said...

DISCLAIMER: The following is written concerning the religious systems of this wicked world, not individuals. Recorded for revelation, not condemnation, in hopes there would be those who would "see" and "hear", for all who do so will take heed unto The Call of The Only True G-D and "Come out of her, MY people".......

"The Way of Truth is evil spoken of" because of pagan "catholicism" and her harlot pagan "christian" daughters ;-(

Their "imag"ined "jesus christ" is not The Messiah! It was some five hundred years ago that they named one head of their three-headed pagan "god", "jesus", during a time that has been called the "reformation". Prior to that time there was no "j" sound in the english language.......period.......

And the pagan "christian" name of 'jesus' is the transliteration of The Messiah's G-D given Hebrew birth name from the pagan catholic latin word 'iesus' not the pagan greek word 'iesous' which is recorded in all the greek transcripts from which religious "biblical" translations were made.......

And the "reformation", the time during which the english 'j' sound was "imag"ined, was an aptly named time! For it was a time when "catholicism" birthed her harlot "christian" daughters ;-( Her "christian" daughters are of her substance ;-( Her substance was merely "reformed" so that her "christian" daughters might appear a bit differently outwardly, yet inwardly they remained liken unto their pagan harlot mother ;-(

"christianity" is but the byproduct of the fornicative relationship pagan "catholicism" has always had with "the god of this world", he who is "the father of lies", he who is "the angel of light", "d"evil spirit that rules over this wicked world ;-(

All religious systems, muslin, jewish, buddhist, catholic, christian ,,etc,, are Anti-Messiah!

Religious systems of this world, all alike they are,
Those they clone have fought, killed and died, both near and far ;-(

And then once a week, or multiple times a day they may pray,
Yet as hypocrites they begin each new day ;-(

Days that are filled with deceit and lies,
For in a "religious system" Truth can not abide ;-(

And so the fruit of death is born of religion's way,
Because life is but a pawn in the wicked game they play ;-(

Simply, Faith will not create a system of religion!


ElderChild said...

The Messiah testified of a "wicked world", and of His disciples being "in, not of, this world".

John exhorted those who believed "to love not the world or it's things" for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one"!

And James testified, "whoever is a friend of this world is the enemy of G-D(Father, Great Spirit, Creator,,)"!

And "the god of this world", "the father of lies", "d"evil, is the author of all religious systems and has his way with those who are "of this world" because they follow their own "vain "imag"inations" ;-( And so it is that mankind's "imag"ination is destroying and perverting Creation ;-(

And Our Father(Creator) has promised that HE "will destroy those who are destroying and perverting HIS Creation(earth, air, water, vegetation, creatures, Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, .etc.)"!

Hope is there would be those who take heed unto The Only True G-D's Call to "Come out of her, MY people"!

All who take heed unto The Only True G-D's Call will exit "the broadway to destruction" and they will follow The Messiah on "The Way to The Truth of The Life"! They no longer will have their portion with the "catholic/christian" LIE or any other religious system of this world.

The Messiah testified, "whoever lives and believes in Me(His Teachings and Life example) shall never die."

And then The Messiah questioned, "Do you believe this?" YES!

And you? Do you believe? Or do you believe in death?

If you believe in death, while there is breath(spirit) there is hope!

For Miracles Do Happen! Thanks Be To "Our Father(Creator)"!

Hope is that there would be those who "come out" of the "strong delusion" that is the religious systems of this wicked world, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one".

Hope is that there would be those who believe in and receive of The Life. Hope is that there would be those who would "experience The Messiah and The Power(The Holy, Set Apart, Great Spirit) that raised Him from among the dead".

Hope is you will, or have experienced The Miracle that is "receiving a love of The Truth", for all who have "received a love of The Truth" will have:

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(religion) that is of this wicked world, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one"(1JN5:19) indeed and Truth....... francis

Gandolf said...

MMM -->"At any rate, I really love that there is so much diversity within the Christian community! I think it exemplifies God's creative spirit"

Howdy again MMM , yeah you are right there is a real diversity displayed within the christian community thats for very sure and for that matter faith in general.I often think God's extreme creative spirit is often most obviously seen to be exemplified within the Jonestown type christian communities etc,its in these instances that the most (extreme creative diversity) of gods is actually displayed in all its infinite glory.Wouldnt you agree MMM ?..... :)

I think Elderchild might be suggesting humans best bet was to try to stick to one faith if possible,if they bothered having any faiths at all.I cant help agreeing that was the best chance they ever had at fluking it.

But still sadly i cant see how faith built on bigoted thoughts of such perfection etc as seems it often always has been,could be said was honestly ever that likely to produce the straight and narrow type path for all mankind.Because systems built on this straight and narrow perfectionist type thinking, sooner or later is bound by it very nature of the sad attitude!.Going to come to cause division as perfectionists naturally disagree!.. Therefore defeating any possibility of any straight and narrow path that could ever likely inteligently be thought likely to cater for everyone.

My opinion the best bet humans ever had, was to try forget all about any gods perfection rubbish .. To learn to celebrate certain differences as best we can,making the most of it and learning tolerance etc along the way.While also reaping the benefits of gaining greater strength in the greater diversity we all shared together.

But to ever have that happen, it takes education, reasoning, common sense logic etc ,and most likely as less amount of faith as possible!... :)