Defining a Christian

National Association of Christian Ministers Manual to Ministry: Planning

My Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder

Approximately 2000 years ago a man named Jesus of Nazareth was born in the Middle Eastern part of our world.  Jesus was an Israelite, from a Jewish, blended family which was not one of any elite social class.  In fact, people could have easily misperceived that he was born of fornication and being raised by a step-father, Joseph, who was a carpenter.  Given the circumstances that Jesus was raised in, it would have been very likely for him to grow up and become a construction worker.  This hardly sounds like the background of a messiah.                                                                                 

Strangely enough, most adults living in civilized countries have at least heard his name and are to some extent familiar with him.  By this man’s single life and death, the world’s largest religion, Christianity, was formed.  It has been estimated that currently 2.1 billion people claim Christianity as their faith.  But what does this term Christianity mean?                                                              

 Many people have attempted to define it, but the employment of this word does not accompany a universal response.  The earliest time that the use of the word “Christians” is found in the Bible is recorded in Acts 11:26.  In this passage, the word “Christians” is applied in its text to describe the disciples of Jesus the Christ; however, its definition would still vary based upon how one would define the word disciple.  After all, Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus’ chosen twelve disciples.                                                                                                                                                              

Throughout the centuries, many things have characterized what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Those distinguishing factors seem to amend as often as people’s opinion of them.  For example, some may believe that joining the church is a means by which they can practice Christianity.  They will visit a cathedral once a week and participate in what they recognize to be Holy Rites.  These rites usually consist of reciting certain creeds.  They also include entertaining rituals such as partaking of communion or lighting candles in prayer.   This manner of religion is a widely accepted perspective of Christianity, but it does not seem to be anything more than tradition.  There must be more to being a disciple of Christ than just participating in ceremonies.                                                                                                                             

Others have suggested the wearing of particular clothes and the refraining from bad habits as a means of being a real disciple.  They preach hard messages of conformity to their standards as an evidence of true Christianity. These standards include forbidding women to cut their hair, wear pants, or adorn themselves with jewelry.  They have equated clean cut and well-dressed men as demonstrating a good testimony of their submission to the teachings of Christ.  Quite contrarily, Ted Bundy fit this description well, but he was a cold-blooded murder.  In fact, Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples not to make judgments of people based upon their outward appearance.                                                                                                                                               

So what is it then?  In the days of the first disciples, crowds of people would pursue Jesus anywhere that he went, just to hear what he might say.  Now, in the 21st century, most Christians are not familiar enough with what he said in the New Testament to explain the method of Christian conversion.  In fact, many people are not even familiar with what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments of all the law.             

Since the year of 1611 when the Old and New Testaments were translated into the English language by the order of King James, the Bible has become the most printed book in the world.  Almost every home and hotel in North America has a copy of this great book, yet there remains great ignorance as to what it states.  It is an undeniable fact that the most written subject of the New Testament is love.  So why are so many people still hungry and homeless?  If Christians make up such a great part of the world’s population, why can’t these problems be resolved?  The early saints came together and sold their possessions to give to the poor.  Today, many people’s idea of coming together is to listen to preachers scream and shout about how God wants them to be rich.  They pack out coliseums, and pay large admission and parking fees to come together and hear messages that feed their individualistic western world mindsets.  All of this is in the name of Christianity.

What has Christianity come to mean?  Is it the wearing of golden crosses around necks, or putting fish shaped bumper stickers on cars?  Does it refer to a people of faith?  Is it a creed or a lifestyle?  Some might describe it as intolerant or irrelevant, others as a means of being good, and a cause for which to die.  One would say it is to be Christ like, living your life by the question “What would Jesus do?”  Another would say it is Christ being formed in you.  In light of all of this, what can be concluded?  Christianity should be defined today as it was the first time it was used in the book of Acts.  Those who are disciples of Christ should be learning to live after the things that he thought.  Perhaps Christianity is best defined by a lifestyle, one that demonstrates unity with believers, acts of love and forgiveness toward others, while receiving love and forgiveness from God. 

Final thoughts from the Lord himself:


Joh 17:22-23

(22)  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

(23)  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.