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Christianity: introduction and definitions

Complaint Emails we have received about
our definition of "Christian!" (Continued)

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This discussion is a continuation from in another essay

Negative comments we have received about our definition of Christian (Cont'd):

bulletYour definition is wrong because it includes denomination XXXXX which is not Christian: This is one of the most common types of Emails that we receive, where "XXXXX" is most commonly Roman Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses, United Church, or Progressive Christianity. The problem here is that if you went to a member of one of these groups, you would probably find that they regard themselves as Christians -- perhaps the only true Christians. They might well regard the letter writer as a non-Christian, sub-Christian. or quasi-Christian.
 
bulletIf you are getting lots of Emails about your definition of "Christian" perhaps you are wrong: As we indicated above, we have over 40 definitions of "Christian" in this section. They are all different. There is no consensus on which is the right definition. So one can expect that no matter what definition we choose, many -- probably most of our site visitors -- will disagree with it.
 
bullet"Christian" means something; your definition doesn't mean anything: The term means a lot of different things to different people. There is no universally accepted definition. There is probably no definition that the majority of people who consider themselves to be Christians would accept.
 
bulletYou are arrogant to suggest that your definition is authoritative: We do not consider that our definition is authoritative. We merely consider it to be one of many available definitions -- the one that we chose for our web site.
 
bulletA Christian is one who believes in Biblical Christianity: There is a problem with your definition, because "Biblical Christianity" has itself many meanings.
bulletThe Jewish Christians -- the only Christians prior to the arrival of Paul in the late 30's -- under the leadership of James the brother of Jesus, rejected the virgin birth, regarded Jesus as a prophet, and rejected his deity.
 
bullet Most progressive Christians today also reject the virgin birth, and doubt that most of the miracles described in the New Testament actually happened.
 
bullet Mainline and progressive theologians generally interpret the Gospels as including many sayings and activities of Jesus that never happened; they were added by the anonymous authors in order to promote their faith group's evolving theology.
 
bulletEven the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons believe that they "know" what Biblical Christianity is all about, although they differ greatly from each other and from other wings of Christianity.

So "biblical Christianity" is a meaningless term. One can only talk meaningfully about Mormon biblical Christianity, Jehovah's Witness biblical Christianity, Roman Catholic biblical Christianity, progressive biblical Christianity, mainline biblical Christianity, evangelical biblical Christianity, fundamentalist biblical Christianity, and others.... but not "biblical Christianity."
 

bulletI'm not understanding why you present your website as authoritative on religion, but see no problem with the fact that (by your own admission) you can't define Christianity. Isn't this kind of like claiming you're a professional chef, yet can't cook a hamburger? Actually, we do provide a 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 themselves to be attempting to follow the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as they interpret those teachings to be."

What we say we cannot do is to provide a universally acceptable definition of "Christian." In fact, nobody can. We list many definitions of "Christian" as provided by various faith groups, secular sources, our own web site, etc. There are literally hundreds of different conflicting, and sometimes mutually exclusive definitions. However, nobody can define exactly which of these, if any, is the "true" definition. And even if there were a "true" definition, it would be impossible to get everyone to agree to it.
 
bullet I'm sure you've already heard this, but have made the decision NOT to post this on your site (because it's always more fun to paint Christianity with an incoherent brush), but the term 'Christian' literally means "little Christs", i.e., 'followers of Jesus'.  If this is STILL to difficult for you to figure out, then here's a few similar examples:

bulletPeople from California are called Californians.

bulletPeople who follow Buddha are called Buddhists.

bulletPeople who practice law are called lawyers

See how that works?  It's only as complicated as you MAKE it.

Defining "Christian" as a follower of Jesus is a fairly common one. The problem is that there is no consensus on what Jesus expects of humans. The Bible seems to be quite ambiguous on this point. If you don't believe this, then organize a meeting involving a Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God member, Jehovah's Witness, ELCA member, Mormon, etc. and ask them to reach a consensus on any topic -- e.g. who are saved? It will be quite impossible for them to reach a consensus.

Ask a Southern Baptist whether they are a follower of Jesus. The answer will be yes.
Ask a Jehovah's Witness  whether they are a follower of Jesus. The answer will be yes.
As a Southern Baptist whether Jehovah's Witnesses are followers of Jesus. The answer will probably be no.
As a Jehovah's Witness whether Southern Baptists are followers of Jesus. The answer will probably be no.

Our essays in this section present the facts:
- there are many dozens of definition of "Christian"  -- perhaps hundreds -- in common use.
- there is no consensus on which is the "true" definition,
- most people are supremely confident that their definition -- alone -- is the true one.

It is like "God:"
- there are many hundreds of definitions of God, including his/her/their/its name, location, attributes, expectations, etc.
- there is no consensus on what God's name, attributes, etc. are.
- most people are supremely confident that their definition -- alone -- is the true one.

If we have not addressed your concern....:

If you have a complaint about our definition of "Christian" that is not covered above, please feel free to write us. We will consider adding it to the above list. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to answer your Email.

Site navigation:

 Home page > Christianity > Introduction > Who is a Christian? > here

 Home page > Who is a Christian? > here

 Home page > Glossary of terms > Who is a Christian? > here

or Home page > Religious Information > Who is a Christian? > here

Copyright © 2009 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-DEC-20
Latest update: 2012-MAR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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