Who or What Is A Christian?

In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller asks the question “What is Christianity?”  He then answers the question by pointing back to the Nicene, Apostle’s, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds, and then providing his own summary saying Christianity is:

…the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds.  They belief that the triune God created the world, that humanity has fallen into sin and evil, that God has returned to rescue us in Jesus Christ, that in his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished our salvation for us so we can be received by grace, that he established the church, his people, as the vehicle through which he continues his mission of rescue, reconciliation, and salvation, and that at the end of time Jesus will return to renew the heavens and the earth, removing all evil, injustice, sin, and death from the world (p. 121).

Without dissecting and doing exegesis with Keller’s definition of Christianity, I think it is a good summary of Christian belief.  But is this what makes one a Christian?

Some will object to the use of early Christian creeds, opting instead to ask the question, “What does the Bible teach?” and then suggest the answer to that question is what constitutes Christianity and being Christian.  I understand that and sympathize with that thinking to a certain extent.  That has been the approach in the Churches of Christ and the larger Stone-Campbell Restoration movement.  A problem with this approach is that their is no uniform agreement as to what the scripture teaches and what of that teaching is essential.

However, there seems to be a bigger problem that does not get addressed enough.  Is right belief the only thing that matters in what constitutes Christianity and whether a person(s) is considered to be a Christian?  What we believe is certainly important but what about the way we live?

A few weeks ago I finished a sermon series on Acts 1-11.  One of the things that stands out when reading through the book of Acts is the way of life the early Christians were committed to living.  In fact, Luke wants us to know that these believers are also “disciples” (used 9 times in ch. 1-11).  Then in Acts 11:26 we are told that the “disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

So in Acts, believers are called Christians because they are disciples, committed to living the life of Jesus whom they confess as Lord.  How ironic is it that in the first century one was a Christian because they were a disciple whereas in the twenty-first century a person can regard themselves as Christian without any commitment to Jesus as his disciple.

My point in this post is not to determine what sort of beliefs and practices are necessary to truly be a Christian.  I simply want to point out that Christianity and being a Christian must be defined by more than just belief.  The “Christianity” Jesus had in mind also calls us to a way of life.  Beliefs are important but so is the way we live.  Any answer to the question of “What” or “Who” is a Christian that does not give attention to both our beliefs and our way of life is an inadequate answer.

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One response to “Who or What Is A Christian?

  1. I need to read Keller’s book. Sounds interesting. I completely agree with your thoughts. People too often “pigeon-hole” Christianity into a certain set of beliefs. More so, in fundamentalist circles and they miss the bigger picture that lies beyond the black & white of mere words. Not that I am down-playing scripture, but if it doesn’t change us our reading/studying it is in vain.The teachings that Jesus conveys were not meant to be a grocery list of do’s & don’ts, but a way of life and an opening of our hearts to the Holy Spirit.

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