Who is a Christian? This is a question that seems simple, yet as I have matured I have realized that this question seems to get muddled rather quickly. I have had conversations about what the core beliefs of Christianity are, and overall everyone I know comes to the same conclusion. Faith in Jesus Christ for the remission of sins is that core. Yet, I see Christians not follow this core understanding as they identify others as being Christian or Non-Christian.
It is acknowledged by the majority of Christians I know that there are various denominations that are all ‘Christian’. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Christian Churchians, Evangelicals, are just a few for example. These denominations are identified as ‘Christian’ in most of my circles. And then we have groups like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholics that many in the first list do not consider to be ‘Christian’. So, what makes the first list ‘Christian’ and why are these other groups disqualified from being ‘Christian’?
First let me define what a ‘Christian’ is. A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. This person has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the remission of their sins. As evangelicals call it ‘being born again’. There are variants of this even among traditional Christian circles. Some believe that this acceptance is performed at the time of Baptism, others believe this acceptance is merely an issue of Faith and is done in ones heart before God. And even others believe this acceptance is at the moment that the Holy Spirit fills a believers life. Yet in all of the circles I have been a part of, these three ideas are all considered ‘Christian’ even if the Christians disagree with one of the other methodologies.
So this brings me back to trying to understand why there are groups that believe that Jesus Christ died for the remission of sin, and is the only way to be made right with God, yet they are not considered ‘Christian’. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to mind as I write this. I understand that Mormons believe that an angel gave Joseph Smith another Testament of Jesus Christ. I know there are ideas in this Testament that are not main stream. Ideas like Jesus and Satan are brothers. Ideas like Jesus being literally the Son of God and not actually God the Father. (this idea is considered heresy by many mainstream Christians). So I ask this question, does our bad theology or belief in something that is not true outweigh our relationship with Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins? If the answer is no, how can Christians look to a group with different theology and consider them to be so off base that we will adjust our understanding of what Christianity is? Isn’t that essentially what we are doing when mainstream Christians look to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses and say “You are not Christian”? If we truly believe that our salvation is through Jesus Christ then why can bad theology disqualify us?
I would argue that our bad theology does not disqualify us from being true followers of Christ. I also believe that every single person likely has some baggage or ‘bad theology’ that we apply to God. The beauty of what God has done through Jesus is that He has brought us to him through a great sacrifice, the death of Jesus, so that Jesus paid our debt. This has set us free. Free to follow God and live life to the fullest. It isn’t just about getting to heaven, but about living a full and beautiful life right here and now. Yet, so many Christians narrow down the list of who can claim to have this new life. We break it down to believing in specific theology that goes beyond what Jesus claims makes us Christian. Does a Christian need to believe in the Trinity to be a Christian? Does a Christian need to believe that Jesus and God the Father are one and the same to be a Christian? Does a Christian need to believe in Hell to be a Christian? These are all major theological issues that mainstream Christians would typically say. ‘Yes, those are basic beliefs that make someone Christian.’ Yet, I argue that having our theology be the basis or the mark that makes us Christian defies the saving act of Jesus and diminishes the entire concept that Christians are ‘followers of Christ’. This is not to argue that one piece of Theology is true or not true, but our Theology is not what makes us Christian. It is our following of Jesus that makes us Christian. And I strongly believe that if all followers of Christ could see other followers of Christ in this light we could have civil disagreements on Theology without declaring one follower a heretic or declaring that they and all others who believe as they do no longer have any inheritance with God, because they are no longer ‘Christian.’
No Christian, or Follower of Christ is disqualified from being an heir to Gods kingdom on the basis of their study or understanding of God. All Followers of Christ are qualified as heirs to Gods Kingdom because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, not how well we understand that sacrifice or how well we understand God.