Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What defines a Christian?

"Tabatha" raised a very intersting question recently under the post titled "Modern Day Jewish Atonement" (in the archives under June, 2007) that I found to be fascinating and worthy of discussion. It is a question that likely confuses many people outside the church as to what "Christianity" is all about. The question is:

"What are the core or essential Christian beliefs, the ones that if rejected, would render a person a NON Christian?"

I think the obvious answer to this is "faith in Jesus," but what does that mean exactly?

I propose as a starting point that belief that Jesus died on the cross for your sins is included in that faith.

I would also argue that if you truly believe it, then your belief will be accompanied by sincere repentance (i.e., if you truly understand your fate without Jesus compared to your fate with Him, you will recognize what brought you there and be so incredibly grateful for what He did that you will allow the Holy Spirit into your heart and be changed).

I will leave it there for now to see what others have to say. The specific beliefs that Tabatha asked about were:

- virgin birth
- resurrection
- Jesus as messiah
- Jesus as 'son of god' and/or 'god incarnate'
- the 'second coming'

Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts on this very intriguing question.


Alex Millington said...

Hi Ken,

I've always thought that a great deal of the core confessions of Christian belief are found in the Nicene Creed:


I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick [that is those who are still alive] and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic [that is not the Catholic church expressly but a unified 'catholic' (in its original meaning) church] and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


I prefer this to the Apostolic Creed as it contains more of the Christian beliefs and there are really no 'core' beliefs that I would consider are missing from this in that all these are those that all members of all Christian denominations ought to profess. I have yet to find a Christian who does not profess them.

Once we start moving from this statement of faith into doctrines surrounding the church, the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, baptism in the Spirit, the role of women in ministry and so many other areas then you begin to find that we can bicker away and disagree with one another to our hearts content, knowing that there is an ultimate truth but that some truths are worth digging for and sometimes discovering them should be as enjoyable as holding them... Most certainly I do not profess to know all truth and I do not know any Christian who would say they do either :-D

I'll leave my thoughts there for now and pick up on this later in case there is something to add at another time.

Enjoyable as always Ken,

Every blessing,


Ten Minas Ministries said...


You may have just convinced me to change Ten Minas' "Statement of Faith" on our website from the Apostle's Creed to the Nicene Creed. :)

If I may pose something to you...

Pretend I am an unbeliever and that creed makes very little sense to me. Let's face it, the word "begotten" (for example) will mean little to non-Christians. Could you provide a list of those core beliefs, similar to the list Tabatha provided for us in the other thread? How would you boil the creed down to a list format? Do you believe it is even possible to do so?

Just picking your brain a little bit. God bless.


Alex Millington said...

Oh I see... Make me do all the work eh ;->

OK, a list of them... hmmmm... Here goes:

o God exists and created all things visible and invisible
o Jesus is the eternal Son of God, without beginning or end
o All things were created by God through Jesus
o Jesus came from heaven to earth and became a man, willingly setting aside attributes of his godliness
o He was born of the virgin Mary by immaculate conception
o He was crucified under Pontius Pilate
o He was dead and burried
o After three days he rose from the dead, resurrected
o He ascended to Heaven and now is seated at the right hand of God
o There will be a second coming when he shall return to judge all creation
o The Holy Spirit is the life giving Spirit who sustains all life
o He is the third member of the Trinity together with the Father and the Son
o The church was established by Jesus who gave us the great commission to evangelise the whole earth
o We should make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as a symbol of their new life in Jesus as Lord and Saviour
o God's wrath against sin is satisfied in Jesus alone and by him alone can we approach the Father
o There will be a resurrection of all people and after that there will be the judgement when all shall face God to give an account for their sins
o Those whom Christ chooses shall be saved by his atoning work on the cross and they shall reign with him as co-heirs in the world yet to come

I think that is about the best I can do with this... It's not perfect I'm sure and I don't think it is too different from the creed itself...

Anyway, your go Ken :o)


DagoodS said...

I find it fascinating when discussing the definition of “Christian” the modern Christian focuses so heavily—almost exclusively—on belief rather than action. In fact, in looking through what has been commented so far, everything has been about the right “beliefs” and the closest thing I could find to any action was Alex Millington’s “We should make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as a symbol of their new life in Jesus as Lord and Saviour”

Curious considering “Christianos” (Acts 11:26) would have been attributed for following the actions AND the beliefs of Christ. Yet now-a-days “actions” seems to be trailing a far, far distant second, if it is even in the race at all.

Yet there are numerous portions of the New Testament indicating actions are what defines a Christian. A small sampling: John 13:35; John 14:21; Gal. 5:16-24; 1 Thess. 4:1-12; James 2:7; 1 John 3:14-24.

Alex Millington said...

Hi DagoodS,

I couldn't agree with you more. After all, Jesus said that we would know his disciples by the way that they love one another and John says that if we see a brother in need and do nothing then how can the love of God be in us?

Of course, this original conversation came off the back of a question asked by Tabatha on another blog post (as Ken said) and the question she asked and repeated by Ken above was:

"What are the core or essential Christian beliefs, the ones that if rejected, would render a person a NON Christian?"

That was what I was responding to - what beliefs do Christians hold and what belief if rejected would render a person a non-Christian...

Recently I have been pondering one of my favourite verses in the Bible:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen"
Hebrews 11:1

How can faith be the evidence of things unseen if it does not cause us to act in accordance with it? If someone is to say that a person has faith but they do not act any differently to the average person then we would ask what that faith means - for there is no evidence that it makes any difference. Rather our faith ought to be reflected in the way that we love one another so that people see us and say 'see how their faith affects their life - perhaps there is something to it after all'... The evidence of things unseen.

All this to say, I completely agree with you that belief alone does not a follower of Christ make.


Ten Minas Ministries said...

Sorry I've been MIA. The nature of being a lawyer... the work tends to come in waves, and lately I've been dealing with a tidal wave.


I like your list. For non-believers it may require a bit more explanation (for example, what does it mean to be the "Son of God" or part of "the Trinity"). I believe that Christ's divinity is necessary in order to make any sense of the atonement, and that point provides a line of distinction with some other groups who claim to be Christian, but are not accepted by the test of Christianity as such (i.e., Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses).


I also agree that too little attention is paid to the action of Christians. However, as I have argued before, if you TRULY believe, the actions will follow. After all, true belief is accompanied by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, so if you believe, you will act accordingly (not perfectly, mind you, but there will be a visible change).

That is why, as Alex points out, believers in Christ can be identified by their actions. After all, we cannot see inside someone's heart to see what they truly believe, but we can see how they act outwardly. And if we do not see any change in their actions, then we can conclude that they do not truly believe.