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What is a Christian? (and other Religious labels)

Updated on April 5, 2021

The Christian label has a lot of importance in society. For some it involves a sense of pride while for others it's used pejoratively. The word carries so much weight that the use and misuse has had a profound impact in many people’s lives. Historically religious labels have enough importance that people are willing to kill and be killed for their label. For the rest of us less interested in war it's still useful to look at how religious labels may promote segregation and exclusivity.

Oh God, more with the ketchup?
Oh God, more with the ketchup? | Source

Possible Contradictions

Are you a Christian if you believe in some of the popular tenets but not all? Maybe. What if you don't believe in any of the popular tenets but you practice Jesus' teachings daily? Probably. Are you a Christian if you go to church twice a week BUT fail to be compassionate and forgiving to others in your life? No. If you fail to embody the central teachings of Jesus’ message you are not Christian. You may want to be Christian and/or want to be seen as a Christian but you are not Christian until you put his teachings to work. Concrete examples:

Sometimes we live in our own boxes...
Sometimes we live in our own boxes... | Source

Definitely NOT Christian...

-Claiming your interpretation of the Bible to be fact

-Going to war for land, resources or revenge

-Believing Jesus will not forgive you for your sins

-Treating non-Christians differently

NOT necessarily Christian...

-Memorizing and arguing over nuances and semantics of the Bible

-Going to church

-Believing Jesus died for our sins

-Being a member of a Christian community

NECESSARILY Christian...

-Extracting important spiritual concepts from the New Testament while recognizing it is NOT the only sacred text in use and publication

-Going to church to refresh yours and others’ spirit of kindness and humility

-Believing Jesus was an important figure trying to help us get along with one another NOT be separatist and exclusive

-Promoting and embodying compassion, forgiveness, peace, harmony, kindness, acceptance and humility

Virtues versus Knowledge

Just knowing a lot about a particular religion is not the same as practicing the core values of that religion. The quality of your life is the yardstick to measure your devotion to the teachings, not your intellect. Knowing a lot about Christ does NOT make you a Christian. A follower of Christ doesn't need to be able to recite Bible verses as much as practice humility, compassion and forgiveness in their daily lives. You are a true follower of Christ if you are practicing his teachings. The act of going to a Church doesn't equivalent to being Christian. It's only when you are practicing Christ-like attributes that you are a Christian.

...we have to find things in common with others before our world will see true unity!
...we have to find things in common with others before our world will see true unity! | Source

Other Religious Labels

Other religions deal with the issue of labels too. Some Jews refer to non-Jews as Gentiles. Some Baha’i refer to people not born from parents of the faith as seekers. I've participated in many different religious study groups and I've always been fascinated at how each person in the community views “outsiders.” Some have made me feel very welcome and excited to be there while others have been very exclusive and elitist. My experiences with Catholic and Mormon churches have probably been the most uncomfortable... You're either with the “in crowd” or you’re not. Mormon churches have meetings for everyone and than also secret meetings just for true Mormons. Everytime I've gone to a Catholic church I'm not allowed to participate in some of the rituals unless I'm a member of their church. Usually I get dirty looks as an outsider that doesn't frequent their church. Labels are very important to these people. It determines how they will treat you and what you're allowed to participate in. The Baha’i faith has felt the most welcoming, which comes as no surprise because their emphasis is on unity and world peace. The bottom line is that you must actually embody the core theme of the religion in order to accurately identify with its label. Otherwise, do away with labels altogether!

Photo by SFO
Photo by SFO
Photo by Joshua PIne
Photo by Joshua PIne

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