WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?
by Jim Myers

Most Christians will probably answer this question by saying that a Christian is a person who has been "saved."  So, we must also address the question of what is required for salvation.  Since the oldest Christian group is the Roman Catholic Church, let's begin with it. 

Recently the Roman Catholic Church issued a press release in which it made its position on salvation very clear.

Censuring what it called the spread of `religious relativism,' the Vatican instructed Roman Catholics on Tuesday to uphold the dogma that their church is the sole path to spiritual salvation for all humanity. . . . Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, who signed Tuesday's document as secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said it had John Paul's explicit approval.

The position of the Roman Catholic Church today, just as it has been since its beginning, is very clear - it sees itself as the "SOLE PATH" to spiritual "SALVATION."  It makes it very clear that its position is that all non-Catholics are not saved.  Not only does this include Jews, Muslims, and all other non-Christian religions - it also includes every other form of Christianity. 

On the other hand, other non-Catholic forms of Christianity teach that Roman Catholics are not really Christians either.  I have read many articles and heard numerous sermons that declare - "Roman Catholicism is a Pagan religion, and is not part of Christianity." In other words, they don't believe that Roman Catholics are "saved."

Almost from the very beginning of Christianity, Christian groups have been arguing over which Christian groups are "saved."  Those who are actively engaged in these debates claim that members of those "other Christian groups," no matter how devout and sincere they may be, are not really Christians. 

Why do they feel that those other Christians aren't saved?  Usually it is because they have different beliefs.  What are the requirements for someone to become a Christian and "be saved"?  Some teach that a person is saved and becomes a Christian by:

(1) being baptized as an infant

(2) reciting or agreeing with a creed in their youth or adulthood

(3) understanding and following Jesus' teachings

(4) having a personal salvation experience

So, for those who believe that infant baptism is required, a personal salvation experience has no meaning.  On the other hand, for those who teach that a personal salvation experience is required, just understanding and following the teachings of Jesus will not work.  Since Christian groups cannot agree we must look elsewhere.  How does Webster's Dictionary define the word "Christian"?

1. A person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ, or in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus. 2. A decent, respectable person. 3. having the qualities demonstrated and taught by Jesus Christ, as love, kindness, humility, etc. 4. Of or representing Christians or Christianity. 5. humane, decent, etc."

Now let's take a look at Encarta:

"Any phenomenon as complex and as vital as Christianity is easier to describe historically than to define logically...the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ...is...a feature of all the historical varieties of Christian belief and practice. Christians have not agreed in their understanding and definition of what makes Christ distinctive or unique."

As you can see, the dictionaries do not solve our problem.  How do professional organizations handle this situation?  The Gallup Organization is probably the largest polling agency in the United States. They have adopted an inclusive definition of "Christian." Anyone who tells the pollster tht they are Christian are counted accordingly. Their surveys consistently show that about 88% of adult Americans and Canadians respond that they are Christians.

The Barna Organization, an Evangelical Christian group, is probably the largest religious polling agency in the United States.  They define "Christian" to be what people usually call "Born-again Christians." i.e. individuals "who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who then indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior."  Barna says that about 35 to 40% of the U.S. population is Christian.

The Coming Spiritual Revolution

It is very clear that there is no consensus concerning the meaning of the word "Christian."  Each group has created their own definition of "Christian" which agrees with their own theology.  The only way for any of them to change their definition of the word "Christian" or their "method of salvation" is to change their theology.  This, of course, is unthinkable.  Why is it such a difficult task?  One reason is that each group's theology has become equated with "the truth."  Of course, to admit that their theology is wrong would be an admission that their truth wasn't really true.  Since their members have been basing their eternal salvation on the truth of their theology, you can probably see the problems that such an admission would create.  As long as each group refuses to freely and openly examine its theology, there will be no way to end this internal conflict that has plagued generations of Christians. 

The inability to accurately examine and test the theologies of today's religious institutions presents those who are truly searching for spiritual truth with one of their most serious challenges.  This challenge is compounded by the fact that today there are other sources for truths beyond religious institutions - primarily science.  We all know the role that science has played in creating our modern world and I doubt that many would want to live in a world without scientific knowledge.  Yet, a vast majority of Christians live in "spiritual world" that is equivalent to the "dark ages," the time before the enlightenment.

A growing number of people are no longer satisfied with the status quo of the religious world.  Things not only must change, but they will.  These changes, however, will not come easily - but they will come.  Today, as many of our readers are well aware, we are in the midst of the greatest spiritual revolution in the history of mankind.

Two Kinds of Truth

We live in a world in which two kinds of truth exist - Religious Truths and Scientific Facts.  The thing that makes them different is the proof that each presents in support its claim to be truth. 

(1) Scientific Facts are based on a systematic and unbiased examination of evidence in accordance with the scientific method. 

(2) Religious Truths are based on each institution's claim of authority.  Authority plays no role in science. 

The truths of the Western world, especially from the 5th through the 15th centuries CE, were the Religious Truths of the Roman Catholic Church.  They were the undisputed truths that controlled the minds and created the realities of generations of people for over an entire millennium.  The Roman Catholic Church's claim that it was the "exclusive authorized agent for God" went unchallenged.  Why?  The Church possessed the legal right to back its claim of authority with force.  "Force" as it is used here means, "the legal ability to inflict physical pain, confiscate property, imprison, and to execute.  For over a thousand years the price of challenging any of the Church's teachings could be very high in the here-and-now!

If it hadn't been for a humble astronomer named Nicholas Copernicus, your doctor might still be telling you to "open wide" so he could stick the head of a frog in your mouth to cure your illness.  Nicholas Copernicus was born in Poland in 1473.  Just think, he was still a teenager when Columbus set sail for America.  Copernicus came from a middle class background and received a good education, studying first at the university of Krakow.  After that he traveled to Italy where he studied at the universities of Bologna and Padua.  He eventually received a degree in Canon Law at the university of Ferrara.  At Krakow, Bologna and Padua Copernicus studied the mathematical sciences, which at the time were considered relevant to medicine.  Padua was famous for its medical school and while he was there he studied both medicine and Greek. When he returned to his native land, Copernicus practiced medicine, though his official employment was as a canon in the cathedral chapter, working under a maternal uncle who was Bishop of Olsztyn (Allenstein) and then of Frombork (Frauenburg).

While he was in Italy, Copernicus visited Rome, and it seems to have been for friends there that in about 1513 he wrote a short account of what has since become known as the Copernican theory, namely that the Sun (not the Earth) is at rest in the center of the Universe. A full account of the theory was apparently slow to take a satisfactory shape, and was not published until the very end of Copernicus's life, under the title On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Nuremberg, 1543). Copernicus is said to have received a copy of the printed book for the first time on his deathbed. (He died of a cerebral hemorrhage.)

Finally we shall place the Sun himself at the center of the Universe. All this is suggested by the systematic procession of events and the harmony of the whole Universe, if only we face the facts, as they say, "with both eyes open."

Copernicus' discovery challenged the "official order of the creation," and that represented the single greatest threat to the Church's power, which rested on the faith that people had in its Religious Truths.  If Copernicus was right, then the Church had been wrong - but according to Catholic doctrine, that was impossible - the Church was infallible, incapable of error!

It should not come as a surprise that neither the Church nor Copernicus' contemporaries enthusiastically embraced his discoveries with open arms.  This bothered Copernicus very much.  Sadly, Copernicus would never see nor understand the impact his discoveries would have upon future generations.  However, Copernicus had blazed a new trail and now that the path was open many would follow it. 

Interestingly, Copernicus's heliocentric theory was hardly an original idea. Aristarchus had proposed similar theories as early as the third century BCE, and Nicholas de Cusa, a German scholar, had independently made the same assertion in a book he published in 1440.  What was revolutionary about Copernicus' work was that he had worked out his system in full mathematical detail.  By doing this, Copernicus went a step beyond Ptolemy, de Cusa, and Aristarchus.  Copernicus's most significant achievement was his combination of mathematics and physics, adapting physics to conform to his view of astronomical truth, with a good bit of cosmology thrown in for good measure.

How did the Church respond to this great discovery?  At first the Church tried to silence these new scientists by force - imprisonment, and death.  They also used their very powerful threat of excommunication and the loss of salvation.  But, even this did not prevent people from pursuing the lure of this new type of truth.  Many were hearing about the new discoveries and even the Church's power could not stop them.

He looked and he saw - and so can you!

Galileo was the next person to raise a significant challenge to the Church's claim of authority.  He was born in Pisa in 1564 and studied medicine and mathematics.  He became a professor at Pisa in the late 1580's.  Galileo constructed a telescope and he was one of the first to see that things were not what the Catholic Church said they were.  He was the first to see craters on the moon, sunspots, the rings around Saturn, the phases of Venus, and the moons of Jupiter - none of which were supposed to be there.  He determined that the Earth's moon was not a source of light, but rather reflected the sun's light.  Galileo was a Copernican and held that the "sun was the center of the universe and the earth moves."

In 1611 Galileo packed his brass telescope in his bag and headed for Rome to share his discovery.  A year earlier he had published his findings in his book, The Starry Messenger.  Criticism began almost immediately.  When he arrived in Rome and met with the authorities he offered to show them first-hand what he had seen, but they would not even look through his telescope.  The Church said that his telescope revealed the existence of things that were not really there, apparitions, the work of the Devil! 

On April 12, 1615, Cardinal Bellarmine wrote his famous Letter to Foscarini, in which he expressed his displeasure with the Copernican theory.  The following year, Galileo was summoned to Rome and ordered to desist teaching Copernican theory.  However, the Cardinal said that Galileo was free to think about it, but he could not teach it or write about it.  But the Cardinal's actions didn't end the new movement, an increasing number of people were becoming learning of the new discoveries every day.  How did Galileo react?  Interestingly, instead of being happy, Galileo felt that the new discoveries were unfit for public discussion - they should be the exclusive property of the learned elite.  Galileo, however, did something much more beneficial for the Church, he argued that science did not contradict the deeper meanings of the Holy Scriptures.

Galileo, probably unknowingly, set the stage for one of the greatest compromises in history, one that may have held the spiritual development of mankind back for the past five hundred years when he said:

(1) The wise man should seek the true sense of the Scriptures, because they contained the true meaning.

(2) In matters of physical problems, man ought not begin from the authority of the Scriptures, but from sense experience and necessary demonstration.

This became the basis for the great compromise:

(1) The physical world should be the domain of science.

(2) The non-physical (spiritual) world would continue to be the domain of the Church.

Ultimately Galileo was ordered to appear before the Inquisition at Rome.  He hoped for intervention by the Pope who was a former friend, but it never came.  He staunchly believed that he could demonstrate that Copernican's teachings were not in conflict with those of the Church.  Galileo soon discovered that the Church was not concerned with any truth that challenged its truth.  All it was concerned about was how it could protect its power and authority. 

Galileo, by then a seventy-year-old man, was interrogated relentlessly and threatened with torture.  He was charged with violating the 1616 decree that prohibited him from writing about or defending Copernican's theory.  The Church produced forged documents and Galileo, without a defense of any kind, exercised his only reasonable option.  June 22, 1633 he recited the required abjuration on his knees:

Wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences and of every true Christian this vehement suspicious justly cast upon me, with sincere heart and unfeigned faith I do abjure, damn, and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally each and every other error, heresy and sect contrary to the Holy Church; and I do swear for the future that I shall never again speak or assert, orally or in writing, such things as might bring me under similar suspicion.

When the trial ended the abjuration was made public and the broken Galileo spent his remaining eight years under house arrest at his villa outside Florence.  It was during this time that he wrote what many believe was his finest book - the Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences.  His daughter, Sister Marie Celeste, whom he had sent to a convent against her wishes twenty-three years earlier, stayed with him to the end.  Every day he said the seven Psalms of penitence ordered by the Holly Office as part of his sentence.

The trial and condemnation of Galileo marked the end of the first wave of the Scientific Revolution.  The power of papal authority had succeeded in halting the growth of the new science in Italy.  It is no accident then, that following Galileo's death in 1642, the greatest advances in science would come from outside Italy in countries like England, Holland, and Germany.  Things, however, were different in these countries.  It wasn't long before another Catholic found himself in trouble with the pope - his named was Martin Luther.  Luther's challenge was not delivered from a scientific perspective; instead Luther launched a theological missile directly at the heart of the Church's power - the doctrine of salvation.  Luther offered his fellow Catholics a new plan for salvation, a plan that neither required the Roman Catholic Church, the pope, nor the priests.  This was the first of the alternate salvation plans that would come into being after Luther opened the door.  Before long people would have many new theological choices, different ways to worship God, and numerous ways to escape eternal damnation. 

When all was said and done, Galileo's words would prove to have been prophetic - mankind's knowledge would be divided into two distinct kingdoms with their kings:

(1) The Unseen or Spiritual Kingdom of Religion

(2) The Observable or Natural Kingdom of Science

Now science would be free to test and examine whatever it desired in the physical world.  Religion, on the other hand, was now freed from what had been its greatest threat - science.  But after Luther, the Church had to deal with not just one challenger, there were an army of Protestant theologies challenging it.  For the next few centuries the new theologies multiplied at an unbelievable rate.  But instead of destroying each other, the result was that each simply created its own new territory and existed independently of other Christian groups.  The movement of Christians from one group to another became a common occurrence.  The theological maze created by this was more than the average person could escape.

Science Invades Religion's Territory

As time passed, science began to cross the boundary into religions territory.  In order to understand our past, archaeologists began to dig and use scientific methods to explain its discoveries.  Archaeologists uncovered thousands of artifacts, including many different manuscripts and fragments of the Bible.  Modern eyes viewed the remains of ancient biblical cities and languages that had been long forgotten and what they discovered were not in agreement with what the religious authorities had been teaching.

The voices of the ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, and Sumerians were allowed to tell their own stories.  We learned about their worlds, histories, and beliefs.  The deeper they dug the further scientists found themselves in forbidden territory of religion. 

The Two Paths Must Become One

During my lifetime I have witnessed a major shift in the spiritual realities of many of my personal friends.  The religious institutions of my life provided me with my earliest spiritual foundation.  But after years of research I discovered numerous flaws in my spiritual foundation. My initial reaction was to look

to authoritarian systems for new truths to take the place of my old ones.  As soon as I examined them scientifically I discovered that I was in the same boat once again. 

Let me make a point here.  I do not believe that science can or will provide all the answers, neither can just religion.  There may be something greater than both.  However, at this point in time I know that science must not be excluded from religion - and religion should not be barred from science.  But our top priority must be to examine every Religious Truth scientifically.  It is clear that it is no longer acceptable to just blindly accept them.  

I encourage you to join us on this journey, which we call our biblical heritage.  It begins when you decide to learn about the history of your religious institutions, their beliefs and how they have affected the lives of others.  This journey also requires us to examine our Religious Truths.  You will probably experience the same discomfort that I experienced - the feeling that comes when question the things that you have been taught not to question.  At first it is very uncomfortable to replace a belief system that provides you with all the answers with the knowledge that there are many questions. 

So, Who Is A Christian?

In my opinion the answer has to be - "everyone who says they are."  Every claim is supported only by the Religious Truths of their religious institution or their personal beliefs.  None can be proven or disproven and all have traceable histories.  They all have provided levels of comfort for their followers and many have been very harmful to outsiders.

The fact of the matter is that it is really much easier to answer the question - Who Wasn't a Christian?  Well, to begin with, Jesus wasn't - and neither were Peter, John, Jacob (James), Paul, nor anyone of the other apostles.  They were all adherents to one or more of the various forms of Second Temple Judaisms that existed during their lifetimes.

It took centuries for the foundational beliefs of modern Christian to be molded into existence.  How many of those beliefs would be agreeable to Jesus and his apostles?  Probably not very many.  Not only could they most probably not comprehend any form of Judaism without a Temple and Levitical Priesthood - they would probably have a very difficult time with many of the beliefs and rituals that Christianity inherited from its non-Jewish leaders from Rome, Africa, Persia, etc.

So don't get very upset if someone's Christianity doesn't agree with your.  Instead, try to understand the origin of both and see if you don't share a biblical heritage.  Get the facts before you ever consider relying on blind faith!                              DTB

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