Question: (editor’s note: this question is coming from someone who is Jewish)

I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question. Your response revealed the need to address something more fundamental before we can continue, which is, what is a Christian? I searched your website for the answer but could not find a definition of what includes or excludes a person as a Christian. But it is interesting to note that under "Other religions" (I take that to mean other than Christianity) you list Roman Catholicism, yet your email response indicates a far broader definition that would so much as include Ebionites. I do not believe that history nor any Church authorities would afford you such a definition. Can you please provide your working definition of what a Christian is, and perhaps this information would be of great value to all the readers of your website and other media.


Like many, I use the word Christian in more than one sense. One sense is anyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ, as defined by the Council of Nicaea. In other words, anyone who accepts as truth that Jesus of Nazareth is deity–the only "begotten" Son of God is a Christian. By that definition, professing Roman Catholics are Christians. By this definition, the Ebionites, a first and second century heretical group were not "Christian," as they did not believe that Jesus was divine. If the Ebionites are Christian at all, it is in an even broader sense, which is anyone who believes that they are following the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, even if in fact they are not. This definition is so broad, in my opinion, so as to be not very useful.

This, however, is not the chief definition I would use for the word Christian. We should remember that the word is not defined in the Bible. In fact, it only appears three times in the New Testament. Two of those times are, in context, being used by the enemies of the Jesus movement. It was a term of derision, equivalent to "those Christ-people." So, here is my definition. A Christian is a person who has been saved by the blood of Jesus and is, therefore, part of the Church established by Jesus. Of course, we humans are not able to judge who is saved. Christians in the sense just defined do not have any unique markings by which we can definitely recognize to distinguish from those who are not saved. They might attend an assembly of believers with any of a number of signs on the door.

However, the New Testament does supply for us statements which are very useful to define who is saved. The best place to find how one is saved and who is saved, in my opinion, is the second chapter of Acts. I say this because this is the first recorded public preaching of the Gospel. It stands to reason that if the New Testament is inspired by God, the first recorded Gospel sermon would have a clear description of how one is saved by Jesus. In this sermon, the people hear the massage preached. They are told that Jesus is the Messiah, that he worked miracles, bearing testimony that he was from God, and that he was crucified to take the penalty for our sins and that he was resurrected from the dead. Anyone who believed/accepted this message and was "cut to the heart," was asked to repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven of all their sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are told elsewhere in the New Testament (for example in Ephesians chapter one) that the Holy Spirit dwelling in a baptized person is a "deposit, guaranteeing our salvation" until the coming of Jesus. Therefore, to be specific, a Christian is anyone who has heard and believed the gospel message about Jesus Christ, had responded by making Jesus their Lord, repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ is a Christian.

Please bear with me when I discuss Christianity if I occasionally use the word Christian in a broader sense. I will admit that I am not always consistent in this. The statement I made which you referred to about Roman Catholics is not intended as a blanket declaration that no Catholics are in fact Christians. I do know that as a rule those who are part of this group are not called to do the things I just listed above. For this reason, I believe that most who are self-declared Roman Catholics have not been saved by the blood of Jesus. Again, I do not say this to make a blanked judgement of all people in this group, but as a general statement, I do not think of the Roman Church as being composed of Christians in general, although using the secondary definition I gave above, the Catholic Church is in this broader sense a Christian group. I hope this is useful.

John Oakes

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