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Who is a Christian?

Christian Jihad.  Christian Terrorist.  White Christian Conservative.  These are a few of the headlines that were associated with Anders Behring Breivik.  It seemed as soon as the violence in Norway took place people wanted to find a label to associate this man with.  The first thought that many had was this attack was made by a Muslim Jihadist.  Then, news came out that the man was a not Muslim, but rather Christian.  Once this became clear the previously mentioned headlines began to take shape.

He is A Christian

Not only headlines, but also stories were written to link Anders Behring Breivik’s action with “fundamentalist Christianity.”  In the mind of that particular author, this group included anyone opposed to abortion, pro-family, and upholders of the sanctity of life.  The author was convinced that Breivik’s actions would be repeated in America. (Sadly the article seemed more like a way for the guy to sale his book, you can read it here).

Interestingly enough, it seems that the desire to label the individual a fundamentalist Christian has now waned.  Mostly because in Anders’ Manifesto he claims to not have a “personal relationship with Jesus” but rather believes that “culturally” Christianity has been a benefit to Europe, and therefore he believes it should be upheld.  This is a far cry from any Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christians I know in America.

For me two problems arose from the quickness to identify this guy as a Christian.  The first is that categorizing people such as Anders is a fool’s expedition.  The guy had a long manifesto, believed he was a knight, and a crusader.  Obviously, the individual is not “normal.”  To characterize him using normal labels is to do disservice to both those labels and to the nature of the individual.  However, you can read more on that line of thinking from Scot McKnight, here.

The Problem of this Label

I want to look at the second problem. This problem centers around the question, “Who is a Christian?”.   The word Christian is used so often for so many different things that it really has lost its distinctive meaning.  We have Christian colleges, coffee shops, football teams, etc…  We also have no governing board who censures those who claim to be Christian who in reality are not.  For the most part the word Christian is free to be used by anyone, and to claim that a person is not a Christian is to be seen as intolerant and narrow-minded.

However, I think we can do a better job of simply stating that if someone claims to be a Christian that he/she is a Christian.   In one sense I guess they are true, because in our common venacular the word Christian is more a cultural world.  It is something you are born as.  Christian to many is also simply a moral system or a good philosophy.  To others it is what mom and dad were, so I am too.   However, just because our culture uses a word in a certain way doesn’t make it right.

So Says Scripture

The word Christian should be defined by Scripture.  The word itself is used three times in Scripture: Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16.*  There are some clear teachings that emerge.

  1. Being a Christian is a choice one makes.  Once an individual is persuaded of the gospel, they make a conscious decision to become a Christian.  One is not born a Christian, nor is can one be a Christian who simply likes the “culture.”
  2. Being a Christian means being a disciple.  The word disciple means one who follows another with the goal of becoming like the person whom they follow.  In the case of Christians it means following Jesus with the goal of becoming like Jesus.  This means following his teachings and example.  A person unwilling to follow the teaching of Jesus is not His disciple, and by extension not a Christian (Luke 6:46).
  3. Being a Christian means suffering from this claim.  The idea of a Christian terrorist is completely incongruous with this clear teaching concerning the Christian faith.  As Christians we do not inflict suffering upon another, but rather we are willing to suffer at the hands and tongue of ungodly people.

Conclusion

The Norwegian shooter is not a Christian.  He might claim to be, but many claim to be and are not (Matthew 7:21-23).  No one can be both a Christian and a terrorist.  Instead, a Christian is someone who is persuaded by the gospel, learns and becomes like Jesus, and is willing to suffer for his/her faith.

*Disclaimer: Due to my desire to keep each post within a certain word count I’m only going to deal with the three Scriptures that actually use the word Christian in them.  Although these three a sufficient in giving us a skeleton of what the word means, obviously the word Christian carries with it more than just the content of these three verses.

 

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4 Comments

  1. I agree with your comment about this horrible incident which claimed so many lives by one man. How could he be a Christian? A Christian is a disciple of Jesus who instead shows mercy even to those who put Him to dead on the cross. Jesus even rebuked Peter for using the sword to harm someone. Jesus said those who use sword would be dead by sword. So this man’s action is just inhuman.

  2. Let God be the judge. His word tells us that ‘I will avenge’ And do not let the anger of this man’s actions harden the heart. To those who are linked personally (loosing a loved one), pray for those families.

  3. I do not understand why people make this so hard to understand. We are save by GRACE. A GIFT from God. IF we accept Jesus as LORD and SAVIOR.
    ( Ephesians 2:8-9 )

  4. Thanks! Good post.

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