Many people in the U.S. claim to be “Christians.” One figure I have read said that the number is something like 70-80%. But by observation, I think it is safe to say, and I think most would agree, the definition of “Christian” is broad. And it would not be unfair to say, too broad.
A survey of 1,000 people 18 years and older, claiming to be “Christians” was conducted several months ago to try to draw out some distinctions among those claiming to be of the faith. The researchers categorized their findings into five distinct groups. The titles for each group are those given by the researchers. The defining characteristics are fairly thin, but directionally descriptive.
Active Christians, represent 19% of those claiming to follow the faith.
Believe salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ
Seek to grow in their faith by reading the Bible
Seek opportunities to serve in leadership positions
Share their faith with others
Professing Christians, represent 20% of those claiming to be “Christian”
Focus on a personal relationship with Christ
Have fewer actions to back up or evidence their faith
Weaker commitment to Bible study and church involvement
Liturgical Christians, make up 16% of those claiming to be of the faith
Go to church regularly
Express their faith through service
Primarily members of Catholic or Lutheran churches
Express an importance of faith in God
Focus is on the authority of the church
Private Christians, are 24% of the U.S. “Christian” population
Tend to be younger
Believe in God and in “doing good”
Seldom read the Bible
Only about one third attend church
Cultural Christians, 21%
Profess a belief in God, but don’t interact with Him personally
Virtually never involved in any sort of religious activity
Think that Jesus is NOT essential to salvation
Believe that there are many paths to God
It would have been interesting if the researchers had drilled down a bit deeper to ask respondents specific details about the formation of their faith, however they define it, and to determine the extent to which their “Christianity” is a relationship they consciousy entered into, or if they somehow perceive it as having been bestowed upon them by family or tradition, almost as an inheritance.
My friend Brandon Rogers wrote an article recently that dealt in part with a need for the term “Christian” to be more narrowly and, in the process, more accurately defined. Here are three excerpts from his article (the entirety of which can be read by clicking here).
“I think the term “Christian” needs to have specific meaning once again. It meant something much different in Antioch than what it does currently.”
“For instance, is there a need to qualify a man who abstains from sex until marriage from a man who abstains only on Tuesdays? Are they both abstainers? Or is one a virgin and one a fornicator? In the same way, I think it’s unreasonable to qualify a Christian who believes in the central tenets of the faith and a Christian who does not. It does violence to the meaning of Christianity.”
“If the culture has modified the understanding of what a Christian is, then I think our job would be to define it for them (Biblically), as opposed to recognizing a dual definition. If we fail to draw hard lines where it matters, I think we can expect that it will effect eternity for some people.” (emphasis, mine. CT)
That last line in the quotations from Brandon Rogers’ article is the real heart of the issue. Some who identify with the Christian faith are missing the boat now and run the risk of doing so for eternity. For some who are off the mark, it may be a simple matter of education and clarification. For others, it may be a matter of simply needing encouragement and accountability to spur growth.
But what is certain, under the overarching construct of the doctrine of election, is a real need for the word of Christ to be presented, and in-turn heard, so that genuine faith can be given birth. (Romans 10: 17)