Unity — Who is a Christian?

A Christian is a person who loves Jesus Christ and follows him as their leader.  [1] There are many types of Christians: Roman Catholics, Anglo Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and eucharistic, orthodox and modern, eastern and western, believers in the Bible as the sole guide and believers in the Bible and tradition, and other variations as well.

But what characterizes all Christians? All of us are individuals and have our own experiences of the realities of living as a Christian and we also have many debates about what it means to love and follow Jesus. But I believe that if we are to transform the world as Jesus wishes us to, we also need to see each other as brothers and sisters who have been given some common gifts by Jesus, and because of that, share some things in common. “Yes, that’s what a Christian is! I hope to become more like that.” Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” There is only one vine, one body of Christ. We all belong to the same body and share Jesus’ life in the Holy Spirit flowing through one vine.

I offer the following statements that describe what a Christian is, not to spark debate but to spark recognition and alignment among all of us, no matter which local church we attend. These statements describe our aspirations as Christians, and describe who we hope to become. These ideals are unchanged since the earliest days of the church. My hope is that we can all agree on them, share them in common and pledge to each other to follow them as we gather and do our work together, as a global Christian community.

1. Christians are “Jesus-centric”

While the world may shy away from talking about Jesus, Christians don’t. This doesn’t mean that there is any specific or right way of talking about Jesus; there isn’t. Each Christian has her or his own unique encounters with him, no matter how subtle or hidden these may be. We know him and recognize his voice when we hear it.  Some may proclaim him quite easily and openly; others may view their relationship with Jesus as quite private and be more diffident. The point is, Jesus is part of our conversations and the wise counselor / facilitator of all that we do. Non-Christians may try to be more politically correct and refer to God as ‘the Universe’ or some other name, but Christians are certain about the name of God’s Son.

2. Christians have a different way of thinking than non-Christians. We are “in the world but not of the world”

Basically, this is a cultural statement. If culture means sharing common ideas, common language and communication, and alignment about how things ought to work, Christians share a culture that is different than the world’s culture. We see and speak about the world differently than non-Christians. To be “of the world” means you buy-in to the conventional culture. Christians are “not of the world.” We don’t see things in the world quite the same, use quite the same language about them or believe things ought to work quite the way that they do in the ‘system.’ In a few words, Christians have different hopes for the world, love it differently and have faith that they will, with the Holy Spirit’s help, ultimately transform it.

3. Christians experience time differently. We are “already but not yet completely” living in a time when the promises of Jesus are fulfilled.

We live in a world where we say in the Lord’s Prayer that the kingdom has already come on Earth but not yet fully as it is in heaven. We live in the 21st century of the Christian era but we also live in the last days, working and waiting for the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ promises. We live in a time of horrible events in the world but we see them differently and believe that their present outcome is already being transformed, in some mysterious way, but not yet fully. Christians distinguish between the appearances of the space-time continuum, and the reality of God’s time. One is measured by astrophysicists and the other is unmeasureable, safe in God’s care, flowing toward His desired eternal state.

4. Christians use the word ‘power’ differently. “We are Easter people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit”

As Paul said, when we do good, it is not us but Jesus’ power in us that does it. This power was given to Paul and to us because of what happened on the Cross, at Easter and Pentecost. We live mindfully and prayerfully, able to distinguish between when God’s power is empowering us, versus when we are doing “our own thing.” We also distinguish between having gifts of the Spirit and our own self-development. Our gifts are meant for others; our efforts at self-development, while understandable, are focused on ourselves.


[1] Every Christian ‘loves’ and ‘follows’ Jesus in their own unique way. There are no widely accepted criteria for how much a person must love and follow Jesus in order to be a Christian. Jesus loves us first and tells us that his ‘yoke is light,’ which is a gentle invitation to follow him. Therefore, if you feel that you love not hate Jesus (although you may hate the church at times) and would like to follow him if you could only figure out how in this complicated world, then you are a Christian as I mean the term.

Angry Christians

Sometimes, I notice different kinds of anger when I talk with Christians or read their Blogs:

  1. “The church doesn’t give me what I need”
  2. “Those other Christians and their churches are heretics, apostates or just irritating.”
  3. “The Pastor offended me.”
  4. “They are ruining the church.”

What is Jesus’ mind when it comes to such anger? I suspect he would tell them a parable, like this one.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Jesus says, how can I show you my love unless you empty yourself of your anger?