Who Can Rightfully Call Themself Christian?

Who Can Rightfully Call Themself Christian?

Season 5
Episode Number
Release Date
January 30, 2023
GalatiansDiscipleshipDenominationsCommunicationFruit of the SpiritBaptismMessiahMatthew
15 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-20 NASB


Hey guys welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast! This is your host Ree, and we are talking about crucial conversations. So, in the last episode I wasn't sure if I was going to take the podcast in this direction, but I am. I think it's really important. I think how we talk to each other and how we disagree says a lot about who we are; ,it says a lot about our faith. As I mentioned in the previous episode if you get nasty and ugly in a disagreement, and if you can't even express what you actually believe in a coherent manner, then I'm probably going to be less inclined to take you seriously. So when we're talking to people who don't share our beliefs or who don't share our faith it’s very important that we come across both compassionate and loving—loving being a Fruit of the Spirit,[1] very important there—but also clear. And what I've learned as I've gotten older is that a lot of times when we're so-called “communicating,” we're not on the same page. We're just not even operating on the same page, and that's why the conversation falls apart.

Asking the Question: Who is a Christian?

So in general, I don't think people walk around asking, “who is a Christian?” or “who do you consider to be a Christian?” I have never been asked this question before in my life. However the implication of the question comes up quite often, and it looks really more so about how you discuss different people, or you discuss different practices, or you discuss different denominations. So a more likely scenario would be whether or not you consider say a Jehovah's Witness to be a Christian—and I use them because I think they're probably one of the most popular groups that… Some people will refer to them as Christian; some people will not. Some people think they are cult. They have very different beliefs than most Christian denominations—and so, again, I haven't really ever encountered somebody walking up to me and asking, “do you think a Jehovah's Witness is a Christian?” but how you answer that question really does determine how you talk about Jehovah's Witnesses or how you interact with a Jehovah's Witness. Knowing where you stand on that question is sort of intrinsic to other conversations, and that's kind of why I want to start with this question.

Defining the Question

Now the question itself is very nuanced; it's actually unanswerable—well let me not say unanswerable, because I have an answer and you have an answer. Our answers are probably very different. What I mean is it's impossible—or improbable—that we will come to the same conclusion, and therefore you will not be able to get everyone who professes to be a Christian to agree on who is a Christian. That is what I mean by it's unanswerable.

Now in order to answer the question we have to first define what a Christian is. When you're having these conversations and you’re trying to get to a point or consensus, you have to be on the same page. And to be on the same page, we have to be operating with the same definition of Christian. When I first thought of a definition I was like what how would I define a Christian without trying to say like this denomination or that denomination or this person or that person. What does it mean to be a Christian?

What is the Definition of Christian?

One of the first things that popped into my head as a definition is someone who follows the teachings of Christ or someone who follows the teachings of the Messiah. When I looked up the definition that's more or less what the dictionary says. Merriam-Webster actually says “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”[2]

Now that becomes an interesting thing right there because you can go down the rabbit hole with caveats and tangents just in that one sentence.

What Does it Mean to Profess?

Let's start with profess. What does it mean to profess belief? Is that the same as actually following? If you profess belief in something are you actually actively living out that belief, or are you just giving that belief lip service? I actually had to look up the definition of profess[3] because in my mind profess is just to say, to declare. So when when I hear “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ,” I hear one who admits believing in Jesus, or one who says that they believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ—which to me is very different than the one who is actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I would lean more towards a Christian is someone who actually is living the way the Messiah told us to live, which would be actually living out the teachings of the Messiah. I looked up the definition of profess and the first couple of definitions in the dictionary do in fact lead to the same connotation that I had, where it's one who admits to, declares, says in public, or whatever. But near the end, it did say something about actually practicing or one who is practiced in a particular belief, so there is some leeway of saying that it actually requires action, as well.

So that's one of the first nuances just in the definition. Are we talking about people who say that they're Christians? There are a lot of people… Anybody can get up and say “Hey! I'm a Christian,” right? This is how Christianity got in to the problems of a paganism being in the church in the first place. People were just saying they were Christian because it became popular when Constantine said he was a Christian, even though Constantine kept pagan symbolism on his coins until his dying day.[4] Yeah… We're not going to get off on that side tangent.

Christ or Messiah?

If you keep going into the sentence… If we just… Let's just go with profession means that you both admit to and subscribe to and are trying to follow the teachings of. Then we get to Jesus Christ. Well there's an ongoing debate within the body right now about using His Hebrew name versus using the Greek name. So there are a lot of people who would argue that “Jesus”—and I'm using air quotes if you were able to see me—that is actually antichrist, and that it's not appropriate to call him by the Greek name; you must use the Hebrew name. Again, this is a crucial conversation for a different episode, but they would say Messiah. They would say Yeshua, or they might say Yahshua or they might say Yahushua. There are lots of different pronunciations—I briefly talked about that in the last episode, as well.

So if you started going down this line then you would have some people who associate Jesus Christ with the pagan practices in church and the corruption of Christianity by the Roman Catholic Church, and all of these things. They would look at this and they would say that they are not a Christian, and there are a lot of denominatios, perhaps. Definitely under the Messianic Jew schism of belief—most of them would refer to themselves as Messianic Jews even though they may not be Jew by blood or Jewish by blood. Of course, if you get into the more controversial, like the Black Hebrew Israelites. They would definitely reject the name Christian. I'm reading a book now, I'm not sure what branch of faith the author is from, but it's talking about this concept of paganism and idolatry that has crept into the the faith. I actually just got to a chapter where he's talking about what the early Christians called themselves what the early believers called themself. He's taking the position that Christian was actually a derogatory term or that it was a term applied to the people in Rome who were blending Christianity with paganism and not actually to the original followers…

If you haven't caught on, do you see how easy it is to go off on tangents about other things?

An Agreeable Definition

So where you stand on all of these different things is starting to color how you feel about the sentence “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ,” right? Even if we could get to a definition that we all are agree on… Even if we said something like, “one who follows the teachings of the Messiah as told in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures of the Bible.” Even if we got super specific and we were able to word this so that nobody was complaining about for instance the name “Jesus Christ” or whether profess means to just articulate or whether it means to actually act on.[5]

If we got past that, and we came to an agreement about that: what does that actually look like?

Putting it to the Test

So when I was in high school—middle school?—the youth director at the Baptist Church that I attended told me that I was not a Christian. The reason he said that I was not a Christian is because I was not a member of the Baptist Church and I was not baptized. Now if you said that sentence to my grandfather or my grandmother or my mother (and when I say grandmother and grandfather I'm talking about my maternal grandparents), they would have taken issue with it, because they're all Methodists and I was christened at an AME church.

A lot of denominations believe in infant baptism. The Baptist Church does not (and I personally agree with the Baptist Church on that). That's a topic for another time, but the point is: who you consider able to baptize or not able to baptize, or baptized or not baptized, is a whole different situation.

Even in saying are you or are you not a Christian based on your baptism… Well, what about the thief on the cross? He was never baptized, but he was saved. But then, is being saved and being a Christian the same thing? Can you be a Christian and not be saved? Can you be saved and not be a Christian? Again, can of worms. Questions and questions. Where you fall on answering that question is going to determine how you respond.

So, in that situation you know my mom's side of the family would have been like “Yes, you're baptized, you're a Christian. You believe, and you show up—” To be quite frank, I was one of the only children (possibly the only child) who was attending both church services and Sunday school services of my own free will. My parents did not attend church; they didn't force me to go to church.

So. many people would have said, “yeah she's definitely a Christian,” but my youth director said, “No, you're not you're not a Christian; you can't get up and talk in front of the congregation because you're not a Christian.”


You see, it easily becomes muddy, because your perception colors how you answer the question. We each have different interpretations of what it means to follow the teachings because we have different beliefs or different interpretations of the teachings themselves—that's why we have almost 40,000 denominations! Some of these denominations split over trivial things or stupid things—or the fact that one denomination chose to be racist and you know they just din’t like black people, they didn't like these people[6]—but a lot of the separation is doctrinal—not sure how you pronounce that—differences in doctrine. There we go! That's how we're going to say that.

So when you look at this from… If you talk to somebody with like a PhD in theology they may be very well versed in these differences in doctrine. if you talk to somebody who is been a believer for a long time who has had exposure to lots of other believers or believers with other beliefs or with other denominations, people who study a lot; they may be well versed in this. But if you're talking to somebody who's been going to the same type of church their whole life and doesn't really get out and talk to other people, they may not even be aware that these differences exist. I've talked to people like this. I've talked to people who have been Christian their whole life, people who are in their 50s, 60s, and they don't realize that not all Christians agree, or not all denominations I should say, agree on this point or that point.

When you start moving away from the Christian circle and you start getting into people who don't subscribe to the Bible at all, why would they be familiar with these differences, right? We barely know them ourselves. People on the outside looking in, they're not going to notice that. They're not going to know what the difference is. But each person is going to ascribe their belief or their perception of what a Christian is based on how they feel, or their experience, or what they think it means to follow the teachings of Christ—even if they don't know the teachings of Christ, they will apply it to what they think the teachings of Christ are.

Another Controversial Question Within the Question

Before we close out, I want to open one last can of worms for the road. This definition that I read to you guys: “one who professes believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Or, you know, this definition that we've come to that everyone agrees on “someone who actually follows the belief and the teachings of the Messiah.” It actually leaves a huge question mark on something that a lot of people think is fundamental to Christianity. There are in fact denominations, and even an entire religion, that would still fall under this definition even though they don't agree with that.

That is on the point of the divinity of the Messiah. Is he Divine? Is he God?

Because if you profess belief in or you follow the teachings of, that doesn't necessarily mean that you see Him as divine… Again, this goes on to your interpretation. Do you believe that He called himself divine? Do you believe he called himself God? Or that He said He was God? Or do you think other people ascribe that to Him and He did not? There are people who profess that He did not assert that He was God, and there are people who assert that He did.

Once you step outside of the faith or if you haven't interacted with people from different denominations, you may not even be aware that that's a debate within the body. Not every not every denomination is Trinitarian, and even amongst the people who do ascribe divinity to the Messiah, some of them are still not Trinitarian—and that's again, another can of worms. But with that is how you answer this question.

Whether or not you think that him being divine is part of the teachings or not, that would heavily influence whether or not you consider Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christians (because they don't believe in the divinity of Christ, even though they follow the teachings of Christ. Well, they follow their definition of the teachings of Christ).

But also, in Islam, they consider the Messiah to be a teacher and a prophet[7] and they don't discount Him as being, like I said, a teacher. I don't know what they actually teach that He taught because they have the Quran, which is different than the Bible. So we still may not agree on what He taught. There is still wiggle room there where you could almost slide them in to this definition based on how this is written.

Do you see what I mean by ”language is hard?”


How you perceive this definition, and how you start to define these things really, really changes how you answer the question: who is a Christian?

It's important for us to realize that—not because one answer is particularly right or wrong or anything. I mean there is a right answer and wrong answer, but we're not all going to be in agreement with it, and that's the whole point! We have to realize, when you jump into this question, when you start talking to somebody and fundamentally we're disagreeing, because I think that this is Christian practice and you don't. It’s because we don't agree on what a Christian is. We don't agree on the interpretation of Christ. I've got off and talked about the name of Christ, I've talked about baptism, I've talked about whether or not Christ is divine or not… These are just skimming the surface of all these things… If we don't agree on that, we're never going to agree on whether or not it's actually Christian, and that makes it messy; it makes it muddy.

But a lot of times, we don't even get into that part of the conversation, because we just get mad. I know because I'm that person! I see people say stuff online all the time and I’m like ,“That’s not right; that’s not proper. That’s not what Christians believe; that’s not what Christ taught.” And then I get really angry and it becomes hard to actually have the conversation because I’m in my feelings, because I’m really passionate about the fact that this is false doctrine or false teaching. But in order to have the conversation we have to be able to stop and point out where we differ, and when you get to that point, you have to be able to agree to disagree. Because at some point you're going to think you're right and I'm going to think I'm right. Unless the Holy Spirit is doing the conversation, there ain't going to be no budging. We're just going to be yelling at each other because we're on different pages…

And that is where we're starting this discussion. So think about it think about what you think about that answer, and how you talk to people, how you perceive other people who are professing to be believers or who are not believers, and how your interpretation of that definition affects how you view other people. Because how you view them also affects how you talk to them, how you talk about them. So I think that is the first step in having these crucial conversations.

Thank you guys for tuning in. I can't wait to do this series with you guys. Give me your feedback in the comments, on social media, wherever you find it easiest and best. Subscribe, like, share, all of those wonderful things, and I will see you guys next week. Bye!

References and Footnotes

  1. Galatians 5:22-23
  2. Christian”. Merriam-Webster; visited January 2023
  3. Profess”. Merriam-Webster; visited January 2023
  4. Constantine's Conversion to Christianity: Was It Real? Does It Matter?”. Zondervan Academic. May 19, 2016
  5. Basically if we removed all the ambiguity
  6. Our History”. African Methodist Episcopal Official Website; visited January 2023
  7. How is Jesus perceived in Islam?”. Muslim Unity Center; visited January 2023

Other Episodes this Season

The Daniel Fast Pt. 2
Season 5
The Tower of Babel
GenesisBabylonSpeech & LanguageCommunication
Season 5
The Gossiping Christian
Season 5
Jonah 4: The Unmerciful Believer
JonahRepentanceMental Health
Season 5
Active Listening
Season 5
Financial Modesty
Season 5
Communicating Your Faith
CommunicationFaithFruit of the Spirit
Season 5
The Debt Ceiling
GenesisNoahJoseph-OTMatthewLukeParablesProphecyCurrent EventsRevelation
Season 5
A Balanced Perspective
EcclesiastesCurrent Events
Season 5
Love is Hard
Season 5
Controlling the Narrative in Your Mind
Season 5
Season 5
Season 5
A Crucial Conversation
CommunicationRelationshipsFrustrationLoveThe ChurchDiscipleshipLeadership
Season 5
PSALMS to God is a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel that discusses many topics and issues, always keeping YHWH as the anchor. Hosea 4:6 says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”—here, the aim is to always ask questions and study to find the answers. You can keep up with new content by signing up for the weekly newsletter.