Are Our Denominational Friends Christians?

By Phil T. Arnold

For some time now the world has been accustomed to a loose use of the term “Christian” without much regard for anything the Bible or Christ has to say. If a person is religious, he is a “Christian.” If someone expresses any faith in Jesus or the Bible, he is a “Christian.” If a person is a good neighbor, a good parent, a good moral person, he is a “Christian.” According to some we even live in a “Christian” nation. While such is expected from the world at large, this trend also seems to be increasing among members of the Lord’s church. More often than ever in my memory, members of the church will speak of those outside covenant relationship with God through Christ as being “Christians.” And we read more and more about those in pulpits of “churches of Christ” accepting and even encouraging such.

“Are you saying that our denominational friends are not ‘Christians’?” “Who made you their judge?” Well, I’m not applying for the job of judge nor am I usurping that position. I have no desire to “judge” anyone. But I am commanded to “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24) which requires that I would accurately understand and apply the word of God. I am also held accountable for informing other people of God’s judgments as expressed in his word (see Ezek. 3:17ff). Therefore, to be pleasing to God my “judgment” of who and what is a “Christian” must simply be the same as the “judgment” of God which he has revealed through his Word. I cannot apply that term to those whom God would not simply to be agreeable and non-judgmental in the eyes of the world.

One might think, feel, and call himself a citizen of the USA, but that does not make him a citizen. Citizenship requires the meeting of certain standards. Likewise, one is not a citizen of the Lord’s kingdom simply because he thinks and feels that he is and claims the name “Christian.” There is a standard revealed within the Word of what it takes to be a citizen of the Lord’s kingdom, to belong to Christ and to be married to him, and thus rightfully wear his name.

According to the Bible, who is a Christian? In Acts 11:26 we read, “So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Thus, according to the Bible those who are “Christians” are “disciples.” But how can we identify disciples? “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31, 32). In order for one to be a disciple of Jesus one must “know the truth” and “abide in His word.” Should I therefore refer to others as “Christians” who do not know the truth nor abide in his word? We certainly do not live in a “Christian” nation! Simply being a good neighbor or a good parent or even a good moral person does not make one a Christian! Even being religious and even calling upon Jesus as “Lord” does not make one a Christian! Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). And again, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

What about our denominational friends? Are they Christians? Well, do they know and abide in the truth, the words of Christ? Are they doing the will of the Father, the things which Jesus said? Only if such questions could be answered in the affirmative could one rightfully be thought of and referred to as a Christian.

Consider a simple yet vital part of this matter of knowing and abiding in the Father’s will. The truth, the words Christ Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” The baptism commanded by Jesus is said to be “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) and “to wash away one’s sins” (Acts 22:16). With this understanding of the word of God, how could we refer to those who have not believed in Jesus and been baptized for such purposes as “Christians”? Have our denominational friends believed in Christ and been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins? If they have not, they are not “Christians” according to God’s word, according to the judgment of God, and cannot be so regarded by one who desires his judgment to agree with God.

The term “Christian” simply means “of or belonging to Christ.” Only two verses in all of God’s word speak of how one enters “into” Christ — into that relationship where one belongs to Christ. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Again, these verses speak of that same act of baptism for the remission of sins based upon one’s faith in Christ. Should we refer to those who have never entered into Christ as belonging to Christ? How can we refer to them as “Christians”?

In our age of tolerance, compromise, and “political correctness” it does not seem fitting to limit the use of the term “Christian” to only those who are defined as such by the Scriptures. But then again, the world has never approved of the will of God, his Son, or his people. More members of the church and more pulpits of churches of Christ may seek the world’s favor. Yet, we simply must determine whether or not we are seeking the approval of man or God and allow that determination to define our use of the term “Christian.”

From The Evangelizer, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73139

Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 20  p22  October 17, 2000