One of the key things kids learning elementary science is the basic groups of backboned animals. You may remember how to differentiate fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
- Birds have feathers, lay eggs, and have bills.
- Reptiles are cold blooded, have scales, lay eggs, and some, like snakes, can inject venom.
- Amphibians are cold-blooded, lay eggs, breathe air but live on the land and in the water.
- Mammals are warm-blooded, have hair, give live births, and produce milk for their young
What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?Understanding the various religious systems offered today can sometimes be as confusing to navigate as those naturalists who sought to classify the platypus, especially when it comes to what makes someone a Christian. It seems everybody wants to claim that they are following Jesus's teachings in some way. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the parent organization for Jehovah's Witnesses, claims to be Christian.1 Former Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked whether Mormons were Christians, answered "We are Christians in a very real sense."2 Other organizations such as The Way International, the Restored Church of God, and various Oneness denominations all claim to be representing true Christianity. Yet, they all have radically different beliefs.
How can you tell what is Christian and what isn't? Most people I speak with don't have a clear idea of just what classifies someone as a real Christian. They think as long as they claim Jesus and point in some way to his teachings, it is enough. But that's like calling a platypus a bird or a reptile. There's some resemblance, but it is still different and will lead you to a different belief, one that leads to judgment instead of salvation.
Just as with classifying animals, there are certain essential beliefs that define what a Christian is and while the various denominations within Christendom differ on many things, they all hold these specific beliefs as non-negotiable. These beliefs are reflected in the early church creeds from Nicaea and Chalcedon, which summarized the bare minimum of what being a Christian means, found in the outline below:
The Essential Beliefs of ChristianityWho God is
- There is one God
- God is eternal—without beginning or end.
- God is transcendent—He is separate from his creation.
- God is recognized as the Creator—God made all things.
- God is Triune—a single being comprised of the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Jesus is wholly (with all the attributes of) God.
- Jesus is wholly (with all the attributes of) a human being.
- Jesus is indivisible—one cannot separate his divinity and his humanity.
- He Sacrifice Himself for Our Sins.
- He rose bodily from the grave.
- He fulfilled the promised of God in the Old Testament.
- Jesus will return bodily to this earth.
- Jesus will raise all people.
- Jesus will judge all people.
- All believing Christians are part of Jesus's one true church.
- All believing Christians will be raised by Jesus to eternal glory.
- All believing Christians will dwell in fellowship with God in the world that is to come.
Why It MattersI've written about some of these distinctions before and I will explore them in more detail in upcoming articles. My intent in this article is to show that there is a very specific set of beliefs to which all Christians must hold. While a lot of people or organizations claim to be Christian, they are really impostors offering a counterfeit Christianity. The JWs say they are Christians, they deny the deity of Jesus, making him a created being instead of eternal God. Gordon Hinckley and the LDS deny the triune nature of God, the transcendence of God, and the fact that there is only one God in all of existence.
Jesus warned the church to "beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). The Apostle Paul cautioned "there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). The Apostle John warned the church of "those who are trying to deceive you" (1 John 2:26). We must be able to distinguish who is a sheep and who is a wolf. To not do so would be to betray Jesus, something no true Christian would ever desire.
2. "Are Mormons Christians?" Mormon.org. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., n.d. Web. 21 July 2015. http://www.mormon.org/faq/mormon-christian.