Is everyone a Christian who says they are?

A recent survey in Great Britain determined over half of Christian’s surveyed do not believe or are not sure that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sin. Seventeen percent said they disagreed with the statement, “Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected at Easter so that you can be forgiven for your sins.”

Many evangelical Christians consider belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus to forgive sin is essential to Christianity. Outside of Catholicism, no Christian group recognizes any human authority to determine who is or is not Christian. There is no membership fee or initiation process. Someone can claim to be a McDonald’s employee, but unless he is actively working for and receiving pay from McDonald’s corporation, the claim is obviously false. The same cannot be said of Christianity. One can go to church and have all the appearance of being a Christian without actually being one. Likewise, a genuine Christian can observe none of the outward trappings of Christianity and still be one.

The Bible defines who is a Christian. This is not determined by a committee decision, a council’s resolution, a church edict or a papal decree. The Bible defines what makes a person a Christian and describes the visible evidences of genuine Christianity. While no one has the authority to declare who is and is not a Christian, all believers have the ability- based upon the authority of Scripture- to declare that some who profess Christianity are not actually Christian.

Christianity is not determined by a strong feeling of being a Christian, nor even by doing Christian things. Jesus warned there would be some who preached and did miracles in His name that would be cast into hell. In the day of judgment Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you.” Personal feelings, religiousness or devotion are not what makes a person a Christian. What makes a person a Christian is proper belief personally applied.

Proper belief is belief in the gospel. The substance of the gospel is defined in Corinthians 15. The truths of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection for our sin must be believed to be saved. Likewise, the Bible declares if a person denies certain key doctrines, then that person is not a Christian, no matter what they may call themselves. These undeniable doctrines include salvation by grace through faith alone (Galatians 1:7-8) and the deity of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3).

The New Testament gives a clear definition of who is and is not truly a Christian. A Christian is a person which believes Jesus is God who died on the cross for sin and rose again. A Christian is one who then abandons all attempts at securing salvation for himself and places his full trust in Jesus to forgive his sin. This definition has not changed in the two thousand years since Jesus’ life. No one is a Christian merely because they identify as a Christian. Self-identification as a Christian does not make a person a child of God any more than self-identification as a walrus makes a person a grumpy pinniped. Only faith in Christ makes one a Christian.

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What is the Difference Between Catholicism and Protestantism?

Like a single tree trunk separates into various large branches, Christianity can be divided into several large family groups. The largest are Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Most Americans have at least a passing familiarity with Catholic and Protestant churches. Very few churches identify themselves outwardly as Protestant, but many stem from the Protestant branch of Christianity. The Protestant faiths include Presbyterianism, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism, Methodism and a number of other denominations. All churches which trace their beginnings to the Protestant Reformation are Protestant churches.

Some of these churches, like many Baptist churches, look and act nothing like the Catholic church. Some, like many Lutheran churches, bear an outward resemblance to the Catholic church. Is there any real difference between the Catholic church and Protestant churches?

This question is complicated by the many variations of beliefs in individual churches, even within the same denomination. These differences are almost beyond counting and vary from congregation to congregation. Some of the differences are very significant and some are unimportant. To keep things short, this answer will focus on the official doctrines that have traditionally separated Catholics from Protestants.

One further complication is the many Protestant groups who downplay, deny or ignore the official church doctrines. This branch of Protestantism, called theological liberalism, gives little concern to the doctrinal creeds of the churches. Liberalism emphasizes social issues and holds very different opinions from the Catholic church on matters of sexuality, abortion and the role of women in the church.

Traditional Protestants and Catholics have many important beliefs in common. They all believe there is only one God who is a Trinity. They believe Jesus is God the Son who became man to die for the sins of humanity. They believe the Bible is the Word of God given by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. They believe people are sinners in need of a Savior. Despite these very important beliefs in common, the differences that separate the two groups are equally as important.

The Protestant reformation began with the statement, “Now the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11) The doctrine of salvation by faith alone is the biggest and most important difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic church teaches that through faith the person is enabled by Christ to accomplish salvation. Protestant churches teach that salvation is fully accomplished by Christ and given to the one who receives Him by faith. These two beliefs are not compatible with one another. The one says works are essential to salvation, the other says any one attempt to work for salvation are not saved.

There are many, many other differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. However, what truly sets these two groups apart is their different teachings on salvation. How a person receives forgiveness of sin and salvation is a matter of the greatest importance. As long as the churches teach a different way of salvation there will always be a divide between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Did the early church meet in people’s homes?

Recent years have shown a renewed interest in the habits of the apostolic church. Many are asking what the church did in the first decades after Jesus’ resurrection. Much of this interest comes from a desire to answer the always important question of what it means to be a church. One specific question that is being asked is where the early church gathered. Did the early church meet in individual’s homes?

The Bible is not silent about where the church met. Scripture makes specific statements that some churches met in homes. Colossians 4:15 says, “Salute . . . Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” In Romans 16 Paul greets the church meeting in Aquilla and Priscilla’s house. Paul wrote the epistle of Philemon to Philemon and the church in his house. Without a doubt early churches met in homes. 

However, the early church did not meet exclusively in people’s homes. The Bible also makes specific statements that some churches met in public areas and large facilities. Acts 5 tells of the church in Jerusalem gathering in the temple courtyard. In Acts 19 the Ephesian believers are said to have met in the “school of Tyrannus” and continued meeting in this facility for two years. These two examples are sufficient to show that the church meeting place was not restricted to homes or that home meetings were seen as superior to meeting in other locations. The New Testament gives many commands about how the church should gather. The New Testament describes when the church should gather. The New Testament does not give any instructions about where the church should gather.

Proponents of house churches sometimes imply and sometimes state that the house church is better because it has less formal structure than a more traditional church. The New Testament shows a development and increase in the organization of the church, but there is nothing to indicate that the basic formal structures of the modern church were not in existence during the apostolic era. The New Testament discusses a number of formal structures in the church. These include a known membership, a select group of deacons, lists of widows, the giving and distribution of gifts, a known and understood body of doctrine, the appointment of special ministers to act on behalf of the church, the ability of the congregation to welcome and remove people from the church, a clearly defined pastorate, men specially appointed as pastors, an accepted body of doctrine and vigorous defense against false doctrines.

The early churches met in homes. These early house churches were not a gathering of the family on Sunday morning. Nor were they an informal gathering of neighbors to discuss the Bible. From the very beginning every church was an official gathering of believers who held to orthodox doctrine, who had a defined membership, who appointed officers to oversee their affairs, who were submitted to pastoral authority and who made binding decisions for themselves. The location of meeting does not define a church. The gathering of believers with the active intention of fulfilling all the responsibilities given by Jesus to His church is what makes a group of people a church.

Does God hate religion?

Alex Himaya wrote a book entitled, “Jesus hates religion.” He said that, “Jesus is about love and relationship, not rules and religion.” A quick search online turns up dozens of reasons why God hates religion. “Religion has started wars.” “Religion builds huge churches but fails to feed the poor.” “Religion sees people as the enemy, but Jesus sees sin as the enemy.” “Religion keeps people from God.” “Religion is a replacement for a relationship with Him.” This popular notion sets up a conflict between religious institutions and Jesus. With the problems in many churches, the failure of organized religion to address injustice and the sheer hypocrisy of many religious adherents it is tempting to believe that God really does hate religion.

God created religion. After man sinned, God began to teach sinful man how he could come to God in worship and fellowship. This way of coming to God is religion. Man immediately began to devise his own way to approach God. Cain’s failure in worship is the earliest example of human religion. Man’s attempt to come to God in his own way is also religion. If “God hates religion” means that God hates man’s own efforts to approach him, then yes, that statement is true. The Old Testament shows time and time again that God rejects all attempts to come to Him except according to the way He prescribed. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) If religion is defined, as one author said, as “a man made path to God”, then God hates religion. But if you mean God hates the religion He gave to humanity, then that’s just nonsense. Not only does God not hate His religion, He requires men to follow it.

The argument cannot be made that God liked religion in the Old Testament but not in the New. Jesus established New Testament religion that includes rules, rituals and doctrine. Jesus established the church (Matthew 16:18), appointed its leaders (Ephesians 4:11-12), defined its practices (Matthew 18:15-17, 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13) and established its doctrines. (Galatians 1:11-12) No one can argue that Jesus is all about relationship but not rules. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) and “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14) Jesus does not hate the religion He gave to humanity.

Many religious institutions have abused the teachings of Jesus. Religion has divided people and has been a major factor in a number of wars. Religion has been used to cloak the worst kind of abuse and depravity. God hates man-centered, self-righteous and man-devised religions. God gave religion to man as a good thing enabling the sinner to come to Him. Man has misused and perverted God’s good gift, but God still loves the religion He instituted when it is followed according to His instructions. There is such a thing as pure religion which all who seek to follow Christ must participate in. None can truly say they love Christ but not His religion. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

What is theological liberalism?

On the Everlasting Trusth website and radio broadcasts we have made periodic references to theological liberalism. The category theological liberal is important, but often neglected, distinction. Theological liberalism has nothing to do with American politics. Liberal politics are usually associated with the democratic party, but liberal theology is a category that refers to what someone believes about God and the Bible.

Liberal theology began to gain ground in America during the late 1800’s. Soon there was conflict in the major denominations between liberal and conservative groups. Those early battles were fought over the inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus and the genuineness of miracles in the Bible. The liberals denied all these. The theological conservatives strongly defended them.

A theological liberal elevates the authority of science and reason to be equal or greater than the authority of the Bible. In the 1800’s when reason declared miracles were not possible, the liberal agreed. When science concluded the world evolved over a long period of time, the liberal began to explain Genesis in ways that accommodated millions of years of evolution. The meaning of Scripture is shaped for the liberal by science, experience, modern philosophy, psychiatry and contemporary morals.

Sometimes the liberal theologian denies outright the truth of the Bible, but often he is more subtle. Many liberal theologians reinterpret a passage by manipulating the historical context. For example, since Paul was writing into a culture that did not value women’s rights, therefore his statements about a wife’s role in marriage have to be understood through the cultural grid of Paul’s day. The liberal theologian believes that if Paul were writing today he would agree with the progressive view of gender roles.

Liberal theology is frequently shaped by a single ethical ideal that is elevated over the rest of Scripture. This ethic becomes the interpretative grid through which everything else in the Bible is understood. For example, in liberal theology the truth that God is love reinterprets the Biblical commands regarding marriage and sexual purity. A loving God would never condemn loving relationships, no matter who were involved. Modern ethical concerns seem to dominate the focus of liberal churches. Usually the ethical standards of theological liberalism are closely aligned with the ideals of political liberalism. The liberal theologian is often concerned with promoting racial justice, economic equality, environmentalism, access to abortion and acceptance of homosexuality. These ethical concerns outweigh doctrinal concerns. Dealing with social injustice is far more important than preaching the Biblical truths of Jesus and salvation.

The great danger of liberalism is its denial of the authority of the Bible. By denying the truth of Scripture, the liberal effectively denies the gospel. Those who deny that Jesus is God, that Jesus was a perfect man and that Jesus rose from the dead deny key truths that must be believed to be saved. A message that ignores these core truths of the gospel is not a Christian message. Theological liberalism is not just a different viewpoint about certain difficult or minor doctrines. Theological liberalism rejects historic Christian doctrine and it rejects Biblical doctrine. Though it claims the name of Christian, theological liberalism is not Christian.

Why are there two different versions of the Ten Commandments?

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments. Even those who have little religious background know the Ten Commandments are a list of rules given by God. The ten commandments can be found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are divided into two groups, the first group contains the commands relating towards God and the second group the commands regarding others. Yet, the lists of ten commandments found in the Catholic catechism are different from that taught in most Protestant churches.

Protestants typically divide the ten commandments into four commands about God and six about others. The first four are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” and “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The second table of the law begins with “Honor thy father and mother” and ends with the, “Thou shalt not covet.” Unlike Lutherans and Catholics, the Protestants view the commands against covetousness as one.

Lutherans and Catholics divide the ten commandments into three about God and seven about others. They believe the first three commands are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This first command includes the prohibition against graven images. The second command is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” and the third is “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The commands regarding others are the same as the Protestant version, except the last two commands are “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”

Does this difference matter? Not a whole lot. Protestants, Catholics and Lutherans agree with one another on the content of the ten commandments, just not the division of them. Catholics consider the prohibition against graven images to be part of the first commandment and Protestants view all the commands against covetousness as one. These differences are trivial.

All Christians agree the Ten Commandments were given to Israel and are still important for all people today. They provide a basic standard which shows that all stand guilty before the Holy God. No matter how the commandments are divided, they show the sinfulness of sin and the impossibility of anyone being saved by his own obedience. (Romans 7:13; James 2:10; Romans 3:20)

What are “idols of the heart?”

Idolatry is common around the world and has been for almost all of recorded history. Most civilizations have a long history of extensive idol worship. In America and most western cultures very few people bow to idols, make offerings to statues or worship carved images. However, the absence of outward trappings of idolatry does not mean Americans do not worship idols. Theologians have long warned of a hidden idolatry, the worship of “idols of the heart”. John Calvin said, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

An idol is something that a person devote himself to or trusts in for ultimate satisfaction, security or salvation. An idol is anything that is loved more than God. Tim Keller says, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The phrase “idols of the heart” comes from Ezekiel 14. In the third verse God says that certain elders of Israel had “set up idols in their heart.” Though they were maintaining the outward practices of true worship, in their heart they were worshiping false gods. In the next verse God warns, “Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart . . . I the Lord will will answer him . . . according to the multitude of his idols.” God evaluates idolatry based upon the attitudes of the heart, not just the actions of the individual. God views heart idolatry to be as severe a sin as external idolatry.

A person can maintain all the external features of faithful worship of God while harboring in his heart a pantheon of false gods. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) The greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30) Loving something more than God not only breaks the great commandment, it is idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11 God promised Israel He would bless them if they remembered His command to “to love your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” He then warned them of judgment if they “turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.” Breaking the great commandment breaks the first commandment. To love something more than God is to worship idols.

First John ends with the command, “Little children keep yourself from idols.” The first commandment forbids idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Idolatry is so significant that Scripture repeatedly warns that those who practice idolatry without repentance show themselves not to be the children of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Idolatry goes much deeper than bowing before carved statues of false gods. Idolatry is found in a heart that loves and desires something more than God.

What does it mean to “evangelize”?

Evangelism is an important part of Christianity. A large portion of Christianity is known as “evangelical.” Some preachers are called “evangelists.” Many Christians have been told it is important for them to “evangelize.” What does this mean?

To evangelize is to tell someone good news. A messenger that brought a report of victory in battle brought the evangelion, the “good news.” In the Greek world, an evangelion was a message from the gods. In the Roman world the announcement of the birth of an emperor was good news. Any good news was an evangelion. To evangelize is to tell the evangalion.

The first mention of the good news- usually translated “gospel”- in the New Testament is found in the Gospels. John the Baptist and Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the gospel to all the communities of Israel. After Jesus’ death and resurrection He sent His disciples to go into the entire world and “preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

The good news was prophesied in Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;” Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 in His hometown of Nazareth to announce that He was the prophesied Messiah.

The good news as described in the Bible is not just a message, it is a person. The good news is Jesus. The content of the message of Jesus is defined by the Bible and contains several objective, historical features. The good news is the truth of Jesus’ deity, death on the cross and resurrection. The gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

To evangelize is to tell others the truth of Jesus. He is good news indeed. To evangelize is to tell others the gospel. This is why Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” This is why Paul quoted Isaiah when he wrote to the Romans, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)

What is Arminianism?

The competing position with Calivinism is Arminianism. They are not polar opposites. They in fact share significant agreements about hte plan of God to save, the inability of man to save himself, the need of grace and the sufficiency of the death of Jesus. However, Arminianism elevates the importance of the will of man in the process of salvation. Arminianism does not have a cool acronym like Calvinism, though some have put together a similar flower based outline around the word DAISY and others have made one with the word GRACE. I prefer my own acronym, GRITS:

Grace of God can be rejected
Redemption was purchased for all, but is applied only to those who believe
Intention of God to save only by Christ those who believe
Total necessity of Divine grace
Salvation can be lost

Central to Arminianism is the idea that God’s saving grace can be rejected, or believed, by the individual. God’s grace is not irresistible but the person has a legitimate opportunity to believe or refuse the gospel. This idea finds support in passages like Acts 7:51, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost:”

Redemption was purchased for all men by Jesus’ death on the cross. This is universal atonement that does not imply universal salvation. The Divine plan was for Jesus to make a sacrifice on the cross for the sin of the whole world, but would only bring salvation to those who believe. This idea finds support in passages like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The intention of God regarding salvation- Divine election- was not an election of individuals to salvation. God’s election was to save those who believe by Jesus. Some modern Arminians believe God’s election was based upon his foreknowledge of those who would believe. God elected to save those whom He knew would respond in faith to the message of the gospel. This idea finds support in passages like John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Though man is able to respond to the gospel message, he can only do so because of the working of the grace of God. God’s prevenient, or preceding, grace makes it possible for sinful man to believe the gospel. Man is corrupted by sin and cannot save Himself. Apart from the grace of God none would chose to receive Jesus. This idea finds support in passages like Romans 3:11, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

Salvation can be lost by those who turn away from the grace of God that they had previously received. God gives sufficient grace for the Christian to grow and remain faithful to the Lord. God sustains His children, but the Christian can reject the grace of God. Those who turn away from the grace of God lose their salvation. This idea finds support in passages like Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is the popular term for a particular body of teaching about salvation. Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. The five major points of Calvinism flow out of this emphasis on God’s absolute rule over all things. Calvinism is often taught using the acronym TULIP:
Total depravity of man
Unconditional election to salvation
Limited atonement by Jesus
Irresistible grace of God
Perseverance of the saints

Total depravity is the doctrine that all have been entirely corrupted by sin. Though none are as bad as they could be, none are good in the eyes of God. None are all able to bring about their own salvation. This finds support in verses like Romans 3:10, “There is none good, no, not one” and Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Unconditional election teaches that God predetermined who would be saved. Because God is sovereign over salvation He chose, based upon His grace alone, to save certain individuals. His election is of the specific individuals He would bring to salvation. This finds support in verses like Ephesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

The phrase limited atonement is not liked by many Calvinists. Some prefer to idenitfy this doctrine as particular redemption, or definite atonement. Limited atonement teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross, while sufficient to purchase salvation for all humanity, was designed and intended to purchase the salvation of the election. Jesus’ death on the cross secured the salvation of those God graciously elected to save. That is why one Calvinist author calls this doctrine, “Mission accomplished.” This finds support in verses like John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Irresistible grace teaches that those God elected to save will inevitably be saved. This does not mean God will save people whether or not they want to be saved or that He will save apart from the preaching of the gospel. Those God chose to save and Jesus died to save will be inexorably drawn to God. They will not, in the end, refuse His call to salvation. They cannot refuse to believe because God works in their hearts in such a way that they will desire salvation. This finds support in verses like John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

Perseverance of the saints teaches that those whom God has elected, atoned and saved will persevere in faith until the end. Salvation, once received, can never be lost because God will continue the work of their salvation. Just as the elect could not resist the grace of God that brings to salvation, they cannot turn away from the salvation that God has given them. This finds support in verses like Philippians 1:6, ” Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”