What is the measure of a Real Christian? Where is the line between someone who isn’t a Christian, and someone who is? How can we know? Why is that important?
In December 2012, a Gallup poll revealed that 77% of the adult population of the United States considers themselves Christians. Twenty-three percent self-identify as Catholic, leaving 51.9% as Protestant / other Christian. A 2008 Pew report revealed that 26% of Americans self-identify as Evangelical Christians.
My wife and I are part of a Friday night Bible study that has recently morphed into a mini-course on evangelism. We’re touring a book by Bill Hybels about Becoming a Contagious Christian, and a line from that book sparked a conversation. It said something like “Every true Christian wants to share his or her faith.” I squirmed a little because I don’t like it when people try to pin down marks of “Real Christians.”
I don’t get why American Christians think that most of the people around them aren’t Christians, even when the statistics indicate that the opposite is true. It’s almost like evangelicals need the majority of the population to be godless. When I mentioned the statistic about 26% of Americans self-identifying as evangelical, the leader of our group found it incredible that out of every four people one might run into, one might be a Real Christian™.
I don’t understand why there’s this need to draw boundaries. How do we know if someone’s a real Christian? Here are a few ways people tell the Real Christians™ from the other kind:
- They’re Republican.
- They’re straight, or if they’re gay, they repress it.
- They go to church at least once a week.
- They pray and read their Bible at least once a day, sometimes more often.
- They don’t do drugs or smoke.
- They don’t drink.
- They don’t use bad words.
- They don’t cheat on their wives / husbands
- They’ve accepted Jesus.
- They’re trying.
Okay, so can I be honest? I’m a Christian, and I vote Green. I think people can be gay and be Christians. Some of the most intense Christians I know don’t go to church because they don’t feel spiritually safe there. Some Christians feel guilty about not praying and reading their Bibles often enough. Does the guilt mean they’re Real Christians™, or do they actually have to stop to be Real Christians™? And if they have to stop first, does that mean it’s a works-based faith?
We know somebody who is trying to reduce the amount of weed he smokes. (It’s cool, we live in Colorado. It’s legal here). This guy has been stamped as a Real Christian™.
A number of reformed Christians treat drinking as a well-established tradition. Mark Driscoll, one of the most famous pastors in America, is famous for using bad words from the pulpit. People who clearly aren’t Christians, like the characters from How I Met Your Mother, treat cheating on husbands / wives as wrong. And I would bet money that everybody who’s evangelical considers themselves so because they’ve prayed to accept Jesus.
And let’s get real: the Bible doesn’t say that we can tell the Real Christians™ from the other kind because they’re trying harder.
The funny thing is that God doesn’t ask us to try to tell the Real Christians™ apart from the other kind. In fact, in a story that Jesus told, the wheat and the tares get separated at the end of the story, not now. We’re here to love people, not to convert them to Christianity.
So why are we so invested in splitting off the nominal Christians from the Real Christians™?
I have two theories:
1) The evangelical obsession with (surprise) evangelism, and
2) Judgmentalism (drawing the line around our righteousness).
For some Christians (and for Bill Hybels, author of the book about being a contagious Christian), the primary reason people are on earth after they become Christians is to help other people become Christians. That’s actually in the book.
When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
And when all you exist for is evangelism, everybody else starts looking apostate.
This comes out of evangelism.
We all draw the lines in different places. I’m sympathetic toward people who get upset at evangelicals. That’s not really a sin. I struggled with porn. Of course you can be a Christian and struggle with porn. I never stole anything, so I can’t really identify with kleptomaniacs who are Christians. Sins on my side of the line are okay, but if you have sins that I don’t deal with, you’re probably not a Real Christian™.
We all draw the line in different places. Some are okay with drinking booze every now and then, and others draw the Real Christian™ line right there. Some even allow that others can be more liberal than they are and still be Christians.
But deep down, we all know that most Americans aren’t real Christians. If they were, they would be more like us. Y’know?
What do you think?