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WHO ARE THE CHRISTIANS OF THE 21ST CENTURY?

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The Christian Faith gets it start back in the first century in the Middle East region and is recognized by individuals who profess to be followers of Christ or Christians. Followers of Christ don’t always use the Christian label as an identifying description of their adherence to the Christian Faith. Religious affiliations are diverse and varied among followers of Christ and they usually identify with their religious affiliated groups connected with the Christian faith.

The best way to gain an understanding of the phenomenon of Christianity is to look at its foundational belief which is God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. This topic will be discussed briefly in this article. The discussion here is not meant to support any particular or exhaustive view on Christian salvation and is not intended for theological debate, but only to offer some premise for how individuals become Christians.

At the heart and center of the Christian faith is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, which is the primary reason for faith and practice among Christians. Jesus Christ represents and reveals God’s plan of salvation through the biblical message. God’s plan of salvation is understood through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ within the Holy Scriptures.

The Christian biblical message states, “…Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name (except Jesus) under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NIV). Though Christians are divided in their doctrines, affiliations, theories, and beliefs about the “how” of salvation, Jesus Christ “is” the salvation for all adherents of the Christian Faith (John 4:16). Salvation, in Christianity, refers to mankind’s need for atonement or deliverance from sin.

Christian salvation is also considered an expression and demonstration of God’s love. Thus, salvation comes from a loving God—through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ—as a free gift and is based on God’s unmerited favor called Grace. No one can earn it, deserve it, or make themselves worthy of it; salvation is a “free” gift of God’s Love and Grace.

Therefore, salvation is open to everyone, and the Christian Bible states, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). For example, in one biblical story a prison guard, recognizing his need for a Savior, asked Paul and Silas this question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16: 29-31).

In addition, the salvation experience or testimony may and will vary from one individual to another, from one religious affiliation to another, from one theological view to another, but obtaining salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is the straightway to becoming a Christian.

Thus, individuals who have asked the same question as the prison guard, made this important decision, and have accepted God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ usually consider themselves followers of Christ or Christians.

The term Christian was coined many centuries ago in Antioch of Syria to define those who were disciples or followers of Christ. In those early days, outsiders of the Christian faith could recognize individuals who followed Christ and thus labeled them Christians. The call to Christianity is the call to “follow” after Christ in character and lifestyle.

Jesus Christ, from the first century,—God’s plan of salvation—is the reason for the phenomenon of Christianity. There are currently over two billion followers of Christ globally (Pew Research Center, 2011). The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ became and still is today, the source of eternal salvation and atonement for Christians all across the world. Being called a Christian was not coined for its religious label, but because outsides of the faith recognized individuals who authentically followed Christ’s character and biblical message.

In other words, followers of Christ, ancient or modern ,were and are people whose lives express and witness to others that Christ is both their Lord and Savior. Outsiders recognized the centrality of Christ in the lives of ancient followers and on their own volition called them Christians. Christians themselves were and are the Christian faith and ideally carry the witness of Christ wherever they go in a recognizable manner that even non-followers can see.

As mentioned before, there are numerous Christian religious affiliations and many labels precede the descriptive term Christian. The Pew Forum of Public Life and Religion claim that out of the two billion Christians globally, 11.3% live in the United States (Pew Research Center [PRC], 2011). The United States boasts of 79.5% Christians who populate the majority of three major affiliations: Catholic, Protestants, and Orthodox (Largest Religious Groups, 2005; PRC, 2011). About 24% of Christians in the United States are Catholic, 51.5% are Protestants, and 17% Orthodox (Largest Religious Groups, 2005; PRC, 2011).

Within these Christian groups are Baptists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Assemblies of God, Holiness, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventists, Methodists, Nondenominational, Full Gospel, Presbyterian, Charismatic, Episcopalian, and many others (Largest Religious Groups, 2005). Christian groups are diverse in the ways in which they believe and understand the Holy Scriptures (Barna 2001). Unfortunately, Christian affiliated groups focus more on what divides them more than on Jesus Christ, who links them all together.

Titles and labels are often reflective of how individuals want to be personally identified and build a Christian image about themselves as seem in terms as “born-again,” “Jesus only,” “Evangelical,” “Charismatic,” “Cogic,” and so forth.

In a study performed by the Barna Research Group, with over 6,000 adult participants, it was discovered that Christians separate on important core beliefs (Barna Research Group, 2001). It is important to note, however, that differing beliefs among Christians do not reflect ambivalence of God’s biblical truths but it does reflect the finitude of human thinking, understanding, and reflection about those truths (Entwistle, 2004).

There can often be a big difference between what followers of Christ think or want the word of God to say, and what it actually says (Barna Research Group, 2001; Entwistle, 2004).

Though various church doctrines and creeds have proved to be invaluable to the understanding of the Holy Scriptures, no one group can claim to have absolute certainty of their interpretation of God’s word (Entwistle, 2004). Unfortunately, it is these differing ways of knowing and understanding the biblical message that has separated the various Christian religious affiliations.

In conclusion, self-identified Christians may be diverse in the ways in which they believe, know, and understand the biblical message, yet without Jesus Christ, there is no Christian. As in the past and now in the 21st century, Jesus Christ is and must be the unifying power that connects members of the Christian faith with the identifying label of Christian.

Dr. Pensacola H. Jefferson

Follow Dr. Pensacola on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook

References
Barna, G. (2011). Maximum faith: Live like Jesus. Ventura, CA: Metaformation Inc.

Barna Research Group. (2001). Barna poll on U.S. religious belief - 2001. Retrieved from http://www.adherents.com/misc/BarnaPoll.html

Barna Research Group. (2011). Self-identified Christians dominate America but wrestle with four aspects of spiritual depth. Retrieved from http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/544-top-trends-of-2011-downsized-a...

Entwistle, D. N. (2004). Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Largest religious groups in the United States of America. (2005). Retrieved from http://www.adherents.com/rel_USA.html

Pew Research Center. (2011). Global Christianity: A report on the size and distribution of the world’s Christian population. Retrieved from, http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Chris...

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