People today are often confused about what it means to be Christian. Often, when one tries to claim that someone who calls oneself a Christian and does not believe in things that are Christian, they are confronted with people saying this is some kind of fallacy (specifically the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, as I was accused of in a previous debate).
The question then stands, is there a definition of what it means to be Christian? Are there people that claim to be Christian and are not, or can anyone claim to be a Christian regardless of their beliefs about, say, the Trinity or the divinity of Christ?
Yes, there is a clear definition of what it means to be Christian, and, apart from these beliefs there is no salvation. The early church defined Christian belief through three “Ecumenical Creeds.” These creeds explicitly state what the Christian belief is, and that apart from this faith there is no salvation. These creeds outline the one Holy Catholic faith (note that Catholic doesn’t only refer to Roman Catholics, but rather to the Catholic Church, the eternal “City of God”), and apart from this faith there is no salvation and no Christianity.
I’ve been listening to a number of debates that I downloaded and a few of them featured John Dominic Crossan (the founder of the misnamed “Jesus Seminar”) verses various conservative Christians. Crossan denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus, he seems to deny in some ways Christ’s deity, he rejects Christianity as the only way, etc. He claims to be Christian. Can we say that he is not Christian? Absolutely. In denying the bodily resurrection, he denies the One True Faith found in the Creeds of the Catholic Faith. There is no fallacy in rejecting that people like this are not Christians, for there is a clear definition of what it means to be a Christian. If one does not believe in the One Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit coequal and coeternal, one is not a Christian. This applies for every statement of belief within the creeds. If one rejects any part of these creeds, they are not Catholic in belief. The Athanasian Creed concludes: “This is the true Christian Faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.”
This is the teaching of the One True Church, this is the teaching of Scripture (which does not contain the Creeds, but from which the Creeds were directly derived), this is the truth.
The creeds are found below:
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
The Athanasian Creed
Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian Faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.
Now this is the true Christian faith: We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being. For each person — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — is distinct, but the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty. What the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit.
The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated; The Father is eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is one who is eternal, just as they are not three who are uncreated, nor three who are infinite, but there is one who is uncreated and one who is infinite.
In the same way the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, and the Holy Spirit is almighty. And yet they are not three who are almighty, but there is one who is almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord.
For just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually to be God and Lord, so the true Christian faith forbids us to speak of three Gods or three Lords. The Father is neither made not created, nor begotten of anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but is begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And within this Trinity none comes before or after; none is greater or inferior, but all three persons are coequal and coeternal, so that in every way, as stated before, all three persons are to be worshiped as one God and one God worshiped as three persons. Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity.
It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took on human flesh. Now this is the true Christian faith: We believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and Man. He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother, fully God, fully man, with rational soul and human flesh, equal to the Father, as to his deity, less than the Father, as to his humanity; and though he is both God and Man, Christ is not two persons but one, one, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God; one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person.
For just as the reasonable soul and flesh are one human being, so God and man are one Christ, who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all people will rise again with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into everlasting fire.
This is the true Christian Faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.