Orthodox Christianity is considered to be what comes from the Old and New Testament but many denominations/religions call themselves Christians without adhering strictly to the Bible as we know it today. I am specifically thinking of Mormons and by some perspectives, Jehovah's Witnesses. I am sure there are countless others as well.

Is there a definition of "Christianity" or for a "Christian" for which one can objectively compare and contrast against to determine if a belief or a person is "Christian"?

For example, (please don't argue for/against any of the points in this paragraph, it is mean purely as an illustration) one may say Roman Catholicism is Christian because they believe Jesus is God. Mormons believe Jesus was just a normal guy that became a god. Islam believes that Jesus was just a uniquely pious guy. Atheists believe that Jesus was just a guy.

I think most people would agree that Catholics are Christian and Atheists aren't. So then the question is this: Where is the line between "Christian" and "non-Christian"? Is it even possible to define one in an objective sense?

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    See here: What is the definition of "Christian"? Aug 26, 2011 at 21:45
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    See also Christianity.SE vs. Survivor
    – Mason Wheeler
    Aug 26, 2011 at 21:47
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    +1 (I'm glad I saved my last vote for the day!) for a very fine job wording a very difficult question. People have already referenced the discussions on meta about this but I think this question has a place here distinct from the definition used for the scope of this site. It might take some time to work up good answers to this, but it would be interesting to have some that explain the range of criteria that different groups use to draw this boundary.
    – Caleb
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


As already discussed on meta.C.SE here and here, the short answer is probably "no", except to say that one who identifies himself as a Christian is a Christian.

Of course the long answer depends on the perspective of the person answering the question. It is for this reason we have essentially decided this question is off-topic on this site.

And as an aside, let me add what might be some consolation for anyone who does not like this answer:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. Matthew 18:15 NIV

In this context, brother or sister means other Believer. Christians have a responsibility to hold all other Christians accountable for their actions.

Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NIV

As this "this letter" was written to Christians, we can also draw that the context here is other Christians.

Other verses say similar things, about holding other Christians accountable.

What this means is, we, as Christians, have a responsibility to hold all other professing Christians (whether they pass our litmus test or not) accountable for their actions.

Was David Koresh a Christian? I suspect he would not have passed the litmus test of many people on this site. However, the fact that he considered himself a Christian is enough that, if any of us had conversed with him, we could have done so in the context of two Christians.

  • This is really the best answer you're likely to get.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Aug 26, 2011 at 21:54
  • thanks. do you think i should delete this question or leave it up so others can see it and not make the same mistake? i'm sure this question is going to get posted many, many times.
    – Jeff
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:00
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    @Jeff: I think we can probably use this as a base to close other questions as a duplicate of.
    – Caleb
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:02
  • @Flimzy: There are two different things going on here. Defining Christianity in general is very different than defining it for this sites on/off topic scope. I don't think those meta questions are fully relevant here.
    – Caleb
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:03
  • @Caleb: You may have a point, but I think to answer the question constructively beyond what Meta already says, it needs to be more narrowly defined. "How does X tradition define Christianity?" for instance.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:06

To answer this you have to kick out your basic premise that Christianity is in fact a religion.

I always thought it was a religion until the Pope told me it wasn't. He said it wasn't a lofty idea or a result of an ethical choice. Believe him or not, but the fact that the head of the biggest organized group of anything in the world would say this pretty amazing.

In this sense, a Christian is one who seeks to encounter Christ and nothing else.

Think of it this way, when you stand before God to be judged, will you be judged as a Methodist or a Catholic or a Mormon, or will you be judged as a follower of Christ?

(maybe, because the measure by which you measure will be measured against you)

But in heaven, we'll all be Christians. Even the Hindus and the Muslims and the Pagans and the Atheists and the Buddhists who, through their actions (and through their ignorance of Christ) sought Him out in their daily lives even though they didn't know it.

  • Devil's advocate (no pun intended): Satan sought to encounter Christ (for the purpose of harming him). Does that make Satan a Christian by this definition?
    – Flimzy
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:12
  • Good points. I did not mean to imply anything in regard to salvation with my question. I asked because I saw on a popular news show that the commentators were making fun of a celebrity for saying that Mormons were not Christians despite the fact that they identify themselves as such.
    – Jeff
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:13
  • @flimzy, that's a nice question, but his religion is the result of an ethical choice (turning away from God) and a lofty idea (that he should be God).
    – Peter Turner
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:17
  • I think the content here is good, but not directly relevant to the definition of "Christian." I think the basic argument you're making is that many will be saved, regardless of titles. But the question is asking about titles.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:19

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