On the internet I’ve had conversations with someone who claims to be an agnostic Christian, another person who said he might be nicer than God, others who say they believe the Bible but not the facts revealed in the Bible—only the intent behind the words (or something like that).
The point is, not everyone who claims the name of Christ believes what Christians have believed from the earliest years. A recent study noted in Christianity Today (CT) illustrates this point. Ligonier Ministries (R. C. Sproul) and Lifeway Research partnered to discover what Christians believe.
The survey quantified fundamental beliefs that have been key doctrines adhered to by two millennia of orthodox Christianity.
The results reflect what the observant believer already knows … error abounds. As false teaching gains footholds and favor, as churches forsake sound doctrine to instead scratch itching ears, the prevalence of error will continue to grow. (“The 2016 State Of Theology Survey“)
Error does abound. According to CT thirty-nine percent or more of the people in the survey, who also said they strongly agreed the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism is very important, sin can only be removed by Jesus’s death, and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior also agreed with the following statements:
- Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature (54%)
- My good deeds help to earn my place in heaven (39%)
- Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God (71%)
- God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (48%)
Things are even more complicated now that evangelicals are in the political spotlight. Some Christians say evangelicals need to explain ourselves for “getting Donald Trump elected.”
Most recently, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne wrote that “The Evangelicalism Of Old White Men Is Dead.” Instead our “Jesus-centered faith needs a new name.”
Apparently a Jesus-centered faith, rather than seeing Jesus on every page of Scripture, ignores most of the Bible, favoring the “red letter” parts—the words Jesus spoke which the gospels record.
I’ve tried to explain more than once that “Christians” aren’t always Christians. For instance, the Westboro Baptists clearly identified as Christians, but they spewed hateful things that in no way showed an ounce of understanding of what Jesus taught. There was no offer of grace, no mention of forgiveness, not any love for their neighbor, let alone their enemy, of whom they perceived to have many.
Others claiming the name Christian who go to church regularly, distance themselves from anyone who takes Christianity too seriously. You’re not one of those Christians, I was once asked.
Another group of “progressive Christians” want to update the faith. So they believe the Bible, but they also believe it contains a number of myths, and they clearly don’t know or understand what it says (see the point above about Jesus being created).
So there are legalists. There are cultural Christians. There are people who believe false teaching.
I’ve called these people “pretend Christians” because they claim the name, but they don’t believe what Christians believe. Some believe some things—those evangelicals who answered the survey agreed that salvation comes by trusting in Jesus as Savior. But are they referring to the Jesus they think God created? And what did He save them from if men are basically good? Do we actually need to be saved or do we need to simply try harder?
The thing is, none of this scrambled, confusing mashup of insincere people flying under God’s banner along side sincere followers of Jesus, is new. From the beginning, Enoch, who walked with God, lived even as “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
Later Israel included people who obeyed the Law and those who challenged it, those who loved God and those who clung to their household idols.
Jesus helped to make some sense out of the confusion when he explained to his disciples the parable of the sower.
Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)
So some people appear to accept the word, but their belief is superficial or is crowded out by things they care about more. They present as Christians. And they likely claim to be Christians. But they aren’t producing fruit.
Jesus gave another illustration to help sort out the Christ-follower claims, this one found in John 10:11-15.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
One day this confusion will all be sorted out. And that’s the shepherd’s job. He knows His sheep. Our job is not to try to separate the sheep that belong in the fold from those who don’t. Our job simply is to say, Here’s the good Shepherd. Listen to Him.