What did the Coptic Christians — slaughtered by ISIS — believe, and why does it matter? How should we think about what it means to be a Christian?
In the field of product development, a minimum viable product is a version of a product that has just those features that are absolutely necessary and no more. In that way it is minimal, but it is viable because the product has a required set functionality that makes it useful.
The word “Christian” has started to be redefined in recent years, so it seems helpful for us to examine just what is necessary for the minimum viable christian.
Merrian-Webster’s Dictionary defines “Christian” as:
”One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ”
I think that definition is somewhat lacking, but we’ll roll with it for now and examine the teaching of Christ that a Christian should believe in.
Jesus Was God
In order to be a Christian, you must affirm Jesus’ Divinity - he was God. There is a tendency for people to say that Jesus was just a good man/teacher/prophet. However, a good teacher doesn’t teach things that are wrong, and Jesus taught that he was God. He was either right or wrong about that. If he said he was God and he wasn’t, he’s a bad teacher. If he said he was God and he was, he’s not just a good teacher… he’s God!
Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!’ John 8:58 (NET)
This refers back to Exodus 3:14, where God says to Moses:
“I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (NET)
Now, to the modern reader, this might seem like a tenuous connection. However, the clear and weighty meaning of Jesus’ statement wasn’t lost on the Jews — they immediately picked up stones to throw at him and kill him. They understood that he was claiming to be God.
However, due to their limited understanding of God, they thought Jesus was claiming to be Yahweh (God the Father), which was blasphemous. They didn’t understand God to be triune (3 persons in 1 being), so this was as confusing and incorrect to them as if I were to claim to be a person you already knew. Like me saying, “Brian is Sam.” This would seem wrong to you, since I am clearly not that person.
Now, while they didn’t agree that he was God, they clearly understood that Jesus was claiming to be GOD. If you do not affirm that Jesus is God, you are not believing in that critical teaching of the Bible and of Jesus himself. Therefore, based on our definition, you are not a Christian.
For more accounts of Jesus’ claims to divinity see John 8:24 and John 10:30-33.
Jesus Was Resurrected From The Dead
The Gospel is truly good news because it saves us from something that we justly deserve based on God’s standards. As a side note: not liking these standards no more makes them not apply to us than not liking or agreeing with gravity allows us to levitate. The foundation of this good news is the death and resurrection of Jesus.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (NET)
The gospels describe a literal person names Jesus who died a literal death and who literally rose from the dead. This is a fantastical claim! It is a God claim. People claim it didn’t happen or that it’s too far fetched. They say things like that don’t happen today, so we shouldn’t believe that it happened back then. This, however, is not evidence that contradicts the claims described in the Bible. In fact, the evidence for the resurrection is excellent, and we will examine it in the future.
Since we’re focusing on the claims of Jesus, here is one from Luke 24:44-48:
“Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus said that it had been prophesied in advance (“written”) that he would die and then rise three days later, and he says it happened — “they were witnesses of this things!”
It is not an option to say that Jesus didn’t teach that he rose from the dead. So, one of the necessary and distinctive beliefs of a Christian is a believe in the resurrection of Jesus (Who, remember, is also God) from death to life.
Why Do We Need Definitions At All?
If words didn’t have consistent usages or definitions, we wouldn’t be able to communicate accurately and effectively. Consider if I were to tell you that I was a vegan. For one thing, no one who knows me would ever believe that I’d go a day without eating meat. But what about a stranger?
If I told a stranger that I was a vegan, that person would believe that I don’t eat meat, and they would be surprised to learn that I eat meat every day in fact. “Wait, you eat meat? I thought you were a vegan?”, they might say. To which I would reply, “Well, to me, being a vegan means I eat meat.”
If that’s confusing, then you see my point. When we use words in non-standard ways, it leads to confusion at best and dishonesty at worst. The term “Christian” is someone who follows the teachings of Christ. You could also use the term “Jesus Follower”.
But many want to use these terms to refer to a type of “following” that isn’t actually a following of the important teachings of Jesus at all. If you only follow the moral teachings of Jesus, you aren’t following Jesus. So many religions have similar moral claims to those of Christianity (and I actually think there is a God-centered reason for this).
More importantly than just enabling accurate communication, getting terms correct is important because people's eternal fate is in question. When we, as a culture, tell someone that Christians go to heaven, and then we don't communicate accurately what it means to be a Christian; we make a very narrow door (Luke 13:24) into a very wide walkway.
What makes someone a Christian — a Jesus Follower — is 1. a belief in Jesus’ Divinity (he was and is God), 2. a believe in the resurrection, and 3….
The Action of Picking Up Your Cross
The last, and perhaps most important, teaching of Christ one must follow is this:
If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34 NET)
What does it mean to “pick up one’s cross”? Well, think about it for a minute…
It means to have a commitment to Christ that is so strong that you are willing to die for it. To not recant your commitment to the person of Christ under threat of death, social disgrace, embarrassment, loss of Job, friends, or family.
It literally means a commitment unto death. It doesn't mean that you have to die, but it does require a life that is forfeit of self and pledged to Christ.
Here’s my point in a picture.
These people did not die for someone they believed to be an average dude. They didn’t die for someone who had died and been buried 2,000 years ago. They died for the one and only Son of God, alive, enthroned above, who conquered death and the grave, and who demands Christians to pick up their cross and follow him.
So, will you be someone who "professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ"? Will your life show that you hold those beliefs?