“He is not a Christian!”
This is a phrase I hear all too often, and in so many different contexts. Everyone from members of the KKK, to Donald Trump, to the Pope, have been accused of not being Christians, but is this actually true? Should we even be in the business of judging the eternal fate of other people to begin with?
This statement in particular is something I hear primarily from Protestant Christians (the Pope being an exception), and that actually makes sense if you understand the typical Protestant understanding of what it means to be a Christian. A Protestant would argue the proposition that unless they are saved, they are not Christians. If we grant this as the foundation, it follows then that in order to know if someone is a Christian, you must first know if they are saved. Thus, someone being a “Christian” has less to do with what they believe and do in this life (going to church, reading the Bible, praying to Jesus, etc.), and more to do with whether or not the accuser can observe enough spiritual fruits to be convinced that they have been saved in the next life.
However, the problem with such a method is that no one can fulfill such a standard, because the second an imperfection is spotted, the accuser thinks they must not be a Christian due to how little they look like Christ in a combination of moments. Ironically, the people who least look like Christ tend to be the ones doing the accusing, so they ultimately fail their own test.
The presidential election was ironic from this perspective, because Donald Trump is a Presbyterian and Hillary Clinton is a Methodist. Both of them are Protestant Christians, yet the amount of hatred for the Methodist candidate from the Republican Protestant community is peculiar. One might then say, “Neither are true Christians!” To this argument I will reply, “Who is a true Christian?” As you think of all the ways another person does or does not manifest spiritual fruit, ask yourself, “Is any man omniscient and able to know how one conducts themselves before God in private, or how far they may have come?” This is why we are not to judge others. We don’t have all the information, thus non-judgment is a position of humility.
The fact of the matter is, the Ku Klux Klan is filled with many white Protestants. It doesn’t take long to figure out, once you understand how the organization was always vigorously opposed not only to African Americans and Jews, but also to Catholics. Yet at the same time, they are not an atheist group, because their propaganda specifically speaks to white Christians. It’s simple process of elimination to conclude this is a misguided group of Protestants.
Members of the KKK go to church on Sunday. They read the Bible, and believe their cause is blessed of God. They may be completely delusional, evil, hypocritical, contrary to Christ, and misguided, but they are still Protestant Christians, and we need to come to grips with that. Any other definition of “Christian” will not work, because it is subjectively based within the anecdotal perception of the accuser. There is a difference between being a Christian and being wholly sanctified. Despite what one ought to be, “Christian” is not synonymous with “extremely holy person.” Reading any of St. Paul’s epistles will reveal this reality.
To give a different illustration, both violent and peaceful followers of Islam are “Muslims,” and yet the two paths are inconsistent with one another. This doesn’t mean every individual onlooker gets to decide for himself who is Muslim and who isn’t, it means we acknowledge the differing interpretations of the Muslim community. We should do the same with the Christian community, instead of condemning everyone as “not Christian” whenever they are found to not look like Christ. If this is our criteria, who can really be a Christian?