It’s certainly not a recent phenomenon that there are Christians who question the validity of one actually being a Christian. However, these days it seems that with the wide range of beliefs being broader than in previous generations, it seems more difficult to draw a line of distinction between a true Christian and a Christian in name only. In this day terms like Fundamentalist or even Evangelical have become negative descriptors, likened to terms such as bigot or racist. Are we, as Christians, permitted to hold firm stances about our beliefs and ask the question ‘Who is my brother?’.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus draws a line of distinction when He says “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). So we have a relatively clear idea of who Christ would consider a brother, those who do what God expects from those who are in Him. I say relatively clear because it is not always black and white, some cases its more evident than others and as most Christians understand, no one is able to do the will of the Father perfectly. So we cannot always rely on ones actions (or works) to make an accurate determination of one who may or may not be in Christ. If we must make a judgment to determine who is a brother, should it be based on works or on the beliefs that the individual holds or both?
In regards of beliefs, Fundamentalism has its roots in the early 1900’s, and it is generally associated with conservative or reformed Christianity. It’s purpose was to reaffirm some key theological tenets that were held by some of the countries earliest settlers, namely the Puritans. Out of those early gatherings they developed some fundamental distinctions in beliefs that one could use to identify as a true Christian. Those include such things as the infallibility of Scripture (Divine Inspiration), Virgin birth of Jesus, Christ’s death being the atonement for sin, His resurrection, and the miracles performed by Him during His earthly ministry. Anyone who disagreed with one of these would be determined to be something other than a Christian.
Yet, those who have been labeled modern Fundamentalist are generally those who go beyond these core beliefs and say about someone “if you don’t look like me, talk like me, think like me, then you’re against me” and therefore not considered a Christian. So it’s no wonder that this term as become a watch word among people who say most Christians are intolerant. So to determine who are brothers and sisters based on beliefs is no easy task. Especially with the vast amount of denominations, though it should focus on core beliefs that are definitional to Christianity, it may vary drastically from one person to another. Yet the fact remains, if one believes in Christ they should be able to answer the question “who is Christ?”.
So if we’ve determined that an individual, who claims to be a Christian, believes in the same core beliefs and they on occasion demonstrate their ability to do the will of the Father; Can we then say, with absolute certainty, that the individual is a Christian? This is still a difficult question. There is only One who can say, without a shadow of a doubt, who is in Christ and that is God alone. This is because only He is able to see within the heart of a man, and men cannot. We can only make a best guess based on the two factors we’ve determined here. Even if we made a decision would it be wise to make that judgment? What are the consequences of making such a determination?
If we judge by works: We cannot always determine if ones actions is in line with Gods will (unless definitively against Scripture), nor do we know where an individual is at in their walk with Christ (we often stumble). If we judge by beliefs: If we’re too loose or too firm in our own beliefs we may make an incorrect assessment of an individual. If we determine one is a Christian, and they are not: We might fellowship with an unbeliever, or mislead them to believe they’re counted among the saved. If we determine one is not a Christian, who actually is: We lose out on having fellowship with a brother, and may cause division among the Body.
So where does this leave us? Firstly, Christ said in John chapter 7 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24). So do not be like the modern Fundamentalist and expect everyone to look, talk, and think like you. Secondly, be mindful of the words and actions of one who calls themselves a Christian, because “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). Lastly, do all things for the glory of God and do so in showing love for your enemies as well as your brothers. Do not withhold correction (Proverbs 27:17) or teaching (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but instead show love in giving the hard truths of Scripture. May your words be kind so that one might know His Truth and not be harsh that their heart would be further hardened.
Who is my brother (or sister)? I pray that you are!