In some recent conversations, I’ve listened as people have defined Christians as “those who follow Jesus Christ”. Wikipedia has a better definition: “A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament and interpreted by Christians to have been prophesied in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.”
But for me, there is something essential missing from both these definitions.
It matters who is Jesus Christ. For me, Jesus is more than the teachings and the miracles he performed. It matters to me that when I say “Jesus” and others say “Jesus” that we mean the same person. Pointing to the New Testament and saying that “this is the Jesus I worship” isn’t sufficient.
Maybe I can illustrate that from my conversation with Mormons.
As a Lutheran, I accept, with other Christians, the historic trinitarian formulation of the Christian faith that the One God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three “persons” of the Trinity are not three separate beings, but three ways in which God has revealed himself and continues to reveal himself to us. Therefore, the Jesus Christ I worship is God incarnate…the One God incarnate. This One God is the creator of the universe and exists eternally (in both directions of time). The beginning of the Gospel of John has a soaring “hymn” that includes Jesus Christ as participating in creation as the “Word of God”.
Mormons believe that the father, the son, and the holy spirit are three distinct and separate gods. (They are excluded from Wikipedia’s definition of “Christian” at the very least because they are not a monotheistic religion.) God the father and god the son have tangible bodies (implying a beginning and an end), and god the holy spirit has a spirit body. They also believe that god the father and god the son have fathers and mothers who are also gods (polytheism and again, implying a time when god was not).
These cannot be the same “persons” of God that I worship and have witness to in Scripture!
Now, one might argue that at least Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is divine. OK. I’ll give them that. But that becomes clear polytheism, not monotheism. When I’ve engaged in discussions about this, many Mormons, who have been trained well in presenting their faith, will point out that the ancient Hebrew people were not monotheists either, and that they acknowledged the presence of other gods. It isn’t quite as simple as they present it. Yes, there was acknowlegement of other gods, but the worship of any of them subjected God’s people to punishment.
One more comparison between Lutherans and Mormons when it comes to the identity of God.
There has been considerable controversy throughout the history of the Mormon Church about the nature of God. Brigham Young, the second President (Prophet) of the church, taught that Adam was actually the god who made the world and who “fathered” the whole human race. This was held to be a true doctrine of the church for a time, but has since been officially rejected. Mormons do believe that god is flesh and bone as we are, and that god has earned his place through his own merit. It is a very short step from there to the goal of each Mormon is to become gods themselves.
Lutherans believe that God is the eternal Creator of all things; we therefore are his creatures, as distinct as possible.
Being Christian is so much more than being a “Christ follower”. The title “Christian” is rightly bestowed on only those who identify themselves with the Jesus Christ revealed to be the second person of the Triune God.
Anything else is something other than Christian.