Something like 80% of the United States population self identifies as Christian. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that 80% of America doesn't put their butt in a pew every Sunday.
So what is it that makes someone Christian? Is saying, "I'm a Christian" enough to qualify?
I ask this based on my own personal experience as well. Growing up, my family went to church (a Protestant one) a few times a year, especially Christmas and Easter. If you asked me at age 14, I would have told you I believed in Jesus.
Oh but then came high school, and everyone was so agnostic, I became agnostic too until my second year in college. Yet in the midst of my doubt, I was horrified when at 17 I learned that I had never been baptized. I'd always assumed that it was done when I was baby, but that's not how Baptists do things. See how much I knew about my faith?
Mostly demonic possession concerned me back then (I'd just seen The Exorcist). You can laugh, but I still think it's real, and even then I knew I wanted to be baptized as a safeguard against demons. So, mom took me to church, and the pastor asked if I wanted to become a Christian. So was I Christian as a child or not?
Nodding faithfully, I assented that I wanted to devote my life to Christ. I was dunked then went back to my merry, agnostic ways. So was I a Christian now that I was baptized even though I didn't practice at all?
It wasn't until a few years later, while in college, that I really began to consider my beliefs and the world. And it was then at age 19 that I "crossed the Tiber" and became a Catholic. After receiving the other sacraments of initiation (First Communion and Confirmation), I was definitely a Christian. And my behavior followed as well: I tried to make it a point to get to Mass every Sunday. Failure still happened, but overall, I aimed to align my actions with my stated moral beliefs. So I'm definitely Christian now, right?
The Catholic Church makes it easier to know: Step 1) Get baptized as a baby. But even then, you're not entirely there until Confirmation, which can be as late as 17 even for cradle Catholics. But after that, it's obvious right? Once confirmed, you're Catholic for good? Or are you?
Many people fall away from the Church and stop practice despite being confirmed. Are they still Christian?There is a divide here: do the sacraments (even Protestants do baptism) make you Christian? What if you don't practice after that? What if you believe but aren't baptized? What level of behavioral commitment makes the grade?
I ask because I honestly don't know. A popular answer is to say, "You are whatever you say you are." But that is problematic. I can say I'm a unicorn but that doesn't make it a twisted horn spring out of my forehead. And as far as no one else knowing the inner beliefs of our hearts, the inner beliefs of our hearts will tend to guide our actions if they are sincere.
If a man says he believes that killing animals is wrong, it wouldn't make any sense for him to go hunting. If your friend says she believes that all people are created equal, it wouldn't make any sense if she joined a white-supremacy group. And if she is really committed to equality, it would follow that she would work for the cause, for human rights, or maybe just volunteer at a soup kitchen. If she scoffs at the homeless guy and looks the other way, you'd have reason to question her commitment to equality regardless of what her words say. Acting oblivious to the unfairness in the world would not square with her stated views. In short, actions speak louder than words.
So what about Christians? What level of actions reveal true Christian belief? Going to church every Sunday? Having joy in your heart and always being willing to share it? But sin can get in the way of virtue for even the best of people.Instead of making this about judging the Christianity-level of others, I will ask you: if you identify as Christian at all, why do you? What level of commitment do you have to it? If you're not Christian, what level of belief/action makes you identify yourself however you do?