Thursday, 17 September 2015

Christian, Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical: The Need for Labels

For approximately two millennia the followers of Jesus Christ have been known as Christians. Acts 11:26 tell us that 'the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch', the name being given to them as a result of their adherence to the teachings of Christ. Since that time other names have been given to various grouping within the broad spectrum of Christianity. The east/west schism of 1054 divided the Christian church into its Roman and Orthodox branches, both describing themselves as Christian but using more specific terms to distinguish themselves one from another. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 the term Protestant was attributed to princes and rulers who protested against the decisions of the Diet, and since that time those who have opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have generally been known as Protestant. As the centuries have advanced further labels have been added to the various branches of Christian belief; reformed, evangelical, Calvinist, Baptist, Presbyterian and more, highlighting the particular theological viewpoint or denominational affiliation of those concerned, and distinguishing them from other Christians. There are some today who would reject such labels; they do not like the term Protestant, but prefer simply to be known as a Christian. Is this a reasonable view to take, and should believers reject the supposedly divisive denominational and theological labels which set them apart from others who likewise identify as Christian?

There can be no argument that it is the term Christian which gives us our most vital definition; we are followers of Christ. To identify ourselves as Christian declares that the object of our faith is not a church or a creed, but Jesus Christ. The word Christian literally means anointed ones, and it is only those who have been born again by the Spirit of God who can truly be called Christians. The true Protestant must be a Christian. The true Calvinist must be a Christian. The true evangelical must be a Christian. Whenever we add a label such as Protestant we are not rejecting our identification as Christian, but rather we are seeking to more accurately define what we believe a Christian to be, and to set ourselves apart from those falsely apply that name to themselves.

It sometimes appears that everyone today is a Christian. The term has become so ambiguous and broadly used that that to a great extent it no longer means anything. The Roman Catholic Church is considered by most people to be Christian, as are the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic churches. Cult movements such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Christian Science and Seventh Day Adventism all take the name of Christian. Yet all of these groups hold vastly different views on fundamental doctrines. There are those who deny the fundamental truths concerning the trinity, as well as the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, yet they are all described as Christian. If the term Christian can be used to encompass such a broad range of views then what does it mean? Does following Christ no longer involve believing specific truths? It is because of the vagueness and ambiguity of the age in which we live that it is necessary to further define what we believe it is to be Christian. If the Pope is acclaimed as a Christian then it is necessary to define our Christianity in such a way that distinguishes us from the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, therefore we proudly take the name of Protestant. Likewise in rejecting the liberal views of modernists we describe ourselves as being evangelical. Sadly in today's politically correct age even these terms are employed by those who are neither Protestant or evangelical, such is the rejection of absolute truth and disregard for doctrine.

The name of Christian in itself ought to be a sufficient declaration of who we are and what we believe, and it is that name which we love, for it it has that association with our Saviour. Yet as a result of the errors which have crept into the visible church through the centuries it has been necessary to appropriate additional names in order to distance ourselves from error and more succinctly define true Christianity. The objection of many people to terms such as Protestant is doubtless borne out of a desire for unity amongst the various branches of perceived Christianity, a politically correct ecumenical desire to please everyone and offend no-one, yet there is no unity to be had with those who are not truly Christian. To be a true Protestant is to be a Christian and to be a true Christian is to be a Protestant. It cannot be otherwise and we proudly associate ourselves with that name, declaring our Christianity to be distinct from the falsehood of the Roman Catholic Church.


  1. "The east/west schism of 1054 divided the Christian church into its Roman and Orthodox branches"

    Hence, The Roman Catholic Church is a Christian Church

    "There can be no argument that it is the term Christian which gives us our most vital definition; we are followers of Christ"

    Being a Christian Church, Roman Catholics are therefore followers of Christ

    "it is necessary to define our Christianity in such a way that distinguishes us from the errors of the Roman Catholic Church"

    I fail to see the logic behind your vehemence against your fellow Christians.

  2. Ben

    I do not accept the Roman Catholic Church as a legitimate Christian church. Whilst they may take the name of Christian I believe that they do so wrongly and are not following the Christ of the Bible. When I describe myself as a Christian and a Roman Catholic does likewise it is therefore necessary for me to define what a Christian is, hence the titles of Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical etc are used to distinguish me from them.

  3. I agree on the point about the titles. I just fail to see the logic in the fact that you call Roman Catholicism a "branch" of Christianity at the beginning, and then contradict yourself later by calling it not Christian. If you do some research, you will find that what is now called the Roman Catholic Church has never changed any its teachings on morality...ever. We can also trace the Papal succession back to Peter the Apostle. All of the different Christian denominations exist because they disagree with the Catholics on one or more points.

  4. It was used as an illusatration of how groups have described themselves as Christian (in its broadest sense) yet have used different terms to distinguish themselves one from the other - the split of the east & west churches being a major event in church history where two groups emerged which described themselves as such, yet have differed greatly. The Roman Catholic Church's teachings on morality are not its major issue, it is their teaching on issues such as justification, Mary, the Mass etc which make it Unchristian - isses where they will disagree with the Apostle Peter (as well as the rest of scripture)