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Dispelling the Myth that Christians Are Hopelessly Divided on Core Beliefs

One of the main lines of attacks that skeptics have employed is along the lines of language. For example, ‘Intelligent Design’ should be a redundancy, but today evolutionists talk all the time about organisms being ‘designed’ but insist that design was done by natural processes. This gives them the advantage of being able to admit that the evidence of design is undeniable while simultaneously denying the obvious implication. They call this Science. This is but one example of how atheists equivocate on the meanings of words. Few words have been bastardized like the term ‘Christian.’

Cults like the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses desperately try to appropriate the term and this despite the fact that in both cases their teachings are dramatically contradictory to the historic understanding of the term. Atheists let them get away with it: if someone self-identifies as a ‘Christian’ who is anyone else to stop them. For this reason I have often called myself a Christian atheist in order to lampoon such silly reasoning, often receiving the rebuke that that is a contradiction in terms. Oh, now they care about contradictions of terms!

Ironically, atheists will bend over backwards in their dogmatic assertions of just what an atheist is while they themselves dismiss any attempt to clarify just what is meant by the term ‘Christian.’ You can make the Scriptures say anything, they say. Well, at least with Christianity there is some sort of standard at all that could be treated as objective. There is no such transcending standard by which authoritative assertions of what constitutes an ‘atheist’ could be measured against. An ‘atheist’ is whatever the individual atheist asserts it to be and no other atheist can say otherwise.

Such conversations have driven me to defend the proposition that there is a historic understanding of the term. I think it would be helpful to post material from such a defense on my blog. The truth is that as atheist Bertrand Russell acknowledged there really was a time when saying one was a ‘Christian’ meant something and one knew what it meant. But it is also true that despite the constant perversions of the term, there are literally hundreds of millions of people who abide by the very same doctrines that Russell and most modern atheists believe are largely ancient history asserting basically that today there is a free-for-all, prompting smug atheists to say: “You want me to believe in God? Which one?” As though the variations were limitless.

While it is true that it took some time for the Christian community to clarify itself against a series of opponents, they did succeed in doing so. The creeds are the result of that process, and were completed no later than about 400 AD. After that, there was very little change in the meaning of the term until the Protestant reformation- more than a thousand years later- and even then the core teachings enshrined in the creeds are still upheld… to this very day.

That’s right. More than a billion Christians today uphold the same doctrines upheld in explicit terms since 400 AD and less codified terms since 50 AD.  More than a billion.   I don’t mean to minimize the fact that there are often wide and important divergences, but those who wish to escape the claims of Christianity by disputing that there are any have no legs to stand on.  Below I have gone through and cataloged where and referenced where numerous groups who ‘self-identify’ as Christian stand in relation to the core orthodox doctrines.  There is much more commonality than skeptics would have us believe.  It is culled from the thread already linked to above.

I have taken the time to catalog exactly where the various denominations stand in regards to the creedal formulations which I take as the minimal criteria for defining Christianity.  The success of CS Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” across denominational lines does well to show that when the chips are down, in most denominations it is understood that certain core doctrines form the essence of what ‘Christianity’ has historically meant and what it still means today across a broad spectrum of denominations.

Generally speaking, these doctrines are also encapsulated in the creeds.  In most, but not all cases, the creeds are explicitly adopted.  In other cases, even if the creeds are not explicitly stated as benchmarks to a denomination’s beliefs, the content of the creeds nonetheless are accepted.

These are that God created our universe, that he is Trinitarian in nature, that Jesus is God incarnated and that Jesus was fully man and fully God.

For more details about these creeds I refer the reader to http://www.creeds.net

Now to my catalog.  This site below seems to be an objective source with references and it marks 2.1 billion people who self-identify as Christians.
http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html
http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html#Christianity

What I wanted to do is get a break down of the various denominations and examine the official statements… well, produce some official statements to demonstrate once and for all the emphasis on these core doctrines of the Christian faith.  This site provided that breakdown for me:

http://www.adherents.com/adh_branches.html#Christianity

What I did was use the chart as a guideline on numbers and major groupings.

I tried to find official statements on the so-called three ecumenical creeds, the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.  The core assertion of the Athanasian creed is that God is trinitarian in nature, so in a few cases where explicit acceptance of the Athanasian creed couldn’t be found I was able to still find the all-important acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity.

This table produces a more detailed sampling than the 2.1 billion referenced above and when you add them up you come out to something in the 1.95 billion range.  In the analysis section to follow, I round it to 1.95 billion self-described Christians.

——————-


Catholic 1,050,000,000

100% Creedal Agreement

Apostles and Nicene:
http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p1s1c3a2.htm

Athanasian:
http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p1s2.htm


Orthodox/Eastern Christian 240,000,000

Explicit Acceptance of the Nicene
http://www.oca.org/OCIndex-TOC.asp?SID=2&book=Doctrine&section=The%20Symbol%20of%20Faith
Explicit Acceptance of the Trinity (the core point of the Athanasian creed)
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=5
Probably acceptance of the contents of the Apostle’s Creed, but not explicitly found as ratified on the site.


African indigenous sects (AICs) 110,000,000

A mixed bag.  Many very certainly accepting the creeds, as the categories listed below are documented here to accept the creeds.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Initiated_Church#Apostolic_churches
“Many AICs share traditions with Christians from other parts of the Christian world, and these can also be used in classifying them. So there are AICs of Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Orthodox traditions. Some are Sabbatarian, some are Zionist, and so on. ”


Pentecostal 105,000,000

–  Assemblies of God;
http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_aog.html  32 Million, Internationally
http://pentecostalevangel.ag.org/Life_QA/Denominations.cfm
AoG site lists Apostles and Nicene and Trinity, but not referenced on official AoG site.

Reformed/Presbyterian/Congregational/United 75,000,000

100% Creedal Agreement
http://www.pcusa.org/oga/publications/boc.pdf

Anglican 73,000,000

100% Creedal Agreement
http://anglicansonline.org/basics/catechism.html#The%20Creeds

Baptist 70,000,000

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creed#Christians_without_creeds
“Many evangelical Protestants similarly reject creeds as definitive statements faith, even while agreeing with some creeds’ substance. The Baptists, for example, have no formal creed and and do not empower the church to define one. Even so, they are generally in agreement with the Nicene Creed’s substance.”

Methodist 70,000,000

Explicit acceptance of the Apostle’s and Nicene:
http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1806
Explicit acceptance of the Trinity:
http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2299859/k.13B7/Our_Christian_Roots.htm

Lutheran 64,000,000

100% Creedal Acceptance
http://www.bookofconcord.org/creeds.html

Jehovah’s Witnesses 14,800,000

Rejection of the Creeds
Rejection of the Trinity
Rejection of the Incarnation, ie, Jesus was not God.

Adventist 12,000,000

REJECTION of the Creeds
http://www.adventist.org/world_church/facts_and_figures/history/index.html.en
BUT ACCEPTANCE of their contents:
http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/


Latter Day Saints 12,500,000

Full rejection of the Creeds, the historic Christian church was in apostasy.
http://www.mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/the-restoration-of-truth/the-great-apostasy
Rejection of the Trinity
Rejection of the idea that Jesus was God incarnate
Rejection of God as a transcendental entity, etc
http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/basic/bible/farms_bible.htm

Apostolic/New Apostolic 10,000,000
Stone-Campbell (“Restoration Movement”) 5,400,000
New Thought (Unity, Christian Science, etc.) 1,500,000
Brethren (incl. Plymouth) 1,500,000
Mennonite 1,250,000
Friends (Quakers) 300,000

Though I did a good search for explicit acceptances of all three creeds in the official statements of these denominations there were cases where I couldn’t find some.  That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  If someone is aware of some I’d be happy to include the reference and modify the numbers as warranted.

In those cases I went looking for explicit acceptance of the substance of a creed not explicitly ratified.  This usually meant the Athanasian Creed, and that Creed is primarily about the Trinity.

Here are the ones with 100% stated acceptance on these three creeds:

Catholic 1,050,000,000
Reformed/Presbyterian/Congregational/United 75,000,000
Anglican 73,000,000
Lutheran 64,000,000

Of our 1.95 Billion, we can ascertain a clear 1,262,000,000 with explicit acceptances of all three creeds.  We are therefore already totaling more than half of the 1,950,000,000 ‘self-described’ Christians in the table.

Accepting most of the creeds and certainly all of the substance of them, ie, the Trinity, are:
Orthodox/Eastern Christian 240,000,000
Pentecostal-Assembly of God- 32,000,000
Baptist 70,000,000

One anti-creedal group that I could include, though, are the Adventists.  I provided a link showing that they acknowledge the core doctrines but are opposed to formal statements.  To that end, I’m pretty sure the Brethern and Mennonites are generally orthodox, too, but certainly the Christian Scientists are not.

These numbers got to be small enough that I didn’t think it was worth even factoring them in.

We can safely say that a solid 1,725,000,000 people ascribe to a view of Christianity as understood in the creeds.  A relative minority accepted the content but not the formulations.  A sizable remainder accepted the content and I found explicit acceptance of at least one of the creeds, and the majority accepted all the creeds.

Self describing themselves as ‘Christians’ are the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses.  They amount between the two of them is just 27,300,000 or a mere 1.5% of the population reporting themselves as ‘Christians.’   In light of our conservative estimate of 1,700,000,000 adherents to historic Christianity, we can see that the LDS and JWs are simply out of line trying to claim that they can rightfully use this term.  When we also consider the fact that this 1.7 billion adherents to historic Christianity can trace their codified positions to 300-500 AD while the LDS and JWs emerged only in the last two hundred years, the brazenness of their claim is even more exposed.

While it is certainly true that of the 1.7 billion who are within historic Christianity there are numerous laymen who are unaware of exactly what their organizations believe, this fact is not enough to overthrow the reasonableness of making the very firm generalization that Christians believe in the manner that I have asserted.

What is of more significance are the official statements as it is presumed that those who construct them are those who actually do know about their denomination’s positions.

In other words, the fact that we can produce 500 Joe’s on the Internet- even from the denominations already shown to be within historic Christianity- who express disagreement or disdain for the historic positions, that doesn’t undermine my right to assert that there is a historic Christian faith and it is still the dominate view today.  Yes, I am making a generalization, but few generalizations are as justified as this one.

In conclusion, my presenting of the facts and evidences in support of ‘mere Christianity’ is not a narrow, individualistic Sntjohnny understanding of Christianity, but is in fact an advocating of the general position- and more often than not the explicit position- of some 1,700,000,000 individuals.  Out of 1,950,000,000 self-describing.

Anticipating a last ditch attempt to save the accusation, someone will say “But you are a young earth creationist and many of these organizations don’t accept that view.”

I have always been quite clear that the creeds insist that God made the heavens and the earth without specifying the mechanism.

I have also always been quite clear that though I think YEC is true and that it has important implications, my foremost objective is to address the Resurrection, for it is upon the Resurrection that Christianity rises and falls.  So, while I would disagree with my theistic evolutionary brother who nonetheless accepts the creeds, I am more than prepared to treat them as a full Christian.

So that is the death of that accusation, as well.

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5 Responses to Dispelling the Myth that Christians Are Hopelessly Divided on Core Beliefs

  1. […] January 13, 2008 — The Professor Anthony Horvath has a new post entitled “Dispelling the Myth that Christians Are Hopelessly Divided on Core Beliefs.” Now, I haven’t actually read the post yet, because I want to do a little experiment. […]

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  3. […] seem to be the forerunners of the online future for the Global Christian community. In light of larger creedal acceptance than commonly thought, I would like to offer a way forward for a common dialog and networking tool […]

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  5. […] Christians United on Core Beliefs […]

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