What is a Christian?
Many Churches/Denominations use the term 'Christian' to describe their members, from Catholic to Baptist to Presbyterian etc. Yet they have different definitions for the same term ‘Christian.’ For us, a ‘Christian’ is defined by what we read in the Bible. While the term is not often used in the Bible, it refers to those who are followers or disciples of Jesus Christ.
It is not enough just to call ourselves a Christian, or even to be very religious. Many people have called themselves ‘Christians’ and later proved by their lifestyle and actions that they do not ‘follow’ Jesus in real life. Instead, Jesus tells us that we can know who his followers are – by how they live their lives. As someone once asked; “If you were in court accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26)
A Christian is someone who has trusted Jesus for full and free forgiveness, who follows him by doing the will of God, relying on the strength of the Holy Spirit. The evidence should be visible as they love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, and love their neighbours as themselves. A Christian has a two-way relationship with God; hearing from him by reading the Bible, and speaking to him by praying. Others often notice a change in the life of someone who becomes a Christian. "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith." (Ephesians 2:4-5,8)
(See What we believe for more info.)
Are we Catholics or Protestants?
Neither! The Apostles and early disciples were not known as 'Catholic' or 'Protestant', but ‘Christian’. If it was good enough for them, it is certainly good enough for us. We do not feel a need to define ourselves by the ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ labels that arose much later, in the sixteenth century. These terms carry much cultural and political baggage in Ireland that can often take the focus away from the most important thing - being a follower of Christ.
Some assume that if any of us have a different faith than many people in the Catholic/Nationalist community that we must be Protestants. This is not the case. It is not necessary to change your nationality, community, or politics in order to trust in Jesus alone and be a Bible-based Christian. And many who are known as 'Catholic' in terms of community identity are not 'Catholic' at all when it comes to religious persuasion, but are atheist, evangelical, Jehovah's Witnesses, or follow Eastern religions/philosophies etc. At the same time, there are some in the fellowship who come from a Protestant background too. Yet, above all else, our identity is in Christ.
For more info on the topic of culture and politics, seeCulture/Politics.
Are we Born again Christians?
While the labels ‘born-again Christian’ (which means having a renewed heart by God’s Spirit) or ‘evangelical’ (which means gospel-based) are generally intended to communicate biblical truths, within our community they instead tend to carry sectarian, political, or fundamentalist baggagethat is clearly inconsistent with our ethos and identity (often from those heard or seen in the media and news). To avoid confusion, we prefer to describe ourselves as just Christians, Bible-based Christians, or followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to be like our Lord and Saviour, as we try to follow him.
The phrase 'born again Christian' means different things to different people. For many from the Nationalist community, when we hear the term 'born again Christian', often what first comes to mind is fundamentalist Protestant individuals and ministers who were involved in stoking cross-community tensions during the 'troubles.' When we are asked the question if we are born-again Christians, where the meaning is; are we associated with such people who have been anti-nationalist and anti-Catholic, the answer is a very clear 'NO.'
Yet, the concept of having new life by the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to 'born-again Christians,' whatever our understanding of the term is. The Catholic Church teaches that a baby is born-again by the Holy Spirit when christened/baptised. Protestant and other Christian churches teach the same either at christening/baptism, or (as we do) when a person places their faith in Jesus alone for their salvation.
Jesus taught that we need new life in him. This new life is described throughout the Bible in different ways; "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), "newness of life" (Romans 6:4), a "new heart" or a "new spirit" (Ezekiel 36:26), "created in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:10), etc. Yet, on only four occasions in the whole Bible is it translated in some versions (not all) as "born again", by both Jesus and Peter (John 3:5, 7 and 1 Peter 1:3, 23).
The new life that we read of in the Bible comes as part of the package of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. If we have not received this new life, then we have not accepted and received God's forgiveness, we do not have the assurance of going to heaven when we die (John 5:24, 1 John 5:11-12), and we cannot call ourselves Christ's followers.
If the question is about 'who we are?', then the answer is, NO, we are not associated with anti-nationalist, anti-Catholic extremists.
But if the question is instead about 'what we believe?' then the answer is that we definitely need God's Holy Spirit to give us new life.
In order to avoid misunderstanding, we try not to use words that can be misinterpreted or cause confusion - we prefer to be called just 'Christians,' and prefer to speak of the 'new life' that comes from trusting in Jesus.
Is the Bible reliable?
Certainly. The Bible is 100% accurate and reliable, in the original languages. Modern translations made from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts are very reliable, especially with advances in linguistics and translation recently. The Bible today is many times more reliable than other ancient writings, such as those of Aristotle, or even those more recently by Shakespeare.
In Jesus' day, the Jewish Scriptures consisted of the 39 books of the complete Old Testament. The 27 books or letters in the New Testament were later agreed by the early church to be inspired by God. Together, they make up the 66 books of the Bible.
The Bible claims to be inspired (see 2 Tim 3:15-16), and declares itself authoritatively to be the Word of the Lord in many places. The accurately fulfilled prophecies in the Bible, often written hundreds of years before the actual events, could not have been faked, proving its divine origin. Its accuracy continues to be proved, as the history recorded in the Bible matches that discovered by researchers and archaeologists.
If you want to read more, here are some resources which might help: click here for an article on the question 'Why trust the Bible'. Or, here for a booklet on the matter of contradictions in the Bible. Here is another booklet on How can I know God through the Bible.
For a more in depth study, try F.F. Bruce's book "The New Testament Books - are they reliable?" online here.
Is the Bible full of contradictions?
No. Most people who claim that the Bible has contradictions are hard pressed to name one when asked. There are sometimes different accounts of the same event by different authors, such as in the Gospels. Yet different accounts of the same events may be accurate but from different perspectives, just as different newspapers can give accurate but different angles on the same events.
One of the main problems in understanding the Bible is to read each part in its own context. Just as people can be quoted out of context to appear to say things that they did not mean, Bible verses can be taken out of context to try to mean something different than what was intended. Apparent contradictions are often just passages taken out of context.
Another problem is to understand the genre used. Illustration, poetry, history, parable, prophecy, should be understood as different means of communication. Poetry should not be taken literally, while history should, and so on. For example, when Jesus says that he is the door, and then that he is the gate, he is not contradicting himself, but giving two illustrations of the fact that he is the only way to eternal life.
Do I have to bring a Bible?
No, we have a good supply of Bibles in a modern translation ('New Living translation') that is easy to read and understand. No in-depth knowledge of the Bible is needed, but only a willingness to discuss and/or listen together to what God says to us in it.
See also: A simple prayer (How to become a Christian)
Are we a sect or a cult?
No. Our beliefs are mainstream Christian and, like those of many other Christian churches, are based solely on the authority of the Bible as the source of beliefs and practice (see What we believe). Like many fellowships or churches across the world and down through the centuries, we are self-governing, living out God’s Word in our local context, and do not need to be part of a larger Church or denominations. We may not have visible unity within a larger denomination, from a hierarchical or orgnaisational perspective. Yet, we have very tangible unity with like-minded Christians across many denominations and churches, both locally and around the world, who love and serve Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:22-23).
Jesus Christ is the head of the Church (Colossians 1:17-18, 2:10, 18-19, Ephesians 5:22-23). He guides the Church through his Spirit and his Word (John 14: 16-17, 26, 16:13, 2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:1-2, John 10:27). He has commanded us to go and make disciples and care for them (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Peter 5:1-4).