In the book, Insanity of Obedience, author Nik Ripken, lists five Christian categories by Paul Marshall. Mr. Ripken has served as a missionary in several African countries including Sudan. He has spent a significant number of years meeting with persecuted Christians around the globe to document their experience and expand the church’s understanding of persecution. I heartily recommend this book and his first book, Insanity of God.
The term “Christian” is used in various ways in different cultures and, as a result, is sometimes hard to define. These categories are not perfect but help us to get a handle on a definition. Please review the list and see which category you fit into.
1. “Census Christians are people who, if asked about their religion, would say, “Christian.” This designation might not relate at all to anything that these people believe or practice. Often, this is a cultural answer. If asked about their religion in certain geographic areas, for example, many people might answer, “Of course I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody?” These people, according to Marshall, are “census Christians”. On a census, these people would check the “Christian” box. What the designation actually means is anybody’s guess.”
2. “Member Christians claim some sort of identification with a particular Christian institution or organization. Again, this does not mean that these people necessarily participate or even show up at their church. These people simply have some sort of personal connection with a church and they identify themselves with that church. They might say, “I am Catholic,” or “I am Baptist,” or “I am Methodist.”
3.”Practicing Christians actually participate in the life of a church. They typically attend worship services. In some fashion, these people are involved in the forms and rituals of the faith. Often their connection with the church is limited to weddings, baptisms, and funerals.”
4.”Believers (or Committed Believers) are people for whom the Christian faith is central and shaping. These Christians strive to live out their faith and communicate their faith to others. To use the language of the evangelical world, the people have a personal relationship with Jesus. Often they will use the language of John 3 and talk about being “born again”.
5.”Hidden Christians are people who believe secretly. Fearful of persecution, these people keep their faith to themselves. In some settings, these believers might keep their faith secret from government officials and employers. In other settings, they might keep their faith secret from even family members and friends. These believers might not even experience specifics acts of outward persecution, but the fear of persecution has caused their faith to be completely inward. For the most part, their faith, though real, is hidden. In most cases, they have not “joined” a church, though this might be an artificial measurement since, in many settings, there is no official institutional church to join.”
Did you fit in anywhere? We hope so. If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior, we would love to send you some literature if you would send us your address.
The articles on this blog are geared to the encouragement and exhortation of the Believers (or Committed Believers) and Hidden Christians. Of course, everyone is welcome and we hope all deepen their walk with God through Jesus Christ. Thank you for your time. May God bless you!!
“Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord know those who are His,” and “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:19)
2 thoughts on “Five Christian Categories”
Thank you for sharing this. Census and Member Christians are common in our part of the world. Many colleagues serve and interact with Hidden Christians. I agree that the term Christian means different things to different cultures. I sometimes find it hard to distinguish practicing and believing because the believers are practicing, and those who are practicing may or may not be believers.
Thank you Justin. To your point about it being hard to distinguish, I normally have to ask a person I am interacting with “what will you say when you get to heaven and your asked why should you be let in. Their reply will expose what they are trusting in for salvation. Of course, in your line of work, you don’t always have that opportunity or setting. Blessings be on you and yours!