What is a Christian?
If you're an unbeliever reading this you are probably thinking, "Ugh, another one of those homophobic, right wing, flat earth, sexually repressed, hypocritical idiots!" I don't blame you. You don't know any better, and there are so many voices telling you this, from the media to college professors to well, folks who carry the name but live in ways unworthy of it. The truth however is a Christian is none of these things. Because Christ isn't.
Let's begin with the definition. The word "Christian" was actually coined in Bible times when it was used by the opponents of believers who derisively referred to them as "little Christs". That's what the word Christian actually means. "Oh those little Christ pests!" About the equivalent of the 70s term, "Jesus Freaks", though possibly even more derrogatory and diminutive. Note that this descriptor was used very little by Christians themselves (see Acts 26:28 and I Peter 4:16) until centuries later. Today's use is identical to the that in I Peter, minus the pejorative, of course, at least with most people, who mostly view Christians as humorous and a little odd, maybe. The phrase, Little Christs is actually quite accurate, probably the most accurate possible meaning of the word Christan, then and now. Chip off the 'ol block, in other words.
Which brings us to the second and far more important and definitive part of what it means to be a Christian, that is, what it means in practice. By any accurate description a Christian is one who is indistinguishable from Christ himself in lifestyle. So, when you call someone a Christian, you are saying the person acts like Christ. Nothing more or less. This fact is far more important than it seems at first blush, especially when one observes behavior in a Christian that is not to be found in the historical Jesus Christ. One thing you can be solidly assured of: if Christ wouldn't do it, it is not "Christian". Let that gel a moment in your mind. Then, make a point of passing everything you think and hear about Christians through this filter, this lens. You will not only start seeing Christians differently, you will inevitably and correctly conclude there appear to be some who call themselves Christians falsely. A homophobe, i.e. a person who hates homosexuals, is not a Christian because Jesus didn't hate homosexuals. A hypocrite isn't behaving Christianly because Christ was never hypocritical (His most scathing denouncements were for the hypocrites of His day). Hopefully, you get it: a Christian is what Christ was, and isn't what Christ wasn't.
You will by now be saying, "But what about the Crusades and The Inquisition and pogroms and all of that stuff?" Okay. Here's what about it. The filter. Remember the filter. Did these folks act like Christ acted? Would Jesus have done the things they did? If you think so, then you seriously need to brush up on your Bible. So, to the extent these people acted unChristlike, they were not Christians. Many were in fact adherents of the state religion (a usurpation and evil imitation of Christianity) started by Constantine, and thus no more Christian than the favorite strawman of critics of Christ, Adolf Hitler, that eminently infamous hate-driven devil worsipper. Christians don't bomb abortion clinics, aren't intellectually closed-minded, and aren't racists. They're not against sex, and they do indeed practice what they preach. Because that's Who Christ was and what He did.
Now for part three of the definition of a Christian. The filter doesn't excuse bad Christians, it only exposes unfaithful and false ones. It's no news that Christians aren't faultless. They're still sinners, and the Bible confirms this. Jesus Himself said, "Only those who realize they are sick need a physician." Jesus' church is not a group of perfect people, it's a hospital where those wanting to be cured go and get it. They're forgiven, not faultless. Forgiven the rebellion toward God Who made all people, and thus born anew into a new life and a new world. Now you're probably perplexed. So, you ask, "Were the Crusaders Christians acting in horrendous sin or ultra-religious nonbelievers using the name of Christ hideously in the furtherence of their own ends?" Again, the filter. You know the answer. Now you'll ask, "By that standard a Christian who cheats on his wife is not a Christian." Yes, that's right, the Bible does indeed go that far, though it also allows for the difference between falling into a sin and living a lifestyle characterized by constant sin. This is not a copout. The difference comes down to repentance. Two men in the Biblical record: King Saul and King David. Saul consulted with a witch and repeatedly disobeyed God, and never repented. David seduced the wife of one of his soldiers, killed her husband, and lied about it for almost a year. God called Saul, who never repented, his enemy, and David, who did repent, a man after His own heart. Astonishing, isn't it? It's not the heinousness of the sin that helps us distinguish the non-Christian from the Christian, it's the turning away from sin.
You may dislike hearing you need need forgiveness, that you are considered a rebel by God. But you are. Have you never acted in a way that you regretted? Never acted, inexplicably, contrary to you own ethical code? The Bible calls this proof of your rebellion. That even your own heart condemns you. A Christian is different only in that he has given in, surrendered, to the One he formerly rebelled against. His nature is still to be a rebel and will be until taken from the earth. But he is committed with Christ's help to increasingly not be, and because of this he has been assigned a new community, a new kingdom, a future vastly different from that of the rebels. Yes, heaven instead of hell.
You don't have to agree with what Christians believe. That's between you and God. But at least be accurate in who Christians are. Little Christs; with His heart, His motivation, His perspective, His morals. Anything less, no matter its title, is not Christian.