By Aaron Earls
When American Christians are asked to identify what is “essential” to being a Christian, their answers depend largely on how frequently they attend church.
Among all Christians, believing in God is by far the most frequently chosen item from 16 mentioned in a survey by Pew Research. Almost 9 in 10 (86 percent) say belief in God is essential, including 97 percent of highly religious and 80 percent of other Christians.
Being grateful, forgiving, honest, praying, and helping the poor were also selected by the majority of all Christians, according to the report by Pew. But there were evident differences between weekly church attending Christians and others.
A majority of highly religious Christians—those who pray daily and attend church at least once a week—chose nine beliefs and actions as being vital to living as a Christian.
Most other Christians, those who pray and/or attend church less frequently, chose only four.
Majorities in both groups said believing in God, being honest at all times, forgiving those who have wronged you, and being grateful for what you have are essential parts of being a Christian.
More than half of the highly religious also included praying regularly, reading the Bible, attending religious services, committing to spend time with family, and working to help the poor and needy.
An open ended question allowed survey respondents the opportunity to name anything else that should be considered an essential part of what it means to be a Christian.
Fifteen percent volunteered some form of following the golden rule, while 13 percent said trust or belief in God and 11 percent said salvation through Jesus.
The Pew Research study found differences also existed among different Christian groups.
Evangelicals are more likely than mainline Protestants, black Protestants, or Catholics to say the following are essential to being a Christian: believing in God, praying, reading the Bible, attending services, being honest, forgiving others, spending time with family, being grateful, and dressing modestly.
Members of historically black Protestant denominations are the most likely of any other Christian group to say it is essential that a Christian: help in the congregation, rest on the Sabbath, not lose one’s temper, help the poor and needy, protect the environment, buy from companies that pay a fair wage, and be healthy by eating right and exercising.
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.