Of all the identities one might claim, that of a Christian is as vague and amorphous as any that one can imagine. The term Christian is used to describe individuals for a multitude of reasons, most often because of affiliation with a certain church group or denomination. Some identify as a Christian simply because they have grown up in a culture in which Christianity is the prevalent religion and they therefore feel a certain affinity for Christ as a cultural symbol. A narrower group associate the name Christian with a specific salvation ritual or practice by which they have appropriated the right be a Christian. Still others see Christianity as a lifestyle practice which attempts to emulate Jesus, without any reliance upon or affiliation with the church as a religious institution. All these disparate definitions of what it means to be a Christian account for the vastly different mindsets and attitudes exhibited by those who consider themselves to be Christians or adherents of Jesus.
One needn't wonder that many people, especially those from other cultures, view the term Christian with a great deal of skepticism. If we, in your so called Christian nation, exhibit such confusion, how could we expect outsiders to react otherwise.
The typical way different "Christian" groups respond to this confusion about what it means to be a Christian is to insist that their particular definition is divinely sanctioned and must therefore be accepted by all. The arguments go like this- You must affiliate with my church to be a Christian. You must follow my salvation ritual to be a true Christian. You must demonstrate these religious practices to prove that you are a Christian. Under this prevailing paradigm, one becomes a Christian and remains so because of compliance with theological requirements, physical activities which supposedly make Christianity a reality for the individual. All these doctrinal attempts to define what it means to be a Christian have never achieved a common understanding among even those who claim Christ in some fashion, and they clearly never will. Two thousand years of trying and failing should be adequate proof of that.
If Christianity, in the sense of the message of Jesus, was meant to be universally applicable, as normally taught, there of necessity must be a common understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The fact that there is none explains in large measure why Christianity as a religion has been limited in its effectiveness in promoting Jesus to the whole world. Maybe the problem has always been that the message of Jesus never pointed mankind to a institutional church and its doctrinal definition of what it means to adhere to Jesus.
I suggest that the term Christian is an anachronism which detracts from any effort to actually identify with Christ and what he meant to mankind. As such it should be just discarded. In addition to being confusing it is also wildly divisive as promulgated by the institutional church with its insistence on being the sole access to Christ and the only interpreter of what Christ taught and accomplished for man's benefit. To be truly universal the message of Jesus logically must be spontaneously inspirational to the individual heart without the intervention or coercive pressures of the church. Otherwise we have an exclusive religion controlled by an exclusive group, thus denying its universality entirely. Universal truth cannot be indiscernible to anyone. Universal truth can certainly be missed by not being observant but it is always available to those who seek it. Seeking that truth by following the lead of others is an ineffective attempt to avoid the hard work of defining for oneself what it means to be a follower of the Christ.