“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” -Matthew 7:21-23
“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” -Malachi 3:17-18
Probably my biggest pet peeve in all of Christianity is the prevalence of those today who claim Christ in word and yet not in action. It sends chills down my spine every time I see a rapper or actor accept an award for producing a piece which glorifies all the finer points of depravity and the first thing they do is thank the God who gave them their ability or Jesus Christ their personal savior. Not to say that these people aren’t Christians, but by evaluating these people based upon their fruits (which, if they are believers is perfectly acceptable, see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) I would not be too quick to call them brothers.
This is the root essence of nominal Christianity. The person who checks the Christian box every time and yet they can’t remember the last time they went to church when it wasn’t Easter or Christmas. The person who observes Lent or refuses to drink an alcoholic beverage, and yet they have no boundaries when it comes to sexual relationships or language. We all know these people, and present company included, we may have been or currently are these people. When, as I commented in the previous post, there are 95 million American young adults, 60 million of which would describe themselves as Christian, and yet only 3 million of them actually believe such things as “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth” or “God [is] the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today,” it seems clear that a large percentage of Americans aren’t really all that concerned with what being a Christian means as long as it is something they can just say that they are.
So, is this such a big deal? Certainly. For one, it is a big deal for the people who would be termed “nominal Christians.” If they are just going through the motions then what a terrible thing it would be for them to stand before the Lord on the day of judgment saying “Lord, Lord” just to be turned away. Maybe they never really heard the Gospel. Maybe we took for granted that just because it was being preached in buildings throughout the country, on TV and on radio, that at some point this person had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, not to be crass, but we all know what happens when we assume… This is why it is important to reach out and perform true Gospel preaching ministry in the midst of our “Christian” societies. For someone to live their life with a false hope of inheriting the faith of their parents or community is unacceptable with the various outlets available for Christian outreach, but unfortunately I feel it is a reality that is all too real in Western culture these days. This needs to change.
The second reason this is a big deal is because it dilutes the ability which the church has to be effective in the culture. When the world outside judges the church based on the overwhelming numbers of nominal Christians they encounter it does a great disservice to the true heart of Christian ministry. When the world is able to construct polling data which shows “Christians” as being no different than “non-Christians” on moral issues such as divorce, homosexuality or abortion, it turns into an indictment on the inadequacy of Christianity instead of being shown for what it truly is, that being an indictment on the terrifying number of nominal Christians around us. The Barna Group even admits in their research that when the same moral issues are analyzed against the smaller percentage of respondents who espouse a biblical worldview, then the gulf between the world and Christianity becomes very apparent. Therefore, if we could either ignite or alienate those nominal Christians in our congregations and throughout the “Christian” societies, moving them either into broken or hardened hearts, then we should have no problem illustrating the radical difference that a biblical conversion has on the heart of those who believe and confess Jesus as Lord.
Then the last question remains: just how do we fight the insurgence of nominal Christianity? The most effective way I believe is to simply preach the Gospel, focusing on “Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)” and not just assume that everybody already understands what happened and why it had to be that way. Also, to live our lives as an example of not only Gospel preaching but Gospel love, a sacrificial love which reaches out to others in kindness and not judgment, will make a difference in manifesting the true character of God and the revolutionary effect he has had on us. We need to remember that we are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13,14) and as such our lives of ministry should be nothing like those of the world, but instead should be found “to be conformed to the image of [Jesus]” (Romans 8:29) so that the world “may see [our] good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).”
Nominal Christianity is a major problem in America, England, and other traditionally Christian societies around the globe. It’s dark shadow has hampered the effectiveness of the Gospel light both to ourselves and our neighbors. Therefore, in order to change the lukewarm nature of these cultures and save them from becoming a biblical loogie we must act in a way as to polarize those just checking the box and remove the pervasiveness of nominal Christianity from our religious atmosphere.