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Nominal ChristianityAugust 4, 2017
There is no greater or deadly spiritual disease than nominal Christianity. It is so deadly because those who are infected with this virus do not even know that they are sick. They get up each day and go about their business. Many of them faithfully attend the church of their choice on Sundays, maybe even being involved in a Bible Study or two along the way, and have no clue at all that they are spiritually dead. Nominal Christians see normal Christians, those who have a passion for Jesus and a passion for the Gospel, and think them a bit strange if not deranged or radical; but they have no sense that such radical fanatics simply represent what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Their kind of Christianity is popular and pervasive. They find it in people all around them. The get up on Sunday morning as every other day to make their coffee and to make ready for church. They go to whatever service is most convenient for them. The sing the songs. They listen to the prayers. They pay some attention to the sermon. They speak to friends and family and are on about their business barely opening either the Bible to read it or their mouths to witness for Jesus until the next Sunday. It is the routine of their lives. They are comfortable and cozy in the way that they are living their lives. They are sure that they are saved and will go to heaven when they die. They would be and are very defensive about anyone at any time calling into question their Christianity even in writing like this one. So, let’s get really practical here: what are some of the characteristics of a true, nominal Christian?
One, their relationship to God is based entirely on some ritual that they have done. It maybe that they “asked Jesus into their heart” and were baptized into the church. What they did when they did that becomes for them what it means to be a Christian. Maybe they were baptized as an infant and felt themselves to belong to God from that moment. Or maybe they went through a confirmation class. The bottom line is that nominal Christians believe sincerely that they really are Christians because of what they have done. They are sure and certain about it. They have made a certain means for being saved like saying a prayer the meaning of being saved or changed by the work of the grace of God through the Gospel. Second, nominal Christians choose churches based on what the church can do for them. They want churches that will meet their needs. They attend churches that they choose based on what is convenient for them. I am privileged to be the pastor of a “dinosaur” church where we still believe that the Lord’s Day is the entire day and that we should at least minimally worship and study God’s Word together in corporate worship both Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Nominal Christians are most often Sunday morning only and many times look for churches that will accommodate their chosen lifestyles. Three, most nominal Christians flit from church to church during their lifetime. They get upset when a church ignores them in their view or does not do things the way they want them done. They leave. The point fingers of blame at the preacher and the people. They begin to believe that since they are believers or Christians anyway, they don’t need the church. Four, many nominal Christians pray very infrequently and spend very little time in the Bible. When nominal Christians spend time in the Bible it is simply to undergird what they already believe or to find some obscure teaching about which they want to argue. Many nominal Christians know more about the Bible than many true Christians, but they do not know the Word of God. They know about the Word of God but they do not know at all the God the Word. Five, nominal Christians by necessity have to separate their profession of faith in Christ from the practice of a life lived in devotion to Christ. In other words, they love the doctrine of justification as they understand it but they ignore the equally precious doctrines of regeneration and sanctification. They believe that when they said the prayer or walked the aisle or recited the creed that they became Christians and will always be Christians. But they ignore regeneration which is simply that God works in us by His Spirit through the Gospel to make us new creations with a new character that leads to new conduct in which we have by the grace of God a deep desire to grow to become more and more like Jesus as we share life together with other Christians in a local church. The nominal Christian typically has two responses to the Biblical teaching of regeneration (new character and new conduct) and sanctification (new commitment to be like Christ lived out in the church): one, there are so many hypocrites in the church and two, I can be a Christian without the church. Listen to someone use these lines and you are hearing a nominal Christian. They are dead in their sin under the condemnation and rightly of the wrath of God and they do not know it.
John Piper says that he shudders these days to think of the vast number of nominal Christians in America and particularly in the south who will if they do not repent hear the Lord Jesus say one day, “depart from me, I never knew you.” Many of these will as the Bible says want even then to argue with Jesus! That is how deceived they really are. I am way beyond shuddering. I just weep.