Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reaction 1: Nominalism/Unbelief

I'm putting these two descriptions together because in most cases what is understood as "nominal Christianity" is actually "unbelief". So these are the kind of folks that don't believe what the Bible teaches about God, man, history, worldview, etc. and continue to maintain that they are actually Christians.

This reminds me of a conversation I had recently. The young man I was talking with said that he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and worships Him. As the conversation carried on he explained how he views God as an entity that will just give him whatever he wants.

For example he said that he thinks that if he would pray for a car God would give it to him. I asked him if God ever has given him a car in response to a prayer like that, and he answered, "No." I then told him that this is not how the Bible represents the Lord, and he understood that; however, he said the this is how he is going to continue to approach God, because it makes him feel better.

So as we continued to talk I explained that just because something makes you feel better for a time does not mean that it is based in truth and is good. We can easily deceive ourselves. Our perception often times is different from reality. We also discussed how he likes to think about Jesus. From a lot of what he said it was clear that he was worshipping an idol that he had made Jesus out to be, not who Jesus Christ is in reality (according to the Bible). Also, he is pretty proud of some of the sins that he has committed in his life...because ultimately God used those sins to bring about good. He didn't understand, though, that this did not make the sins a good thing...but in God's common grace He will often use bad things or circumstances for good.

I explained then that if he is worshipping a man-made idea of who Jesus is (in contrast with who Scripture reveals Jesus to be) and he is not willing to repent of his sins...that his life is not consistent with what the Bible teaches a Christian is. He completely understood, and he said, then, that he is not a Christian. But he said that he is going to continue to call himself a Christian because it makes him feel better. I asked him if he were to die that night where he thinks he would go, and he told me that he would be going to hell. I explained who the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is and described that all he needs to do is to enter into a life of repentance and belief...but he was not willing to do that. Although, he insists on calling himself a Christian because he said it feels good.

The reason I spent so much time writing about this circumstance is because this is a classic case of nominalism or someone who calls themself a Christian, conforms themself to the morality of Christianity, yet they do not believe in what revelation teaches about God or repentance and belief.

I have listed this as a reaction to the problems in the church because folks like this are scattered everywhere in our churches. People who falsely believe that they are Christians. If the gospel is not clearly preached from the pulpit, if the gospel is not clearly displayed and spoken of in the lives of those in the local church then people may be seeking shelter in a church because it makes them "feel better." K. P. Yohannen (founder of Gospel for Asia) has a sobering quote that is very true in this regard, "Feeding a man without sharing the Gospel with him is like giving a sandwich to a man on his way to the electric chair…it is, in essence, simply making him more comfortable on his way to hell."

When churches do not embrace a biblical approach to discipleship of all of it's people (those that covenant with the congregation in membership), and allow non-Christians to shelter as if they were Christians (in membership or even attendance) that is a major problem in the church. So you can see how nominalism and unbelief can be supported by the local church.

The young man in the conversation that I wrote about above is regularly attending a church. In the way that the church functions he has never been confronted with his unbelief or the fact that he is not a Christian. This is a problem...and while the church has not caused his nominalism or unbelief it has not helped him see it, thereby contributing to his continuance in unbelief. Hence, his reaction to that basic problem of discipleship in that specific local church has been to continue in nominalism/unbelief.


Ryan said...

Thanks for the story. So do you plan to specifically relate all these issues to discipleship? If so, I may wait until you post on them to comment, just to be sure I'm thinking along the same lines. If not, I can certainly post on my experience with #4 in particular.

Back to nominalism: perhaps part of the problem comes from believers not living life together enough. If, in addition to hearing and reading the truth, the dude in your story was around believers who truly walked with God, rejoiced in Him, confessed their sins, etc., he would be forced to deal with the ramifications of what he read and heard. How to live for Jesus becomes much more clear when we see someone doing just that. And when we live the independent lives our culture pushes us to, when we're too busy to be around other believers more than an hour or two a week in a large meeting, we run the risk of being deceived by our sin just as he was (Heb. 3:12-13).

Enough 1am rambling........

Rob and Julie said...

Hey Noah, thanks for posting about results of problems in churches. Considering the results will help to expose, understand, and resolve the real issues. The story you posted makes me think of Micah after he had just been told not to prophesy bad things against Israel, and in contrast to many false prophets he was "filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin." If churches love their people they will help them see their own sin, which is the only way to repent of it and come to know the Lord. If your friend hasn't heard about his sin at his church, he hasn't heard the gospel at his church. OK I'm rambling too, but I would be interested to see your paper on discipleship.