Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. [Matthew 7:13-14 (MSG)]
Northwestern University’s football team is in the Pinstripe Bowl and I’ll cheer on the team at a bowl party this afternoon. I’m not really a football fan but I’ll look and act like one today. I’ll wear a purple and white NU Wildcat t-shirt, cheer when everyone else cheers, wave a purple pompon, and even sing the fight song. Since I know next to nothing about football and don’t even know who they’re playing, I’m what could be called a nominal fan. I’m only going because I went to Northwestern fifty years ago and we’re new members of the local NU alumni club, sponsors of the event. Although my husband likes football, our real motivation is to meet people and make friends. We probably won’t give Northwestern or their team another thought until the next alumni event.
My type of fandom is what being a “nominal” or “cultural” Christian is like. Nominal Christians are the people who attend church simply because they did when they were growing up, society expects it of them, or they want to meet some new people. They’re the people who call themselves Christian because they’re not Jewish, atheist, Hindu or Muslim. Nominal Christianity is often based on faulty logic: “Christians are good, I am good, therefore I am a Christian” or “Since Christians go to church and I go to church, I must be a Christian.” Nominal Christians may know and observe Christian holidays, but they don’t know Jesus. Although they bear the name of Christ, Jesus has no bearing on their lives. Nominal Christianity certainly is easier – it doesn’t require a changed life and things like repentance, forgiveness or loving your enemies. Nominal Christianity, however, doesn’t offer salvation and eternal life.
As I walked through the park taking photos before our Christmas Eve service, I wondered about the more the 4,000 in attendance. Were they believers, firm in their relationship with our triune God? Were they seekers trying to find their way in this troubled world? Were they new to the faith and anxious to learn more about their Lord and Savior? Were they nominal Christians or “birth and resurrectionists,” attending church because that’s what one does on Christmas Eve, or were they curious tourists, there just because of the good reviews on Yelp?
It’s not my business to judge the depth of anyone’s faith, but I wondered if Jesus ever enters their thoughts until the next time they enter a church, whenever that may be. Are their only prayers the ones said at a worship service? Is reading or hearing God’s word a Sunday only event? I remembered our new pastor’s words when asked about the future of our church. He didn’t want to see us just grow larger; he wanted us to grow deeper. The first place to start is in our own lives with a careful examination of our faith and relationship with Jesus. Do we take a minimalist approach to God or are we in a deep and long lasting relationship with Jesus? Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” Let’s remember that calling ourselves Christians doesn’t make us Christians any more than wearing a team jersey makes me (or anyone else) a football fan.
Cultural Christianity is not saving faith. [Trevin Wax]